I promised my children a trip of a lifetime that would encompass all that California has to offer and that's what we delivered. I wanted to see redwoods, the Pacific Ocean, national parks, theme parks (like Disney and Universal), Hollywood, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge - all the icons that sum up the Golden State. Hopefully they'll remember this holiday for a very long time.
We travelled with Air New Zealand direct from Heathrow to Los Angeles, the service was excellent and I would highly recommend a direct flight. The Skycouch was perfect for the children as they got 3 seats which transform into a couch for the two of them (well worth paying the supplement for).
Our itinerary was a busy one; with a city stay in LA, a beach week in bohemian Venice Beach, a culture and sporting stop in San Francisco, and then a four day drive back down the wild and wonderful Pacific Coast Highway. We had an amazing trip with so many wonderful experiences.
Where else can you see elephant seals lazing on the beach in pup season, Hearst Castle, redwoods (the tallest trees in the world) in their natural habitat, drive past multi-million dollar mansions, cycle on world famous boardwalks, shop until you drop and then within a day be hugging Mickey Mouse or Scooby Do? This place really does have it all.
Our trip was quite punishing for a family, so try not to under estimate the distances and the amount of traffic. I would therefore recommend planning in a few rest days in between all the driving.
Needless to say I would be back within a flash; the laid back lifestyle, huge food portions, great year-round weather and reasonable prices are a draw. Also the people are friendly, the service in general is impeccable and the standard of the hotels leave some European hotels wanting.
Hints and tips: Pre book and pay for a GPS when driving in the USA - a life saver on numerous occasions. Take plenty of small denomination dollar bills for tipping, you tip everyone! Wear sunscreen whenever you are out, the sun really is strong even when you think it's behind clouds. Pre book Alcatraz tickets before you go as these get booked up and are rarely available on the day. Most US hotels don't have kettles in the room so if you like your morning cuppa take your own teabags they will often give you a kettle if you ask at reception.
We stayed at:
The Mondrian, Los Angeles
Clift, San Francisco
La Playa, Carmel
Madonna Inn, San Lois Obispo
Harbour View, Santa Barbara