Golden State of Mind

Driving Highway 1 is on most people’s bucket lists thanks to the countless songs, films and TV shows that reference the road trip

To do the trip in this day and age takes some serious pre-planning, especially with so much to see, eat and drink, and a finite amount of time (damn you holiday allowance). Even then, as with all good road trips, you’ll likely be dealt a curveball or two, whether that’s a rock in the road or indeed a road falling into the sea, which means a reroute half way through is inevitable… Here’s how our trip went and the stops we’d recommend making.

Stop 1 | San Fran

Starting with two nights in San Francisco, one of our favourite cities in the States, not just for its food but the amazing walks and parks too. We stayed at the One Hotel with its complimentary electric bikes, which made exploring the city super easy. We landed and went straight to dinner at Zuni, for that famous chicken salad and mountain of shoe string fries. Of course we over ordered so by the time the chicken arrived we were almost asleep at the table, but never ones to be beat we took it home and ate it at 7am in bed the next morning. Jetlag 0, LOTI 1.

Over the course of two days we got hooked on Kouign-Amann found at all the great bakeries, walked the Lands End Trail, bought a s*t ton of condiments, and wined and dined across the city. See our guide for more tips. Once we’d finished with SF we headed to pick up our hire car, a convertible red Mustang naturally, and off we drove into the sunset*

*pouring torrential rain

Stop 2 | Napa Valley

Our visit to Napa Valley was driven by two things, a reservation at The French Laundry and thirst for Cougar Juice, aka Californian Chardonnay. We stayed two nights at The Napa Valley Lodge, a short walk from The French Laundry and Keller’s other mini empire Bouchon Bakery, Adhoc and Bouchon Bistro. We enjoyed an incredible meal at The French Laundry – the dishes all perfectly executed, textures, flavours and ingredients all very much on point. We’re still thinking about the Oyster + Pearls and the playlist too, which is given over to a different FOH staff member. every evening We entered to Rhianna’s ‘We Found Love’ and exited to Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’.

The next morning, following pastries from Bouchon Bakery – don’t miss the quiche – we ventured out on a bike ride of the local vineyards in search of some CJ. Given the spring weather we were the only mad men on pedal bikes that day and even though we didn’t have tasting reservations, most wineries took pity on the “brave bikers” and gave us a splash or two. That night we ate family style at Adhoc, Thomas Keller’s more causal restaurant, where the menu changes daily and is served family style with no substitutes. We enjoyed a perfect Caesar salad, chicken parm, slab of cheese with a bun and panna cotta on our visit. Safe to say we left massive Thomas Keller fans…

Stop 3 | Chez Panisse

A big old bucket list ticker for anyone with an interest in food and drink, Chez Panisse is where the farm-to-table movement began in California thanks to owner Alice Waters. It’s a massive inspiration for chefs around the world with most of the ingredients coming from their organic farm and the rest from within 50 miles. The menus are super seasonal and showcase the ingredients through simple cooking techniques and delicate flavours. We enjoyed Petit Aioli, a plate of roasted spring vegetables and green garlic mayonnaise; some roasted asparagus with romanesco sauce; chicken al mattone with shoe string potatoes, garlicky greens, lemon and fried rosemary; and a brilliant rhubarb galette.

Stop 4 | Sonoma

Sonoma is the younger, more rebellious sister of Napa, it’s a little less commercial and where you’ll find the low intervention wines – or 00 as they are called in the States, nothing put in and nothing taken out during the wine making. Highlights for us included the Donum Estate, a vineyard that has possibly one of the best collection of sculptures in the world with works from huge named artists like Ai Weiwei and Yayoi Kusama. It’s well worth booking a tour here.

In Sonoma we stayed at the Hotel Healdsburg, basing our visit there around our dinner at the three-star SingleThread – do you see a theme? Just a short walk from the restaurant, in the super cute town of Healdsburg where you’ll find some great restaurants and bakeries – don’t miss Quail and Condor, created by people who’ve come from the school of SingleThread. SingleThread is a Japanese fine dining restaurant, which uses produce from its farm, including flowers, to create a 10-course tasting menu.

Healdsburg is also a great base to take day trips from, including a short drive to the Redwood forest for brisk hikes amongst the old trees, and Bodega Bay for hikes along the cliffs, after which you’ll have earned your clam chowder. Take our word for it, the best one is found at Café Aquatica. We’d also recommend spending some time in the super hipster Sebastopol where you’ll find great Cali 00 wines to drink (and buy) in The Punch Down, and decent pizza at Acre just over the road. Though the whole district named ‘The Barlow’ has great food and drink options.

Stop 5 | Carmel-by-the-Sea

One of the boujiest towns on the Cali coast, Carmel-by-the-Sea boasts a beautiful sandy beach and plenty of wildlife, especially if you venture to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. The park has a pleasant trail around it and lots of seals – we were there in spring, which is birthing season, so we even spotted a couple of baby seals frolicking in the sea. Also worth a stop is the incredible ChezNoir restaurant from husband-and-wife team Chef Jonny Black and Monique Black where we enjoyed a brilliant menu using local produce – we’ve never had abalone like it, plus great wines and amazing hospitality. We can’t recommend this spot enough.

We stayed in the historic hotel La Playa and after a monster omelette there for breakfast, we drove to Ad Astra in Monterey to pick up pastries for our road trip in our very cliché red convertible Ford Mustang. We were taking the scenic route through Carmel Valley, the long way around having rerouted our trip to the Big Sur after Highway 1 crumbled into the sea. A long scenic drive, why not we thought? TBC….

Stop 6 | Cayucos

We got to Cayucos five hours later than expected in a huge Jeep Wrangler, not bad all in all really. It could have been a whole lot worse. Cruising through Carmel Valley, with no phone service, admiring the views, working our way through our playlist, and BAM we hit a rock. A random single rock in the road that ripped off our oil cap and killed the Mustang, in the middle of nowhere with no signal, well with a yellow emergency box that managed to connect to an operator but without a working voice piece. Fun times. Luckily we flagged down a car and a shirtless American-French man with scratches all over his arms from a week of hiking solo. Disconcerting? Yes. Luckily though, we’re here to tell the tale, and after a 20-minute ride to find service Avis dealt with it pretty speedy. One pick-up truck and a visit to Monterey Airport (in the wrong direction) later and we finally arrived at the Pacific Motel in Cayucos at 10pm.

Cayucos is a pretty chill small seaside town which has escaped any major development and has just 2000 residents. It’s a great place for long walks, elephant seal spotting and to feel like you’ve gone back in time at places like the Sea Shanty Café. We also took a trip to Cambria to eat fruit pies at Linn’s and Stolo Vineyards to try lauded sommelier Rajat Parr’s wines.

Stop 7 | Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara was perhaps our least favourite place and we were happy to just spend a night here after a stop en route to Bells in the cute town of Los Alamos and a drive past the Sideways Motel (that’s the rebranded Windmill for anyone who has seen the movie). Sure there’s some great Mexican food, our favourites were La Super Rica Taqueria and Taqueria el Bajio, and very good pastries and bread at Oat Bakery but it all felt a little “touristy” and man-made. So early the next morning we were on our way to the desert….

Stop 8 | Joshua Tree

The Mojave Dessert is every bit as stunning as it looks in pictures. This dry sandy land has plenty of walks and hikes to make it feel empty even if it’s busy – just avoid the main IG spots – and if you go later in the day it’s even less busy. There’s plenty of easy walks too, just don’t be tempted to take an “energetic gummy”, no matter how energetic the guy in the shop says it is, there ain’t no THC that makes you feel like you want to walk 30 minutes uphill, so save those for the star gazing. The food is a mostly a bit meh so it’s worth taking some supplies, though we loved The Copper Room, which is situated on the private airstrip. It’s run by Last Word Hospitality who also have some great spots in LA, like our fave Found Oyster. Defo swing by Pioneertown too, the old movie set that’s now a small town and still looks like it’s straight out of a Western.

Stop 9 | Los Angeles

We came to rest in LA, finishing the trip with five nights in the City of Angels. For our updated food map check here, for our favourite fusion dishes here and for the final two nights we, stayed at The Georgian in Santa Monica. California LOVE.