Everyone deserves the right to an epic road trip at least once in their life, and there really is no better place to do so than through sunny (and stupidly beautiful) Southern California. Sure, I might be a bit bias, my love for this particular part of the state knows no bounds, but there is no denying the incredible and incredibly rare ability one has to be able to experience the beach, the desert, the mountains, and the city all within just a few hours – c’mon now that is just crazy!
So clearly with all of these vast and beautiful terrains right at your fingertips there are without a doubt several ways to have an epic road trip through SoCal – which is why I personally keep doing them at least once a year if I can, even if it’s just for a weekend. I love driving in my car with the sunroof open, blasting old tunes, re-visiting places that fill me with nostalgia and exploring places that fill me with curiosity and excitement. Whether you’re a planner or not, that’s the real beauty of road tripping – it’s the kind of one-size-fits-all, “do you” type of trip. And if you’re in SoCal – with good company – you’re already doing it right.
HOW TO PLAN A SOCAL ROAD TRIP
I recently planned a weeklong road trip through SoCal and back with Marriott Bonvoy hotels being my home bases for the adventure. For starters, I thoroughly enjoy collecting my Marriott Bonvoy points, but most importantly I appreciate always knowing I will be safe, happy, and satiated at any one of their bazillion properties. I am the type of traveler that pretty much only plans hotels and select few meals and that’s it, but now that my amazing road trip has commenced we can basically fully plan your own very roadtrip, should you choose to take one in a similar style. If you’re looking for the perfect itinerary, or even just a few SoCal tips… voila:
DAY 1 – HOLLYWOOD
Check-in at W Hollywood
I have been coming to this particular hotel to hangout since my college days and it’s just as hip and popular as it ever was. I have a particular affinity for W Hotels; it’s where my boyfriend and I typically choose to stay while traveling if the option is available. The W Hollywood is an absolute genuine ode to its neighborhood – it’s glamourous, a bit rock n roll, stylish, and most importantly – fun. You can always trust a W Hotel to have a great lobby bar and more often than not a pretty decent pool. The rooms are always comfortable, Bliss products will always bring me immense joy, and there’s nothing quite like that in-room continental breakfast.
Pre Dinner Drinks at Station at W Hollywood
There are two bars in the main lobby at the W Hotel, The Living Room and Station. Station is located just outside of The Living Room and has a great patio to soak up a little of that California sun and Hollywood Blvd bustle.
Dinner across the Street at Cleo
When the dinner bell rings you are in a great location to walk around and find somewhere fun to eat, and my favorite spot in the area is Cleo. It’s located one block down from the hotel, looks right at the Capitol Records building, offers amazing Mediterranean fare, and a quintessential “Hollywood Glam” vibe. Cleo has been one of my favorites for almost 10 years, they recently did a little remodel and I am glad to say she still holds up.
DAY 2 – BEVERLY HILLS & MANHATTAN BEACH
In-Room Breakfast at W Hollywood
one of my favorite things about staying at W hotels is their in-room dining options – breakfast in bed is a must. And for whatever reason, the W Hollywood’s pastry situation is particularly on point. Get the croissant girl, calories don’t count on vacation.
Head out to the SLS Beverly Hills for a Pool Day at Altitude
It’s the second day of the road trip it’s time to hit up a pool, and if there’s a pool to hit it’s Altitude located on the rooftop of the SLS Beverly Hills Hotel. Not only is this just an absolutely stunning and chic rooftop space, you’re in luck knowing that chefs who work with the beloved José Andrés will be crafting whatever poolside dishes you decide to have. I can say with confidence i had some of the best sliders ever at Altitude that afternoon. If you’re feeling extra, reserve a daybed or a cabana and live your life!
Drive to Manhattan Beach to Check-in at Westdrift
After an afternoon of soaking up that California sun it’s time to head to the next destination: Westdrift in Manhattan Beach. I personally had not yet visited this hotel and was so genuinely excited and impressed with the property. The Westdrift is a Marriott Autograph Collection hotel which to me basically signifies that it’s stylish, has serious character, and feels a bit more boutique. The Westdrift has been open about a year so everything still feels really new, I loved all of the nautical design accents and that the space felt so light and airy – totally a place you could hang around at for a bit and go for a swim, play golf, battle at corn hole, eat and drink and eat and drink some more – the standard types of fun.
Happy Hour and Dinner at Westdrift
The hotel bar and restaurant at Westdrift – Jute – is definitely not to be missed. As mentioned it’s an absolutely beautiful space with the option to enjoy their patio that overlooks the pool and golf course below, and the cocktails and food will certainly not disappoint. The menu offered a fair amount of options ranging from fresh farm-driven dishes to more hearty dishes like flatbreads and typical mains with fun twists. This was one of those menus where everything sounded good – not a bad problem to have – and point in fact, everything was good! We had the best time at dinner that night, sitting on the patio, enjoying the last bit of sunlight, sipping on margaritas and dining on delicious carbs – 3 hours just flew by which is always a good sign.
DAY 3 – MANHATTAN BEACH
Breakfast buffet at Westdrift
In true Marriott fashion, the breakfast buffet at Westdrift does not disappoint, so don’t skip out on the most important meal of the day.
Head to the Beach
Can you even go on a SoCal road trip and not go to the beach? I think not! And my personal favorite local beach is Manhattan Beach – any stretch of it really. I love to set up near the Pier so that we can walk around town as well but Manhattan Beach is great no matter where you put your towel down!
Lunch at Fishing with Dynamite
My absolute favorite restaurant in Manhattan Beach (and quite possibly in the entire county of Los Angeles) is Fishing With Dynamite. If you’re a seafood lover like myself, this place is an absolute must. There are few places I’ve been that have that incredibly fresh of seafood (cold or prepared), that inventive of dishes, and that consistency of quality. Plus it’s just an adorable little beach joint with a lot of personalities and it is sure to be a major road trip highlight.
Ice Cream at Manhattan Beach Creamery
Remember, calories don’t count on vacation! If you saved room for dessert definitely do a scoop at Manhattan Beach Creamery – or if you’re sharing do something fun like a banana split. Summertime… sunshine… the California coastline… ice cream… they all go hand in hand.
Walk Around Downtown MB
Downtown Manhattan Beach is very quaint and so close to the beach that it makes for a great and easy place to spend a whole day. There is some great shopping in the area – everything from fashion to home goods you will find something fun to take home, that I almost guarantee!
Relax at Westdrift Before Dinner
Take a moment to clean up, walk around the property, relax near a fire pit, play a little corn hole or foosball, enjoy the balcony off of your room – whatever you want you’re on vaycay!
Walk Over to The Point for Dinner
Some of my favorite restaurants in the area are located just across the street from the Wesdrift Hotel at a beautiful outdoor dining and shopping destination called The Point. The Point is a relatively recent concept and has quite a few dining options, my personal favorites for dinner being either Hopdoddy for burgers or North Italia for pizza and pasta. North Italia is a bit more upscale, but depending on your mood both are great options! You can’t go wrong with anything at The Point though quite frankly, it’s allllll good.
DAY 4 – ORANGE COUNTY – COSTA MESA
Drive Down to Costa Mesa
After you’ve finished your last beautiful buffet breakfast at the Westdrift it’s time to put a few miles on the car and head south on the 405 to Costa Mesa. I went to college in Orange not too far from Costa Mesa and I spent quite a bit of time in this area, especially to shop and eat.
First Stop: Lunch at Habana at The LAB Anti-Mall
One of my favorite old OC haunts is a place called The LAB Anti-mall which was a pretty forward-thinking concept to me 10+ years ago (it’s 25 now), and is honestly just as cool today as it was then – with many of the same shops, restaurants, and vendors. The LAB is an open outdoor space that I can only describe easily as “hip and artsy”. They have an Urban Outfitters, for example – see what I mean? But my favorite restaurant there is a great Cuban spot called Habana – they have a great bar, great food, a nice patio, and I am glad to see it’s still awesome all of these years later.
Check-in at Avenue of the Arts Hotel
After doing a little lunch and afternoon shopping at The LAB, you can check-in at the next destination – the Avenue of the Arts Hotel located about a mile from The LAB and within walking distance of the beloved South Coast Plaza shopping mall. I have actually stayed at the Avenue of the Arts Hotel before and loved it. They have arguably the most comfortable hotel beds I have ever slept in, the rooms are incredibly comfortable, the decor is rich and chic, and all in all it’s a great hotel in the area. During the busy months it’s not easy to stay near the beach if you’re on a budget, so staying somewhere a bit more central like Costa Mesa is a great place to have a home base so you can easily access the popular beach cities but not break the bank.
Walk Over to the Westin South Coast Plaza for a Snack and a Drink
Located practically next door to the Avenue of the Arts Hotel is another great Marriott property, the Westin South Coast Plaza. I came over here to have drinks and some snacks before heading over to the mall and absolutely loved it. I love a good hotel bar and this one does not disappoint – especially in the cocktail department! (see cocktails and cheeseboard below!)
Walk Over to the South Coast Plaza to do Some Major Shopping
We make all of our best shopping decisions after cocktails, am I right? So after finishing up at the Westin, you’re simply too close to the South Coast Plaza not to treat yourself to something new, and the South Coast Plaza has every single store/shop/brand you can possibly imagine. It is shopping mecca and worth exploring, even if just to get some steps in and window shop!
DAY 5 – ORANGE COUNTY – NEWPORT BEACH
Head down to Lido House in Newport Beach to Start the Day With a Fantastic Massage at Boost Spa
After getting all that cardio in while shopping the day before it might be time to treat yourself to a massage, and a great place to set that up would be at Boost Spa located inside the incredibly cute and chic hotel that is Lido House in Newport Beach. Lido House is another Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel, it’s a relatively new property, and of course, it’s a total stunner. The spa and spa services were particularly outstanding – I’d do that every weekend if I could!
Have Brunch or Lunch at The Mayor’s Table –
There is not one aspect of Lido House that isn’t absolute perfection, so naturally, their restaurant The Mayor’s Table Pacific Pub & Kitchen lives up to those same standards. Not only is it just an absolutely beautiful indoor/outdoor restaurant, but the food and cocktails are also totally to die for. I happened to dine during brunch service so I ordered – and loved – the chicken and waffles, my boyfriend ordered their much-buzzed-about burger and it fully lived up to the hype. If you’re big on burgers and find yourself near Newport, do yourself a favor.
Walk Around Lido Village
The area that Lido House is located within Newport is called Lido Village and much like the area around Downtown Manhattan Beach; it is super cute and super walkable. Enjoy what Newport has to offer!
Head back to Lido House to Have a Drink on the Rooftop at Topside
You cannot leave Newport without having at least one cocktail on the rooftop of Lido House (Topside Roof Deck) – it’s the only rooftop bar in the area and it is A+. There’s quite a bit of space up there, comfortable seating, epic views, and most importantly great cocktails. I was told they make some pretty mean margaritas and I can now confirm that this is in fact true.
Drive back to Costa Mesa for a Little Relaxation or Pool Time at Avenue of the Arts Hotel
If you have time after your day in Newport, take a moment to relax at the Avenue of the Arts Hotel – whether that’s by the pool, at Trumpet their signature restaurant, or in your room. This is a great place and time to unwind a bit before dinner.
Have a Really Fun Dinner at Cal Shabu
One of my favorite things about living in Orange County was being introduced to Shabu Shabu (Japanese Hot Pot), and one of my favorite Shabu Shabu restaurants – California Shabu – happens to be located 5 minutes from the hotel in Costa Mesa. This is easily one of the most fun and entertaining dining experiences I think one could ever have. Plus it’s affordable, filling, and healthy (mostly).
Watch Netflix In Bed From the Hotel Room
You can access your Netflix account directly though the TV at Avenue of the Arts. If you’re pooped by day 5 of the trip like I was, take advantage of this wonderful opportunity!
DAY 6 – SAN DIEGO
Check out at Avenue of the Arts, Grab a Coffee for the Road at Milk & Honey, and Head South to San Diego
Milk & Honey is just 2 minutes down the road from the hotel and located at The Camp (similar concept to The LAB and just across the street) and is one of my favorite coffee shops in OC! Perfect place to grab something before the hour and a half drive south.
Have Lunch In Little Italy or Anywhere Where You Can Find a California Burrito
Since the hotel you’ll be checking in to is located in Downtown San Diego, it’s worth exploring the surrounding areas with one of my favorites being the foodie centric area of Little Italy. They have everything from, you guessed it, great Italian food to other favorites of mine including Ironside (seafood), Morning Glory (breakfast brunch), or Farmers Table (brunch lunch). Something to keep in mind though is that you cant visit San Diego and not have the iconic California Burrito (carne asada burrito with fries inside). My personal favorites can be found at Lolita’s, La Puerta, and Pokez – but really, you rarely go wrong anywhere you get one.
Check-in at Marriott Bayfront Hotel
Located right on the harbor, the Marriott Bayfront Hotel (SpringHill Suites and Residence Inn) is the perfect spot to end the road trip on a high note. The hotel is practically brand new; it’s architectural, they offer great amenities, and many of the hotel rooms have unparalleled views of the city and harbor below. I was dumfounded walking into our corner room to see that more than half the room was windows!
Walk around the Harbor
I mean it’s right there, and it’s a great place to stroll!
Have Pre Dinner TIKI drinks at False Idol
San Diego knows how to party, and there’s no denying they particularly excel in the art of imbibing in style. False Idol is a “speakeasy” type Tiki Bar within walking distance of the Marriott Bayfront and ended up being arguably one of the highlights of the whole trip. I am obsessed with tiki bars, and when I find a good one in another city I am absolutely ecstatic. False Idol is small but chic, which means it’s a busy place so go early or make a reservation!
Dinner at Grant Grill at the US Grant Hotel
Sometimes you gotta “kick it old school” and hit up the classics, and there are few places in San Diego more historic than the beautiful US Grant Hotel. We had the pleasure of having an absolutely beautiful steak dinner at the Grant Grill and it was such a fun way to close out our trip in style. Fun fact, our waiter informed us that the US Grant Hotel was built in 1910, the beloved Grant Grill opened in 1952, and it wasn’t until 1972 that women were allowed in the hotel unchaperoned. (WHAT!) I’m glad things have since changed but the beauty of this historic hotel has remained.
DAY 7 – SAN DIEGO – CORONADO
Breakfast at the Marriott Bayfront
It’s no proper Marriott inspired road trip without taking full advantage of each hotel’s breakfast situation, and the Marriott Bayfront’s breakfast buffet is actually complimentary. (and it’s AWESOME.) Grab some coffee, make yourself a breakfast burrito and get the show on the road!
Dip In the Pool
If you have time after breakfast and are looking for something to do before lunch, I’d highly recommend taking a dip in the Marriott Bayfront’s beautiful pool that offers epic views of the surrounding city and bayfront. Can’t beat a pool with a view.
Head Out to Coronado For the Day
I can’t visit San Diego without making a trip to Coronado. It’s my favorite part of town, there’s plenty to do, it’s cute as all get out, and it never gets old!
Lunch at Leroy’s
One of my favorite spots to eat in Coronado is at Leroy’s which is located in the heart of town so it’s a great spot to position yourself. Every time I visit I am impressed with the food, the local beer list, their craft cocktails, and I love that it’s always so consistent.
After Leroy’s you have several options for spending the rest of your day on Coronado – you can walk around town, go shopping, have some ice cream at Moo Time, do a little wine tasting at Wine A Bit, walk down by the famous Del Coronado, or have yourself one last beach day! Coronado beach is my favorite beach in the area, so if there were a time and place to sit in the sand, this would be it.
Head Back Across the Bridge For a Padres Game at Petco Park
If you’re in San Diego during the regular baseball season (which, the likelihood is high) and there’s a game happening, I cannot recommend visiting the city’s local ballpark enough. Petco Park is surrounded by some great bars and restaurants, but the food and beverage stalls inside the park are actually really really good. (Like, “sadly-better-than-Dodger-Stadium” good.) We got a burger from Hodad’s (an iconic San Diego burger joint), but there were tons of other great options like Phil’s BBQ, Pizza Port, Blue Water Seafood, Buona Forchetta, Ballast Point, and local breweries galore. If you’re a foodie or a baseball fan, a Padres game is a great way to experience some of the best that San Diego has to offer.
This may be structured as a weeklong getaway, but you could easily condense this into a weekend. Pick 2-3 stops, choose your favorite components, and have a blast. We structured this road trip as such so that it would hopefully be as accessible and relatively affordable as possible. I truly hope this guide here inspires you to try even just one bit of this experience, whether it be a hotel rec or a fantastic tiki bar, get out there on the open road and go explore SoCal.
Disclaimer: This post was created in partnership with Marriott Bonvoy, who afforded me the wonderful opportunity to take part in this unforgettable trip. As usual, all opinions and insights belong to me and me only, and I thank you for supporting brands who in turn support me in being able to share insightful and community-driven content.