Welcome to California
If any place can be said to have it all, it’s California. Beyond the clichéd but potent Hollywood vision, the Golden State is a compelling land of tremendous geological and cultural diversity. There are mystical redwood forests, the lush Central Valley brimming with agricultural riches, the snowcapped Sierra Nevadas, bustling metropolises and offbeat beach towns that hug a dramatic coastline of white shores and wild coves.
The state’s calling card is its embrace of the great outdoors. Within the space of a day, you can hike through ancient forests or surreal deserts, bike ride along Venice Beach, pan for gold, or learn how to surf, dive, snorkel or rollerblade. California also channels the finer things in life. Under manicured palm trees that line oceanfront boulevards, you can graze on the latest macrobiotic fare, go shopping on Rodeo Drive, or celebrity-spot at some of the finest restaurants in the world.
Golden State Cities
Glossy, global, optimistic and constantly on the move, Los Angeles draws dreamers, overachievers and stars. From surfing in Malibu, to hanging out on the Santa Monica Pier, driving on the Pacific Coast Highway or admiring the billowing panels of Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, storied monuments and experiences never fail to evoke “movie moment” déjà vu.
The quintessential California beach town, Santa Monica has a refreshingly folksy vibe and trades well in high and low culture, not to mention year-round outdoor activities and events.
Fun, dazzling, trailblazing and eclectic, there’s never a dull moment in San Francisco. A top contender for the status of America’s most beloved U.S. city, the West Coast’s thought-leader delivers more than its fair share of iconic moments and free entertainment. From the Presidio, take in the breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, set sail for Alcatraz Island, gaze at the Victorian homes of Pacific Heights, hear the roaring sea lions and savor briny bowls of chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf.
San Diego is all things to all people with its enviable climate, family-friendly outdoor activities, the sublime Balboa Park, award-winning restaurants and iconoclastic architecture. The beaches in San Diego, from Windansea to Imperial Beach, offer fun for surfers, swimmers and casual beachcombers.
Crown Jewel Parks
California is home to the crowning jewels of America’s national park system: Yosemite, Death Valley and Joshua Tree. Each park dazzles with spine-tingling views and otherworldly landscapes.
Regardless of its ominous name, there’s a primordial beauty to Death Valley, a wild and vast swath of east California’s Mojave Desert that protects a diverse desert environment of salt flats, sand dunes, torrid badlands, rugged mountains and multihued canyons.
Carved by massive glaciers over 3 million years ago, Yosemite is a place that exerts a powerful hold on visitors with its soaring geology, profuse wildlife and top-notch recreational menu that includes hiking, rafting, fishing, wildlife watching and big-wall rock climbing.
California is famed for its beaches. Point Reyes National Seashore, 37 miles north of San Francisco, was protected in 1962 to save one of the last remaining wilderness coastal enclaves from residential development. The park’s major draws are the cavorting seals and migrating California gray whales, which can be spotted along Point Reyes’ excellent network of day hiking trails. The shore’s Bear Valley Trail is the most popular.
Named after the fantastical trees that rise over a dusky landscape, Joshua Tree National Park draws crowds to its signature heaps of colossal boulders and prime stargazing, especially during meteor showers. Just southeast of Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to the largest tree in the world, General Sherman, at over 2,000 tons. This amazing property is also home to the 14,505-foot Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental U.S. and the highlight of the John Muir Trail, which traverses Sequoia as it winds up to Yosemite.
If you haven’t tired of the larger-than-life spectacle, head to Northern California’s Pacific Coast. In this country, giant redwoods tower to astounding heights in places like Redwood National and State Parks and Humboldt Redwoods State Park, famed for its spectacular Avenue of the Giants.
Cheers to Vineyards!
California’s wine trail invites decadence and indulgence rather than pretension and snobbery. Over the years, Napa Valley has transformed itself into a gourmet playground with palatial wineries, celebrity chefs and world-class restaurants. While some may claim the area is simply a theme park for wine-loving grown-ups, the Napa Valley is visually stunning, with rolling hills carpeted with vineyards and dotted with orchards, fields ablaze with flowers and ancient oak trees.
Less than a 90-minute drive from San Francisco, the cluster of chocolate-box towns that make up the Napa Valley tend to be more cosmopolitan the further south you drive, but all boast charming restaurants, roadside fruit stalls and wholesome cheese farms to ensure consistency with the Napa brand.
Wherever you go, from the most opulent vineyards to the coziest wine bar, you’ll find an excellent selection of wine. At the northern reaches of the valley, Calistoga is famed for its hot springs and laissez-faire vibe, while Napa town is, arguably, the most cosmopolitan. Yountville is a foodie’s paradise, with some of the country’s most vaunted chefs, including Thomas Keller and Michael Chiarello, setting up shop to riotous acclaim.