Pairing modernist mecca Palm Springs with surfer-dude hangout San Diego on a twin-centre gives clients an inimitable lesson in Southern California cool, says Abra Dunsby
If the city of San Diego was a person, it would definitely be that cool kid at school. Gorgeous, friendly, sporty… part of me wants to be annoyed by San Diego’s effortless charm, but I can’t help but have a major crush on the place.
Despite sizzling beneath a giant desert sun, nearby Palm Springs also remains positively ice-cool; a city where Elvis and Priscilla honeymooned, where David Hockney holidayed and where today’s pop stars and festival fans descend each year for Coachella.
“San Diego and Palm Springs are a popular holiday combination due to their proximity to each other – just two hours by car,” says Malcolm Davies, product destination manager for Funway Holidays.
Davies recommends adding one hour and 20 minutes to the car journey to drive via Anza Borrego Desert state park: “The detour is worth it – this is the largest state park outside of Alaska, filled with historical relics, plants and wildlife, canyons and mountains.”
Direct flights to San Diego from the UK make the destination particularly accessible, with a range of operators flying there including British Airways and American Airlines.
This classic southern Californian city is a laid-back, sunny, liberal place, whose allure seeps into my skin faster than a tan.
San Diego’s first big draw is its beaches. Whether clients want to surf with the pros, hunt for crabs in rock pools with the kids or take their doggie for a paddle, there’s a beautiful beach for everyone, with more than 60 to choose from.
One of my favourites is wild, rugged La Jolla, where chubby seals and noisy sea lions laze on cliffs while pelicans scan for fish over glistening sapphire waves.
For sunbathing and people gazing, Pacific Beach can’t be beaten – I happily while away hours checking out the honey-skinned surfer dudes, toned joggers and skilled in-line skaters as they strut and whizz along Ocean Front Walk. Garnet Avenue is peppered with cool bars, restaurants and clubs filled with hip young things. As the sun sets, clients can head to nearby Crystal Pier to chill with a beer and watch the sky turn pink, purple and gold.
A wander round Little Italy makes for the perfect afternoon or evening activity, stopping for a coffee or gelato in one of the many cafes or restaurants. Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar is a firm local favourite; the seafood is some of the best I’ve ever eaten, the cocktails are strong, and the copper, tile and hipster-filled interior is a lesson in industrial chic, featuring a vast, Instagrammable bar.
Spending some time in Balboa Park is another must. Home to pretty gardens, 17 museums, impressive Spanish-style architecture and San Diego Zoo, there’s plenty to see and do here. Clients can enjoy more Latin vibes in the Old Town, where San Diego’s Spanish, Mexican and indigenous cultures are celebrated.
The area brims with historic buildings, shops and restaurants dishing up some of the best Mexican food in the city – recommend the buzzing Old Town Mexican Cafe for a delicious, authentic experience.
If clients are into their modernist architecture, there’s surely no better place to visit than Palm Springs.
Walking (or driving – the desert is hot!) around downtown to explore the penny sweet-coloured mid-century houses with their manicured gardens and pools is like stepping into a David Hockney painting – and they need only visit the Palm Springs Modern Art Museum to see more of the artist’s work.
Architecture tours allow clients to explore Palm Spring’s modernist credentials further while checking out the houses of the rich and famous – from Elvis’s former honeymoon retreat to Leonardo DiCaprio’s summer pad.
Today’s Palm Springs nods to its glitzy heyday (the city acted as a retreat for Hollywood stars in the 50s and 60s), but also brings things bang up to date. Its range of boutiques are filled with both retro and futuristic homeware, while its hotels marry old and new – luxury boutiques including the Ace hotel and the Saguaro’s modernist exteriors hide impeccably designed interiors that inevitably attract a cool crowd.
While they’d be forgiven for spending their days lounging at one of Palm Spring’s many upscale desert resorts, recommend clients also spend a day exploring the desert’s riches.
Desert Adventures Red Jeep tours take customers into the San Andreas Fault, with a guide on hand to teach them about the environment’s flora and fauna, and providing fascinating insights into the lives of the Cahuilla Indians who once lived here ($140pp; red-jeep.com).
By night, clients can head back into town for dinner. Options include Ruben and Ozzy’s Oyster Bar & Grill, a local hangout where sibling chefs make excellent tacos and a mean margarita, or the fashionable So.Pa with its fairy-light-strewn garden and swish modern menu.
For a tipple or two, there’s the plush Parker Palm Springs, a Beyonce haunt. The hotel’s Jonathan Adler-designed decor is an over-the-top amalgamation of ornaments, cushions and carpets paying homage to all things kitsch. It seems a fitting final tribute to a wonderful city that’s somehow managed to keep kitsch cool.
Book it: Funway Holidays offers a two-centre holiday including three nights in San Diego staying at La Quinta Resort & Club and three nights in Palm Springs staying at Kona Kai Resort & Spa from £1,740pp. Price includes flights and is based on two sharing, departing February 14. funway4agents.co.uk
Modernism Week, February 14-24: A celebration of mid-century architecture, design, art, fashion and culture comprising more than 350 events.
Coachella Valley Music & Arts festival, April 12-21: Headliners performing this year include Beyonce, Eminem and The Weeknd.
Wellspring, October 26-28: This new health and wellness event includes workouts, talks, treatments and seminars.
Sestercentennial, all year: This year the city celebrates the 250th anniversary of the founding of the land it was built upon.
Diana, February 19-April 7: Tony Award-winning La Jolla Playhouse will present the premiere of the musical, charting the life of Diana, Princess of Wales.
ANOC World Beach Games, October 9-15: Held along Mission Beach, 2,000 athletes will compete in a variety of beach, land and watersports.