California has never gone out of fashion. The Golden State is where memories are created, where adventure beckons, and where dreams are made. Whilst many domestic travelers have checked off the state via the likes of San Francisco or Los Angeles, far less have dug to deeper treasures. California has a staggering 840 miles of coastline, and it’s no wonder the Pacific Coast Highway, commonly known as Highway 1 or PCH, is one of the most famous and scenic drives in the entire world. We were keen to explore it for the first time, but with so much ground to cover and just one weekend on the calendar, narrowing the trip down to the Southern end, aka SoCal, seemed like the best option.
As for the ride, step forward, Cabana. This unique travel company rents a fleet of high-tech vans (aka Cabanas) on the West Coast. In essence, they’re luxury mobile hotels on wheels. Since 2019 (no doubt fueled by pandemic road trip demand), the business has skyrocketed, and more outposts are to be announced. We flew into LAX for the weekend to embark on a SoCal Cabana adventure, and here’s what happened.
Day One: Pick up, LA and Huntington Beach
A 20-minute Lyft routed us to Westwood from LAX where a shiny Cabana awaited. The vehicle was unlocked via an app and in it, we unpacked two pieces of luggage into the cleverly designed storage spaces. These ranged from a closet and drawer compartments to a safe and mini-fridge. Clothes could be hung, toiletries neatly stored away, and there was ample pull-out space for a 30L Nomatic backpack – the perfect carry-on for weekend breaks, especially ones on the road. Heading south, we decided to fuel up at California’s famed In-N-Out Burger. Though a few missed turns accidentally lead us to Shake Shack in West Hollywood (aka WeHo), a district is known for trendy restaurants and bars, colorful LGBTQ+ businesses, comedy clubs, live music venues, and a whole lot more. Cooking in the Cabana would be saved for the evening when there was more time. Our 30L drawer fridge, the kind you’d normally get in yachts or watercraft, was nonetheless ready for whatever we could stock up from Trader Joe’s, plant-based Hungry Planet meats, and the odd bag of OMG! Pretzels for the drive. But for now, time to hit the PCH, winding through California’s rugged and gorgeous coastline.
Huntington Beach was an obvious stop, and a must if you want to catch waves. The destination is even nicknamed Surf City; with 10 miles of wide-open beaches, you’ll see wetsuits and surfboards cutting through optimum surf conditions. We signed up for an individual surf lesson with McKinnon Surf & SUP Lessons, founded by professional surfer and shaper Rocky McKinnon. He and his expert team will guide guests of all ages through a bespoke lesson that’s tailored to individual skills. As a complete beginner, we were amazed to be able to stand, in other words, surf, within minutes of taking to the water. No matter how limited you think you may be, expect to be navigated through your first time with ease and plenty of encouragement. Highly recommended when in Huntington Beach. With surf success, we celebrated with a drink, nibbles, and views galore at Pacific Hideaway. The familiar après-surf hang out with a touch of O.C. polish is located in the Shorebreak Resort. Go for their excellent Blackend Mahi Mahi tacos, and if you’re there for happy hour be sure to ask about the chef’s choice tacos on offer. Their breezy patio at sunset is the magic touch to a surf city afternoon.
As for the sand, Cabana’s shower, equipped with luxe Beekman bath products and room to stand, allowed us to clean up in the comfort of the van. An 8” memory foam queen bed, which we might add smelled wonderful, invited for a blissful night’s sleep.
Day Two: Laguna and San Diego
A big day ahead, we cruised along with the stunning blue hues of Laguna Beach on our way to San Diego. As much as we wanted to stop at Laguna, San Diego had so much to see and there were only a few hours in the schedule to do it. We started at the San Diego Zoo – a world-famous attraction, home to over 12,000 rare and endangered animals with some of the best exhibits we’d ever seen. Not only that, conservation is at their core, and it was brilliant to see youngsters engage in exciting educational experiences and presentations, as well as create lasting memories on site. Next up and mere minutes away, we visited SeaWorld San Diego. This isn’t just orcas, dolphins, and belugas (although, they are all here and having a lot of fun), it’s also a theme park. There were so many rides, photo apps, shops, and entertainment, that this was a bit like Disneyland-themed to sea. Naturally, all the walking from the zoo and SeaWorld had us work up an appetite, so the All Day Dining Deal was the best option for eating and drinking whilst wandering the grounds, allowing for meals at a bunch of their F&Bs every hour and well worth the $44.99 upgrade.
As the day drew to a close, we drove around the downtown and historic Gaslamp Quarter before retiring with the Cabana to San Diego Metro Koa Resort. This is one of the best SoCal campgrounds, accommodating RVs, tents, and if none of those float your boat, then deluxe cabins. It’s a great family destination, with a big program of activities, kids having a great time together, pool, hot tubs, climbing wall, bike rentals, basketball and much more. There’s also an on-site shop with just about everything, including, of course, s’mores kits.
Keen to utilize Cabana’s amenities, we settled in for the night with a movie on smart TV. The Cabana’s battery is charged in three ways: solar panels, driving and plugging into a shore power source. It lasts ages, so we could stream, charge phones, and enjoy plenty of entertainment without any worry of blackout.
Day Three: Return and Bel-Air
Another comfortable night’s rest energized us on the drive back up to LA early in the morning. Dropping the Cabana off was fast, easy, and convenient. We simply filled up the tank, parked back at the Westwood lot (it was really easy to park, thanks to cameras at the rear), returned the key, and checked out via the app. Effortless.
With a few hours to spare, we closed our Californian dream on a high; at Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air. Breakfast was sensational. Think smoked salmon benedict cooked to perfection, fresh Bel-Air green juice, and delicious house-made breakfast pastries, not to mention lush acres of garden with swan ponds and basically the most romantic oasis to stroll post-meal. This is understated Hollywood glamour, a royal time, and there’s no better way to top off any trip to LA.
Overall, the two full days had pros and cons. The pros were that Cabana absolutely allowed us to make the most of time exploring; with an expert, planner to help us map out stops, digital check-in, and check-out, no need to search for bathrooms, to name but a few perks. We were able to see the SoCal greats without much fuss over the van procedure. However, the con is that SoCal has so much to see, do, eat and explore. A longer trip would have given us a chance to do Disneyland California, stop by at Laguna, go hard at San Diego’s nightlife, swim more, and generally take our time. With that, we suppose that there’s only one solution: another trip back to SoCal.