Travel Guide to California


California Dreaming

The Golden State is both a special place and a special state of mind

By Don George


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. Some three and a half to four million people visit each year.

The seductive state of California casts a spell on many, and everyone who visits runs the risk of falling in love and never returning home—or rather, making California their new home. Why is that? In part because in a matter of a few days you can attend the world premiere of a play, explore wineries in some of the world’s finest wine regions, beachcomb by the ocean, ski in the mountains and immerse yourself in an open-mindedness and openhearted celebration of life that are simply part of the state’s cultural fabric.

Cosmopolitan and Compassionate

Two qualities that stand out in California are the cosmopolitan quality of everyday life and the extraordinary compassion of the people. There is a mind-stretching mix of cultures here—the sidewalk cafés of Europe, the exotic eateries of Asia, concerts and exhibitions showcasing arts from around the world, and people who have ventured to the far corners of the globe and understand its larger lure. At the same time, nurtured by this worldliness, a commen-surate compassion thrives. Californians want to learn about the planet’s diverse cultures and creations, near and far, and they care about issues from education to equality to environmental stewardship. 

Call of the Wild

The state also offers an extraordinary diversity of wild places and experiences. Within a morning’s drive, most Californians can be at the ocean’s edge, in the middle of a redwood forest, at the foot of a  granite peak or in the stark splendor of a desert. For one of the world’s most dramatic four-day camping trips, try hiking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Spend the first night on the valley floor. On day two, hike up halfway and pitch your tent in Little Yosemite Valley. Grunt your way to the awe-inducing peak and back to your campsite on the third day, and then descend to your car on the fourth. Cooking under the stars in the pine-scented night and falling asleep to the lullaby of the rushing Merced River will make memories you’ll never forget. North to south, east to west, California offers a lifetime’s worth of such experiences, from Mount Shasta to the Channel Islands and Anza-Borrego State Park, Death Valley to Big Sur. It’s a natural wonder.

Activities and Exhilarations

If you want to actively explore these wonders, there’s hiking, biking, sailing, skiing, surfing—just about every activity known to woman or man. And the range of indoor activities is equally exciting, from contemporary art grazing to vintage wine sipping, world-class museum and gallery exhibitions to renowned author readings to cutting-edge performances of dance, music and theater. Some of the greatest amusement and theme parks in the world entertain kids of all ages here, including Disneyland, Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Six Flags, and their intellectual counterparts such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences and Exploratorium. There’s an activity for every interest in this abundant state.

Culture and Cuisine

With a wide variety of immigrants from all over the world, California embraces and embodies multiculturalism. You can immerse yourself in national traditions of all kinds, such as Japanese through the tea ceremonies and festival dances in San Francisco’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival,  Mexican through Cinco de Mayo celebrations, the Chinese New Year, the Sikh Festival in Yuba City, Solvang’s Danish Days, the Calaveras Celtic Faire and Concert in Angel’s Camp and many others. You’ll also find globe-girdling pockets of Asian, African, European and South American communities throughout the state, where even shopping in the local market gives the taste of a rich multicultural stew.

And speaking of stew, the California kitchen is a glorious global melting pot. In addition to California Cuisine, which features a celebration of local, seasonal produce in inventive combinations, eating out in California offers tasty lessons in global traditions, with restaurants serving the cuisines of dozens of countries, from old favorites such as France, Italy and China, to relatively new favorites such as India, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam, to rising stars like Peru.

With so much to love, how can you not fall under the spell of California? Whether you arrive planning to spend a week or a month, you’ll find an inexhaustible treasure trove of riches awaiting. So be prepared. You may just decide you need a lifetime to enjoy them all.



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