From sunlit beaches to mountain peaks, California features some of the most diverse scenery in the United States. Travelers looking to visit the Golden State would do well to plan ahead. Whether you want to kick back and enjoy a glass of wine in Napa, or spend time between business meetings at San Diego's waterfront, you'll find that California has so much to offer that winging it could leave much unseen.
Thanks to its diverse ecosystem, California's able to sustain the best in both coastal and inland outdoor destinations. If you're into nature, visit one of the national parks concentrated in the northern part of the state. When it's time to head south, extend your appreciation by traveling to SoCal via Big Sur; views from Route 1 are considered some of the most divine in the Western Hemisphere.
Probably the most popular sight in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic piece of architecture. Don't limit your exploration to the bridge alone, though. Round out your trip with a classic Bay Area meal in Chinatown or at Fisherman's Wharf.
Though much-changed since the days of classic films, Hollywood's history is still evident along the boulevard that bears its name. The street is indeed lined with stars, and the Chinese Theater holds the handprints of celebrities both past and present. Both the Hollywood neighborhood and the Sunset Strip offer shopping and dining with the chance to run into an active film set. Some of California's best beaches are just a short drive away.
California's Central Coast and inland valleys are home to some of the world's finest wineries. During the spring, summer and fall months, travelers can tour wineries and enjoy gourmet food, especially in the Napa County region. Consider signing up for a tasting tour, so you can really see how the region's wineries stack up against one another.
If you're hoping to ski and snowboard while visiting the west, you need look no further than Lake Tahoe. Featuring Squaw Valley, Northstar and other high-end ski resorts, the Tahoe area is a favorite with winter sports enthusiasts. The resorts are situated just minutes from the Nevada border, so it's not outside the realm of possibility to have a fun night at a casino after a hard day on the slopes.
If you're headed to California, it's essential to decide what destinations are a must-see before booking airline tickets. Because the state is so large, it's important to fly into an airport that's close to the regions you want to visit; picking the wrong one could send you hours in the wrong direction.
Travelers planning a trip to Disneyland, San Diego or California's southern beaches are best served by flying into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) or Orange County’s John Wayne-Orange County Airport (SNA). While many California hotels are located close to these major airports, be aware that they tend to charge high rates regardless of season, and are generally not close to major destinations.
Travelers planning to visit the Bay Area or Central Valley can fly into San Francisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK) or San Jose (SJC). A smaller airport in Sacramento (SMF) may seem ideal for those who want to visit wine country, but ticket prices going into Sacramento tend to be significantly higher than those for other airports.
If you want to visit Lake Tahoe and other far north attractions, consider flying into the Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO) in Nevada. Located two hours from Tahoe, fares to the airport are reasonable, with the lowest prices seen in early fall and summer.
California is full to the brim with things to do, but visiting every destination on your to-see list may prove challenging. If you're visiting a big city such as Los Angeles or San Francisco, consider taking a city tour or buying a pass that allows access to multiple attractions. Check with professional organizations and membership groups like AAA to see if you can buy discounted tickets to places such as Disneyland before you leave home.
Visiting the Golden State is a great way to unleash your inner nature lover or live out your Hollywood dreams. As it spans most of the country's west coast, California is both varied and distinctive; it's easy to feel like a trip to this state is a handful of mini-vacations packed into one.