ELLE’S Genevra Leek hits the high­ways to dis­cover the other side of the Golden State, where the land­scape is breath­tak­ing, the wine is award-win­ning and the weather is just right

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents -

There’s more to the Golden State than just LA. We take a road trip to dis­cover its hid­den gems.

Ev­ery year for about the past decade, my child­hood best friend and I have sworn it’s the year for an all-amer­i­can road trip. The kitsch din­ers, the dodgy mo­tels, the wide, open spa­ces and the cheap-as-chips fash­ion out­lets. We map it all out in our heads over a vodka mar­tini or three, then do ab­so­lutely zero to make it hap­pen. Un­til this year, that is, when win­ter was once again loom­ing and the Cali sun­shine fi­nally proved too tempt­ing to re­sist. Los Angeles, we agreed, was not on the agenda – we’d both had good times there, but this was about the “other Cal­i­for­nia”. So with a sketchy plan we touched down in LA, hired an SUV and right-hand drove our way into the trip of a life­time (ditch­ing the dodgy mo­tel idea – that was never go­ing to hap­pen).


Ve­gas is tech­ni­cally across the bor­der in Ne­vada, but the best way to kick off a West Coast road trip is with a visit to Sin City. Af­ter a mis­guided de­tour to the Mcdon­ald’s mu­seum just east of LA (one of us, aka not me, watched

The Founder on the plane), we were well into the fourhour drive on In­ter­state 15 and al­ready tast­ing the frozen mar­gar­i­tas. Un­til we were tast­ing the dust of the break­down shoul­der. Les­son one: fork out for the satel­lite phone. A 90-minute de­lay and a high­way pa­trol chap­er­one later, we pulled into Ve­gas in the front seat of a tow truck ex­chang­ing back slaps with our driver/saviour Eu­gene.

J.LO hadn’t topped Eu­gene’s im­promptu hot-list rec­om­men­da­tions (she lost out to Rollin Smoke Bar­beque), but we had booked tick­ets to her res­i­dency, Jen­nifer Lopez: All

I Have, and we weren’t about to miss it. We made it in time to check into the 2,995-room Cos­mopoli­tan of Las Ve­gas and clink glasses un­der its multi-storey chan­de­lier (said to be strung with two million crys­tals), be­fore head­ing to Planet Hol­ly­wood’s Axis The­ater for some full-throt­tle twerk­ing and a mid­night feast at PF Chang’s.

The next day, we dis­cov­ered an ef­fec­tive new H₂o-based jet-lag cure: ly­ing half-sub­merged on sun chairs in one of the three ho­tel pools sip­ping on cock­tails served in co­conuts. Also ef­fec­tive, back­ing it up with a trip to the he­do­nis­tic Mar­quee night/day club fol­lowed by a slice at Se­cret Pizza (be warned: the un­marked en­trance is hard enough to find sober).

On the last night, we pre­tended to be civilised and dined at the first Ve­gas out­post of David Chang’s world-fa­mous Mo­mo­fuku restau­rants. It was de­li­cious – and nice to stay within rolling dis­tance of our in-room spa bath (ask for a room with a foun­tain view if you’ll ap­pre­ci­ate a panorama of The Strip). But let’s face it, Ve­gas is one neon-flash­ing, dice-rolling, heavy-drink­ing, daggy-danc­ing, glit­ter-coated all-night party, so if you’re in your room, you’re not do­ing it right.


With a new ride and big drive planned to reach Yosemite Na­tional Park in Cal­i­for­nia’s Sierra Ne­vada moun­tains by night­fall, we set out early from Ve­gas, tak­ing a de­tour through Death Val­ley. Af­ter sev­eral look­out stops where the heat threat­ened to melt our iphones, we chose to take in the im­pres­sive Panamint Range, Bad­wa­ter Basin and aptly named Fur­nace Creek from the com­fort of our air-con­di­tioned car (at this point, I was grate­ful I was out­voted in the sen­si­ble sedan ver­sus Thelma & Louise con­vert­ible de­bate) be­fore push­ing on to Yosemite Val­ley.

If you’re not equipped for camp­ing (we weren’t), then The Ma­jes­tic Yosemite Ho­tel of­fers a more lux­u­ri­ous alternative at a safe dis­tance from the black bears the sign­posts warn us about. The park’s only AAA four-di­a­mond ho­tel, it’s a Na­tional His­toric Land­mark, built in the ’20s and cen­tral to tourist hotspots Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, the Yosemite Mu­seum and the Ansel Adams Gallery, where you can pick up prints of the pho­tog­ra­pher’s renowned black-and-white land­scapes of the area. You could spend a week ex­plor­ing Yosemite’s hik­ing trails, but Ch­eryl Strayed we’re not, so we stick to the be­gin­ner routes and lament our lack of bear sight­ings. Un­til we sight a bear. Al­though we’re as­sured they’re largely her­bi­vores, they no­to­ri­ously seek out hu­man food so we’re glad we ditched our break­fast banana in the bin back at the car park.


High on fresh air, we head out early to­wards the Farm­house Inn. Sit­u­ated in Forestville in the heart of Sonoma Wine Coun­try, away from the crowds of Napa Val­ley, the fifth­gen­er­a­tion fam­ily-owned inn is a charm­ing es­cape amid the grapevine-strung hills of the Rus­sian River Val­ley. It’s quaint in ap­pear­ance, with painted weather­boards and ram­bling gar­dens, but don’t be fooled: word is Elon Musk rented out the whole she­bang for an event and Emma Stone and Claire Danes have both stopped by to sam­ple the luxe rooms done in nat­u­ral fin­ishes and com­plete with an in­door/out­door fire­place (and the best bed­time choc-chip cookie).

The Miche­lin-star restau­rant serves lo­cal fare matched with the re­gion’s finest wines, but it’s the farm-to-ta­ble spa menu that has us drool­ing. We try the sea­sonal Scrub, Rub and Shrub ex­fo­li­a­tion and mas­sage us­ing ed­i­ble in­gre­di­ents from the gar­den. Be­yond the grounds, there’s wine-tast­ing, cycling, shop­ping and ex­plor­ing to be done, but laz­ing in robes on the swing seat in the court­yard is our pri­or­ity. Fol­lowed by a dip in the pool.


Af­ter two days of re­lax­ation, we keep the ar­ti­sanal ad­ven­ture alive with a trip to nearby Healds­burg for a spot of win­dow shop­ping and a kale mez­za­luna (trust us) from Oakville Gro­cery, the long­est-op­er­at­ing gro­cery store in Cal­i­for­nia. We stock up on snacks for the one-and-a-halfhour drive to San Fran­cisco and, by the time we’ve fin­ished the choco­late-cov­ered pret­zels, the Golden Gate Bridge looms ahead. Word of ad­vice: if your com­pan­ion is iphone-chal­lenged, make sure you’re in the pas­sen­ger seat for this leg. (“It’s the white square with the squig­gle that says Boom-er-ang!”)

Syd­ney’s sis­ter city is like the older, cooler, more tech-savvy sib­ling where the scent of mar­i­juana is al­most as ram­pant as the Uber rides and the strains of 1967’s Sum­mer Of Love still colour the streets now walked by hip­sters work­ing in Sil­i­con Val­ley. The Ho­tel Zep­pelin is our home away from home, of­fer­ing a chic bo­hemian vibe thanks to the vin­tage al­bum cov­ers lin­ing the hall­ways and the Austin Powers-es­que wall­pa­per in the rooms. Lo­cated close to Union Square, the ho­tel is ide­ally sit­u­ated for cable-car rides and trips to Al­ca­traz (where the au­dio tour is a must, as is book­ing ahead). We visit the Ferry Plaza farm­ers’ mar­ket, pose in front of the Painted Ladies (the pas­tel-coloured houses that rose to fame in the cred­its of ’80s sit­com Full House) and ex­plore the hip­pie coun­ter­cul­ture of Haight-ash­bury, fa­mous for the Grate­ful Dead and tie-dye tees (which we rashly de­cree is the miss­ing link in our wardrobes).


With the wind (air-con) in our hair and our cam­eras at the ready, Big Sur was to be the summit of our sum­mer road trip. The rugged stretch of Cal­i­for­nia’s cen­tral coast be­tween Carmel and San Simeon is one of the most pic­turesque in the world, and one of the most vis­ited. But our grand plan of wind­ing our way down High­way 1, en­coun­ter­ing psychedelic surf types and alternative artists, wasn’t to be af­ter storms and land­slides took out the Pfeif­fer Canyon Bridge ear­lier this year, clos­ing off large stretches of the road to traf­fic and all but turn­ing the tourist draw­card back in time.

In­stead we head south from San Fran­cisco to Mon­terey (made pop­u­lar in Reese Wither­spoon’s re­cent adap­ta­tion of Big Lit­tle

Lies and worth a stop-off for clam chow­der alone), head­ing in­land on the 101 be­fore cut­ting through Los Padres Na­tional For­est to Tree­bones Re­sort. Tree­bones is a true ecore­sort with a se­ries of yurts and one Harry Ges­ner-de­signed, 100 per cent sus­tain­able Au­ton­o­mous Tent perched on the hill­side over­look­ing the Pa­cific Ocean. Our deathde­fy­ing moun­tain road jour­ney (made more-so by the mul­ti­ple photo-opp stops) was well-re­warded. With the high­way closed to the north and south of the glamp­ing site, the sun set­ting over a de­serted land­scape, our feet dan­gling in the hot spa and stock­piles of rosé at hand, it felt like a de­tour sent from the Big Sur deities.


With a han­ker­ing for an artis­tic awak­en­ing, we set out for Cal­i­for­nia’s en­clave for freespir­ited cre­atives and LA cast­aways. Joshua Tree, a desert na­tional park dot­ted with its name­sake trees and lu­nar-like boul­ders, has long lured cre­ative types seek­ing a rus­tic alternative to city liv­ing. With vis­it­ing artists like Solange Knowles bring­ing a new en­ergy, the place is buzzing (lit­er­ally, thanks to a bee alert in the park).

Airbnb is thriv­ing here, but we stayed at Mo­jave Sands, a hip mo­tel from the ’50s fit­ted with record play­ers and chic retro fur­ni­ture. The lo­cals’ guide left jut­ting out of the in-room type­writer de­scribes Cross­roads Cafe as the best diner in the high desert and the best place for wi-fi given there’s none on-site. Pappy & Har­riet’s in nearby Pioneer­town is a must-visit honky-tonk bar where mesquite bar­be­cue is served up with just the right level of mil­len­nial-friendly mood light­ing. The art fix: Noah Pu­ri­foy’s out­door art mu­seum.

It’s hot and it’s in­spir­ing and it may well have been the whiff of vapour in the air talk­ing, but spir­i­tu­ally mov­ing as well. We leave promis­ing we’ll come back. The In-nout burger stops are worth it alone.

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