PUBLISHED: 18:50 EST, 17 March 2012 | UPDATED: 18:50 EST, 17 March 2012
It is famous for the mansions of Malibu, millionaire movie stars and much too much plastic surgery, but for me, California means wonderful wine, wilderness and whales.
There is so much more to the Golden State than brash, built-up Los Angeles or laid-back San Francisco.
Golden girl: Lorraine found much to enjoy in sunny California
We began our holiday at Huntington Beach, about an hour’s drive from Los Angeles airport, although journey times can depend on the insane LA traffic. this is a fun town much loved by surfers but there is a real family holiday vibe here too.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa, a large, comfortable hotel overlooking the ocean. I love to walk everywhere, so I enjoyed strolling along the pier to the shops and restaurants on nearby Main Street, and heading along the beach as the sun went down.
If you are in Huntington, I would recommend Duke’s by the beach, where you can sit at the bar with an ice-cold beer and a plate of fresh chilli prawns and watch baseball on television.
Other bars in Huntington served a mean Bloody Mary. why can’t British pubs and hotels make them like they do in California? here, they were always tangy and sharp, with just the right amount of citrus and spice.
After a restful few days, we drove two hours north to Palm Springs, the most famous of eight separate towns in the Coachella Valley which make up the Palm Springs resort.
We checked into the elegant Viceroy Hotel, where members of the Rat Pack used to sit around the pool drinking and laughing at Frank Sinatra’s jokes – whether they were funny or not.
It’s easy to see why so many stars and tense movie executives head for Palm Springs. you can feel the stress ooze out of your body as you sit in an impossibly fluffy white robe eating a decadent breakfast by the pool. be prepared for intense heat in the summer.
The temperature reached over 100F during our stay and I could barely waddle from my sun lounger to the pool. Goodness knows how I managed to do a trek for Comic Relief in the north Kenyan desert in even hotter temperatures last year.
One way to escape the fierce sun is to take a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, a cable car that whisks visitors up to the cool pine forests of the San Jacinto Mountains. In California, the wilderness is never far away and I’d recommend stout shoes, water and a snack to sustain you on any hike around the mountains.
Palm Springs has restaurants to suit everyone. you can get dressed up to the nines and book a table at Scott’s (where we sat beside a charming cross-dresser), or adopt a casual look at the Fisherman’s Market and Grill, where they serve deliciously fresh seafood at cheap and cheerful prices.
Palms in the air: Lorraine enjoyed her ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
If you need culture to sustain you on holiday, don’t miss the Palm Springs Art Museum which has some impressive works, including Picassos, and modern installations that didn’t make me hoot in derision.
On Thursday nights the main street in Palm Springs is transformed into an outdoor market. It’s all a bit hippy but you can pick up some souvenirs and artworks at knockdown prices.
From Palm Springs it was a mere hop to the Westin Mission Hills Resort in nearby Rancho Mirage. this is another of those larger-than-life Californian hotels that have thought of everything to make guests comfortable. this hotel is perfect if you love golf, tennis, swimming or a spa.
If you are the sporty type, you might have to restrict yourself to playing early in the morning or in the evening because it is far too hot in the day. But don’t be put off by the heat in this part of California – even under the fierce sun, there’s still plenty to do. One highlight for us was a Hummer tour into the desert.
The adventure took us into the Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave Desert. Our guide, Louis Cannata, was funny and interesting, detailing the history of the area and even showing us part of the San Andreas Fault.
It may look like an innocuous split in the Earth, but the Fault – where two tectonic plates meet – means the area is at the mercy of earthquakes.
The next stop was Santa Barbara, where we stayed at the Harbor View Inn. Santa Barbara is known as the American Riviera and its chic shops certainly add to the European feel.
The maritime museum is worth a visit and is also close to a clutch of good restaurants and bars. During our trip, we booked a whale-watching trip on a glorious warm sunny day.
But if we expected the Pacific Ocean to be calm, we were mistaken. Before we left the harbour, the captain told us it was going to be cold and rough out at sea, but we all assumed he was exaggerating, just in case anyone complained about feeling slightly seasick.
If anything he underestimated the conditions. Half the passengers on board spent the entire four hours suffering from seasickness, although one hardy soul ordered a cheeseburger from the under-used galley and devoured it in front of his appalled wife.
But my family is made of strong stuff and, despite being pummelled by the waves and drenched in icy seawater, when we saw a massive blue whale come to the surface it all seemed worthwhile.
The next day, happily back on dry land, we headed to Santa Ynez in the heart of the Santa Barbara wine region. Our hotel, the Santa Ynez Inn, featured a secret garden compete with hot-tub right outside our chintzy room.
I suppose there are more decadent and enjoyable things to do than crack open a bottle of local wine while immersed in a bubbling hot-tub, but I can’t think of any.
A surprise was discovering Solvang – a town that appears to have been uprooted from Denmark and placed in the heart of the Santa Ynez valley.
Known inevitably as Little Denmark, Solvang was founded by homesick Danes in 1911 and, 100 years later, is more Danish than the Little Mermaid eating a bacon sandwich. The Scandinavian souvenirs, little girls dressed in national costume, windmills and bakeries are a bit Disneyfied, but undeniably very cute.
Some like it hot: Lorraine holed up at the Huntingdon Beach Resort
For our last night, we drove back to Los Angeles to see my pal, showbusiness reporter Ross King and his gorgeous fiancee Brianna Deutsch. Ross is living the dream and from his pool we had a clear view of the Hollywood sign.
Even in the Hollywood Hills, you are never far from the wilderness. just outside his front door a coyote loomed out of the darkness.
We only scratched the surface of California – there is so much more to see and enjoy, and we Brits always get such a warm welcome.
In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California: ‘I’ll be back.’
Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859, www.virginholidays.co.uk) offers ten nights in California from