California dreamin’

by Ella.Buchan

Spotting the plastic surgery round the pool, knocking back Appletinis and exploring the vineyards - it's all part of the fun on a road trip through California

By the pool, a gaggle of girls admired their friend’s new $4,000 boobs, while a crazy tattooed chick showed pictures of her three-legged chihuahua. Elsewhere, a mass of bikinis and ankle chains desperately tried to stop a fight breaking out among the drunk, red-faced male camp.
Welcome to the best show in LA, starring spoilt Bel Air brats and wannabe stars, ably supported by Grey Goose vodka and silicone. At the Roosevelt Hotel’s Club Tropicana Bar, with its palm trees and poolside sofas, we had the perfect seats to enjoy the spectacle. It was the perfect start to our girly road trip through California.
In our three days in LA we dined at sushi restaurant Koi on La Cienega, lunched at The Ivy on Robertson and knocked back Appletinis like Carrie and co at the super-classy Skybar, on the rooftop of the Mondrian Hotel. I put my hands in Johnny Depp’s outside Mann’s Chinese Theatre and bought cheap flip-flops at Venice Beach.
Then it was time to hit the road. After lunch by the sea at Moonshadows in Malibu (Jennifer Aniston’s favourite), we headed to Santa Barbara. With rows of Andalucian, quirky souvenirs and pubs that state ‘No W****rs Allowed’, this is a town designed for tourists. But with its laidback vibe and the best Mexican in California (Altamirano’s on Milpas Street), it hardly matters.
Santa Barbara also makes a great base for exploring the vineyards, especially if, like us, you’ve been inspired by the film Sideways. After tastings at Zaca Mesa and Firestone, we added a box of Syrah and Viognier to our expanding mass of luggage. Now came the real ‘road’ bit of the trip – Highway 1, which twists and turns its way between rocky cliffs and sheer drops to the choppy sea below.
There’s no point rushing this journey. There are too many weird and wonderful stops along the way. We scoffed pecan pie at the head-splittingly pink Madonna Inn, paid a few dollars to drive 17 miles around exclusive Pebble Beach and watched the lazy elephant seals at Piedras Blancas. Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, halfway between Santa Barbara and San Francisco, made a charming overnight stop, with Lilliputian wooden cabins and giant breakfasts.
The next day, there was just time for a lunchtime horse ride through the meadows and along the beach before getting back in the car. The last stop before San Francisco was Santa Cruz boardwalk. With greasy burger wrappers rattling past and the abandoned chairlift creaking above, it was as eerily deserted as in teen vampire movie, Lost Boys.
After following a single road for 600 miles, we arrived in San Francisco and got hopelessly lost. The one-way system took us over a bridge, forcing us to take the next left turn to the intriguingly named Treasure Island – and a twinkling view of the city across the water brought us to a halt. As we stood smugly enjoying our ‘discovery’, two limos and a coach-load of tourists turned up and blocked us in.
We stayed at the eco-friendly Orchard Garden Hotel on Bush Street – just minutes from Chinatown and around the corner from Union Square. Stepping onto the sidewalk, we were drawn in by the true magic of this place – its weird, wonderful and ultra-friendly people. One tequila shot later and we were being whisked around the city’s ‘dive bars’ and invited to a student party.
If you have ever wondered what happened to the free loving Sixties, jump on a cable car to Haight-Ashbury. The decade seems to have taken up permanent residence in its wacky boutiques and equally wacky residents. Hungry for more madness, we headed for the strangest restaurant in San Francisco, therefore the world – Asia SF. The Californian-Asian cuisine is gorgeous, but really everyone is here for the show. At set points in the evening, the ‘gender illusionists’ who serve up the grub strut their stuff down a central catwalk. Ours did a very convincing Tina Turner.
In our short stay we visited haunting Alcatraz, ate clam chowder in bread bowls at Fisherman’s Wharf, partied around retro hairdryers at the Beauty Bar on Mission Street and queued for two hours (in the cold) to taste the best breakfast in town – at Mama’s Café on Washington Square. There was just time to curl the car down the famously twisty Lombard Street and take a few snaps of the Golden Gate Bridge on the way out.
It was hard to leave, but we had a final treat waiting for us in LA before heading home – a night at the celebrities' hotel of choice, the Chateau Marmont. Its charm lies in its old-Hollywood glamour and understated grandeur. Everyone is treated like a VIP, from nobodies (us) to the Olsen Twins (we spotted one in the lobby). Our junior suite was a series of charming inter-joining rooms including lounge, kitchen and even a dressing room.
En route to the airport the next day, we made one last shopping stop on Robertson Boulevard – and got caught in a paparazzi scrum. Paris and Nicky Hilton were shopping in the Kitson store. Jostling with the hardened photographers to get a few snaps, I forgot about everything we were leaving behind – the bargain shopping, the bikini weather and the best beef patties in the world (from yummy In-N-Out Burger). For a few minutes at least, I felt like a true LA local.


Getting there and around

BA flies to Los Angeles International Airport from London Heathrow
Ella drove a Toyota Rav4 from auto-europe, with LA car hire from £13 per day.  


Where to eat

  • Koi restaurant,  730 North La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles
  • The Ivy, 113 N Robertson Boulevard, Los Angeles
  • Skybar, Mondrian Hotel, 8440 Sunset Blvd. West Hollywood
  • Moonshadows Malibu, 20356 Pacific Coast Hwy.Malibu
  • Asia SF, 201 9th St, San Francisco