Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
I've visited California several times and I have also spent an extended period of time there during my year long hiatus between jobs. I'm just going to speak about my personal favorites, all of these places have Moey's seal of approval. If you plan on going, take at least take two weeks to get the most out of it. Fly into San Francisco, rent a car, drive along the coastal highway and end your trip leaving out of L.A., Mr. Moey and I did this on one of our trips and it worked out extremely well.
San Francisco is a small but nice city. You won't need a car and can cover a lot of ground on foot. Ferries run from the main pier daily to Sausalito and Alcatraz.
Sausalito is a very picturesque little town that houses unique boutiques, restaurants and art galleries, it's a great little spot for an afternoon or overnight visit.
Alcatraz is a must, but try to book tickets ahead of time, they are usually sold out. The view from Alcatraz is great, a three hundred degree panoramic view of San Francisco Bay. You really get a feeling of how frustrating it must have been for the inmates, freedom seemed so close but was yet so far. The day that I visited Alcatraz I lucked out. One of the former inmates had written a small book on his time served from 1942-1952 and he was there to answer questions. His was a rare success story, he received a full pardon from Jimmy Carter in the early seventies and went on to become a radiologist. I bought a copy of his book which he signed for me and we had a little chat, hearing it straight form the horse's mouth gave you a sense of how tough it was to be incarcerated at the Rock, better than any book or tour guide ever could.
The last thing you should do is book a day trip to Sonoma. It's a scenic drive through wine country, a stop at one of the wineries is mandatory, there are some interesting bottles of wine that you may not find in the stores.
View from Top of the Mark, Mark Hopkins Hotel, San Francisco
On your last night in San Francisco, go to the Top of the Mark, it's a bar featuring live music on the top of the Mark Hopkins hotel and it has a fantastic view of the city at night. Great place for a night cap.
View from the Tickle Pink Inn
Wine and cheese on the deck at sunset
After spending three days in San Francisco, we slowly made our way down to Southern California. We headed south on Hwy 101, picking up Route 1, the coastal highway. You can check out interesting places like Bodega Bay, this was the little town where Alfred Hitchcock filmed "The Birds." We stopped in Carmel overnight, it's such a pretty place with plenty of restaurants and galleries. We did the seventeen mile drive which takes you right by the Pebble Beach golf course. We ended up spending the night at the "Tickle Pink Inn" a lovely spot with a great sea view, they also served complimentary wine and cheese on the deck at sunset.
Route 1 (this was my third attempt to do this drive, the previous times the road was closed due to mudslides and fallen rocks) has been rated as one of the top ten drives in the world. I can't vouch for the other nine, but the drive through Big Sur is jaw dropping. Just when you think it can't get any better it does, I spent a lot of time pulling over and taking pictures.
The highway finishes around Morro Bay, we got back on to Highway 101 South and checked out Santa Barbara where we visited a couple of nice wineries and had a picnic lunch.
I also really enjoyed an overnight stay on Catalina, it's about an hour by ferry out of Long Beach. There are very few cars on the island, most people get around on golf carts, there are a variety of restaurants and shops, nice place for a mini getaway.
Queen Mary, Long Beach
Another cool thing to do is stay aboard the Queen Mary which has been docked in Long Beach since 1967 and is now a hotel or if you just want to visit, there are good restaurants on board too. The rooms still have a nautical flair to them and it's fun to walk along her decks checking out the many pictures of celebrities that were amongst her passengers during the fifties.
There are many other places worth visiting, San Diego, (the Hotel Del Coronado is especially worth a trip) Newport, Laguna and Zuma Beach to name a few others. And of course if it's your first trip, the bus tours of the stars' homes in Bel Air and Beverly Hills are fun, along with a visit to Universal Studios.
As I was writing this yesterday, I was speaking to my sister who has been living in California since 1994. I need my California fix and I'm plotting a visit somewhere around March 7, 2010. The fact that the Habs are playing the Anaheim Ducks that day is purely a coincidence.