A Tale of Two Californias
This year I had the privilege to visit Yosemite twice during peak season. The famous national park gets five million annual visitors, so I knew traffic would be terribly congested on my trip for Memorial Day weekend. I schooled myself to practice patience and look forward to relaxing at my campsite when the ordeal was over, and it worked. Once I’d parked the car and unloaded, I was set for a relaxing weekend of campfires, hikes in the valley, a climb up the Mist Trail to spectacular Vernal Fall. I didn’t think about traffic again.
Later that summer, my 19-year-old daughter and I took a backpacking trip in the Yosemite backcountry. We hadn’t planned much in advance, and when it was time to book a permit we were out of luck. Our only hope was to show up at the park entrance and see what we could do. Well, we didn’t get our first choice for a hike, but we got one that turned out to be better, with fewer hikers, and our three-day jaunt from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley became an epic experience for us. We even got to climb Half Dome, a dream for us, getting two of the 75 coveted daily permits that are reserved for wilderness backpackers.
The view of the valley from the top of Half Dome is one of America’s grandest spectacles. But what equally touched me was when we were descending the Mist Trail and joined the conga line of day tourists and valley campers. Many were unfit and wearing inappropriate clothes for hiking, but everyone was smiling. They were having the time of their lives.
This made me think about the two Californias. One is crowded—popular beaches and cities and restaurants and parks. The other is uncrowded—hidden beaches, small towns, roadside markets, unknown holes in the wall that serve exquisite meals. Often, as in the case of Yosemite, these two Californias are right next to each other, and it’s easy to indulge in one and then the other without missing a beat.
In truth, there are many Californias, from San Diego’s beaches to the crest of Mount Shasta, Los Angeles’ entertainment glitz to San Francisco’s famous bridges. You can surf, kayak, wine-taste or relax in a restful spa, catch worldclass opera, symphony, jazz or theater.
In these pages we help you prepare, with profiles of the state’s main tourism regions, essays on history, cuisine, museums, theme parks and many other topics, plus resource pages with information on visitors bureaus, driving distances, California Welcome Centers and more.
As you make your plans for a trip to the Golden State, it’ll be up to you to decide which of the many Californias you’ll experience. Whether you decide on one, two or several, you really can’t go wrong. Because sometimes even spontaneous planning can lead to an experience you’ll never forget.