In July 2016, I flew from Scandinavia to Los Angeles with my husband and two teens and rented a car for seven days. Here are my recommendations to a coastal California trip:
- Walk of Fame, Hollywood: Staying in Hollywood Loews Hotel with great city views, we basically stepped out of the lobby and into the Walk of Fame. We had fun recognizing names and explaining “oldies” like Larry Hagman and Fred Astaire to our teens (feeling ancient!).
- Universal Studios, Hollywood: Although not high on the wish list, we felt it was a must. So, we invested in four insanely expensive VIP passes and spent ten terrific hours in the amusement park and studios: We could probably have been on a week’s vacation to Mallorca for the same price, but we skipped every line and had a guided tour with unlimited drinks, snacks, and lovely food.
- Beverly Hills and Bel Air: Feeling a bit like paparazzi, we still enjoyed driving in the rich and famous neighborhood with hilly streets and beautiful villas. Even more entertaining would be to join one of the bus tours in the area, with a guide to gossip (we went in our rental).
- Venice Beach, Los Angeles: A colorful boardwalk with stalls and shops selling jewelry, t-shirts, and lots of junk. Recreational facilities for beach volleyball, outdoor fitness (where Arnold Schwarzenegger used to pump iron) and outdoor basket. Street art and quirky people. We tried to ask the price of a painting of Bob Marley, but we said Bob Dylan by mistake, and the artist was offended and turned his back on us!
- Redondo pier: A charming pier with seafood and a local atmosphere. Less touristic than Venice and Santa Monica Pier. We had a late dinner at Old Tony’s with fishnets in the ceiling and 80s style deco, too late to enjoy the sea view, but great service and tasty food.
- Santa Barbara : Do NOT rush through like we did (falling behind schedule after a tire blowout), but stay at least for one night and enjoy the charming town with a Spanish flavor.
- Pismo beach: We crashed this small beach town because our plan A, the town of Santa Maria, turned out to be unexciting. Pismo has a beautiful wooden pier from where we watched the sunset before heading to Oyster Loft, a great seafood restaurant on the first floor of a wooden waterfront building.
- Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Viewpoint, San Simon: It is worth a stop to watch the enormous animals on the beach, and you can get close, so bring your camera.
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park: Another treasure worth making a stop for. Like other tourists, we had to take pictures of McWay Falls, which drop over a cliff into the Pacific Ocean. A terrace is the only remains of Waterfall House which – according to a signpost – was the residence of Lathrop and Helen Hooper Brown. They donated their ranch to use as a state park, dedicated for the memory of pioneer Julia Pfeiffer Burns.
- Bixby Creek Bridge: No need to stop, but slow down and enjoy the view of this magnificent bridge before you cross it.
- One extra for Danes – Solvang: Driving around this town with Danish roots gave us the feeling of being in an open air museum. Everything looked kitschy and cosy: Houses with fake timbered framing and stork nests on top, windmills, Danish flags, shop signs in gothic script. And you could buy Christmas decorations in July.
- Rent bikes and cross the Golden Bridge to Sausalito, from where you can take a ferry back. Only challenge is to retrieve your bike amongst 100 similar rental bikes when you leave the ferry! Be aware of paid bike parking ($ 3 per hour) in Sausalito. We had drinks at The Spinnaker and parked our bikes outside for free.
- Old cable cars: This is a tourist magnet, but also a comfortable way to explore the hilly streets of San Francisco. Because we went early (10am), we only had to wait in line for half an hour. Later in the day, queuing takes an hour or more.
- Enjoy Italy food: Frascati in Hyde Street served us a heavenly candle light dinner. The food came fast, and the atmosphere was vibrantly Italian.
- China town and Filbert street: Both are nice places to go for a walk. We visited China town stores offering all sorts of strange products, some apparently edible, and in the steep Filbert street we saw parked cars leaning so much doors could only open on one side!
- Fisherman’s Wharf: We stayed at Argonaut Hotel close by and enjoyed the harbor early in the morning before it was swarmed by tourists. Our hotel was also a good starting point for a cool dip in the ocean or a run on the waterfront towards the Golden Gate Bridge.
With seven days, it is impossible to see it all, so we skipped a few on the list:
- Hearst Castle: A mansion built by the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst who was inspired by historical Mediterranean architectural styles. We have a seen too many European castles to feel an urge to visit this – no doubt impressive – version.
- Madonna Inn: We got a glimpse of this quirky hotel as we passed it. It looked like a great party venue, and we would have loved to stay a night, if we had had more time.
- 17 Mile Drive is a fashionable coastal road where rich and famous people have their mansions and golf courses on a scenic coastline. We drove in the area, but we did not pay the $10 entrance fee.