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Big Lagoon from Redwood Highway

Big Lagoon from Redwood HighwayView All Sizes

Rim of the World Highway near between Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake.

Rim of the World HighwayView All Sizes

JOURNAL : June 1, 2011

An Itinerary for Visiting California

California > United States

Series An Itinerary for Visiting California

This was supposed to be a list of Top 10 Places to Visit in California but someone recently asked me for a suggested itinerary when visiting California.

It's a Big State

For simplicity California can be divided into four main areas — Southern California, San Francisco, Northern California, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. If planning a trip to California you'll fly into a major airport like LAX, SAN or SFO, and then most attractions are within a 3-hour drive. For the Sierra Nevadas in the east, San Francisco or Reno/Lake Tahoe have the closest international airports.

Southern California

From about San Luis Obispo and Morro bay down through Santa Barbara and the vast Los Angeles metropolitan area and down to San Diego is all Southern California. The eastern portion of is dominated by the Mojave Desert, with points of interest including Joshua Tree National Park and the Salton Sea.

Griffith Park Observatory commands a spectacular view of Hollywood and Los Angeles. ON a clear day you can see to Catalina.

Griffith Park ObservatoryView All Sizes

Balboa Park Botanical Gardens Lily Pond

Balboa Park Botanical Gardens Lily PondView All Sizes

Los Angeles

If one were to fly into LAX, most of Southern California is accessible within a driving radius of 3 hours. Within the city are numerous world-famous tourist destinations. Besides visiting Hollywood, all the beach cities, parks like Disneyland in Anaheim and Magic Mountain in Valencia, be sure to visit Griffith Park Observatory to see the cityscape spread out below. At night it's a sparkling panorama. A drive along Mulholland Drive starting in Hollywood Hills offers spectacular views of both LA and the San Fernando Valley. From Santa Monica take the Pacific Coast Highway heading east towards Malibu, or south towards Palos Verdes. To escape from L.A. take the Angeles Crest Highway into the mountains, or take the 210 east to the 18 north and ride the Rim of the World Highway to Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear. A lengthy vacation could be spent just exploring the sprawl of Los Angeles.

San Diego

Just a couple hours south from L.A. is lovely San Diego. Compared to its noisy northern neighbor the pace is more mellow, the freeways are less congested, and everything is closer together. Within a few miles of downtown San Diego are Balboa Park and the world-famous San Diego Zoo, Sea World, the Gaslamp District, Hillcrest, the fabulous malls of Mission Valley, Coronado, Point Loma, Mission Bay, Pacific Beach, and Harbor Island with its excellent view of the city. A brief drive north is La Jolla, Torrey Pines State Park and the Del Mar Racetrack. To escape the city head east to Cuyamaca State Park or north to the area around the old western town of Julian. If I've missed anything please forgive me.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate BridgeView All Sizes

San Francisco Area

San Francisco is usually considered part of Northern California, but for a visitor it's better to fly into San Francisco and explore from there, then travel to Northern California as a separate excursion since they are very different experiences.

Sea Lion near Monterey

Sea Lion near Monterey

Big Sur River at Riverside Campgrounds and Cabins

Big Sur RiverView All Sizes

The Rugged Coast of Big Sur

The Rugged Coast of Big SurView All Sizes

Plump Wine Grapes, Sonoma County, California

Wine Grapes

Within a 3-hour radius is Golden Gate Park and Bridge, Silicon Valley, and wine growing regions like Napa and Sonoma. Head south to Santa Cruz, the Salinas Valley, Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur, or go east and you're in the heart of the great agricultural region known as the Central Valley.

Yosemite Falls from Glacier Point.

Yosemite Falls

The Sierra Nevada Mountains

Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks all live within these mountains about a couple hours from each other along curvy mountain roads. Many tourists tend to drive the 4 hours from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park and spend a couple days exploring the natural beauty. Mono Lake and Lake Tahoe are also near.

Half Dome from the valley floor on Northside drive.

Half Dome from the Valley FloorView All Sizes

A Redwood tree in Redwood National Park

Redwood National ParkView All Sizes

Mt. Shasta from Castle Lake.

Mt. ShastaView All Sizes

Northern California

While Southern California is predominantly desert and chaparral, Northern California is a mostly lush green region with its center at around Redding. Many beautiful National Forests abound, including Redwood, Trinity, Shasta, Lassen, Klamath and Modoc. All are within a 3-hour radius of Redding. Head north along the 5 freeway to pass directly through Shasta Lake, the cone of Mt. Shasta, and on up to Oregon. Head west from Redding along highway 299 through the cool river valleys of Trinity National Forest. Head east along the same highway into the high desert around Modoc. Both the Sierra Nevadas and Northern California should appeal to hikers and campers. Unfortunately, the closest international airport is Sacramento.

The Pacific coast near Point Sur

The Coast near Point SurView All Sizes

Monterey Coast from 17-Mile Drive

Monterey Coast from 17-Mile DriveView All Sizes

The Pacific Coast Highway

At 840 miles, California has the longest coastline of any of the 48 contiguous states. From San Diego to Crescent City it's at least an 18-hour drive, but the coastal beauty of rocky cliffs and broad beaches along the way is well worth it. In addition to flying into an area and exploring within a driving radius, taking the Pacific Coast Highway is an excellent way to really see California, and points of interest along the way.

Motorcycling Shasta Lake

Motorcycling Shasta LakeView All Sizes

Kanoa at Griffith Park

In Griffith Park

What's the Itinerary?

Well, that depends on what you'd like to experience and how much time you have.

Balloon landing and being dragged to a suitable area to deflate it.

Balloon Ride

Pick an area and decide on a half-dozen adventures. Browse photos on Daily Venture until you see something you like. Tailor your trip to your tastes — Immerse yourself in the crowds and be entertained at popular destinations, or enjoy peace with your loved ones in the sublime wilderness. Take a hot air balloon ride. Rent a motorcycle or an RV instead of a car. Go nuts!

California is a sushi menu of delights for everyone. The land will be around for a long time until it falls into the Pacific. If you don't see it all you can always come back.

Waterskiing and Boating on Lake Mendocino

Waterskiing at Lake MendocinoView All Sizes

I happened upon Green Valley Lake by accident while seeking out a camping ground in the area. It was a welcome breath of country air from the built-up Lake Arrowhead just to the west.

Placid Fishing WatersView All Sizes

Dry Creek Valley Winery of Sonoma County, California

Dry Creek Valley

Yosemite Valley and Yosemite Falls from Glacier Point. Housekeeping Camp and the Great Meadows are in the middle. The Merced River snakes through it all.

Yosemite Valley

From Our Hotel Room, the Cliffs of Sorrento, Italy

Sorrento, Italy

The restaurant and grassy grounds of Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens

Accademia di Belle Arti of Venice, Italy

Belle Arti

Hanalei River in Hanalei Valley, Kauai, Hawaii

Hanalei Valley

U.S. Capitol, near First Ave, Washington D.C.

U.S. Capitol

A Raft of Ducks on the Lijiang River

Li River Ducks

This iguana lives in a tree in a house across from my sister’s casa in Sayulita. The owner of the house, a pleasant Mexican gentleman, explained in Spanish that every day the lizard saddles along the wall from the tree to this decorative courtyard gateway and peers out this little window.

Iguana in Sayulita

Random Adventures!

Nice, Cote d’Azur

Nice, Cote d’Azur

The majestic towering cliffs over Kalalau Beach, Kauai

Towering Cliffs

Liberty Glen Campground

Liberty Glen

Boats in Yelapa Bay, Mexico

Yelapa Bay

Lake Sonoma Reservoir

Lake Sonoma

Mt. Shasta from Castle Lake.

Mt. Shasta

Rome, Italy

Roman Cityscape

The city of Glendale from Mineral Wells Trail. In the foreground is the Harding and Wilson Municipal Golf Course. Beyond is Mt. Wilson and the Angeles National Forest.

The City of Glendale

Another group of fishermen and their dogs.

Kenai River Fishing

Scorched tree trunk near Merced River. Bridalveil Fall is in the background.

Scorched Tree Trunk

Tower Bridge, London

Tower Bridge