There’s no end to the adventures California has to offer, from beach days to mountain hikes, whale spotting to wine sipping. So why not stay a little longer and visit more than one iconic Golden State city?
Spend your days relaxing on powder-soft sands, discovering barren deserts, exploring lively cities, or admiring the wonderful vistas this state boasts. And, of course, no visit is complete without snapping a picture with the Hollywood sign or walking the Golden Gate Bridge.
Whatever type of holidaymaker you are, you’ll find your dream escape with a California twin-centre holiday. And with our friendly, expert team on hand to help you plan the adventure of a lifetime, you’re in safe hands. Ready to make memories?
California is known for its rugged beauty, with stunning Pacific coastlines, vast deserts, and breath-taking national parks. Of course, there are iconic and lively cities too, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, perfect for those who want a faster pace. Discover the Californian way of life and – trust us – you won’t want to leave.
From the long stretches of golden sands at Malibu and Laguna Beach, to the lively piers at Santa Monica and Newport Beach, to the rugged coastline of Monterey – there’s more to California beaches than meets the eye. Pack your sun cream and enjoy a day of ocean breeze and Pacific waters.
California is home to nine national parks – more than any other US state. Each has their own appeal, from the ominous Death Valley to the charm of Joshua Tree. Yosemite is perhaps its most famous, attracting millions of visitors each year. It boasts some of the best hiking trails and views in the country.
There’s more to California than beaches and parks though; the state’s cities are well worth a visit (although, granted, most are coastal cities offering the best of both worlds!). From Los Angeles and San Diego to the state’s capital, Sacramento, or the excitement of San Francisco, get ready to explore.
Picture California and you’ll likely think of at least one of the state’s famous landmarks, from the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. But there are lesser-known landmarks to discover too, including Hearst Castle on Highway 1 and Glass Beach in Fort Bragg.
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Our California Favourites
Golden Gate Bridge
A multi-centre holiday to California wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the famous Golden Gate Bridge, which linked San Francisco with Marin County to the north. Hike, walk, or bike the 1.3-mile bridge, or if you’re interested in the history of the Bridge, enjoy a free walking tour offered by San Francisco City Guides, available twice each week. We recommend visiting at dawn to beat the crowds and see the incredible sunrise over the city and Bay.
Both ends of the Bridge touch the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, too, where you’ll find picturesque trails and stunning vista points — well worth a visit even if you don’t walk the Bridge itself.
San Diego Zoo
San Diego is home to one of the best-kept zoos in the world, with 100 acres of park and over 4,000 animals, as well as rides, tours, and even a 3D theatre. With so much to see and so many animals to meet, you’ll easily spend an entire day exploring the zoo. Say hello to the lions, giraffes, hippos, and even polar bears, which you can see on both land and underwater at the Polar Plunge.
Want to get a better view of the zoo? Jump aboard the Skyfari ride, which offers visitors incredible aerial views over the zoo and the surrounding area of Balboa Park.
Walk of Fame
Probably the world’s most famous sidewalk, the Hollywood Walk of Fame is a must-see for lovers of the world of celebrity. The stars are located on both sides of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, stretching 1.3 miles on the former and 0.4 miles on the latter. There are over 2,700 stars dedicated to some of the world’s biggest A-listers, past and present.
There are five fields recognised on the Walk of Fame – film, TV, radio, live performance, and music – with only Gene Autry being awarded all five stars. Why not see if you can spot all five during your visit, in between finding your favourite icons?
Santa Monica Pier
The exciting city of Santa Monica is packed with things to do, but top of the list is always the famous pier. Probably the area’s most iconic landmark, it’s packed with family-friendly activities, restaurants, and shops. But the real gem is probably Pacific Park – the West Coast’s only amusement park located on a pier and home to the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel. There’s a rollercoaster too for those thrill-seekers.
Keen fishermen and women will also be delighted that the Pier is home to a huge array of fish, with no licence needed to drop a line. Or, if you’d rather admire the marine life, head to the Heal the Bay Aquarium below the carousel for incredible, interactive exhibits.
Huntington Beach, Orange County
Known as Surf City USA® since the 1920s, Huntington Beach is a watersports lover’s paradise, with crashing waves beside 10 miles of uninterrupted sandy beaches. Grab a board and catch some waves, with a constant year-round swell.
Not a surfer? No problem! Huntington Beach is also great for biking, kayaking, or lazing beside the beach bonfire pits. There’s an iconic pier too, spanning 1,850 ft, which offers breathtaking views of some of the best West Coast sunsets. We also recommend the whale watching tours from Newport Harbor (just 15 minutes from Huntington Beach), where you can view blue whales, humpbacks, dolphins, and more.
Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur
Not your average beach, Pfeiffer Beach on the Big Sur coast is known for its unique purple sand and unspoiled shoreline. It’s a little off the beaten track, meaning it’s popular with locals but still relatively unknown among California tourists. You’ll see stunning views of the sea stacks and rock formations Big Sur is known for, as well as incredible sunsets thanks to its west-facing location.
The beach is basic, with no restaurants, bars or attractions lining the coast, allowing you to get up close to nature. Instead, spend your day building violet-hued sandcastles or swimming in the cold waters (but be warned, there are no lifeguards on duty).
Coronado Beach, San Diego
Consistently voted one of the US’ best beach locations, the family-friendly Coronado Beach is hugely popular, but thanks to its length there’s always space to spread out comfortably and relax. You’ll often spot professional sandcastle builders carving elaborate castles, which make an unforgettable holiday snap.
Coronado Beach is generally a safe spot to swim, thanks to protection from the waves by Point Loma to the west, making it a great beach destination for families. Why not add it to your list of places to visit on your California multi-centre holiday?
East Beach, Santa Barbara
Spend a day relaxing on the golden sands of East Beach in Santa Barbara, which has all the amenities any sunworshipper could wish for. Bordered by a tree-lined park, its photo-worthy view certainly has the wow factor, making you feel close to nature.
Families will love the kids’ play area and the lifeguard-manned waters, while active groups can try stand-up paddle boarding, go biking, or play a game of volleyball. There’s also Santa Barbara’s famous pier, Stearns Wharf, which is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Here, grab an ice cream, savour delicious seafood at the restaurants, or simply enjoy the view.
From high-end designer brands to independent market stores, San Francisco has a vibrant shopping scene with something to suit every budget. Visit the iconic Pier 39 and enjoy a day of shopping on the waterfront, with over 50 stores to choose from; it’s the perfect spot to pick up a souvenir or two or perhaps treat yourself to some new jewellery or clothes. Plus, the views of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, as well as Alcatraz, make a stunning backdrop for your mid-shop lunch or coffee stop.
Union Square is also well worth a visit if you’re planning to shop ‘til you drop on your California twin-centre holiday. You’ll find a mix of high-end designers (including Gucci and Hermes), upscale department stores like Saks, and your favourite high street brands. Why not plan a San Francisco multi-centre and stay in the city a little longer to explore it all?
With a boutique or mall on every corner, LA is the perfect spot to get your shopping fix. Head to the esteemed Beverly Hills and make a stop at Saks Fifth Avenue, where you’ll find brands including Saint Laurent, Alice + Olivia, and Alexander McQueen. The luxury continues at The Webster on Beverly Boulevard, where you’ll find exclusive designer collaborations, and the famous Rodeo Drive, where you’ll likely spot an A-lister or two heading to Burberry, Cartier, and more.
On more of a budget? Visit Glendale Galleria, a striking three-storey mall that’s home to all your favourite high street stores.
The O.C. is famed for more than great surf, with it being home to California’s largest luxury shopping complex, South Coast Plaza. Here, you’ll be able to shop at over 250 iconic high-end brands, including Chanel and Prada, as well as dine at award-winning restaurants. More designer buys can be found at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island, which feels more like a resort than a mall thanks to its Italian-style piazzas, ocean views, and swaying palms.
More of a bargain hunter? The Outlets at Orange is worth a visit. Home to more than 120 value stores, as well as movie theatres, bowling alleys, and even an indoor skate park, the whole family will love spending the day here.
For a more eclectic shopping scene, add a visit to Santa Cruz to your multi-centre itinerary. First, visit Downtown Pacific Avenue, where independent stores and local brands line the streets; keen surfers will delight at the O’Neill’s shop, which started in Santa Cruz and is now an icon in the surf community. Tourists also love the Capitola Village, known for not only its beach and restaurants but also its excellent shopping.
More of a bookworm? Visit Bookshop Santa Cruz and catch an author talk. Love antiques? The second Sunday of the month sees the Santa Cruz Antique Faire, which pops up on Lincoln Street.
One of the wonders of the natural world, Yosemite Valley must be seen to be believed. Spanning nearly eight miles wide and with granite walls towering more than double the height of the Empire State Building, the glacial valley is one of the gems of the Yosemite National Park. Here, you’ll find mountain-climbing meccas and stunning waterfalls, which adrenaline junkies love to dive off into the water below.
The valley floor is often overlooked but boasts its own kind of magic. Follow the Merced River and discover meadows of deer and coyotes – bears are also known to pop up after dark. Keen cyclists will love exploring via the extensive bike paths through the valley.
Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park is a World Heritage Site and home to the world’s tallest (and oldest) trees, so if it isn’t already on your list of things to see and do on your California multi-centre holiday, it should be! The redwood trees here can reach over 370 ft (113m) tall – that’s even higher than Big Ben – with many over 2,000 years old!
Spend a day exploring by foot, bike, or horseback, with 200 miles of trails to discover. Enjoy the best of coast and country with rugged ocean views as well as forests and rivers, with the park teeming with opportunities for wildlife spotting, from whales and seals to Roosevelt Elk.
Big Sur Coast
There’s more to California’s coastline than long, sandy beaches (although the state has plenty of those, too). Big Sur is probably the Golden State’s most unforgettable, stretching 90 miles between Carmel-by-the-Sea and Hearst Castle. You’ll catch your first glimpse of the rugged coast along the winding Highway 1, with plenty of opportunity to stop and admire the incredible vista before you. If you’re lucky, you may spot migrating whales too.
Don your walking boots and hike down to a secluded cove (although remember that what goes down, must come back up again!). Partington Cove is well worth a visit; it’s approximately a two-mile round trip from Highway 1, but the climb back up is 300 ft.
Joshua Tree National Park
California is known for its deserts too, and two ecosystems combine at Joshua Tree National Park. Spot the fascinating variety of desert flora and fauna, witness wild animals in their natural habitat, admire the dark night skies that are ideal for stargazing, and even try rock climbing. For breathtaking vistas, visit Keys View – the highest point in Joshua Tree; visit at dusk for an unforgettable sunset view.
There are plenty of walking trails to discover during your visit to Joshua Tree, but keep in mind that this is the desert, and in summer months, temperatures can reach over 38°C, so this site is best saved for the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn for the most comfortable exploring weather.
Yes, the humble cheeseburger is a California staple and was thought to have been created right here in the Golden State. Although there are many theories, the most popular is that it was invented by a 16-year-old cook at The Rite Spot restaurant in Pasadena, California, when he added a slice of American cheese to a sizzling patty.
The American classic has been recreated several times over, with each eatery having its own spin. In upscale LA restaurants, you’re more likely to find a Waygu beef cheeseburger, while in Napa Valley burgers can be topped with Maytag blue cheese. Yum.
Cobb salads may be an American classic now, but they were invented in the 1930s at The Brown Derby, a famous Los Angeles restaurant. The idea was simple – owner Robert Cobb simply tossed leftover ingredients with seasoning, a vinaigrette, and Worcestershire sauce, and the rest, they say, is history.
A classic Cobb salad features hard-boiled eggs, salad greens, chicken breast, avocado, chopped bacon, tomatoes, and Roquefort cheese, making it a delicious and hearty lunch or dinner dish. For a true California fusion, enjoy with ranch dressing – another state invention, said to have been created in Santa Barbara in the 1950s.
There’s a reason uramaki is known as a California roll, with the dish claimed to be invented by a Japanese chef in California during the 1960s. Whether that’s true or not, the sushi roll – prepared with sushi rice, nori, crab or surimi, avocado, and cucumber – is a staple on California’s Japanese restaurant menus.
For some of the best sushi in California, visit Daigo Sushi in San Francisco, Sushi Ota in San Diego, or Sugarfish in LA. There are also 80 Michelin-starred Japanese restaurants in the state if you’re looking for something extra special during your multi-centre holiday to California.
Pizza is as much of a US delicacy as Italian, and in 1980 chefs at the famous restaurant Chex Panisse created the California-style pizza. The dish combines New York and Italian thin crusts with unusual topping combinations featuring a variety of fresh, local produce. In-keeping with the state’s health-conscious image, many California-style pizzas feature healthier, organic toppings, including artichoke hearts and avocado, as well as goats’ cheese.
For the best California-style pizzas in the state, visit Pizzeria Mozza in LA, Gjelina in Venice Beach, or California Pizza Kitchen in Beverly Hills. Best enjoyed with a local white wine or beer (or a soft drink for the little ones!).
California is generally 8 hours behind the UK, observing Pacific Standard Time (PST) or Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) depending on the time of year you visit. But keep in mind that, if you’re travelling in March or November, US clocks go forward or backward an hour on different Sundays than in the UK, so it’s best to check the time zones before you travel.
Yes, we encourage it! California is a state that offers the best of everything, from beach days and mountain hikes to landmarks and more, so to get a true feel it’s recommended you travel around a little. View all our multi-centre holidays and get planning!
Spring is the ideal time to visit California, avoiding the crowds and sweltering heat of summer. Visit in April and enjoy average temperatures of 23°C in Los Angeles and San Jose, while San Francisco is still a mild 17°C in the hottest part of the day. The lake regions are cooler still, while Death Valley can reach 32°C. Autumn is also a good time to visit, with October temperatures averaging at 26°C in LA, 24°C in San Jose, and 21°C in San Francisco.
There are multiple California airports offering direct flights from the UK, so you’re spoilt for choice on where to start and end your California twin-centre holiday. If you’re heading to LA first, there are approximately nine daily direct flights between London Gatwick or Heathrow and Los Angeles International (LAX), with one-stop flights from Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Bristol.
You can also fly directly to San Francisco International (SFO), San Diego International (SAN), and Mineta San Jose International (SJC) from London airports. Adding California to another US destination trip? You lucky thing! There are many more smaller, local airports in California offering internal US flights.
If you need flight advice for your multi-centre holiday, just ask our friendly USA experts who will be only too happy to help.
Renting a car is the easiest way to see everything California has to offer, with its highways offering some of the most picturesque views in all the US (particularly if you’re travelling Highway 1 at Big Sur, where if you’re lucky you’ll spot breaching whales as you drive). With a car, you can explore the state at your own pace, with car hire available from all major airports and in all main cities.