California Field Guide

Recently a friend from Germany, who now lives in Northern Ireland, asked me for advice on places to see on a California road trip. It dawned on me while writing up some points of interest that I have lived in this perfect state for two years. As much as it pains me to say this, and will kill my friends and family in Texas, California is my home. I love California and all the fruits and nuts that live here. My friend Kate is taking a road trip though my fantastic state, from San Diego to Redding, so I mapped out my ideal road trip though the state. What follows is the email I send her, adapted for this blog. 

In San Diego you’ll want to check out the Gas Light District, if you’re going to be drinking beer there are tons of great breweries around, that’s what San Diego is known for. Make sure you check out Half Door Brewing company, my favorite. Between San Diego and LA on I-5 there is a really great coffee shop tucked away in the oldest residential area in California, it’s called Hidden House Coffee. Walking distance away is the old San Juan Capistrano Mission and Museum. Just a few miles north on I-5 is some of the best pizza you’ll ever eat. Pizza Port is in San Clemente and sits up on a hill, if you sit near a window you will have a gorgeous view of the beach. From Orange County I would take the 405 north through Long Beach. Long Beach is very bohemian and has many great things to see, eat, and drink. Coffee at Rose Park Roasters near historic Art Deco downtown  would be my top pick. Check out local artisans work at Made followed by a trip to Fingerprints Records to check out the latest musical releases. If you play your cards right you could catch a live show at Fingerprints too! If you decide to take I-5 up to LA you’ll drive through Santa Ana. The downtown area has gone through transition in the past few years and now hip eateries and cafes such as Hopper + Burr or the 4th Street Market food stalls are neighbors with storefronts and shops that cater to the hispanic population of Santa Ana. Just north of there is Anaheim (home of Disneyland) as well as the Historic Anaheim Packing House filled with dozens of places to eat, shop, and ways to see how Orange County’s history is shaping it’s current day. Old Towne Orange is also a great way to spend a few hours appreciating Orange County’s history; antique shops, pubs like Haven, and Watson’s Soda Fountain are all centrally located.

If you plan to spend time in LA the area I love best is Downtown LA. Rooftop bars, old bookstores, great coffee, and lots of history. The Last Bookstore is a great place to spend a few hours, there’s even a yarn store on the second floor of the huge bookstore – Gather. After you work up an appetite visit the secret rooftop tapas bar at Ace Hotel. Take the single elevator in the back right of the bottom floor to the top, from there you will have spectacular views and a cozy place to snack. If you’re looking for sweeping vistas in LA (including the Hollywood sign), want to do some hiking, and like astronomy you can’t skip visiting the Griffith Observatory in North LA, it’s free!

Depending on how you drive North determines the next few hours of your trip, the quickest way is to simply take I-5 North, the only problem with that is, not only do you miss lots of beautiful coastline, it also just makes for a miserable few hours. If you’re in a hurry to get up to the Bay Area and Redding then take I-5 North, but if you’ve got a few hours to spare don’t forgo taking the 1. It’s an unforgettable trip through California’s craggy coast, stop at any point to check out the beaches. One of my favorite points of interest in Point Lobos at Carmel by the Sea. Investigate some tide pools and get up close and personal with Pacific ocean wildlife, the otters and sea lions are extra cute.

Once you get to the Bay Area you could keep yourself busy for a few days. Depending on time you could give yourself a day for San Francisco, a day for Oakland, and a day for Sacramento. In SF you MUST visit Golden Gate Bridge, it’s always worth it. Another area of interest is the Mission, the best food, parks, and ice cream are there. Dolores Park and the Dolores Mission are neighbors to the best ice cream Bi-rite Creamery. Around the corner is Ampersand floral, a tiny vibrant florist shop where you can craft your own bespoke bouquet.

This leads us to Oakland, my love. It’s difficult to reduce my favorite places but if you’ve only got a few hours to spend in Oakland Temescal Alley should be the top of your list. Try on clothes at Mind’s Eye Vintage, find your signature scent and ogle some plants at Crimson, sample some ice cream at Curbside Creamery (my friend Lisa works there, it’s owned by her sister Tori) visit any number of shops, games, books, magazines, doughnut, coffee, Temescal has it all. Once you’re hungry make plans to eat at Burma Superstar, this is my favorite place to eat on earth. If I had one meal left on earth it would be the Fermented Tea Leaf Salad with Spicy and Crispy Chicken. Please promise me you’ll go and eat this for me.

Just a few miles from Temescal is Berkeley with University of California and the newly opened 1951 Coffee.

“1951 Coffee is a non-profit specialty coffee organization seeking to promote the well-being of the refugee community in the San Francisco Bay Area by providing job training and employment to refugees and asylees while educating the surrounding community about refugee life and issues.”

This is the brain child of my friend Doug and his business partner Rachel. I met Doug through church and I was around when 1951 first started taking flight, I am so proud that they have opened up now!

Just over an hour north of Oakland is Sacramento and about as far as my California knowledge goes. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Sacramento a few times, my highlights are the Capitol and it’s amazing grounds (with trees from all over the world!) Temple Coffee, and Tower Cafe whose “famous french toast” truly deserves the title. Have brunch in their outdoor patio if at all possible.

Further places to visit in Northern California are Point Reyes Lighthouse, the vineyards in Sonoma and Napa. Eureka, Chico, and Santa Rosa all have points of interests I have just yet to experience them as of yet.


This was the end of my email to Kate, but I am excited to let you all know that soon I will get to explore Sonoma County. Robbie and I have booked our honeymoon at Timber Cove Resort. Here’s their description:

“Perched on a dramatic bluff high above the Pacific Ocean lies Timber Cove: iconic, reimagined. A one-of-a-kind hotel situated within California’s ruggedly breathtaking Sonoma coastline, Timber Cove is a magical place where stately redwoods pay homage before the vastness of the sea. Guests experience a deep connection with nature, both land and sea, while relaxing in a casual, sophisticated space.  

At Timber Cove, warm hues, sturdy timbers, and midcentury accents create a uniquely captivating hospitality experience. The newly renovated structure retains the iconic architecture and authenticity of the original 1960’s legend while bestowing the comforts and amenities of a new hotel. One part Hippie chic and two parts rustic modern, Timber Cove stands apart. The hotel features 46 newly designed guest rooms, including eight premium suites, which offer a variety of ocean views, sunset vistas, and refreshing forest panoramas. Enjoy the wonder and beauty of camping without sleeping on pebbles or worrying about wolves.”

What did I miss? What are you favorite quintessentially California locations? Can you recommend any wineries Robbie and I must visit?  


Published by

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s