5th November 2012 . Amazing Wedding Weddings

California Dreaming

Neither Paul nor I are massively well-travelled. Paul in particular is a real home-boy and doesn’t have much of an interest in venturing further afield.  I have family in Canada so have enjoyed wonderful summers (and winters) over there, but other than that I’ve only really nipped around Europe for short trips and weekends away.  For both of us, I think the most off-putting aspect of ‘going away’ is the expense.  Neither of us are very good at saving and when we have had pockets of money, we have both rather spent it on other things.

Of course, our honeymoon is reason itself to change this uninspiring and uninspired attitude.

The beautiful California coast. Image via Epica Travel

We’ve chosen California, and in particular, a road trip down the coast from San Francisco to San Diego.  For me, a holiday like this has everything: culture and endless activity in San Francisco; the romance and epicness of the Big Sur; lively, Spanish-influenced stops in San Luis Ospana and Santa Barbara, and then people-watching and beach time in Los Angeles.  Not forgetting, of course, the hours of driving which for my car-loving fiancé is the piece de résistance.

I’d bought the Lonely Planet book, I’d swallowed the whole thing in a day and decided I wanted to do the whole of California, but with not much of experience of booking holidays I didn’t know what to do next.  So last week Paul and I took a little trip to Trailfinders to talk Honeymoon.  An hour and a half later we came out with a 12 night itinerary totalling £5300.  Clutching our bits of paper and smiling gratefully, we walked in silence until we were far enough away from the shop to exclaim “five and a half grand???!!” and throw our arms around incredulously.

Now I’m not stoopid.  I knew that a once-in-a-lifetime trip like this was gonna cost big. But as this holiday will be bought entirely on credit, we don’t particularly want to start married life with such a HUGE debt hanging over us.

So I’m on a mission to create the holiday of our dreams for less than the Trailfinders quote; difficult when a) we have to travel slap bang in the middle of peak season (the perils of marrying a teacher), and b) I’d like a little bit of luxury on my honeymoon- dingy highway motels are out.

First thing to do is shave a couple of nights off, so we’re now looking at 10 nights, with the 11th being spent on the plane home.  Paul would happily go one less but I’m fighting for a minimum of 10 sleeping nights with my head on California soil.  Or rather, a feather-down pillow.

I’ve deduced that the five most important places to stop and lay our heads are:

1.   San Francisco- home of way too many movies and TV series’ to mention, the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz, Pier 39, bustling activity, cable cars and food will keep us more entertained than we can imagine. A definite 3 night stay.

2.   The Big Sur- a vast expanse of National Park and jagged coastal cliffs, I’ve set my sights on the world-famous Post Ranch Inn to luxuriate in for one night only.

The Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur (image via Kiwi Collection)

3.   Santa Barbara- The guide books refer to it as the American Riviera, and this is where we’d get our first chance to   sun bathe.  Timed correctly, it looks like we’ll be going for the last two days of the Old Spanish Days fiesta as well, so can expect lots of Spanish-inspired music, dance and, again, awesome food. 2 nights.

4.   Los Angeles- I’ll confess, it’s the part of the trip which excites us the least, but a must-do nonetheless.  We plan to spend the time hitting the beaches of Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Malibu to people watch and be made to feel inferior. A minimum of two nights, as it’s just so vast.

Santa Monica pier. (Image by Wild Nature Images)

5.   San Diego- Some people say go, some people say leave it for another time, but everyone says what a great city it is.  I’d like to squeeze it in if possible, for the Mexican food, awesome beaches, zoo, Balboa park, and the opportunity to say “You stay classy, San Diego” to each other far too many times. 2 nights.

And there you have it; a 10-night/11 day California Coast Honeymoon of Dreams.

The night at the Post Ranch Inn would be a huge extravagance as prices start from £400 per night, but ideally the whole trip would be a mixture of carefully-chosen splash outs, mixed with pretty standard, Best Western-type hotels.  San Francisco, for example, can be somewhere pretty standard as I’m sure we’ll be out and about so much.

I still want good reviews on Trip Advisor though.

And is my itinerary right?   Everyone says to visit Carmel and the Monterey area which we’ll have to drive through to get to the Big Sur.  I was hoping lunch and a wander around Carmel would be enough… but will it, or should we lose a night somewhere to stay overnight there?

Will 2 days in LA be enough, or should we stay three, before heading to San Diego for one final night?? (We’d pretty much still get 2 days there as flights home aren’t until the evening.)

How do we find out what restaurants Man Vs Food were filmed at, and will we see Adam Redmore??

So many questions… and this is where you lovely lot come in!

I know that so many of you have done a California road trip like this, and though your itinerary may have differed, we need your knowledge!  Hotel recommendations, travelling tips, advice, must-dos and don’t-bothers- we want it all. Did you book it yourself or go through a company like Trailfinders or Virgin?  Did you only book one night somewhere, but in hindsight wish you could have stayed more??

I can’t say all your advice will be heeded, but it will definitely be a massive help in formulating a more concrete plan!

So come on Uttersons, share your California dreamin’ on this cold, November morning…

Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco (Image source)

Sama xxx


Sama x

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No Responses to “California Dreaming”

  1. charlotteelborough

    Hi Sama,
    What a great post! John and I are planning a very similar trip for our 1 year anniversary. We were hoping to do San Fran down to LA and then fly out to Hawaii to stay with family. We got almost the same quote from Trailfinders – madness!! There must be a cheaper way to do it. X

      • charlotteelborough

        Lol – my Uncle has lived out there for about 15 years and I haven’t taken advantage yet! The wedding is the perfect excuse. We’re thinking that we may just have to do Hawaii now though as it seems to be sooo expensive!

        Decided to postpone the ‘big trip’ until the 1 year anniversary so that we can save and put any kind wedding donations towards it. We’re thinking of doing a UK camping road trip after the wedding.

        Your itinary sounds amazing though.


  2. Carla Thomas

    You have a great honeymoon planned, and you can do it for a lot less than what Trailfinders are planning on charging you! The sad thing, the minute you mention honeymoon, you’re upgraded, and lavished with lots of things you don’t want and need, no matter how nice they are!

    It’s been a few years but my friend and I hired a car and drove from LA to San Fran along the Pacific Highway, which was great. We just misjudged how long it would take us! It may look like it on a map, but the distance between LA and San Fran is not the same as London to Manchester! More like London to Glasgow!

    LA is not as glamourous as it looks in some films, and 24 hours was enough for us, bet definitely make sure you spend some time on the beach.

    As you’re starting in San Fran, if you have a chance on the way down, make some time to stop and see the amazing sequoias in Santa Cruz. Absolutely stunning. They really make you realise how small we really are.

    San Diego is a lovely place, and worth a couple of night’s stay. If you have the time, take the ferry or drive over to Coronado, just to see another part of the city and they have great beaches. It may break not just stretch your budget, but the Coronado Hotel is lovely!

    If you book your flights far enough in advance, you can get good rates, Kayak.co.uk is a good place to compare all airlines and allows you to arrive in one city and leave from another. It is also worth looking at the airline websites direct as they can also be slightly cheaper. Look to book first thing in the morning as it is just before most airline systems in the US have been reset, just in case the price spikes.

    Once you have your flights booked, and those must stay places and luxury nights out of the way, you will still be closer to £2000 than £5000.

    Happy planning. I think you guys are going to have a ball.


  3. Ellie

    I’ve done pretty much this exact trip twice, most recently this time last year.

    It was incredible and I would recommend going to Carmel and Monterey. For us, we loved Carmel and we were glad we stayed overnight there, but Monterey we could have done in a day.

    We went for 16 nights and it cost £1800 each through Trailfinders, who were absolutely fantastic. They were always at the end of the phone for any advice so I’d definitely advise going through a company like them.

    We’re doing a two stop for our honeymoon 😀 Portland, Oregon and Hawaii! Cannot wait. Let me know if you need any other advice!

  4. theutterblog

    Thank you for your replies, ladies! Although differing opinions on Carmel- are you trying to confuse me?? 😉

    Those prices seem amazing but I don’t know if I’ll be able to get it that low. On Kayak the cheapest direct flights I can find are a grand each- we’re going first week of August so it’s gonna be the most expensive. And do we want to fly indirect? It just takes so much longer! But still reasurring that £5k is way too high.

    I’ve had a little peek at that hotel as well Carla. Wow.

    Sooooooo excited. Very jealous of Portland and Hawaii though Ellie. Nice combo! xx

  5. Rach (@rach_1511)

    Hey. We did this exact trip in May / June this year but we did it the opposite way round San Diego to San Francisco…..fantastic choice and an amazing honeymoon ( we are now struggling to top this for our honeymoon!). I have to say – I don’t think the £5500 from Trip Advisor is too bad given the time of year if you have direct flights – you’ll probably pay a little more if you are arriving and leaving the US from different airports….I would say direct is best personally then you aren’t spending lots of time hanging around at airports! We booked through trial finders but we didn’t book all the trip with them – purely because we wanted to have some flexibility and at the time of booking we didn’t have the whole trip planned out in our head – some hotels we didn’t book until we were in California but that was a bit hard work in some places but in others perfectly fine. We booked with trial finders – flights, internal flights, car hire hotel in SD, SF and Las Vegas and the rest we just booked ourselves.

    I think you have the right mix for the trip…

    San Francisco – enjoyed it! Would agree with a decent hotel but nothing OTT as there is plenty to do and I am sure you will be out exploring. Agree with Carla – Santa Cruz is a must; even if you to a stop off during the day which we did. It is fantastic!

    Monterey – we stayed there but I would say that again you could do a pass through there as to be honest there isn’t loads to do….we may be blinkered as the fog didn’t lift the whole time we were there which was disappointing. We didn’t stay in Carmel – we passed through it after we had left Cambria (nice little town by the sea but not a lot there) and was lovely but can’t say much else!

    Post Ranch Inn – wow; amazing and I think that extravagance would be fantastic – def must!

    We really enjoyed Santa Barbara – there was so much life about it and place to chill as well – unfortunately we only had 1 night there and we really wished that we’d been able to stay longer but we had already booked our next night.

    LA – mmmm……now we went there as we left Santa Monica and as we drove up to Santa Barbara (we were doing everything opposite!)…..def stay in Santa Monica and 2 nights is great to explore the amazing coast line and to hire bikes and cycle along it and see the ‘sights’ of Venice Beach!

    We didn’t stay in San Diego but we stayed at the Loes Beach Resort on Coronado; which was fantastic! Coronado is just a short drive over the bridge from San Diego and there is a regular ferry service / bus service over to the city which was great if you don’t want to drive. We decided to start our holiday there and have a bit of a relax before we started the drive and so glad we did. Coronado is a fantastic little town as well – Clayton’s Coffee Shop is a must for breakfast…..you have to put your name down and wait but worth it!

    I spent hours and hours searching for places and making it cheaper than Trail Finders but there was certain things that they can do much cheaper but make sure you check some of the hotels that they are offering and locations – which I am sure you will!

    Highway 1 is fantastic to drive – ignore the sat nav when you are going from place to place as it’ll want to take you on the freeway all the time and you miss the beauty! Look out for all of the seals…..some incredible sights and you realise just how amazing nature is!

    Sorry for war and peace!!!

    Happy Planning! xxxx

  6. Eileen O'Doherty

    Hi Sama,
    Just saw this post and was like ‘Omg – we ARE wedding twins!!!’ as we’d also been planning on doing the Californian road trip. So funny! Anyway I’ve been to the Post Ranch Inn about 8 years ago (it was before I knew what a celeb spot it was, I was staying with some family in Carmel and they took me there for dinner). I’d say Carmel is really nice, very pretty but also not that much of a ‘young person’ town. Nice to visit for a night though. As for staying at the Post Ranch Inn the views are great but if its over budget maybe consider going for lunch/dinner and staying nearby. A lot of the best views will be from the roads you drive along anyway! Remember to bring some warm layers, Carmel and San Fran both get ridiculously cold when the fog sets in even in the summer. If you can handle slumming it a bit there’s good hostels in a lot of these places where you can get private rooms. HI Hostels are actually really cool (trust me, I was the biggest hostel snob at the beginning of my gap year and they converted me!), maybe you could do odd nights in them so that you can splurge more on the other nights! If you enjoy live music then check out the listings for the Fillmore in San Fran too. I hung out with the Kaiser Chiefs there (long story…) but its such a beautiful venue with such an awesome legendary history! Have a brilliant time! Thank you so much again for your kind email about the lighting hire in Kent.
    Eileen x


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