The California Road Trip Guide
One of my favorite places to visit in the world is California, especially San Diego. Particularly because I used to live there. I try to visit every year. Although I used to live in San Diego for four years there is so much of California that I still haven’t seen. Like Palm Springs and Joshua Tree. Crazy right? So, it was important to me that in my next trip to California I do a little California road trip – SoCal. In this blog I am specifically talking about a trip to LA, San Diego, Palm Springs and Joshua Tree. My friend Dom and I rented a Jeep Wrangler hard top convertible because that just gives me so much California road trip vibes.
First Stop – Los Angeles
My favorite spots in LA are Santa Monica and Venice Beach. I just love the beach so much, so we made this our first stop. Unfortunately it was pretty cloudy on our first day so we just did some site seeing. Venice Beach is what I would describe as kind of west coast Brooklyn, every one there is very unique and has no interest in conforming. I just love the overall creative vibe you get from Venice Beach. There are so many street vendors on the boardwalk selling unique trinkets.
In Venice Beach, we had some fun shooting hoops (some of the vendors sell basketballs as well), rented roller skates and a surfboard. Full disclosure – the surfboard was really a prop for a photo idea. I have never surfed in my life. Although, I have always wanted to learn. There is also bikes, rollerblades etc. Also, if you’re into thrift and vintage shopping there are some great shops right on Windward.
We ate at Larry’s which is on Winward avenue – the same block as the Venice sign. The food was great but a bit expensive even for this native New Yorker. Sometimes in life you pay for the view and location though. Our friend Angela, who is a local, also recommended High Rooftop Lounge for a great rooftop spot for drinks during the sunset. We opted to get sunset pics at the Venice sign, but don’t be like us. Haha!
I love the Santa Monica Pier, I always loved going on rides and playing games on the pier during the summer as a kid. They also have popcorn, cotton candy, ice cream, churros, etc. So, it just gives you all those feels. There is also some great places to eat on the pier as well. I have eaten at Pier Burger before which is good. This time we tried out Rusty’s Surf Ranch. I really liked their Chicken Caesar Salad.
Beverly Hills & Our Hotel
During our stay in Los Angeles, we stayed at The Beverly Terrace in Beverly Hills which is a pretty key location for everything we wanted to do. The hotel is so cute.The overall aesthetic of the hotel is just so white, earthy and calming. The view from their rooftop is insane for sunset. They have a free breakfast at their restaurant Cafe Amici – which is just so so good. Free breakfast is always good but the food at Cafe Amici is amazing. We actually ate dinner there twice during our three night stay it was so good.
The Hollywood Sign
It’s actually crazy that throughout my life this trip was the first time I have gone to the Hollywood sign. There are many routes you can take. We parked on Canyon Lake Drive and Arrowhead Drive and walked up to the Mount Lee Drive trail. There were a few view points as well on the way if proximity doesn’t matter to you. Definitely bring water, we all thoroughly regretted not having water. The search was on once we got back to the car. We didn’t go to the top of the sign because we couldn’t find a good article telling us how. But since I have found directions provided by @krystinesc :
- Drive up to 3551 Deronda Drive. Park your car on Rockcliff Drive – there is free parking except on the weekends
- Walk up the hill for a block and you’ll see a big gate prohibiting entry for cars. On the left side there is a door you can go through.
- At the fork in the road go right for the behind the sign or go left for a front view of the sign. The hike is about 30-40 minutes.
- If you don’t fancy hiking then the Griffith Observatory has a beautiful view of the Hollywood sign but it was unfortunately closed during our stay.
Malibu and El Matador Beach
I love the drive up the coast to Malibu, driving by the Pacific Ocean with wind in my hair and music playing is some of the most calming moments in my life. We stopped at the Malibu Pier for food at Malibu Farm with our friend Diana. I have been to Malibu Farm at their Miami location as well and they never disappoint.
El Matador is such a beautiful beach and if you drive up too Malibu it is definitely worth the short trip up north to see.
If you are looking for tips on Instagram worthy spots in Los Angeles you can check out my blog on Best Instagram LA Instagram spots here
Second Stop – San Diego
First of all, if you are ever driving down to San Diego from LA I suggest doing it mid day. DO NOT leave at 5pm. LA traffic is not a joke. We left around 1pm and it wasn’t bad but there was still traffic here and there.
North County San Diego – Carlsbad, Encinitas, and Cardiff by the Sea
Second, do not miss the North San Diego County towns along the way. Our first stop was The Flower Fields in Carlsbad which is an incredible sight to see. Once we got done at the Flower Fields I opted to take Highway 1. Sometimes I would just take drives on Highway 1 when I lived in Encinitas. Encinitas is the beach town right next to Carlsbad and it has such a great culture. It is more of a young adult beach town – meaning late 20’s to early 30’s. Actually I don’t know if that is considered young adult or just adult… after passing through Carlsbad and Encinitas we stopped in Cardiff by the Sea for dinner. Cardiff by the Sea is a part of the city of Encinitas – or as locals call it Enci. When I lived there I loved going to Pacific Coast Grill for dinner as the view is just phenomenal, it is right on the beach. I planned to go there however there was no sunset that night and although I love it the prices include a view and without the view I changed my mind. When I lived in Enci I heard great things about Las Olas but had never been. The hype is on point. I left Las Olas feeling like I was ready to move back to San Diego. I’d had a great burrito, two margaritas and the wind from Pacific Ocean was blowing on my skin – I was loving life.
La Jolla & Our Hotel
We stayed in La Jolla which is one of my favorite towns in all of San Diego. Our hotel was beyond our expectations. Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa is a hacienda style hotel and spa with rancho style architecture. The property is a whole 10 acres, with beautiful gardens everywhere and fireplaces so cozy up by the fire with a glass of wine before bed. Dog lovers invited as this place is pet friendly! They even have an in-house wine cellar, Trinitas Cellar Wine Bar, which is based in Napa Valley. This is the only SoCal tasting room for Trinitas. We also went to their restaurant Mustangs and Burros out on their patio and the food was fantastic. I highly suggest having their Sangria, it was one of the best I’ve ever had!
There is so much to do in La Jolla, hiking Torrey Pines, kayaking, tour the La Jolla caves, biking, surfing, snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, whale watching etc. One time when I went kayaking in La Jolla I was surrounded by dolphins. Dolphins are my favorite animals – Level of excitement was at 1,000,000. You can usually see seals as well. We went hiking in Torrey Pines. There are so many trails to chose from. One of the most well known is the trail that brings you to a potato chip rock, that hike takes 3-4 hours so we didn’t have enough time allotted. We did the Razor Point trail which has stunning views.
Now, Pacific Beach is where all the fun happens, this was my favorite place to go out when I lived in San Diego. If you go to Pacific Beach you have to have to go to Shore Club and have the large Red Bull Vodka slushy and a Fireball shot. That my friends is what we used to call the “Shaunie Special.” But don’t do it if you’re driving or have things to do later. Other spots I loved in PB are Cabo Cantina – they have great happy hour two for one specials. Lahaina Beach House is right on the beach and always has a great view & vibe. Other great spots are PB Ale House and Firehouse.
Coronado is basically Pleasantville – meaning it is the perfect town. They literally have an ice ream shop called Mootime Creamery with a statue cow out front. Also, PS their ice cream is actually very good! If you go to Coronado there are three things you have to do:
1. Rent bikes and go on the bike trail
2. Eat dinner at Miguel’s
3. Visit Hotel Del Coronado and watch the sunset from their beach bar
Everything else is up to you, but those are my favorite things.
We only had 3 days and two nights here but it was so so great catching up with old friends, the laughs were rich and plenty.
Palm Springs & Joshua Tree
Lesson number one, if the forecast says windy in Palm Springs and Joshua Tree it is no joke. Taking pictures in Palm Springs and Joshua Tree was quite difficult as the wind was totally messing with our outfit decisions but unless you’re a blogger I guess that doesn’t matter too much.
We stayed at an airbnb in Desert Hot Springs to save money – it was only $37 and right between Palm Springs & Joshua Tree. We went to The Saguaro for their brunch at Rocco’s Electric. I loved their Avocado Smash. The service was so spectacular and the food was amazing. Their hotel has so much color and fun things to do like cornhole!
Since we had been wanting to see Salvation Mountain for a while we decided to make the hour and a half trip. If you are a blogger and want to take pictures there – a couple of suggestions: if the weather forecast says wind don’t bring clothes that will blow in the wind. You are also only supposed to wear soft shoes on the art. So, no heels. Also, always stay on the yellow path!
Joshua Tree was amazing! We actually came to California just to see it. We unfortunately missed out on seeing the Cholla Cactus Garden though which looks so so cool. Tip: Remember to check your gas tank before entering the park.
Also, make sure to try out some of the west coast favorite In N Out!
I hope that you have found this blog helpful on your upcoming travels!