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Joushua Tree National Park, Greater Palm Springs

California Dreaming

Beyond the golden-sand good looks

Alternative California holiday destinations

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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 in California

Palm Springs desert hike

Napa Valley

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.

Napa Valley and vineyards in California

Vineyard, Castello di Amorosa

Sonoma County

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 and vineyards in California

Sonoma County road trip

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Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, USA

Highlights of the American West

14-day tailor-made self-drive from £2,790 pp incl. flights

Driving between San Francisco and Las Vegas, this curated road trip takes in the beauty of Yosemite National Park, austere Death Valley and the ever-spectacular Grand Canyon.

Yosemite National Park, Califiornia

Highlights of Northern California

12-day tailor-made self-drive from £2,575 pp incl. flights

Northern California is a region of immense nature, world-leading wines and culture-packed cities, showcased in such icons as San Francisco, Sonoma and Yosemite National Park. Take in its headline acts on this fly-drive holiday.

Bardessono Hotel & Spa, Napa Valley, USA

Bardessono, Napa Valley

Contemporary hotel

“Deep green with luxury” is this contemporary hotel and spa’s ethos. Bardessono has won numerous awards not only for its quality of accommodation and service but also for its green credentials – it holds LEED Platinum certification, the highest standard for environmental design.

The Meritage Resort and Spa, Napa

The Meritage Resort & Spa, Napa Valley

Traditional resort

The Meritage Resort & Spa is the perfect base for exploring the Napa Valley, America’s most celebrated wine region. Among its many features are sprawling suites, a luxurious pool, acres of vineyards, an underground spa and an award winning restaurant.

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, Sonoma

Grand & elegant hotel

A Michelin-starred restaurant, a championship level golf course and an award-winning spa all combine to ensure you make the most of your stay in picturesque Sonoma wine country.

La Quinta Resort & Club

La Quinta Resort & Club, Palm Springs

Contemporary resort

La Quinta Resort & Club, a member of Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts, has been a Hollywood hideaway since it opened in 1926. Its vast array of facilities (including 41 pools and 23 tennis courts), stylish rooms and discreet service ensure its continued popularity today.

Renaissance Palm Springs

Renaissance Hotel Palm Springs

Contemporary resort

A stylish resort home to a wonderful day spa and Palm Springs’ largest pool; it’s the perfect base for adventures into the California desert, rounds of golf and the modernist delights of Palm Springs itself.

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