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Embark on the Ultimate California Road Trip with Insider Tips From A-Listers

Embark on a sun-soaked journey through the Golden State with the recently launched ‘California Calling - Destination Special’ podcast episode from The Travel Diaries. Award-winning host Holly Rubenstein will take you on a captivating road trip along the iconic Highway 1, starting in vibrant San Francisco and ending on the sun-kissed beaches of Santa Monica. Discover memorable stops along the way from eight special celebrity guests, each sharing their personal highlights from trips to this incredible and diverse state. Listen to the California Calling episode here.

San Francisco
As one of the state’s major gateways, San Francisco holds an iconic position along Highway 1 and is recognisable solely by its Golden Gate Bridge. According to podcast host Holly Rubenstein, the best way to experience the landmark is by bike, cycling across the bridge to Sausalito and then catching the ferry back to San Francisco. Admire views of historic Alcatraz on the 30-minute journey back to the lively city and explore one of the city’s many diverse neighbourhoods from Chinatown to Castro District, there’s some!

Celebrity tip:

  • AirBnB CEO Brian Chesky recommends visiting The Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio, a museum which features the life and legacy of Walt Disney. The museum has a rotating selection of exhibitions and workshops available for bidding storytellers.

Big Sur
Stop in Big Sur, a mesmerising 90-mile coastal stretch between Carmel and Hearst Castle, celebrated by writers like Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac. Located between the Santa Lucia Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, the area is famous for its winding roads, coastal cliffs and scenic mist-shrouded views.

Celebrity tip:

  • Author and filmmaker Jon Ronson recommends wildlife spotting along the coast, from whale watching in Big Sur, which has high turnouts of grey whales from December to April, to spotting Elephant Seals year-round on beaches near San Simeon just south of Big Sur.

SLO CAL (San Luis Obispo County)
The charm of SLO CAL makes it the perfect stop on a road trip along California’s Central Coast. Located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the county boasts scenic beaches, vineyards, quaint towns and 315 days of sunshine. Visitors can try their hand at surfing at the iconic Pismo Beach which is perfect for all ability surfers.

Celebrity tip:

  • Comedian and podcast host Ed Gamble recommends dropping by the infamous Madonna Inn. The unique hotel is renowned for its pink decor and kitsch rooms all with unique themes including the rocky Yosemite Falls or Madonna Suite. Jon Ronson suggests exploring Hearst Castle for a taste of culture; this grand museum showcases Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities, Old Master European paintings and stunning carved ceilings from Renaissance Italy and Spain.

Yosemite National Park
Visiting the magnificent Yosemite National Park is well worth a slight detour on the classic road trip down Highway 1, thanks to its iconic landmarks like Half Dome and El Capitan, along with stunning waterfalls and pristine lakes. You can’t miss the majestic granite walls of Yosemite Valley or the towering giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove.

Celebrity tip:

  • Grammy award-winning musician Gregory Porter recommends reconnecting with nature in Yosemite National Park, having visited as a child and feeling awe-inspired by the pure size of the giant sequoias. The park brought a sense of serenity under the tree canopies with a range of wildlife and even deer roaming around - it is certainly a location for the bucket list!

Santa Barbara
Further down California’s Central Coast is Santa Barbara which features the Santa Ynez Mountains as a striking backdrop. Downtown Santa Barbara showcases Mediterranean-style white stucco buildings with red-tile roofs, echoing the city's Spanish colonial heritage. Downtown Santa Barbara also offers the city’s Urban Wine Trail, where visitors can sample the local wines in a range of tasting rooms. Be sure to check out the Wine Map for best advice to navigate the trail.

Celebrity tip:

  • Destination expert, Chef Nancy Silverton recommends a stay at the luxurious Ojai Valley Inn in Santa Barbara County’s Ojai Valley, nestled at the southern edge of the Los Padres National Forest. The town offers a tranquil retreat where visitors can explore the nine-mile Ojai Valley Trail or experience the town's craft beer and wine scene at the delicious Ojai Valley Brewery & Winery.

Los Angeles
A road trip in California is not complete without a visit to Los Angeles. Scope out the locations from legendary films in Tinsel Town from Beverly Hills to Rodeo Drive. A hike to the Hollywood Sign is also a must-do for any movie buffs. The city is also full of incredible places to stay, whether it be checking into one of the new hotels in Downtown LA, like the stylish Moxy Downtown, or getting great views over the LA skyline in West Hollywood, the Andaz is a favourite for many!

Celebrity tip:

  • English actress and model Poppy Delevigne recommends staying at Chateau Marmont on the border of West Hollywood. This iconic property is a firm favourite for many visitors, designed to be based on a castle in the Loire Valley. Poppy testifies to its beauty but also its comfort, citing its homey feel as a place to return to time and time again.

Santa Monica
Situated 20 minutes west of Downtown Los Angeles is the city of Santa Monica, which combines the best parts of the beach with the teeming oasis of a vibrant city. Its iconic landmark, Santa Monica Pier, encapsulates the character of the city with endless fun, featuring the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel.

Celebrity tip:

  • Beloved former TV presenter Trevor McDonald recommends staying at beachfront hotel, Shutters on the Beach. Guests can enjoy sampling the sun-drenched pool terrace by day and drifting off to the gentle sound of the waves at night. Adjacent to Santa Monica are the nearby Venice Canals which are further favourites from host Holly who recommends strolling along the canals and enjoying the tranquil surroundings.


Top tips from Destination Expert, Chef Nancy Silverton

  • Chez Panisse - Chef Nancy’s favourite restaurant and a Californian culinary icon. Located in Berkeley, Chez Panisse was set up by Alice Walters in the 70s and is recognised as the origin of the farm-to-fork movement. Enjoy Nancy’s favourite dish, a perfect simple green salad with incredible dressing and fresh ingredients.
  • Baroo - Located in Los Angeles, Baroo is another firm favourite of Chef Nancy. The restaurant reopened in the city’s Arts District and serves a tasting menu known for experimental dishes like noorook grain bowls with a menu that reflects life's phases.
  • San Francisco Farmers Markets - Visit one of the many farmers markets in San Francisco and experience the array of produce and goods the Golden State has to offer. Held on Saturdays, the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market is the city’s biggest and most renowned market, with a bounty of goods and local chefs picking their produce ahead of the next week.
  • Boonville Hotel - Venture north to Mendocino to stay at Boonville Hotel, the rural roadhouse which has an ethos of ‘simplicity by design’ prioritising ingredients and the happiness which they can derive.

For more information on California, head to VisitCalifornia.com.