3 dream days
The challenge: design three ultimate California experiences—the glamorous movie-star life, the perfect surfer day, and an unforgettable foodie adventure. Our writers did it—and you can too.
Destination: Los Angeles area
“Welcome back,” says the blue-suited, English-accented concierge as I walk through the doors of Spa Montage, in the five-star Montage Beverly Hills . It is my second time here this morning, having arrived earlier for bliss-out treatments.
“You simply cahn’t have too much relaxing,” he purred.
Actually, I think I am testing the functional limit, having returned to the spa to retrieve my sunhat, car keys, and yes—my purse. Was it the hot-stone massage that has robbed me of my brain cells, or the lazy soak in the gilt-tiled mineral pool? Now this perfectly coiffed gentleman is reassuring me that it’s okay to suspend reality for a while.
In fact, it is my mission. I have come to the center of all things glam with my daughter Hannah (actually, I think she might have disowned me if I hadn’t let her come). My goal: live the glamorously indulgent movie-star life for one perfect day. Can I do it? Can anyone do it?
Even in my fog-brain state, I know the answer: Why yes, dahling, of course.
Now that I have the keys back, we drive in our rented convertible to The Redbury , a posh Hollywood hotel with huge suites and private balconies. Here we have an in-room session with Angela Horvath of Angela Mobile Makeup , and soon she has us properly primped for our next stop: L.A.’s ultimate mall, The Grove , for a session with stylist-to-the-stars Marina Monroe at her boutique, Stylehaüs . (Anyone can browse her collection gleaned from her favorite designers; you can also become a member for personal styling.) Champagne flute in hand, I strike a pose in a Michael Kors dress, while Hannah does her best indie rocker look in an asymmetric leather jacket and lime-green kicks.
We keep the fashion fantasy going with a cruise down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills (favorite site, the black-trimmed Chanel boutique), then twist into the Hollywood Hills at sunset. For dinner, we dine on modern Italian fare at Culina , part of the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills . Then back to The Redbury for rooftop views of glittering Hollywood.
And then, time to relax. You know, you simply cahn’t have too much relaxing.
Destination: Huntington Beach
Just off the Huntington Beach Pier, waves sweep toward us in the soft early morning light. My 18-year-old son Graham paddles and swings to his feet. There is a light on his face that isn’t entirely sunlight.
We’re here in “the OC” discovering—together—the ultimate day for anyone who loves beaches and surf, and Graham and I seriously do. This surf session is our first joyous stop on an itinerary of shameless indulgence. Why not? California’s entire coastline spreads like a treasure map, with spoils everywhere you turn. The OC , with its sprawling beaches, sun-dappled waves, and toned bodies playing at everything, is the epicenter—Mount Olympus for the beach gods.
Graham arcs across the wave, ballet of board beneath his feet. When he paddles back out, we both grin loopily.
“Sick,” he says and catches another one.
Eighteen-year-olds are short on words and long on action.
Stashing our boards in the van, we walk to The Sugar Shack cafe on Main Street. We pass warehouse-size surf shops. Still-dripping surfers on rusty beach cruisers pass us. We devour hefty breakfast burritos, then jump in the van to drive south to Newport Beach —and bodysurf heaven. When the swell is right, Newport’s infamous Wedge serves up enormous waves that implode with a force that buzzes up your legs—and that’s standing on the beach. Today (good thing) the waves are small, but they still zip with adrenal speed. We take some rides. More loopy grins.
Next up, Dana Point Harbor for some relaxing fun on stand-up paddleboards, following the mantra that “the ultimate beach day” decrees you never completely dry off. Back in Huntington Beach we toast this happy fact at Sandy’s Beach Grill , digging into fish and chips and a killer beach view, and head out onto the sand. As gauzy gold goes to night, we relax by a beach bonfire, laughing and trying to knock each other’s marshmallows off our roasting sticks.
There is a light on my son’s face that is not entirely firelight.
ULTIMATE FOODIE DAY
Destination: San Francisco Bay Area
In the name of foodies everywhere, I have a challenge: discover California’s perfect gastronomic experience. My food-and-wine road map: begin the day in San Francisco and head north into a mix of glorious wine country and coastal farmlands.
Starting in the city’s Ferry Building Marketplace , filled with farm-to-table foods, I prime myself with a fresh-baked pastry from Acme Bread and a Blue Bottle brewed-to-order coffee, then point the car north across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Winding through the rolling hills, I reach Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail wine road, past signs identifying world-famous labels, like Stag’s Leap , ZD , and Mumm , priming my palate for the region’s celebrated wine-and-food experiences. Not everyone has the budget and luck to score a reservation at The French Laundry , Thomas Keller’s world-famous Yountville restaurant, but fear not, there are plenty of restaurants serving excellent wines paired with dishes showcasing local ingredients. My choice: The Grille at St. Helena’s luxurious Meadowood resort.
I sample hyper-seasonal dishes and (mostly local) food-friendly wines. Perfect.
For dessert, I drive south to Yountville for macarons at Bouchon Bakery (another Keller enterprise). Now I head west, heeding the foodie’s siren call to West Marin , where coastal hills are dotted with cows and sheep. First stop in this farm-to-table mecca: Point Reyes Station , home to famed artisan cheese company Cowgirl Creamery , where I sample creamy, stinky Red Hawk (delicious), then head north on Highway 1 to tiny Marshall to slurp oysters fresh from Tomales Bay.
Heading back towards San Francisco, I detour in Sausalito to visit beautiful Murray Circle Restaurant at Cavallo Point lodge , where I drink in an orangey Manhattan and Golden Gate views. Then I pop upstairs for a hands-on cooking class, offered throughout the year by local experts. I finish the day toasting fellow classmates, then head home across the most beautiful bridge in the world.