It was that time of the year again, which meant our annual sunny California road trip. We’d managed to secure two whole weeks away and organise the ultimate plan, hedonist-styled, naturally. San Francisco, Monterey & Carmel, a Big Sur drive, Santa Barbara, Palm Desert and a San Diego-type cherry to finish. As my mother always told me, if you are leaving home, it had to be better, much better. Which meant no amount of ‘roughing it’, absolutely not – just an (admittedly heaped) spoon full of serious planning beforehand.
We started our Californi-cation in San Francisco, taking advantage of BA’s ability to let you fly in and out of various airports. And, after touching down refreshed a la Club, we were ready to go.
The real journey began (slower than anticipated) once we’d checked in to our usual spot at the Westin St. Francis, bang on Union Square. Fuelled by jet lag overdrive, we marched around the city marveling at the serenity before realising nobody else was around. Even Chinatown was closed at 6am. Hedonists, take note!
Our day then started as soon as Sears Fine Food had opened, with the ultimate American breakfast – 18 pancakes with buttermilk and maple syrup – which we shared. Most of the other diners around us didn’t. Brought back down to earth by our bellies, we then rode around town in the trolleys – Tiffany trolleys, I must add. Before making a special stop at the city’s hottest Mizu spa, where we treated ourselves to mani’s and pedi’s and massages.
Crab was for lunch, salt water taffy for tea (no comment) and an amazing dinner at Kokkari Estiatorio – my most favoured Greek restaurant in San Francisco, even (dare I suggest it) the world. Our night ended at Clift bar (at the Clift Hotel San Francisco) – I take my Frisco-visting traditions seriously, don’t you know (raises ‘pinky finger’ with glass).
From SF, we drove down US1 to one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to (many things are ‘amazing’ in my mind). But on this California road tip – Monterey and the super pretty Carmel. Wow.
We stayed on a deserted beach at the amazing (see!) Monterey Bay Sanctuary Beach Resort. Room with a view? Oh yes. In-room massage? Hell yeah.
Two days mostly loungin’ (in a veritable coma) saw a couple of trips out – once to visit the “world famous” (my favourite American expression) Monterey Aquarium. And another, to follow the trail of what became our trip highlight – Californian wine.
Evan Oakes from AGVenture spent a good part of one day showing us around the Carmel Valley wine region – Chateau Julian, Bernardus and Joullian. Knowing that wine on an empty stomach usually leads to disaster, he also took us to Earthbound organic farm in the valley. We handpicked golden raspberries (and every other berry there was), smelled amazing herbs and even forgot we were in America.
Day six switched us up out of the haze and turned the journey south. Which meant leaving the sun behind and making our drive through Big Sur slightly tedious. Stunning though. And we were even more excited to be on our way to Santa Barbara.
We checked into THE place to stay in Santa Barbara – Canary Hotel, “half a block” from State Street. Beds were high (we needed a step to get on them) and comfortable. But the grape juice from Santa Ynez wines, or should I say Mountains, were calling. And we didn’t even have to venture up the hill. Several tasting rooms have sprung up around town, ready to cater for those in need of a drop (or several). There’s food in town too. One of the best ever dinners of our lives (I kid you not) came from the Bouchon Santa Barbara. Favouring the Santa Barbara ‘Wine Country Cuisine’ approach, it was typically fresh and local with delicious wines to match.
Coachella Valley’s Palm Desert resort came next. With Westin Mission Hills resort & spa, our home away from home (and I don’t use the word lightly), welcoming us back for a week of R and R.
This area is naughty in its food options – temptation abound with every step. Which could possibly be a ploy to keep you coming back. Satisfaction never fulfilled and all that. This trip’s tasty numbers included Roys Hawaiian Fusion (no guessing what that was about) and 3rd Corner, where the wine list reaches 800-odd…..Cakebread Reserve for $45? Make that two, please. And so the story continues.
This latest chapter ended (in style, sort of) with San Diego. And a 12-hour power cut. We won’t say who won the award for best ice preparation. Though a special mention goes to Eddie V’s restaurant in stunning La Jolla, five miles north of San Diego. Oysters, shrimp and some of the finest in California Pinot Grigio was slurped and quaffed until they were warm and the place shut down. The sunset was breathtaking, though, (imbued nicely by our little La Jolla feast) and we rolled back to our W (where else?) abode satiated So-Cal style.
We were due to return home mid-afternoon but a timely warning from British Airways allowed us to spend a whole day in town. And enjoy a fantastic last supper at Island Prime San Diego (opposite the airport) – the perfect way to end this trip; with crab, steak and key lime meringue pie, of course.
California, I miss you already!