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A California travel guide – ski, surf, beaches and mountains in the Golden State

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Get behind the wheel and cruise from glamorous LA to laid-back San Francisco with the sparkling Pacific coastline at your shoulder. Or spend a California vacation exploring dramatic deserts and ancient forests.

Get your bearings

California stretches lazily along the Pacific Ocean. Plan carefully and don’t expect to see all of this huge state in one trip. You might start in the south with the beaches of San Diego and travel north through Orange County to the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles. East of LA are Palm Springs and the deserts. Heading north from LA on Highway 101 brings you to chic Santa Barbara and the soaring Big Sur coast beyond. Vivacious San Francisco is the next big stop to the north. Inland to the east is the majestic Yosemite National Park and the High Sierra mountains. Continue northward for the state capital Sacramento, Gold Country, the North Coast and Mount Shasta.

Exploring the coast

With over 1,000 miles of beaches and 118 beach towns to visit, you can spend a lifetime exploring the expansive California coast. The best way to enjoy the coast is to rent a car and travel along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. Find yourself tanning on the white sands of Coronado Island in San Diego, staring awestruck over the cliffs along forested Big Sur or watching surf dudes waiting for that killer wave in the lively college town of Santa Cruz.

Wining and dining

A vacation in California isn't complete without sampling some local pinot noir and enjoying the fresh fare grown in the Central Valley. Although Napa Valley may be the best-known wine region, smaller pockets of vintners in Sonoma and Santa Barbara offer a more intimate experience. And cosmopolitan LA offers a world of global cuisines – head to Chinatown for spicy dim sum or follow the hipsters deep into East LA to try California’s latest obsession – the burrito truck. 

 

Outdoor activities

Thrill-seekers, swimmers, skiers, bikers or casual walkers can all find a mountain or lake to enjoy some fun under the sun. With dozens of national and state parks to choose from, active visitors can climb Half Dome in Yosemite, backpack in Mount Lassen, go whitewater rafting on the Sacramento River or ski some fresh powder in Mammoth. 

After the sun sets

California cities come alive when the stars come out. Angelenos love an evening at the cinema – be it red-carpet premieres at Mann’s Chinese Theatre or black- and-white classics projected on the mausoleum walls at the Hollywood Forever cemetery. Up the coast in San Francisco music rules the roost. Chill out to cool jazz in North Beach or catch the best new rock bands against the legendary back-drop of the Fillmore Auditorium, where California stars like the Doors and Jefferson Airplane first made their name. 

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