There are endless reasons to love California.
For one, it’s always summer. Also, you can order everything with a side of tacos. Finally (and my personal favourite), Insta-worthy views of a spectacular sunset are pretty much everywhere.
Thanks to Visit California and Air New Zealand, I was recently introduced to some of the hottest places to stay, eat and play in The Golden State right now. I travelled in the week leading up to and during Coachella, and there was an awesome vibe throughout the entire region.
Take note if you’re planning a trip – these places won’t let you down.
The Andaz, West Hollywood
With past guests and permanent lodgers including Led Zeppelin, Keith Richards and Paul Stanley, these hallways have seen their fair share of debauchery.
The Andaz was renovated and rebranded in 2009 to pay homage to its rock and roll history, making it a super interesting place to stay in West Hollywood if you’re a music lover.
The hotel really looks after its guests – expect complimentary wine tastings in the lobby of an afternoon, and tea, coffee and pastries in the morning. Upon throwing your luggage down and freshening up, you’ll want to head straight for the rooftop pool bar for a cheeky cocktail set to the highest view of the Hollywood Hills in town.
Monarch Beach Resort, Dana Point
This AAA Five Diamond resort and spa is where the seriously cashed up stay when visiting Orange County. You’ll be enthralled as soon as you enter the lobby but don’t stop there – continue walking through for breathtaking views of the Pacific and the rest of the grounds of the stately resort.
With its own private beach, championship golf links, restorative spa experiences, a gym with a back-to-back timetable, and an array of bar and dining options, Monarch Beach Resort has something for all types of holiday-goers.
While the US in general isn’t revered for its food, California is one state that bucks that trend. I definitely ate some of the best food that I’ve had in my life on this trip.
Being a devout carnivore, I took up the opportunity to have a steak everywhere I went. Hand on my heart, the steak at Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood and The Ritz Carlton in Dana Point were To Die For.
The beauty of dining at Sunset Tower is the incidental star-spotting (I spied Robert Pattinson while there). If you need another reason to dine at The Ritz Carlton in Dana Point, may I simply say just three words: those sunset views.
For a relatively clean, green brunch, stop into King’s Highway, a roadside diner attached to the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. If fresh food is your thing (and it’s my thing) you’ll appreciate the emphasis on locally sourced produce. My tip: the date shake.
Now onto greasier fare. If you’re in San Diego, get yourself on down to the original Crack Shack in Little Italy. You might be wondering what the hell a fried chicken place is doing on a hottest list, but hear me out. Crack Shack was opened in 2015 by Top Chef All Star Richard Blais. The chickens have led a happy, pastured life and the menu is what I would call ‘dude food fancy’. While I didn’t get a chance to personally down a burger, the locals swear by it.
Speaking of food, I want to give a nod to Air New Zealand. Aeroplane food isn’t something travellers normally look forward to, but I made sure I was awake for each service after I had my first meal. If you’re only going to eat one thing, make it the cheese.
I travelled both Premium Economy and Business at various points. While nothing will ever beat the comfort of sprawling out flat in Business, the roominess provided by Premium Economy was nothing to complain about.
California is an absolute playground when it comes to leisure and recreation.
If luxe is your thing, you’ll want to know that the TAO group have just opened Beauty & Essex in the Dream Hotel complex in Hollywood. The entry is inside a bric-a-brac shop, making the experience that much more fun. Inside you’ll find the staff have likely come straight to their shift from a shoot. Make no mistake though – Beauty & Essex is more than just a pretty face. The food is divine (try the tuna tacos), and the cocktails are perfection.
For an open air poolside party featuring big name DJs and views, head to SkyBar in West Hollywood. Opened by Rande Gerber in 1996, SkyBar has somehow managed to retain its sleek reputation in this fickle town. If you’re there after sun down, be sure to take a jacket.
For some non-alcoholic fun in Palm Springs, consider the San Andreas Jeep Tour. You’ll barely notice three hours going by as your guide takes you through the history of the California desert. My only word of warning is to avoid this in the height of summer if you’re bothered by the heat, and be sure to wear a hat and sunscreen. Although plenty of water, snacks and cool towels are provided, that desert sun is a force to be reckoned with.
And of course, if you’re planning a trip to California in April, there is that tiny little phenomenon of a music festival in Palm Springs called Coachella. The festival’s residual effect can be felt through the entire state: surprise side shows, pop-up pool parties, and endless conversation about whether you are or aren’t going to Coachella this year mean that you can still soak up the vibe without putting on a wristband.
If you are attending the festival and you’re not a celebrity, here’s my quick Coachella survival guide.