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Do you long for the days of vinyl records, mid-century furniture with clean lines and organic curves, and the wild fashions of the ’60s? If you’re in the mood to slow down and take a trip back in time, then you’ll love the vintage vibe of a California retro road trip. This coastal drive down memory lane begins in the Bay Area and includes vintage shopping, nostalgic accommodations and plenty of Old California fun as it winds down to LA before ending in Palm Springs—a retro jackpot! Put down your smart phone, gas up the VW and hit the road!

RELATED: 10 hotels for when you’re young, broke and fabulous!

San Francisco Bay Area

Buffalo Exchange San Francisco

Image courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

SHOP: Buffalo Exchange

Head to the Upper Haight (aka Haight-Ashbury) neighborhood of San Francisco to enjoy some true vintage shopping at Buffalo Exchange. Here you’ll find a wide collection of stylish one-of-a-kind “recycled” clothing that will bring back styles of eras gone by. Sort through the racks to find that hidden gem you can’t live without. 

Tommy's Joynt San Francisco

Image courtesy of Tommy’s Joynt

EAT: Tommy’s Joynt

This iconic eatery is a San Francisco must. Half bar, half restaurant, Tommy’s Joynt overflows with kitschy bar memorabilia, tables are covered in red-and-white plaid tablecloths, lighting is dark and the food is a hit. Dig into a hardy meat sandwich, buffalo stew or broiled steak, and wash it down with a pitcher of draft beer. 

The Phoenix Hotel

Image courtesy of Phoenix Hotel

STAY: Phoenix Hotel and Hotel Del Sol

Located in the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood, the legendary Phoenix Hotel is the perfect vacation spot for those who want to rock ’n’ roll all night. It has long been a favorite stopover for bands on tour (with free tour bus parking), and Kurt Cobain and Neil Young have both apparently stayed here. Browse the large record collection, try the push button in-room phone, or pick up a Polaroid camera from the lobby shop. Another alternative is the brightly colored boutique Hotel Del Sol in the Cow Hollow/Marina neighborhood. Walking distance to the Bay, where you can take in picturesque views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Hotel del Sol is a family-friendly retreat from the hustle and bustle of the City.

West Wind Drive-In Theater San Jose

Image courtesy of West Wind Drive-In

PLAY: West Wind All Digital Drive-In, San Jose

A retro road trip wouldn’t be complete without a trip to a drive-in movie theater. West Wind All Digital Drive-In in San Jose combines the nostalgia of a drive-in theater with modern digital technology. Rather than handling the bulky speaker on your car window, you just tune in to an FM station to hear the movie through your car stereo; plus, movies are shown through digital projectors, providing a crisp image. Enjoy a double feature movie with an intermission so you have time to load up on goodies in between movies.  

The Central Coast

Punch Vintage

Image courtesy of Punch Vintage

SHOP: Punch Vintage, Santa Barbara

If you’re looking for mid-century home decor and stylish vintage clothing, Punch Vintage is the place to go in Santa Barbara. Pick up some antique jewelry, an old school camera, records, retro bar stools, stylish cat eye sunglasses and much more. You’ll love finding unique pieces to take home as souvenirs.

Joe's Cafe

Image courtesy Joe’s Cafe

EAT: Joe’s Cafe, Santa Barbara

Joe’s Cafe, located in Santa Barbara, is an American steakhouse with a long history of serving up large portions of steak and seafood, an extensive weekend brunch, and plenty of other comfort foods. Go for dinner, and stay for the nightlife and strong cocktails.

The Kinney Hotel

Image courtesy The Kinney San Luis Obispo

STAY: The Kinney San Luis Obispo or AutoCamp, Santa Barbara

Newly opened and located near Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (about 95 minutes north of Santa Barbara), The Kinney San Luis Obispo beckons guests to put down their smart phones and enjoy some retro games in the game room. Try your luck at skeeball, arcade games, oversized Scrabble or shuffle board. The vintage decor includes vintage boxing gloves and old school jerseys hanging in the common areas. For those who just have to post to Snapchat or Instagram, check out the nearby Bubblegum Alley—and maybe use the Li-Fi filter for a flashback feel. Rather stay in an Airstream? AutoCamp in Santa Barbara offers modern AirStream accommodation, meaning it has the full nostalgic feel, but with all the modern amenities. 

Los Angeles

Wasteland Vintage Clothing Los Angeles

Image courtesy Wasteland

SHOP: Wasteland

For fashionistas looking for gently used designer and vintage clothing, it doesn’t get any better than Wasteland. Located on Melrose Avenue, the carefully curated collection attracts customers who are in search of stylish clothes at reasonable prices. Walk through the doors and become inspired by throwback looks that are sure to outlive current trends. 

Tiki-Ti Los Angeles

Image courtesy Tiki-Ti

DRINK: Tiki-Ti Cocktail Lounge

With only a dozen bar stools, but nearly 100 tropical drinks to choose from, the Tiki-Ti has been a popular Polynesian-themed watering hole in LA for nearly 50 years. Order an Uga Booga, Swamp Water or Laka Nuki to put you in the “hang loose” spirit.

Foxy's restaurant

Image courtesy Foxy’s Restaurant

EAT: Foxy’s Restaurant, Glendale

At Foxy’s, you’ll step back to the ‘60s and enjoy salads, sandwiches, burgers and Southwestern dishes next to a cozy fire or on the sunny patio. The family-friendly restaurant serves up platefuls of homemade food at reasonable prices. 

Ace Hotel Los Angeles

Image courtesy Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles

STAY: Ace Hotel DTLA or The Standard Hollywood

Rooms at the Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles are decked out with mid-century modern decor and a Smeg retro refrigerator, while some rooms include an acoustic Martin guitar or record player. Spin some vinyl tunes with a collection of records from Amoeba Music or listen to some live music in The Theatre, an immaculately restored grandiose 1920s movie palace. From the shagged lobby, blue astro turf pool deck, mid-century modern exterior and interior design and furniture, The Standard Hollywood is a classic nod to times gone by. 

Orange County

Sound Spectrum Laguna Beach

Image courtesy Sound Spectrum

SHOP: Sound Spectrum, Laguna Beach

A Laguna Beach establishment since 1967, Sound Spectrum still stocks hundreds of vinyl records, as well as CDs, reggae memorabilia and vintage music posters. Flip through the stacks of vintage and new releases to find your favorite artist from the ‘60s, ‘90s or today.

Balboa Fun Zone Newport Beach

Image courtesy of Visit Newport Beach

PLAY: Fun Zone, Newport Beach

Enter the Fun Zone on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, which has been providing tech-free entertainment for 80 years. Take a spin on the Ferris wheel, play Pac Man or skeeball in the arcade, or enjoy bungee jumping. Be sure to take a 5-minute boat ride to Balboa Island to try an iconic chocolate-covered frozen banana.

Watson's Soda Fountain & Cafe Orange

Image courtesy Watson’s Soda Fountain & Cafe

EAT: Walton’s Soda Fountain & Cafe, Orange

Established in 1899, Watson’s Soda Fountain & Cafe in Orange is like stepping back—way back—in time. Enjoy an authentic, delicious ice cream soda, as well as classic comfort foods such as buttermilk pancakes, patty melt and tater tots. Stop by the candy counter for some old fashioned sweets, play a tune on the juke box or shop for retro memorabilia. 

Disneyland Hotel

Image courtesy Disney

STAY: Disneyland Hotel, Anaheim

It doesn’t get any more classic than the Disneyland Hotel, originally built in 1956. With themed signature suites that match the park attractions, such as Adventureland, Big Thunder, Fairytale, Mickey Mouse Penthouse and Pirates of the Caribbean, kids (and adult Disney fanatics) will love the attention to detail that the rooms provide. You’ll feel like you’re stepping into a Disney character’s actual abode. Plus, you get early entrance to the park!

Palm Springs

Gypsyland Palm Springs

Image courtesy Gypsyland

SHOP: Gypsyland

Palm Springs has plenty of choices for vintage clothing and furniture shopping, including Gypsyland. Here you’ll find gently used band T-shirts, large collars shirts, leather and suede items, flower covered frocks, and an assortment of mid-century furniture and home decor. Look for the pink poodle-headed mannequin. 

Norma's Parker Palm Springs

Image courtesy Parker Palm Springs

EAT: Norma’s at the Parker Palm Springs

Located in the gorgeously retro Parker Palm Springs Hotel, Norma’s serves breakfast all day with menu items such as gourmet doughnuts, chocolate French toast, crab Louie, and burgers. Dine on the colorful patio with comfortable booth seating or enjoy indoor seating with mid-century modern decor.

Caliente Tropics Palm Spring

Image courtesy Caliente Tropics by Ewasko_-336-

STAY: Caliente Tropics Hotel

Boasting tropical tiki charm, the updated 1960s Caliente Tropics Hotel is the perfect desert getaway for those looking to lounge poolside while sipping a Mai Tai. The rooms are decorated with vintage Polynesian posters and floral bedding. It was once the playground for Old Hollywood, where guests included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.

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Tagged: California, Destinations

Sharael Kolberg
Sharael, founder of Family Travel Channel (familytravelchannel.com), has been writing about travel since 1995. Her work has appeared in Sunset magazine, Outside magazine, ForbesTravelGuide.com, MSN.com, and many others. Follow her on Twitter @FamTravChannel, FB and Instagram @FamilyTravelChannel. See more of her work at Sharael.com.

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