If people ever ask me about my favourite holiday ever, I don’t even have to think twice. California, October 2011. We drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco – stopping off along the way at Santa Barbara wine country (as seen in the film Sideways), San Luis Obispo, Big Sur, Hearst Castle, and Monterey. I then stayed on in San Francisco for a further two weeks, writing my second book. Living the dream! It was easily the most memorable trip I’ve ever had and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
Weirdly, one of my favourite parts of the trip was Los Angeles. LA has a bad reputation – you could easily imagine it’s a smoggy, tacky, endless sprawl full of identikit shopping malls. It can be all of those things but if you stay by the ocean, or go up in the hills, you’ll find a vibrant, arty, outdoorsy and endlessly fascinating place to explore. (It does help to be able to drive though, and have a GPS). I’d love to go back, but meanwhile I sent my heroine, Lily, there, for a family wedding that turns into a fabulous romantic adventure …
Here are my top tips based on where Lily and I went:
1) Stay beside the beach – in Venice, Santa Monica, or (if you can afford it) Malibu. These places are also very handy from the airport. The Venice Beach House (where we stayed) is an adorable old-fashioned guest house that dates from the early 1900s; or try Shutters on the Beach for more updated luxe.
2) Hire a bike and cycle from Venice to Santa Monica (about two miles). You will see an unbelievable variety of local characters – think snake charmers, muscle men, rappers on segways and dogs on skateboards.
3) Be a culture vulture. Some people think there is no culture in Los Angeles. As Cher Horowitz would say: hello? As well as doing a Clueless tour, you can check out architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright, the John Paul Getty Museum, LA County Museum of Art, La Brea Tar Pits, the Watts Towers, Griffith Park Observatory ... or of course do the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard, where I met Actual Tom Cruise (though he may have been an impersonator because I don’t think the real Tom Cruise would accept tips).
4) Walk, don’t drive. Walk around the Venice canals which to my mind are just as pretty as the ones in Italy; hike in Runyon Park; or walk in Griffith Park where you can see the Hollywood sign AND the original Bat Cave! Or just get up early and go for a jog along the beach – you might see surfers out catching the morning swell, or photo shoot taking place, or (if you’re Lily) a cute boy out jogging barefoot …
5) Eat amazing food. You can keep up with the latest in the food truck craze at www.roaminghunger.com, or dine at Gwyneth Paltrow’s favourite restaurants (yes, Gwyneth – she really does know her food).
6) Go vintage shopping. I’m not sure if it’s the ageing hippies, the film costume departments or the Beverley Hills ladies who wear and discard, but LA is a treasure trove for vintage clothes. The Way We Wore and Hidden Treasures (which looks like a madhouse, at the top of Topanga Canyon) are two of the best.
7) Visit the flower market, where Lily and Jesse go shopping for wedding flowers. Fact fans note: Ashton Kutcher works here in the movie Valentine’s Day!
8) Head for the hills: explore Mulholland Drive and Laurel Canyon. We ended up there by mistake because we asked the GPS to ‘avoid motorways’ when leaving Los Angeles. It was scary at the time as it was late at night, very steep and we were totally lost, but hey, we saw Mulholland Drive.
9) Don’t stay downtown or at Chateau Marmont. The Chateau is lovely but it’s on a pretty tacky part of the Sunset Boulevard strip. But do go for a drink in Bar Marmont (just don’t get hammered and miss an important family party, the way Lily does).
10) You probably don’t need this one but: drink Californian wine. It is expensive compared to wine in Europe, but it is divine – plus they don’t export it much, so it’s something you can’t get at home. An excuse for a glass of Pinot Noir if ever I heard one …
For more fun in Los Angeles, don't miss LILY DOES LA, out now in ebook. And be sure to catch the rest of the Girls on Tour...