The Ultimate California Itinerary

How to Make the Most out of a Week in California

I don’t know about you, but I choose my travel destinations based on emotional and environmental stimulus (spoken like a #geek ha!). For example, I guess thanks to the mid-century modern craze, I was seeing Palm Springs everywhere on the internet. I was pinning these gorgeous technicolor scenes with pools and the obligatory giant flamingo pool floaty. It was early winter, and I had to get out of my Chicago rut and run away to California. It was my  first trip West. Ever. (St. Louis and Little Rock obviously do not count).

bespoke elopement coordination and photography venice

But I wasn’t going to California just for Palm Springs. I had seen a photo of joshua trees once, and it imprinted on me.  Once I found out that Joshua Tree National Park was near Palm Springs it was immediately added to the itinerary, and who could resist the ultimate LA experience of a stay in Venice Beach and it’s neighbor Santa Monica. And just like that (okay after tons of research) the ultimate California itinerary was born.

We flew direct from Chicago O’hare to LAX on Virgin America which just changed to Alaska Airlines, but it supposed to uphold the same quality as Virgin. I hope this is true because it was a very please experience flying Virgin. (Side note: I’m an airline snob. I like quality over price. More about this another time.) I could not believe how long the flight was. It felt like forever. I’d never flown that far domestic before. From Chicago, it’s about 2 hours to NYC, Miami, and Boston. The main places we’d need to fly from Chi-town.

Venice, LA

I want to start by saying the area is called Venice not Venice Beach. The beach there is called Venice Beach however. Glad we cleared that up. We stayed two nights in Venice, just a few blocks from the beach and right next to the canals. It was February and too cold to swim but not to cold to bike, sip beer on the beach, and soak up the sun. I didn’t get any photos at the beach because I didn’t take my camera. Sometimes it’s good to just be in the moment- plus the bike I was riding was really janky, and I didn’t want to risk breaking my gear if I crashed.

I completely adore Venice. I was like a kid in a candy store gawking at all the insane flora and fauna. I loved the restaurants and shops on Abbot Kinney and especially the little boutique cafe/store around the corner from where we stayed. I felt like a local going in there to buy California made hard cider. I fell in love with a house on the Canal that was for sale. I don’t think we even bothered to check the price. But a girl can dream.

the one that got away

The patio on this house had me in awe.

Below is the library. I’m a library loving gal so I was pretty inspired by a pink library lined with palms.

From Venice We headed to Palm Springs for a few nights. This drive was packed with the infamous LA traffic and took an hour or so longer than it should have.

Palm Springs

Typically I don’t like to shell out much cash for a nice hotel. I’m okay with mediocre accommodations, but I wanted to stay somewhere with pool side luxury in Palm Springs. However, I was booking about a month before our visit and all the best places were booked solid. We ended up staying somewhere decent and stupid cheap so it turned out okay, but if you have your heart set on a certain location, book early. We stayed at the Monroe, but apparently it has since been re-branded to Infusion Beach Club. The location was decently walk-able to downtown bars and restaurants which is important to me.  I just read about the upgrades they’ve made since we were there and it sounds pretty awesome, so I’d say this is the place to stay! At the time we were there the bar was under construction but the pool and hot tub were open and it had a giant inflatable tourcan for me to lounge on so I was all good.

Palm Springs is life. #howisthisreal!

Our time in Palm Springs happened to fall during Modernism week, a celebration of Midcentury architecture. We toured the West Elm Palm Springs home.

Pool side lounging. Check. Tour gorgeous Midcentury homes. Check. Next up, Moorten Botanical Gardens.  I’m a big plant lover. Maybe I was a botanist in a past life or I’ll be one later in this life. Anyway, I always seek out botanical gardens when I travel and this was a totally unique experience for me considering it was all cacti and succulents everywhere.


Have you ever heard of the Palm Springs Door tour? There’s a route through a neighborhood that is filled with beautifully colored front doors. This is such a fun activity but be respectful, discreet and definitely do not go on these people’s properties. Curbside only.

The door tour completed the Palm Springs itinerary. I loved our time in this one of a kind little city. We stayed two nights, I’d say three would have been nice. Four if it had been hotter and more pool time weather. As our trip in CA progressed, the temperature got colder. Our next stop was Joshua Tree.

Joshua Tree

bespoke elopement coordination and photography joshua tree

We had three nights in a camper in the dessert just outside of the town of Joshua Tree which is on the skirts of Joshua Tree National Park. We were excited for our little camping adventure. Clear skies. Outdoor shower. Soaking up all the peace of nature. We had about one afternoon of peace and then the weather shifted dramatically. Temperatures dropped and violent winds picked up and persisted for the entirety of our stay in J-Tree. Scamp, our camper, even had to have the water disconnected at night due to it dipping below freezing out. The camper isn’t exactly air tight so depsite having a heater aimed at us, it was freezing cold. The weather definitely impacted our enjoyment of where we chose to stay which I knew was a risk when we chose it. The park was gorgeous but again the weather impacted our time. Overall Joshua Tree was a bit of a bust. I wouldn’t recommend gambling and going during the winter. It might be pleasant or it might be freezing.

We woke up early our last day so we could hit Cholla Cactus Garden before heading to Santa Monica where we had a posh hotel waiting (thanks to credit card points). The scenery in Joshua Tree did not disappoint. I’d never seen such incredible landscape and plants. It was really spectacular. But we were ready for civilization. The town of Johsua Tree only has a couple of restaurants and can’t really keep up with the influx of tourists as it’s risen in popularity so the dining in the area involved long waits and it was too windy to grill. I was ready to get back to the beach. #imawatersign #cancer

Santa Monica

We don’t usually stay in fancy hotels but thanks to some credit card points, we were able to get an awesome place in Santa Monica for our last night in CA.  Le Meridien Delfina. This place was a dream and a major relief after roughing it in J-Tree. Plus Santa Monica is only a 20 minute drive to the airport so it’s an ideal last night location.

It was so cool to see the end of Route 66 on the Santa Monica Pier. Here in Chicago we have the beginning of Route 66. So cool. Plus the original Muscle Beach. My husband couldn’t help but monkey around.



We spent our last night inhaling oysters and wine at a chic restaurant from which I had the most quaint view down an alley to the ocean.

We flew out in morning so we got up early enough to catch this gorgeous Santa Monica sunrise. I can’t wait to go back to California. What do you love about CA?

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