California’s rich diversity of stunning landscapes and buzzy urban centers means you don’t have to go far within the state to feel utterly transported. Travel influencer Francesca Murray, who runs the One Girl, One World blog, found this out firsthand during a recent road trip through Southern California. With just a few hours of total travel time, Murray explored different hot spots and hidden gems over her five-day, midweek vacation.
“It was exciting to be able to play tourist in such familiar places,” recalls Murray, a Los Angeles resident who was surprised to feel worlds away so close to home. “I had no idea there was so much more to discover.”
Here’s a lightly edited conversation with Murray about her “nearcation.”
Your midweek trip in SoCal looked amazing on Instagram, Francesca. Can you give us a quick overview of your itinerary?
Sure! We started in Laguna Beach in Orange County, then headed back north to Long Beach to catch the Catalina Express ferry to Catalina Island for a night. When we returned, we spent the rest of the trip exploring Long Beach. It was the perfect mini road trip experience!
You’re L.A.-based, so it’s not like you ventured that far from home. Were you surprised by the number of cool experiences that were just a short drive away?
I was! I grew up in L.A., so it was fascinating to discover different sides to cities like Long Beach that I’ve already been to countless times. It was exciting to be able to play tourist in such familiar places. I had no idea there was so much more to discover!
Let’s talk about Laguna Beach for a minute. Where did you stay?
I stayed at the Surf & Sand Resort, and it had the most amazing views of the Pacific! Our room had a balcony and was really well equipped for a cozy night in after a day of exploring. It’s the little touches that make the experience feel luxurious—from the kindness of the staff to the bathrobes and slippers available to guests.
What were some of the memorable bites in Laguna Beach?
Urth Caffé is a SoCal favorite, and the location in Laguna Beach is so close to the beach that you can feel the sea breeze. I also enjoyed having pizza with a view at Gina’s Pizza. You can see the ocean from the patio!
Did you shop while you were there? Any other essential activities?
I didn’t shop while I was there, but I did enjoy window shopping at the various art galleries. I also had a great time at the Laguna Art Museum.
Catalina was next, right? Had you ever been there before? What were your impressions?
I went on a short day trip when I was younger, but this was my first time staying overnight and having the opportunity to actually do some sightseeing. I loved the views of the island. It reminded me of Italy—which is one of my favorite countries.
Where did you stay in Catalina, and how were the views?
We stayed at the Hotel Atwater. [Editor’s note: The Atwater was built in 1920 under the direction of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. and was recently remodeled in “island deco” style.] The best view of the island is from Buena Vista Point for sure!
What did you think of the chill vibe on the island? It’s kind of crazy that it is so close to the buzz of SoCal but feels like an entirely different world.
It does feel like a different world. The locals were so chill and laid back. Someone even offered us a ride to a restaurant on the marina in their golf cart. Next time I’ll have to rent a golf cart for myself to really do it like a local.
Any other Catalina highlights?
Wrigley Botanical Garden has amazing views as well. It’s definitely worth a visit. I also enjoyed just wandering the boardwalk and people watching.
Your getaway ended in Long Beach—what are your overall impressions of that town? It’s kind of hidden in plain sight…
I love Long Beach and have been many times, but I hadn’t explored much of Shoreline Village. It’s a cute boardwalk area with some great photo spots and restaurants. I also really enjoyed taking a gondola ride through the Naples canal. It was educational, fun, and unique.
Can you share some culinary highlights from your visit to Long Beach?
I had the best brunch at The Breakfast Bar. Get the breakfast burrito—it won’t disappoint. I also had an amazing experience dining at Boathouse on the Bay. There was a live band playing on the patio, and we arrived just in time for sunset over the water. The food was phenomenal.
Any words of wisdom for folks considering a trip like this one?
California takes safety very seriously, and it’s important to abide by local rules and regulations, especially when it comes to COVID-19 precautions. Be safe and have a great time!