5 Epic Reasons You Should Want to Visit California

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Known as ‘The Golden State’ for many reasons including the home of the Golden Gate Bridge and mile after mile of pristine golden sand beaches, California is understandably one of the most popular states to be visited across the nation. If you have yet to visit California, where have you been? Ok I understand, you need a little more convincing. After reading the following post, I believe you will raring to book your next trip to San Francisco, Los Angeles or somewhere in the beautiful state of California.

san francisco skyline
Image courtesy of Jessica Sern from ‘Longest Bus Ride’ (https://www.longestbusrides.com)

Rather than either Heather or myself trying to sell California on our own (though based on our own experiences I’m sure we could do a pretty good job), we are fortunate to have Jessica Sern from ‘Longest Bus Ride‘ share her thoughts on why you should visit California in the near future.

Be sure to keep up with Jessica on her travels by following her across these social media networks:

Pinterest – Longest Bus Rides
Facebook – Longest Bus Rides
Instagram – Longest Bus Ride

Introduction

The state of California is known for Hollywood, wine, and Silicon Valley. Of the 50 united states, it is the largest in both population and gross domestic product (GDP). If compared to other countries, California alone has the 7th largest GDP, about equal to that of Italy.

The fastest driving route north to south takes nearly 12 hours, however, the slower Route 1 is much more scenic. Summers are warm to hot while winters are cool in southern California to snowy in the mountains. The state boasts mountains in the north and east, forests, valleys, desert, and a coastline along the entire west side.

Extreme Climate

Death Valley is the lowest, driest, and hottest place in the United States. Enjoy beautiful hiking, canyoning, backpacking, and biking, with mountains colored by volcanic ash and magnificent sunsets. Or, simply take a tranquil walk along the salt flats at Badwater Basin and enjoy the monochromatic vista and the feeling of being 242 feet (85.5 meters) below sea level.

death valley california
Image courtesy of Jessica Sern from ‘Longest Bus Ride’ (https://www.longestbusrides.com/)

Free guided ranger tours, and paid Jeep tours will take you off the beaten path. Wildlife is most visible in the early morning and evening. Always keep extra water and a full tank of gas in your vehicle as roads are remote.

Surfing

Surfing is a popular sport up and down the entire California coast and the state has world-class waves. The water in southern California is much warmer than the water up north. In fact, surfers in northern California wear wetsuits year-round.

surfing in california
Image courtesy of Jessica Sern from ‘Longest Bus Ride’ (https://www.longestbusrides.com/)

San Clemente, south of Los Angeles, boasts Trestles, which has a huge sand beach and warm weather. This is the place to take surf lessons! And, San Clemente is a great little surf town with a laidback culture, beachside hotels, and delicious food.

visit california
Image courtesy of Jessica Sern from ‘Longest Bus Ride’ (https://www.longestbusrides.com/)

Any surfer must visit Nomad’s Canteen for the surfboard collection and traditional foods from your favorite surf spots around the world.

Yosemite National Park

Take your camera and binoculars. Massive rock walls. Spectacular landscapes. Watch the rock climbers on the 3,000-foot rock walls and at the historic Camp 4 bouldering site. Hiking and camping are fantastic—just don’t feed the black bears, which are only dangerous to your food.

yosemite national park
Image courtesy of Jessica Sern from ‘Longest Bus Ride’ (https://www.longestbusrides.com/)

This is California nature like you cannot imagine. Cabins and a luxury hotel are also found here but make your reservation well in advance of your visit. Although several hours from any major city, do not miss this place. Day trip bus tours from San Francisco are available, but the park is large so consider staying a few days.

yosemite national park

The Cities

San Francisco (S.F.) and Los Angeles (L.A.) are California’s largest cities and don’t forget a coat and jeans for S.F., even if visiting in the summer.

san francisco bay bridge
Image courtesy of Jessica Sern from ‘Longest Bus Ride’ (https://www.longestbusrides.com/)

The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco is a popular local saying for a reason! Meanwhile, L.A. is warm to hot year round.

The food cultures are so unbelievably great in both cities that you may want to stay forever. Food trucks are popular in both cities. L.A. is known for Korean food, so visit Korea Town.

visit california
Image courtesy of Jessica Sern from ‘Longest Bus Ride’ (https://www.longestbusrides.com/)

Meanwhile, S.F. has a strong farm to table and organic food movement, originated in nearby Berkeley by Alice Waters. Visit the Ferry Building for an overview any day, but on Saturday’s, the Farmer’s Market is world renowned. If you want to get an S.F. local talking, just ask them where you should go to eat for the best… well, anything.

Off The Beaten Track

Oakland is located 20 minutes from San Francisco. Take the 3-mile walk around Lake Merritt, and visit the bonsai garden. People from all over the world use the landscaped lakeside trail for exercising, walking their dogs or strolling with their families. Make some stops along the way. Rent a kayak at the boathouse.

lake merritt california
Image courtesy of Jessica Sern from ‘Longest Bus Ride’ (https://www.longestbusrides.com/)

Visit Fairyland (adults must be accompanied by a child), the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Disneyland. And, if you really want to get local, plan on Friday dinner at the Oakland Museum of California. After walking around the lake, walk across the street and visit the museum, buy dinner at the food trucks, eat in the sculpture garden, and dance to live music.

visit california
Image courtesy of Jessica Sern from ‘Longest Bus Ride’ (https://www.longestbusrides.com/)

Local secret: The hot cocoa made with San Francisco’s own Tcho chocolate mixed with rum and topped with fresh whipping cream is amazing! ($8 with rum, $4 without rum)

Insider Tips for California

Jessica has also put together a few handy tips that will prove to be extremely beneficial for either a first-time or returning visitor to California.

Restaurants

Locals use the Yelp website or smartphone app.

Dress

San Francisco and Northern California generally has a casual culture of jeans and shirt, perhaps the remains from the beatnik and hippie cultures. Los Angeles has a more formal culture, where women wear more makeup and heels and men dress nicely.

Weather

Summer – the entire state is hot, except San Francisco, since it has a special micro-climate.

Winter – the entire state cools down. Southern California remains relatively warm while northern California gets cold. It snows in the mountains, including Yosemite.

Transportation

San Francisco has BART (a metro) and Muni (buses and trams). Both San Francisco and Los Angeles have Uber, Lyft, and taxis. Other towns and cities have buses but generally limited public transportation.

Amtrak trains tend to run 30 minutes to many hours behind schedule but offer beautiful scenery. Southwest Airlines serves most California airports and includes free check-in for 2 bags. Rental cars are widely available, and Costco membership provides a discount.

Public Transportation Schedules in the San Francisco Area: Use www.411.org or Google Maps.

Couchsurfing Advice

In Summer, hosts in San Francisco receive up to 40 requests a day, since accommodation is expensive. So, look for hosts in nearby cities that are on the BART line (similar to the metro). Here are some top tips for couchsurfing.

Popular Outdoor Activities

Surfing, skiing & snowboarding, baseball, basketball, American football, soccer (the real football) and hiking.

Visit California – Our Thoughts

What more is there to say? I hope you will agree with me that Jessica has given a pretty comprehensive list of reasons to visit California. Even if you are not convinced that you need to take a trip out west, we are ready to pack our bags and make a return trip to start exploring more of the Golden State.

san francisco streetcar

So where have we been you may be wondering? Well, our first trip out west was to the beautiful Golden Gate City aka San Francisco.

We spent a long weekend there exploring all of the main tourist sights such as Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street and of course those quirky streetcars which are the only wait to get around (aside from walking which is also a great way to explore but can get a little tiring with all those hills!).

pebble beach golf course

We then headed south to the breathtaking Monterey Peninsula, home of the world-famous Pebble Beach golf course. I am a huge golfer as you have probably established by now if you have followed us for a while, so it was an honor to walk on the hallowed turf of Pebble Beach (maybe next time I can afford the $495 green fees to actually play!)

cypress point california

Driving along the 17-Mile Drive was a cool experience as we saw a variety of wildlife and beautiful landscapes before we headed inland en route to Yosemite National Park. I think Jessica summarizes this pretty well but we would love to head back there and explore more of the park!

yosemite national park

Los Angeles is your typical city with a number of attractive reasons to visit including paying a visit to the infamous Hollywood sign and of course catching a Lakers game at the Staples Center if possible.

Summary

In terms of area, California is the third largest state and by population, it’s the largest. With these two statistics, there is clearly a lot of reasons beyond the five mentioned above that should inspire you to visit here. From rural natural beauty to a myriad of urbanized areas ready to entertain you, California has it all…and more!

We want to reiterate our appreciation to Jessica for sharing her knowledge and experiences of California with us and hopefully, you are as inspired as we are to visit California in the not too distant future.

What are your experiences in California? Do you prefer to visit for the rural beauty or one of the many cities in California? Or perhaps you just prefer to hit the gorgeous beaches along the Pacific coastline? 

26 COMMENTS

  1. California is ginormous, much larger than most European countries. It is larger than Germany. So, yes, there is much to see. In addition, California has many climates. You listed desert but Joshua Tree and Death Valley are among the most beautiful places on Earth. I lived in the Los Angeles area and central California for about 10 years each. Dang it, I could write about California for the rest of my life. No way to summarize in a comment.

    Travel happy, y’all.

    • So true Charles! You could write post after post after post on the topic of California so I knew that when we started this “50 States” series that California was going to be one of the tougher ones 🙂 But hopefully we have introduced a couple of new reasons for folks to visit (thanks to Jessica!). I love your additional suggestions as well. We LOVE exploring national parks so both Joshua Tree and Death Valley are right up there at the very top of our must-see destinations in Cali. Thanks for at least ‘attempting’ to summarize in your comment, you did a pretty great job 🙂

    • I agree, Charles! In fact, the 2nd photo in the article is of Death Valley. I love Joshua Tree, too. I’m a climber, so it’s great for climbing (as is Yosemite, also pictured). I’m glad you love California as much as I do!

    • You are very welcome!! Hope you have an awesome trip to CA… So many great things to experience there, way more than this post could ever highlight.

  2. Everyone should visit California! It always makes me a little sad when I ask Germans where they want to go in America and they always says Florida, New York & California but only to LA or SF never SD! And I’m from SD! So I always try to encourage people to go to SD because its soooo beautiful there! I miss my home! #WeekendWanderlust

    • I completely agree with your comments Lolo that everyone should visit California at least once! But I think once they have visited the first time…they will always want to keep going back 🙂 I know that a lot of Europeans in general find NYC and Florida to be the top spots to visit in the States, whether it is because they are conveniently located on the East coast or just because of the media hype. It is quite a bit longer flight to get across the whole United States but it’s definitely worth it. Hopefully through articles like this :), we will inspire more folks from the other side of the pond to experience everything Cali has to offer.

  3. There were so many things about California I didn’t know in that article. The same GDP as Italy? Crazy! I’ve been to Northern Cali and loved it but must plan a trip to explore the rest of this interesting state soon.

    • Lauren, completely agree with! It’s crazy to think how big California really is. Did you know that according to the 2015 GDP stats, there are only 5 countries around the world that have a larger GDP than Cali?? Crazy to think!! I think Northern Cali was our favorite, in particular San Francisco, just because of how different it felt to other parts of the state. Of course, the gorgeous landscapes throughout Yosemite are pretty amazing too 🙂

  4. I really love California! This article and especially the amazing pictures make me want to go there soon! Great reasons to visit California again and again! 🙂 Thank you for sharing Chris!

    • Thanks so much for your kind comments Cristina! We are indebted to Jessica for providing such a wonderful array of reasons for visiting California but of course, there are so many others just waiting to be discovered 🙂 Our best advice for anyone interested in visiting….just go and have an amazing time! There is so much to see and you will never be able to see it all but hopefully these few tips will guide people in the right direction before allowing them to go off and explore wherever their hearts desire. Thanks again, we appreciate your comment.

  5. You convinced me to visit the Golden State. First of all I want to see Yosemite National Park and than all the other parks and than, maybe San Francisco. Los Angeles, I think, to busy for a Swiss who is not used to Cities with more than 1 million people?

  6. Ah San Diego always gets left off these lists! I’m biased as a native, but we have a completely different feel from LA and SF! Must not be missed. And I see you noted in the comments, but yes, the most recent data about GDP came out and CA is now 6th largest in the world! So many great gems in the state from the parks mentioned, the cities mentioned, plus San Diego, Napa, Tahoe, Paso Robles, Palm Springs, and the whole central coast! Many reasons to make multiple trips back to the state!

    • You’re absolutely correct, Chris! It’s a shame that the article was title 5 best things, instead of 100, right? So, I couldn’t include them all, unfortunately. And, yes, San Diego is a great city. I especially love the small towns between L.A. and San Diego.

  7. Wow! Very difficult to describe California in one post. There are so many things to see, so, experience and taste. Visiting the big cities will give you a good taste of what the state has to offer. But, do not forget to visit some of our natural wonders too!

    • Thanks, Ruth. I agree! That’s why places like Death Valley and Yosemite are included. I much prefer nature over cities, so I included a variety, so that any reader might find something of interest. I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

    • Thanks Joy! We are of course indebted to Jess for sharing her experiences but just from our own ‘brief’ time in Cali, we realized just how amazing this state is! San Francisco is probably our favorite though in terms of cities and Yosemite for rural areas (just based on the few places we have visited) 🙂

  8. We are both beach bums at heart, so that’s where you’ll usually find us in California. We’re particularly fond of Santa Barbara and, further north, Santa Cruz/Monterey. Honestly though, we’re not terribly picky when it comes to the California coastline! 😉 On our last visit, we did something new: We rode Amtrak’s Coast Starlight from Oakland down to Santa Barbara, and loved it! Granted, it’s not quite as scenic as driving the Pacific Coast Highway, but it was comfortable and convenient!

    • A LOT of amazing beaches along the Pacific coastline for sure guys! I am not a huge beach person because I am always itching to get out and start exploring but I don’t mind spending a hour or two in the morning to relax before heading out to explore the region we are staying 🙂 The Amtrak experience sounds awesome so we will definitely keep that in mind for a future trip.

  9. I have visited California twice and both the time I had lot of fun. I have visited Monterey, Big Sur and Carmel-by-the-sea. They all are very good places to visit, see many good things and eat & drink good food. Thanks for sharing this.

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