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! 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.
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 primed with unabashed optimism.
Los Angeles, San Diego & Southern California - Los Angeles (Chapter)
This is the Los Angeles chapter from Lonely Planet's Los Angeles & Southern California guidebook.
Grab your coat and a handful of glitter, and enter the land of fog and fabulousness. So long, inhibitions; hello, San Francisco. Outlandish Notions Consider permission permanently granted to be outlandish: other towns may surprise you, but in San Francisco you will surprise yourself.
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.
San Francisco City Insider Tour with Optional Muir Woods Trip
Tour San Francisco, visit charming Sausalito, and explore famous Muir Woods on this small-group tour. Snap photos of places such as Chinatown, Coit Tower, Haight-Ashbury, Twin Peaks and any other sites you request on this intimate, flexible city tour aboard a 13-passenger van.
California with kids
First time Yosemite National Park
'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...
Napa and Sonoma Wine Country
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.
3-Day California Coast Tour: San Francisco to Los Angeles
Take an epic journey down the stunning California coast on this 3-day one-way trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Visit Santa Cruz, Monterey, Big Sur, Pebble Beach, Cambria, Solvang and Santa Barbara, and enjoy views of jagged coastlines, mountains, forests and picturesque rolling hills studded with vineyards.