California Road Trip: Where We Stayed and Visited

In March we flew out to California to spend 13 nights in the sunshine, holiday blues are real people! I’ve had quite a lot of questions on the route we took, where we visited, what we used to book accommodation etc. so strap in as I’m going to ramble on about just that.

Los Angeles

We flew into Los Angeles on a direct flight from Heathrow with Air New Zealand. I’d 100% recommend them as an airline, it was a loooong flight but the service was really good. Food was decent but I never really like plane food so I’m not a good one to judge it, the entertainment however, was so good! I watched so many amazing movies on the way and the selection was perfect for me. I cried to A Star is Born (always), danced along to The Greatest Showman, lived my best life watching the Princess and the Frog and even had time to watch a couple of films I hadn’t seen yet. An all round productive flight if you ask me!

Where we stayed: The Garland, Los Angeles

How many nights: 2

This hotel was perfect, it was modern, clean and the location was great for what we needed. We checked in pretty late after landing at LAX and collecting our hire car but the staff were really friendly and we easily found our room.

Jet lag meant we woke up really early on our first day, so we went to a nearby Target for snacks (which was sooooo quiet!!) before heading over to the Warner Bros Studio Tour Hollywood. I can’t recommend that tour enough, it lasted around 3 hours and we loved every second of it. We spent the rest of the day seeing the sights like the Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills. We also ate at In-N-Out burger and drove up to the Griffith Observatory.

The Garland is perfect if you are looking to visit Universal as they have a free shuttle to the park and back. We took advantage of this on the day we checked out of The Garland and jumped on the first shuttle of the day. We were able to drop our bags with the concierge and leave the car at the hotel, so once we were done at Universal we were on our way to our next location. We did actually end up getting an Uber back to the hotel but that was just because we were finished there and there was quite a big gap for the next shuttle.

Anaheim

We made the short drive from Los Angeles to Anaheim mid afternoon as we headed for the Disney portion of our holiday. Anyone who knows me personally knows I was the most excited I think I could have ever been on that drive. We did get caught in some LA traffic but I think that is very hard to avoid!

Where we stayed: Howard Johnson Anaheim

How many nights: 3

This hotel was absolutely perfect for anyone visiting the area for Disneyland. We had the most gorgeous room with two double beds that had a view of the park. We arrived there early afternoon, checked in with the lovely staff and whilst I fan-girled over the fact I could SEE THE MATTERHORN RIDE FROM OUR ROOM, Nick noticed there was a small outlet mall nearby. We headed over there where I bought the Loungefly bag of Disney dreams from Hot Topic and a bargain pair of pink Adidas trainers… also of dreams! We headed back to the Hojo and were able to watch the fireworks from our balcony, I was definitely a bit emotional and I hadn’t even stepped in the park!

During our 3 night stay we spent most of our time at Disneyland which was a 7 minute walk from the hotel. There are a few hotels slightly closer but I couldn’t fault Hojo with the room being so beautiful and clean so I’d definitely stay there again if* I was to go back (*WHEN, hopefully). There is a Blaze pizza nearby which is our favourite so we ate there one night, don’t miss that!!

Santa Barbara

I visited Santa Barbara with work in September 2017 and whilst I was there said I’d be coming back with my boyfriend, I just knew I had to go back. I loved everything about it, the weather, the beach, the laid back vibe. This was the first proper ‘road trip’ part of our trip and our first taste of driving down the coast… the views!!!

Where we stayed: Private Studio Near Beach – Airbnb

How many nights: 2

We arrived at our Airbnb in the evening and to be honest, I wasn’t blown away. On my previous trip with work I’d stayed at Hotel Milo and whilst I knew this wasn’t going to be on the beach, it wasn’t really that close to it either. Having said that it was clean, well furnished and with the car we were able to get everywhere we needed to.

We took Santa Barbara incredibly slow after having action packed days since arriving in California. We ate at Chick-fil-a the first evening and went to Trader Joes for some more supplies… which was basically just a huge box of sugar cookies. We went to iHop for breakfast the next day and I’m not sure why we bother as it’s not great and extremely overpriced for what it is. We hiked the 7 falls (kind off), visited the beach and ate the most amazing Mexican food at this tiny little place called La Super-Rica Taqueria. The queues are long and there isn’t loads of seating but it’s really nice food and a super cheap eat.

Cambria

We left Santa Barbara fairly early to get to Cambria as it was a pretty long drive. We drove along the Pacific Coast Highway as much as we could so it took us longer than if we were to take the main roads inland, but the scenery is not to be missed.

The beauty of a road trip is that you can stop wherever you like and we drove through some really cute towns, got out and had a quick explore before continuing. Places like Lompoc and Guadalupe are really cute to drive through and we stopped at Shell Beach with hamburgers we’d bought at Garland Hamburgers. We also took a slight detour to San Luis Obispo for ice cream at Cowboy Cookie and to see their famous ‘bubble gum wall.’ The last stop before Cambria was Morro Bay which was another lovely short walk around in the sunshine, here we saw sea otters which were honestly THE CUTEST THINGS EVER!

Where we stayed: Sand Pebbles Inn, Cambria

How many nights: 1

We arrived here after a day of driving, singing together in the car and repeatedly putting the roof up and down, so… we were pretty tired! After checking in to what was a bloody lovely hotel, 100000% recommend this, like seriously!!! we headed out to the beach for a walk. Be warned it isn’t a sand beach, which we probably should have known as it’s called ‘Moonstone Beach’ but you live and learn. We painfully walked on the beach before agreeing to take the path above instead… much nicer on the feet! We ended up sitting on some rocks on the beach, chatted and watched the world go by. There is something so satisfying about listening to the sea that I just didn’t understand before this trip.  We watched the sunset from the beach which was just so beautiful before heading for some food as everywhere closed pretty early in the area.

Food-wise I wouldn’t really recommend where we went, it was incredibly basic and my pizza was just cheese and the base… where is my tomato, man! We ate at JBJ Round Up (or something like that) and whilst I don’t know how good everywhere else in the area is, I’d probably try one of them instead. You win some, you lose some!

We left pretty early the next day so we could take the longest drive of our trip up to Monterey, but not after having the lovely breakfast at the hotel. It was included in the price and was really good, you could have toast, yoghurt, cereal, fruit etc. but they also had waffle makers, so of course we both had a waffle each. There was even a topping area with loads of different toppings and sauces… so bloody good.

Monterey

The drive to Monterey was by far our favourite of the trip, it’s exactly what you picture when you imagine a road trip along the west coast. We stopped off at Ragged Point to see Elephant Seals which was incredible! We stopped as we drove soooo many times to stake in the view, it was honestly breathtaking. We even spotted whales who apparently migrate up the coast at this time of year… who knew? We saw Bixby Bridge whilst driving through Big Sur before making our way to our hotel in Monterey.

Where we stayed: Portola Hotel & Spa, Monterey

How many nights: 1

We arrived in Monterey early afternoon, checked in and headed for the Aquarium. We walked from our hotel which took around 35 minutes but it was nice to see the area. The Aquarium is a must do in the area because it’s supposed to be one of the best in the world, but we were left underwhelmed and only spent around an hour there. We had a wander around the shops, ate in an Irish bar as 1. there weren’t too many options we fancied and 2. Everywhere was pretty expensive.

We fell into an arcade (we bloody love them!) so played on a few machines before getting the free trolley back to the hotel. We did plan to go out that evening but ended up staying in the hotel (room was lovely!) and watched Undercover Boss whilst playing jenga with our suitcases ahead of our drive to San Francisco.

San Francisco

We left the hotel in Monterey fairly early, grabbed Starbucks for breakfast and started making our way up to San Francisco. We were giving the car back here so had to spend some time getting everything together as the car may or may not have become a bit of a dumping ground for our belongings…

We stopped off at Santa Cruz Beach on the way as well as a couple of other places which weren’t really that interesting before making it to our hotel in San Fran. It wasn’t the best drive of the trip, but the views the day before were hard to beat.

Where we stayed: Hotel Vertigo, San Francisco

How many nights: 2 (I’d recommend at least 3)

Hotels in San Francisco were bloody expensive, like ridiculously extortionate. I know we were there just as Spring Break was starting but MY GOD! We paid a lot for this hotel so I was expecting something amazing and it was probably the worst place we stayed during the whole trip.

It was clean, yes, but it was dated, the staff weren’t particularly friendly and the interior of the room was ORANGE. So. Much. Orange. There were some building works going on that started at like 7am both mornings which woke us up so we just weren’t best pleased with the experience. Location-wise it was OK, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Because it was so expensive we could realistically only afford two nights there, I think three would have been good (but not at that hotel lol). This meant that we did run around doing as much as we could… and as we dropped the car off and San Fran IS SO DAMN HILLY we spent an absolute arm and a leg on Uber and Lyft. We knew we’d need to do this, but not to the extend we did. So, definitely one to remember to budget if you are heading there.

We visited the Walt Disney Family Museum which was amazing! If you are a Disney fan, this is an absolute must do! I almost cried at the end as it ends with Walts passing, it’s a truly amazing museum about Walt Disney’s life and history, but also how the rest of the family were involved. The gift shop is also really lovely and I picked up a few bits and pieces.

We ate at a place in China town that was OK, visited the Westfield so I could pick up a few bits in Bath and Body Works and wandered around the Disney Store. We attempted Thrift shopping but the stores didn’t open when they said they would so we headed for the bridge, hired electric bikes via the Uber app and spent 2 hours riding the Golden Gate Bridge and the amazing parks nearby. We saw Mrs Doubtfires house and the Painted Ladies. Ate our 2nd In-N-Out Burger of the trip near Fishermans Wharf and then headed to Musee Mecanique to find the machine from The Princess Diaries. I loved that little arcade, it’s full of really old machines that are super cheap, it was a nice way to spend half an hour or so.

I grabbed some donuts from Trish’s Mini Donuts on Pier 39 (they were fab!) before our nighttime Alcatraz tour which was NEXT LEVEL AMAZING. Earlier in the day we ran (or cycled!) into one of my old work colleagues (so random) who just happened to be getting the boat over to Alcatraz half an hour before us. Once we’d done the amazing audio tour, we bumped into them and spent the rest of the evening at the talks and exploring parts they leave closed during the day. Visiting Alcatraz and taking the tour was by far one of my highlights of the trip!

Santa Monica

We flew back to LA from San Francisco later than planned, after a cancelled flight, a delayed re-scheduled one AND shit customer service from South West Airlines. We missed the last big thing of the trip, seeing Catfish and the Bottlemen on the Jimmy Kimmel show and arrived into LAX as we needed to be there, so that was brilliant.

Where we stayed: Stylish Guesthouse Close To Beach

How many nights: 2

Not letting the delay annoy us, we got an Uber to our Airbnb which was absolutely beautiful. I’m not sure why they sell it as ‘Close To Beach’ as it isn’t but it was honestly so amazing. Furnished beautifully, so clean and the bed was the comfiest thing I’d ever slept on! By the time we had checked in it was getting late, so we got an Uber to a Chick-fil-a, grabbed dinner and ate it walking down towards the beach. We wandered along Santa Monica Pier (which is fab!) and then spent a good hour in the arcade – does anyone else love them!? We won loads of tickets on a machine and traded them in for a stuffed duck… don’t ask, but it will always remind us on the trip!

On our last full day we headed to Melrose Ave as I hadn’t been to Glossier yet (was top of my list). Their store is really cute, they have all of the products out to try and you order on a tablet with a member of staff, whilst another packages it up. They bring it out in a cute tote and as I’m a sucker for anything like that, I left $70 lighter. We wandered around a few other stores, found some cute walls to take photos in front of (we all love that) and picked up some things we wanted to take home from Target. We also went to TJ MAXX and can I just say, the UK need to up their game! They had BLOODY GUCCI!!!!! We spent the rest of the afternoon on electric scooters going to Venice Beach, eating ice-cream, people watching and drinking Slurpee’s from Seven Eleven.

On the day we flew home, our flight wasn’t until late afternoon so we dropped our bags at a secure place and headed over to Manhattan Beach. This is one of my favourite memories from the trip, we saw two electric bikes on the Uber app and that was it for miiiiiles, but people were crowding them and trying to work out how to use them. I’m confused as to why they struggled as it’s so easy, so when they failed we unlocked them and rode down the coast on a huge cycle path through other beaches like Dockweiler. We ended up at Marina Del Rey where I treated myself to one last thing in Sephora before heading to get our bags and back to the airport.

We genuinely had the best trip ever and I wish I could do it all over again! I hope this has been helpful, appreciate it’s a lot of words (almost 3k!) but if you have any questions, DM me on Instagram (@bethanyfrancesca_)

2 Comments

  1. Bethany, this is a great read. Thank you for all your information. Can I ask did you drive around Los Angeles when you did Hollywood Walk of Fame etc? How did you find parking? Angela 😊

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