January and February seem to be my quietest months work wise, the diary can sometimes look scarily empty! So rather than sit around refreshing my inbox we’ve decided that it’s the perfect time to take a longer break. The timing does limit your choices if you’re looking for a bit of winter sun so we usually end up flying into Los Angeles and travelling around California for a couple of weeks. Sometimes we end up in San Francisco, one year we drove further out of state to Oregon and the City of Portland. Our recent trip took us to Joshua Tree, Idyllwild and Ojai with a couple of days in LA bookending the trip. Here I’ve highlighted some of our favorite places to stay, eat and visit.
We stayed at the recently opened V Hotel at Venice Beach and loved the clean, simple design of the rooms, the sea views and the location right on the boardwalk. We walked along the beach each morning all the way to Santa Monica Pier and back again. We got lucky one day and were joined by a group of dolphins making their way along the shoreline. For breakfast we stopped at Great White, a buzzy all day cafe recommend by our friends at Rae in Rye. They have a menu ranging from breakfast burritos to Poke bowls and wood fired pizza in the evening. If you are looking to do some shopping we headed up to Silver Lake, a laid back neighbourhood with lifestyle stores and good menswear, Buck Mason and General Admission were a couple of our favourites. Also worth a stop is Grand Central Market a dining hall with over 30 individual vendors selling dishes from all over the world, each one marked out by there own neon sign, great for taking photos.
From the V Hotel it’s also a quick walk up to Abbot Kinney, one of the main shopping streets in Santa Monica, filled with boutiques, cafes, bars and restaurants. It’s easy to put in an afternoon here and the residential streets are worth wandering along if you’re interested in architecture, there are some cool prpopertires to admire. If you really want to see some Selling Sunset level homes it’s worth taking a drive up into the Hollywood Hills or along Highway 1 to spot the beachside homes of Malibu. We have a tradition on our last night of taking a ride on the West Coaster on Santa Monica Pier followed by a drink in Shutters on the Beach, both feel a bit touristy but a fun way to toast the trip.
Joshua Tree & Yucca Valley
Around a 3 hour drive from LA, Joshua Tree is definitely worth a visit next time you’re in California. There are loads of great properties available to hire on Air BnB and the desert setting is incredible to wake up to every morning. We were up most mornings before sunrise in the hopes of spotting some of the local wildlife, most of the properties here don’t have boundary fences so we were lucky enough to see a pack of coyotes walk right past the windows as well as road runners, jackrabbits and cotton tails.
If you go to one place on your stay here I can’t recommend La Copine enough, this lunch only spot in nearby Flamingo Heights is set in what used to be an old diner. Make sure to book well in advance as it can get pretty hard to secure a table on the day, it feels like the whole of LA descend upon this place for lunch on the weekend. The food is homey American staples with a bit of a twist and there is just something about the atmosphere that the team have created that makes you want to eat here everyday. Try the shrimp roll with a side of fried eggplant, you won‘t be disappointed.
There are some other great spots to eat in the area, in Joshua Tree itself you have The Dez, a great sandwich spot and deli, Pie for the People serving pretty epic pizza in both size and flavour plus Crossroads and Frontier cafe are good places for breakfast. It’s well worth taking a drive further along the highway to Twenty Nine Palms for lunch at Kitchen In The Desert serving delicious salads and one of the best fried chicken sandwiches I’ve ever tasted. Most of the seating is outside on a sun soaked terrace so bring your factor 50 and a hat.
You can also do some pretty good shopping in the area, Twenty Nine Palms has a great record store, White Label Vinyl and on the other side heading towards LA you’ll find Acme 5 Lifestyle with everything you need to transform your home into a desert hideaway. The Wine and Rock shop is a fun stop off for bottles of booze with nice labels, smelly candles and incense.
And after you’ve hit all of those you still have the National Park to explore, I’d advise getting there just after opening at 7am so you can get in a hike before it gets too hot. Then enjoy a slow drive through the whole park stopping off for photos along the way.
There’s just something about this mountain town that calls you back, the views are spectacular and the town square looks like something out of one of those cute Netflix dramas. The town mayour is a golden retriever named Max, can you picture it now? There have been a few new spots open up since we last visited, the most incredible book store Speakeasy Books which has a small curated selection of the latest releases as well as a used section. With the candles burning, comfy armchairs and the deep green paint on the walls all make it a pretty perfect bookshop experience, I wish more shops in the UK were like this. There is a sweet new wine bar The Wine Finch serving natural wines and local beers. Food wise some of our favourites were the breakfasts at Mama’s Egg House, lunch at Idy Sushi Rolls and in the evening the Brewpub has a great atmosphere and is filled with locals plus La Casita is good for a taco takeaway.
There are loads of hiking trails if you want to get out and about otherwise it’s a stroll around the shops in town then heading back to your Air BnB to take in the incredible views. It’s a wonderful spot to catch your breath and recharge after a few days in the desert sun.
This was our first time visiting Ojai and we will definitely be back at some point. The look is very Desperate Housewives, when we first arrived we couldn’t believe some of the houses were real with their perfectly manicured lawns and yes, even white Pickett fences. Some of them even had wooden lemonade stands by the front gates. So another brilliant place for imaginary home hunting.
We stayed in a great place, the Ojai Rancho Inn a former roadside motel given a dark and moody makeover. They have a fun pool and a tiny but perfectly formed bar serving great wines and cocktails. If you want something a little brighter they have a sister hotel The Capri at the other end of town, no bar sadly but it still has a pool. Both hotels provide free bikes for guests to use and its a straight run via the Towns cycle path to get between the two. If you head further out of town past The Capri you quickly hit the orange groves which line both sides of the road, they are really beautiful to see.
Ojai is a weekend town so if eating out is important to you avoid the start of the week as a lot of places are closed. Our top places to eat were Rory’s Place, a new addition to the Main Street but already packed out every night like it’s been there forever. The Nest is a brilliant spot in the centre of town, all outdoor seating on a cool tiled terrace, where they have their own lifestyle store great to pick up gifts or bits to bring back home. Beacon coffee is a good stop in the mornings, they also serve interesting pastries and muffins. There are some good stores in town too, In The field had a beautiful curated selection of clothes and homewares and Noted had amazing stationary and the shop was filled with fresh locally grown flowers sourced at the local farmers Market which takes place every Thursday evening, sadly we missed it this time. We only had two nights in this gorgeous town but probably could have done another night and headed straight back to the airport from here.
Instead we spent our last night catching up with friends in LA before heading home and back to the cutting garden which is slowly gearing itself up for spring.