The Road Less Travelled: An Alternative Californian Road Trip

The Road Less Travelled: An Alternative Californian Road Trip

California is a utopia for road-trippers, but on this itinerary, we’re swerving the classics for a more creative cruise through America’s most dynamic state.

is what road-trip dreams are made of, with cities
that sparkle with glamour and cultural significance, and easily
accessible yet extravagantly beautiful natural scenery. There are
Western-style frontier towns and desert moonscapes to the
south-east, verdant and dramatic ancient forests to the north,
laidback surf towns and sandy beaches hugging the
Pacific Coast Highway
to the west, and snow-capped mountains
and soaring granite peaks in the rugged interior – all within easy
reach of compelling and characterful cities across the state.
Buckle up, your Californian road trip starts here.

Days 1-2: Los Angeles

Allow us to soften your landing at LAX: the new Hotel June West LA (a sister property to the chic –
but pricier – Santa Monica Proper Hotel) enjoys a prime position
just over a kilometre from the airport, and an easy 15-minute drive
(or £7.50 Uber trip) from Venice Beach, one of LA’s most diverse,
progressive and walkable neighbourhoods. East-to-west jet lag
generally has European travellers up at the crack of dawn: beat the
queues at cult bakery Gjusta by arriving for breakfast at 7am, then rent a
bike and cruise along the boardwalk to Santa Monica. Downtown LA is
a 30-minute drive from the Hotel June, and it’s worth the trip for
a table at restauranteur Jon Yao’s hit Taiwanese tasting-menu
restaurant Kato, now in a bigger space in the buzzy ROW DTLA arts district
complex of galleries, restaurants and design stores.


Days 3-4: San Diego and Temecula Valley Wine Country

Most tourists head to Sonoma and Napa for their winelands fix,
but the low-key local favourite, Temecula Valley, situated between
Los Angeles and San Diego, is one of the state’s best-kept secrets.
Start with the much-loved Akash Winery, owned by the Patel family, where
a rotation of local food trucks fuels a crowd sipping crisp
rieslings and plummy zinfandels on the patio. Bed down in the
fabulously quirky four-bedroom Hotel Temecula,
a rustic and historic delight dating back to the early 19th
century, and nix the wine haze with ham and eggs at the Swing Inn Café
around the corner, before heading on to San Diego for a day of
under-the-radar art shows, such as Wonderspaces,
and the cultural anthropology collection Museum of Us.

Days 5-6: Greater Palm Springs

It’s easy to fall in love with liveable Californian cities like
Los Angeles and San Diego, especially when you grasp how easy it is
to escape the city for the beach, desert or forest. After a culture
and taco fix in San Diego, schedule in some good old-fashioned
R&R in the decadent desert enclaves of Greater Palm Springs,
where Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack built extravagant modernist
homes during the 1940s and 1950s. Today, a bohemian,
LGBTQ+-friendly party spirit prevails. Two Bunch Palms has recently
been given a style and sustainability overhaul by new owner Erica
Chang, a millennial wellness entrepreneur who upgraded this 1940s
hot-springs hotel into a pioneering feel-good luxury retreat. Set
the alarm early one morning to catch a searing-pink desert sunrise
in Joshua Tree National Park, and stop for lunch at the Ace Hotel
as you pass through Palm Springs.

Days 7-8: Ojai to Los Alamos

Buckle up for a slow roll through two of Southern California’s
smallest and most seductive towns. Ojai is as famed for its
bohemian, artsy community as it is for its orange and avocado
groves and fertile farmland. Check into Ojai Rancho Inn and
explore this laidback town on one of the hotel’s cruisers, swinging
by design-led stores In The Field, Summer Camp and Sam Roberts.
Dine on vegan Mexican fare at Farmer and
the Cook
, then wake up early to hike the Shelf Road Trail,
before setting off for Los Alamos.

Photo credit: Nancy Neil, Alamo Motel | Skyview Los

At first glance, Los Alamos resembles a Western set, with
vintage signage and historic facades. Look a little closer,
however, and you’ll spot cool bakeries like Bob’s Well Bread
Bakery, the female-owned Casa Dumetz Wines, with its lovely tasting
room, and drinking dens such as the 1880 Union Saloon. As the gateway to the Santa
Ynez Valley wine region, Los Alamos is prime mini-break material
for food- and wine-loving Angelenos. The stylish Alamo
is a sister property to Ojai Rancho Inn, while the
Skyview is a beautifully remodelled 1950s roadside
motel with a pool, vineyard and fire pits made for stargazing.

Days 9-10: Big Sur

Most visitors splurge on fancy honeymoon-grade lodges in Big
Sur, but this extravagantly beautiful stretch of coastline is all
about the outdoors, and camping among the redwoods at Ventana
is the best way to immerse yourself in the scenery
that inspired writers like Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac. Lap up
the local flavour (and exemplary huevos rancheros) at Deetjen’s, hike the
McWay Falls Overlook Trail, and follow that up with hearty soup and
coffee at Big Sur Bakery, but mainly, get lost among the

Days 11-12: Santa Cruz

County seat Santa Cruz is a sleeper hit – the laid-back surf-and
music-loving town that was atmospherically captured in cult movie
The Lost Boys. This is a great place to park up for a couple of
days, ideally, in a retro motel overlooking the famous Santa Cruz
Beach Boardwalk, spending your time taking surf lessons, refuelling
on fish tacos and touring the distilleries and breweries, many of
which get lively after dark. A favourite haunt is Venus Spirits,
famed locally for its award-winning gin. This town is also firmly
on the music map, making it the perfect place to catch emerging
bands at revamped golden age theatres and battered dive bars. We
recommend checking out who’s playing at The Catalyst, a
happening venue on Pacific Avenue.

Days 13-14: San Francisco

San Francisco has been a politically progressive cultural
incubator for decades, nurturing Beat Generation writers Jack
Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg in the 1950s, giving rise to the
counterculture and hippie movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, and
sparking jazz, rock and alternative music scenes in the bars of
Haight-Ashbury and beyond.

Today, San Francisco’s longstanding commitment to social
activism and political engagement is perhaps most tangible in the
Mission District. Named after the Mission Dolores, dating back to
1776, the district has seen rapid gentrification, but the hipster
vibe can’t overpower its Latino roots. Old-school eateries such as
Taqueria rub up against craft cocktail bars like
and the innovative, Argentine-inspired Lolinda. The Mission
wears its politics on its walls, with its hundreds of murals and
street-art works, so prioritise a free murals tour by SF City Guides,
starting at Precita Eyes Muralists HQ.

Bed down in the nectarine-hued Palihotel, packed with sleek design touches – think
original Victorian Architecture, retro Smeg fridges and custom
artwork. It’s central location puts you right in the thick of the
city. Just around the corner is the groundbreaking Asian Art Museum, one
of the biggest Asian art collections in the world.

The Lowdown

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