California’s seashores and mountain summits provide inspiration to get outdoors and play
SURFING AT HUNTINGTON BEACH
A.K.A. Surf City USA, Huntington Beach draws surfers of all ages, above, into the water. The town in Orange County is known for its prominent pier that dates to 1904, its 9.5-mile long beach and beach culture. The California ideal of sun, surf and sand has been popularized in decades of film and TV shows, from Beach Blanket Bingo to Baywatch. But visitors to California in the summer can discover even more of the state’s natural beauty heading inland to majestic national parks.
Take a walk to the pier in Manhattan Beach in Southern California on any given day and you’ll see surfers whipping around the waves, volleyball players diving in the sand, and bikers and skateboarders rolling along the Strand. Drive the hills near San Francisco on a sunny weekend afternoon, and in a matter of minutes you’ll pass pelotons of road bikers, and hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers launching onto trailheads. In the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, fleets of sailboats ride ocean breezes, while the wind powers kiteboarders and windsurfers into acrobatics as mellow joggers and their dogs enjoy the spectacle from shoreline pathways. North and south, young and old, Californians love their sports, and the state provides limitless opportunities to ply your favorite or try a new one.
California has some of the world’s best golf, including the legendary seaside Pebble Beach Golf Links, home of Bill Murray’s favorite annual event, the AT&T National Pro-am tournament. Or try any one of the hundreds of public and private clubs scattered across the state. If you aren’t into the clubs, grab a frisbee and try some disc golf at one of the more than 200 California courses.
Mountain and road biking are great ways to get a workout while experiencing the state’s landscape, whether it be from tricky single-track downhill trails around Lake Tahoe, flatter cross-country trips or perhaps an urban ride using San Francisco’s Bike Share program. Skateboarding is practically the state sport, with skateparks seen everywhere from the sport’s birthplace at Venice Beach to the smallest inland town.
For a different sort of ride, make like native son John Wayne and saddle up for some horseback riding on trails near cities, around dude ranches or on multi-day wilderness journeys. If desert sands don’t appeal to you, try those on the beaches of Southern California that are lined with volleyball nets for pickup games and professional tournaments. California sunshine is also good for yearround tennis, be it on public courts or at a posh resort. And the fitness-crazy culture of California provides plenty of opportunities to join outdoor workout “bootcamps” and yoga sessions in city parks.
California has more than 840 miles of coastline along the Pacific Ocean, a prime launching spot for every manner of water sport, including surfing, sailing, SCUBA and
sea kayaking. California has fully embraced stand-up paddle boarding, with many rental shops bordering lakes and the ocean. Catalina Island and the kelp forests of Monterey Bay are popular diving spots, but be sure to wear a wetsuit in the chilly Pacific waters. Surf breaks range from 50-foot monster waves in Half Moon Bay to more gentle rollers around Manhattan Beach. Marinas dot the coast from north to south, where experienced sailors can rent power yachts for deep-sea fishing or sailboats to ride the winds.
Moving inland, gentle streams and scattered lakes provide fertile sport-fishing grounds, while melting mountain snow can create raging rapids for kayaking and rafting enthusiasts, but those looking for a gentle river float on an inner tube with a beer cooler can still find their spots. Boating is popular with waterskiers and wakeboarders across the Sacramento Delta and at a huge number of marinas on lakes and reservoirs throughout the state.
The Great Outdoors
California boasts 32 national parks, seashores and monuments, 280 state parks and a plethora of wilderness areas, nature preserves and other outdoor playgrounds. With landscapes ranging from the sheer cliffs of Yosemite to the searing deserts of Death Valley and the scenic shorelines of the Channel Islands, California offers a lifetime of outdoor opportunities for the visitor. Exploration options range from multi-day backpacking trips for the hardy in remote areas such as the Marble Mountains Wilderness to relaxed, hour-long walking tours through the gentle winding paths of Muir Woods, easily accessible from nearby San Francisco.
A trip to the bubbling volcanic pools at Lassen Volcanic National Park or to the Dr. Seuss-like trees of Joshua Tree can make visitors feel they’re on another planet, while sunset in Yosemite Valley with views of towering waterfalls can make it seem like you’re in heaven.
California’s many mountains mean climbing is a popular activity, be it a hike up 14,505-foot Mount Whitney (the highest point in the continental U.S.) or technical rock climbing routes from the easy to the extreme in legendary areas such as Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Pinnacles national parks.
California’s state flag features a bear, and you may see some among the wildlife during your outdoor journeys. Black bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes and coyotes put the “wild” in California wildlife, but careful visitors should have no problem with them. Abundant migratory and native birdlife makes California a prime birding destination, while at sea, whale watching is a perennial tourist favorite. Even without an organized tour, visitors can walk to view sea lions on San Francisco and Santa Cruz piers, and observe sea otters playing in the surf at Monterey.
SAILING in the Santa Barbara Channel off the Ventura coast, right; snorkeling at Van Damme State Park, Mendocino County, center; mountain biking at Lake Tahoe, bottom.
YOGA AT BACARA BLUFF, Santa Barbara, above; the final stretch of the climb of Half Dome at Yosemite National Park, right.