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  • Writer's pictureMaria Haugen

My Top 20 California Experiences

Are you ready for the time of your life in the golden state? This list contains 20 highlights from our two-week trip to California in September, listed in no particular order.

1. Pacific Coast Highway

We had pre-booked a rental car from Avis for our one-way roadtrip to San Francisco. We paid about $380 for a two-day rental period. Top-down really was the perfect way to experience the Pacific coastline, and it became clear to us pretty fast why this route is named one of the most scenic drives in the world. You will want to stop a lot, so plan at least two or three days. And don't forget your sunscreen!

2. Hike the Hollywood Sign

There are several routes to choose from, but we went for one of those that lead behind the sign. We ubered to 3398 Deronda Drive. From there you have to make a right through a gate (the small one, the large one will likely be locked). This route is about 1,5 miles and perfect for us as we went in the middle of the day while the sun was at its brightest. The view with was truly spectacular. Watch out for rattle snakes, though, and make sure to bring water.

3. Farmer’s Market & The Grove

We went to the Farmer’s Market on one of our first days in LA, and we ended up going back for breakfast a few days later because we loved it so much. It features more than 100 food stalls, so odds are you'll find something you like. Right next door you’ll find The Grove, an outdoor shopping mall which also includes several options for the hungry one. The Marmalade Cafe is definitely worth a visit. Make sure to grab a cronut from Dominique Ansel while you’re at it too.

4. Skyspace

OUE Skypace LA is Los Angeles’ tallest open-air observation deck, and includes a garden bar and a glass-slide located 1,000 feet above ground. It’s also one of the places in LA where you can grab a photograph adorned in Colette Miller’s iconic wings. Worth a visit!

5. Universal Studios

If you’re a Potterhead like me, Universal Studios should definitely be on your list. Although smaller than the park in Orlando, Florida, there is plenty of stuff to do here. My favorite rides and attractions include Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Revenge of the Mummy and the brand new Jurassic World ride. You should also catch the Studio Tour and the WaterWorld show if possible. Most importantly, though: make sure to drink as many frozen butterbeers as you can.

6. Disneyland

Who doesn’t love the only place in the world where it’s socially acceptable (and encouraged!) for adults to walk around wearing mouse ears? I know I’ll never be too old for that. My favorite ride was Guardians of the Galaxy, but with choices like the classic Matterhorn and the new Star Wars ride you really can’t go wrong here. I’d visit just for the atmosphere, too.

7. Six Flags Magic Mountain

As far as thrilling attractions go, Six Flags is the place to be. Tatsu was no doubt my favorite, but I pretty much enjoyed it all. If you’re not big on roller coasters and want more of the full theme park experience, I’d rather pay a visit to either of the two parks mentioned above.

8. Catch a Baseball Game

We saw Dodgers vs. Giants and loved the whole experience from the foam fingers to the bottomless popcorn. Recommended!

9. Santa Monica and Ocean Front Walk

We visited Santa Monica and the Pacific Park on the pier just as the sun began to set. Walking along the beach towards Venice as the sky only got redder was pure magic. You can rent roller skates too!

10. Warner Bros Studio Tour

This was honestly a tailor made experience for me. I love both Friends and Big Bang Theory, and at Warner Bros I got to visit both Central Perk and Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment. During the studio tour you also get to see sets that have been used in numerous movies and TV-shows. I was so scared to be late that we actually got there an hour early. We were prepared to wait at the Starbucks they have inside, but at check-in they asked if we wanted to join an earlier tour, which we did.

Most of the filming happens during the week, so if you visit on the weekend you will get to see more of the sets and lots. The highlights for me were: Central Perk, BBT apartment and hallway, props from Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts, the Ellen stage and sets used in Pretty Little Liars and Gilmore Girls. I also got to see Phoebe’s guitar! Tickets are $69 and sooo worth it.

11. A Day in LA-tour

This tour is a must if you‘re only visiting LA for a day or two, or if you – like us – didn’t rent a car in LA. The highlights include Venice Beach, the Farmer’s Market, Beverly Hills, Griffith Observatory, Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Sunset Strip and Santa Monica. All in one day!

12. Smorgasburg

You shouldn’t miss this if you happen to be in town on a Sunday. Smorgasburg is the largest weekly open-air food market in America, with a wide range of vendors that offer authentic food from different parts of the world. Entry is free!

13. Rooftop Cinema I got to see Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in Funny Face (1957) on a rooftop in Hollywood. There was bottomless popcorn included in our tickets. I don’t think I need to say more.

14. Try the Pismo Wrap in Pismo Beach

Well, the title says it all, really. If you’re visiting or passing by Pismo Beach, a stop at Hoagies will be worth your while. The Pismo Wrap is filled with tri-tip, pepper jack cheese, avocado, bbq sauce and fries. Even though I’m not big on the bbq sauce, this was one of the best meals we had on the entire trip. And what a sunset they have!

15. Spend a night or two at the Madonna Inn

Everything about this place is unique. The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo has 110 guest rooms that all have a different theme. We stayed in room 169 “Vous” that had a round king-sized bed, a chandelier, high ceilings and blue floral wall coverings. Yes to all! Also make sure you taste the Pink Champagne cake from their bakery shop. A slice is $8.95, but possibly the best cake you’ll ever eat.

16. Sunset Drive-In, San Luis Obispo

Another movie experience made the list. The Sunset Drive-In in San Luis Obispo was my first drive-in and I instantly felt like I was transported a couple decades back in time. We brought blankets, visited the snack bar and saw IT: Chapter 2. I totally get why this still is a thing.

17. Eat at the Paluca Trattoria in Monterey

If you’re a HBO nerd like me you probably recognize this restaurant as the café from Big Little Lies. It was a little pricey, but we enjoyed our pasta while watching the sea lions sunbathe.

18. Sausalito

The small seaside town of Sausalito was the mere definition of charming. We had ice cream at Lappert’s and I found the bestttt Christmas store where I spent quite a while just browsing. We visited on the way back from Muir Red Woods, and if you want you can take the ferry back to San Francisco from here.

19. Find the best view of the Golden Gate

The Golden Gate Bridge is a given attraction in San Francisco, at least for first-timers. A lot of the time the bridge is covered in fog, and I worried we wouldn’t get a good look at it. However, it usually cleared in the afternoon and we got to see it from several different points of view. On one of the tours we went on we were dropped off at North Vista Point, which was very crowded and honestly didn't have the best view. We ended up walking to Battery Spencer, which is one of the more iconic viewpoints (left picture). Later we also got to see it from Fort Point (right picture), which was probably my favorite.

20. Alcatraz!

Yes. There is a reason I put the exclamation mark at the end. Tickets to visit this infamous prison island usually sell out fast, and with good reason. Luckily, we managed to secure tickets for our last day in San Francisco. They have a self-guided audio tour, and it was a great way to soak up the rich history of the place. On the day we visited there was a former prisoner signing his biography in the book shop. Tickets drop 90 days in advance and cost $48 for the day tour. If there is one thing you shouldn’t miss on your SanFran-visit, it’s definitely this.



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