Few states can claim world-class surfing and skiing in abundance. How about fine dining, celebrity glitz and legendary cities and towns? It’s all found in California, a place of endless promise and fun.
Dubbed “Bako” by the locals, this city in the San Joaquin Valley has long been an agricultural hub growing everything from grain to citrus fruits. The discovery of black gold in 1899 brought migrants from the Great Plains and it was their descendants who gave the region its distinct western flair. Bakersfield has come a long way since its humble beginnings — it’s now a hotbed for music and art, yet continues to honor its rich past.
Art and Music Hub
Bakersfield is known as Nashville West because of its country music roots. During the 1950s, legendary artists like Merle Haggard and Buck Owens began popularizing a gritty style of country music called the Bakersfield Sound. This raw rock-meets-country genre continues to play in the city’s top music venues. Hear it for yourself at the famed Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, a country venue that has hosted some of the biggest names in country. Browse the exhibits at the onsite museum or order a serving of “Cryin’ Time” onion rings at the restaurant. Buy a ticket for one of the top country acts that regularly perform at the Palace.
The arts flourish here too, especially in the downtown Arts District. Catch a film screening or musical at the Art Deco Fox Theater and check out the many galleries nearby. You can admire abstract and contemporary pieces at Metro Galleries and take weekly art classes at the Art Center Gallery. The Bellmoore Gallery is also worth a visit for its works by up-and-coming artists.
Get ready for a thrilling whitewater experience on the Kern River. Thanks to Class I to Class V rapids, this river offers several rafting trips for paddlers of all skill levels. River’s End Rafting provides guided expeditions through the mouth of the Kern Canyon to Lake Ming, a scenic stretch with Class II to III whitewater. The tour company also gives you the chance to pan for gold in Greenhorn Creek, a fun activity before or after your rafting adventure.
Hit the Trail
Wildflowers carpet the landscape every spring and one of the best places to view them is in Wind Wolves Preserve. This 93,000-acre swath of ancient trees and lush grasslands is the West Coast’s largest non-profit preserve. Within it, you’ll find a multitude of hiking and biking trails along with well-maintained amenities such as picnic areas and campgrounds.
Kern Canyon Trail is another top spot for wildflower viewing. Called “California’s best-kept secret” by residents, this 9.4-mile path begins in Sequoia National Park’s Keyesville Recreation Site and weaves through scenic hillsides before leading hikers to fantastic overlooks of the Kern River. The Kern River Parkway Trail is also a popular cycling destination, as 21 miles span nature preserves, parks and the Kern River Oil Field.
You’re in for a treat if you love trying new foods. Bakersfield has the largest number of Basque restaurants in the entire country and you can find most of them in Old Town Kern, aka the Basque Block. This cuisine came from the northern part of Spain and was imported here by Spanish and French Pyrenees immigrants during the late 1800s. Head to the 125-year-old Noriega Hotel to sample classic dishes such as oxtail stew, roasted lamb and pickled tongue. Wash it all down with Picon Punch, a cocktail crafted with Basque brandy, grenadine and bitter orange liqueur. Other restaurants in town include the Chalet Basque Restaurant, Wool Growers Restaurant and Pyrenees Café.
Land of Concerts, Rodeos and Food Festivals
Major events occur almost every month, so it’s easy to fill your calendar with fun activities. Experience the city’s rich musical talent at The Great 48-Hour Bluegrass Jam in January, Jazz Festival in April and Celtic Music Festival in October. If food is your passion, come during April to feast on gastronomic delights at the Macaroni and Cheese Festival and Jewish Food Festival.
Home to 56 historic buildings, the Kern County Museum acts as a window into the past. Stroll 16 acres of preserved structures to discover significant sites like Merle Haggard’s childhood home, an 1860 general store and an antique Southern Pacific engine. Check out the Bakersfield Sound exhibit and displays about Kern County’s oil industry.
History in your Hands
If you want to take home a piece of local history, hunt for vintage treasures on Antique Row. From cowboy boots to traditional furnishings, you’ll find all sorts of old gems at dozens of consignment shops. Mill Creek Antique Mall, Great American Antiques and Central Park Antique Mall are excellent places to start your search.
Walk in the steps of the Okies of the Dust Bowl era with a stop at the Weedpatch Camp, a temporary settlement for migrants described in John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel of the Great Depression, The Grapes of Wrath. Several historic buildings preserve the lives of itinerant farmers who journeyed to the area in ramshackle caravans.
Grilled Tri-Tip Steak
Tri-tip is a popular barbecue staple in California. You’ll understand why when you bite into this juicy meat. Eat with picked red onions (see bottom). Recipe by Kate Dunbar.
- 1 ¾ pound tri-tip, trimmed
- 1 bag arugula salad greens
- 1 package French bread sandwich rolls
- 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Pickled red onions (recipe below)
- 2 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
Pickled Red Onions
- 1 large red onion, sliced thin
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 crumbled bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Mix all the spices together in a small container with a lid, shake well. Trim off any large areas of fat, rub seasoning over meat. Refrigerate covered for 4-6 hours. Remove and let stand for an hour before placing on the hot grill. If using a gas grill, reduce temp to medium-high (about 400 degrees). Grill the meat fat cap side up, over medium-high heat for 15 minutes, turn the meat over to the other side, turn every 10-15 minutes. Cook for 40-45 minutes, total or until it reached desired temperature — 135 degrees for rare or 142 for medium rare. Let rest for 15-20 minutes, then slice against the grain and serve. Mix all the dry spices and sliced red onion together, set aside. In a saucepan heat the cider vinegar, olive oil and honey until it just boils. Carefully pour the hot liquid over the spice and onion mixture. Toss to distribute the seasoning. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.
California’s Central Coast
The Central Coast is what California dreams are made of. Home to Santa Barbara’s romantic vineyards, hidden beaches in Big Sur and the Galapagos of North America, this 350-mile stretch from Ventura to Santa Clara has been hailed as one of the best road trips in the world. Every wine region, state park and beach town worth visiting is easily accessible via Highway One, so buckle up and get ready to discover America’s most enchanting coastline.
Discover Ventura and the Galapagos of North America
Ventura has that classic beach town vibe that casts a spell on visitors. Spend your days riding waves at Surfers Point, fishing off of Ventura Pier and enjoying the view from the Ventura Botanical Gardens. The waterfront community also acts as the gateway to Channel Islands National Park. Located an hour away from the mainland, these five remote islands are coined the “Galapagos of North America” because they support more than 2,000 species of flora and fauna, 150 of which can only be found here. The hiking, kayaking and diving opportunities are infinite, with approximately 175 miles of undeveloped coastline to explore. You can also expect epic sunset views from places like Cavern Point on Santa Cruz Island and Torrey Pines on Santa Rosa Island. Keep an eye out for the Island fox, unique to the islands.
Santa Barbara is the American Riviera
Make your next stop Santa Barbara, a seaside city with a Mediterranean flair. Spanish colonial-style architecture dominates the landscape with standout structures being the Old Mission Santa Barbara and El Cuartel, California’s second oldest building in El Presidio Historic Park. State Street breathes new life into the city with upscale restaurants, art galleries and designer boutiques. The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail also runs through the street, a route consisting of 33 wineries and tasting rooms. You’ll find vineyards all around Santa Barbara too so plan a day trip to Lompoc, Santa Maria and Santa Ynez if you want to sample more world-class wines.
Play in Pismo Beach’s Natural Wonderland
Coastal hills and teal waters make Pismo Beach an ideal place to connect with nature. Saddle up and traverse the dunes in the south part of town by horseback. For a more adrenaline-packed excursion, rent an ATV and whiz through the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. On the water, take a surf lesson or paddle out to nearby sea caves. If you’re in town between late October to February, make sure to visit the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove to view over 10,000 migrating butterflies.
Take it SLO in San Luis Obispo
Referred to as “SLO” by the locals, San Luis Obispo invites you to take life at a slower pace. Dine on freshly caught seafood at ocean-to-table restaurants and pick up fresh produce and local souvenirs at the SLO Farmers Market. Love wine? Book a day tour to Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo wine regions to sample over 40 grape varieties. San Luis Obispo County is also home to spectacular mountain and ocean scenery, the perfect backdrop for your outdoor adventures. The Reservoir Canyon Trail and Cerro San Luis Trail are two popular hikes ending with sweeping vistas of the surrounding area.
Wildlife spotting at Morro Bay
Bird-watchers come to this coastal town to spot peregrine falcons nesting on Morro Rock, an ancient volcanic plug jutting out of Morro Beach. The community hosts the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival every Martin Luther King weekend, a fantastic opportunity to view and photograph over 200 species. For marine wildlife, join a whale-watching cruise or stop by the Estuary Nature Center to meet otters and pelicans. On land, take a stroll down the Embarcadero, an oceanfront street lined with guesthouses, restaurants and the Morro Bay Skateboard Museum.
Creative Cambria charms with its artsy atmosphere. Housed in the old Bank of Cambia building, the Vault Gallery displays works by plein air and contemporary artists. There are also a few galleries in the West Village including Ephraim Pottery which showcases handmade furniture and lamps. Eleven miles up the coast is Hearst Castle, the lavish 1940s estate of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. Guided tours give you the chance to explore the mansion’s 165 rooms and gardens teeming with elaborate fountains and palm trees.
Unforgettable Road Trips along Big Sur
It’s not every day you get to take a scenic drive through a place like Big Sur. Spanning 90 miles from Carmel-by-the-Sea to Hearst Castle, this stretch of coastline will cast a spell on you with its dramatic cliffs, misty shores, and towering redwood forests. Make a stop at the famed Bixby Creek Bridge (you’ll want photos for sure) and stay on the lookout for California condors, the largest birds in North America. Continue your journey to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park which has countless trails for you to explore.
Whale-watching in Monterey
Wildlife encounters are plentiful in Monterey. The picturesque town is one of the best places in the country for whale watching so join a naturalist-led tour and keep your eyes open for orcas, dolphins and more. The Monterey Bay Aquarium also lets you come face-to-face with over 35,000 animals and plants ranging from hammerhead sharks and sea otters to jellyfish and penguins. Other popular attractions in town include the revitalized Cannery Row and historic Old Fisherman’s Wharf. If you’re a John Steinbeck fan, don’t miss the National Steinbeck Museum in nearby Salinas.
Located fewer than 100 miles south of the San Francisco Bay Area, Hollister is a quiet getaway in the western foothills of California’s Diablo Range. These peaks rise on the distant horizon, turning into undulating grasslands closer to town. These hills are home to farms and vineyards. Those exploring the California missions on the El Camino Real route may find Hollister an inviting waypoint. Head east to explore the exquisite Pacific Coast and Monterey Bay region.
Relaxation on Tap
The rolling hills of Hollister and the surrounding region make it a prime location for wineries. Let the day slip away while you sip on local chardonnays. The beautiful vineyards form a striking backdrop for your adventures. Head to downtown Hollister to explore the charming shops and cafes. Guided walking tours take you by the architectural gems and murals, which commemorate Hollister as “The Birthplace of the American Biker.” Farm-to-table restaurants take advantage of the local bounty, as does Casa de Fruta, a 110-year-old fruit stand. Head over to the Mission San Juan Bautista, one of California’s oldest and largest missions, dating to 1797.
With three lakes, the San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area is a watery playland. Though there is a potential for strong winds, these waterways are popular spots for boating and paddling. Anglers will find a variety of species to hook, including largemouth black bass, crappie, bluegill, trout, catfish, and more. Seasonally, waterfowl hunting is allowed. Developed facilities include boat launches, a swim beach, and hiking trails. In spring, the surrounding grasslands pop with colorful wildflower blooms.
Get your Motors Roaring
Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area offers almost 7000 acres to explore on foot or on wheels. In the Lower Ranch section, you will find trails and hill climbs to traverse on your motorcycle or all-terrain vehicle. Those with four-wheeled vehicles can head to the Upper Ranch, where trails offer specially designed challenging obstacles. The San Andreas Fault crosses the park, and visitors can enjoy diverse habitats on either side. Hiking, biking, and equestrian trails offer a slower, quieter place to soak in the scenery.
As glamorous as it is gritty, as all-American as it is international, Los Angeles is a sprawling land of contradictions. Here you’ll find concrete jungle set against the backdrop of the unmanicured Hollywood Hills, chic movie stars and struggling artists, colorful roller coasters and sophisticated art museums, all against a long expanse of sandy (and usually sunny) Pacific coastline.
Hiking in Griffith Park
Most people don’t think of the sprawling city of Los Angeles as a hiking destination, so you might be surprised at how easy it is to get out into nature without getting out of town. The best-known place to hike is in Griffith Park, which spans around 4,310 acres and is home to all sorts of attractions, including the Hollywood Sign (accessible via the Hollyridge Trail and the Burbank Peak Trail). Other park attractions include the Greek Theatre, which seats almost 6,000 people and the Griffith Observatory, with its Zeiss Telescope and its Tesla Coil transformer circuit. While you can park at the observatory, many prefer to hike up: it’s accessible via the East and West Observatory Trails.
There’s no shortage of theme parks in the Los Angeles area, but if you want a theme park that also features a real working film studio, then Universal Studios Hollywood is your best bet. Along with studio tours, visitors have the chance to go on amusement park rides that range from motion simulators to roller coasters, learn about special effects, watch entertaining shows, or transport themselves to Hogsmeade at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Hollywood is synonymous with Los Angeles, and if you head to this neighborhood, it’s true that you might spot a film star (though the same can be said for many parts of town). Perhaps the best-known attraction here is the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which stretches for 15 blocks and features thousands of stars dedicated to generations of celebrated entertainers. Right on the Walk of Fame sits TCL Chinese Theatre, also known by its former name: Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where you can see handprints and autographs of famous Hollywood stars embedded right into the concrete out front.
With its huge collection of pre-20th-century European art, the Getty Center shows that Los Angeles is not all about the glitz and glamour of show business. The center sits on a ridge overlooking the city and features modern architecture made from travertine stone (some 16, 000 tons of it) imported from Italy. While the three-story museum here merits a visit on its own, there’s also an unusual sculpted garden with terraced walkways and a fountain featuring a topiary centerpiece.
Petersen Automotive Museum
If you like cars, don’t miss a chance to check out the Petersen Automotive Museum, one of the world’s largest. Here you can learn all about the history of the industry while checking out rare and historic cars, some of which have even appeared in films or have belonged to celebrities. You can even see the DeLorean that traveled through time in the iconic “Back to the Future” movies.
One of the most popular places for a beachfront stroll, Santa Monica is a vibrant coastal community with tons of shops, restaurants, and activities. Highlights include Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian-only shopping district and Palisades Park, with great views over the Pacific, though many people just make a beeline straight to the Santa Monica Pier. This beach front pier is home to Pacific Park, an oceanfront amusement park with games and rides, including a solar-powered Ferris wheel. Spend a day relaxing and people watching.
Original Farmers Market
Dating back to 1934, Los Angeles’s Original Farmers Market is a great place not only to pick up fresh produce from around Southern California, but also to sample food from around the world. It’s open seven days a week and boasts over 100 restaurants and vendors.
High in the Hollywood Hills, the Hollywood Bowl opened in 1921 as an outdoor performing arts venue and has been used for all sorts of events and concerts ever since. This amphitheater is known for its large band shell set against the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills. Over the years, artists ranging from Louis Armstrong to the Beatles have played here. There’s also a free museum dedicated to the Bowl.
Just south of Santa Monica, the community of Venice has long fostered a bohemian spirit, and while things have gotten much trendier over the years, it still maintains a laidback vibe. The beachfront promenade here is popular with skateboarders and street performers. Go a little inland and you’ll see why this area is called Venice: there’s an entire system of cute little canals that zigzag through the area.
North Coast and the Giant Redwoods
In Redwood National and State Parks, you’re free to walk among the tallest trees on the planet. Spread over 130,000 acres of misty forest, these towering redwoods can reach staggering heights of 367 feet and ages of up to 2,000 years old. Admire these giants and then wander through the quaint harbor towns and rugged shoreline on the North Coast.
Walk Among Mammoth Trees
California’s North Coast is the gateway to the mystifying Redwood National and State Parks. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or fiftieth time visiting, the ancient redwood trees here will shock you with their mighty grandeur. View them from the comfort of your car by cruising along the 31-mile Avenue of the Giants or 10-mile Newton B. Drury Redwood Scenic Parkway. Get even closer to the astounding redwoods by hiking the Trillium Falls Trail or Prairie Creek Trail. Jurassic Park 2 was also shot here, in Fern Canyon to be exact, and you can visit the same filming areas by trekking along the James Irvine Trail.
Behind every corner are postcard-worthy beaches just waiting to be explored. Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach is one of them. The shore is home to one of the world’s largest collection of sea glass, giving it a bright, mesmerizing sparkle. If you’re in Point Arena during low tide, walk out from Schooner Gulch State Beach to Bowling Ball Beach to see tons of round rock formations which took millions of years to create.
See the Whales
From December to May, approximately 20,000 gray whales pass through the North Coast. High Bluff Beach in Klamath and Mendocino Headlands State Park make excellent vantage points so bring your binoculars and watch this annual migration occur before your eyes.
Just like hiking, cycling in Redwood National and State Parks is an incredibly rewarding experience. You can do a guided mountain bike tour with Redwood Adventures to access off-the-beaten-path pockets of the park or venture off on your own. Several bike trails snake through coastline and verdant forest so it’s easy to put together your own DIY adventure. Pack animals are also permitted on designated trails, allowing you to enjoy horseback riding through old-growth redwoods.
New England Ambiance
The hamlet of Mendocino will make you feel like you’re in New England with its preserved historic homes, seafood restaurants and cute boutiques. Many Victorian homes have been converted into bed and breakfasts too which add to the town’s romantic charm. Artists like coming here to capture the dramatic landscape and you can see their works in a handful of galleries. A few hours up the coast is Eureka, an old logging town teeming with gilded mansions that could rival the lavish estates in Newport. Take a gander at the Carson Mansion, an impressive example of Queen Anne-style architecture and then visit the waterfront for scenic views of Humboldt Bay. Just a little further north is Trinidad. Resting on a bluff overlooking Trinidad Bay, this scenic spot is a great place for whale watching. Other popular activities include crabbing off of Trinidad Pier, exploring the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse and gulping down delicious bowls of chowder at Seascape Restaurant.
Local Arts and Flavors
Live to eat? You’re in the right spot – many North Coast festivals center around food so make sure to bring your appetite. Mendocino hosts Feast Mendocino every November, a ten-day event featuring foraged mushrooms and wine tastings. The town also hosts the Crab and Wine Festival in January with all-you-can-eat crab buffets, crab cruises and even a crab cake cook-off. If you’re into the weird and wacky, check out the Kinetic Grand Championship. This Memorial Day weekend event has been called the “triathlon of the art world” with bizarre race vehicles made out of all sorts of scrap metal. The three-day race runs from Arcata to Ferndale and ends with a fun, family-friendly shindig on the streets.
All Aboard the Skunk Train
Named after its strong fumes, the historic Skunk Train used to move redwood logs to the coast during the late 19th-century. Today, it transports sightseers from Fort Braff to Willits, chugging past ancient redwood forests and the Noyo River along the way. The Pudding Creek Express and Wolf Tree Turn trips depart year-round. During the journey, you’ll get to see some of the first tracks ever installed by the California Western Railroad and may even spot deer, egrets and river otters too. The Skunk Train also offers pedal-powered railbike excursions for a different, yet just as amazing, experience.
East of Los Angeles, the desert community of Palm Springs has long been a popular vacation spot for Hollywood superstars and Angelinos in need of a weekend getaway. This upscale town is home to great shopping, dining, golfing, impressive celebrity mansions and a slew of museums. It’s also a gateway for exploring the rich desert landscapes just beyond its city limits.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The largest rotating aerial tramway on earth, with a capacity for 80 people, a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is an excellent way to get an alternative view over the area. Visitors board at the base of the Coachella Valley, traveling for about two-and-a-half miles (and up 2,653 feet) to the top of San Jacinto Peak.
Joshua Tree National Park
If you’re going to be in Palm Springs, it’s well worth the short drive out of town to visit Joshua Tree National Park. This otherworldly landscape is known for its beautiful boulder formations and twisting trees for which it gets its name. It’s a great spot for a long drive or a hike and is popular for rock climbing and bouldering.
With over 60 miles of hiking trails, Indian Canyons is an excellent place if you want to get out of town and stretch your legs for a bit. Hikes run the gamut, from the easy 1.2-mile-long Andreas Trail to the strenuous Hahn Buena Vista, which takes hikers up a series of trails (with an elevation gain of around 1,915 feet) to a scenic peak with panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Palm Canyon Drive
In the heart of town, Palm Canyon Drive is a great place to go shopping, with plenty of antique shops, clothing boutiques, and art galleries. You’ll also find some funky little shops here, from Crystal Fantasy, which sells crystals, incense, and new-age art to Tchotchkes– the name says it all. This popular stretch even has a bookstore and a record store. The best time to visit is on a Thursday evening when shops stay open late and booths line the streets for “Villagefest.”
Palm Springs is home to plenty of homes of celebrities past and present. Some you can only admire from the outside; others you can rent out. The massive, mid-century Twin Palms Frank Sinatra Estate is one such home, available for parties, retreats, and film shoots: there’s even a pool shaped like a grand piano. Bing Crosby’s Estate can also be rented out, while the ultra-lux Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway can be visited on a tour (though tickets aren’t cheap). Other famous houses include the gargantuan John Lautner-designed Hope Residence on Southridge Drive and Rancho Mirage. The latter is known as the Camp David of the West because of its long roster of former guests (think Queen Elizabeth and Ike Eisenhower).
With its pleasant temperatures and beautiful scenery, Palm Springs is a great place to go golfing. Courses include the Escena Golf Club, the Mesquite Country Club (complete with eight lakes), and the Indian Canyon Golf Resort, which features two golf courses dotted with palm trees. There are plenty more in the surrounding area, including the celebrated SilverRock Resort in La Quinta and the Classic Club in Palm Desert, both of which were designed by Arnold Palmer himself. For particularly scenic options, consider Indian Wells Golf Resort and the Shadow Ridge Golf Resort.
Coachella Valley Preserve
Just outside of town, this 17,000-acre expanse is known for its beautiful palm oases along with myriad hiking trails (you can even take a guided hike). It’s also the only place on earth where the elusive Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard can be found. Take a guided hike with an expert naturalist or go for a bird walk.
Amazing Art and History Museums
Museums abound in Palm Springs. Don’t miss the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, home to artifacts from the Cahuilla people of the area; there’s also an annual film fest held here. And of course, don’t miss the Palm Springs Art Museum, with contemporary art from around the world, including glass pieces by the famed Dale Chihuly.
If you’re into dining, Palm Springs won’t disappoint. There are tons of places to eat here, from classics such as Cheeky’s, which offers good-old American breakfast cuisine to healthier choices at Native Foods, where the focus is on plant-based chow. For something out of the ordinary, head to Rooster and the Pig, which fuses American and Vietnamese food and serves it up with an excellent beer list. For a bit of nostalgia, make your way to Purple Room Supper Club, where Sinatra and his entourage were once regulars.
In the last twenty years, California’s capital city has quietly reinvented itself as a cultural and culinary mecca for visitors of all ages. Foodies will revel in the superb farm-to-fork dining scene and the plentiful farmer’s markets, while Old Town keeps its Gold Rush legacy alive through museums, horse rides and reenactments. Toss in two scenic rivers within city limits and you’ll agree that Sactown is the rare destination with a little something for everyone.
Since the early days of the Gold Rush, Sacramento has played a huge part in the development of California and the West. Relive the magic of that early era with a visit to this historic waterfront district, which features cobblestone streets, carriage rides, and top-notch attractions like the California Railroad Museum, Old Sacramento Schoolhouse and the Sacramento RiverTrain. For an even more immersive experience, the family-friendly Gold Fever! living history game lets you tour the city as a real-life character from Sactown’s past who either won big or lost it all during that rough and tumble time.
River and Recreation
With two major rivers – the American and the Sacramento – converging near the city’s center, the possibilities for fun on the water are nearly endless. The American is perfect for a day float or kayaking the easy-going whitewater, while the Sacramento has plenty of room for watersports like wakeboarding and whitewater rafting. Depending on the time of year, anglers can arrange a day trip with a local outfitter to try and land a famed Sacramento River salmon – many clock in at 50+ pounds – or head to one of the nearby lakes for an excursion of their own. About 30 miles to the northeast, sprawling Folsom Lake is a fishing hotspot with huge numbers of large- and smallmouth bass, trout, crappie, and catfish.
California’s capitol since 1854, Sacramento is a place where past and future collide and nowhere is it more apparent than the State Capitol Building. Both a monument to the state’s historic past and home to the current day Senate and Assembly, visitors are treated to views of historic offices and legislative rooms, as well as the chance to see today’s lawmakers in action. Start with a tour of the museum section where expert guides will walk you through the history and architecture of the iconic rotunda and restored governors’ quarters, before enjoying the Capitol Park, which features trees and plants from around the world. The 40-acre garden grounds are among the most picturesque spots in the city.
Bike Riding Opportunities
Thanks to a focus on bike safety within the city limits, Sacramento is a great place to explore on two wheels. Self-guided tours that connect Old Town and Capitol District can run anywhere from a half- to full-day depending on how often you stop to see the sights. For riders looking to tackle a longer distance, there’s nothing quite like the American River Bike Trail. One of the longest paved, multi-use trails in the country, it runs for 32 miles from downtown Sacramento to the banks of Folsom Lake. Winding past stops like Discovery Park, Guy West Bridge and Lake Natoma, it’s the perfect way to experience the best of California’s Central Valley.
Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park
Nestled into an assuming corner of Midtown, this small adobe fort holds an unrivaled place in California lore. The first non-Indigenous settlement in the Central Valley, it was here that in 1848 James Marshall first showed John Sutter the discovery of gold that would set off the California Gold Rush. Today, the site has been restored as an educational tool for young and old alike. Wander the grounds and interact with costumed performers, hear old-time music, and experience hands-on exhibits that bring that iconic era to life.
California’s second-largest city stays on vacation mode with over 60 beaches and the best weather in America. Dig your toes in the sand and then venture beyond the beautiful waterfront to explore epic trails, award-winning craft breweries and renowned museums.
Kick off your vacation at Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in America. Here you’ll find 17 museums, many of which are located in ornate Spanish Colonial Revival buildings. The park is also home to the famous San Diego Zoo. Step inside the menagerie to meet animals from all over the world and ride the Skyfari Aerial Tram for a bird’s-eye view of the zoo. South of the park is the hip and historic Gaslamp Quarter where restaurants, nightclubs and breweries inhabit beautifully restored 19th-century buildings.
Much of San Diego’s outdoor recreation revolves around the ocean. Guided kayaking tours give you the chance to spot dolphins and seals while paddling to picturesque destinations such as Mission Bay, Coronado Island and Carlsbad Lagoon. Fishing charters can take you out to the deep sea where tuna, marlin and mahi-mahi lurk. There are also seven ocean piers where you can cast a line from and over 20 lakes and reservoirs teeming with everything from trout and carp to catfish and sturgeon. The city’s three harbors (Oceanside, Mission Bay and The Big Bay) all have boat rentals, marina facilities and more. Narrated boat tours depart from these locations too and provide views of landmarks and marine animals.
San Diego County is rich in ecological diversity with over 2,100 plant species and more than 500 types of birds. It’s also one of the only places in the world growing Torrey pine trees. You can view this rare species along with panoramic ocean views at Torrey Pines Natural Reserve. Some of California’s most famous natural events occur here as well. In spring, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park bursts with vibrant wildflowers, while the Pacific Flyway sees countless migratory birds. Fall foliage is awe-inspiring here too with vivid golds and reds blanketing the landscape every November. Take in the autumn colors by hiking the Sunset Trail in Laguna Mountain Recreation Area and the Observatory Trail within Cleveland National Forest.
Bring Your Appetite
Originating from San Diego and Baja California, Cali-Baja cuisine merges fresh ingredients with bold Baja-Med flavors. You can try this unique style of cooking all over town. Make sure to order the fish tacos at Rubio’s and the grilled octopus tostada at Galaxy Taco. If you’re feeling adventurous, go to La Fachada for beef tongue tacos. For a meal with a view, dine at Harbor Island’s Coasterra which serves fresh Mexican fare in a romantic seaside setting. The craft beer scene here is also out of this world. San Diego has over 85 breweries, including internationally recognized names like Ballast Point and AleSmith. Sip your way through the city with a beer tour or have a meal and pint at popular gastropubs like Stone Brewing’s World Bistro and Gardens.
Play Your Way
San Diego events cater to a broad spectrum of hobbies and interests. If you love golf, watch your favorite PGA pros sink birdies at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course every January. Traveling with kids? Bring them to the County Fair in June and July for a fun-filled day of rides, games and live entertainment. In July, superhero fans can don their masks and capes at Comic-Con, the largest pop culture event in the country. The Del Mar Racetrack is also open from July to September, so put a wager on your favorite horse and watch them speed around the course. America’s largest military air show takes place here too. Every September, the Miramar Air Show wows attendees with performances by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.
The Birthplace of California
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was the first explorer to reach America’s West Coast and you can learn all about his historic landing at Cabrillo National Monument. The visitor center hosts ranger presentations and short films, providing a fascinating insight into San Diego’s beginnings. Just a stone’s throw away is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, a restored lighthouse that lets you experience what life was like for 19th-century lightkeepers.
California was part of Mexico until 1850 and you can still feel its Latin roots at Old Town San Diego. The living history park takes you back to the 1800s with more than 20 preserved buildings. Many of them still contain working businesses like Racine and Laramie, the oldest smoke shop in the city, and the Rust General Store which sells vintage-style goods. On the outer edge is a Mexican handicraft market selling handcrafted tiles, copperware and more.
This compact city has long attracted tourists with its fabulous museums, hilly streets traversed by iconic cable cars and cityscapes that never fail to charm. Visitors can get an eyeful of sea, rolling hills, long, elegant bridges and a lot of fog. It’s a great place to get out and explore, with great parks with ample hiking trails in and around town.
One of San Francisco’s darker attractions, the former penal island of Alcatraz served as a fort, military prison and federal penitentiary. Famous criminals such as Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly were both locked up here. Today, the island is managed by the National Parks Service and is accessible by boat, with a variety of tours available, from a special night tour to an extra-long behind-the-scenes tour that takes visitors to areas not normally seen by the public. Learn how inmates made daring escape attempts.
Angel Island State Park
Sometimes combined with a tour to Alcatraz, Angel Island is the largest natural island in the area, reachable by ferry or private boat (ferries depart from San Francisco, Oakland, Alameda and Tiburon). Here, you’ll find a variety of hiking and mountain biking trails along with picnic areas and ample opportunities to fish. The island is also home of the Angel Island Immigration Station, which operated from 1910 to 1940 and used to screen immigrants, primarily coming across the Pacific from Asia. Today it’s an educational museum.
One of the most popular spots for tourists, Fisherman’s Wharf is a charming area and a great place for people-watching. At its heart is Pier 39, where there’s almost always a street performer or two along with the occasional basking sea lion. Don’t miss the chance to try out some locally made clam chowder served up San Francisco style: in a bread bowl.
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco’s most iconic attraction is undoubtedly the Golden Gate Bridge, a mile-long expanse of bridge that connects San Francisco with Marin County up to the north. At the time of its launch in 1937, it was the longest and tallest suspension bridge on earth. While it’s fun to drive over (it’s part of Highway 101), an even better way to experience its grandeur is by walking across it (or at least across part of it). There’s even a Welcome Center as well as an array of exhibits chronicling its past. Free walking tours are also available on Thursdays and Sundays.
Golden Gate Park
Spanning over 1,000 acres, this huge park is a popular spot for strolls and picnics, and home to a variety of museums, gardens and event spaces. Museums here include De Young Museum, which features large collections of American and African art and the California Academy of Sciences, one of the largest natural history museums on earth. Other notable features include the Japanese Tea Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, and even a paddock housing a herd of American bison. The park is accessible from various points throughout town; if you happen to be visiting the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, you can access it via Hippie Hill, which still attracts a counterculture crowd to this day. Snag a tie dye shirt or enjoy a street performer. Take a walking tour to admire the well-preserved Victorian homes that line many streets.
The largest Chinatown outside of Asia, San Francisco’s Chinatown has long played an important role in the city’s cultural life. Although Chinatown is known as a popular tourist attraction, it’s really an authentic part of town. It’s home to a large number of Chinese immigrants and their children and grandchildren, with plenty of restaurants, clubs and supermarkets catering to the local residents. Visit in September for the Autumn Moon Festival, which features parades and special events.
Palace of Fine Arts
Commissioned for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts is a Beaux Arts-style structure that stretches partway around a humanmade lagoon. Today, this picturesque dome and columns serve as the setting for events. The palace boasts a 961-seat theater and a lobby that can accommodate receptions of 400 people, though most people come here just to take pictures.
In the heart of San Francisco, the Twin Peaks are an excellent place to go if you want great views of the city (provided it’s a clear day, which is really a crapshoot in the foggy city). You can drive up to the top where there’s a small but free parking lot and then continue up well-maintained paths with wooden stairs that will lead you all the way to the top of the peaks.
Learning about science is a lot of fun at the Exploratorium on the Embarcadero. Here, you’ll find hundreds of exhibits that focus on everything from human behavior to the life sciences, with plenty of interactive, hands-on play. While it’s geared toward kids, adults love it, too. If you want a more grown-up experience, come on a Thursday evening for the special “after dark” program, which is open only to those 18 and over.
Santa Barbara County
Known as “the American Riviera,” this charming, quaint, coastal region just 90 miles north of Los Angeles is nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean leading to a magical mix of sea breeze and mountain views. Between the perfect weather, beautiful architecture and amazing restaurants, it’s no surprise that so many Hollywood A-listers call the county home. For laid-back luxury, this dreamy destination is hard to beat.
With some of the best waves, weather and wine anywhere on the coast, Pismo Beach serves up an exciting array of activities sure to appeal to outdoor lovers. You can explore the surf on horseback, conquer towering dunes on ATV and kayak nearby coves along the coast all in the same day. The diverse food and wine options also pair well with the stunning ocean views and spectacular sunsets in this iconic beach town. Make sure you don’t miss the historic Pismo Beach Pier, perfect for sunset strolls, first-time fishing, or watching the surfers below.
The world-class wineries dotting the Santa Ynez Mountains are quickly becoming a must-visit for wine lovers around the world and Los Olivos, a quaint, charming town off Highway 154, is the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the best the region has to offer. Spend the afternoon eating fresh, farm-to-table foods and enjoying the decadent tasting rooms and breweries scattered along downtown. With expansive views of the county’s vineyards and horse ranches, take the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail.
Known as the “Danish Capital of America,” the small town of Solvang was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes looking to escape the harsh Midwestern winter. These days, the Danish-style architecture, bakeries, restaurants and boutiques, offer a little taste of Europe in California. Don’t miss the chance to travel back in time and ride in an old-fashioned, horse-drawn streetcar while passing by the village’s many shops, tasting rooms and traditional windmills. No visit to Solvang would be complete without touring the Mission Santa Ines, perhaps the finest remaining example of California’s 21 missions.
A visit to sunny Santa Barbara is an enchanting introduction to the Mediterranean coast here in America. With red-roofed, Spanish-style architecture, incredible dining, outdoor adventures and a buzzing art scene, Santa Barbara is brimming with cultural cool. For the nature-lover on the trip, there’s no shortage of adventures at Channel Islands National Park, where you can kayak through caves, snorkel in the serene waters and marvel at the harbor seals, sea lions and peregrine falcons that call the park home. For even more fun, several companies offer whale-watching excursions that often include sightings of humpback, blue, gray and killer whales.
This sun-soaked valley has no shortage of luxury amenities. Dozens of wineries carpet the lush hillsides and hot air balloons lift off for romantic flights all throughout the year. There are also spa resorts and golf courses ready to soothe your stress away. Take all the time you need to unwind and then visit Old Town Temecula for specialty boutiques, craft breweries and Old West charms.
Sip, Sip Hooray
Warm sunshine, cool ocean breezes and crisp nights are what make Temecula’s microclimate special. These unique conditions allow grapes to flourish and help producers craft internationally acclaimed wines. From Chardonnay to Syrah, you can taste a wide selection of varietals at more than 40 wineries. Visit a handful of tasting rooms with a wine tour or stay at a winery resort for the ultimate getaway. Locals say the restaurant at Leoness Cellars is divine, with seasonal fare served in a stunning outdoor setting. Miramonte Winery also offers live music every weekend, while Hart Family Winery encourages you to pack a picnic and enjoy it at the vineyard. Many wineries also produce their own artisanal products such as the authentic Argentinian chimichurri at Doffo Wines and fresh marinara sauce at Robert Renzoni Vineyards.
Relaxing Lake Days
Bust out your tackle box and flick your rod into Vail Lake, one of California’s top largemouth bass destinations. You can also catch a big one in Diamond Valley Lake. Rent a boat and sail to the lake’s west end to nab rainbow trout. Bass, catfish, panfish and striper can also be caught here. Diamond Valley Lake also hosts the annual National Bass West Tournament where anglers reel in hefty hauls.
Temecula Valley has more than 100 miles of cycling trails, so hop on your bike and pedal through picturesque wine country. Santa Rosa Plateau’s Ecological Reserve makes for an excellent day trip, thanks to mountain biking terrain, diverse ecosystems and easy trails that end with superb views. Keep your eyes peeled for mule deer and turtles and consider venturing into the nearby Cleveland National Forest to hike to Tenaja Falls. The forest is also home to the Dripping Springs Trail, a challenging 13-mile trek that rewards outdoor enthusiasts with sweeping mountain vistas. If you’re into birdwatching, head to the Lake Skinner Recreation Area for your chance to spot herons, owls and hawks.
Experience the Finer Things in Life
There are infinite ways to pamper yourself here. Indulge in a rejuvenating facial and massage at Murrieta Day Spa or sign up for a vino-vinyasa yoga class at South Coast Winery Resort and Spa. For a romantic date, surprise your sweetie with a hot air balloon ride over the valley. Flights operate year-round and promise unbeatable views of rolling hills and vineyards. Wedged in the idyllic landscape are premier golf courses, so don’t forget to pack your clubs too. Set a tee time at CrossCreek, a course designed by Arthur Hill himself, or take lessons with a PGA instructor at Temecula Creek. Pechanga, the largest casino out west, also promises Vegas-level excitement with delicious dining options, nightly entertainment and every betting game under the sun.
Wine Country Festivities
Music, great food and even better wine are the cornerstones of almost every festival in the Temecula Valley. At the end of January, attend the Annual Barrel Tasting event to sample unfinished barrel and tank wines along with newly released bottles at up to 30 wineries. In the spring, view hundreds of vintage vehicles at the Temecula Rod Run and listen to legendary musicians during the Annual Jazz Festival. You also won’t want to miss the Balloon and Wine Festival which features sunset flights, live entertainment and chef demonstrations. In July and August, Summerfest heats things up with concerts, craft beer tastings and fantastic dining. No matter what time of year you come, pop in the Temecula Stampede for live country music, mechanical bull riding and free dance lessons.
Old Town Temecula
The city’s roots are on full display in Old Town Temecula. Most of the frontier-style buildings in this 12-block neighborhood were constructed during the late 19th century. Take a stroll to see historic landmarks like the St. Catherine of Alexandria Church and Hotel Temecula. Local businesses inhabit the rest of the western-era storefronts including the Temecula Olive Oil Company, Serendipity Antiques and 1909, a burger joint that used to be a trading post. The Temecula Valley Museum is also located here and allows you to dive deeper into the region’s past. Photographs, documents and original items like ranching equipment and Native American artifacts shed light on the different cultures that helped developed the area.
Visit SLO Cal
Life moves a little slower on California’s charming Central Coast, where down-home dining, luxurious wineries and unbeatable views come together to create a once-in-a-lifetime vacation destination. From the dunes of Oceano to the volcanic rocks of Morro Bay, outdoors lovers will relish in the combination of sea, surf and mountains to explore, while food and wine lovers will be right at home among some of the state’s top vineyards and farm-to-table restaurants. For that perfect blend of wild and refined, San Luis Obispo County awaits.
Home to 14 distinct American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), the SLO region is considered one of the finest winemaking regions in the West and a must-visit for connoisseurs across the country. To discover the best of the bunch, try the Santa Barbara Downtown Urban Wine Trail, which features 11 tasting rooms within easy walking distance. From there, head to the inland hills where hundreds of operations in towns like Paso Robles and the Edna Valley serve up world-class bottles of some 40 different varietals, and equally stunning vineyard views. Since many of the wineries are small, family-owned businesses, you may even find yourself treated to an expert tasting directly from the winemaker. Get the full measure of the region’s famous chardonnay, pinot noir and Syrah wines.
Stretching for thousands of acres, the windswept dunes of this coastal haven are sure to take your breath away. As the only state park in California where you can drive on the beach, most visitors enjoy the limitless off-roading opportunities or rent ATVs for an even more thrilling excursion, but swimming, clamming and camping are also popular pastimes. For a more relaxed approach try a horseback riding tour, or a hike on the manicured nature trails that wind between the dunes and the rugged oceanfront. History buffs should stop by the historic Oceano Train Depot, which houses hundreds of artifacts related to the town’s railroading past.
Speaking of dynamic coastlines, it’s hard to find anywhere with a view more ruggedly beautiful than Morro Bay. Highlighted by the stunning Morro Rock in the distance, the bay is home to dolphins, otters, seals and more, all of which meander in between kayakers and paddleboarders exploring the coast either solo or as part of tours guided by local experts. Back on land, the Embarcadero is home to funky boutiques and hip galleries, as well as seafood joints that specialize in the catch of the day. Lucky visitors might even catch one of the town’s popular festivals like January’s California Bird Festival where over 200 shorebirds are likely to make an appearance. Cyclists can ride from the south end of the Embarcadero along the waterfront and out towards Morro Rock utilizing the Harbor Walk. Take a paddleboard out to the Sandspit, the secluded dune peninsula in the middle of the bay.
Pecho Coast Trail
Limited to 20 hikers on Wednesdays and 40 hikers on Saturdays, docent-led tours of the Pecho Coast Trail are a truly unique experience. The 3.6-mile trek to the Point San Luis Lighthouse features sweeping views of Avila Beach and San Luis Obispo Bay, as well as a diverse landscape of chaparral, oak groves and coastal bluffs. Guides are experts in local geology, history and flora and fauna so the relatively easy route is informative as well as picturesque. At the lighthouse, you can explore the grounds or join another brief tour of the historic Victorian lighthouse tower built in 1890, showing examples of the original Fresnel bulbs of the era.
For More Information
Bakersfield Convention and Visitor Bureau
Central Coast Tourism Council
LA Tourism and Convention Board
Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau
Palm Springs Visitors Center
San Diego Tourism Authority
San Francisco Travel
Visit Santa Barbara
Visit Temecula Valley
Visit SLO CAL