I was watching the music of the Mamas and Papas last night, which finished with their hit “California Dreamin’” and I couldn’t think of a better way to start a Monday!
Over 30 years ago, John and I did a fabulous trip to California – no google to help us find our way, just maps and guide books. We basically made it up as we went along, booking hotels from day to day, never knowing where we’d stay the next few nights. Not something I’d recommend as we got stuck a couple of times, especially at weekends, paying more than we’d budgeted for. However all in all, we loved the state. Our favourite areas were… everywhere! We landed in Los Angeles but left the next day heading out of state towards Las Vegas. But this took us via Palm Springs – where we first found California. I think it must have been a Saturday – and the cars were cruising up and down the main street, while we had coffee in a sidewalk café. Just like in the movies. After a few nights in Nevada and Arizona (for the Grand Canyon), we made our way back into California.
The small towns inland are quiet and without a huge amount of interest usually. But I’d recommend stopping at the ghost town of Calico. It’s an old mining town, long since abandoned, but it will give you an idea of what life must have been like nearly 150 years ago. https://parks.sbcounty.gov/park/calico-ghost-town-regional-park/
If you do the same as us and drive to Las Vegas, one way back into California is through Death Valley – make sure you have plenty of water, a fully charged phone and a full tank of petrol! It is hot and very much a desert. North of the state has forest and state parks, great to explore and find the great outdoors. Vineyards in Napa Valley and the surrounding areas mean that food and wine are a hugely important part of life here.
The highlights of California to me are definitely on the coast. The best way is to start in San Francisco and drive south along the famous and gorgeous Highway 1. When visiting San Francisco, one of the big attraction is Alcatraz – don’t wait until you get there to book, you’ll never get there. This is definitely one thing you need to book in advance. Heading south, you’ll come to Salinas, made famous by the books of John Steinbeck. Next you’ll arrive in the town of Monterey, home to Cannery Row (another Steinbeck location). Around the time we first visited, Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea – we unfortunately parked in the wrong place on the street and were worried that Dirty Harry was going to arrest us. Luckily the local cops heard our accent and let us off!
Moving further south is the Big Sur – dramatic coastline and one of the most scenic parts of any highway anywhere in the world. It can be very busy with long traffic jams in high season, so choose carefully when you drive it. The next big landmark you’ll come to is Hearst Castle – built for the publishing tycoon between 1919 and 1947. Definitely worth visiting for the views over the coast.
As you get closer to Los Angeles, the names become familiar from the films – Ventura, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Malibu. The beaches are magnificent and the sunsets over the Pacific are without equal. Los Angeles is a huge sprawling city – but it depends how long you have to explore it. It’s a blog on its own! As you head to the most southerly city in California (San Diego), it’s only a couple of hours drive from Los Angeles. It’s a quirky city, with lots of Mexican influence and surfing dogs.
We love California, but for the quirkiness and coast rather than the big cities. Where would you like to explore in this state?