California: Hidden gems of the Golden state
It’s the home of Hollywood glitz and glamour but California’s authentic attractions are lining up to surprise your clients, says Jessica Pook. Here’s some that deserve their place on any West Coast itinerary
Fort Bragg’s glass beach
Venture three hours north of San Francisco to where the pounding waves of the Pacific collide with the coastline of Fort Bragg, leaving in its wake a glittering glass beach. This rainbow shore shouldn’t really be there: it’s the result of discarded glass, once dumped into the ocean but now washed back having been polished by Mother Nature. The beach is best seen glistening in the sunshine from the cliffs above. There’s also a Sea Glass Museum to explore, operated by retired sea captain Cass Forrington. fortbragg.com
Walk amongst giants
Visit the largest living things on earth – sequoia trees (or giant redwoods) – in Yosemite National Park, the only place in the world where these majestic trees grow natively. There are three sequoia groves within the park: the larger Mariposa Grove, Tuolumne Grove and Merced Grove. Tuolume Grove is a less-visited trail and houses trees that are almost 3,000 years old. The hike consists of a fourkilometre round-trip and offers the chance to walk through the ‘tunnel tree’. Open from June to October, the changing colours in Autumn is a ‘must see’. nps.gov
Wine tasting in Sacramento
Although surrounded by over 200 vineyards, Sacramento is often overshadowed by the more popular Napa or Sonoma on California’s wine trail – but being under the radar has its advantages. Many of these vineyards offer tastings for free or for a minimal fee and visitors get intimate access to the wine-making process and can often speak to the winemakers in person. The Old Sugar Mill offers local wines in 15 tasting rooms, and after your clients can learn all about the district’s Gold Rush history in The Old Town. cityofsacramento.org
Trendy North Park
San Diego has 17 distinct neighborhoods to explore. Venture away from the crowds of the Gaslamp Quarter or Carlsbad to trendy North Park. It’s a hit with millennials who Instagram their day from brunch spots like the Smoking Goat and Coin Op, which offer calorific fare such as duckfat truffle fries and deep-fried Oreos. Then there’s craft beer pubs, farmers markets and boutique shops. An even more lively scene awaits at the Observatory North Park, San Diego’s newest venue – actually a restored Art Deco theatre that hosts live music, theatre and comedy seven days a week. sandiego.org
Greater Palm Springs is made up of nine cities and its appeal stretches from outdoor pursuits such as hiking, biking and horse-riding to the glitz of the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, where celebs gather for a weekend of posh partying.
But there’s star spotting of a different kind just an hour away that really does require a sleepless night. Joshua Tree National Park has been designated as a International Dark Sky Park, which means it possesses ‘exceptional quality starry nights’ and a ‘nocturnal environment that is specifically protected’.
Visitors can camp under some of the darkest nights in Southern California for a glimpse of the Milky Way, or join a ranger-led night sky programme for an expert guided tour of the constellations. There’s a Night Sky Festival each November which features an astrophotography workshop, plus morning and night astronomy sessions. nps.gov/jotr
Let off some steam
Founded in 1902, Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s oldest state park and features 80 miles of hiking trails, thousand-year-old redwoods and spectacular waterfalls.
One of the most scenic ways to see the area is aboard an open-air Roaring Camp Railroads steam engine as it clacks its way around an elevated track through the forest. The 19th century train winds to the summit of Bear Mountain while the conductor narrates the history of Roaring Camp, the railroad and the forest.
Children can also try their hand at gold panning or wander the Old West-style grounds at the part-theme park, partmuseum.roaringcamp.com
“Tuolume Grove is a lessvisited trail and houses trees that are almost 3,000 years old!”
Spend the night in a wagon
For those looking for a unique experience in Yosemite National Park, a night spent glamping in an Old West-style Conestoga Wagon is a great way to get back to nature without giving up home comforts. The airconditioned and heated wagons sleep up to six people and start from $139 a night. yosemitepinesrv.com
Visit Capitola Village
Founded over 135 years ago, Capitola Village in Santa Cruiz is the Pacific coast’s oldest seaside resort. Wonder the brightlycoloured bayfront promenade, enjoy a day on the beach, duck into the shops and restaurants or visit Bargetto Winery, the longest continually operating winery in the country. visitsantacruz.org
“Visitors can camp under some of the darkest nights in Southern California for a glimpse of the Milky Way”
Be the fire master
Feel like you’ve stepped onto the set of Californian teen drama The O.C. by spending an evening sat around a fire pit in Huntington Beach. This laid-back surf town is one of the few places in California where visitors can build their own fire and enjoy that outdoor beach lifestyle well into the evening. There are 500-plus concrete pits and the fire rings are available free on a first-come-first served basis. They’re allowed to blaze on until 21.30, providing a romantic sunset-watching opportunity at a low price! Throw a couple of gooey s’mores and a beer into the mix and you have a classic SoCal date. surfcityusa.com
Pier 39 to Oakland
Most famous for its sunbathing sea lions basking on K-Dock, Pier 39 is a must when in San Francisco. But once you’ve exhausted the abundant dining, shopping and street entertainment, take the opportunity to hop on a ferry from Pier 41 to Oakland.
This city used to live in San Fran’s shadow but now probably trumps the Bay City in terms of its diverse food scene, with many of its restaurants topping ‘best of’ lists nationwide. Close by, Lake Merrit provides an urban oasis with boats available for hire. Redwood Regional Park is also just a few miles from busy downtown Oakland, transporting you to a canopy of towering giants. visitoakland.com
Get thrifty in Cat City
Located between Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City (or ‘Cat City’) offers pretty parks, boutique shopping and a number of golf courses with spectacular views.
Those with a love for vintage can indulge in the mix of thrift shops and antique boutiques along Highway 111, while for a fun selection of vintage clothing, home decor and quirky keepsakes recommend retro-inspired Wonderama on Date Palm Drive. If the kids get bored, a detour to the Fountain of Life in Town Square, which doubles as a ‘sprayground’, will help.
Each November, Cathedral City plays host to an annual hot air balloon festival. This event sees the sky fill with colourful dots as hundreds of balloons take flight.
Admire it from below or take in the views of the surrounding desert from your very own basket. There’s also a plethora of street food to sample on and live musical acts performing over the course of the three-day event. cathedralcity.co.uk
“Huntington Beach is one of the few places in California where visitors can still build their own fire”
Little Corona del Mar
Explore the rock formations at Little Corona del Mar, a secluded beach in Orange County with tidal pools and a rocky coastline that’s great for crab spotting. The archway makes for a unique sunset spot and daredevils can be seen cliff diving from the jagged edges. visitnewportbeach.com
A stunning body of water surrounded by dense forest, Pinecrest Lake, near Sonora, is the perfect place to while away a day. Water activities include sailing, swimming and kayaking, while on land there are hiking and horse riding routes to explore. The lake is located just off Highway 108. pinecrestlakeca.com
“Those with a love for vintage can indulge in the thrift shops along Highway 111”