13 November 2017 by Patrick Griffin
While the likes of Hollywood’s glitz and Yosemite’s natural wonders rightly grab the headlines, there’s also plenty in the breaths between the Golden State’s great icons. Indeed, spread some 800 miles along the Pacific Coast – almost the length of the UK – the charms of California are wonderfully diverse. One moment you could be tasting your way through world-class vineyards and the next hiking through grand redwood forests. Taken in isolation, it’s even the fifth largest world economy – this time having just leapfrogged a pre-Brexit Britain. So, to help you get the most out of the lesser-visited California, Wexas USA specialist Patrick Griffin has prepared the following distillation of his favourite spots.
Greater Palm Springs
Long a favourite feet-up for LA’s well heeled, Palm Springs is the chance to follow in the 1950s footsteps of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. And, the Rat Pack would be right at home here to this day, settling in among the modernist architecture and glittering nightlife; this is America at its exuberant best, chintzy retro-chic and all. Then, alongside the region’s eight other cities – glamorous Palm Desert and the thermal soaks of Desert Hot Springs are two highlights in particular – there’s the region’s wilderness areas. Cycle through the San Bernardino National Forest and hike through Big Morongo Canyon before taking in otherworldly desert of the region’s national-park jewel – Joshua Tree.
Palm Springs desert hike
Simply put, Napa Valley is one of the world’s leading wine regions. Although that’s something not lost on its many fans, it’s not difficult to find a vineyard of one’s own, with its gentle green contours terraced into over 400 wineries. You’ll soon find your favourite between the sharper purity of the mountain vineyards and the ripe, powerful flavours of the more fertile valley floor. Then, with old-growth forests fringing backcountry roads and pretty chateaux gazing out from hilltop bumps, there’s plenty more to Napa than wine. After exploring on hikes, river paddles and laneway cycle rides, end your days here with one of its superb farm-to-table restaurants.
Vineyard, Castello di Amorosa
Often overshadowed by the big-name acts of its next-door neighbour, bucolic Sonoma County is an enticing, some say quieter, alternative to Napa Valley. Just like its sibling, Sonoma features over 400 wineries, with its diverse chardonnays and tannic cabernet sauvignons among my personal favourites. Yet wine doesn’t have a monopoly on the valley’s soils, with the county home to dozens of artisanal breweries, distilleries and cider houses. Be sure to pair it all with a tasting visit to one of the regions' markets or farm-to-table restaurants; the clam chowder in Bodega Bay is a special favourite. Then, once you’ve had your fill, move out of the 19th-century charm of Sonoma itself to kayak along the Russian River, wonder at the tallest living things at the Armstrong Redwoods or explore the county's 55 miles of pristine coast – ideal for beach relaxation or ranging hikes.
Sonoma County road trip