The moment you arrive in the Golden State, you may suspect you’ve been cast as the ingenue in a road-trip movie. Everything seems staged for a script riddled with exclamation points: no way are they going to surf those skyscraper-sized waves at Mavericks! That can’t be the Terminator in the governor’s mansion – in his second term! Brrrrrrr...don’t all those naked people ever get cold?!
Even if you’ve seen it on TV, California still comes as a shock to the system. The Venice Beach's skateboarders, San Francisco's same-sex-wedding planners, Santa Cruz's wild-mushroom hunters, Rodeo Dr-pillaging trophy wives and cheerful San Diego's doomsday cult members aren’t on different channels. They live here.
Unless you want to stir up old NorCal/SoCal rivalries dating from the 19th century – a diverting local pastime when played with good sports – don’t get Californians started about water. NorCal scolds SoCal for watering its lawns and filling its pools with water piped in from the Sierras, while SoCal points out that NorCal shouldn’t talk with its mouth full of organic veggies grown in the Sierras-irrigated Central Valley.
You might not get a word in edgewise when it comes to technology or the environment – but listen up, because those wild Californian ideas might become the next big thing. California’s technological innovations need no introduction – perhaps you’ve heard of PCs, iPods, Google and the internet?
Once you get the hang of California’s improvised lifestyle, you’ll notice that plot devices aren’t necessary to get Californians to act out. On the contrary, movies can’t begin to capture how Californians behave when there are no cameras on. The Sierra Nevada Gold Rush, San Francisco’s Summer of Love, the LA punk scene, Silicon Valley high-tech booms: no screenwriter could make this stuff up, no matter how talented. Like any Hollywood blockbuster based on a great work of fiction, movies about California can’t compare to the original. But don’t just sit back and enjoy the show – California is the place to take part and make a scene. Other places on the planet have their wow factor, but there’s only one region that so consistently merits the delighted disbelief of a long, drawn-out ‘Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuude!’
Ready to go?
These tours & activities make it easy:
Best places to stay in California
Top 10 US travel destinations for 2014
Planning a vacation in the US next year but aren’t sure where to go? After all, it’s a big place! For the fourth year running, our travel experts have scoured the States to make the decision a bit easier for you.
Best places to shop in San Francisco
Napa and Sonoma Wine Country
California destination guides
Welcome to sunny Los Angeles, a shiny city of reinvention where small talk always starts with a question: ‘Where are you from?’ This query reveals what’s driving the city’s energetic buzz – a perpetual in-fl ow of dreamers, go-getters and hustlers...
Yosemite National Park for first-timers
'The mountains are calling, and I must go,' penned John Muir, the poetic naturalist of the Sierra Nevada. You'll feel that same irresistible urge once you find out all that Yosemite, Muir's move beloved national park, offers.
California with kids
Skip the Line: Front of Line Pass at Universal Studios Hollywood
Get the celebrity treatment with this all-access pass. It includes all-day admission to the park, one-time priority access to all rides, shows and attractions, plus behind-the-scenes privileges at select attractions. This feature is very popular with Southern California residents, so pre-purchase to guarantee Front of Line privileges.
Universal Orlando Tickets
With two amazing theme parks – Universal Studios® and Universal’s Islands of Adventure®– the non-stop nightlife of Universal CityWalk®, and three uniquely themed on-site hotels, Universal Orlando® Resort is an entire universe of action, thrills and excitement for every member of the family. Universal Orlando Resort is where vacation becomes adventure.
The world's best places to see autumn colours
The dog days of summer are over. But despite the chill in the air, there’s no need to be downhearted. Autumn is the most spectacular season, a last hurrah before the bitter winds of winter take hold. Pull on your walking boots and head to one of these stunning destinations to witness glorious autumn colour.