9 must-do stops on the epic California coast
California’s Pacific Coast is prime road-trip fodder. Whether you choose one of the big hitters such as LA, San Francisco or San Diego as your base, or head off the beaten track, you’ll find Instagram opportunities aplenty – from atmospheric Redwood forests in the north to sun-kissed beaches in the south.
See British Airways’ website for more information and holidays. All offers include return flights from London Heathrow and travel dates from February-March; May-June.
Go tree hugging on the far-north California coast
At the edge of Northern California, the trees of the Redwood National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) are truly awe-inspiring. Huge trunks – so big it takes a dozen people, hands clasped, to reach around the largest – rise into the canopy. The redwoods are the world’s tallest trees and only grow on this narrow strip of California coast. And with just 6% of the ancient forest left, now’s the time to see them in all their fog-shrouded glory.
Enjoy draw-dropping ocean views
Bodega Bay is a great place to chill out and really appreciate the knockout beauty of the Californian coast. This picturesque fishing village has plenty of spots to enjoy the view – the Gourmet Au Bay waterside wine bar is a particularly good one to drink in the sunset, as well as a few glasses of wine that the surrounding Sonoma area is known for. Hitchcock fans will recognise it as the setting for the 1963 film “The Birds”.
Watch sea lions steal the limelight in ‘Frisco
If you continue south, you’ll arrive at the Golden Gate Bridge, the gateway to San Francisco. For the best views of the bridge with the cityscape in the background, we suggest exiting the highway onto Alexander Avenue. No visit to ‘Frisco would be complete without a trip to Alcatraz or a bone-shaking ride on one of the city’s 19th-century cable cars – but for us, the Californian sea lions that bake in the sun on Pier 39 are the star attraction.
This May, British Airways will launch direct flights from London Heathrow to San Jose from £515 per person, return. Best known as the capital of Silicon Valley, San Jose is an hour’s drive from San Francisco.
Take a classic postcard snap of a lonely old tree
Coast along the 17-Mile Drive and you’ll be greeted with this impressive sight. Yes, it’s just a tree – rather grandly known as the Lone Cypress – but this spindly, windswept conifer clinging to the granite cliff is probably the most photographed tree in North America. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, on your approach to the 17-Mile Drive, is well worth a visit.
Cross a crumbling canyon and take in the Big Sur coastline
The emerald-green Big Sur sits between the Santa Lucia mountain range and the Pacific Ocean, on a 90-mile stretch of coastline. Bixby Bridge (main pic, above), built over a 260-feet canyon carved by Bixby Creek, is the iconic shot, beautifully showcased in thousands of car commercials. But the region is also home to redwood forests, remote valleys and secluded coves. Look out for migrating whales or sea otters floating among dense beds of kelp.
Spot zebras roaming free in San Simeon
Halfway between San Francisco and LA you’ll find the seaside town of San Simeon, where the standout attraction is Hearst Castle, perched atop the "Enchanted Hill". As well as one of the most beautiful pools we’ve ever seen, the castle has a theatre, a library filled with ancient Greek vases, and extensive grounds. And if you’re lucky, you might see zebras grazing in the pastures along Highway 1 – a legacy from when the Hearst family kept an extensive menagerie, including lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars, in the grounds. Most were sold in the 50s, but others, like the zebras, were allowed to wander freely on the hillside, and still do today.
Take a beach break, LA-style
No Californian round-up would be complete without mention of glitzy, gritty LA. For a break from the urban sprawl, head 15 minutes along the coast from muscle-bound Venice Beach to Santa Monica. This is where Angelenos go for a real American beach escape – think cotton candy and hot dogs on the pier (we like Japadog, with its truly imaginative toppings, plus ice cream in a bun). Sunset views are easy to come by: try the food court at the newly opened Santa Monica Place mall, or the pier to look out over swanky Malibu.
Live the sun-kissed SoCal lifestyle
Fondly dubbed The OC, Orange County embodies the southern California lifestyle. There’s 42 miles of sand to explore, from Huntington Beach, a favourite with the surf crowd, to Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. Join the chi-chi set for a yoga session on the beach, shop in designer stores, take a paddle-board lesson or eat just-off-the-boat seafood at a waterside restaurant.
See San Diego at sunset
San Diego has “America’s most perfect weather” (Lonely Planet), so it’s the ideal place to end our trip down the Californian coast. Throw in a top-notch zoo and safari park, a world-class aquarium and sunsets like this one on Scripps Beach, and you’ve got one hell of a destination. One of our deal experts once lived in San Diego’s seaside jewel La Jolla and used to surf in her lunch break. We’re sold.