California, Travel Diary

California Road Trip Part 1 – Los Angeles, Santa Barbara & Cambria

Santa Monica Pier

Our epic 24-night honeymoon road trip around California started in Los Angeles. We drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco, hiked in Yosemite, and gambled in Las Vegas. I am super excited to share this journey with you and I hope it inspires you to go on your own amazing road trips. If you are looking for a more condensed California road trip itinerary without any fluff check out my epic road trip itinerary.

 

Day 1 – Los Angeles

  • Wednesday 2nd September 2015
  • Accommodation – Loews Hollywood Hotel, Los Angeles
  • Number of nights – 2

We landed in LA after a 10 hour 45 min flight from London. I was so relieved and happy to touch the ground again (I hate flying quite a bit!). Local time was 2.30pm but back home it was 10.30pm. That’s basically my bed time, so you can imagine my struggle.

It wasn’t a great start as we got stuck in LA traffic on the shuttle bus to pick up our rental car. Then we stood in a queue for what seemed like absolutely ages. We had 2 large suitcases, 2 heavy backpacks and my handbag. Note to self, bring less luggage next time!

Los Angeles Road with Palm Trees

We managed to upgrade the standard car that we had pre-booked to a Ford Explorer. This took much haggling on my husband’s part to get them down from $1000 on top of what we had already paid to $400. It was such a beautiful car, a gorgeous deep red colour (which has since inspired me to get a car this colour).

Luckily it was a 7 seater, so with the back seats down fitting our cases in was a breeze. I’m not sure how we would have coped with a normal sized car to be honest!

Red Ford Explorer on a California Road Trip

We worked out how to use the Sat Nav (this is a must!) and headed off into LA traffic. The people are crazy, well may be not crazy, but they do drive so aggressively. It was quite nerve wracking even just being the passenger.

We arrived at our hotel and self-parked (this cost $15 a night which was a bargain). The multi-storey car park was attached to our hotel & the Hollywood & Highland shopping mall. If you love shopping, you will be in your element here. All we had to do now was navigate the maze of shops with our luggage to find the entrance to the hotel, it’s there just keep looking!

We got upgraded on check in (without even asking might I add) to a 15th floor Suite facing the Hollywood Sign, it was absolutely breath taking. The room and hotel were spotless I would definitely recommend it. The suite was huge; it had a window that ran the length of the room with the Hollywood Hills as your view.

Check out my review of the Loews Hollywood Hotel here.

Loews Hollywood Hotel view from the window

We decided to go out to explore the area for a bit and we stumbled upon the Walk of Fame and the TCL Chinese Theatre. They are literally on the doorstep of the hotel. It turns out you don’t need much time at all for this and we easily did it in an hour.

The area surrounding seemed a bit shabby we wouldn’t like to walk too far from the hotel. We headed back and ordered room service for dinner, this cost about $80.

Hollywood Walk of Fame Harrison Ford Star

There was no more excitement for today as I fell asleep at 9.30pm (5.30am back home). I have to say this was an epic achievement on my part. I’d been up for over 24 hours and I’m always falling asleep early at home!

 

Day 2 – Los Angeles

  • Thursday 3rd September 2015
  • Accommodation – Loews Hollywood Hotel, Los Angeles
  • Number of nights – 2

Today was our only full day in Los Angeles so we got up early and set off to see the tourist sites.

We left the hotel at 9.15am for Rodeo Drive. Little tip, if you park in Barneys car park and go in to the store to have your ticket validated you can park for free. I really did feel so out of place in Barneys though. I was wearing a vest top & shorts and I was pale as pale can be. The staff were all dressed up in suits. It got us free parking though so it had to be done.

We aimlessly wandered around for a bit, found the famous cobbled street and asked someone is that really it? It was so small!

Rodeo Drive Los Angeles

Next we headed for Venice Beach. In the end we parked closer to Santa Monica Beach as we kept driving past the teeny tiny road the sat nav directed us to.

We parked along the road, which was only $1 per hour, and started walking along Venice Beach boardwalk. It was still early so it wasn’t very busy at all. It took about half hour to get to Muscle Beach then we walked back along the gorgeous beachfront paddling in the water.

Venice Beach Los Angeles

Once back at the car we headed 5 minutes up the road to Santa Monica Pier. It was $12 to park; you have to pay everywhere here! We explored the pier for a bit, took a few photos then had some yummy lunch at Bubba Gumps.

Santa Monica Pier

After we had finished eating, around 3.30pm, we drove to the Griffith Observatory. This took about an hour as we got stuck in LA traffic again.

I have to say the sights are far apart in LA so you will ideally need a car to get around.

The views from the Observatory were incredible and it was free to park and get in which was a nice change! We ended up parking along the road leading up to the Observatory as the car park was full, but it’s easy enough and everyone does it.

We snapped some photos then left for the hotel to get changed for dinner.

Los Angeles Skyline from the Griffith Observatory

I was obviously exhausted as I fell asleep as soon as we got back to the hotel at 7pm. I didn’t wake up until 10pm therefore no dinner for us. We had an early night instead to catch up on lost sleep.

 

Day 3 – Los Angeles to Santa Barbara

  • Friday 4th September 2015
  • Accommodation – Harbor View Inn, Santa Barbara
  • Number of nights – 1

Today we had an early start as we had to check out by 11am. It was an exciting day as we were embarking on the first leg of our road trip up to Santa Barbara.

It eased us in nicely as it is only a couple of hours away from Los Angeles. Follow Highway 1, then onto the 101 so a short easy stretch of road.

After packing up and lugging our (heavy) cases to the car we decided with hindsight that it would be a lot easier if we had a 3rd case for the toiletries and dirty washing (actually maybe less luggage but it was too late for that).

Sunset Boulevard Shops

Denny’s was on my brain so we put it into the Sat Nav and headed off to the nearest one on Sunset Boulevard. I love Denny’s so much and had been looking forward to this moment!

We stuffed our faces with pancakes, hash browns, eggs, sausages and bacon, then at 12.30pm finally left for the road.

Dennys Pancake Breakfast

We headed straight for the Pacific Coast Highway which we would be following for the next week up to San Francisco. On the way we drove through Malibu, the houses are all rather large (have you seen Grand Designs?) but all you can see is the back of them. They have all been built along the beachfront so you can’t even see the beach on this leg of the journey.

Pacific Coast Highway Ocean Scenery

We turned off and stopped at Point Dume along the way as this had popped up during my research. It was a bit overrated in my opinion it’s just a beach. We didn’t stay as you had to pay to park in the car park so we continued on our way.

Seagull on Point Dude Beach

We arrived at Harbor View Inn (after driving past the entrance and having to turn around) and checked in around 3.30pm.

They would not upgrade our room this time even though we asked (sadface!). We did manage to get free champagne, although I pretty much hate champagne. The room was lovely anyhow with a nice large balcony.

The hotel was very well located, right in front of the beach and only a short 10-minute walk to the downtown area with shops and restaurants.

Santa Barbara Beach

We headed to the shops straight away and wandered around. We managed to snap up a large Samsonite suitcase for around $100. What for you ask? So we had room to separate our dirty laundry and toiletries. We really had packed too much.

Santa Barbara Downtown Street

Later that night we got dressed up (just a little) and headed back into town. We ate at an Italian restaurant called Bucatini. The food was lovely but the bill came to $75, I tried not to worry but this was looking like an expensive state to eat in!

 

Day 4 – Santa Barbara to Cambria

  • Saturday 5th September 2015
  • Accommodation – Sand Pebbles Inn, Cambria
  • Number of nights – 1

I woke up early, 7.30am so sat on the balcony and relaxed for a while. After packing up our stuff we checked out at 10.30am.

We left the car at the hotel and headed across the road to explore the pier for an hour before we left.

Santa Barbara Pier

In hindsight we would have stayed longer in Santa Barbara as it was such a lovely place, very relaxing after the hustle and bustle of LA. I could probably spend at least another day here on the beach or by the harbor.

However, it was time to move on so we got back onto the US-101 heading up the coast. We took a little detour to a town called Solvang in the Santa Ynez Valley. It was only a 15-minute detour, about 12 miles inland so it was totally worth it. It’s a beautiful, quaint Danish style town.

Solvang Windmill California

It appears to be very popular, we struggled to get a parking space as it was immensely busy. We drove round and round in circles hoping someone would leave for about 20 minutes. We were literally about to give up and leave when we finally found a spot. There were a few empty spots outside the B&B’s but you can only park there if you are staying.

Solvang Street California

Once we had parked it was about 1.30pm and we were both starting to get hungry so we headed off in search of lunch. There were lots of little cafes, bakeries & places to eat. I loved the look of a cute pancake place called Paula’s Pancake House.

We had to wait a while for a table but eventually got seated in a little shaded outdoor spot. I ordered 2 Danish style pancakes with strawberries and maple syrup. They were amazing, well worth the wait.

Paulas Pancake House

We only managed to take a short walk around as we had to get back on the road. There were cute little shops, bakeries and windmills, everything was so photogenic. It would have been lovely to stay here overnight and explore a bit more, I definitely recommend it if you can fit it into your California itinerary.

We re-joined Highway 1 to drive to Cambria. It was a never ending fight with the Sat Nav to stay on Highway 1. It kept trying to divert us onto the I101 as this route was quicker.

On the way we drove through Pismo beach. It was so busy that we didn’t stop here.

We also drove past Morro Bay with the giant rock and power station I had read about. Unfortunately we missed the turn off, you have to keep a beady eye out!

Pacific Coast Highway Landscape

We arrived in Cambria at 5.30pm and checked in with no problems. We had a full ocean view room (we had paid for this already) on the second floor. It was a gorgeous room with a little fireplace and we were literally across the road from the beach so you could open the window and hear the waves crashing.

Cambria Moonstone Beach

We headed out for dinner to Cambria Pub & Steakhouse. We had to drive there which was a shame, there wasn’t any restaurants close enough to walk to.

I must say I did not enjoy the food; I am VERY fussy when it comes to food and all I could find on the menu was the Veggie Lasagne. It had so much cheese in it I started to feel nauseous.

We left unsatisfied and headed back to the inn. We stood outside watching the stars for a while then headed to bed at around 10pm.

 

Continue on the journey with me:

 

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California Road Trip Part One

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