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!’
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Best places to stay in California
California travel guide
California’s nickname ‘Golden State’ dates from its Wild West mining era.
Disneyland & beyond: SoCal thrills for grown-ups
Whether you loved Disneyland as a kid or always dreamed of going, now that you're all grown up (though still young at heart, of course) the Disneyland Resort makes an excellent base camp for Southern California adventures. Disney’s original theme park is meant for all ages, from one to 100...
Best of Disneyland
Napa and Sonoma Wine Country
Northern California travel guide
The wonder about hitting the byways of Northern California is that things get better with every winding mile - trees get bigger, towns get cuter, roadside swimming holes get more inviting.
Los Angeles, San Diego & Southern California
In all of your California daydreaming, palm trees, golden sands and Pacific sunsets beckon, right? The good news: SoCal is where those cinematic fantasies really can come true.
Five roads less travelled in the USA
Everyone knows a road trip is the classic way to see the grand ol' USA...
California with kids
Discover California travel guide
This new edition zooms in on California's must-see destinations and unique experiences.
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.
Watching wildlife along California's coast
Ready for coastal California's top wildlife spotting adventures? Here you'll find the USA's mini version of the Galápagos Islands, as well as an underwater canyon as big as the Grand Canyon. The Golden State's 1100-mile shoreline abounds with tide pools, kelp forests and protected bays and beaches too...
Los Angeles, San Diego & Southern California - Planning your trip (Chapter)
This chapter contains the Top Experiences, Welcome to Southern California, Need to Know, If You Like, What's New, Month by Month, Itineraries, Disneyland Planner, Beaches Outdoor, Travel with Children and Regions at a Glance chapters from...