California’s diversity makes it one of the most popular destinations in the US. From vibrant, contemporary cities to incredible natural landscapes, it's a place of adventure and excitement underneath warm sunny skies. National parks range from misty redwood forests in the north to sweeping deserts in the south while the viticulture of Napa Valley sets the tone for a state obsessed with fine food and drink. Whether you're seeking adventure or simply a good time, the Golden State has it all.
California's cities vary wildly in infrastructure and in feel. At the southern tip, San Diego boasts a vibrant downtown area, including the bustling Little Italy, home to outdoor cafes and authentic mediterranean restaurants. Its broad beaches are some of the best in the world, with white sand, rocky coastal formations and the sparkling Pacific Ocean on the doorstep. To the north, San Francisco's iconic Golden Gate Bridge is the gateway to a hip, bohemian metropolis, characterised by Victorian-era buildings, quaint tramcars and the lively Fisherman's Wharf. In contrast, Los Angeles is the epitome of modern cool, home to the famous Rodeo Drive, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and Santa Monica, a place of carnival-esque amusements and contemporary art and culture.
There's no better way to explore California than on an adventurous self-drive. The world-famous Route 66 finishes in Santa Monica, after winding its way from Illinois through the southern states, so if you're headed out to rediscover the open road, you'll cross the finish line here. Arguably more spectacular however is the Pacific Coast Highway, which is a true bucket list road-trip along California's longest state route. You'll see everything from the sandy beaches of Monterey Bay and the cliffside at Half Moon Bay to the rugged surf coast at Big Sur. Indeed, this twisting, cliff-hugging 100-mile route of sea, mountains and rocky coves was once described by novelist Robert Louis Stevenson as ‘the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world’.
Bixby Bridge, Pacific Coast Highway
Because of California's unique topography, its national parks range from dense forest wilderness to vast expanses of desert. Yosemite National Park, sculpted by glaciers and criss-crossed by 800 miles of hiking trails, is like nowhere else on earth. Towering granite walls provide some of the USA's best rock-climbing - as featured in the heart-stopping docu-movie Free Solo - while at ground level bears, coyote and deer roam freely through the park's forest and meadow areas. Also well worth a visit is the Redwood National Park, home to the world's tallest living tree, Hyperion, standing proudly at 115.7m. In stark contrast, Death Valley National Park in southern California seems almost alien, where huge sand dunes and deep canyons bake under a sweltering hot sun.
Death Valley National Park
Food & Wine
Napa is firmly placed among the world's favourite wine regions, where a Mediterranean-esque climate offers the perfect environment to cultivate the finest grapes. Neighbouring Sonoma is a larger – and some say more laid-back – version, where wild, beach-lined roads lead to sweeping valleys home to wineries guaranteed to delight even the most seasoned oenophile. And, throughout inland California you’ll find rolling farmlands, which produce around 80% of the fresh produce America consumes. It's the reason why so many world-class restaurants can be found throughout the state, and it's the perfect excuse to pack a picnic and some local wine and head out to explore.