The Ultimate Road-Trip Guide to Southern California If You're Dipping Your Toe Back Into Travel

From soaking up arts and culture to hopping between rooftop bars, here's where to tick off all those long-held holiday cravings in one neatly wrapped vacay.
Libby Curran
Published on May 19, 2023

Finally having international travel back on the radar is one thing, but actually deciding where in the world to jet off to on these first long-awaited post-pandemic adventures? Well, that's been the tough bit. You want somewhere that scratches all those travel itches at once — from kicking back poolside with cocktails and devouring all the foods to exploring natural landscapes and wandering unknown cities.

Luckily, we've found the perfect itinerary for all that and more: a road trip through the heart of Southern California, soaking up the best of Los Angeles, Greater Palm Springs and San Diego along the way. The ideal place to dip your toe back into travelling, this destination promises to tick off all those long-held holiday cravings in one neatly wrapped vacay.

What's more, with carriers like United Airlines having dramatically increased their regular routes between Australia's east coast and the States, it's now easier than ever to get your travel-starved self over to the USA. Put in your leave request and start dreaming because this one's the full package.



As a city, LA has big all-rounder energy, with just as much to tempt culture vultures as it does gourmands — and everyone in between, too. So you might as well do it all, right?

To kick off your stay with fresh eyes and an illuminating history lesson, take a guided spin through the city with Architecture Tours LA. You'll hit a bunch of iconic architectural spots as you zip around Hollywood, taking a fascinating deep-dive into both its aesthetic and its history. Trust us when we say it'll colour everything else you see on your travels.

If your attention's further piqued by the city's movie-making past, there are countless ways to get your kicks, but a trip through the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is a must. Here, you're in for an immersive exploration of LA film culture, guided by a collection of outstanding installations and exhibitions.

A culture fix of a different kind lies high up at the famed Getty Center, where you could easily lose a whole weekend meandering through art-filled galleries, roaming the grounds and soaking up unmatched vistas across LA and beyond.

Acquaint yourself with more primo views kicking back atop one of LA's countless rooftop bars. A newer addition to the scene is Grandmaster Recorders, brainchild of Icebergs alums Monty and Jaci Kulodrovic. They've transformed a historic recording studio into a wining, dining and partying playground; complete with a contemporary Italo-Aussie restaurant that's making waves, and a rooftop bar pairing standout cocktails with views of the Hollywood sign.

Fancy a closer look? You can work off your gastronomic indulgences with a hike up to the famed letters with tour crew Bikes & Hikes LA. It runs both a 90-minute and three-hour experience, promising breathtaking views, top-notch photo opps and the chance to scope out some iconic filming locations.

As for resting your head after your jam-packed LA days, you'll find a winner in the Thompson Hollywood. A downright dreamy aesthetic flush with foliage and gold-hued accents graces the lounge and lobby downstairs, while onsite cocktail haunt Bar Lis is a Hollywood party destination in its own right.


Visit Greater Palm Springs


Once you've had your fill of bright lights and urban energy, it's time to hit the road and venture a couple hours east to soak up the majestic, windmill-dotted landscape of Greater Palm Springs. To kick things off with a healthy dose of relaxation and a nature fix, get yourself to Desert Hot Springs, where the idyllic Two Bunch Palms resort will help de-stress body and mind — against a serene, leafy backdrop, no less. The property's scattered with mineral pools fed by waters from a 600-year-old natural spring, while the onsite spa serves a menu of healing treatments ranging from chakra-balancing massages to detoxifying adaptogen wraps. Book a night or two in one of the modern cabins to really lean into the experience.

More breathtaking nature awaits you on the cruise up San Jacinto Peak, aboard the world's largest rotating aerial tramway. Offering eye-popping panoramas as you climb, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is your go-to for lofty thrills and a truly unique perspective.

The Kimpton, Visit Greater Palm Springs

The buzz and colour of downtown Palm Springs proves equally infectious as you explore the sophisticated homewares stores and lively streetside dining spaces. For vibrant Southern Cali fare and guaranteed pup cuddles, make a date with Boozehounds — a sprawling indoor-outdoor venue that's filled with foliage, does a mean margarita and is about as dog-friendly as they come.

Time your visit right and you can feast all your senses simultaneously at one of PS Underground's riotous themed dining experiences, which dish up live tunes, considered eats and a whole lotta fun. You might find yourself singing along through an Elvis-inspired dinner party, or perhaps feeling the love at a time-tripping Woodstock-themed gala.

For a luxe sleepover — or simply just a few poolside cocktails matched with views from the highest point in town — head to the Kimpton Rowan Hotel. It's a plush, modern stay right in the heart of the action, boasting a collection of top-notch wining and dining offerings, including a stellar rooftop pool deck and bar.



San Diego Tourism Authority


Another two-hour road-trip south delivers you right into the beer-loving urban heart and soul of San Diego. The buzzing bayside city is a multifaceted one that's generous in a vast array of offerings — from the culinary to the cultural and plenty in between.

Catch the city's coastal charms on full display with a session on the water with the San Diego Sailing Tours crew. With the wind whipping your hair, sun on your face and a bay full of gliding boats as your backdrop, you'll score an unmatched perspective of your holiday base.

Then, you'll want to set aside at least a day to immerse yourself in the abundant offerings of famed cultural precinct Balboa Park. From the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Us, to the San Diego Natural History Museum and Fleet Science Center, the 1200-acre site is a treasure trove of cultural goodness.

Joanne DiBona for San Diego Tourism Authority

If you don't mind a queue, one spot to put on your breakfast radar is Morning Glory — a bold, high-energy eatery in the Little Italy district that takes no bookings but totally excels at creatively-charged brunch fare. Pancakes are a specialty here, including a supremely fluffy souffle version, while savoury fiends can look forward to the likes of a lobster omelette and the calzone-like khachapuri.

Another culinary highlight sits 12 storeys up at Mr A's Restaurant — a fine-dining institution set atop the Manchester Building, where modern European flavours are heroed against sweeping views of the glittering city skyline. It's quite the show-stopper.

Kimberly Motos for San Diego Tourism Authority

If you're a sucker for absolute ocean frontage, well-crafted drinks and food with some serious flair, make the trip up to La Jolla to be swept up in the elegant charms of The Marine Room. Perched right on the water, this iconic venue's restaurant is a must for special occasions — though watching the waves crash in from a front-row seat in the Lounge, enjoying small plates and memorable cocktails, makes for a pretty magical evening, too.

And of course, if you've got a penchant for craft beer, consider this city your paradise, with a beer bar or brewery located on just about every corner of Downtown. From international names like Stone and Ballast, to smaller homegrown champions such as Pizza Port and Societe, there's enough here to keep even the fussiest beer fiend supremely satisfied.

To base yourself in the heart of the action, try the chic home-away-from-home that is The Pendry San Diego — a Downtown gem with an aesthetic that deftly fuses modern luxury and old-world elegance. It also boasts a whole sparkling collection of hospitality venues located right onsite.


Top image: Visit Greater Palm Springs

Concrete Playground traveled as a guest of United Airlines, LA Tourism and Convention Board, Visit Greater Palm Springs and San Diego Tourism Authority. 

Published on May 19, 2023 by Libby Curran
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