Our very own little socialite Lucie, embarked on one of the most popular Fly Drives to California organised by If Only and Virgin Atlantic. Follow her journey with this epic itinerary…
I took off from Heathrow, Terminal 3 along with Carla Hutchings and Sara Irving from If Only as well as 10 fellow travel consultants, all as excited as each other ready for our Californian adventure!
Virgin Atlantic premium economy was a real treat. I felt special from start to finish from the glass of champagne upon embarking to the fantastic entertainment in a very comfy seat! And if I felt peckish between meals I could walk up to the ‘wonder wall’ in the gallery and pick from a selection of chocolate, crisps and drinks!
LA Airport to Santa Barbara
Arriving into Los Angeles and after getting through USA immigration, we were greeted by our driver, Tony, from Santa Barbara Tourism, where we then made the 2 hour journey to Santa Barbara.
We spent our first night staying at The Upham Hotel, Santa Barbara. I was shown to my two-bedroom suite with its very own courtyard and small fountain. The room was bright, spacious and it felt like a home away from home.
Set in the beautiful gardens a private group wine tasting hosted by the Santa Barbara Winery had been arranged for us. We were able to taste some of the regions finest white and red wines, which were delicious. This was then followed by a site visit and Michelin star dinner at San Ysidro Ranch.
The ranch is absolutely beautiful, and I can see why honeymooners and couples would come to this tranquil sanctuary! We sat outside on the terrace under the twinkly fairy lights and clear view of the stars and enjoyed a delicious dinner.
The next morning, we travelled further towards the beach to our next stop for the next two nights. Here we stayed at Hotel Californian, on arriving we headed into town for our Eat This, Shoot That Tour. This is a workshop on how to get great photos of your food and drink.
For as little as $99 per person you can join a tour which takes you around Santa Barbara to try out the local cuisine as well as wine tastings at a variety of venues. Whilst on the tour, the tour guides show you how to capture the best photos of your food and drinks using your phone camera!
That afternoon a few of us decided to hire bikes from the hotel. We headed towards the beach and explored the beach area and the harbour. Santa Barbara has a wonderful bike/foot path which runs the whole length of the beach making it perfect for jogging, cycling and walking.
That evening we headed to the gorgeous Loquita, which was only a few blocks from the hotel. We sat outside in the courtyard garden and enjoyed a Spanish tapas dinner followed by some delicious cocktails.
The following day, we popped across the road to Goat Tree restaurant and I enjoyed a freshly made smashed avocado on toast for breakfast. After filling ourselves up we headed back across the road for a site visit of our hotel – Hotel Californian. This place has a Moroccan and Art Deco décor and each individual tile has been hand-picked. The hotel is split over three corners of an intersection, one block from the beach, making it the perfect place to get to the hustle and bustle of State Street and the laid-back beach area.
After soaking up the atmosphere of the gorgeous Hotel Californian it was time to head to the beach! We were booked onto a Santa Barbara Adventure Company sea kayaking tour. I love being on and in the water, so I was very much looking forward to it!
We were met at the marina side, shown the ropes or should I say paddle and then we spent the next two hours exploring the marina, harbour and pier areas. Whilst crossing from the marina to the pier we were lucky enough to spot two or three seals popping their heads up to say hello!
After our watery adventure, we headed back to Hotel Californian for a quick freshen up and then it was time to jump in the minibus and head up into the hills for a site visit and hosted lunch at Belmond El Encanto.
This hotel is up in the hills with a perfect breeze and the most amazing view over Santa Barbara! We were treated to a delicious three course lunch on the terrace and then had a guided tour of the hotel, rooms and the gorgeous gardens and grounds. The hotel is spread across seven acres of gardens which are secluded. The whole resort looks glamourous yet has a relaxed feel about it.
Once we had finished taking in the beautiful views, we headed down into Santa Barbara to Paseo Nuevo open air shopping mall. This shopping mall features numerous local independent shops and is located just off State Street. As it was Halloween, Carla treated us to masks and we enjoyed the local atmosphere as well as Paseo Nuevo’s Monster Mash Party!
To top our Halloween experience off, we headed to meet Professor Julie Ann Brown for our Santa Barbara Ghost Tour! We joined the Legends, Myths & Mayhem Tour where we learned about haunted tales of old Chinatown and Japantown, mysterious non-attached underground tunnels, saloons, opium dens & bordellos.
Santa Barbara to Santa Monica & Hollywood
On day 4 our forward journey onto Santa Monica began, but not before enjoying a delicious pastry breakfast at Helena Avenue Bakery. Heading down Highway 1 and seeing the stunning scenery is an enjoyable route. We had a quick pit stop at Malibu, along the famous Pacific Coast Highway, where we explored the pier and grabbed a quick bite to eat.
Before long we arrived at Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica. We had some time to quickly freshen up before we enjoyed a hotel tour. I really liked the hotel as it is overlooking the beautiful huge beach of Santa Monica and the two main buildings are a clash of modern décor with a darker exterior which reminded me of the Friends building in New York. There is a huge fig tree outside the main entrance of the hotel which really softens the building and gives it a laid-back feel.
That evening we took a short stroll along the coastal road to Hotel Shangri La. This hotel is not associated with the Shangri-La chain or brand and has been in Santa Monica since 1939. It is reminiscent of Hollywood’s Golden Age and the building has curves like a cruise ship. It has an Art Deco interior with chrome details.
After a quick site visit, we went to the top floor and enjoyed a cocktail or two at the roof-top bar & terrace whilst watching the gorgeous sunset over Santa Monica beach!
Next it was time for the fun zone! We finished our drinks and carried on our stroll to Santa Monica pier. What can I say? It is the largest pier I have ever seen. We had our pictures taken under the iconic End of Route 66 sign and then spent the next hour trying out all the rides, games and the rollercoaster on this famous pier. It was a fantastic experience with all the thrills, laughter and beautiful pier lit up with thousands of lights, glistening over the sea.
The next day, we enjoyed breakfast in the top floor restaurant at The Huntley before a full day of hotel visits. The view at breakfast was gorgeous with 360-degree views of Santa Monica and the beach!
Throughout the day we got to see the wonderful rooms of The Huntley, the gorgeous boutique Oceano Hotel with its swings outside each suite and the Proper Hotel. Each one beautiful and unique. I would highly recommend all of them!
After all the walking it was time to head to Esters Wine Shop & Bar where we enjoyed a substantial charcuterie and a refreshing glass of Prosecco.
We then had some free time to explore the Santa Monice Place shopping mall and I could not help spending my dollars in Bath & Bodyworks. The girls at work were certainly pleased with their mini hand sanitisers!
Once we were finished, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and then enjoyed a delicious dinner before we went out for a few drinks at The Bungalow.
An actual bungalow on the grounds of the Fairmont, it feels like a boho retreat and a house party – Baja-Cali style!
In the morning, we were up early for a lovely breakfast at the FIG restaurant at the Fairmont followed by a relaxing yoga session under the huge fig tree at the entrance of the hotel. I thoroughly enjoyed this yoga lesson after the long day before and it soothed my aching feet and legs.
Once fully relaxed it was time for us to head to Hollywood! An hour later we were checking in at Sunset Towers Hotel in West Hollywood where we saw Noel Gallagher in the bar.
My time in Hollywood was spent celebrity spotting, on an electric bike tour of Beverly Hills, on a visit to Greystone Mansion, taking a gelato making and tasting class, enjoying a visit to Rodeo Drive, sipping drinks at The Abbey, on a visit to the Hollywood Walk Of Fame and whizzing on rides at Universal Studios Hollywood! It was a whirlwind of fun and glamour.
I also got to see and visit some wonderfully luxurious hotels including the iconic Sunset Towers where celebrities like to hide away, The London West Hollywood with its polished British look and Mondrian Los Angeles with its beautiful open air bar & pool overlooking Hollywood & Los Angeles.
Again, I would highly recommend all of them as they were equally glamorous and luxurious and have gorgeously decorated spacious rooms.
Before I knew it, my Californian adventure was nearing the end and it was time to head back to Los Angeles airport for our flight back to Heathrow. Again, we were treated to Premium Economy which was fabulous, and I managed to get a good sleep.
I would highly recommend a trip to California and although I spent a week exploring Santa Barbara, Santa Monica & Hollywood, I cannot wait to go back as there were things that I did not get a chance to experience.
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