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Feb 1, 2018


Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet California is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Sashay out onto San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, walk beneath ancient redwoods, or taste wine in Sonoma Valley -all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of California and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet California:

  • Color maps and images throughout
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - history, customs, film, television, music, arts, literature, landscapes, wildlife
  • Over 19 color maps
  • Covers San Francisco, Napa Valley, Coastal Highway 1, Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, the Sierra Nevada, Disneyland, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Palm Springs and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet California , our most comprehensive guide to California, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less traveled

Looking for Californian road tripping ideas? Check out Lonely Planet California's Best Trips.

About Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet is a leading travel media company and the world's number one travel guidebook brand, providing both inspiring and trustworthy information for every kind of traveller since 1973. Over the past four decades, we've printed over 145 million guidebooks and phrasebooks for 120 languages, and grown a dedicated, passionate global community of travellers. You'll also find our content online, and in mobile apps, video, 14 languages, 12 international magazines, armchair and lifestyle books, ebooks, and more, enabling you to explore every day. Lonely Planet enables the curious to experience the world fully and to truly get to the heart of the places they find themselves, near or far from home.

TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 winner in Favorite Travel Guide category

'Lonely Planet guides are, quite simply, like no other.' - New York Times

'Lonely Planet. It's on everyone's bookshelves, it's in every traveller's hands. It's on mobile phones. It's on the Internet. It's everywhere, and it's telling entire generations of people how to travel the world.' - Fairfax Media (Australia)

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

  • Downloadable PDF and offline maps prevent roaming and data charges
  • Effortlessly navigate and jump between maps and reviews
  • Add notes to personalise your guidebook experience
  • Seamlessly flip between pages
  • Bookmarks and speedy search capabilities get you to key pages in a flash
  • Embedded links to recommendations' websites
  • Zoom-in maps and images
  • Inbuilt dictionary for quick referencing

Important Notice: The digital edition of this book may not contain all of the images found in the physical edition.

Feb 1, 2018

Informazioni sull'autore

Andrea Schulte-Peevers nació y creció en Alemania, y cursó sus estudios en Londres y en la UCLA (Universidad de California en Los Ángeles). Sus numerosos viajes la han llevado a recorrer infinidad de kilómetros por cerca de 75 países. Se gana la vida como escritora profesional de viajes desde hace más de dos décadas, y ha participado, como autora o colaboradora, en casi 100 títulos de Lonely Planet, así como en periódicos, revistas y webs de todo el mundo. Trabaja además como asesora de viajes, traductora y editora, y es especialista en destinos como Alemania, Dubái, los Emiratos Árabes Unidos, Creta y las islas del Caribe. Vive en Berlín.

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  • Tickets aren't cheap but sell out fast, especially for Golden State Warriors or LA Lakers basketball, Oakland Raiders or San Diego Chargers football, San Francisco Giants or LA Dodgers baseball, or LA Kings or San Jose Sharks hockey.

  • Pitch a tent beside alpine lakes and streams beneath snaggletoothed Sierra Nevada peaks, nestle into shimmering SoCal sand dunes beneath the full moon, and drift off on NorCal redwood forest floors beneath the tallest trees on earth.

  • Thousands of Southern Californians practice Santeria, a fusion of Catholicism and Yoruba beliefs brought by West African slaves to the Caribbean, South America and sunny SoCal.

  • California was a territory of Mexico and Spain before it became a US state, and has sustained one of the world's most diverse populations ever since.

  • According to a recent Cambridge University study, creativity, imagination, intellectualism and mellowness are all defin-ing characteristics of Californians, compared with inhabitants of other US states.

Anteprima del libro

Lonely Planet California - Andrea Schulte-Peevers



Plan Your Trip

Welcome to California

California's Top 25

Need to Know

What's New

If You Like

Month by Month


Road Trips & Scenic Drives

Beaches, Swimming & Surfing

California Camping & Outdoors

Eat & Drink Like a Local

Travel with Children

Regions at a Glance

On The Road

San Francisco




Tours & Courses

Festivals & Events



Drinking & Nightlife



San Francisco by Cable Car

Marin County & the Bay Area

Marin County

Marin Headlands



Sir Francis Drake Boulevard & Around

San Rafael

Mill Valley

Mt Tamalpais State Park

Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Beach

Stinson Beach


Olema & Nicasio

Point Reyes Station


Point Reyes National Seashore

East Bay



Mt Diablo State Park

John Muir National Historic Site

The Peninsula

San Francisco to San Jose

San Jose

Pacifica & Devils Slide

Pacifica to Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay


Ano Nuevo State Park

Napa & Sonoma Wine Country

Napa Valley

Napa Valley Wineries



Oakville & Rutherford

St Helena

Calistoga & Around

Sonoma Valley

Sonoma Valley Wineries

Sonoma & Around

Glen Ellen & Kenwood

Russian River Area

Russian River Wineries


Occidental & Around

Guerneville & Around

Santa Rosa

Healdsburg & Around

North Coast & Redwoods

Coastal Highway 1

Bodega Bay

Sonoma Coast State Beach


Fort Ross State Historic Park

Salt Point State Park

Sea Ranch

Gualala & Anchor Bay

Point Arena



Van Damme State Park


Jug Handle State Reserve

Fort Bragg

MacKerricher State Park


Along Highway 101


Clear Lake

Anderson Valley


Around Ukiah


Southern Redwood Coast


Richardson Grove State Park


Lost Coast

Humboldt Redwoods State Park & Avenue of the Giants



Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge


Samoa Peninsula


Northern Redwood Coast


Patrick's Point State Park

Humboldt Lagoons State Park

Redwood National & State Parks


Crescent City

Tolowa Dunes State Park & Lake Earl Wildlife Area

Pelican State Beach

Central Coast

Along Highway 1

Santa Cruz

Around Santa Cruz


Pacific Grove


Big Sur

Point Piedras Blancas

Mission San Antonio De Padua

San Simeon

Hearst Castle



Morro Bay

Montana de Oro State Park

Along Highway 101

San Juan Bautista



Pinnacles National Park

San Miguel

Paso Robles

San Luis Obispo

Avila Beach

Pismo Beach

Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Wine Country




Around Santa Barbara






Channel Islands National Park

Los Angeles

Around Los Angeles

Catalina Island

Big Bear Lake

Disneyland & Orange County

Disneyland & Anaheim

Around Disneyland

Knott's Berry Farm

Discovery Cube

Bowers Museum & Kidseum

Old Towne Orange

Orange County Beaches

Seal Beach

Huntington Beach

Newport Beach

Around Newport Beach

Laguna Beach

Around Laguna Beach

Dana Point

San Diego & Around

Central & Coastal San Diego

La Jolla & North County Coast

La Jolla

Del Mar

Solana Beach





Palm Springs & the Deserts

Palm Springs & the Coachella Valley

Joshua Tree National Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Around Anza-Borrego

Route 66

Mojave National Preserve

Around Mojave National Preserve

Death Valley National Park

Around Death Valley National Park

Upper Mojave Desert

Las Vegas

Northern Mountains

Redding & Around


Around Redding

Shasta Lake

Mt Lassen Region

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen National Forest

Lake Almanor Area


Eagle Lake


Bucks Lake

Mt Shasta Region

Mt Shasta

Mt Shasta City


Castle Crags State Park


McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park & Around

Lava Beds National Monument

Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges

Modoc National Forest

West of I-5


Lewiston Lake

Trinity Lake

Klamath & Siskiyou Mountains

Scott Valley


California Wildlife

Sacramento & Central Valley

Sacramento Valley


SacramentoSan Joaquin River Delta




Red Bluff

San Joaquin Valley








Kern River Area

Gold Country

Nevada County & Northern Gold Country


Auburn State Recreation Area

Grass Valley

Nevada City

South Yuba River State Park

Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park

North Yuba River

El Dorado & Amador Counties

Coloma-Lotus Valley

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park


Plymouth & Amador City

Sutter Creek



Calaveras County & South Gold Country

Angels Camp



Sonora & Jamestown

Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe & Stateline

Lake Tahoe Western Shore

Emerald Bay State Park

DL Bliss State Park

Meeks Bay

Ed Zberg Sugar Pine Point State Park




Tahoe City

Squaw Valley

Truckee & Donner Lake

Lake Tahoe Northern Shore

Tahoe Vista

Kings Beach

Crystal Bay (Nevada)

Lake Tahoe Eastern Shore (Nevada)

Incline Village

Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park

Reno (Nevada)

Yosemite & the Sierra Nevada

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Gateways

Fish Camp


Merced River Canyon



Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Kings Canyon National Park

Sequoia National Park

Eastern Sierra

Mono Lake Region

Mammoth Lakes

Around Mammoth Lakes


Big Pine


Lone Pine


Understand California

California Today


The Way of Life

On Location: Film & TV

Music & the Arts

By the Book

The Land & Wildlife


Directory AZ


Customs Regulations

Discount Cards





Internet Access

Legal Matters

LGBT Travelers



Opening Hours


Public Holidays

Safe Travel




Tourist Information

Travelers with Disabilities




Getting There & Away

Getting Around

Behind the Scenes

Our Writers

Special Features

San Francisco by Cable Car

Welcome to California

From misty Northern California redwood forests to sun-kissed Southern California beaches, the enchanted Golden State makes Disneyland seem normal.

Natural Beauty

Don’t be fooled by its perpetually fresh outlook and adventurous attitude: California is older than it seems. Coastal bluffs and snowy peaks were created over millennia of tectonic upheavals that threatened to shake California right off the continent. After 19th-century mining, logging and oil-drilling threatened the state’s natural splendors, California’s pioneering environmentalists rescued old-growth trees, reclaimed rivers and cleaned the beaches. Thanks to the leadership of Californian conservationist John Muir and his Sierra Club, California's national and state parks continue to astound visitors today.

Fabulous Food & Drink

Without California, America's menu would be drab and predictable: the Golden State produces most of the country's fresh produce and kicks off nationwide food trends. Every time they sit down to eat, Californians take a stand on food issues: would you like that salad certified organic or spray-free, your toast with farm-to-table jam or urban-beehive honey, and your burger vegan or with humanely raised grass-fed meat? No matter what you order, it’s bound to be local and creative – and it had better be good. For a chaser, California produces over 90% of the nation’s wine-making grapes, and has twice as many breweries as any other state.

From Hollywood to Silicon Valley

Through booms and busts, California has gotten by on its wits and charm. Hollywood still makes most of the world’s movies and TV shows, and launches new talents nightly on stages statewide. But California dreams don't begin with moguls in office towers – they're invented by California's artists, adventurers and resident weirdos in their own backyards. Wild schemes that started at psychedelic music festivals and in San Jose garages have gone mainstream – perhaps you've heard of smartphones, streaming video and Burning Man? – but there are plenty of outlandish ideas here still awaiting discovery. Hang out at California galleries, cafes, bars and festivals, and you may actually see the future coming.

City Lights

California's cities hit maximum dazzle as the sun sets over the Pacific, and lights twinkle across golden hillsides. Lamps illuminate San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, the Hollywood sign glows bright as the moon over LA, and Bay Bridge lights welcome San Francisco arrivals with a wink and a shimmy. Consider this your invitation to come out and play, and join the crowds at LA's star-studded nightclubs and movie palaces, San Francisco's historic LGBT hot spots, Santa Barbara's swanky beach bars and San Diego's booming brewpubs. Tomorrow there will be neighborhoods, beaches, spas and boutiques to explore – but tonight is a night on the town like no other.


Why I Love California

By Alison Bing, Writer

On my way from Hong Kong to New York, I stopped through San Francisco for a day. I walked from Geary St art galleries through Chinatown to Waverly Place, just as temple services were starting. The fog was scented with incense and roast duck. I wandered into the basement of City Lights Bookstore, and near the Muckraking section, I noticed a sign painted by a 1920s cult: 'I am the door.' It's true: California is the threshold between East and West, fact and fiction, body and soul. That revelation was 20 years ago. I'm still here. You have been warned.

California's Top 25

San Francisco

This is as far out as you can get without winding up in the Pacific – San Francisco keeps pushing boundaries with trendsetting food, social movements, art and technology. This town is defined by bold moves: the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is an engineering marvel in a color chosen over the Navy's objections; nature lovers elbowed aside speculators to establish Golden Gate Park; and Alcatraz was occupied by Native American protestors and turned into a museum. Discover the weirdest tech in the west at the Exploratorium, and find inspiration in new-media installations at supersized SFMOMA.


Top Experiences

Redwood Forests

Hugging a tree never came so naturally as it does in California's sun-dappled groves of ancient redwoods, the world's tallest trees. These gentle giants are quintessentially Californian: their roots may be shallow, but they hold each other up and reach dizzying heights. Even a short stroll on the soft forest floor beneath them puts the rest of the world into perspective. Redwoods thrive along the coast from Big Sur north to the Oregon, and you'll find old-growth groves at Muir Woods National Monument, Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Redwood National and State Parks.


Top Experiences

Yosemite National Park

Feeling so small has never felt this grand. Everything is monumental at Yosemite National Park: thunderous waterfalls tumble over sheer cliffs, granite domes tower overhead and the world's biggest trees cluster in mighty groves of giant sequoias. Conservationist John Muir considered Yosemite a great temple, and awe is the natural reaction to these vast wildflower-strewn meadows and steep valleys carved over millennia by glaciers, avalanches and earthquakes. To achieve maximum wonder, stop at Glacier Point under a full moon or drive the high country’s Tioga Rd on a cloudless summer day.


Top Experiences

Palm Springs

The desert gets hot, but Palm Springs has kept its cool since the '50s. This resort getaway is where stars like Sinatra, Elvis, and Leonardo DiCaprio have come out to play away from the paparazzi and lounge by the pool in mid-Century Modern digs. Hit brunch hot spots, vintage stores and the Palm Springs Art Museum until happy hour in tiki speakeasies and LGBT cabarets. Tomorrow you could explore desert canyons across Native American tribal lands, summit the San Jacinto Mountains the easy way on an aerial tramway…or you can just lounge the day away.

A Palm Springs resort | TRINETTE REED / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Big Sur

Following your bliss inevitably leads to Big Sur. Waterfalls splash down sandy bluffs in rainbow mists, and yurt retreats perch at the edge of redwood forests. Beyond purple-sand beaches and coves lined with California jade, pods of migrating whales dot the sparkling Pacific. But don't forget to turn around: hiding behind these coastal bluffs are hot springs and Beat literary retreats, with California condors circling over the cliffs. Time your visit for peak waterfall season in May, or after summer vacation for maximum meditation.


Top Experiences

Santa Monica & Venice

How do you beat LA traffic? Hit the beach instead. Sunny Santa Monica delivers an endless summer with iconic surf spots, a solar-powered Ferris wheel, carnival games on the old-fashioned pier, tidal touch pools in the aquarium and beach sunsets that go on forever. Arrive at nearby Venice Beach to join the nonstop parade of New Agers, muscled bodybuilders, goth punks and hippie drummers – around here you'll never need an excuse to let your freak flag fly.


Top Experiences


When you're ready for your close-up, there's only one place to go. The stars come out at night for red-carpet premieres at restored movie palaces, and you too can have your Hollywood moment on the pink-starred Walk of Fame. This once-gritty LA neighborhood is making a glorious comeback, bringing old Hollywood glamour to glitzy velvet-roped bars, VIP nightclubs and hip hotels. Snap a selfie outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre or duck into Hollywood & Highland’s Babylon Court for a photo op with the iconic Hollywood sign and revel in your 15 minutes of social media fame.


Top Experiences

Disneyland Resort

Where orange groves and walnut trees once grew, Walt Disney built his dream world. Since his 'Magic Kingdom' opened in 1955, Disneyland has expanded to neighboring Disney California Adventure to become SoCal’s most-visited tourist attraction. Waltz down Main Street, U.S.A. with your favorite cartoon characters, ride movie-themed roller coasters and watch fireworks explode over Sleeping Beauty Castle on hot summer nights. For a day, leave your troubles behind, suspend disbelief and join throngs of gleeful kids.

Disney/DISNEY ©

Top Experiences

Death Valley

The daunting name brings to mind Wild West ghost towns, broken-down pioneer wagon trains and tumbleweed blowing past skulls on desert sand dunes – but Death Valley is full of life. Spring wildflowers daub the dunes with a painter’s palette of colors, adrenaline-seekers zoom across crackled salt flats, and shy desert wildlife lives by starlight. Twist your way up narrow canyons past geological oddities, and teeter over volcanic craters formed by violent prehistoric explosions.


Top Experiences

San Diego

San Diego is known for its beaches and craft beer – but there's another side to this seaside town. Beautiful Balboa Park is the pride of San Diego, with Spanish Colonial and Mission Revival–style architecture along El Prado promenade and more than a dozen art, cultural and science museums. Glimpse exotic wildlife and ride the ‘Skyfari’ aerial tram at San Diego’s world-famous zoo, or nab tickets for a show at the Old Globe Theaters, modeled on the famous Shakespearean original.


Top Experiences


Along the coast around the weathered Victorian port of Mendocino, churning surf is never out of earshot, and tides roll back to reveal driftwood, abalone, and boulders that'll make you think some sea monsters have lost their marbles. Mendocino is a legendary bohemian outpost, with bookstores, natural food shops and redwood water towers swirled in mists carrying fragrant bursts of lavender, jasmine and THC – but there's more to explore inland in Mendocino County. You've probably heard of Mendocino's now-legal cash crop, but you'll also find some of the state's best-value wines lining sunny Anderson Valley.

Point Arena, Mendocino County | TRAVELLIGHT / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Santa Barbara

Nicknamed the ‘American Riviera' for its seaside elegance and culinary decadence, Santa Barbara might sound fancy, but it's all laid-back California vibes. Waving palm trees, powdery beaches, fishing boats clanking in the harbor – it’d be a travel cliché if it wasn’t the plain truth. But Santa Barbara worked hard to stay so idyllic: downtown was rebuilt in signature Spanish Colonial Revival style after a 1925 earthquake and environmentalists lobbied to clean up the beaches in the '60s and '70s. California’s ‘Queen of the Missions’ is a rare beauty, with its signature red-roofed, whitewashed adobe building.


Top Experiences

Gold Country

‘Go west, young man!’ was the rallying cry of tens of thousands of pioneers who arrived here during California’s gold rush, starting in 1848. Today, these rough-and-tumble Sierra Nevada foothills are a stronghold of Golden State history, with thrilling, mostly true tales of banditry, bordellos and bloodlust. Wind past sleepy townships and abandoned mines on Hwy 49 to discover swimming holes, white-water rafting, downhill mountain-biking bomber runs and saloon wine-tasting rooms supplied by the state's oldest grapevines. Eureka! You've found your California adventure.

Bodie State Historic Park | FEIFEI CUI-PAOLUZZO / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Russian River

Sonoma's Russian River Valley is one of California's best-kept secrets. This wine country is Napa's rebel cousin, with sparkling wines offered in tasting rooms, and cult biodynamic Pinot Noirs you won't find anywhere else. Hippies headed back to the land here in the '60s, and you can taste their organic farm-to-table cuisine and feel the groovy vibes in Occidental and Sebastopol. Riverside cabin retreats date from the 1900s, when San Franciscan socialites headed here for sunshine and privacy – Guerneville has been an LGBT getaway for a century, and Lazy Bear Weekend (July/August) is a major gay holiday.


Top Experiences


Get up close and personal with California marine life in the fishing village of Monterey, where John Steinbeck brought colorful local wharf characters to life – and the seals are pretty outrageous too. Hop aboard a whale-watching cruise to explore a national marine sanctuary, or walk right into the bay at the aquarium to spot golden sea dragons, shy pink Pacific octopuses and scene-stealing rescued otters at play. Explore Monterey's hidden gardens, villa art museums and historic adobe-walled buildings, then visit monarch butterflies and the West Coast’s oldest lighthouse in neighboring Pacific Grove.


Top Experiences

Mt Shasta

No other pile of rock in California stirs the imagination quite like Mt Shasta, rising majestically from the surrounding flatlands. There's something mystical about this peak – Native Californians believed that it was home to a sky-spirit chief. Tales swirl around Mt Shasta: New Age pilgrims say it's an energy vortex, and one late-19th-century explorer reported that survivors of a lost continent were living in tunnels below its surface. Experience spine-tingling chills on its windblown peak, and see for yourself why conservationist John Muir said its beauty made his ‘blood turn to wine.’


Top Experiences

Laguna Beach

While surfers hang loose in Huntington Beach and yachties mingle dockside in Newport Beach, Orange County's Laguna Beach lures them all with culture and natural beauty. Startling seascapes led an early-20th-century artists’ colony to put down roots here, and Laguna’s bohemian past lives on in downtown art galleries, adorable arts-and-crafts bungalows tucked beside multimillion-dollar mansions, and the annual Summer Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters.


Top Experiences

Lake Tahoe

High in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this all-seasons adventure base camp centers on the USA’s second-deepest lake. In summer, startlingly clear blue waters invite splashing, kayaking and even scuba diving. Meanwhile, mountain bikers careen down epic single-track runs and hikers follow trails through thick forests to staggering views. After dark, retreat to cozy lakefront cottages and toast s’mores in firepits. When the lake turns into a winter wonderland, gold-medal ski resorts amp up the adrenaline for downhill fanatics, snowboarders and Nordic traditionalists.


Top Experiences

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Anchoring the Cascades' chain of volcanoes to the south, this alien landscape bubbles over with roiling mud pots, noxious sulfur vents and steamy fumaroles. But Lassen also delights the senses with colorful cinder cones and azure crater lakes. Ditch the crowds and head to this off-the-beaten-path destination to discover fresh peaks to be conquered, pristine waters for dipping, forested campgrounds for comfort, and boardwalks through Bumpass Hell that will leave you awestruck.


Top Experiences


Even if you never set foot on a board – but, like, you should totally check out this gnarly break, brah – surfing defines California pop culture, from street slang to movies and laid-back fashion. Pros ride world-class breaks off Malibu, Huntington Beach (aka ‘Surf City USA’), La Jolla and Santa Barbara, while newbies get schooled at ‘surfari’ camps along the coast from San Diego north to Santa Cruz.


Top Experiences

Coastin' on Amtrak

All aboard! Evocatively named routes like Coast Starlight and Pacific Surfliner will tempt you to leave your car behind and ride the rails, from Oakland to SoCal. South of San Luis Obispo, glimpse remote beaches from Amtrak’s panoramic-view observation cars. Blink and you’re already in Santa Barbara, in time for wine. Hop off for a seaside swim at whistle-stop Carpinteria or Ventura, before rolling into LA’s architecturally grand Union Station. Keep rolling south to historic Mission San Juan Capistrano and North County beach towns before landing in downtown San Diego.


Top Experiences

California's Missions

If you road-trip along the coast between San Diego and Sonoma, you'll be following in the footsteps of early Spanish conquistadors and Catholic priests. Franciscan friar Junípero Serra founded many of California’s 21 missions in the late 18th century, and many are restored to their original stark beauty. Legend has it that ghosts still pace the cloisters of many missions, built by Native California conscripts – many of whom didn't survive to see their completion. Mission San Juan Capistrano is one of best restores, with flowering gardens, stone arcades, fountains, and chapels adorned by spiritual frescoes.


Top Experiences

Point Reyes National Seashore

California may be sunnier down south, but Point Reyes is more poetic. Step across the San Andreas Fault to find windswept beaches, where the horizon stretches toward infinity. Way off at land's end, climb the lighthouse and scan the Pacific for migratory whales. In this wild place you'll find good company: there's a seasonal colony of raucous giant elephant seals at Chimney Rock and free-ranging herds of hulking tule elk, especially on the north end. Return to civilization the easy way at Point Reyes Station for lazy brunches and splendid local cheese.


Top Experiences

Channel Islands

Tossed like lost pearls off the coast, the Channel Islands have been California's last outpost of civilization ever since seafaring Chumash people established villages on these remote rocks. Marine life thrives on these islands, from coral reefs to giant elephant seals. Get back to nature with fantastic sea kayaking and snorkeling in Channel Islands National Park, or plan a posh getaway at the harborfront hotels of Mediterranean-style Catalina Island.


Top Experiences


Who says you can’t turn back time? Speed over the curved bay bridge or hop the ferry from San Diego to swanky, retro, seaside Coronado. You don't need a costume to enjoy the period drama of the palatial 19th-century Hotel del Coronado, where royalty and presidents escaped from their duties and Marilyn Monroe cavorted in the 1950s screwball classic Some Like It Hot. Pedal past impossibly white beaches all the way down the peninsula’s Silver Strand, stopping at old-fashioned ice-cream parlors and vintage photo ops – no sepia-tone filter necessary.


Need to Know

For more information, see Survival Guide.


US dollars ($)




Generally not required for stays of 90 days or less for citizens of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries with Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval ( – apply online at least 72 hours in advance.


ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are usually required for reservations. Traveler's checks (US dollars) are rarely accepted. Tipping is customary, not optional.

Cell Phones

The only foreign phones that will work in the USA are GSM multiband models. Buy prepaid SIM cards locally. Coverage can be spotty in remote areas.


Pacific Standard Time (GMT/UTC minus eight hours)

When to Go

High Season (Jun–Aug)

A Accommodations prices up 50% to 100% on average.

A Major holidays are even busier and more expensive.

A Summer is low season in the desert, where temperatures exceed 100°F (38°C).

Shoulder (Apr–May & Sep–Oct)

A Crowds and prices drop, especially on the coast and in the mountains.

A Mild temperatures and sunny, cloudless days.

A Typically wetter in spring, drier in autumn.

Low Season (Nov–Mar)

A Accommodations rates lowest along the coast.

A Chilly temperatures, frequent rainstorms and heavy snow in the mountains.

A Winter is peak season in SoCal’s desert regions.

Useful Websites

California Travel & Tourism Commission ( Multilingual trip-planning guides.

Lonely Planet ( Destination information, hotel bookings, traveler forum and more.

LA Times Travel ( Travel news, deals and blogs.

Sunset ( Local and insider travel tips.

California State Parks ( Outdoor activities and camping.

CalTrans ( Current highway conditions.

Important Numbers

All phone numbers have a three-digit area code followed by a seven-digit local number. For long-distance and toll-free calls, dial 1 plus all 10 digits.

Exchange Rates

For current exchange rates see

Daily Costs

Budget: Less than $100

A Hostel dorm beds: $30–55

A Take-out meal: $7–12

Midrange: $100–200

A Motel or hotel double room: $100–150

A Rental car per day, excluding insurance and gas: $50–80

Top End: More than $200

A Upscale hotel or beach resort room: $150–300

A Three-course meal in top restaurant excluding drinks: $80–120

Opening Hours

Businesses, restaurants and shops may close earlier and on additional days during the winter off-season (November to March). Otherwise, standard opening hours are as follows:

Banks 9am–6pm Monday to Friday, some 9am–1pm or later Saturday

Bars 5pm–2am daily

Business hours (general) 9am–5pm Monday to Friday

Nightclubs 10pm–4am Thursday to Saturday

Post offices 8:30am–5pm Monday to Friday, some 8:30am–noon or later Saturday

Restaurants 7:30am–10am, 11:30am–2pm and 5pm–9pm daily, some open later Friday and Saturday

Shops 10am–6pm Monday to Saturday, noon–5pm Sunday (malls open later)

Supermarkets 8am–9pm or 10pm daily, some 24 hours

Arriving in California

Los Angeles International Airport Taxis to most destinations ($30 to $50) take 30 minutes to one hour. Door-to-door shuttles ($15 to $20) operate 24 hours. FlyAway bus ($9.75) runs to Downtown LA. Free shuttles connect with LAX City Bus Center and Metro Rail station.

San Francisco International Airport Taxis into the city ($45 to $65) take 25 to 50 minutes. Door-to-door shuttles (from $17) operate 24 hours. BART trains ($8.95, 30 minutes) serve the airport, running from 5:30am (later on weekends) to midnight daily.

Getting Around

Most people drive themselves around California. You can also fly (it’s expensive) or take cheaper long-distance buses or scenic trains. In cities, when distances are too far to walk, hop aboard buses, trains, streetcars, cable cars or trolleys, or grab a taxi.

Car Metro-area traffic can be nightmarish, especially during weekday commuter rush hours (roughly 6am to 10am and 3pm to 7pm). City parking is often an expensive hassle.

Train The fastest way to get around the San Francisco Bay Area and LA, but lines don’t go everywhere. Pricier regional and long-distance Amtrak trains connect some destinations.

Bus Usually the cheapest and slowest option, but with extensive metro-area networks. Inter-city, regional and long-distance Greyhound routes are limited and more expensive.

For much more on getting around, see Transportation.

What's New

Recreational Marijuana

Two decades after legalizing medical cannabis, California followed Colorado’s lead in legalizing marijuana for recreational use, with 56% of voters approving Proposition 64 in 2016. How will this change the local economy and tourism, especially in the North Coast’s Mendocino and Humboldt Counties? Find out first hand – or through second hand smoke.


San Francisco is undergoing an arts renaissance, against the long odds of rising rents and federal funding cuts. Reopened in 2016, an expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has tripled its collections, while blockbuster museum and gallery shows elsewhere keep raising the city's artistic profile.

Expo Line extension

Los Angeles's public transportation system reached a new milestone with the opening of the Metro Rail’s Expo Line, which now offers a direct rail connection between downtown LA and Santa Monica. (

Big Sur

Heavy winter rains in 2016 and 2017 washed out several areas of California’s coastal highways, but nowhere was damaged more severely than Big Sur, cut off from the rest of the coast for more than six months. Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge is scheduled to reopen in late 2017. (


Big-name modern and contemporary art and eye-popping architecture are drawing crowds to LA's newest museum, the Broad ( mRed/Purple Lines to Civic Center/Grand Park). The $140-million wonder has free general admission.

CIA at Copia

The Culinary Institute of America's new Napa campus offers a different kind of restaurant – diners approach cooking stations where rotating chefs prepare food and answer questions – along with a lifestyle shop and countless food and wine-tasting classes and cooking demonstrations.


Internationally renowned gallery Hauser & Wirth has moved into a sprawling industrial space in Downtown LA's vibrant Arts District, one of the city's hottest destinations for contemporary art, dining and nightlife.

San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge

Although the bridge’s new eastern span opened to cars in 2013, it took a few years for the scenic Bay Bridge Path ( hhours vary) to open to pedestrians and cyclists, connecting Treasure Island with Oakland and Emeryville.

Tin City

In Paso Robles on the Central Coast, this ever-expanding precinct features craft breweries, urban wineries and innovative distilleries. Weekend afternoons often add live music and food trucks.

Highland Park

In Los Angeles, indie-cool Echo Park and Silver Lake are sharing the spotlight with Highland Park, a booming neighborhood of creative galleries, vintage stores and brand-new bars and eateries.

Santa Barbara's Funk Zone

It's just what this sometimes stuffy seaside city needed: an edgy, creative neighborhood space with art, food, craft beer and regional wines, all just a short walk from the beach.

If You Like…

Fantastic Food

New cravings have been invented at California's cultural crossroads for over 200 years, so don't hold back – get adventurous with the latest food trends, from Peking duck empanadas to vegan soul food.

Chez Panisse Chef Alice Waters revolutionized California cuisine back in the ’70s with seasonal, sustainable, locavore cooking. The tradition continues in this iconic Berkeley restaurant.

French Laundry The north star of contemporary cuisine. Thomas Keller continually takes home international awards to tiny Yountville.

LA's food trucks LA sparked the mobile foodie revolution, with chefs on wheels offering gourmet cuisine from downtown strips to Pacific beachfronts.

Ferry Building Duck inside San Francisco’s landmark to good taste, featuring local, sustainable food producers and a legendary farmers market.

Fish tacos Join surfers on the quest for the ultimate Mexicali snack, starting in San Diego with Baja Betty's and all the way up to Malibu.

Craft Beer

California’s vineyards may steal the scene, but big copper vats hidden in garages across the state are producing award-winning brews.

Lost Coast Brewery In Eureka, knock back a pint of Downtown Brown while admiring conceptual-art beer labels.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company Mendocino County’s solar-powered brewhouse lets you play disc golf while drinking a bottle of oatmeal stout.

Stone Brewing Company ( h11am-9pm Sun-Thu, to 10pm Fri & Sat) This San Diego upstart brews big, bold character into Arrogant Bastard Ale and chipotle-spiked porter.

Anchor Brewing Company San Francisco lets off steam with the help of Gold Rush steam-brewing techniques innovated by this historic brewer.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Get tours and pours of this mega-popular pale ale in Chico.

Theme Parks

SoCal is theme-park heaven, bringing Hollywood movie magic, Disneyland and roller coasters galore.

Disneyland Topping almost every family’s must-do list is Walt Disney’s ‘imagineered’ theme park, with Disney California Adventure next door.

Universal Studios Hollywood The legendary movie studio offers a studio backlot tram tour, movie-themed rides, live-action shows and slick special effects.

Legoland California Resort Creative kids love this low-key theme park with a resort hotel and endless building possibilities.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park Take a safari-style tram tour through an ‘open-range’ zoo.


Ever since Native Americans blazed the first trails through this wilderness, Californians have been hikers. Oceanside rambles, desert palm oases, skyscraping peaks and silent forests await.

Sierra Nevada Spend a lifetime trekking in national parks and alpine wilderness, or just a day summiting Mt Whitney.

North Coast Hardy backpackers tackle the Lost Coast Trail, while wanderers ramble misty old-growth redwood forests.

Marin County Tawny headlands tempt hikers across SF’s Golden Gate Bridge north to wild, windblown Point Reyes.

Palm Springs & the Deserts Discover hidden oases, stroll across salt flats and visit Native Californian canyons.

Small Towns

When California's crowded metropolises wear you out, restore your spirits at friendly locales by the beach, up in the mountains and down the road from vineyards.

Calistoga Napa Valley's blue-jeans-and-boots crowd heads to this quaint downtown for mud baths and BBQ.

Bolinas This quirky end-of-the-road beach hamlet is Marin County's best-kept secret.

Ferndale A charming Victorian-era farm town tucked away on the North Coast.

Mammoth Lakes All-seasons outdoor adventures begin at eastern Sierra's jumping-off point.

Seal Beach Discover an old-fashioned Orange County surf town, complete with period-perfect main street and wooden pier.

Ferndale, Humboldt County | DENTOK / GETTY IMAGES ©

National & State Parks

Jagged mountain peaks, high-country meadows and desert sand dunes lure you inland – and you'll be astonished by California's wild diversity, from the Nevada border ranges to wind-tossed offshore islands.

Yosemite National Park Ascend into the Sierra Nevada, where waterfalls tumble into glacier-carved valleys and wildflower meadows bloom.

Redwood National & State Parks Get lost ambling among ancient groves of the world’s tallest trees on the foggy North Coast.

Death Valley National Park Uncover secret pockets of life in this austere desert landscape, peppered with geological oddities.

Lassen Volcanic National Park Camp by northern alpine lakes and traipse around the boiling mud pots of Bumpass Hell.

Channel Islands National Park Escape civilization on SoCal’s isolated islands, nicknamed ‘California’s Galapagos.’

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park | MIMI DITCHIE PHOTOGRAPHY / GETTY IMAGES ©


Go VIP all the way at California's chic city nightclubs – or skip the velvet ropes and dress codes, and hit California's come-as-you-are watering holes.

Los Angeles DJs spin at glam Hollywood clubs, and all of LGBT LA hits the ‘WeHo’ scene.

San Francisco Become a beatnik in North Beach, mingle with Mission hipsters or party with the Castro's rainbow-flag nation.

San Diego Put on your best flip-flops for surfer bars, or your walking shows for pub crawls through the Gaslamp Quarter, downtown’s historic red-light district.

Las Vegas, Nevada The Strip’s high-wattage nightclubs are the stuff of legend – but what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles | SEAN PAVONE / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Film & TV Locations

For a century California has made audiences laugh, cry, and come back for more. To witness the magic in action, join a live studio audience or tour a movie studio in LA.

Los Angeles You can’t throw a director’s megaphone without hitting a celluloid sight, from Mulholland Drive to Malibu.

San Francisco Bay Area Relive film-noir classics like The Maltese Falcon and Hitchcock’s thrillers Vertigo and The Birds.

Lone Pine Get misty-eyed over old-fashioned Westerns filmed in the Alabama Hills over in the Eastern Sierra.

Orange County Where soap operas, 'dramedies' and reality TV series have struck pop-culture gold.

Mendocino This tiny North Coast town has starred in dozens of movies, from East of Eden to The Majestic.

Weird Stuff

SoCal’s deserts and the North Coast are magnets for free spirits, but loopy LA and bohemian SF are just as jam-packed with memorable oddities.

Venice Boardwalk Gawk at the human zoo of bodybuilders, chainsaw-jugglers and Speedo-clad snake-charmers.

Kinetic Grand Championship Outrageously whimsical, artistic and human-powered sculptures race along the North Coast.

Integratron Allegedly built with aliens’ help, this giant 'rejuvenation and time machine' awaits near Joshua Tree.

Madonna Inn Fantastically campy Central Coast hotel with 110 bizarrely themed rooms, from ‘Caveman’ to ‘Hot Pink.’

Mystery Spot Santa Cruz’s shamelessly kitschy 1940s tourist trap will turn your world upside down.

Solvang Danish-flavored village in Santa Barbara's wine country spirited out of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.

Las Vegas, Nevada Exploding faux volcanoes, a mock Eiffel Tower and an Egyptian-esque pyramid.


Who says California only has pop culture? You could spend most of your trip viewing multimillion-dollar art galleries, high-tech science exhibits, out-of-this-world planetariums and more.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) The supersized museum has more space than ever for photography, new media and walk-in installation art.

Getty Center & Getty Villa Art museums that are as beautiful as their elevated settings and ocean views in West LA and Malibu.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art More than 150,000 works of art span the ages and cross all borders.

Griffith Observatory There's no better place to see stars in Hollywood than at this hilltop planetarium.

de Young Museum A copper-skinned temple to art from around the globe in SF's Golden Gate Park.

Balboa Park Museums Spend all day in San Diego hopping between top-notch art, history and science museums, including those for kids.

Exploratorium Even adults love the zany interactive science-learning fun at this indoor/outdoor landmark on San Francisco Bay.


Native American nations, Spanish Colonial presidios (forts) and Catholic missions, Mexican pueblos (towns) and mining ghost towns have all left traces here for you to find.

Mission San Juan Capistrano Painstakingly restored jewel along California’s mission trail, stretching from San Diego to Sonoma.

Gold Country Follow in the tracks of Western pioneers and hardscrabble miners, or pan for gold yourself.

Old Town San Diego Time travel on the site of California’s first civilian Spanish Colonial pueblo.

Monterey State Historic Park Get a feel for California's Spanish, Mexican and early American days inside adobe buildings.

Bodie State Historic Park Haunting mining ghost town in the Eastern Sierra, above Mono Lake.

Manzanar National Historic Site WWII Japanese American internment camp interprets a painful chapter of the USA’s past.


It doesn’t matter where you go in California, especially along the coast: there’s a rack of haute couture, outlet-mall bargains or vintage finds begging to be stashed in your suitcase.

Los Angeles Forget Beverly Hills. Robertson Blvd has more star-worthy boutiques per block, and youthful Melrose Ave is more fashion-forward.

San Francisco Elevating thrift-store fashion to a high art, while indie boutiques spread from the Marina to the Mission.

Orange County Hit Costa Mesa’s offbeat mini-malls, or browse boutiques with beautiful people in Laguna Beach.

Palm Springs Heaven for vintage and thrift-store shoppers seeking retro 20th-century gems, with outlet shopping too.

Month by Month

Top Events

Pride Month, June

Coachella Music & Arts Festival, April

California State Fair, July

Comic-Con International, July

Rose Bowl & Parade, January


January is the wettest month in California, and a slow time for coastal travel – but this is when mountain ski resorts and Southern California deserts hit their stride.

3 Rose Bowl & Parade

The famous New Year’s parade held before the Tournament of Roses college football game draws over 700,000 spectators to the LA suburb of Pasadena with flower-festooned floats, marching bands and prancing equestrians.

z Lunar New Year

Firecrackers, parades, lion dances and Chinatown night markets usher in the lunar new year, falling in late January or early February. California's biggest and most historic parade happens in San Francisco, where tiny-tot martial artists chase a 200ft dragon.


As California sunshine breaks through the drizzle, skiers hit the slopes in T-shirts, wildflowers burst into bloom, and romantics scramble for Valentine’s Day reservations at restaurants and hotels.

3 Academy Awards

Hollywood rolls out the red carpet for movie-star entrances on Oscar night ( GOOGLE MAP ; at the Dolby Theatre in late February or early March. Fans wait patiently in bleachers and jostle paparazzi for a glimpse of the action when stretch limos arrive.


As ski season winds down the beaches warm up, just in time for spring break (exact dates vary with school schedules and the Easter holiday).

2 Mendocino Coast Whale Festivals

Mendocino, Fort Bragg and nearby towns toast the whale migration with wining and dining, art shows and naturalist-guided walks and talks over three weekends in March.

z Festival of the Swallows

After wintering in South America, the swallows return (Fiesta de las Golondrinas; hmid-Mar) to Mission San Juan Capistrano in Orange County around March 19 – and the historic mission town celebrates its Spanish and Mexican heritage all month long.


As wildflower season peaks in the high desert, the southern desert bursts into song and San Francisco twinkles with international film stars. Shoulder season in the mountains and along the coast brings lower hotel prices.

3 Coachella Music & Arts Festival

Headliners, indie rockers, rappers and cult DJs converge outside Palm Springs for a three-day musical extravaganza held over two weekends in mid-April. Book well ahead – this festival is huge.

3 San Francisco International Film Festival

The nation's oldest film festival lights up San Francisco nights with star-studded US premieres of 325 films from around the globe, held over two weeks from late April to early May.


Weather starts to heat up statewide, although some coastal areas are blanketed by ‘May gray’ fog. Memorial Day holiday weekend marks the official start of summer, and one of the year’s busiest travel times.

z Cinco de Mayo

¡Viva México! California celebrates its Mexican heritage and the victory of Mexican forces over the French army on May 5, 1862. LA and San Diego have the biggest celebrations, but you'll find margaritas, music and dancing across the state.

1 Jumping Frog Jubilee & Calaveras County Fair

Taking inspiration from Mark Twain’s famous short story, the Gold Rush pioneer town of Angels Camp fills a long weekend in mid-May with rodeo cowboys, live country-and-western music and old-fashioned family fun.

2 Bay to Breakers

On the third Sunday in May, costumed joggers, inebriated idlers and renegade streakers make the annual dash from San Francisco’s Embarcadero to Ocean Beach. Watch out for participants dressed as salmon, who run upstream from the finish line.

z Kinetic Grand Championship

Artists spend months preparing for this 'triathlon of the art world,' inventing outlandish human-powered and self-propelled sculptural contraptions to cover 42 miles from Arcata to Ferndale over three days.


Once school lets out for the summer, everyone heads to California beaches – only to shiver through San Francisco as ‘June gloom’ coastal fog descends. Mountain resorts offer cool escapes, but the deserts are just too darn hot.

z Pride Month

California celebrates LGBT pride not just for a day but for the entire month of June, with costumed parades, film fests, marches and streets parties. SF Pride sets the global parade standard, with 1.2 million people, tons of glitter and ounces of bikinis. San Diego also celebrates in mid-July.


California's campgrounds, beaches and theme parks hit peak popularity, especially on the July 4 holiday – summer’s biggest travel weekend.

1 California State Fair

A million people come to this fair ( c) to ride the giant Ferris wheel, cheer on pie-eating contests and horseback jockeys, browse the blue-ribbon agricultural and arts-and-crafts exhibits, taste California wines and craft beers, and listen to live bands. It's held in Sacramento over two weeks in late July.

3 Reggae on the River

Come party with Humboldt's finest haul of hippies, Rastafarians, tree huggers, jugglers, unicyclists and iconoclasts. Festivities last for (at least) two days in late July/early August, featuring live bands, arts and crafts, food vendors, camping and swimming.

z Festival of Arts & Pageant of the Masters

Laguna Beach is so prolifically creative, the local Festival of Arts stretches over July and August, featuring art shows and demos by 140 artists in media ranging from scrimshaw to furniture. The festival culminates with a reenactment of famous paintings by costumed actors, accompanied by an orchestra.

Comic-Con International

Affectionately known as ‘Nerd Prom,’ the nation’s biggest annual convention of comic-book fans, hardcore pop-culture collectors, and sci-fi and anime devotees brings out-of-this-world costumed madness to San Diego in late July.


School summer vacations may technically be over, but you'd never guess in California – beaches and parks are still packed. Travel slows only slightly before the Labor Day holiday weekend.

3 Outside Lands

Three days of debauchery in Golden Gate Park: Outside Lands (; 3-day pass standard/VIP $375/795) is out to reinvent the Summer of Love every August with headliner music and comedy acts plus gourmet food, beer and wine.

3 Old Spanish Days Fiesta

Santa Barbara shows off its early Spanish, Mexican and American rancho roots with parades, rodeo events, arts-and-crafts exhibits, and live music and dance shows in early August.


Summer’s last hurrah is Labor Day holiday weekend, which is busy almost everywhere in California (except hot SoCal deserts). After Labor Day, prices drop and availability goes up statewide.

1 Tall Ships Festival

In early September, the West Coast’s biggest gathering (c) of historical tall ships happens at Dana Point in Orange County, with knot-tying and scrimshaw-carving demonstrations and other kid-friendly maritime activities.

3 Monterrey Jazz Festival

Old-school jazz cats, cross-cultural sensations and fusion rebels all line up to play the West Coast's legendary jazz festival, held on the Central Coast over a long weekend in mid-September.


Summer arrives at last in Northern California, and Southern Californians take a breather after a long summer of nonstop beach-going. The mellow fall shoulder season is a prime time for sweet travel deals along the coast and in cities.

3 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Over half a million people converge for free outdoor concerts in Golden Gate Park during the first weekend in October. Headliners like Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello and Gillian Welch share seven stages with 100-plus folk, blues and jazz musicians.

6 Vineyard Festivals

All month long under sunny skies, California’s wine countries celebrate bringing in the vineyard harvest with food-and-wine events, harvest fairs, barrel tastings and grape-stomping 'crush' parties.

3 Halloween

Hundreds of thousands of revelers come out to play in LA’s West Hollywood LGBTQ neighborhood for all-day partying and live entertainment. Over-the-top scary and NSFW costumes must be seen to be believed.


Temperatures drop statewide, the first raindrops fall along the coast, and with any luck, ski season begins in the mountains. Consider this your opportunity to explore without crowds or traffic, except around the Thanksgiving holiday.

1 Dia de los Muertos

Mexican communities honor deceased relatives on November 2 with costumed parades, sugar skulls, graveyard picnics, candlelight processions and fabulous altars, including in San Francisco, LA and San Diego.

1 Death Valley '49ers

Take a trip back to California’s 19th-century gold rush during this annual encampment at Furnace Creek, with campfire sing-alongs, cowboy poetry readings, horseshoe tournaments and a Western art show in early to mid-November.


As winter rains reach coastal areas, SoCal's sunny, dry deserts become magnets for travelers. Christmas and New Year’s Eve are extremely crowded travel times, but worth it for California's palm-tree light displays and holiday cheer.

1 Parades of Lights

Deck the decks with boughs of holly: boats bedecked with holiday cheer and twinkling lights float through coastal California harbors, including Orange County’s Newport Beach and San Diego.


Los Angeles to San Francisco

1 Week

You've got one whole week to settle California's longest-running debate: which is California's better half, North or South? Try not to be distracted by the dazzling ocean views along the glorious 450-mile coastal drive stretching from the 'City of Angels' to the 'City by the Bay' – you've got highlights galore to consider.

Start in Los Angeles for Hollywood star-spotting, movie premieres and live music at legendary Sunset Strip venues. Cruise north to the idyllic beaches of Malibu, and hop a boat from Ventura to explore island wildlife at Channel Islands National Park. Arrive just in time for happy hour at sophisticated seaside Santa Barbara, conveniently located at the edge of SoCal wine country.

Follow the monarch butterfly trail to retro-1950s Pismo Beach, and plan to arrive in San Luis Obispo good and hungry for legendary local BBQ. Take coastal Hwy 1 past offbeat beach towns like Morro Bay, Cayucos and Cambria before you stop and stare at the sprawling landmark to eccentricity known as Hearst Castle.

Wind north along dizzying cliff edges through soul-stirring Big Sur, where redwood forests rise and waterfalls crash onto the beach in a rainbow shimmer. Dive into California's best aquarium in maritime Monterey, and take a bone-rattling antique roller-coaster ride over the beach boardwalk in Santa Cruz.

Hwy 1 leads you past lighthouses and strawberry farms, staggering bluffs and fishing harbors to the countercultural capital of San Francisco. Here you'll discover out-there inventions already in progress: extreme tiki cocktails and Burning Man art cars, wearable meditation technology and vegan meat that bleeds. Now that you've arrived, you may not have settled the great North/South debate – but you can definitely see both sides.


California Classics

3 Weeks

Cover the Golden State's greatest hits on this grand tour, starting with your head in the clouds in foggy San Francisco and ending up over 1400 unforgettable miles later with your toes in the warm sands of San Diego.

Jump aboard a cable car in San Francisco, take a walk on the wild side in Golden Gate Park, and hop a ferry to infamous Alcatraz prison. Plan your jailbreak in time for dinner at the Ferry Building, San Francisco's local food landmark.

Cross the Golden Gate Bridge into the rolling hills of Marin County. California’s most famous grapes grow just east in down-home Sonoma Valley and chichi Napa Valley. Detour west through more vineyards and apple orchards in rural Anderson Valley, and head through redwood forests to emerge in Mendocino, a postcard-perfect Victorian seaside town.

Swing onto Hwy 101 at Leggett, where your magical mystery tour of the Redwood Empire really begins. In Humboldt Redwoods State Park, you'll stand in the shadows of the tallest trees on earth. Kick back in the candy-colored Victorian harbor town of Eureka, or head north to hang out with artists and environmentalists in the outlandish outpost of Arcata.

Turn east on Hwy 299 for a long, scenic trip to hidden Weaverville, skirting the lake-laced Trinity Alps. Keep trucking east, then south on I-5 to Redding, where families throng Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Climb east on Hwy 44 to the otherworldly moonscapes of Lassen Volcanic National Park, at the southern tip of the Cascades Range.

Go southeast on Hwy 89 to Lake Tahoe, the Sierra Nevada's scenic outdoor playground. Roll down the Eastern Sierra’s Hwy 395, taking the back-door route via Tioga Rd (open seasonally) into Yosemite National Park. Feel your jaw drop as you watch waterfalls tumble over granite cliffs, and enjoy moments of profound silence in groves of giant sequoias, the world’s biggest trees.

Zoom south to Los Angeles to find as-seen-on-TV beaches, fleets of food trucks and colorful neighborhood characters. Walk in stars' footsteps through Hollywood, then sprawl on the sand in hip Santa Monica or quirky Venice Beach. Cruise south past the beautiful beaches of swanky Orange County to hang-loose San Diego for epic surf and serious fish tacos. Dude, you've totally got the hang of California.


LA & Orange County

5 Days

All-star attractions, bodacious beaches and fresh seafood are yours to discover on this Southern California sojourn, covering 100 miles of sun, sand and surf.

Kick things off in Los Angeles. Skate north from oddball Venice to oceanfront Santa Monica for sunset carnival rides on the pier. Cram your social feeds with selfies on the star-studded sidewalks of Hollywood, then go highbrow with art musuems in Mid-City, and the symphony hall and Grammy Museum in downtown LA.

But enough with all this LA culture: over in Anaheim, you've got a hot date with Mickey at Disneyland and wild rides at Disney California Adventure. If Disneyland Resort isn't enough adrenaline for you, hit the thrill rides over at Knott's Berry Farm, and recuperate afterwards in nostalgic Old Towne Orange.

Cruise west to 'Surf City USA': Huntington Beach, where you can rent a board, join beach volleyball games and make s'mores over a beach bonfire. Swing by Newport Beach for sunset strolls and people-watching by the piers, then roll south to the upscale artists' colony of Laguna Beach. Slingshot back toward the I-5, and see what SoCal looked like before achieving international stardom at historic Mission San Juan Capistrano.


SoCal Deserts

10 Days

You might think you've arrived on another planet, with giant sand dunes, palm-tree oases, volcanic craters, and rainbow cinder cones – but you're just a few hours from LA. Go get lost – and find yourself – on this 800-mile desert drive.

Start in glam Palm Springs, where stars from Elvis to Leonardo DiCaprio hole up in sleek mid-Century Modern hideaways. Sip mojitos poolside, hike to palm-studded canyons and ride a tram into cool pine-scented mountains.

Drive past the Coachella Valley's date farms and along the shores of the mirage-like Salton Sea, turning west into wild Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to see bighorn sheep and wind-sculpted caves.

Boomerang north to Joshua Tree National Park, with its precariously balanced boulders and iconic namesake trees. Keep motoring north into the Mojave National Preserve, where you can hear sand dunes sing with the wind and wander the world’s largest Joshua-tree forest.

Ready for a change of pace? Las Vegas, baby. Quit while you're ahead at the Strip’s casinos, and take the money and run to Death Valley National Park. These crackled salt flats and marbled canyons make Mars seem overrated – California is totally out of this world.


Sierra Nevada Ramble

10 Days

Nothing can prepare our tiny human minds for the monumental mountain scenery of the Sierra Nevada, with acres of wildflower meadows, gleaming alpine lakes and sun-catching peaks John Muir called the 'Range of Light.' Take this 850-mile trip in summer, when all roads are open to exploration.

To gaze up at the world’s biggest trees and down at a gorge deeper than the Grand Canyon, start in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Go west, then north to Yosemite National Park, where thunderous waterfalls and eroded granite monoliths overhang a verdant valley.

Soar over the Sierra Nevada’s snowy rooftop on Yosemite's high-elevation Tioga Rd (open seasonally). It’s a quick trip south on Hwy 395 to Mammoth Lakes, an all-seasons adventure base camp, and 100 more miles to Lone Pine, in the shadow of mighty Mt Whitney.

Backtracking north, gaze out over Mono Lake and its odd-looking tufa formations, which you can paddle past in a kayak. Head to Lake Tahoe, a deep-blue jewel framed by jutting peaks with hiking trails and ski-resort slopes. Roll across the Nevada state line for casino nightlife in Reno, and return to Tahoe for restorative hot springs.


North Coast & Mountains

2 Weeks

Follow the ruggedly handsome coastline north of San Francisco, where Hwy 1 skirts rocky shores, secluded coves and wind-sculpted beaches, before joining Hwy 101. Loop back via the majestic Northern Mountains for a memorable 800-mile journey.

Across the Golden Gate Bridge, hike over the Marin Headlands or around Mt Tamalpais. Locals keep hiding the road signs to Bolinas, but you'll find this eccentric cove north of Stinson Beach. Head up to blustery and poetic Point Reyes National Seashore, and, passing Bodega Bay, picnic at stunning Sonoma Coast State Beach or Salt Point State Park. Next, climb to the tip of Point Arena Lighthouse, step through pot-scented mists into enchanted Mendocino and ride the Skunk Train at Fort Bragg.

Hwy 1 curves inland to Hwy 101, running north into hippie Humboldt County. Hug ancient redwood trees on the Avenue of the Giants or wander

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