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To be a native Californian, one grows up with an appreciation for outdoor spaces. Where else can you surf and ski in the same day or climb a waterfall and be in the desert in a matter of hours. California, “The Golden State” that brings us Hollywood, Cable cars reaching for the stars, up San Francisco hills, fine wine, technology that charges the world, also gives us some of the greatest outdoor spaces that rival any destination on the planet. In California you’re never far from nature. Waterfalls, valleys, mountains, desert, beaches, rugged coastline, rivers, streams, rock formations, lakes, redwoods and more. The state of California is roughly 800 miles long and 250 miles wide. No matter where you travel in California you’ll find outdoor spaces. Even in the big cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco you have outdoor spaces within the city limits.
Here are ten of California’s outdoor areas not to miss.
Julia Phiffer Burns State Park – Big Sur
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park stretches from the Big Sur coastline into nearby 3,000-foot ridges. The park features redwood, tan oak, madrone, chaparral, and an 80-foot waterfall that drops from granite cliffs into the The park also has a 1,680-acre underwater reserve which protects a spectacular assortment of marine life. Special-use permits allow experienced divers to explore the reserve. Seals, sea lions and sea otters can be seen in the park’s cove. Hikers can discover the park’s backcountry via several trail systems. Reserve a camp site early is the summer. I go with a group who reserve a campsite for Labor Day every year. To guarantee the same stop every year, one must put a down payment one year in advance. McWay falls drops from the mountains and cliffs above, dropping on to the beach in the Pacific Ocean.
Redwood National Park
Redwoods grow from Big Sur to the Oregon border, but only on California’s Redwood Coast, do these magnificent trees achieve their primeval glory. Here are untouched groves that mystify you. Make the pilgrimage to the Northern California Redwoods and discover why these are much more than the world’s tallest trees. To many, a California redwood forest is truly nature’s cathedral; feel the peace and reverence as you pass between the lofty pillars, while high above the sunlight filters through the canopy like a giant stained glass window. In the misty silence you just might hear an inner voice. Only in California do you find these massive trees.
Russian River, Sonoma County
Less than a two-hour drive from San Francisco, traveling north on California’s Highway 101 until you veer off to Highway 116 is a river paradise and recreational area. The Russian River became a popular place for families in the 60s and 70s. It was my childhood hang out. A family weekend retreat. So close to San Francisco, yet so far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. During the summer, Bay Area folk rent or even own summer cottages or homes. Canoeing down the Russian River is a peaceful experience with the tall, mammoth, Redwoods on either side of you. The main town of Guerneville has become quite an art center and even a foodie town with fine restaurants.
Upper Bidwell Park, Chico
Having spent the best four years of my life in Chico, California, at Chico State University, perhaps I am a bit biased. Nonetheless, just outside of Chico, lava rock formations and run off water from Mount Lassen form some of the most perfect watering holes in California. Chico residents and students alike, come to Upper Bidwell Park during the 90 to 100 degree summer days to cool off in the tranquil streams and watering holes, the likes of Salmon Hole, Brown Hole, and Bear Hole. The park begins in town and continues off road, five miles north of downtown Chico. The town of Chico also boasts one of America’s premier Brewery and Brew Restaurants, Sierra Nevada. With its flat terrain, Chico is easily navigated by bicycle. A mountain bike would be best if you plan to go off road or to the Upper Park watering holes. Madison Bear Garden, located two blocks from campus is the Chico State hangout and is filled with students scarfing down Bear Burgers. Come explore the astounding collection of memorabilia, have an ice-cold Sierra Nevada beer or try a legendary, mouth-watering Bear Burger!
Joshua Tree National Park
Palm Springs may be the party capital of the desert, but the real beauty of the Coachella Valley is Joshua Tree National Park. The third largest oasis in the world. The terrain will amaze you, local mountain ranges, the flora and fauna of the desert. Nowhere else in California can you stroll through a forest of giant California Fan Palms. One of the many highlights of Joshua Tree is a visit to the famous destructive force known as the San Andreas fault. Some of the world’s best spas come from San Andreas Fault water. Check out the fascinating windmills, giant blades that create a renewable energy source, 2,000 feet above the desert floor. Indian culture, geology, pueblo style homes, even a few celebrity homes.
Although the adorable, artist town of Mendocino is alone worth a drive up Highway one, three hours north of San Francisco. But the real beauty lies in the rugged California coastline and rocky cliffs. Stunning, quaint beaches line the area. Easy walks in the bluffs and in the state park make this an easily accessible area for a nice hike. Crashing waves on the Pacific on unspoiled beaches. The area is also popular with snorkelers and divers. During abalone season, free divers take the plunge to depths up to 50 feet for these delicacies of the sea. Rustic and so beautiful, visiting the Mendocino coast is a treat, and should be on any California itinerary.
Big Bear and Big Bear Lake
100 miles northeast of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County lies Big Bear Lake, and ski resort. Yet another gem in the great state of California. Like all places in California Big Bear is amazing in all four seasons. A year round destination. Skiers and snowboarders love the ski season. Big Bear Lake is excellent for fishing in all seasons. Included in lake recreation is the draw of Big Bear’s natural hot springs. Excellent for biking, hiking, or a round of golf. Bear Mountain’s par 35, 9-hole mountain-style golf course is open daily through October. Make sure to take the scenic sky chair ride for sweeping views of Big Bear, traveling through forest to the 8,200 foot summit. The Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest also sports the highest beer garden in the U.S.
Death Valley National Park
Where else but California can you surf in the Pacific Ocean and be in one of the world’s hottest places on the planet, all in the same day. The desert has always been a sacred place. The Mojave Desert is the driest and hottest location in North America. The sand dunes, desolate, rugged terrain is some of the most unique landscape on Earth. You will be amazed at the sheer size of the land mass. Zabriskie point, Artist’s Pallette, and a stop at Bad Water which is 300 feet below sea level are must see points. Death Valley rivals any desert scenery on the planet, yet is truly a one of a kind destination.
Some of the greatest skiing on the planet, yet much more than just a ski destination. The summers in Lake Tahoe rival the Winters. The clarity of Lake Tahoe’s water is truly breathtaking. Mountain and lake views are a year round attraction. In the snow season, Squaw Valley, Heavenly Valley, Alpine Meadows, Northstar are some of Lake Tahoe’s top rated ski resorts. Majestic mountains with jaw-dropping cliffs. In the hot summer season boating, swimming, nearby river rafting, biking and hiking are the main activities. Many people own second homes in the area, or rent houses for the snow and summer seasons. Lake Tahoe is also the second deepest lake in the United States.
Yosemite National Park
In my youth, I was lucky enough to spend summers in Yosemite National Park. Just a mere three hours from San Francisco is a slice of paradise on Earth. There is a reason close to 4 million people visit Yosemite annually. 95% of the park is designated to wilderness. The magnificent, gigantic, Sequoia groves are truly a sight one must see to believe. Granite cliff, waterfalls, swimming in clear streams, climbing Half Dome. Yosemite is all about hiking. One of the most spectacular views is the vista from the top of Half Dome. Of course if one simply wishes to stay in the valley there are camp sites, and even a five-star lodge., The elegant Ahwahnee Hotel is surrounded by Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Glacier Point.
For more information on California’s National Parks visit:
About the Author: Nick Kontis – Travel Expert and Founder of World Travel List
Nick Kontis started out as a world traveler at an early age traveling back and forth between California and Greece every summer. But it was a backpacking trip around the world at age 24 that proved to be a life changing experience. After traveling by car, train, plane, bike and, boat around the world, it would be this trip of a lifetime that would lead to a life as a travel entrepreneur and world traveler. Nick has been on both radio and television. Featured on Arthur Frommer’s television show, and referred by Lonely Planet writers. Frequently mentioned as the “father of around the world airfares.” Arthur Frommer once said, “If Jules Verne were alive today he would use Nick to go around the world in 80 days.” Nick and his various travel companies have sent over 10,000 people taking their dream trip through airfare discounts of as much as 50% off the airlines published fares. Now Nick promotes travel through his World Travel List and “Trip Rambler” by World Travel List. Having traveled to over 80 countries Nick hopes to inspire others to travel the world. Follow Nick’s “passion for travel” on the World Travel List.