Welcome to Out of Office, Who What Wear UK's chic travel guide that provides you with the most stylish take on any destination by tapping creatives who know where to stay, what to eat and, importantly, which items to pack. This month, editors Rebecca Rhys-Evans and Emily Dawes—who have both spent a fair amount of annual leave in Southern California—share their tips for L.A., San Diego, the desert and beyond.
"For as long as I can remember, I've had a mild obsession with the U.S. The culture, the food, the landscape, not to mention the shopping—there's a multitude on offer, whatever your "thing" is. Although I've travelled fairly extensively around North America, road-tripping a few times through the Deep South, the Mid-West, and at one point, travelling all the way from New York to San Francisco when I was 18, I always seem to find myself coming back to Southern California. And it's not just L.A.—as much as I've become that little bit more desperate to live there with every visit—it's the scenic road trips, the small towns, the vineyards (and of course, the wine) that make it so special.
"As you may expect, I'm not the only one that spends my days California dreaming. When I met Emily Dawes, Affiliates Editor at Who What Wear UK and fellow U.S.-obsessive, it didn't take long for us to discover our shared love of America. We both read American Studies at university, which actually took Emily to Virginia College for a year. She has many a sorority story, but we'll save those for another day.
"As both of us visited again this year–I spent a few weeks rediscovering L.A., some spots in the desert as well as Santa Barbara and Malibu in spring, and Emily just returned from San Diego last month, we think we have the ultimate insider tips and tricks for travelling in Southern California. Be it a honeymoon road trip (which is exactly what Emily did for hers late last year), or if it's your first time visiting, we've listed the favourite spots that we've discovered over the years, as well as the pieces top of our packing wish lists, so you know exactly where to go and what to wear when you're stateside."
– Rebecca Rhys-Evans, branded content editor
"There's so much to discover in L.A., and so much ground to cover, I've had to separate what to do and where to stay. First things first, food. There's no doubt that L.A.'s food and drink scene is booming, with restaurants serving dishes far beyond a traditional American cuisine. Prepare for some of the best Mexican, French, Italian, Australian and Middle Eastern food of your life. A standout spot for me is always Great White, an Aussie-inspired, all-day café with a few locations across town, that serves everything from ceviche to salmon curry as well as poke and pizza.
"Sister bar Gran Blanco in Venice is one of my favourite bars, not only for its atmosphere and insanely photogenic interiors, but also for the tequila espresso martinis, which I assure you taste better than they sound. Food trucks are a plenty in Los Angeles, but Leo's Taco Truck has garnered its reputation for good reason, and if you're wondering whether Courage Bagels is worth the wait, then let me tell you, yes, it is.
"Shopping is always top of my to-do list when I travel. I'm a vintage lover, and L.A. is probably one of the best cities for it. Hidden Treasures promises exactly what it says on the tin, Mohawk General Store is a must for both secondhand and cult designer brands, and if you have a spare Sunday, rummaging at the Hollywood Rose Bowl flea market is great. If you don't have several hours to set aside but still want the flea-market experience, Melrose Trading Post on Melrose and Fairfax always delivers unexpected finds as well as sublime people watching.
"And if you're into concept stores and designer boutiques then you've come to the right place. Be sure to check out Marc Jacobs' Heaven and of course, Dover Street Market. Designer boutiques to check out include Mansur Gavriel, Rachel Comey, Palace and Lisa Says Gah."
"As anyone who has ever stepped foot in L.A. will tell you, it's pretty expansive. So whenever I pay a visit, I try to split my time between two or three hotels in different neighbourhoods so it's easier to cover more ground. West Hollywood, Downtown, Silver Lake and the beach (whether you go for Santa Monica/Venice, Manhattan or Laguna) are really the areas you want to consider. Downtown was often dismissed as the slightly more run-down part of the city, but in recent years it's started to thrive, and it's now one of L.A.'s cool areas.
"If you do opt to stay Downtown, the place to choose has to be Proper Hotel. From its decadent interiors, swanky rooftop pool, exceptional service and fully-equipped gym, it has everything you want from a luxury hotel, and then some. At the weekends, if you're there to party and shop, my recommendation would be to stay in West Hollywood as it's nearer a lot of the nightlife, as well as some pretty great brunch spots and stores.
"If you want a boutique-hotel vibe, Palihouse West Hollywood is the one for you. Gorgeously quirky interiors that nod to the 1960s, the interior design is a little like that of The Beverley Hills Hotel—colourful, retro and chic—but at a fraction of the cost. If you stay and love it, you'll be happy to hear the hotel group has various spots across town, as well as sister hotels in San Francisco and San Diego. Be sure to also stay for breakfast; I often dream of the French toast and breakfast burrito."
By the beach: Venice Beach House
What to Pack
"Whether or not partying in Vegas is your vibe, I implore you to make space in your itinerary for heading out to the desert. The beauty of the Mojave Desert and its national park Joshua Tree is worth visiting for the scenery alone. Having long attracted musicians and artists, this town is hardly a hidden gem, but its magic and spirit is something quite special. If you want to stay somewhere different and really immerse yourself in the landscape, Rachael 'Steak' Finley's shoot location house, Donna's Oaza, is available to rent on Airbnb and looks, frankly, sensational.
"As fashion editors, of course we're always on the lookout for a shop or two. From concept stores offering designer brands, beauty and interiors pieces made by local artisans, as well as plenty of vintage boutiques, general stores and wine shops, there's a lot to browse. If you wish to go to world-famous sound-bath experience Integratron, my tip is to book in advance.
"After shopping and sound-bathing, take a 20-minute drive through the Yucca Valley to Pioneertown—the purpose-built, 1880s-style cowboy town that was developed in the 1940s as a film set, and which is a must for anyone who loves Spaghetti Westerns, or really just wants a taste (and a photograph) of the old Wild West. I can't mention Pioneertown without suggesting a visit to the Red Dog Saloon and Pappy & Harriet's—the restaurant and venue that has seen musicians such as Patti Smith, Robert Plant and Paul McCartney grace its stage. It's an American institution.
"Continue your road trip to Palm Springs, which is less than an hour away but a completely different vibe. If you want a party atmosphere, one of the cooler hotels in town has to be the Ace Hotel. Hosting pool parties with guest DJs, as well as events in the Amigo Room, this desert oasis is the place to stay if you're looking for fun. If you wish to continue the party into your room, you'll enjoy the record players with a few vinyls that are there for you to enjoy. Don't miss its diner, King's Highway, which is a great example of the mid-century modern interiors throughout the hotel, and the coffee is much, much better than your average diner Americano.
"If you do want to hit Vegas, many guide books will tell you to stay as close to the centre of the strip as possible. This makes sense if you're in the mood for what most go there to do—gamble and party. If you want to see the more local side of town, stay downtown, which is the artier neighbourhood and where most students reside."
What To Pack
"Did you even go to California if you didn't head to the beach? Or drive the Pacific Highway? The iconic journey, of course, is going all the way up to San Francisco (or starting there and heading back down to L.A.), but heading north to Santa Barbara takes around two hours and gives you enough of a taste of Route 1. The same goes for heading south of L.A. to San Diego. If you do venture north, make Malibu a pitstop.
Whilst many may visit for the celebrity homes (surely I'm not the only one who tried to spot the house Lauren Conrad rented with Jason that summer instead of going to Paris with Teen Vogue?), really, the reason to go is for the beach and Surfrider Hotel. The epitome of coastal Californian luxury, this stylish boutique hotel nestled on the brow of the mountain opposite Malibu Lagoon Beach has, arguably, some of the best views in the state. You can't beat watching the sunset from the rooftop bar, where everything they serve, be it breakfast or cocktails, tastes like heaven.
Santa Barbara's atmosphere is different all together. It's more family-friendly, but it still has a buzzy vibrancy from its large student population, and there's a little more to do. There are wine regions close by, mountains perfect for hiking and of course, the beaches. Strolls down State Street are a must, with multiple antique and knick-knack shops, interior boutiques, wine bars, al-fresco restaurants and multiple theatres and cinemas to explore.
If you're a wine aficionado, a day trip to Los Olivos is a must, and Los Alamos similarly, is another quiet Californian town with bags of charm. For an authentic American bed-and-breakfast, stay at the Cheshire Cat Inn. With its Laura Ashley swags-and-tail curtains, floral wallpaper and large porch, it feels very old-world. If you want luxury, there's an abundance of choices, from The Rosewood to Belmond, but nothing can beat San Ysidro Ranch."
Drink: The Surfrider Rooftop Bar (guests only), Malibu Wines, Test Pilot, Funk Zone, Dawn Cafe & Dusk Bar
See: Santa Barbara Farmer's Market, Rattlesnake Canyon Trail
WHAT TO PACK
"If you’re hopping back in the car, don’t overlook a trip down the coast to visit Los Angeles’ slower-paced, more laidback sister city, San Diego. Believe it or not, it’s only a couple of hours away, and it’s worth it for the drive itself; down the famous 101 and past the scenic bluffs of the real Orange County. You’ll be rewarded if you set off in time for sunset—wind down the wooden staircases to one of the rugged beaches of Laguna Beach or Encinitas for the best views.
"Like L.A., San Diego also has multiple neighbourhoods offering different atmospheres to suit the holiday you’re dreaming of (except with less traffic than L.A.). Downtown, stay, eat and shop amongst the high rises in the buzzy Gaslamp Quarter, and be sure to stop off at Mr. A’s for dinner with a view. Museum buffs will need multiple days to explore Balboa Park (there’s no less than 18 to experience), so I’d recommend living like a local in the nearby LGBTQIA+ friendly Hillcrest and North Park areas.
"But it’s the sprawling, white, sandy beaches and their boardwalks that really made this California-cliché-loving girl fall for San Diego. Ocean Beach (or “OB”, as the locals call it), Pacific and Mission Beach have all the lifeguard huts and hot-young-people-carrying surfboards-whilst-skateboarding scenes that California dreams are made of. Get the best burgers in town at Hodad's and don’t leave without trying the Mexican food (it’s only a 25-minute drive to the border, after all)—The Taco Stand is well worth the queue.
"Palm tree-lined La Jolla has an altogether more grown-up vibe, with cute shops and a chic bar and restaurant scene (try Paradisaea and Ambrogio by Acquerello for culinary delights, and George’s for martinis and dinner with a view)—just be prepared to want to up and relocate here. It makes for a great ocean-front base away from the thick of the city, too—the landmark La Valencia hotel has views (and Instagram opportunities) for days.
"If it’s a touch of old-school luxury and mega relaxation you’re looking for to round off a busy trip, don’t miss Coronado Island—a holiday toy town with one of the U.S.’s most iconic hotels, the Hotel Del Coronado (Marilyn Monroe famously filmed Some Like It Hot here, in case you recognised the red roof, and Top Gun was also filmed on these shores). The main hotel is great if you’re travelling with kids, but for unbeatable luxury I recommend forking out for the separate Beach Village, with its private pools and beachfront cottages. Have a frozen margarita on the pristine beach for me."
– Emily Dawes, affiliates editor
See: Balboa Park, Coronado Island, Gaslamp Quarter, La Jolla’s famous seals.
What To Pack
Want to see more from our Out of Office series? Check out our guide to Tokyo.