We haven’t called this the Twelve Best things to do in California because there are hundreds of things we like to do in the magical, endlessly interesting and diverse State of California.
Despite the ordering, we don’t even rank these in any particular order of preference since something that may blow the mind of one prospective traveller may leave another slightly underwhelmed wondering what the hell the attraction is! Some of our choices could be categorised as mainstream and others less so. Here goes.
1. THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN
Even in the darkest recesses of a cave in foreign countries people know of this famous symbol. It is the epitome of the American dream and it costs nothing to view from pretty close up. It is protected by a fence and cameras and police are there 24/7. There are several great hiking trails that will take you there and once in the area there are great views over Los Angeles.
2. VENICE BEACH
This area was a bit rundown until recent years but its now come back and the weekend is the time to go. The Boardwalk has the street performers, the Muscle Beach Gym and a collection of weird and wonderful people who can hassle you a little but overwhelmingly back off when you explain politely that you are not interested in what may be on offer. The Canals are worth visiting as are the shops and upscale restaurants in Abbot Kinney Blvd.
3. SANTA MONICA PIER
You can access this way over a century old Pier for nothing and its aquarium is a must see bargain at only $5 .Pacific Park on the Pier offers a huge assortment of rides and its best to purchase an Unlimited ride ticket . Great views of the beautiful sunsets and the nearby mountains. It does get crowded and you can get hassled a little but its really worthwhile. Its also the end point of the famous US Route 66.
4. ZUMA BEACH MALIBU
This is located at 30000 Pacific Coast Highway and its one of the cleanest prettiest beaches in California. It costs nothing to visit and there is free parking to be found. Great for boogie boarding and body surfing. It is well patrolled so its safe for poor swimmers.
5. GETTY CENTER
This is located in metropolitan Los Angeles and its main features are the Getty Museum and the Getty Villa. The gardens architecture and views are all stunning and the collection of artwork is truly amazing with pieces dating from the 8th century to the present day. Works by Van Gough, Renoir , Cezanne, Degas, Rembrandt Goya and many of the other greats are all there. Entry is free and you do this by booking online.
6. SONOMA COUNTY WINE COUNTRY
This is round an hours drive from San Francisco and is bigger more laid back and less expensive than its upmarket relation, the Napa Valley. We love both of these.
The wines are generally cheaper here than in Napa and there are a lot more casual informal dining and wine tasting options. Tastings are often free provided you purchase a bottle or two. Hiring a bike is a great way to get around. May, September and October are the best times to visit.
7. NAPA VALLEY
If you want to splash out, then Napa is for you. It too is also very close to San Francisco. Wine aficionados come from all over the world to sample its wines and unfortunately this results in a lot of traffic and some crowding. Go in style with a few friends in a limo, drink too much and have a day of fun. There are many upmarket accommodation choices and they have great service and style to match the wines. Although some may have a stereotyped impression that the place is only for wine snobs and posing connoisseurs this is not the case and most visitors are really friendly, especially after their inhibitions have been lowered by several vinos.
8. LAKE TAHOE
This place is stunning all year round and has loads of things to do apart from the fantastic skiing and snowboarding in winter. Fishing, canoeing, hiking are great alternatives to the snow sports. The area straddles the border of California and Nevada and it caters for a spectrum from the uber rich to those on modest budgets. Heavenly Village and Southlake Shore are two buzzing interesting locations you want to check out. Celebrities can be sighted year-round in Tahoe.
9. BIG SUR ROAD TRIP
This is a magnificent 90 mile stretch of coastal road running alongside the magnificent Pacific Ocean. From LA the beginning of Big Sur at San Simeon is around a four-hour drive. It ends just south of Monterey. Get into your car, preferably a hood down convertible, crank up the sound system with some classic beats and you are in for a truly memorable experience. Great stops. Limekiln State Park,
McWay Falls, Partington Cove (no signs), Nepenthe Restaurant, Pfeiffer Beach, Point Sur Lighthouse and Bixby Bridge.
10. YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
This is located in eastern central California. Yosemite Valley is the main hub and visiting is best in the months of May through to October. Rafting, rock climbing and hiking are the main activities and there is a myriad of animals and birdlife to check out. Must sees are; Yosemite Falls, Walk among giant Sequoia trees in Wawona Basin, The wildflowers in Tuolumne Basin, Glacier Point Overlook, walk Panorama Trail.
11. PALM SPRINGS
This is a world-famous resort in Riverside County inhabited by many different Hollywood stars over the years who were attracted to its beautiful climate. The area is renowned for the architecture of its homes and a bike tour is one great way to check out some of the masterpieces. You should do; The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Melyvns Resataurant, The Counter Reformation Bar of Parker Palm Spring Hotel, Hike to the Cross on Palm Desert, Palm Spring Arts Museum.
12. BIG BEAR
This is a small city in Southern California which has great skiing and snowboarding in winter. Hiking, walking and cycling are top activities as are fishing and boating on Mountain Bear Lake. There is great wildlife including mountain lions, bears and eagles. The array of restaurants and bars is great and if you are inclined to have a gamble, then Las Vegas is nearby.
We will give you more fantastic places to check out in beautiful California soon!