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California Cool

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

When you mention California to most people around the world, they think of the famous major cities like Los Angeles-San Francisco-San Diego, beaches, palm trees, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, maybe wine. All an alluring draw, and California certainly enjoys a robust tourism business which contributes to the State now being the world’s 5th largest economy (surpassing UK), but I am here to tell visitors planning trips to the sunshine state that there is SO much more to enjoy away from the city centers. As someone who lived in Los Angeles, I left it was often as possible to actually enjoy Cali’s raw natural beauty – from the wooded beaches of the northern coast, to the national parks like Yosemite, the stunning deserts or the amazing coastal areas. There are regions that reflect places like southern Italy and France, which I suspect is what draws me to them in the first place. And throughout my many (many) road trips, I have spoken to more & more Californian’s who have fled the crush of the crowded cities to get back to nature elsewhere. So here’s where you should go explore – some beyond the classic Pacific Coast highway route – happy travels!

Read our posts on 'Escape Los Angeles' and 'Escape San Francisco'

Palm Springs & Joshua Tree National Park: I come to PS for the modern design and unplugging time, and find hiking adventure & general desert moodiness in Joshua Tree (& Pioneer Town). The National Park is named this because of the Joshua trees that are native to the park, and the area is a designated wilderness and encompasses two very different deserts. If you want some more greenery, head up the San Jacinto Mountains to the town of Idyllwild for amazing hikes. *Close to LA & SD

Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear, Twin Peaks: When I crave some cabin mountain time, this is where I come (you can ski in Big Bear too). The San Bernardino mountains have a lot of beauty to offer. *Close to LA

Santa Barbara & Ojai: I have made no secret of my love for this area, boasting nearby orchards and vineyards. It’s beauty is remarkable, as is the local dining, for those who don’t want to go too far off the grid. *Close to LA

Cambria & San Simeon (Hearst Castle): Central California Coast is spectacular and should not be missed – I actually think it’s the most beautiful, as did William Randolph Hearst apparently.. It offers a big rougher coast line, rolling hills with sweeping views and yes, Hearts Castle. *Mid way LA to SF

Paso Robles: Wine country! Yes, I know people normally think about Napa & Sonoma, but the majority of California wine production comes from this region and offer plenty of charming B&B and dining experiences in a non-pretentious setting. In fact, you can make stops in Solvang and Los Olivos on the way. *Mid way LA to SF, close-ish to Cambria

Napa & Sonoma: Napa Valley is known for its beautiful landscapes and legendary wineries. The area is perfect for those that want to get away from it all and pamper themselves for a few days in the award winning restaurants and spas *Close to SF

Big Sur, Monterey & Carmel: Big Sur was derived from the Spanish words ‘el sure grande’ which means ‘the big south’. The area is lightly populated and sits at the south of the city of Monterey, offering stunning views and charming local towns. Also Pfeiffer Burns State Park is 12 miles down the coast, check out McWay falls – an 80 foot waterfall. *Close to SF

Squaw Valley / Lake Tahoe: If you are a woods and mountains person, Squaw Valley just might be your happy place – overlooking looming mountains, vibrant greens, and rolling hills. Lake Tahoe is nearby (an easy bicycle ride), available for paddle boarding, kayaking and anything else you might want. Also Emerald Bay, a small island that sits within Lake Tahoe, now been designated a as National Natural Landmark due to the natural beauty that this small island provides. *Close to SF

Yosemite National Park: Located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, it’s famed for its giant, ancient sequoia trees, and for Tunnel View, the iconic vista of towering Bridalveil Fall and the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome. In Yosemite Village are shops, restaurants, lodging, the Yosemite Museum and the Ansel Adams Gallery, with prints of the photographer’s renowned black-and-white landscapes of the area. Good skiing in nearby Mammoth too! *Close to Sf/Sacramento

*There are of course many small towns, country spaces and national parks that are spectacular around the state, the above are just some of my favorites and good as a destination in addition to your City stop. For more ideas, see Visit California

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