Welcome to California, where the sun is shining, the waves are crashing, and the possibilities are endless. This West Coast gem is a playground for all styles of travelers, from adventure-seekers to relaxation enthusiasts. Whether you're planning to travel solo, take a romantic getaway, or a family trip, California will satisfy all of your desires.
Let's start with the basics: why visit California?
With its diverse terrain, abundant natural beauty, and plethora of attractions, California is the perfect destination for any kind of trip. The state boasts everything from the stunning beaches of San Diego and the vast wilderness of Death Valley, to the towering Redwood trees of Northern California.
Don't forget the iconic landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the waterfront attractions in Long Beach, and the lively atmosphere of Los Angeles.
Now, you may be wondering: how do I even begin to plan a California trip?
First and foremost, decide what kind of attractions intrigue you the most.
Are you a wine connoisseur who wants to sip your way through Napa Valley?
Are you looking to satisfy the tech enthusiast in you with a visit to San Jose?
Or maybe you're seeking an adrenaline rush and want to hit the slopes at Lake Tahoe?
Whatever your preference, California has something for everyone.
Aside from natural beauty and thrilling activities, California is also home to top-notch cuisine. Traveling to California means indulging in fresh seafood, farm-to-table produce, and authentic Mexican cuisine. Take a food tour of San Francisco's Mission District for the ultimate burrito experience, or try the famous In-N-Out Burger in Southern California.
As your California travel buddies, we must warn you: be prepared for the weather! With cities ranging from warm and sunny to rainy and chilly, it's important to pack accordingly. But don't let the possibility of precipitation stop you from hitting the beaches. California's beaches are still beautiful even on a cloudy day!
Whether you're looking for adventure, relaxation, or just a change of scenery, California is the ultimate destination. With this guide, we hope to provide you with all the necessary knowledge and insider tips to make the most of your stay.
So pack your bags, buckle up, and get ready for an unforgettable trip to the Golden State.
When To Go
At House of Coco we see California as the travel equivalent of a superhero - always ready to swoop in and save the day with its endless array of breathtaking landscapes, vibrant cities, and unbeatable cuisine. For us, a holiday here is always a wonderful idea.
But if you're planning your first Californian trip ever and are looking for the optimal time to visit, here are some tips that can help you decide on when to book your tickets and why.
California is a big state, so your experience can vary depending on where and when you go. For example, if you're planning a trip to California's beaches, summer is the obvious choice. The sun is shining, the water is warm, and the vibe is just right. Plus, there are endless festivals, concerts, and events to enjoy.
But if you're more of a mountain person, you might want to plan a trip to California in the winter. Why, you ask? Well, the Sierra Nevada mountains are a winter wonderland, with skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing galore. And let's not forget about Lake Tahoe, which is absolutely stunning in the winter.
If you're interested to visit California's cities, you'll be happy to know that they're great to visit year-round. San Francisco is known for its foggy summers, but it's also a great time to avoid crowds. And if your travel itinerary takes you to Southern California, fall and winter are the best times to go. The temperatures are cooler, the crowds are thinner, and the beaches are still beautiful.
So, our dear friend, if you're looking to plan a trip to California, don't stress too much about when to go. Anytime is a good time!
How To Get There
First things first, let's discuss the obvious: California is a big state. And depending on where you're coming from, your mode of transportation will vary.
If you're already in the Western United States, road-tripping to California is the quintessential way to do it. Just hop in a car, crank up the tunes, and let the open road take you where you want to go. Just be sure to stop for a bite to eat at an In-N-Out Burger along the way.
If you're travelling to California from further away, flying is likely your best option. California is home to several major airports, including San Francisco International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, and San Diego International Airport.
For those who prefer a more scenic route, taking a train to California is also an option. Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner travels along the coast from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, providing breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
And let's not forget about the option of cruising to California. Many major cruise lines offer trips to California's coast, with ports of call in cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
Where To Go
Ah, where to go in California? That is the ultimate question, isn't it? With so many diverse landscapes, vibrant cities, and unique attractions, it can be tough to decide where to begin. But, House of Coco’s team of California all-time lovers is here to help you out.
For The Cities
This hilly city by the bay is a must-visit for anyone travelling to California. From the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the bustling Fisherman's Wharf, there's no shortage of things to see and do here. You can take a ride on a cable car, explore the colorful neighborhoods like Chinatown and Haight-Ashbury, and enjoy some of the best seafood in the world. And let's not forget about the art scene. San Francisco is home to the famous Museum of Modern Art and the de Young Museum, just to name a few.
The city of angels is famous for its glitz and glamour, but there's so much more to it than that. Take a stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, soak up the sun on Venice Beach, and hike up to the Hollywood sign for a stunning view of the city. And if you're into theme parks, you can't miss a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood or Disneyland.
If you're looking for a more laid-back vibe, head down to San Diego. This sunny city is all about beach life, with miles of pristine coastline and the famous San Diego Zoo. The Gaslamp Quarter is a great spot to enjoy some nightlife, and Balboa Park is home to some of the most beautiful gardens and museums in the state.
Known as the "American Riviera," the coastal city of Santa Barbara is a true gem. With its stunning Spanish-style architecture, palm-lined streets, and beautiful beaches, Santa Barbara is the perfect place to relax and unwind. Take a stroll along the Santa Barbara Harbor, visit the Santa Barbara Mission, or go wine tasting in the nearby Santa Ynez Valley. And if you're a foodie, you'll definitely want to check out the city's thriving culinary scene, which includes everything from farm-to-table restaurants to delicious seafood spots.
Now, let's head over to Palm Springs. This desert city is a true oasis, with its palm tree-lined streets, mid-century modern architecture, and hot springs. It's the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and soak up some sun. Visit the iconic Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for stunning views of the Coachella Valley, explore the city's many art galleries and boutiques, or simply relax by the pool at one of the many boutique hotels. Fans of architecture will definitely want to take a tour of the city's famous mid-century modern homes.
And let's not forget about the state capital, Sacramento. This charming city is often overlooked by visitors, but it's definitely worth a visit. The historic Old Sacramento district is a great place to learn about California's gold rush history, and the stunning Capitol Building is a must-see.
For Outdoor Adventures
Yosemite National Park
This iconic park is a must-visit for anyone who travels to California. With its soaring granite cliffs, beautiful waterfalls, and stunning forests, Yosemite offers endless opportunities for mountain biking, hiking, camping, rock climbing, and more.
Lake Tahoe straddles the border between California and Nevada and is surrounded by breathtaking mountains. In the winter, you can hit the slopes at one of the many ski resorts in the area, and in the summer, you can enjoy water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding, and boating. If you're up for a challenge, you can even hike the famous Tahoe Rim Trail, which circles the entire lake.
The Big Sur
For some coastal outdoor fun, head down to Big Sur. This rugged stretch of coastline offers some of the most spectacular views in California, with its towering cliffs, crashing waves, and beautiful beaches. Hike along the famous Big Sur Trail, go kayaking in the turquoise waters of the Pacific, or simply enjoy a picnic on one of the many secluded beaches.
Joshua Tree National Park
If you're looking for something truly unique, check out Joshua Tree National Park. A must-see on any USA popular national parks list, Joshua Tree is home to some of the most bizarre and beautiful rock formations in the world, as well as a variety of wildlife like coyotes, bighorn sheep, and rattlesnakes. Go rock climbing, explore the park's many hiking trails, or simply marvel at the otherworldly landscape.
For Wining & Dining
For wine and dining, seekers, there's no better place to visit than the picturesque region of Napa Valley. Napa Valley is home to over 400 wineries, ranging from boutique family-owned vineyards to large estates with stunning architecture and sprawling grounds. Take a tour of the famous vineyards and sample some of the finest wines in the world, from bold Cabernets to crisp Chardonnays.
But Napa Valley isn't just about the wine - it's also a destination for foodies. The region is home to some of the best farm-to-table restaurants in the country, with a focus on local, seasonal ingredients.
Indulge in gourmet cuisine at The French Laundry, which has been awarded three Michelin stars, or try the inventive dishes at Goose & Gander.
And if you're looking for something a little more adventurous, take a hot air balloon ride over the vineyards or go on a scenic bike ride through the valley.
Just a short drive from Napa Valley, Sonoma County is home to hundreds of wineries, as well as some of the best farm-to-table restaurants in the state. Visit the historic town of Sonoma, go wine tasting in the Russian River Valley, or take a hot air balloon ride over the vineyards.
Another excellent destination for foodies is San Francisco. This city is home to some of the best restaurants in the world, with a culinary scene that ranges from classic seafood spots to trendy fusion eateries.
The Central Coast
For a more laid-back wine-country experience, head down to the Central Coast. This region is home to some of the best wineries in California, as well as charming towns like Paso Robles and Santa Barbara.
Visit the quaint tasting rooms, take a bike ride through the vineyards, or simply relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
For The Beach
Whether you're looking to soak up some sun or enjoy the ocean waves on an evening walk, California has no shortage of beautiful beaches to explore on your California travels.
Santa Monica Beach
One of the most iconic beaches in California is Santa Monica Beach. This popular destination is located in the heart of Los Angeles and offers a lively atmosphere with plenty of activities for all ages. Take a stroll on the boardwalk, ride the famous Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier, or simply relax on the sandy beach and soak up the California sunshine.
For a more secluded beach experience, head down to Laguna Beach. This charming town is located in Orange County and boasts some of the most stunning beaches in the state. Walk along the rocky coastline, go tide pooling, or take a dip in the crystal-clear waters.
If you're looking for a quintessential California beach experience, head down to San Diego. This coastal city is home to some of the best beaches in the state, from the laid-back vibe of La Jolla Cove to the family-friendly atmosphere of Coronado Beach.
Wanna catch some waves? Head up to Santa Cruz. This Northern California beach town is known for its excellent surf spots, as well as its vibrant boardwalk with classic rides and games.
Golden Gate Bridge
The iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco spans over 8,981 feet and offers magnificent views of the city and the bay.
The bridge is open 24 hours a day, and walking or biking across it offers an unforgettable experience.
It’s undoubtedly one of the most photographed landmarks in the world and a must-see on your California travel itinerary.
Everyone has to experience the happiness and joy that Disneyland brings at least once in their life. The park is home to two theme amusement parks, Disneyland Park, and Disney California Adventure Park, with exciting rides, shows, and parades. It’s the perfect destination for families or anyone who loves to have fun.
Santa Monica Pier
Plan a walk along the Santa Monica Pier, a historic landmark and a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Stroll the boardwalk, ride the Ferris wheel, or catch a performance at the Pacific Park amusement park.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
No California travel itinerary is complete, especially when travelling with kids, without a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This is one of the best aquariums in the world, with exhibits featuring marine life from the Pacific Ocean. See sea otters, penguins, sharks, and jellyfish up close.
If you’re a history geek, you’ll find it exciting to explore the famous Alcatraz Island, a historic prison that's now a national park and tourist attraction. Take a ferry to the island, explore the prison cells, and learn about the island's fascinating history.
Pacific Coast Highway
Another top attraction is the stunning Pacific Coast Highway. This scenic drive is around 655 miles long and lets you experience the beauty of the California coastline. You will pass through charming coastal towns, stunning beaches, and picturesque landscapes, making it the perfect road trip for any adventure seeker.
Hollywood Walk of Fame
The famous Hollywood Walk of Fame is a great place to walk and see the stars that have forever made their mark in Hollywood’s history. You will see the imprints of celebrities’ hands and feet on the sidewalk and enjoy the entertainment, shopping, and dining in the area.
Where To Stay
Nestled in the breathtaking landscape of California, lies an array of opulent accommodations that redefine the concept of luxury living. With their world-class amenities, gastronomic indulgences, and awe-inspiring vistas, these hotels rank among the finest in the world.
Whether you seek the tranquil beauty of the coastline or the lush greenery of wine country, California has an impressive selection of high-end hotels to satisfy your every whim.
The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco
Image courtesy of Ritz-Carlton
Indulge in the epitome of refinement at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco - a legendary establishment renowned for its extraordinary hospitality.
Boasting 336 tastefully designed guest rooms and suites, some of which offer awe-inspiring city vistas, this hotel sets the bar for opulence. The pièce de résistance is the signature restaurant, Parallel 37, helmed by the acclaimed Chef Michael Rotondo. This culinary sanctuary showcases the best of Californian cuisine, using only the freshest seasonal ingredients. Be sure to savor the raviolli with tomato and eggplant and the flat iron steak.
For an unparalleled luxury experience, book the Presidential Suite, a palatial abode spanning 1,960 square feet, replete with a commodious living room, dining area, and a master bedroom adorned with a king-sized bed. This regal suite also offers a private terrace that offers mesmerizing vistas of the city and the courtyard.
Montage Laguna Beach
Image courtesy of Montage Laguna Beach
Discover an oceanfront oasis at Montage Laguna Beach - a haven of luxury nestled along the picturesque coastline of Laguna Beach. With 258 lavishly appointed guest rooms and suites, each boasting awe-inspiring vistas of the Pacific Ocean, this resort redefines the meaning of indulgence.
For an ultimate luxury escape, book the Catalina Suite, a sprawling abode spanning 2,800 square feet, complete with a commodious living room, dining area, and a master bedroom adorned with a king-sized bed. The highlight of this majestic suite is the private balcony that offers breathtaking views of the ocean and Catalina island.
Four Seasons Resort, Napa Valley
Image courtesy of Four Seasons Resort, Napa Valley
Escape to a wine country paradise at Four Seasons Resort, Napa Valley - an idyllic retreat nestled in the heart of Napa Valley. With 85 stylishly appointed guest rooms and suites, each boasting gorgeous vistas of the surrounding vineyards, this resort offers an immersive wine experience like no other.
Experience the best of Napa Valley's farm-to-table cuisine at the hotel's signature restaurant, Truss Restaurant and Bar, under the expert guidance of Chef Rogelio Garcia. Indulge in the Black Angus Prime New York Steak or savor the Roasted Chicken with Tokyo Turnips, Baby Carrots, Pistachios - a culinary adventure awaits.
For the ultimate luxury experience, book the Bodega Suite, a palatial sanctuary spanning 1,440 square feet, complete with a commodious living room, dining area, and a master bedroom adorned with a king-sized bed. This sublime suite also boasts a spacious outdoor terrace, fireplace, private sitting area, double soaking tubs and dining area - the perfect place to relax and unwind.
The Beverly Hills Hotel
Image courtesy of The Beverly Hills Hotel
Indulge in a slice of Hollywood history at The Beverly Hills Hotel - a luxurious icon that has welcomed Tinseltown's elite since 1912. With 210 impeccably designed guest rooms and suites, this hotel promises a lavish and comfortable stay for all its guests.
Savor the best of California's cuisine at the hotel's signature restaurant, The Polo Lounge, under the culinary mastery of Chef Michael Santoro. From the Stinging Nettle Cavatelli to the Crispy Skin King Salmon, every dish is a celebration of flavor.
For an unforgettable luxury experience, book one of the Bungalow Suites. Each one has been individually designed to provide guests with the ultimate comfort and style.
The Peninsula Beverly Hills
Image courtesy of The Peninsula Beverly Hills
Located in the heart of Beverly Hills, The Peninsula is a luxurious retreat that offers a world-class experience for its guests. The hotel features 195 elegantly appointed guest rooms and suites, each offering a luxurious and comfortable experience for its guests.
The hotel's signature restaurant, The Belvedere, is led by Ralf Schlegel and offers a menu that highlights the best of California's seasonal ingredients.
Book the Peninsula Suite and spoil yourself in 1,500 square feet of modern Hollywood glamour.
Auberge du Soleil
Image courtesy of Auberge du Soleil
Indulge in the ultimate luxury experience at Auberge du Soleil, a favorite among discerning travelers. Savor the culinary creations of the Michelin-starred restaurant, while lounging in your private cottage with a refreshing outdoor shower and a hot tub under the stars. Here, you can fully immerse yourself in the Napa Valley lifestyle.
Fairmont San Francisco
Image courtesy of Fairmont San Francisco
Experience the ultimate grandeur of San Francisco at the iconic Fairmont. Take in the breathtaking views of the city from the rooftop garden, while indulging in luxurious accommodations fit for a king or queen. With impeccable service, stunning decor, and a prime location, this is the perfect base for any San Francisco adventure.
The Belmond El Encanto
Image courtesy of The Belmond El Encanto
The Belmond El Encanto is a historic and luxurious resort nestled in the hills of Santa Barbara, offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. The hotel features 92 elegantly appointed guest rooms and suites, each decorated in a classic California style with modern amenities.
The hotel's signature restaurant, The Dining Room, offers a farm-to-table menu featuring the best of local and seasonal ingredients. Guests can also indulge in spa treatments at the hotel's luxurious spa, relax by the pool, or take a stroll through the lush gardens.
The Rosewood Miramar Beach
Image courtesy of Rosewood Miramar Beach
The Rosewood Miramar Beach is a luxurious beachfront resort that offers a peaceful and private escape in the heart of Montecito. The hotel features 161 spacious guest rooms and suites, each elegantly decorated with coastal-inspired decor and modern amenities. The hotel's signature restaurant, Caruso's, offers Italian cuisine with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.
Guests can also enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, including swimming in the ocean, lounging on the beach, or exploring the hotel's lush gardens. For a truly indulgent experience, guests can visit the Sense Spa or take a dip in the hotel's beachfront pool.
Where To Eat
In-N-Out-Burger is a cult classic Californian fast food joint that's a must-visit for burger lovers. If you're in California, you simply cannot leave without trying the iconic Double-Double. With its secret sauce and perfectly toasted buns, In-N-Out Burger has won over hearts and taste buds across the state.
And if you're feeling adventurous, try ordering off the secret menu for even more delicious options.
Zuni Cafe in San Francisco is known for its exceptional Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and farm-to-table ethos. With its cozy atmosphere and exceptional dishes, Zuni Cafe is a San Francisco staple. The menu changes seasonally, so you can always expect the freshest ingredients and the most innovative flavors. And don't forget to try their famous roast chicken, which is so good it has a cult following.
Located in Venice Beach, Gjelina is a cozy spot with incredible pizzas, small plates, and a charming outdoor patio. Gjelina is perfect for a casual night out. From the wood-fired pizzas to the crispy Brussels sprouts, every dish is made with the freshest ingredients and bursting with flavor. Try to snag a seat on their beautiful outdoor patio and you'll be in for a treat.
Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles is an upscale Italian joint with a killer wine list and mouthwatering pasta dishes. With its chic atmosphere and exceptional cuisine, Osteria Mozza is a favorite among LA's foodies.
The handmade pastas are a must-try, and the wine list is so extensive that even the most discerning oenophile will be impressed. Don't miss their famous Espresso Semifredo for dessert.
Chez Panisse is located in Berkeley, the birthplace of California cuisine and an institution in the farm-to-table dining scene. For over 50 years, Chez Panisse has been serving up innovative and delicious dishes using the freshest ingredients from local farms.
The menu changes daily depending on what's in season, so you're always in for a surprise. And with a commitment to sustainability and organic farming practices, every meal at Chez Panisse is not only delicious but also environmentally conscious.
Swan Oyster Depot
A San Francisco classic that's been around since 1912, Swan Oyster Depot serves some of the freshest seafood you'll ever taste. From the oysters to the clam chowder, every dish at Swan Oyster Depot is made with the highest quality ingredients and prepared with care.
Adding the charming atmosphere and friendly staff, it's no wonder that this spot has been a San Francisco institution for over a century.
Tacolicious is a vibrant Mexican eatery in San Francisco with killer tacos, margaritas, and a fun atmosphere. With a commitment to using fresh and local ingredients, Tacolicious serves up some of the best tacos in the city. They also offer a wide selection of margaritas and a fun and festive atmosphere, perfect for a night out with friends.
Don't miss their famous "shot and a beer" special, which pairs a tequila shot with a can of beer for the ultimate Mexican experience.
Langer's Delicatessen in Los Angeles is a classic Jewish deli that has been delighting patrons with its mouthwatering pastrami sandwiches since 1947. With its soft and succulent pastrami piled high on rye bread, this deli has become a Los Angeles institution and a must-visit for those in search of the perfect sandwich.
This contemporary American eatery in San Francisco offers a tasting menu that's sure to impress even the most discerning of palates. Gary Danko's elegant and refined atmosphere is matched only by the quality of its dishes, which are expertly crafted using only the finest ingredients.
Bazaar by Jose Andres
Located in Los Angeles, Bazaar is a playful and inventive Spanish-inspired restaurant that's perfect for a fun night out. The menu is packed with creative and imaginative dishes that are bursting with flavor, and the lively atmosphere is sure to put a smile on your face.
Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles is an exceptional pizza joint that offers some of the most delicious toppings you'll ever taste. With its cozy atmosphere and expertly crafted pies, this restaurant is a must-visit for anyone who loves good pizza.
Travelling to California can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it's important to be prepared before you go. Here are some tips and advice to help you make the most of your trip:
With so much to see and do, it's essential to plan your itinerary in advance. Consider using a travel guidebook or online resources to research popular destinations and activities.
The diverse climates in California require you to pack accordingly. Bring light layers and a jacket for coastal evenings, and warmer clothing and sunscreen for mountain and desert regions.
Rent a Car
California is a sprawling state with many scenic drives, so renting a car is highly recommended. This will give you the flexibility to explore at your own pace and visit off-the-beaten-path destinations.
Many remote areas in California make it crucial to have reliable communication. Consider renting a mobile hotspot or purchasing a local SIM card for your phone.
Be Mindful Of The Environment
Respect the environment by practising Leave No Trace principles. This includes packing out your trash, staying on designated trails, and avoiding disturbing wildlife.
Try The Local Cuisine
Try the local cuisine: California is a foodie's paradise, with a diverse range of cuisine influenced by its multicultural population. Be sure to try local specialties like In-N-Out Burger, fish tacos, and avocado toast.
Be Prepared For Traffic
With some of the busiest highways in the US, be ready for traffic in major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. Consider travelling outside peak hours or using public transportation to avoid congestion.
California is a fun and vibrant state with something for everyone. Whether you're visiting Disneyland, hiking in Yosemite, or lounging on the beach, be sure to enjoy all that California has to offer.
As we wrap up this California travel guide, it's hard not to feel a tinge of nostalgia for the beauty and diversity of this West Coast wonderland. From the stunning coastline to the majestic mountains, California truly has it all.
We hope that our guide has equipped you with the knowledge and inspiration to plan the trip of a lifetime. Whether you're craving outdoor adventures, urban exploration, or a mix of both, you’ll find that California will never disappoint.
So as we bid farewell, remember that the memories you'll create in California will stay with you forever. The sunsets, the ocean breeze, the city lights - they will all leave an imprint on your soul. So pack your bags, hit the road, and let California work its magic on you.