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3 Insiders Share California Vacation Tips

Expand your horizons with these culinary, family, and luxury experiences

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Posted 4 months agoby Ann Marie Brown

In California, the Gold Rush hasn't ended. The state holds a world's worth of wonders within its borders, so travel options run the gamut: Ski in the morning and surf at sunset. Pedal across the Golden Gate Bridge. Sip wines straight from the barrel. Hike through a palm grove, then dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Whether you're a food fan, nature buff, arts enthusiast, shopaholic, or adrenaline junkie—or if you just relish a great road trip—California's got you covered. In the latest California Now Podcast, three travel experts talk about the vast array of experiences that Golden State visitors can enjoy.

Explore Culinary Diversity

San Diego food writer Troy Johnson weighs in on California's wide-ranging culinary scene. "We have some of the best chefs in the country in California, but we have some of the best hole-in-the-walls, too," he says. These sorts of restaurants “may not have Michelin stars,” Johnson notes, “but they are every bit as exciting and soulful."

Johnson, who is a judge on Guy Fieri’s TV series, Guy's Grocery Games, says one of his favorite off-the-radar spots is Fatima's Grill, a Lebanese restaurant in Downey, southeast of Los Angeles. "They do Halal meats, and they do little pita sandwiches that are fantastic," he says.

In San Francisco, Johnson always stops at Foreign Cinema, a Mission District spot that plays classic films and serves imaginative California fare in a unique and vibrant setting. He also frequents French-Asian Benu, owned by James Beard Award–winner Corey Lee. "Lobster soup dumplings are amazing there. It's one of those places where you say, 'I did not know that human beings could do this to food.' "

For top-notch burgers, Johnson recommends Hodad's in Ocean Beach. "They have these massive, delicious burgers, and they create this whole salad on top. You need to unhinge your jaw to eat it."

Johnson also loves the iconic hamburger chain In-N-Out. "It's the classic. It's a staple. It was one of the first places in the country that decided to do it all fresh," he says. "And they have 9,000 different secret menu items that you can unlock if you're a true diehard fan."

Expand Your Family Adventure

Also on the podcast, journalist Kelly Mickle discusses California's vast range of choices for family vacations. Mickle, who travels with her husband and two young children, says one of her family's top destinations is Joshua Tree National Park.

"I think it's hard not to feel in awe of the landscape there," she says. "There are these twisted Joshua trees that look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. You've got these rock formations that almost look like piles of melted candle wax, like in a Salvador Dalí painting," she says.

Mickle's kids are always happy to take a beach trip too, she points out. "There are so many beaches in California to explore. There's no limit to what you can see and do, and so many different options for families, whether you want to do stand-up paddleboarding or surfing or boogie boarding."

Road trips also work well for family travel, and one of Mickle's favorite routes is driving Highway 1 from Southern California to Big Sur and Monterey. "On the drive up, we love to stop at Pismo Beach. The kids love to play on the beach there," she says. Along the route, she suggests families try out glamping—sleeping in a prefab tent or cabin—at El Capitan Canyon near Santa Barbara or Fernwood in Big Sur. "It's a perfect way to dip your toe into camping with kids," she says.

Savor a Luxurious Indulgence

Dino Michael, Senior Vice President and Global Category Head of Luxury Brands at Hilton, says that the best way to ensure a one-of-a-kind California vacation is to enlist the help of your hotel's concierge, who can arrange unique experiences tailored to your interests.

"Our concierges are very good at reading our guests and what they want," he says. "Let them get to know you. Explain to them what you like, what you want, what you enjoy doing."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Concierges can arrange a private wine tasting, set up a behind-the-scenes tour, secure a table at a hot-ticket restaurant, or even find out where to score "a rare pair of Yeezys sneakers," Michael says. "Their recommendations are different for everybody. There's no real limit to what they can do."

And they are all cheerleaders for their communities: "Our concierge teams are locals, and they're really approachable," he says. "Even kids shouldn't be afraid to go talk to the concierge."

Hilton has several California properties with full concierge teams, including the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach, the Oceana Santa Monica, and the Coachella Valley's La Quinta Resort and Club. At each hotel, concierges will suggest options that cater to your budget as well as your passions.

"It's about exclusive access, rarity. It's not necessarily about a particular price," Michael says. "It's just these unique moments that money can't necessarily buy."

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