21 Day California Road Trip

In July we headed to California for a three week road trip. This was the fourth time we'd been to California so we had a good idea of our favourite places that we wanted to return to and also some new places to explore. In the past we had tried to cram a lot into our trips with one or two night stays in each place but this time we decided to slow the pace down a bit with a couple of longer stays to really get a feel for the place. 

Day 1 to 3: Los Angeles

Where we stayed

Ocean View Hotel - a recently modernised hotel not far from Santa Monica Pier and with a sea view (if you're lucky!). No breakfast option or room service but free milk and cookies at tea-time. You can get a discount for the bike hire shop around the corner from the hotel.

Where we ate

Big Dean’s - not the classiest of joints but it's right on the beach, serves good burgers and cold beer and the atmosphere is great! It's become a bit of a family tradition that we head straight here on arrival and load up on carbs to keep the jet lag at bay.

Cafe Crepe - one of our favourite places for breakfast. Lots of booths, huge french posters and some of the best crepes in town.

Jinky's - this is a new one for us and we loved it. It has a real homely feel and the portions are huge! Try the huevos rancheros.

Jimmy's Famous American Tavern - a restaurant serving a fairly traditional american menu but everything is cooked from scratch with high quality, ethically sourced ingredients. The burgers were really good.

Cora’s Coffee Shoppe - this is certainly not the cheapest spot for breakfast or brunch in Santa Monica but it's a popular one so be prepared to queue. The food is really good and you get to sit outside in the dappled shade of a vine-covered courtyard.


What we did

Hired bikes and cycled to Venice Beach to watch the skateboarders. There are places to hire bikes along the beachfront in Santa Monica but if you stay at Ocean View you get a discount from Public Bike Rental.

Hired electric scooters and headed north towards Palisades Park. If you download the Bird app, you can pick up electric scooters from the street and you will be charged online for the duration of your use.

Visited the Wednesday Farmer's Market. Situated downtown, this was a real taste of California and although it wasn't practical to buy too much, the fruit was too good to pass by.

Strolled along Santa Monica Pier. There's always a buzz on the pier with street entertainers, fast food and some of the best views of LA.

Shopped on Third Street. The great thing about starting your road trip in LA is that you wake early from the jet lag and can wander around the streets before the city has properly woken up.

Top Tips

As this was our fourth time in LA we didn't do an awful lot of sightseeing but here are some of the things I'd recommend from previous trips:

- Warner Bros Studio tour

- Shopping in Abbot Kinney

- LA Louver art gallery in Venice

- Hollywood Walk of Fame

- Walk along the canals in Venice

Day 4 to 5: Palm Springs

Where we stayed

The Saguaro - a brightly coloured, lively hotel with the friendliest staff and amazing food. Although it has a reputation for being a bit of a 'party' hotel (and I must admit the pool area was heaving when we were there), there was a mix of all ages and we never once felt out of place. There was an extreme weather warning while we were in Palm Springs with the temperature hitting 47 so we were limited in what we were able to do during our stay and as ever, I'd love to go back at a different time of year to enjoy it more.

Where we ate

El Jefe bar - this is one of the places to eat at the hotel and we loved it for breakfast and lunch. As our holiday coincided with the World Cup, it was a good place to retreat to to watch a match and stay cool in the air conditioning.

Chicken Ranch - with a teenage boy in tow, the odd fast food stop had to be made and this place was really good. Made to order using free range and locally sourced ingredients, this fried chicken was some of the best I've tasted - and the fresh salads were seriously good too. Wash it all down with one of their Coachella Valley Brewing Co. beers.

What we did

Photography tour - you can't go to Palm Springs without having a look at some of the beautiful mid-century architecture. I had looked up a tour online and we copied its route which wasn't too far from the hotel - pulling up outside the houses while I hopped out in the blistering sun just long enough to take a photo or two.



Palm Springs Jeep Tour - we had pre-booked this tour and although it wasn't the cheapest of things to do, we felt that it was really great value. Our tour guide was a lovely man with so much knowledge about the geography and history of the area but what I particularly liked was that he was a part-time, poolside keyboard player at some of the swankiest clubs in Palm Springs and had the best celebrity gossip! The high temperatures meant that we couldn't hike far but there was something so magical about walking through canyons in the early morning sun.

Joshua Tree - we made a slight detour to here on our last day, before we headed to Lone Pine and I'm so glad we did. Once again the heat meant that we couldn't be out of the car for long but we did manage a short walk and the view were so stunning. The whole place looks unreal - like a film set!

Day 6: Lone Pine

From Joshua Tree we headed to Lone Pine - a town which straddles the U.S. Highway 395 in the most stunning setting. To the east, the Inyo Mountains tower above and to the west, the Sierra Nevada. There are rumours that Lone Pine is one of the most haunted places in America and it has a 'one horse town' kind of feel about it.


Where we stayed

Best Western Plus Frontier Motel - a great motel for a one night stop-over - there's a pool, large rooms, a good breakfast and only a short drive to the shops and restaurants.

Where we ate

Mount Whitney Restaurant - a slice of 'real' California! All trucker caps, bottles of beer and homemade meatloaf and apple pie.

Day 7 to 9: June Lake

June Lake is a beautiful area not far from Mammoth Lake with the most breathtaking scenery and as the name suggests a number of lakes to canoe on and swim in (although the water is pretty chilly).

Where we stayed

Double Eagle Resort - a little slice of heaven in the most beautiful setting. Spacious wooden cabins around a lake and surrounded by woodland. Don't be surprised to see deer when you open your front door! A great spot to explore the local lakes and also not too long a drive from Yosemite. Great food and the friendliest staff.


What we did


On day one we got up extra early, packed some lunch and drove to Yosemite in a bid to avoid most of the crowds - it gets so busy in the summer. We parked at Curry Village and hired bikes there. There are a number of cycling routes and everything is clearly signposted. Make sure to look out for bears and don't forget your swimming costumes and towels - the shady rivers are the perfect place to cool off after a dusty hike or bike ride.

On our way home we stopped at Tuolumne Meadows for a walk that we had found in a guide book. Our twenty minute hike brought us to a deserted stretch of the river with smooth, rounded grey stones bordering mini waterfalls - it was so beautiful.

On day two we decided to hire kayaks on Silver Lake - a small stretch of water just ten minutes from where we were staying. The scenery was stunning.

In the afternoon we went horse riding at Frontier Pack Train - it was hot and sweaty and dusty but bliss to just amble along at a slow pace, chatting to our guide about life in that part of California. If you plan to do this, you will need long trousers/jeans and closed toed shoes (trainers will do).


Whilst you're in the area, make sure you have a swim in June Lake - it's bracing to say the least but the water is so clear and clean. There is a beach area and ample parking.

Day 10 to 12: Monterey 

This was our longest drive of the trip and we somehow managed to achieve our plan of arriving in a specific town at a specific time on our way to watch the football in a bar. 

Where we stayed

Pacific Grove Airbnb - after previous trips to Monterey, we had discovered Pacific Grove - just outside the main town, along the coast. For me it is one of my favourite places to be - the sea, marine life, coffee shops, good restaurants and lots of quirky houses and beautiful architecture.

Our Airbnb was up a hill a couple of blocks from the beaches and was a great spot to explore from.


What we did 

 Monterey Aquarium - such a great place for all the family. A real focus on education and conservation with plenty of interactive areas to help get the message across.

Bike Hire - just down from our apartment on the beach front at Lover's Point was a bike hire place and seeing as there are cycle lanes all the way into Monterey, it's a great way to get around and avoid the traffic jams. Plus you go past a beach of stinky seals on your way there!

Fisherman's Wharf - if you keep cycling beyond the centre of Monterey, you will come to the wharf which is where the whale watching boats go from. We did this on a previous visit and ! would definitely recommend you take some sea sickness tablets before you set off and plenty of warm clothes as it can get very chilly. The wharf itself is pretty tacky with plenty of souvenir shops, over-priced clam chowder and ice cream.

I did make sure that I had a coffee outside at Paluca Trattoria, the coffee shop featured in Big Little Lies though!


 Lighthouse Cinema - an old school cinema not far from us in Pacific Grove - a proper taste of american life.

Where we ate

Cafe Fina - the best clam chowder on the pier - sustainable too.

Lover's Point Beach Cafe - this is in such a lovely spot, over-looking the sea. A couple of mornings while we were there, I went for a run along the coastal path and then met my husband here for breakfast. Acai bowls are a big deal in California and they do delicious ones at this cafe.

Cafe Ariana - a pretty unassuming looking cafe in Pacific Grove but the homemade pasta was so good we went there twice. Friendly and informal.

Bubba Gump - one of those experiences that you feel like you have to do but probably shouldn't! Massive portions (don't have a starter) of deliciously fried/battered/breaded seafood with Forrest Gump memorabilia everywhere! You'll probably have to queue outside to reserve a time slot for a table so plan ahead.

Juice and Java - a lovely coffee shop with a homely feel - all sofas and moroccan rugs. Great to sit in or, as we did, grab a coffee and croissant to eat on the beach (avoiding the seagulls!).

Day 13 to 15: Pismo Beach 

On day 13 we headed to Pismo Beach, via a stop off to photograph a misty Lone Cypress. We headed inland as Highway 101 was closed in part due to mudslides, and stopped at Soledad for a delicious mexican meal at La Fuente.

Pismo Beach is a town of two halves - at one end there is mile upon mile of RV parks and in contrast, the other end has a line of luxury hotels and apartments perched upon the cliff top. The beach is a dramatic sweep of sand with shallow waves and the odd pelican skimming past.

Where we stayed

Cottage Inn by the Sea - pretty cottage style rooms on the cliff above Pismo Beach. There's a small pool, and chairs and fire pits on the terrace - the perfect spot to watch the sun set.

What we did

San Luis Obispo - a lovely town a short drive from Pismo Beach. A good place for some relaxed retail therapy and maybe brunch.  

Avila - a pretty beachfront town with a family friendly sandy beach.

Morro Rock - a lovely place to mooch around - loads of vintage and charity shops and some great retro signage.

Dune buggying - I ducked out of this one for a morning on the beach with my book but I was told it was great fun. The company we chose was Sun Buggy Rentals.

Where we ate

Splash Cafe - a must-do in Pismo Beach. We pre-ordered takeaway and then sat and ate our clam chowder on the beach as the sun set.

Avila Market - a really cool food market and cafe. Lovely interiors and right across the road from the beach.

Zorro's Cafe and Cantina - really good mexican food in Shell Beach.

Day 16 to 20: Ventura

I'd read a lot about Solvang before our trip, about how it was a Danish enclave with interesting architecture, amazing bakeries and boutique shopping (right up my street, I thought) so I was disappointed to be met with a town overrun with tacky gift shops and clogs on every corner. The danish pastries were good but don't bother with a detour there.

Our last leg of the holiday was spent in Ventura, a laid back surfer town north west of LA.

Where we stayed

Home Away property - a really cute two bedroomed bungalowwith a verandah and back garden, only three blocks from the pier in one direction and the main shopping street in the other.

What we did

Shopping - I loved that Ventura has, from what I could see, no chain stores (apart from the obligatory Starbucks). The main street is an array of independent boutiques like Passport Habits and Iron and Resin with a lot of massive vintage clothing shops and emporiums selling retro homewares. Also, make a trip to the first ever Patagonia store - such a cool brand and ethos.


Ventura Harbour - a good spot for a mooch and a coffee.

Emma Wood State Beach - miles of sandy beach with the perfect body-boarding waves. Just turn off the highway and park up. Oh, and keep an eye out for my lost silver ring whilst you're there!

Lake Casitas - just a short drive from Ventura, this is a great place for canoeing. The water level is very low so you can only imagine just how beautiful it used to be.

Where we ate

Traveler Cafe - just down the road from our house and a good place to go for lunch. The portions are huge!

Prospect Coffee Roasters - another one of those places I've followed on Instagram for a while and one that was on my list of place to visit - so I was very happy to discover that I could see it from my bedroom window!

Beach House Fish - we ate a lot of food on this holiday and I have to say that the blackened shrimp tacos here were definitely in my top three. Sitting outside on the pier watching the sun set with a large glass of rosé helped!

Tony's Pizzaria - not the prettiest setting (on a main road) but the pizzas are very good and there's a sweet little garden to sit out in.

Day 21: LA then home

Our last night was spent back in LA at the Blue Hotel, a cool beachfront motel, not far from Santa Monica Pier. I loved the moroccan vibes and the sweet seated areas outside with views down to the ocean. A blissful way to end our holiday!