With miles of sun-drenched coastline, dramatic mountain scenery and iconic urban centres, California seems to have it all, but with so much variety it’s difficult to decide what to see. From a tour of Santa Barbara’s wine region to exploring Los Angeles in a private 1960’s Cadillac, here are some alternative ways to experience the highlights of California.
USA 76 Cup yacht trip
When the yacht racing syndicate Oracle Team USA sought to contest the 2003 America’s Cup, USA 76 was one of the sailboats in its fleet. After winning 21 races, this 84 ft vessel now sails from San Francisco’s Pier 39 just for pleasure, run by a seasoned crew. You can join them on a two and a half hour cruise in San Francisco Bay and taste the adventure of cutting through the water aboard a race winner. Passengers who’d like to experience the skill of sailing first-hand are invited to take to the helm and operate equipment such as the hoist. From the water, you’re also in command of circling views of the San Francisco skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz.
Santa Barbara wine lovers cycling tour
The pinot noir grape has a reputation as challenging to grow but it thrives in Santa Barbara’s wine region, where a blissfully warm climate is tempered by the cooling breeze rolling off the Pacific. California produces more wine than most countries, and row upon row of vines run across the ochre slopes in an area you can readily explore by bicycle. One of the better tours starts with a twelve mile ride through vineyard country before arriving at the Rusack Winery, set among the golden hills of Ballard Canyon. After a tour of the grounds, you’ll wander inside to sample some of the signature wines, including the pinot, as well as taste the house’s olive oil. The rest of the day is spent discovering more of the wineries, this time chauffeured in an air-conditioned minibus.
Discover Chinatown at your own pace
Both a delicious place to dine and a rich cultural hub, Chinatown is as old as San Francisco itself. Weave through the narrow streets among the traditional architecture and aromas of Chinese cuisine and allow yourself to feel as though you have landed on another continent. The best way to experience Chinatown is by wandering around dipping in and out of the many interesting shops. It’s worth knowing that there are actually two Chinatowns located on parallel blocks; Grant Avenue for tourists and Stockton Street for the locals which have very different vibes.
Surfing lessons in San Diego
Learning to surf in San Diego is an experience not to be missed. With professional instructors you will learn the basics, slowly developing your skills until you’re catching waves and learning all the well-known surfing terms such as carving and cranking. The surf school offers one instructor for every surfer, meaning you will get so much out of one lesson. This experience is suitable for all ages and abilities and surfboards and wetsuits are provided. The laid-back instructors will ensure you have a fun and memorable lesson on this spectacular coastline.
Cycle the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay
When in San Francisco, a visit to the famous Golden Gate Bridge is a must, a fun, alternative way to do this is by bike. You can take a gentle 8-mile guided ride from Fisherman’s Wharf along the picturesque San Francisco waterfront past Aquatic Park, Fort Mason, and the Marina District to the Presidio. The tour ends in Sausalito, from which you can head back to Fisherman’s Wharf by ferry or stay and explore the pretty shops and art galleries on foot, before sampling some delicious local food. A highlight for most is cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge but it’s a great way to explore areas you may have otherwise missed.
Private 1960s Cadillac tour
Could there be a better way to explore the highlights of Los Angeles than in a classic car? Take a stylish 1960s Cadillac tour through Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard and Beverly Hills. Cruise through LA and the surrounding area with the roof down and soak up the beautiful views. You’ll be kept informed as you pass the homes of the stars, driving through vibrant Venice Beach and the amusement parks of Santa Monica Pier.
Craig Burkinshaw is Founder of Audley Travel.