Luxury, as the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder (or the holiday maker). Indulgence for you might mean reservations at one of L.A.’s swankiest restaurants or perhaps a chance to give the credit card a workout on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. But for adventurous holiday makers, a night under colourful blankets in a plush Mongolian yurt overlooking the Pacific Ocean or swimming laps in a turquoise pool at a Palm Springs resort might be the height of luxury.
Fortunately, California lets you spoil yourself in all these ways, and plenty more. Here are some of our favourite indulgences.
Though he’s not a star on a food show, Chef Keller’s fame is almost unsurpassed in the food world, simply based on the brilliance of his food and the quality of his dining experience, both epitomised at this Yountville institution. With three Michelin stars, The French Laundry is a once in a lifetime experience that should be on any fine diner’s list of places to dine at. The tasting menu is sublime, with changing seasonal dishes as well as Chef Keller’s signature 'oysters and pearls': oysters and caviar in sabayon.
If you can’t snag a reservation (tables fill up months in advance), visit Chef Keller’s neighbouring Bouchon Bistro for impressive French-influenced food in more casual surroundings. The menu highlights classic bistro fare, such as steak frites, soupe à l’oignon, escargots à la bourguignonne, and confît de canard.
Just driving through town on the way to wine tasting? Stop by Chef Keller’s Bouchon Bakery for a perfect macaroon or buttery slice of quiche.
Insider’s tip: One way to spot Chef Keller is at top food and wine festivals, such as the star chef studded Pebble Beach Food & Wine.
Here’s the best of the best, a country road lined with shady oaks and world-class wines, with so many wineries you could travel it for a week straight and still not visit them all. The first permanent road linking the town of Napa to Calistoga, roughly 30 miles south, the Silverado Trail is the country-road counterpart to busier Highway 29, which roughly parallels the route. Drive—or better yet rent a bike and pedal—along this tranquil, scenic route, snuggled up against the valley’s eastern hills.
'Here’s the best of the best, a country road lined with shady oaks and world-class wines.'
The biggest challenge is figuring out where to stop first. Prestigious wineries with Silverado Trail addresses include Joseph Phelps, ZD Wines, and Miner Family Winery, just three of the dozens of wonderful places to sample Napa Valley’s infamous Cabernet Sauvignon and other big-bodied reds. Sparkling wine fans will want to stop at Mumm Napa, where you can sip bubbly on an elegant patio, in a tasting salon or reserve a seat on the intimate Oak Terrace. Other turns take you to how-can-they-be-so-perfect wine-country inns and resorts, such as Auberge du Soleil and Solage Calistoga. To see one of the prettiest places in the whole region, take the long, leafy drive onto the manicured grounds of Meadowood Napa Valley for an al fresco lunch at The Grill, or, if you’re feeling particularly indulgent, dinner at the three-Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood, known for impeccable service and farm-to-table offerings served with—of course—exquisite wines.
It’s one thing to see SeaWorld San Diego’s remarkable collection of exotic animals performing in shows or in their enclosures. It’s another (unforgettable) thing entirely to get up close to the creatures—and even touch them. Two of the most remarkable exclusive experiences involve you climbing into a SeaWorld San Diego wetsuit to get into the pool with the gentle, snow-white beluga whales, found in Arctic waters.
At Dolphin Encounter, you get to feed, touch and use special signals to communicate with bottlenose dolphins; the Dolphin Interaction Program lets you get right into the pool with the creatures and play with them. Go behind-the-scenes again with the Penguin Up-Close Tour to discover everything there is to know about these little black-and-white seabirds, including what they eat and how to help protect them in the wild. If your family still hasn’t had its fill of wildlife, take them on the 45-minute Killer Whales Up-Close Tour, which offers an insider’s look at how these awe-inspiring mammals are cared for.
With a reputation as one of the most enchanting glamping experiences in the state, El Capitan Canyon—nestled amidst the rolling coastal hills 30 minutes north-west of Santa Barbara—is one of those pinch-me getaways everyone should experience at least once in their life (but we bet you’ll book a return visit before you leave). The leafy compound is so secluded that it’s hard to believe that more than 100 cabins and safari tents occupy the lush hillside landscape, surrounded on three sides by the shoreline and wilderness of El Capitan State Beach.
Guests can choose from basic canvas tents built on wooden platforms, fancier cedar cabins with bathrooms and kitchenettes, or an Adventure Yurt with a domed skylight that allows for easy stargazing. All the accommodations are situated along a wooded drive that winds its way into the hilly portion of El Capitan State Beach, where wildlife abounds, as well as goats, sheep and a donkey named Eeyore. But the real draw here is the proximity to the coastline itself, where you can walk, bike, or drive under Highway 101 to access the sandy beach and tide pools. Visitors can even go on a leisurely llama trek to a field that offers sweeping views of the Pacific. Complimentary bikes are available for guests; the friendly staff can also arrange surfing lessons, whale-watching excursions, kayaking or wine tasting. There is also a summer concert series on site, May through September.
Pet owners should be aware that because El Capitan Canyon is designated as a wildlife corridor, in an effort to protect local wildlife, there is a no pets policy throughout the canyon.
Insider tip: cook your own meals—there’s a shop on site for groceries—or choose from the selection of gourmet-style ready meals available.
Pampering just comes with the territory in the California desert. Maybe in the old days, desert visitors had to pack in supplies and sleep on the hard ground, but the swaying palms, cool tile walkways, and spring-fed pool at Death Valley’s Inn at Furnace Creek don’t exactly scream “rough it.” More like, “Find your chaise and relax.” So it goes at California’s desert resorts, dotting the dramatic landscape from northern parklands in the Palm Springs region to manicured landscapes in the Coachella Valley.
“Find your chaise and relax.”
You’ll find resortsin all styles--from lavish opulence to sleek modernism--with many lodgings reflecting the era they were built. The Parker Palm Springs, the former ranch of singing cowboy Gene Autry, has the sleek, low-slung coolness of Mid-century Modern design. The flower-filled courtyards and red-tiled adobe casitas at the expansive La Quinta Resort & Club, opened in 1926, hints at romance under a desert moon. At The Willows historic Palm Springs inn, once a millionaire's private retreat, terraced gardens beckon. And everything old is new again at the styled-to-the-roughing-it-nines at Sparrows Lodge, where vaulted wood ceilings, stone details, and restored horse troughs for bathtubs give a relaxed ranch feel -though no luxury is spared.
There’s all-out luxury too. At Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage, settle into a suite with contemporary furnishings and mountain views, then play a round of golf before enjoying a body treatment featuring desert herbs and minerals.
You’ll definitely want to leave room in your suitcase for L.A. shopping.
If you’re ready to whip out the platinum card, head to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, home to Chanel, Giorgio Armani and other mega-designer boutiques. Nearby Robertson Boulevard also has chic boutiques. Just east of Beverly Hills, upmarket The Grove, across the street from the popular Original Farmers Market, has a village atmosphere, with a fountain-filled park and leafy outdoor cafés.
For celeb-spotting while you shop, aim for Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. Also in town is the popular, pedestrian friendly Third Street Promenade, with big-name chains and a lively feel.
At the south end of the promenade, open-air Santa Monica Place features trendy boutiques and a rooftop dining deck with ocean views. Just south is Venice Beach’s fun and funky Abbot Kinney Boulevard, home to hip clothiers, galleries and oh-so-cool restaurants and cafés.