California Travel Guide

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Mojave Desert in California near Las Vegas

Mojave Desert in California near Las Vegas

Joseph Hollick

California is one of the largest states in the US (trailing Alaska and Texas in size) and is referred to as the Golden State, which originates from the gold rush of 1849.  Very few miners did anything but become broke, while those that supplied the miners with materials grew very rich.

California is located along the west coast of the United States and is one of the most visited places on the planet.  At one time, the beautiful town of Monterey was the state capital, but was eventually moved to Sacramento, located in the central part of the state.

The California coastline has a Mediterranean climate and as such, has attracted large populations and have successfully used political means, particularly in the southern region (Los Angeles in particular) to redirect water resources from both northern regions and other states to serve thirsty populations.  Central California is the breadbasket of the nation. 

The land that is now California state was occupied by natives for perhaps tens of thousands of years.  Scientists now believe those natives took the long journey across a natural bridge that connected Asia what is now Alaska.  Mexico claimed ownership of what is now California and to some extent, controlled its use for several hundred years through a network of missions, with their primary purpose to convert natives to Christianity.

The USA annexed California as a result of the Mexican-American war, a war instigated by a minor border dispute that turned into a broader conflict.  In any case, the USA prevailed and the state now boasts the 5th largest economy in the world.  Ironic to note that the state is now 51% minority, mostly Spanish speaking, so Latin America may have won the war in the long run.

Los Angeles is the most populous city in California and is located in the southern half of the state. It is a great and very diverse city; from Hollywood to East L.A. you can find every possible lifestyle represented in this microcosm.  Los Angeles is home to traffic jams, smog, and political power in the state.

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to the cities of San Francisco, San Jose, the 3rd largest California city and the nations 10th largest city, and Oakland.  San Francisco is best known for its picturesque Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and the former prison on Alcatraz Island.  Generally seen as one of the most liberal places on the planet, the Bay area also boasts the Silicon Valley, home to a multitude of high-tech companies and venture capitalists and Stanford University, legacy of capitalist titan and former California Governor Leland Stanford.

Worthwhile attractions in San Francisco include 1-hour bay tours, Alcatraz tour with audio (book days in advance the use Will Call window at pier 42), Cable Car from Market & Powell to Chinatown, Ocean beach and windmill, Golden Gate bridge (right lane car park on far side and walk back on bridge), and Presidio (former Army base that is green and beautiful), and Fisherman's Warf (only for the view and restaurants -- not the shops or wax museum, Ripley's believe it or not, etc.)  The Cliffhouse restaurant has beautiful views (available free on adjacent Ocean Beach) and overpriced food.  Pier 39 is the most visited location in the city and is simply a tourist trap, Ghirardelli Square no longer has a Chocolate factory, just an ice cream restaurant and expensive shops.  The SF Zoo has recently undergone renovations, but is sometimes cold due to its location near the Pacific Ocean.

Sausalito is a former artists city north of SF that used to be headed by a madam (yes, pimp) mayor.  Now it is yuppie-ville with basic housing in the $5 million range.  It offers beautiful views (if you can find a place to put the car).  Lunch dining is okay but the dinner experience is ugly, but this has gotten a bit better with Murray Circle, part of the new NPS lodge at the Golden Gate Bridge, named Cavallo Point.  Shopping is typical and the walk along the bay is nice.  For those that appreciate nature, escape to nearby Muir Woods, where you can touch giant redwood trees in a magnificent ancient forest.

An hour north of SF begins a part of the state's renouned wine country starting with Napa and Sonoma Counties and extending to Mendocino and Lake Counties. There are several hundred open-to-the-public tasting rooms within an hour drive of each other. Staying at a bed and breakfast while visiting the wine country is part of the overall experience.  For a romantic get-away, the Candlelight Inn has a heated swimming pool and serves a 3-course gourmet breakfast.

Following the coast northward again brings you to Humboldt County and the heart of redwood country. There are also some fun towns to explore, most notably quaint Victorian Village of Ferndale, the Old Town area of Eureka and the beautiful Humboldt Bay and Arcata's local shops and dining on the Plaza. The beach town of Trinidad has small shops and amazing restaurants with gorgeous views of the ocean. However, the real reason to come to Humboldt County is to experience its incredible natural beauty. Gorgeous parks range from Benbow and the Eel River region in southern Humboldt to the striking rocky coasts at Patrick's Point. Stare up in awe at the giant redwood trees soaring as high as 379 feet. Take your picture with the giants and see how tiny you look next to a huge redwood tree.  Go river rafting on the wild and scenic trinity river, kayaking in the lagoons, camping on the beach. Explore Prairie Creek's fern canyon with 50 foot walls carpeted with ferns and little waterfalls.  

The Central Coast runs between L.A. and San Francisco with Santa Barbara as its most important city.  The Central Coast is beautiful and scenic.  North of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo (SLO) has maintained its old main street, famous for Farmers' Market on Thursday night, and one of two polytechnic universities (Cal Poly) with its emphasis on Engineering and Agricultural disciplines.

Located 12 miles north of SLO-town is Morro Bay with Morro Rock (a volcanic dome), electricity plant (with 3 ugly smokestacks), seafood restaurants, and tourist shops.  A hundred miles north lies Hearst Castle, famous home of newspaper baron William Randolph, who's life inspired the widely-acclaimed film, Citizen Kane. 

San Diego is located on the southern end of the state and offers good beaches and water-based sports.  It is home to the west-coast submarine fleet for the US Navy.  There are many family-friendly things to visit in San Diego including Sea World, Mission San Diego De Acala, and the Wild Animal Park.  Avoid the World Famous San Diego Zoo unless you like crowds and prefer not to see large wild animals close-up.  Though a package is available at the Wild Animal Park, San Diego Zoo, and Sea World that gives you one pass to all three.  They don't have to be used in one day, and it's quite a bit cheaper than going to all three individually.  The San Diego Zoo does have some wonderful displays, even if there are large crowds, and if the pandas are out, the crowds in the rest of the zoo tend to dim down.  The tour buses are also nice to take around the zoo.

Southern California is also known for its theme parks: Disneyland, California Adventure, Knott's Berry Farm, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Universal Studios, and many more.  These places are very fun to visit, and continue bring in tourists by the millions every year.  If you go Disney, always use fast-passes to get yourself scheduled on the popular rides.  If you go Universal, bite the bullet and get VIP passes -- you'll do all the popular rides in a single morning -- otherwise prepare to wait 2 hours per ride!

Some of the most beautiful spots for hiking and other outdoor activities are Lake Tahoe, Mono Lake, and Yosemite in the High Sierra.  Reaching as it does from the Mexican border in the south to the Pacific Northwest in the north, California must have one of the most diverse climates of any state.  If you can stand the heat, try exploring one of California's many deserts, such as Death Valley. On the other end of the climate spectrum, the redwood rainforests of the North Coast are truly a sight to behold and offer a very different glimpse of a beautiful state!

Contributors

August 26, 2008 change by seebigtrees (1 point)

May 17, 2007 change by batzmadd

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