A newbie’s guide to California

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco - My California vacation guide
AGrowing up in Canada, I spent a lot of time daydreaming about California. I loved the idea of its sun, sea and celebrities. When Laguna Beach and The OC debuted on TV, they were an escape from my snow-filled, palm tree-less town. (Plus, teenage heartbreak and scandal are much more interesting set against ocean views and Orange County mansions.)

So, I’ve finally crossed the Golden State off my travel bucket list and it was literally a dream come true. There’s a lot to see in this beautiful strip along the Pacific, so here’s my top ten to do list for California newbies.

Palm Springs. About two hours east of LA is a desert paradise of terracotta-coloured mountains and palm trees, swanky bungalows (including the one with that famous pink door) and boutique hotels. Hang by the hotel pool by day; nosh on fun food and drink by night. I recommend the heavenly Banoffee Pie at King’s Highway and the Fresh Prince of Palm Springs at Bootlegger Tiki.

Miramonte Indian Wells resort - My California vacation guide

Famous pink door, Palm Springs - My California vacation guide

The Hollywood Experience. A trip to California needs a little movie magic. Stroll along the Hollywood Walk of Fame and then grab a pic with the famous Hollywood sign. Head over to nearby Burbank for a tour of the iconic Warner Bros Studio where tons of famous movies and shows are filmed.

Outside Jimmy Kimmel Live! My California vacation guide

Hollywood Walk of Fame - My California vacation guide

Warner Bros Studio Tour - My California vacation guide

The Hills. If you love Pretty Woman like I do, you’ll understand why a stroll down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills was a must for me. I didn’t walk away with shopping bags full of designer goodies, but the store fronts – and the people – provided the ultimate in eye candy. And while you’re in the Hills, take a drive and admire the awe-mazing mansions. A girl can dream, right?

Shopping on Rodeo Drive - My California vacation guide

Rodeo Drive - My California vacation guide

Santa Monica Pier. Famous for its bright colours, midway rides and carnival food right on the ocean, Santa Monica Pier is the place to be a kid again and get Instagram-worthy pics. Bring your towel and bikini for some post-ferris wheel sunbathing on the beach.

Santa Monica Pier - My California vacation guide

Santa Monica Beach - My California vacation guide

Santa Monica - My California vacation guide

Pacific Coast Highway. The best way to see California is to drive up the coast along the PCH. You’ll have an incredible view of the oceans and mountains, and find out California is more than just palm trees and beaches. If you can, do the drive in a hot red Mustang Convertible; trust me it’s worth it.

Pit stop off the Pacific Coast Highway - My California vacation guide

Santa Barbara Sunset. Take a break from the drive and take in a Santa Barbara sunset. Leave time to shop the boutiques along State Street and while you’re in the area visit pretty-as-a-postcard Montecito.

Santa Barbara sunset - My California vacation guide

Big Sur. Slip on a sweater and jeans because by the time you’ve reached Big Sur the weather will be a little chilly compared to SoCal. But the cool weather is worth seeing this part of California’s coastline that features rugged cliffs, hairpin highway turns, breathtaking water views and beautiful homes nestled into the mountains.

Carmel-by-the-Sea. I have a thing for cute towns, so this little gem with a European fairy-tale feel was one of my favourite places on the trip. Stop by after your drive through Big Sur and wander in and out of the famous beach town’s boutiques, restaurants and art galleries. The cooler air will have you craving comfort food, so pizza, gnocchi and a glass of prosecco at Little Napoli will keep your belly happy and full.

Cannery Row. Monterey Bay’s Cannery Row isn’t far from Carmel-by-the-Sea. This picturesque street has an East Coast vibe and features fun shops and restaurants. If you like marine critters, you’ll want to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I didn’t get a chance to go on this trip, but with a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence it’s definitely on my list for my next West Coast adventure.

Cannery Row, Monterey - My California vacation guide

If you’re going to San Francisco… Indulge your inner Full House fan and visit the Golden Gate Bridge and the famous homes (known as Painted Ladies) featured in the opening credits. Follow that with an eerie tour of the former prison on Alcatraz Island and a Boudin Bakery sandwich made on their famous San Francisco sourdough. Still craving carbs? The Mill bread and coffee shop has your fix. Try a thick slice of toast topped with melty cinnamon, butter and salt.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco - My California vacation guide

Painted Ladies, San Francisco - My California vacation guide

Alcatraz Island, San Francisco - My California vacation guide