TRAVEL || NORTH AMERICA > UNITED STATES > CALIFORNIA
Larger than many countries, California has the most diverse range of climates and terrains in the country. With the largest state population, the state houses six sprawling urban areas of over 1.6 million people each: Los Angeles-Orange County, San Francisco-Oakland, San Diego, Riverside-San Bernadino, Sacramento, and San Jose.
California Regions + Counties
♦ North Coast
♦ Wine Country
♦ San Francisco Bay Area
♦ The Central Coast
♦ Central Valley
♦ NW Sierra / Gold Country
♦ SE Sierra / Great Basin
♦ Los Angeles / Orange County
♦ San Diego
♦ Inland Empire + Deserts
Sand and Surf
The Pacific coastline of California stretches for 840 miles, with climates ranging from cool temperate to subtropical. Its long-spanning shoreline varies between sandy beaches, natural bays, and rugged cliffs, which attract a variety of marine life and birds, as well as beach lovers and surfers.
Up the coastline from the south are notable beach communities, each with an artistic, laidback vibe: Coronado in San Diego, Redondo Beach (South Bay) and Santa Monica in LA, Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo, Capitola near Santa Cruz, Bodega Bay in Marin.
Find abundant sea life at Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Aquarium of the Bay on Pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf of San Francisco. Drive up the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) to capture spectacular views at the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Big Sur, 17-Mile Drive of Pebble Beach next to Carmel, Hawk Hill at Marin Headlands, and Mendocino.
The Sacramento River flows south from Lake Shasta and the San Joaquin River runs north from headwaters high in the Sierras. Both are the largest valley tributaries to flow through a large inland depression of terrain spanning the center of the state, around 450 miles long and up to 60 miles wide. This flat Central Valley is abundant with agriculture, one of the most productive valleys in the world, growing half of all US-grown produce and nuts.
The California capital city of Sacramento was formed as an inland port city to the San Francisco Bay via the Sacramento River, and as the connection point to the American River, which led up into the gold country.
The valleys meet undulating hills with orchards and vineyards. Napa and Sonoma Valleys have achieved worldwide acclaim in wine production. There are other regions throughout the state, such as Santa Ynez Valley near Solvang and Shenandoah Valley near Plymouth, producing wonderful varietals.
In addition to wine grapes, farms in the hills grow tree and vine fruit, pumpkins, and Christmas trees. Apple Hill is known in the Sierras for apples and cider, along with wineries, pie varieties, and fall crafts and festivals.
FORESTS AND MOUNTAINS
calaveras Big trees state park
Coniferous Giants to Rugged Peaks
Massive Sequoias and Redwoods fill forests of the mountainous terrain of the coastal ranges and California’s largest mountain range, the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This range thrusts upward between the large Central Valley to the west and the Great Basin and Range to the east.
Some of the most spectacular natural wonders are found in and around the Sierras, including Lake Tahoe and the magnificent Yosemite Valley, within a few hours’ drive of each other. Further south, Mount Whitney ascends among the highest peaks, and nearby, to its east, the land descends to the depths of Death Valley below—respectively these are the highest and lowest points in the contiguous United States.
Mount Shasta rises up over 14,000 feet as a monolithic peak at the southern-most end of the Cascade Range. The mountains are perfect for skiing in winter or escaping the extreme heat of the valley in the summer.
Native tribes called this land home for centuries. Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park preserves the life and heritage of the Miwok people. The Chukchansi tribe of the indigenous Yokuts People is headquartered in Coarsegold, where prospectors found gold in 1849.
Along Highway 49, named for the rush of miners (49ers) who flooded the area in 1849, are old mining settlements. The El Dorado county seat of Placerville was founded near Sutter’s Mill, the original site where gold was discovered in Coloma. Other towns worth visiting are Auburn and Nevada City in Placer County, Sutter’s Creek in Amador County, and Columbia, Sonora, and Jamestown in Tuolumne County.
Quaint, rural towns, and protected landscapes continue to offer a quiet respite and connection to nature. Many maintain local heritage and history, which give them a depth of character.
Three main deserts are found in California. The Colorado Desert, the westernmost part of the larger Sonoran Desert of Arizona and northern Mexico, includes the Salton Sea and Joshua Tree National Park.
The soaring Sierra Nevadas create a rain shadow for the Great Basin Desert, which extends across Nevada and is filled with sagebrush. This high desert gives way to salt flats in an even drier Mojave Desert to the south. In 2 hours, you can drive from Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental US to its lowest point, Death Valley, in the Mojave Desert.
MISSIONS AND FORTS
mission San Juan capistrano
Native tribes lived throughout California for centuries before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors. Following them came Franciscan missionaries who established missions along the coastline for religious conversion of the indigenous peoples.
Between San Diego and Sonoma, 21 Spanish missions maintain the history of the Spanish conquests established by Junípero Serra in the 18th century. Mission Santa Barbara is the queen of them all, although Mission San Juan Capistrano is another top favorite.
As immigrants flooded the region during the Gold Rush and throughout the 20th century, vibrant urban centers began to form. The largest among them was San Diego, Los Angeles-Orange County, and San Francisco Bay Area. Today these cities have spread into major metropolises, not only sprawling with congestion but rich with cultural diversity and connection to the world.
California really is a state that offers something—and somewhere—for everyone.
All About California
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Winter Deluge Enhanced the Beauty of this Natural Treasure Original article on Medium Yosemite Valley — photo by Caden Giaudrone Wet Winter February 2017 — according to reports, this was the wettest water season on record in Northern California. One stormy winter day, flashes of lightning filled our dimly lit sky. Daylight struggled to find its way through thick, ominous…
Our visit to Los Angeles over Thanksgiving reminded me of how fortunate I am, how grateful I feel… and how much there is to see and do in this megalopolis. With two boys who both play soccer year-round, and family in the area, we find ourselves in SoCal frequently throughout the year. Anytime we travel,…
Cafeteria 15L celebrates fresh ingredients—comfort food with a fresh, urban twist. Brunch has always been one of my favorite meals—a relaxed, late morning meal—that is perfect for lounging with the family. Cafeteria 15L, a “Farm to Table” restaurant located in an urban rustic-industrial setting in Sacramento, offers a weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am-3pm.…
This lavish estate, inspired by Spanish Colonial and Mission style architecture, was the ultimate achievement of architect, Julia Morgan. The Hearst Castle remains a symbol of the extravagent wealth that peaked in the United States during the 1920s. Commissioned by media tycoon—newspaper magnate, film producer, art collector—William Randolph Hearst, this ostentatious country home was constructed in the…
San Diego is known for great weather year-round and a relaxed beach life vibe. The mild climate can be a great place to escape to, either from intense summer heat or from an extreme winter chill. This past summer, during a soccer tournament weekend, my husband and I were fortunate to spend a few days…
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People continue to strip away the soul of places along with its natural beauty in favor of generic, sterile development. Our view of the hillside we once enjoyed, is now altered forever. But where do we go from here? (The story below was written before the addition of the Silva Valley interchange. The large oaks…
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A home that still represents the beauty of architecture today.