California dreaming: Everything you need to plan the perfect trip to the Golden State

For generations, daydreaming Americans have looked west for inspiration. Those bold enough to chase their dreams packed their bags, and headed off in that direction. Many settled in California – initially chasing fortunes in the goldfields, they reinvented themselves in this new land.

From the redwoods of Redding to the beaches of San Diego, Californians have a backyard that’s the envy of the world. Want to chase the Californian Dream soon? Take time to plan your trip properly so that you can make the most of your time there.

In this post, we’ll guide you through the process from A to Z – let’s get started!    

Pre-trip preparations

There’s more to a Californian trip than enduring the 11-hour flight to LAX. Travelling to America isn’t the same as travelling to Europe. Treat it like the latter, and you may end up watching your plane take off without you.

To visit the United States, you MUST apply for an ESTA first. This step is one that people from EVERY visa-waiver country must go through (except Canada and Mexico.) The good news: The entire process takes about fifteen minutes for 95% of applicants.

On occasion, though, the Department of Homeland Security may require additional documentation. For this reason, we advise applying no less than 72 hours before departure. To be safe, get your ESTA application done a week ahead of time.

Next, you’ll want to pack a wide range of clothing. Californian weather varies dramatically from one end of the state to the other, especially in January. During this month, it can be a glorious 25 degrees Celsius in San Diego. Meanwhile, at Squaw Valley, one of California’s best ski resorts, temperatures are usually well below freezing. 

Finally, you’ll be travelling close to halfway around the world. For the first day or two, you’ll be combating jet lag. Pack some melatonin – it can help as you adjust to a destination seven hours behind London.  

Getting there

Now, for the easy part. Scores of airlines, from British Airways to Air New Zealand, offer non-stop flights to California. LAX, Los Angeles’ biggest airport, is a common entry point. 

However, if you’d prefer travelling from cooler to warmer climes, we recommend flying into San Francisco (SFO). Roughly the same number of airlines make that trip – options include airliners like KLM and Air France.

Where should I go?

California, both in terms of size and population, is larger than many European countries. As such, it is essential to at least have a rough itinerary.

Let’s start with the heavy hitters. San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are each big enough to base a trip around individually. San Diego offers chill beaches and authentic Mexican food. Los Angeles is home to America’s entertainment industry and has world-famous theme parks like Disneyland. And San Francisco is known for its eclectic architecture, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

However, you can best experience California from behind the wheel of a hire car. With one, you can drive the stunning Pacific Coast Highway, check out Death Valley, or visit The Redwoods.  

Where should I stay?

The Golden State is a world-class travel destination. However, you can further magnify your experience by treating yourself to its best hotels and resorts.

Down in San Diego, spend a night at the Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa. From the moment you set foot on this beautiful property, you’ll feel like a tech billionaire. When you aren’t enjoying the view from your balcony, spend time poolside, or by the outdoor fireplace.

In San Francisco, we recommend opting for the Omni. You’ll find it in the Financial District, right alongside a streetcar line. After a long day of sightseeing, you’ll love its period design, as well as their room service. If you’re travelling as a family, try the kid-friendly turndown service – it comes with milk & cookies!   

What should I do?

California is a destination with seemingly infinite possibilities. Whatever your interests, you’re bound to find relevant activities to do and sights to see.

Are you sporty? If so, take a surfing lesson at Huntington Beach, go skiing in Lake Tahoe, or hike through Yosemite National Park. Want to channel your inner child? Visit Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and the San Diego Zoo. Adore art? Check out both the Getty Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

When in doubt, search for it – California truly has something for everyone!

Victoria Brewood
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Hi I'm Victoria, a British girl from Manchester. After graduating from university I decided there was more to life than the hours between 9 and 5, so I packed my journalism degree into my suitcase to travel the world and find a way to make money at the same time. I now call London home, although I still travel whenever I can. I hope to inspire you to be your own boss, live life and see the world.

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