There may be no California landscape more iconic than Yosemite Valley, with its soaring granite cliffs and waterfalls cascading more than 2000 feet to the forests and meadows on the valley floor. Yosemite was first protected in 1864 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, and it became a national park including the surrounding forests in 1890 thanks to the tireless efforts of John Muir and others. More than five million people visit each year. is large in every sense of the word. It’s the most populous state in the U.S. and the third largest in terms of geographical size. Its economy ranks sixth in the entire world. When it comes to visitor attractions, California presents travelers with as wide a range of riches as many countries. Whether you’re passionate about natural activities, cultural pursuits or dining and wining, the Golden State has diverse delights to entice you.
If you’re a nature lover and active adventurer, you’ll be dazzled by the state’s spectacular spectrum. On the western edge there’s the Pacific Ocean, the largest body of water in the world, perfect for surfing, sailing and swimming. In the east there are the magnificent mountains of the Sierra Nevada, a haven for skiers and snowboarders in winter and hikers and bicyclists in summer. This region is home to Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the “Lower 48” and a mecca for climbers, topping off at 14,505 feet. Among California’s most moving experiences are walking through the natural cathedral
of Muir Woods and camping in the granite grandeur of Yosemite National Park.
For boaters, birders and fishermen, there’s Lake Shasta, home to an abundance of fish and fowl. For whitewater fans, more than a dozen rivers, including the mighty American and Sacramento, provide thrilling rides. Kayakers and canoers find paradise in Point Reyes National Seashore in the north and watery wonders at Morro Bay on the central coast.
In the southern part of the state, visitors savor the sere splendors of the Mojave Desert and Death Valley, the lowest point in North America, 282 feet below sea level. If tide pooling tempts you, Shaw’s Cove tide pools in the Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve and the Terranea tide pools in the Point Vicente State Marine Conservation Area in Rancho Palos Verdes showcase sea anemones, crabs, urchins, sea slugs, sea stars and more. The five islands of Channel Islands National Park, accessible only by boat or plane from Ventura and Oxnard, provide a peaceful, pristine home for more than 2,000 plant and animal species, including 145 found nowhere else on the planet.
If you love culture, you’ll find a treasure trove of activities in the Golden State, from museum and art gallery exhibitions to shops showcasing contemporary handicrafts and timeworn antiques, and from performances of theater, dance and music to displays at aquariums and hands-on education centers.
For music, the world-class concert halls of Los Angeles and San Francisco are wellknown, but equally appealing are smaller sites such as the Redlands Bowl in the Inland Empire city of Redlands, where an elegant amphitheater spotlights California’s oldest free concert series, presenting everything from classical music to bluegrass bands each summer, or the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall on the California State University Sonoma campus, where warm-weather concert-goers can spread a blanket on the terraced lawn for an alfresco music fest.
A lively variety of performances, including ballet, theater, variety shows, comedy and even onstage conversations, are presented at Oakland’s ornately Art Deco Paramount Theater. Another multi-faceted venue lovingly restored to its former glory is Fresno’s Warnors Center for the Performing Arts, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and distinguished by a pipe organ that replicates the sound of a full orchestra.
From the Siskiyou County Museum in Yreka to the San Diego Museum of Art, museums and galleries celebrating history, human endeavor and artistic heritage abound throughout the state. Creative exploring will yield access to small-scale museums that specialize in everything from comics and cable cars to surfing and sewing. Other outstanding educational institutions that focus on interactive experiences include the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the California Academy of Sciences and the Exploratorium.
For food aficionados, California is a wonderland of tastes, textures and innovative culinary creations. One of the most delightful and enlightening experiences is visiting a farmers market, where freshfrom-the-farm produce will be on delicious display and fresh-from-the-field farmers will be happy to offer samples and stories. Farmers markets can now be found throughout the state. As a further outgrowth of the popularity of these markets, more and more farms are now offering visitors the opportunity to pay to pick their own strawberries, peaches or plums and savor the sweetness of just-plucked fruit. Some farms even offer travelers the chance to stay and work, which reveals from the inside the rites and rhythms of modern farm life.
California is the birthplace of California Cuisine, of course, a culinary revolution spearheaded by Berkeley’s Alice Waters— whose Chez Panisse is still serving extraordinary food 47 years after it opened. That revolution has spawned numerous other channels of creative culinary freshness and fusion, blending Asian, European and Latin American ingredients and traditions, which are showcased throughout the state. As Alice Waters and her followers focused attention on local purveyors, food-related opportunities for travelers expanded. One result today is the California Cheese Trail, an interactive website (cheesetrail.org) that features artisanal cheese makers throughout the state, as well as the Sonoma Marin Cheese Trail map that highlights cheese makers from Point Reyes and Valley Ford to Santa Rosa and Sonoma.
Wine trails have long drawn travelers to California, but these have expanded as well in recent years. In addition to worldrenowned regions such as Napa and Sonoma, up-and-coming areas that offer their own winery routes include Livermore, Paso Robles, Madera and Temecula.
Whatever interest has drawn you to California, you’ll find almost infinite reasons to be seduced and stay.