The unique diversity of the ‘Golden State’ is exemplified by the stark contrast of the stunning scenery in National Parks.
A journey through California will reveal why a holiday spent in the ‘Golden State’ will present you with a multitude of experiences. Located in the historic Gold Country of the Sierra Nevada, El Dorado County was the site of the gold discovery at Sutter Mill that led to the 1849 California Gold Rush. Within San Benito County’s coastal mountains, the historic town of San Juan Bautista is home to a splendidly preserved Mission founded by the Franciscan monks. Mammoth Lakes is a popular tourist spot and it is where, thousands of years ago, a volcanic explosion left a network of hot springs, several of which can be safely bathed in today. Back to the coast and about mid-way between San Francisco and Los Angeles is Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Preserve where, depending on the time of year, up to 15,000 of the world’s largest species of seal can be seen resting on the beach.
Probably the most famous of California’s beaches is Malibu, just west of Los Angeles and home to many celebrities. There are, however, many less familiar but arguably more attractive coastal spots, such as Pismo Beach, 3 hours’ drive north of Los Angeles, where you will often see people and sea otters hunting for clams, and where Dinosaur Caves Park is worth a visit. Point Lobos is located just off Carmel-by-the-Sea, with ocean-hugging trails which are ideal for hiking, as well as a handful of peaceful and unspoilt beaches. Tucked away along the Mendocino Coast, 3 hours north of San Francisco, Fort Bragg is a one-time army garrison, boasting a breathtaking coastline with a mild, year-round climate.
Lake Tahoe is the USA’s second deepest lake, its shimmering waters, beaches and surrounding mountains, a year-round lure for holidaymakers. Staying near the Nevada border, Death Valley is the lowest point in the US, a land of extremes, its towering peaks frosted with snow, its rare rainstorms feeding vast fields of wild flowers, and its searing summer heat dictating visitors should always carry plenty of water. Just north of San Francisco, the groves of the famous Northern California redwoods are the setting for the forest of 1,000-year old trees standing 260 feet tall. Also worth a visit is the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, located in the White Mountains and where the trees grow up to 11,000 feet above sea level.
A 2-hour drive north of San Francisco, the Napa Valley is only 30 miles long yet accommodates 400 wineries, many offering tours and tastings of California’s finest wines. You can tour by coach, self-drive or even cycle through the oleander, hydrangeas, roses and lavender of the valley, but the most indulgent means of exploring the region is aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train. The 36-mile round-trip journey to St. Helena gently chugs through the beautiful landscape, stopping at celebrated wineries, the train’s luxury vintage setting then hosting you for an exquisite four-course meal, perhaps accompanied by a bottle of sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel.
Designed for newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, the bungalow he originally envisioned morphed into a sprawling estate of expansive gardens and three magnificent houses – the main Casa del Mar and two guest houses, Casa del Monte and Casa del Sol. Nestled in the hills above the coastal town of San Simeon and facing the awe-inspiring Pacific Ocean, Hearst Castle opens its doors to allow visitors to admire the different architectural influences and sheer grandeur of the buildings. The estate also features a majestic outdoor pool designed in the style of a Roman temple, as well as the castle towers fashioned after a church Hearst visited in Spain.
A 3-hour drive from Las Vegas, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, Calico was born in 1881 after the discovery of many valuable minerals became one of the West’s richest silver strikes, giving rise to some 500 mines in the area. When the ore began to run out in the mid-1890’s, the population moved on and 10 years later, the town was deserted. Today, Calico’s popularity is in those memories, where visitors can view the surviving original and restored buildings, the quirky Mystery Shack and the Lane House Museum, try their skill at panning for gold, explore part of an actual mine, step inside an old jail and take a ride on a scenic railway.