While few can resist the charm of NorCal’s rocky coastline and towering redwoods, Southern California also has abundant natural and urban delights. The southern stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway is well worth traveling and retraveling to explore its fascinating, less traveled byways.
Day One: Santa Monica
The sophisticated beach town of Santa Monica fulfills everyone’s dream of SoCal without the grit of Los Angeles. For an overview, stroll the palm- and eucalyptus-lined paths of Palisades Park, perched on a bluff with idyllic views of the coastline.
Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, a serene and elegant beach resort, is home to lush, natural gardens. It offers luxurious leisure activities like a poolside cinema for the ultimate dinner-and-a-movie experience. Indulge in the ultimate beach day at the Miramar Beach Club, where a butler will cater to your need for suntan lotion, drinks, towels and sand pails for the kids.
It might be hard to leave your private bungalow, but don’t miss a visit to the Singing Beach Chairs on the Santa Monica Beach. This art installation looks like two giant beach chairs. Climb up and listen as they emit music.
Day Two: Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills has long been linked with luxury, high fashion and opulence. Here’s your chance to savor the celebrity lifestyle.
Luxury shopping on Rodeo Drive is within easy reach, but so are the real deal shops on Robertson Boulevard, a favorite shopping mecca for celebrities. Check out LA designers like Lauren Moshi and Curve. Speaking of celebrities, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures has three floors of exhibits dedicated to the art and science of movies.
Beverly Hills is home to exciting public art. Begin with the contemporary art gallery #TheCoolHeART in Sofitel Los Angeles, then head to Beverly Gardens Park, chock-full of colorful sculptures. Don’t miss “Takeaway” by Tom Friedman, a 14-foot steel sculpture of a man balancing takeaway boxes on his head.
Day Three: West Los Angeles
West Los Angeles is the geographic heart of the City of Angels and its cultural center. The Hammer Museum, a cultural center known for artist-centric, progressive exhibitions and public programs, has become the most culturally relevant institution in town. Don’t miss the upcoming retrospective of Andrea Bowers, which covers two decades of work by the Los Angeles–based artist and activist.
After exploring the Hammer Museum’s latest installations, you’ll enjoy relaxing in the hammam of the 14,000-square-foot spa at Fairmont Century Plaza. Or maybe the Himalayan salt room? Everything about their spa spells relaxation, rejuvenation and mind-body harmony.
For sweeping views, head off-grid to the Baldwin Scenic Overview, just southwest of central Los Angeles in Culver City. To get to this local favorite, park downhill and enjoy the 45-minute hike, drive to the top and pay to park or take the famed Culver City steps and climb. The panoramic view encompasses the skyline of L.A., Beverly Hills, the Hollywood sign and the Pacific.
Day Four: San Diego
The fourth day takes you south, past a series of golden beaches to the Pacific paradise of San Diego. Fairmont Grand Del Mar, set in a 400-acre nature preserve, delivers the ultimate resort experience. It’s also home to the city’s first three-star Michelin restaurant, Addison. Guests can play golf, ride horses or hike the beautiful Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve paths such as Shaw Trail, which runs along a meandering stream and is shaded by eucalyptus trees.
San Diego’s Balboa Park houses the World Beat Center, a nonprofit, multicultural arts organization celebrating the African diaspora and indigenous cultures of the world. The WBC stage regularly hosts famous and up-and-coming acts and artists. The Healing Peace Garden, with its rare edible and medicinal plants, is an excellent spot to see migrating monarch butterflies.
Day Five: More San Diego
San Diego’s perfect weather invites a visit to a farmer’s market for locals and visitors alike. The city offers a different market for every day of the week. You’re in SoCal, so head to a market at the beach. Tuesday afternoons, try the Coronado Farmers Market, just over the bridge. You’ll enjoy sweeping views of San Diego Bay and a quaint, small-town vibe as you stroll. Or match your market visit with a beach sunset at the Wednesday evening Ocean Beach Farmers Market, featuring live music and art as well as local produce.
Before heading home, stop at the Cliffhanger Café above Torrey Pines for a coffee and watch paragliders circling the sky above the La Jolla coast. It’s one last memory to lure you back for more California adventures.