EVERYONE loves a bit of sightseeing and there’s nothing like that first moment you clap eyes on an iconic landmark that you have only previously seen on TV or in print.
“To your right, you’ll see the Blue Angels flying over Golden Gate Bridge,” the captain of our flight announces.
And sure enough, there it is, San Francisco’s most famous landmark, cradling the Bay, bathed in the sun, alongside Alcatraz island.
The fact that the US Navy’s flight demonstration squadron are making colourful smoke patterns in the air adds to the magic.
Whereas most visitors to California stick to the big cities of San Fran and LA for the sights, I’m choosing to travel a bit further afield.
My first stop is The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, an hour’s drive up the coast from San Fran. Situated on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, alongside two golf courses, it has a country club vibe, albeit with a nod to its coastal surroundings.
This ocean influence is evident at its signature restaurant Navio, with chef Jason Pringle’s menu referencing the best seafood dining from around the world.
In Navio we sample Half Moon Bay’s pumpkin beer and some of California’s finest wines – a warm-up for the next day’s tour of Thomas Fogarty Winery.
Tommy, whose father established the business in 1981, shows us around his property before dashing off to attend a dinner in which his acclaimed pinot noirs and chardonnays have been nominated for yet more awards.
Of course, California is not only known for its amazing coastline, it is also ranch and cowboy land.
Originally belonging to the Folger family (of coffee fame), the recently renovated Folger Stable Carriage Room Museum at Woodside is an enchanting throwback to the ‘great estates’ era in the early 1900s.
I’m assigned a lovely chestnut horse named June, for a gentle trek around the beautiful redwood tree-lined hills of Wunderlich Park.
It’s a flashback to days gone by, but our next destination is much more modern.
Stanford University is one of the world’s topresearch and teaching institutions, while Silicon Valley is home to tech companies like Apple and Google.
If you’re a fan of Facebook, you can go to the social networking site’s HQ and ‘check-in at Facebook’.
I head to Stanford Shopping Centre, home to retail big-hitters like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, along with the innovative Tesla shop.
For a spot of lunch, the recently opened True Food Kitchen serves dishes all cooked from scratch in the open-plan kitchen with a wide selection of vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free options.
The next day, we embark on a four-hour drive into the Sierra Nevada mountains via Sacramento.
Despite having equivalent levels of luxury, The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe is very different to its Half Moon Bay sister.
Primarily a winter sports hotel next to the Northstar resort, the luxurious mountain retreat features breathtaking views from its rooms, each of which has its own fire.
The hotel’s signature restaurant is Manzanita, where I’m offered a place at the chef’s table for a taster menu of organic, local produce.
The nutritious food is handy the next morning when I hike along a stretch of the Tahoe Rim Trail, through the pines for spectacular views of the lake, which is so clean you can apparently drink from it.
An afternoon of relaxation at the Ritz-Carlton is my reward for all the physical exertion, namely a full body massage and a few hours in the hotel’s luxurious spa and pools.
That evening, I learn about marshmology, a popular concept in the States at the moment.
You take a stick and some marshmallows, toast them on the flames and then put them between two crackers with some chocolate and end up with an amazing, warm, sticky and sweet treat.
After leaving Lake Tahoe, I spend one last day in San Francisco.
One new attractions is the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art (SFMOMA), and with seven floors and hundreds of exhibits, it’s well worth checking out, even if, like me, you’re not a big modern art lover.
In the British Sculptors area, I stumble across a piece by Henry Moore, the most famous man to come out of my home town of Castleford, West Yorkshire.
So far, I’ve steered clear of tourist honey traps but on my last morning, I cave in and make a bee-line for the city’s two most famous landmarks – the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz island.
There are no fighter jets above the suspension bridge that day but it is still spectacular.
Richard Jones was a guest of Norwegian (www.norwegian.com/uk; 0330 828 0854) who fly direct yearround three times a week between London Gatwick and Oakland International Airport – 35 minutes from downtown San Francisco.
Fares start from £159 one way in economy, and from £499 in Premium.
Rooms at The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe start from 430 US dollars (about £332); rooms at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay start from 425 US dollars (approx £328); rooms at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco start from 685 US dollars (about £529). Breakfast extra.
Source : BournemouthEcho