West is best: the wonders of San Francisco

'San Francisco blew me away. It's a wonderful, life-affirming place'

First holiday memory?

Staying with my cousins in Poole, Dorset. We would go to Bournemouth and play on the beach. I remember being there quite late one year in November and it being unseasonably hot.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

Exmoor, straddling Somerset and Devon. I spend a lot of time down there with my husband and children doing huge, long walks that normally end with a big pub lunch.

Best holiday?

A road trip along the west coast of America. We started in Seattle, then drove down through Oregon and California, visiting San Francisco, Monterey and Los Angeles. We would begin at truck stops every morning and eat far too much for breakfast and stay in cheap roadside motels at night. It was fascinating and gave us a real insight into, not just the big cities, but small-town America too.

What have you learnt from your travels?

To be open minded. Lots of forms of travel fill me with anxiety, partly because I suffer from claustrophobia. But unfortunately for me, I married a man who loves travelling, so I've had to get over all that. I've learnt that things are usually much, much better than I anticipate. I always come back thinking "I'm so pleased I went".

Ideal travelling companion?

My husband. I wouldn't travel at all if it weren't for him. He comes up with suggestions of where we should go and then books flights, hotel, car, even restaurants. That makes it seem like he's uptight – but in fact he's really spontaneous and fun. He loves living in the moment. All the great travel experiences I've ever had have been because of him.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

Culture vulture. We do a lot of beach holidays now because of the children. I've grown to like them, but it's not my natural environment. I prefer being in a town, looking at the architecture or sitting at a café and watching the world go by.

Holiday reading?

I tend to take quite weighty books. I'm not a great one for an airport novel. Usually, every summer I'll take a Dickens or an Anthony Trollope. This year, I've been reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, which is just wonderful.

Where has seduced you?

San Francisco. I knew I was going to love New York and not particularly warm to Los Angeles, but I had no preconception of how I was going to take to San Francisco. It completely blew me away. It's just a wonderful, life-affirming place.

Also, Istanbul. I'd never been that far east before, to a country that's predominately Muslim. Just hearing the call to prayer was visceral for me.

Better to travel or arrive?

Arrive. Claustrophobia comes into play a lot in travel, such as checking into a hotel to find your room is on the seventh floor and not being able to use the lift. There was a time I wouldn't fly. Now I do long haul without really worrying.

Worst travel experience?

A villa outside Siracusa, Sicily. It looked lovely when we booked it but the drive from the airport – which took us past an abattoir and a high-security jail – made us realise that perhaps this wasn't the salubrious neighbourhood that we'd hoped for. Sicily itself was beautiful, so we went back another time to Taormina and had a wonderful time.

Best hotel?

The Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica. My husband was there on business, so I spent a week there with the kids. It was posh and luxurious but it didn't feel like staff were being too deferential.

Favourite ride?

In the States, we went to Andrew Molera State Park. None of us had ridden horses before but we found a stables that took us on this amazing two-hour ride, which was stunning and totally unexpected.

Best meal abroad?

Angelino's in Florence. It's quite a meat-heavy restaurant and I'm vegetarian, but if you go during porcini season, they will grill you a big slab of mushroom as if it's a sirloin steak. It's just gorgeous.

Favourite city?

Florence. It's where we had our honeymoon. I've been there lots of times and I immediately feel at home the minute I arrive.

Where next?

Another jaunt to Somerset to meet friends and walk their dogs. Then New York for New Year.

Bafta-winning actress Rebecca Front stars in the new series of The Thick of It, which starts tonight on BBC2 at 9.45pm.