Palm trees, breathtaking beaches and the cool Pacific breeze on your back… Welcome to California!

Huntington Beach, California (Getty Images)
Huntington Beach, California (Getty Images)

It’s barely dawn and I’m bleary-eyed and carrying a yoga mat towards the ocean.

However, the 6.15am wake-up call suddenly feels less brutal when, minutes later, I’m breathing through a sun salutation with rolling waves as the live soundtrack.

“Listen to the ocean and feel the sunbeams on your face,” our yoga instructor Jordan says soothingly, as we hover in tree poses.

Balancing barefoot on the sands of Huntington Beach, I quickly discover life pretty much revolves around the ocean here, and little wonder …

Dubbed Surf City USA, the uninterrupted stretch of golden coastline feels a million miles away from the Hollywood hustle.

Think technicolour surf shops on every corner, the wetsuit uniform as standard, athletic bods cycling, rollerblading and running past, giant boards tucked under their arms.

Huntington plays host to some 90 surf tournaments year-round. Scanning the event calendar, I’m devastated I’ll narrowly miss out on seeing four-legged wave pros in action during the annual Surf City Surf Dog contest!

Not wanting to be trumped by pooches, we balance on boards the easier way, with stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) lessons at Huntington Harbour, where the water is tranquil and flanked by glossy houses and yachts.

Beach

Our surf-meets-canoe activity is led by local pro-surfer Rocky McKinnon. Within seconds he’s assessed the board and paddle each of us should use based on our height, build and skill level.

“Beginners are better suited to wider, longer boards for stability,” he tells me, sensing my fear.

Rocky shows us how to glide forwards, turn and stop with minimum wobble, until we feel like SUP pros after just 45 minutes on water.

At Huntington Beach, it doesn’t feel like people are working out for a red carpet appearance; it’s more outdoorsy and raw – and it’s infectious.

Instead of reading by the pool (my usual favourite pastime), I hire a bike. I cycle along the paved boardwalk from my beachfront Hyatt Regency hotel to neighbouring Newport Beach and back, with the Pacific breeze for air conditioning and the long line of volleyball nets as my navigation system.

At night, the beach transforms with the palm trees illuminated by flickering balls of open-fires. More than 500 fire rings are scattered throughout the beach.

From beach life to the high life, we leave Huntington behind and drive the hour-and-a-half to buzzy West Hollywood – or WeHo as we discover it’s cool to call it – where there’s a marked contrast in the pace of life.

We check in at the ultra-glam Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, and marshmallows around the fire soon shift to Martini cocktails around the Skybar pool.

Rooftop bars are the best place to fully absorb the bright lights and twinkling skylines on a balmy night in West Hollywood, and E.P & L.P is one of the hottest new hangouts – complete with epic views of Hollywood Hills to Downtown LA.

Yachts docked at Newport Beach (Getty Images)
Yachts docked at Newport Beach (Getty Images)

It’s a starry old place we find – as we arrive for our reservation at the same time as Gerard Butler!

For more impromptu celebrity spots, WeHo’s super-cool Design District is an A-list magnet by day.

Strolling around Maxfield on Melrose Avenue is like entering a treasure trove of designer pieces that belong in a Hollywood Hills mansion display cabinet.

A few weeks later, I notice Justin Bieber is in the same boutique, filming a Carpool Karaoke with James Corden.

Other trendy hangouts with paparazzi at the ready are Urth Caffe and hip vegan-Mexican joint Gracias Madre, where Beyonce and Jay Z go to grab a healthy lunch.

And we find we can get one final rooftop-and-blue-sky fix at the airport before boarding our Air New Zealand flight home.

That’s at LAX’s very A-list-worthy Star Alliance Lounge.

Catching rays on the glass open-air terrace, we top up our tan one last time, sip on Kir Royales and toast the Hollywood Hills in the distance.

Hey, there’s even a roaring fire pit!

Facts

Lisa Haynes was a guest of Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa, where rooms cost from $214 per night (huntingtonbeach.regency.hyatt.com), and West Hollywood’s Mondrian LA, from $299 per night (mondrianhotel.com).

Air New Zealand flies daily from London to LA. Return flights start from £489 pp (airnewzealand.co.uk).

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