Five ways to experience California

By Jessica Teas

Photography by Massimo Colombo/Getty Images

Skip to Navigation

January 2017

Set against the Pacific Ocean, California stretches along most of the west coast of the USA, packing in everything from foggy hillside cities to sun-kissed beaches – meaning that there’s something for every type of traveller. Here are five ways to experience the Golden State at its best.


Best for... hipsters

Oakland is to San Franciscans what Brooklyn is to Manhattanites. Once a working-class haven, Oakland is now home to a vibrant, art and performance scene – and burgeoning waterfront – bolstered by a rich literary and social history for those looking to explore across the bay. It also happens to be the gateway to Napa Valley’s vineyards and the great Yosemite National Park.

While San Francisco is surrounded by water, downtown Oakland’s tidal Lake Merritt is surrounded by city, which makes it a welcome respite for the locals who will be doing everything from barbequing to outdoor yoga on a nice day


Oakland is still short on hotels, but hip, urban Hotel Zetta in San Francisco is the ideal launch pad for visits to the city. Situated in SoMa and a stone’s throw from the Powell Street BART station – which gets you to Oakland in 13 minutes – the luxury boutique hotel is all about style, thoughtful touches and hi-tech amenities with minimalist décor.


The haute Michelin-starred Commis might be the Bay Area’s best value fine-dining spot ($125 for a multi-course menu). The focus is on the craft, using seasonal, local ingredients to create ingenious flavour combinations in a minimal, intimate setting. Or follow the locals to the Ramen Shop in Rockridge, which is renowned for its springy noodles in rich, interesting broths with non-traditional ingredients such as broccoli di ciccio, Brussel sprouts, and delicata squash.


While San Francisco is surrounded by water, downtown Oakland’s tidal Lake Merritt is surrounded by city, which makes it a welcome respite for the locals who will be doing everything from barbequing to outdoor yoga on a nice day. For the literary buffs, look no further than Oakland waterfront’s Jack London Square for a reconstruction of the aforementioned author’s Klondike cabin.

Find our cheapest flights to Oakland >

  • LA’s Getty Center sits in the Santa Monica Mountains and offers jaw-dropping views of the city © J Paul Getty Trust.

    Top tip…

    Bring your own lunch and have a picnic on the southern lawn of the terrace, which has the best views of the centre’s central pond, as well as the city. Fly from London to Los Angeles from:

    Experience LA
  • A deluxe guestroom at the hip Hotel Zetta in San Francisco – the ideal base to explore Oakland.

    Hi-tech haven

    Hotel Zetta has everything to keep modern-day road warriors happy, including a G-Link smartphone dock with Bluetooth, a smart TV with access to Netflix, and Nintendo Wii and Atari games consoles (available upon request). If you’d rather have a digital detox, the gym also offers yoga classes.

    Book a stay
  • Oakland’s Michelin-starred Commis could be the Bay Area’s best value fine-dining spot © Vanessa Yap-Einbund.

    Try it for yourself…

    Commis is open Wednesday to Saturday, 17:30-21:30, and on Sundays from 17:00-21:00 (it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays). Advanced booking is essential.

    Discover Oakland

Los Angeles

Best for... party animals

From Melrose Place to Malibu, this city of interconnected neighbourhoods is full of beautiful people sipping cold-pressed juice between Pilates classes and casting calls before the sun sets – when it all becomes about the city-wide see-and-be-seen nightlife.


Floor-to-ceiling windows reveal the famed Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Hills from the rooms of the Andaz West Hollywood. It has an understated hip vibe – the corporate exterior belies its storied past as the ‘Riot House’ before it became a hotel. The rooftop pool and bar are quintessentially LA and the perfect place to spend a Saturday morning.


If you want a slice of the beautiful hipster action in LA, you’ll find it at Bestia, one of the city’s most popular restaurants on the outskirts of downtown LA’s now-booming Arts District. The pan-Italian, rustic menu is popular, making it one of the toughest reservations in town, but you can bypass the queue by having a cocktail and grab bar stools for dinner.

  • Skateboarders on LA’s Venice Beach © mgs/Getty Images.

    Did you know… ?

    Venice Beach is the second largest LA tourist attraction behind Disneyland. Locals and visitors alike descend on its quirky boardwalk, which is filled with performers, artists and T-shirt stalls – explore it for yourself on an electric bike tour.

    Book a tour


LA isn’t just about Hollywood glamour. There’s also a serious art scene with innovative museums and collections, anchored by the vast Getty Center. It sits in the Santa Monica Mountains above Brentwood and offers expansive views of LA from its various terraces and sculpture gardens. Make your own masterpiece in the Sketching Gallery or take a walk around the circular central garden after perusing the collections of pre-20th-century European and 19th and 20th-century American art.

Book flights to Los Angeles >

San Francisco

Best for... foodies

The shining tech city upon the hill still sports its hippy flower crown with pride while proudly showing off its historic roots. Culture, a colourful backstory, a deep love of the region and serious money from Silicon Valley all collide here to produce a ferociously local, seasonal food scene that’s second to none.


Nob Hill’s historic Fairmont Hotel makes you feel like you’ve time travelled back to the Gilded Age, and the neighbourhood is well worth a wander by foot in its own right. The hotel itself is regally perched on a hill with sweeping vistas in all directions, but for the best bay views, book a room on a high level in the tower.


Rich Table does casual northern California cuisine with a barn-chic vibe. Reclaimed wood brings farm feel to your table, which pairs perfectly with a thoughtful, succinct, ever-changing menu bursting with rustic, west coast flavours. For high-end Californian, try three Michelin-starred Saison . More than a dozen courses on the prix fixe tasting menu are masterfully executed and faultlessly served with (naturally) expertly curated wine parings.

  • San Francisco’s Saison has received a coveted three Michelin stars.

    Foodie alert

    Joshua Skenes’ nightly changing tasting menu features up to 18 courses, guided by produce that is at its very best on that day. Look out for his signature ‘liquid toast’, a glazed sea urchin served on crusty bread, or the barbecued celeriac, which is slow-cooked on a fireplace for three days.

    Fly to San Francisco
  • Expect casual Californian cuisine at San Francisco’s Rich Table © Kassie Borreson.

    Try it for yourself…

    Open daily from 17:00-22:30. If you haven’t got reservation, walk-ins can dine at the 12-seater bar on a first come, first served basis.

    Book a city break
  • The revamped San Francisco Museum of Modern Art © Henrik Kam

    Art attack

    After a $305m, three-year renovation, the San Francisco MoMA tripled the amount of space available to display 33,000 works art. There is also a 45,000 feet public space filled with art that is free to see.

    Things to do in San Fran


San Francisco doesn’t have the beaches imagined by California-bound tourists, but it does have an historic bay, criss-crossed by majestic bridges and ringed by craggy coasts, where Alcatraz plays backdrop to wind surfers dodging commuter ferries and incoming cargo ships. The new and improved San Francisco MoMA re-opened for business in spring 2016 to much-deserved fanfare. It houses a vast collection of modern and contemporary art in a rippling, pleat-veneered edifice that itself is museum-worthy.

San Jose

Best for... tech lovers

Twitter and several compatriots might have moved their HQs to San Francisco, but tech still calls Silicon Valley home. Make it your base to explore the geek-chic subculture that permeates every corner of the valley, from Sand Hill Road to San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation.


San Jose isn’t known for its hotel offerings, but the Fairmont is a well-appointed property that’s close to all that the downtown historic district has to offer. Higher floors have beautifully decorated rooms with outstanding views across the valley. If you can swing it, get a room with a patio that leads to the surprisingly nice palm tree-ringed rooftop pool.

  • San Jose is a tech-lover’s paradise © Radius Images/Alamy

    Techs and the city

    Boasting close to 7,000 technology companies, including Apple and Intel, San Jose is the most concentrated tech center in the entire world.

    Flights to San Jose are on sale


Nearby Palo Alto is home to a number of Silicon Valley’s top restaurants, including Bird Dog. Its signature dish of grilled avocado gets rave reviews and you’ll find plenty of tech deal-makers in this buzzing minimalist space every night of the week. NOBU Palo Alto is also hot on the heels, adding new dishes heavily influenced by local ingredients, to their signature menu.


If you feel like getting geeky, head to Santa Clara’s Intel Museum to learn all about the intricate, inner-workings of the microchips that make our gadgets work. If you want a more design-led trip into the future, head to the on-campus Apple Store at 1 Infinite Loop. Much of what goes on at Apple happens behind a cloak of secrecy but this store is open to the public and it’s where you can load up on exclusive Apple booty not available anywhere else.

Book flights to San Jose >

San Diego

Best for... beach lovers

Perfect weather and endless surf are San Diego’s calling cards, and a regenerated city centre lends a cosmopolitan edge to the perpetual summer you’ll experience in California’s most southerly city.


San Diego might be all about the beach, but the historic heart of the city is the Gaslamp Quarter with dozens of noteworthy buildings, including the US Grant Hotel. Rooms have an old-fashioned glamour with a modern edge thanks to marble bathrooms, modern art and recessed lighting.


In San Diego it’s all about the seafood. In particular, fish tacos with a frosty craft beer in Point Loma at Mitch’s Seafood. Then there’s the surf and turf taco – prawns and skirt steak, topped with sliced avocado – and full menu of fresh ceviche from Oscar’s Mexican Seafood. With five San Diego locations, you can get your Baja-style fix without crossing the border.


You can tick a few boxes with a trip to San Diego’s Coronado Island, the set for classic movie Some Like It Hot and an ex-Naval air station (half the island is still a military base). Get on the water for a ferry ride over before a beach volleyball match or a swim along the miles-wide beach. Or follow the coast to the chain of sleepy surf hamlets in the north, such as La Jolla, which woos snorkelers and scuba divers with its perennial calm and warm waters.

Discover San Diego >

footer navigation links
British Airways logo.