Boasting sun kissed beaches, vast deserts, misty forests and iconic cities, the Golden State has an enticing allure that most find impossible to resist. Taking a California trip is a bucketlist essential for those who love big city smiles and quiet moments of reflection in equal measure.
What are the main pulls of sunny California? This is a state best known for the all singing, all dancing fame of Hollywood, but not everyone who comes here seeks adoration and fortune. Culture, cuisine and a rainbow of history can be found on the colourful streets of San Francisco, whilst heading to Yosemite National Park will reward you with ancient sequoia trees, iconic legends (best known as Half Dome & El Capitan) and drenching waterfalls. For those seeking the sparse over the succulent, the Mojave Desert has the ability to make you feel like a very small fish in a very big, dry pond, or if it’s a whiter, wintery scene you’re seeking, the slopes of Lake Tahoe will likely pique your interest.
Of course, no tour of California is complete without tasting the best of what this state has to offer. In-n-Out burgers, vegan treats and brekkie burritos are on the menu in Los Angeles (plus pretty much every cuisine under the sun), whilst in San Diego it’s all smoothies, seafood, and anything that compliments sunshine and surf. San Fran has also long established its reputation as one of the big foodie players of the state – hit up China Town, graze on $2 tacos from trucks like El Gallo Giro, or explore a local farmer’s market for the freshest farm to table tasties.
And then of course, we have the beaches – long, golden stretches of perfect sand that meet the pounding Pacific in perfect harmony. In LA, Venice Beach is a hive of bohemian activity, where the free spirited gather amongst independent shops, street performers and colorful murals, whilst in San Diego, Mission Beach is an intoxicating blend of surf culture, volleyball players and tasty cafes. California - just letting it play on your tongue conjures up sunshine, smiles and a sense of possibility, so just imagine what it must be like to experience it for real.
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The best way to see San Diego? On the water, undoubtedly. Run by possibly the most laid back, surfer dude types you’ll ever come across, Contiki’s speed boat experience will take you out into San Diego Harbour, affording killer views of the city skyline and super iconic Coronado Bridge. Making your way (at a pretty decent speed) past towering navy ships, you’ll then slow down for one amazing reason – to spot the sea lions who casually sunbathe and chill on the pontoons. Cute as you like, these guys are the king of chill, only leaving their spots for quick refreshing dips and tasty, fishy snacks.
Always envisioned yourself riding the waves and embracing the full surf lifestyle? There’s only one place to give it a go – San Diego’s Mission Beach. Taught by local surfing pros, you’ll learn the basics on the beach before it’s time to hit the surf and put the theory to the test. Yes you’ll fall, yes you’ll probably get frustrated, but that feeling when you finally catch your first wave will be nothing short of euphoric, and there’s only one way to celebrate – with a cold one at a nearby beach side café.
Anyone who’s anyone has had their big break in Hollywood. It’s the land of blinding white smiles, vegan eateries, and hopes and dreams. Most who seek fame and fortune don’t get their big break, but the pull of Hollywood is enough to keep them their long after the celebrity dream has faded. Everything here is iconic – the Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame, Universal Studios, the Dolby Theatre – but equally, authenticity can be found in equal measure. West Hollywood is where the cool kids hang, whilst hiking into the hills is also a super popular pastime with the locals.
You can ski in California? Damn right you can, with Lake Tahoe offering more resorts and terrain than anywhere else in North America, not to mention around 35ft of snow dumped every season. The backdrops here are pretty insane, with resorts nestled at the feet of towering peaks, not to mention the piercing blue water of the lake never letting you forget who’s in charge. Ideal for every type of skier or boarder, take your pick from perfectly groomed pistes to powdery playgrounds amongst the pines. There really is something for everyone, even those who only seek California for the sunshine.
A festival that has become the stuff of legend over the past few years, Coachella is the major music festival for the state of California. Bringing the Colorado Desert to life every April in a wave of colour, flower crowns, celebrity guests and all star performers, past headliners have including the Queen herself (Beyone), The Weeknd, Radiohead, Coldplay, Prince and Jay Z.
Indie and alternative rock, hip hop and electro are the straight up vibes of Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, held every August in San Fran’s Golden Gate Park. Just picture it; listening to the likes of Lorde, Alt-J and Little Dragon, within the serene setting of this urban oasis – pretty dreamy, right?
In a state that gave us everything from the gold rush to Mickey Mouse to Silicon Valley, you better believe the museums here are varied, vast, and even a little odd. Taking you from past to present and even dancing with the future, these are the museums which may just become your California highlights.
An educational centre and museum dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures in ancient Greece and Rome, the Getty Villa is a history fan’s utopia. The building itself is stunning – a faux villa based on the remains of the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum – and the collection housed here is made up of around 1,200 artifacts, each dated between 6,500 BC and 500AD.