California is not all about sunshine, tacos and Malibu. Ok, fine, maybe it is just a little. But the true beauty of living in Cali is being able to hit the slopes and the beach in the same day, stumbling upon a hole in the wall that serves the best damn street food you’ve ever had, and sipping on some of the world’s finest wine in wine country. And if you’re going to do just that, make sure you hit up these seven stops to get a true taste of the best coast (err, the West Coast).
Drive down PCH in a super swanky, pretentious car
You’ve seen it in countless movie scenes, so it’s no surprise that one of the most quintessential California pastimes is cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible – preferably an ostentatious red Ferrari (but a Chevy Corvette will do too). The sun kisses your forehead, the waves are crashing in the background and ridiculously tan, bleach blonde surfers change into their wet-suits on the side of the road, exposing their perfectly carved abs that emulate a Michelangelo sculpture. It’s quite the, um, scenic route (ok, ok, the beach is gorgeous too). While you can drive along any point of the 655-mile route which extends from Leggett to Dana Point, you really can’t miss the Malibu stretch.
Sure, there are plenty of can’t-miss, swanky restaurants and bars in the ‘bu like Mastro’s Ocean Club or Nobu, but nothing beats a beach-side fish shack with a neon-lit sign that has sandy beach-goers lining up. Yep, REEL INN is a fish lover’s paradise. Choose from a laundry list of fish (the world is your oyster!), how you like it cooked (grilled or fried) and your choice of seasoning (we recommend Cajun), and then grab a seat on the patio so you can take full advantage of the sunshine while you enjoy some damn fresh fish.
Go straight to In-N-Out as soon as you land at LAX
We’re pretty sure we’re not the first to tell you that this burger joint is the holy grail of the West Coast i.e. a mandatory SoCal stop. It might as well be considered your ticket to entry. Travelers flock to this fast food chain much like paparazzi to the Kardashians. It’s practically a travel ritual: un-board the plane, pick up your luggage, call an Uber and go straight to the In-N-Out drive thru. The burger and fries, animal style (standard) are what burger dreams are made of – slightly crunchy buns, a juicy patty (or two, if you’re feeling extra ravenous), and a not-so-secret sauce that will be oozing out of all corners of your mouth with each bite. Yah, now that's the definition of #foodporn.
Take a leisurely stroll on Rodeo Drive and act like you can afford to smell the air
You can’t pass through LA without pretending to be Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman for a day. You know, the part when she struts down Rodeo Drive and maxes out the credit cards – except you probably don’t have a sugar daddy picking up the tab, or maybe you do, in which case you’ll fit right in to LA and are +1’s allowed on this shopping spree? The two-mile long street in one of the world’s most sought after zip codes is a total tourist trap – in fact, you probably won’t find locals roaming at all – but it’s definitely something you have to check off your California bucket list. Book a room at Beverly Wilshire Hotel (where the movie was filmed) and then walk across the street to luxury goods galore where you may or may not go into cardiac arrest caused by sticker shock.
Let out your inner flower child at Coachella
The annual festival in the desert draws some of the biggest names in music – um, have you seen the lineup this year?! Beyonce (twin bump and all), Radiohead, and Kendrick Lamar are all headlining. But music isn’t the only thing that makes Coachella the most talked about event in April – it’s also the festival fashion. Party goers plan out their outfits as far in advance as they do their accommodations – hello flower crowns, fringe cut-off shorts, and crochet everything! Just scroll through last year’s fashion on Instagram and gawk at the picturesque photos that look like they were ripped out of a glossy magazine with the palm-tree lined desert, giant ferris wheel and rainbow sunset as the backdrop. Whether you were a hippie in another life or not, putting together your Coachella attire is part of the experience, so start stocking up on the shortest shorts and flowy dresses and get your peace signs ready. We’ll see you in the desert!
Warm up with a clam chowder bowl at SF's Fisherman’s Wharf
You’ve just snapped your standard Golden Gate Bridge photo with Karl the Fog glooming over you (which by the way, probably has more followers than you on Instagram and Twitter) and now it’s time to stay warm with classic pier food – a clam chowda’ bread bowl. The ultimate sourdough-filled bowl can be found at the waterfront restaurant, Boudin. Pull up a seat at the Fisherman’s Wharf location (you can get a view of Alcatraz from the second floor) and order yourself a traditional clam chowder that will whisk you away to New England. Once you get to the end of the bowl, pray that no one is watching you pull apart chunks of sourdough and swirl them inside the bread bowl to get every last bite (though who cares? You’ll be happy as a clam).
Go wine tasting in Napa Valley
You don’t have to be a wine snob to go wine tasting – you can just pretend to be one. So, when the sommelier pours you a glass of red and says you should taste hints of wood or cherry, you can just nod your head and say “Mmhmm” out loud when you’re really just thinking, “I taste wine.” But the popular wine region in NorCal is not only home to some of the best wine, its breathtaking vineyards (check out Stags’ Leap and Cakebread Cellars) and outstanding culinary scene (we’re looking at you French Laundry) also make it worth a trip. You can easily spend an entire weekend wine hopping and we’re pretty sure if you weren’t a wine enthusiast before, you’ll develop a palate for it after just one trip to wine country.
Eat some of the best tacos north of the border in San Diego
No trip to California is complete without at least one taco feast and while you can find some of the best Mexican fare sprinkled all throughout The Golden State, San Diego ranks pretty high on that list. Book a room where all the cool kids do at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego right in the heart of trendy Gaslamp Quarter, and then take a 15-minute stroll along Harbor Drive until you end up at The Headquarters at Seaport (an old Police Department turned waterfront shopping and dining destination). A great place to get your taco fix is the vibrant-colored Puesto restaurant which serves up some pretty stellar filet mignon and vegetarian tacos made of zucchini and cactus (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). Pair that with one of their specialty margs and you’ll feel like you’re in Baja California.
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