Nicknamed the “Golden State,” California spans almost 900 miles along the West Coast of the United States. Renowned for cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, the state is most famously associated with Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
Getting its golden status from its amazing beaches, long history of mining, and annual flora, California boasts a wide range of scenery and activities. While you may enjoy a brush with fame on the city streets, make sure to explore the state’s abundant nature as well. California’s wild side is sure to enchant you with the Redwood forests, seaside cliffs, and granite domes.
No matter where you find yourself in California, adventure awaits. So, pack your bags and get ready to cross a few items off your bucket list. A California vacation is just what you need to indulge your travel cravings.
Livin’ La Vida California
Visit California’s Top Towns and Cities
History of “The Golden State”
California’s most famous period of history is the Gold Rush, though the state’s story spans back to when Native Americans lived on the land 10,000 years ago, having migrated from the north. By the mid-1500s, Europeans began to explore California. Trading routes between America and Asia were established, which brought more explorers to the area.
In the coming centuries, more foreigners changed the area as missions and settlements were founded, meanwhile, disease and food shortages took a heavy toll on the native population. In the first half of the 1800s, Mexico claimed Alta California as a territory. While this opened up more trade routes, the relationship between Mexico and the US was rocky.
The Mexican-American War ended with California and several other states being claimed by the US. Two years prior to being named a state, the Gold Rush began. In 1848, gold was struck, and soon after, people began to head to California. They became known as the 49ers.
In 1850, California was granted statehood. The Gold Rush also prompted settlers to head out west as wagon-covered caravans began to move from the East Coast and the central United States to the gold-filled hills of California.
The sheer abundance of gold made California famous, and since the metal’s discovery, the state has grown. While the mines may be dry now, California is still on top.
With tech giants and Hollywood, the state has the highest GDP in the US. California’s fame and popularity have elevated the state to golden status. A major tourist destination, everyone wants to explore sunny California.
Capital City of Sacramento
Historically significant, Sacramento is California’s capital. Established during the Gold Rush, the city honors its past through the preservation of Old Sacramento. This part of the city is a highlight because of the historic buildings and museums. Traces of the railroad are also present in the area, and museums proudly tell the story of one of the state’s first innovations.
As time passed, modern-day Sacramento has become renowned for its food scene. Nicknamed the “Farm to Fork” city, Sacramento’s local agriculture and farming establishments fuel the area’s best eateries. With delicious home-cooked flavors, it’s worth a stop in Sacramento for a bite to eat.
La La Land
Los Angeles is not only the largest city in California but also the most widely recognized. Hollywood’s star-studded glamour has helped LA bask in the spotlight as people are eager to follow in the footsteps of their favorite celebrities, influencers, and tech moguls. Even if you aren’t chasing fame, it’s hard not to have fun in Los Angeles.
The city sprawls for miles, and seeing the top sights takes a little bit of planning. Visitors can bounce from the mega shopping district, Rodeo Drive to the Hollywood Walk of Fame for some glam time, or hit the town on Sunset Boulevard.
Unsurprisingly, tourists and stars are quite alike – many are eager to hit the beach. Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach are the two most popular oceanside destinations where you can have some fun in the sand and sun. However, for those looking for a little snow, there are 7 ski resorts near LA worth checking out.
Griffith Park and Observatory are two additional highlights in LA where people gather to gaze upon the stars, hike, and get up close to the Hollywood sign. Day hikes and trails give you a break from the chaotic streets and provide excellent views of downtown LA. Additional features in the park include the Los Angeles Zoo, golf courses, and picnic areas.
For those that want to explore the most famous attractions in LA, it is suggested that you book a tour or package. Amusement parks are extremely popular in LA, with Disneyland and Universal Studios reigning supreme. Both attractions have tickets and tours available, however, you’ll want to get to the parks early to beat the daily crowds.
Tours are also great for exploring other parts of the city, like downtown LA and beachfront areas. Walking tours are the most popular, though you can also explore the city by bus or bike. With an endless menu of excursions, you won’t get bored in Los Angeles. From day to night, the city entertains its guests and ensures that they have an unforgettable experience.
Visitors do need to keep in mind the cost of their trip. The price of food, drink, accommodation, and entertainment isn’t cheap. Tourists should come prepared to spend some dough during their visit to Los Angeles.
Northern California (NorCal)
Sometimes called NorCal, Northern California is quite a bit different from the rest of the state. While San Francisco is considered to be a part of this region, most of Northern California has fewer people than the southern areas.
Fertile land makes it a farmer’s paradise where fresh produce is planted every year. Napa Valley is a major attraction and home to world-class wineries. Beyond farming and agriculture, Northern California is most acclaimed for the Redwood forests, Lake Tahoe, and Yosemite. There are also plenty of ski resorts within 2 hours of the town of Truckee, which lies about 1.5 hours outside of Sacramento.
When you do head into the city, you’ll likely be eyeing a visit to hilly San Francisco. A major hub in Silicon Valley, San Francisco plants an important part in the multi-billion-dollar tech industry. However, most visitors are less interested in tech giants and are instead drawn to the city’s aesthetic.
Always ahead of the curve, San Francisco has long been considered to be a hip and cool place. Diverse neighborhoods ensure that visitors have a great time exploring the various neighborhoods. Chinatown, Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Pier 39 are all highlights in this Bay Area city.
Iconic figures like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz loom in the distance as they beckon visitors to take a peek. Though not golden in color, the Golden Gate Bridge is world-famous. A drive across the bridge will get you up close and personal, or you can view this landmark from afar by visiting Baker Beach.
For the history buffs, a trip to Alcatraz Island might be on your to-do list. This notorious island prison once housed gangster Al Capone before it shut its doors as a penitentiary in 1963. Now, the island is a historical attraction that is open to the public for daily tours.
While beauty lines the hills of San Francisco, everything comes at a cost. Even more expensive than Los Angeles, San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the United States — falling just behind New York City and Honolulu. A single cup of coffee costs more than $6 US dollars to give you an idea of prices. Visitors should plan their budgets accordingly.
Much like parts of Northern California, the Central Valley tends to receive fewer visitors as much of the land is left to farming. Cities like Fresno and Modesto have larger populations but fewer attractions. A few hidden gems in the Central Valley are the small seaside towns, Monterey and Carmel.
Located on the Central Coast, Monterey and Carmel are idyllic getaways. Monterey’s famous Cannery Row was once the center for sardines. Now, the area has been turned into shops, restaurants, and luxury hotels. At the end of the row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-see attraction for marine enthusiasts.
Nearby, Carmel-by-the-Sea boasts impressive sea cliffs, unique wildlife, and exclusive luxury experiences. Pebble Beach is a world-famous community near Carmel, which is well-known for its resort and golf courses.
Sophistication isn’t all. Monterey and Carmel also cater to adventurous travelers. With horseback riding, kayaking, and sailing, there is plenty to do in these small seaside communities.
Southern California (SoCal)
Los Angeles is the crutch of tourism in Southern California, though it isn’t the only place to go. Other cities in the area that are very popular to visit include Santa Barbara and San Diego. Santa Barbara is located just north of LA, which makes it a popular day-trip destination. Slightly to the south, San Diego is another close-by tourist hotspot.
For surfers and beach lovers, Santa Barbara is the place to be. Perfect waves hit the coast, which makes the beaches a magnet for surfers. Broad beaches ensure that there is plenty of room for people to lounge in the sand without getting wet from the waves. The waterfront areas are the best locations because they have plenty of shopping and dining establishments.
Designed for families, San Diego is filled with world-class attractions. A mild climate ensures that visitors can hit the beach at any time of the year. Kids will love the city’s attractions, which range from an acclaimed zoo, safari park, Legoland, and naval ship.
After a day of play or in between the kid-themed adventures, adults can appreciate San Diego’s art galleries, museums, restaurants, and shops. Though, we must say that even the San Diego Zoo is a fun place for adults.
Nine National Parks
The absolute best places to escape the city and soak up some time in nature are in the National Parks. Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, and Joshua Tree are the state’s most visited National Parks, and each has its own unique set of features.
Yosemite has long been the pinnacle for mountaineers who have attempted to climb the park’s granite peaks. Half Dome is the most iconic feature in the park and the number one climbing spot. While climbers have long flocked to Yosemite, the park also draws in visitors who want to bask in its beauty. The most crowded areas of the park include the base of Yosemite Falls and the viewpoints from the valley floor.
Granite peaks reign in Yosemite, but in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, you’ll be entering the forest of giants. Sequoia trees can grow to be 30 feet in width and over 250 feet tall. These massive trees are a part of the Redwood family. Filled with sequoia, the park’s largest tree is named General Sherman.
Lacking massive peaks and oversized trees, Joshua Tree National Park is quite alien-like in appearance. The rather barren landscape is instead dotted with Joshua trees and odd rock formations. Yet, the bizarre appearance has fueled the park’s popularity as people are eager to explore this otherworldly landscape.
In addition to the previously listed locations, consider stopping by any one of these national parks while in California.
- Channel Islands National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Pinnacles National Park
- Redwood National Park
Pacific Coast Highway (PCH 1)
Stretching for 656 miles on the Pacific Coast, Highway 1 is California’s most iconic point of interest, next to maybe the Hollywood sign and Golden Gate Bridge. Picturesque views and dramatic backdrops are just some of the highlights along the way.
Road tripping is the best way to experience the beauty of Highway 1 as it gives you the perfect itinerary to hit hotspots like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego on your journey. Whether you head north to south or south to north, anyone who loves long drives with gorgeous scenery should prioritize this drive.
California is a dream come true, and it isn’t hard to slip away into your ultimate fantasy, no matter where you stay. Boasting famous landmarks and cities, a vacation to the Golden State will be unforgettable. Whether you’re looking for a luxurious getaway, to spend time in nature, or simply want to drive the coast, there’s something for everyone in California.
Get the most out of your Golden State trip by unwinding at one of California’s natural hot springs.