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California Vacation Bucket List
7 Essential California Travel Experiences
Hopefully you're not really ready to kick the bucket, but you get the idea of what this article is about. I'm a California native, and I was recently asked by a visitor from New Zealand, who was on vacation in my neck of the woods, "What would you do if you were me? What do I absolutely have to do before I go back home, something that's uniquely California?"
His question kind of caught me off-guard. Having lived in the Golden State all my life, I realized that there must be a lot of "insider" travel knowledge I have that I take for granted. I decided to put some thought into it, and consequently a website (and later this lens) were born...
7 Things You Must Do in California
(...in no particular order)
So first let me disclose that this article will be a mix of both new material and existing information borrowed from my new website California Vacations, particularly an article I wrote called 10 (Alternative) Things to Do in California which I highly recommend for anyone who doesn't want to do the usual (Disneyland, Hollywood, etc...) sight-seeing trip. This lens however will be a mix of both mainstream and "alternative" travel activities.
1. Consume an In N Out Burger
We'll start with an easy one. These are all over the place in California - especially Southern California. "What's that? A cheeseburger?!", you say, skeptically? No, it only appears to be a cheeseburger. In reality, it is a quintessential California experience in disguise. Its crossed palm trees, its ultra fresh - never frozen ingredients, its secret menu, and of course its amazing taste, mark this as a travel experience to remember. It may also be the beginning of an addiction. My brother moved to Arizona several years ago and used to frequently drive 2 hours to the state-line just to get a Double Double (animal style). Thank God In N Out expanded into Arizona not too long ago - he saved a fortune in gas money. So have an In N Out Burger. Have one immediately upon arrival if possible. It will put you in a California state of mind for the rest of your stay. Unless you don't eat beef... then you might want to stick to the fries.
2. Gaze in Wonder at Yosemite
This one's a bit more of a challenge. Five hours from San Francisco, or six from Los Angeles, Yosemite National Park is roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island, though most visitors focus on a 7 square mile area called Yosemite Valley, full of high, sheer cliffs and gorgeous waterfalls. Legend has it that a park ranger was once asked what he would do if he only had 1 day to see Yosemite. His answer? "I would weep." Whether that's true or not, this is definitely an experience not to be found anywhere else. If you are an adventure traveler, what are you waiting for? You should be here already - I strongly suspect God made Yosemite just for you. If you're not an adventure traveler you still need to visit. Yosemite has well over 200 miles of road, so you can experience much of this scenic grandeur without ever leaving your car. Or just take some time to relax at the amazing Ahwahnee Hotel.
3. Drive PCH (in a convertible if possible)
Yes... Pacific. Coast. Highway. You, a friend, a car (or maybe a motorcycle), and a road winding through some of the most beautiful scenery in America. I'm talking thick forests, cliffs overlooking crashing waves, a historic Spanish mission or two, and a smorgasbord of outdoor activities. What could be better? The only challenge here is trying to figure out where to begin, since a lot of people don't agree on where Pacific Coast Highway actually begins and ends. According to the California state legislature it's the 130 mile stretch of Highway 1 that connects Dana Point to Oxnard. But since it's the California legislature who says so, we can safely disregard this. Far wiser individuals will tell you that it begins at San Juan Capistrano (South of Los Angeles), and ends where Route 1 merges with Highway 101 south of Eureka, California. In any case you could drive this road from Mexico to Canada and you probably won't be disappointed. Be sure to check out Big Sur.
4. Do the Disneyland Thing
I almost feel bad putting this one of the list, but it's really inescapable. If you are visiting California and have never been, you simply must go to Disneyland (especially if you have kids). It's a rule. If for no other reason, just so you can say you've been there. And you know what? Even if you're a jaded and cynical person, you'll probably still have a good time... provided you follow a few simple rules found in my Disneyland Guide, like when not to go. Seriously, if you go when its too crowded, you're better off not going at all. And don't overlook Disney's California Adventure. This next door neighbor doesn't attract anywhere near the number of visitors that Disneyland does, which means less crowds and more value. And any way, I would consider many of this park's attractions to be quite underrated. Just something to keep in mind.
5. Take a Tour of Hearst Castle
Known to its previous owner, publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, as La Cuesta Encantada ("the Enchanted Hill"), Hearst Castle is arguably the most elaborate private residence ever built. Built over 28 years and never really completed, it is 90,080 square feet of art, antiquities, history and sheer opulence distributed among 56 bedrooms, 41 fireplaces, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 2 amazing swimming pools, a movie theater, all manner of gardens and terraces, and a private zoo! Its guests included movie stars, captains of industry, and politicians. If you have visited the luxurious Vanderbilt mansion "The Breakers" in Rhode Island and thought it was impressive, then you will be completely blown away by Hearst Castle.
6. Relax "Old School" in Palm Springs
Retro is in. Just look at television shows like Mad Men. And Palm Springs is the mecca of early 60s' California retro cool. Cruising through Palm Springs and taking in the architecture, and you're almost surprised when you don't see well-tailored suits, skinny ties, dark shades and cigarettes everywhere. But even if you're not into this unique combination of kitsch and chic, Palm Springs still has something for everyone: swimming, sunbathing, golfing, and tennis, and... a really cool aerial tramway. Yep, a rotating tram car can take you 8,500 feet up Mount San Jacinto. Depending upon the time of year, you can start on the baking desert floor at the bottom, and play in the snow when you reach the top. Oh, and Palm Springs sometimes gets an undeserved bad rap. People still sometimes think of it as a student Spring Break destination. That's changed quite a bit. They don't even allow billboards in the city limits these days, much less out-of-control college students.
7. Spend a day in L.A.
Lots of possibilities here. You could do the whole Hollywood thing: stroll the Walk of Fame, match your hands and feet to those of the stars in the cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, or spend the day at Universal Studios (the only working movie studio of all Universal's locations - sorry, Orlando). You could do the LA thing: lunch at Farmer's Market, see the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, visit the La Brea Tar Pits, or take in a Dodger game. Or you could do the whole cultural thing: Check out one or both Getty Centers and one the best art collections in the country. Whatever you decide, it will certainly be a uniquely California experience!
(if you have time during your visit.)
A visit to "The Rock" is not something you're likely to forget anytime soon. It is equal parts history, notoriety, and natural beauty, with a bit of creepiness thrown in for good measure. Though this San Francisco landmark is best known as a federal prison, it is also home to the oldest functioning lighthouse on the West Coast, a Civil War-era fortress, an historic military prison, and a bird sanctuary ("alcatraz" translates as "pelican" in Spanish). And the creepiness? Well, more than a few Park Service employees are reported to have seen or heard ghostly apparitions during the course of their work. Cell 14-D in particular is supposed to be something of a paranormal hot spot. For an extra memorable experience, the Alcatraz Night Tour (voted "Best Tour of the Bay Area") is not to be missed.
Upcoming Events in California - A collection of resources to help you know what will be going on and when...
- California Events Calendar
Includes wine and food events, celebration of wine, beer, strawberries, lemons, garlic with food fairs, concerts, parades, fireworks, car shows, races, tennis, golf and historical re-enactments in a calendar list.
- More California Events
From wine and art to kinetic sculpture races to some of the best music festivals in the world, California has an array of events year round for you and your family.
- San Francisco Events Calendar Search
Search events by selecting date ranges and/or categories. You can also search by neighborhoods, event name or event description. You may also review our member directory for information on attractions, museums, performing arts, festivals & events
- Los Angeles Events Calendar
Upcoming events in Los Angeles.
- San Diego Events
Upcoming events in San Diego.
Books on Californa Travel
Satellite View of Disneyland - It's fun to zoom in....
Califiornia Has it All
Whether it's snow, surf, stars, sun, or sheer scenic beauty, you really don't have to go anywhere else!
What are you looking forward to most? If you've been here, what did you like best? Least? Got any advice for would-be visitors? Or maybe you just have some feedback about this lens... In any case, I'd love to hear from you!