California – a bucket list for the Golden State

California, my personal favourite destination in the USA, possibly offers the widest diversity of anywhere on the planet, let alone any other US State, both in terms of its geographical make up and its man-made attractions. Where else can you find warm beaches, stunning sunsets, huge mountain ranges, visit iconic cities, harvest great wines and visit the desert, all within a relatively easy drive.

Located on the West Coast of the United States, California is the third largest US State by area. With a stunning coastline (all 1264 miles of it), dramatic deserts, rugged mountains, and beautiful lakes, California offers wide-open spaces for everything from scenic road trips to adrenaline-fueled adventures.

From its Hollywood to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, world-famous film backdrops, viniculture, and colourful gold rush heritage, California is well deserving of its nickname – The Golden State.

California sunset

Catch flawless waves in Malibu and Huntington Beaches (Surfer Today’s Ultimate Destination and Capital of Surfing respectively), both in Southern California which is the best that US surfing has to offer; and Santa Cruz Beach (Surf City USA, no less) further north.

Surfers at Malibu Beach

Enjoy spectacular whale spotting off the Mendocino Coastline (every year between Nov and April 20,000 gray whales migrate from Alaska down to Mexico and can be seen from many places along the coastline)  and then bears in Yosemite National Park – although anyone from LA will tell you that Monrovia at the LA foothills on garbage day is also a prime spot!.

Gray Whale

Pan for gold! California is not called The Golden State for nothing. One of the best places you can still pan for gold is in Jamestown, one of California’s original Gold Rush towns (from 1848) in the east, right on the southern fork of the American River.

California gold

Work out with the best at Santa Monica’s Muscle Beach, the birth place of the US physical fitness boom in the 20th century. They have body-building and acrobatic equipment along with some seriously impressive workout buddies! It also has a great recreation area, a pier and boardwalk lined with cafes and restaurants if working out appears too strenuous!

Muscle Beach

Get your fill of US excitement: visit their theme parks! Orange County (near LA) offers Disneyworld, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood (studio tour is fabulous and VIP passes recommended) and Legoland California. High-octane scream machines, anyone?

Disneyland

Drink wine! Yes, drink wine at Napa and Sonoma, two of the most famous Californian wine regions. But let’s not discount the lesser known spots – Temecula and Central Coast. My personal tip is to try Santa Rita Hills near Santa Barbara, renowned for growing some of world’s finest Pinot Noir grapes. Hhmm, and relax.

Sanford Winery Santa Rita Hills

Play a round of golf, but not just any round. Pebble Beach Golf Links on the Monterey Peninsula has hosted the US Open five times and is rated #1 in USA by Golf Digest. Of course, their are also hundreds of other great golf courses in California.

Pebble Beach

See The Golden Gate Bridge in real life. The iconic art-deco suspension bridge spans the Golden Gate strait between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean; a backdrop for countless US movies and a symbol of US engineering and design.

Camp at the Yosemite National Park. With 13 campgrounds, 10 of which can accommodate RVs and 4 open year-round, there is plenty of choice for a nature adventure.

Yosemite

And if you’re a lover of the outdoors, June Lakes Loop near Mammoth Mountain is a great place for outdoor activities such as horseback riding. For the skiers or boarders amongst you, Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe in the High Sierras was host to the 1960 Winter Olympics, and the greater lake Tahoe area, usually open from mid November to late April boasts the highest concentration of ski resorts in the USA. Of course, Lake Tahoe is also an amazing place to visit in summer and one of the most picturesque lakes on the planet.

Squaw Valley

As you can see, California has a lot to offer the tourist for may trips, and a road trip is one of the best ways to explore different parts of the state. There is a lot I haven’t even touched on in this bucket list, so watch this space for the next chapters.

Kim Robertson is Director at Your Way (Travel) Ltd.

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Comments (14)

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  1. Izy Berry says:

    Literally pan for gold? That sounds awesome! Combine that with Disney and Universal Studios and you’ve got the most exciting place to be lol

  2. Jack says:

    I have been California many times.I’d like to say that I really love there,especially the beaches.I love swimming.So there is the wonderful choice to me. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Madeline says:

    As someone who lives in CA (and has done all of these except actually play golf at Pebble Beach – but the 17 mile drive is fab), these are great suggestions. I would add a couple things:
    – Campsites at Yosemite are very difficult to book in high season. If you want to get a campsite in high season, keep an eye out for when reservations open up (6 months in advance), and create an online profile. Be ready to grab them when they come online as they disappear in minutes.

    – You can pan for real gold in Jamestown or Coloma or Colombia but be aware that they are specks of gold, nothing you are going to be able to sell (per the comment of the previous poster)

  4. Krupa Nagda says:

    Love California so much.. Been to LA, Vegas,Santamonica, Diego n now SFO is 2 weeks away.. this post motivates me so much to visit more in California. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Janiel says:

    California really has so much to offer, but I have always been a Disney fan. There is something about walking up to its gates and getting this overwhelming excitement that makes you feel like you are a child again. I also like the workout photo of the guy, lol, the volleyball players on the beach there are also a must see. lol!

  6. Indrani says:

    With the range of must do activities in California it requires several days of vacationing there if I am to enjoy it all. It will be hard to choose just a couple of activities there. But whatever whale watching is surely featuring in my list.

  7. I didn?t know California has such impressive variety. My maternal aunt lives in Valencia in California. She keeps telling me how wonderful it is. My aunt stays quite close to Napa valley. It?s exciting to read about it in your blog. Though I am most interested in Wildlife. So whale watching and Bear spotting appeals the most to me.

  8. Bee says:

    i loved this post. i agree the California greatly surprised me with its diverse natural environments. i loved the beaches and the cool vibe. I wish I had explored more at Yosemite.

  9. Yukti says:

    This year we did East Coast trip and missed California due to lack of time but now after reading your post, I regret that I really missed nature’s wonders. Yosemite National Park and Lake would be the first thing I would like to visit when in California. Wineries are also tempting. There are so many things to do. Thanks for sharing!

  10. California has something for everyone! And you have put it all perfectly. My dream destination is Yosemite! :) Being a nature and wildlife lover would love to see whales! :) All the activities make it a perfect vacation destination for families!

  11. Suzanne says:

    I had no idea that California is the US’ third largest state! I’ve only visited Los Angeles, including quirky Venice Beach and Hollywood. I would love to re-visit and explore the state’s natural beauty.

  12. Have heard a lot about California and now after this reading this, I am awestruck again. I am yet to visit USA and there is so much to do there. I dint know that is called the Golden State.

  13. Brenda says:

    Wow, California has so much to offer. Such a diverse range showcased here all within easily accessible travel. I would love to go to Hollywood and it has been on my travel bucket list for quite some time, but I could easily pair it with enough things here to last weeks of memorable adventure. Everyone talks about Florida as the tourist destination of the USA, but I honestly think California has more to offer.

  14. Jen says:

    California is my favourite too, and I?ve never been! I?d love to go to the wilderness part and walk amongst the red wood trees. Anywhere with mountains is somewhere I?d like to visit, it always makes the landscape so interesting. I live in a place that is extraordinarily flat lol! Gorgeous photos, they really are representative of that wonderful place

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