Location: USA Duration: 12 nights Price: From £3,650 per person in low season based on two adults travelling together and including all flights in economy class, accommodation, car hire and taxes

California is home to so many American icons, and with this luxury self-drive holiday, perfect for first-time visitors, you can take in several of them, encompassing buzzing cities and unspoilt parkland. Your journey begins in San Francisco, hippie capital and cultural hotbed, before taking in the majestic beauty of Yosemite National Park and the coastal wilderness that is Big Sur. Your trip ends back in the city, first heading to the Spanish Mission-style architecture of Santa Barbara and then finishing up in Santa Monica, one of the most fashionable and laid-back corners of LA.

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First-time visitors to California looking to experience the Sunshine State’s icons in style.

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Adding a few days in Californian wine country, whether that’s Napa, Sonoma, or around Santa Barbara.

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SAN FRANCISCO – 3 nights

Your classic Californian adventure begins in that most iconic of cities, San Francisco. A Beat Generation nexus, the birthplace of the hippy movement, and an LGBT haven, San Fran has been ploughing its own furrow for decades and remains one of the USA’s most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities. The iconic Golden Gate Bridge, one of the most famous photo opportunities anywhere in America, is a must-visit, while the park of the same name is beautiful and contains several museums amid the redwoods and buffalo. Haight-Ashbury became the centre of the hippie movement during 1967’s Summer of Love, and its quaint, colourful Victoria houses remain among the city’s most recognisable symbols. Culture vultures may want to check out City Lights, a bookstore founded by the great Beat survivor Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1957 which remains a centre of poetry and progressive literature. The notorious former prison, Alcatraz, is also high on many a tourist’s checklist. Your home for three nights in San Francisco is Hotel Drisco, an elegant Edwardian hotel in Pacific Heights.

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YOSEMITE – 3 nights

Departing the urban buzz of Frisco, you’ll drive to another Californian icon, Yosemite National Park. With its towering sequoias, plunging valleys and rugged mountains, Yosemite needs to be seen to be believed, and there’s no shortage of ways to explore. Walking trails meander through Mariposa Grove, where millennia-old trees reach heights of over two hundred feet, while a hike up to Glacier Point is well worth it for the views over Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The sheer granite cliff face of El Capitan is similarly stunning, although having only been conquered in 1958, it’s not for the casual climber. River rafting is available on the Merced, Tuolumne, Stainslaus and Carson Rivers, with great fishing opportunities in Bass Lake. Horseback riding, meanwhile, is a great way to experience the Sierra Nevada Mountains as they have been travelled for centuries. Your hotel for the next three nights is Tenaya Lodge, a luxurious mountain resort which is perfectly place for exploring Yosemite, and then recharging in the indulgent spa after a day in the great outdoors.

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BIG SUR – 1 night

The next stop on your classic California journey in the beautiful coastline of Big Sur. Unspoilt and sparsely populated, this stretch of central California is famous for its scenery, with surf crashing violently into rugged cliffs, and has long been a source of inspiration to artists and writers including Orson Welles, Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac. Your hotel, Ventana Inn, is a luxurious rural hideaway perfect for exploring the natural scenery. Guided hikes can be arranged with local experts, or you can head out by yourself to explore the wilderness of Andrew Molera State Park, or the redwoods and famous waterfalls of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Ventana is also a great place for foodies and wine lovers, and you’ll be pleased to hear that at 4pm every day there is a wine and cheese reception in the hotel, where some of the region’s finest wines and paired with gourmet local cheeses.

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SANTA BARBARA – 2 nights

After a night in the wilderness of Big Sur, it’s back to the city as you make the scenic drive down the coast to Santa Barbara. A haven for culture vultures, with numerous museums and art galleries, Santa Barbara is famous for its Spanish-style architecture, with whitewashed adobe walls and terracotta roofs everywhere you look. Mission Santa Barbara, known as the ‘Queen of the Missions’ in California, is a Franciscan outpost dating from the 18th century and a great example of Spanish colonial architecture. Other attractions include the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, where the works of European and American painters, including the likes of Matisse, are exhibited alongside artefacts from across Asia, including Japan and Tibet. At the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, meanwhile, you can learn all about the flora and fauna of the region’s past and present in a collection of historic buildings; the museum turns 100 this year. Your hotel in Santa Barbara is Spanish Garden Inn, a beautiful Mission-style luxury hotel within easy reach of the city’s cultural attractions.

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SANTA MONICA – 3 nights

The final stop on your classic Californian journey is Santa Monica, a two-hour drive south. A glamorous resort city, Santa Monica is arguably the most photogenic face of Los Angeles, combining as it does Hollywood glamour with the golden beaches of its famous pier. Head down there and you’ll find fairground rides, beach volleyballers and bronzed Adonises in pursuit of bodily perfection on Muscle Beach. If you’re after something a little bit edgier, walk down the beach to Venice, as bohemian now as it was when Jim Morrison was penning the first Doors songs there in the mid ‘60s. Santa Monica’s status as the hipper, boho-chic side of LA is nowhere more evident that the great Santa Monica Museum of Art, where edgy contemporary art is displayed in a former railyard. Your hotel, Oceana, is a microcosm of Santa Monica: stylish, good-looking and laid-back, it’s a great base from which to explore Los Angeles.

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