Join us on a tour of the ocean-side experiences of Southern California. From spectacular coastal drives to cosmopolitan cities, discover this beautiful part of The Golden State.
Why not begin in San Diego and head north to San Francisco, stopping off to visit the world-famous San Diego zoo, museums, amusement parks, offshore islands, wineries, soak in hot springs, or shop at outdoor markets; climb up to the mysterious Hearst Castle, go whale watching, or see the annual mating ceremonies of migrating monarch butterflies. Complete your trip with a cruise on San Francisco Bay and a bowl of clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Experience adventure and romance on rails with a leisurely journey along Southern California’s spectacular coastline. Rail travel is a relaxing and fun way for the whole family to enjoy the countryside and discover some of this beautiful state’s treasures. Watch the world slip by as you play cards with friends, dine on chef-cooked meals, sip local wines and microbrews, or indulge in a sleeping car where you awake refreshed at journey’s end.
The Pacific Surfliner, with bi-level cars and panoramic windows, travels daily between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. Change to the Coast Starlight for the breathtaking scenery of California’s Big Sur coastline between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The best deal is a California Rail Pass, a 21-day pass on Amtrak trains and Thruway bus services that allows seven days of rail travel anywhere in the state in a 21-day period (website: www.amtrak.com).
San Diego Zoo
Starring a collection of over 4,000 animals from 800-plus species, the world-famous San Diego Zoo (website: www.sandiegozoo.org) is a leader in conservation and the preservation of endangered species. Elevated walkways extend through the tree canopy where visitors can encounter rare and endangered monkeys. Visit the lion camp, or watch cheetahs race to set new records.
Stroll through the free-flight rainforest aviary, visit the giant pandas on loan from China, or watch koala bears munch on eucalyptus leaves. The overhead gondola provides a trip around the zoo at treetop level, or hop on and off the guided tour bus. Summer camps, special activities and speakers, and night-time zoo fiestas set the stage for year-round educational fun for everyone, plus safari adventures at the zoo’s adjacent Wild Animal Park.
San Juan Capistrano
Follow the California Spanish Mission trail dating back to the 1700s. A chain of 21 missions stretching from San Diego to Sonoma (north of San Francisco) was established over a 54-year period to reach the local Indian tribes.
Mission San Juan Capistrano (website: www.missionsjc.com) is famous for the swallows that return home from their wintering grounds in Goya, Argentina every March, heralding the start of spring. After a journey of 12,000km (7,500 miles) made in just 30 days, they build their mud nests in the ruins of the old mission church, enjoying the safety of the old cloisters and beautifully landscaped gardens.
Just 35km (22 miles) offshore from Long Beach, the Mediterranean charm of Santa Catalina Island (website: www.catalina.com) draws holidaymakers and yachtsmen looking for a relaxing getaway. Native American Indians inhabited Catalina Island for thousands of years before the Spanish colonisation of California. It was once home to author Zane Grey (creator of the Lone Ranger) and owned for many years by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr.
The main town of Avalon is nestled around a picturesque harbour dotted with sailboats. Take a 15-minute flight or one-hour ferry ride to visit for a day or a week. Discover secluded coves and beaches, hike the hills while listening for the shrill call of bald eagles, paddle a sea kayak, or rent a bicycle to explore this charming island. Great diving, deep-sea fishing, golf, and horseback riding are just some of the activities for the energetic. For a romantic interlude, luxuriate in a day spa, then watch the moon rise over the Pacific while dining at a harbour-side restaurant.
America’s Riviera, tucked between its seductive coastline and the Santa Ynez Mountains, is best known for its vibrant artistic community and Spanish colonial-style white-washed buildings with terracotta roofs. One of Southern California’s most desirable towns, Santa Barbara (website: www.sbchamber.org) is ablaze year-round with flowering planters, art shows, outdoor activities and delectable dining options. Come for the art, theatre and dance, a writer’s workshop, or to walk cobblestone plazas, tour the Santa Barbara Wine Country, or visit the beautiful Santa Barbara Mission, known as the Queen of the Missions.
On an enchanted hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean perches newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst’s famous castle. Construction began in 1919, and continued for the next 30 years, but its heyday was in the 1920s and ’30s, when Hollywood’s elite rubbed shoulders with world political leaders. Regular tours are offered to this palatial estate, featuring 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, swimming pools, tennis courts, 51 hectares (127 acres) of lush gardens, and even its own airfield.
Spanish cathedrals and the Mediterranean inspired its architecture, and every room is filled with art and antiques from Europe and Egypt. The indoor pool is reminiscent of a Roman bathhouse, featuring statues, mosaics, and archways. Advance tour reservations are a must (website: www.hearstcastle.org).
Big Sur – Coastal Highway
The 145km (90-mile) coastal region between San Simeon and Carmel, known as Big Sur, winds along a precipitous stretch of Highway 1, hugging steep cliffs of the Saint Lucia Mountains rising abruptly from the Pacific Ocean (website: www.bigsurcalifornia.org). This untamed wilderness became accessible when Highway 1 opened in 1937 after 18 years of construction.
Many viewpoints allow drivers to stop and admire the breathtaking vistas of one of the world’s most spectacular, rugged coastlines. Enjoy a glass of wine and homemade dessert with artists and fellow travellers at Nepenthe Restaurant and the stunning views that attracted Orson Wells and Rita Hayworth to purchase a log cabin on this site during WWII.
Carmel and Monterey
The quaint, coastal, European-style village of Carmel, filled with boutiques, art galleries, antique shops and intimate cafes, is also proud of its actor/director mayor, Clint Eastwood. With neighbouring Monterey, it’s the site of numerous annual festivals, and a thriving community of artists, writers, playwrights, and actors (website: www.monterey-carmel.com).
Monterey’s historic waterfront district came to life in the John Steinbeck novel Cannery Row, still the site of a thriving fishing industry. Sample the fruit of the vine at over 60 local wineries, dine on fresh seafood, or delve into past history when shipwrecks, intrigue, and romance were a common part of life.
The jewel in the crown of Southern California’s coast is the City by the Bay (website: www.sfcvb.org). There’s no question that you’ll leave your heart in San Francisco once you’ve felt the refreshing breeze on a cruise across San Francisco Bay, heard the mewing of gulls and the clang of the cable cars climbing the city’s steep hills, and savoured the world-famous sourdough bread and clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf.