Places Listed in California Bucket

The Golden State has more to see than most countries, and it is also larger than many. Given the many landscapes – from forests and deserts and mountains to a coastline that runs along the entire western side – I spent most of my life exploring this state and constantly finding new sights.

What are the best places to see? As a native Californian, photography addict and perpetual traveler, here is my ultimate list of things to do in California from south to North:

1. Surfing in San Diego

San Diego is the third largest city in California and probably has the best weather anywhere in the world. Given its proximity to Mexico, plan to eat some of the best in the state and have a good mix of cultures (although this is true throughout California). Coronado Island, the beaches of La Jolla and the funky culture of Hillcrest make these areas my personal favorites. Pacific Beach is a Twenties favorite, and Ocean Beach is a laid-back surf / hippie spot.

On the way north, stop in Encinitas for an even more hippie atmosphere and the Meditation Gardens of the free self-realization community. If you like surfing, you may already know the famous waves of San Onofre.

2. Get carried away by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Font’s Point in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is supposed to be the best sunrise in all of California, where sunsets are usually the Supreme. The awesome rock formations and wind caves are also a lot of fun to explore. When camping, don’t forget to look up at night; the area is ideal for stargazing. I can’t say enough good things about this beautiful park! It is only 2.5 hours drive from Los Angeles, and the best to visit in winter.

3. Explore the last free place in America, Slab City

I first went to Slab City to see the Salvation Mountain art installation, only to find out that Slab City is actually a community of squatters and outcasts who use what has been rejected and left behind to create a free society that operates almost independently of the rest of the world. It was like entering a new dimension. However, the art installation alone is worth the long drive in the middle of nowhere. It was created by US Army veteran Leonard Knight, a devout Christian who expressed his devotion to his religion through art, although I would say that anyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, would find the installation attractive. If you want to have a unique experience, rent an RV and head to “the last free place in America.”

4. Discover the beautiful “trees” of Joshua Tree National Park

If you love hiking and stargazing in nature, Joshua Tree is perfect for both and beyond. It is also the only place where you can see Joshua trees, which are actually agaves, a succulent plant. This National park is also famous for rock climbing and bouldering. Be careful during the summer months-it can get very hot.

5. Take a scenic helicopter ride over Orange County

Have you heard that sunsets are better in Southern California? They are bright with explosions of orange, red and pink, and sometimes even green flashes when the sun hits the watery horizon. What better way to see the OC sunset than taking a helicopter ride? Departing from Newport Beach John Wayne Airport on the coast and traveling to Dana Point and vice versa, you’ll pass Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar, and other iconic landmarks. Seeing these places enjoying the golden glow is a beautiful and unique experience that I highly recommend in Orange County.

I also recommend watching the sunset from the Newport or Balboa docks in Newport Beach, where I lived for four years. Other of my favorites are Laguna Beach and cycling from Newport to Huntington for exercise. There’s even a drum circle on the Huntington Beach Pier on Sunday nights if you like.

6. To Disneyland

This is a classic. I grew up about 15 minutes from Disneyland and have had a parks pass for most of my life and still haven’t gotten tired of it. Even as an adult, I still love the Magic Kingdom. It’s so nostalgic and sparkly clean (unlike other amusement parks), and the food is honestly really good. You can also get beer and plonk at California Adventure if that’s more your speed.

7. Learn to ski at Big Bear Lake (in winter)…

Big Bear Lake is a mountain resort in the San Bernardino Mountains that frames the Los Angeles area. It’s been a ski village since 1925, and it’s the first place I’ve ever tied up on a snowboard. It is perfect for ski lovers of all levels — in fact, many come to Big Bear Lake to learn how to ski for the very first time. There are two mountains to choose from: Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, although I would say go for both if you can because there is a shuttle between the two. You can also go snowshoeing or tobogganing in between.

8. …or go hiking and camping at Big Bear Lake (in summer)

There are so many great hiking trails to choose from! You will definitely find the one that best suits your abilities. Big Bear Lake also has many campgrounds and RV parks, so if you plan to stay overnight, consider renting camping gear and the facilities are excellent. The Serrano campsite is the most popular area for tent and camper camping.

9. Walk to The Hollywood sign

This walk takes some people by surprise, given the steepness and exposure to the elements, but it’s a great way to see the entire city from one of Los Angeles ‘ most iconic landmarks. The hike is just over 10km, with over 1700 feet of elevation gain. Get ready for a workout — go early in the morning or after in the afternoon if you try in the summer. As always when hiking in California in the summer, be aware of snakes, especially rattlesnakes. I meet them all the time during the dry summer months.

10. Spend a few days in Venice Beach

Venice Beach is a classic stop in Los Angeles if you like a little strange place. Discover the skate park, enjoy an overpriced coffee on Abbot Kinney Blvd. and watch the sunset on the sand. If you prefer less weird and more classic, stay close to Santa Monica and watch the sunset at the pier as the Ferris wheel lights up. Otherwise, stay in Silver Lake for a hipster vibe near the famous Sunset Blvd. or in West Hollywood if you want a more party atmosphere. If I can stop you from visiting the Walk of Fame, let me try – it’s the worst part of Los Angeles and so overrated.

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