Every traveler has an image of California: pulsing cities, breathtaking mountains, vast empty deserts, celebrities on every corner, endless beaches covered in beautiful people, and streets filled with luxury convertibles. While those classic movie images exist in many places, they also give an incomplete picture of this complex and highly influential state. It's historic sites include Native Americans, Spanish settlement, and the legendary 1849 gold rush. California features some of the oldest forests on earth, the largest wine region in the United States, dramatic coasts covered in wildlife, eight national parks, and hidden gems along every highway. In short, California embodies the myth, history, and reality of the American dream.
Highlights from California
- Los Angeles: Known world over as the home of Hollywood and the film industry, this sprawling metropolis also features the beach scene of Santa Monica and Venice Beach, the theme parks of Anaheim, celebrities in Beverly Hills, historic sites, and thousands of museums.
- San Francisco: One of the world's most romantic cities on a beautiful bay, major sites include the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, hippy history in Haight Ashbury, the second largest Chinatown in the United States, the funky Mission district, and Golden Gate Park.
- Yosemite National Park: One of the world's most dramatic mountain landscapes, centering on a deep narrow valley carved by glaciers. The views, waterfalls, and hiking trails are some of the best in the United States
- San Diego: Laid back metropolis known for its beaches, wildlife parks, museums, and sunshine.
- Big Sur: One of the most dramatic coasts in the world, where the Pacific Coast Highway clings to the side of mountains dropping directly into the sea.
- Napa and Sonoma: The center of California's world famous wine making region
- Gold Country: Towns along highway 49 founded as gold camps preserve the history of the epic 1849 gold rush.
- Redwood Forests: Feel humble before nature among the world's tallest trees. Muir Woods is closest to San Francisco; Humbolt Redwoods State Park has the largest groves
Hints and Tips for California
- Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and towns near Yosemite National Park feature hostels. Most others feature budget hotels. Wilderness areas have numerous campsites, which usually require permits.
- Lodging in major cities and near national parks should be booked three to six months in advance for summer, and six to nine months ahead for major holidays.
- Lodging for Yosemite National Park outside winter should be booked the day it becomes available (five months ahead for campsites, a year ahead for everything else)
- Major cities and Yosemite feature public transit systems, and have good bus/train connections. A car is necessary for anywhere else in the state (and greatly helps in Los Angeles)
- High mountain passes (including Tioga Road in Yosemite) close in winter. Mountain roads that remain open require tire chains, which should be rented in advance.
- Gas/petrol in rural areas is 20-70% more expensive than in cities.
- When driving in the deserts or mountains, carry at least one gallon of water per person
- When staying overnight in mountain areas, all items with a scent must be securely stored in your room or a locker, not your vehicle, to avoid bear damage.
- If driving a convertible is on your travel wish list, this is the place to fulfill it.