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Scenic California

22nd Feb 2013 by Travelsphere

See the best of west coast USA, from quirky castles and super cities to world-class wilderness.

California is the Golden State - an apt moniker indeed. Historically, the name evokes the 1840s Gold Rush, when prospectors poured in to seek their fortunes and the region boomed. But it also conjures the sun-kissed skin of its beach-loving residents, the gleam of a Hollywood Oscar, the honeyed hue of its Chardonnays and San Francisco's iconic bridge. Life here is Golden indeed.

Head out on the highway

The best way to explore is by road - the roads here are generally spectacular; for instance, the Pacific Coast Highway north of glitzy LA hugs wave-crashed cliffs, inches over precipitous bridges and slices through a rugged hinterland. There are interesting stop-offs too, from arty Monterey (complete with cafés, boutiques and frolicking sea lions) to Hearst Castle, the flamboyant, hilltop, Spanish-style mansion of former newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (whose life inspired the movie Citizen Kane).

San Francisco, familiar from countless films, doesn't disappoint. The streets are just as vertiginous and twisty, the famous bridge just as misty, the harbourside bright and bustling. The countryside nearby is equally intoxicating, with some of the USA's finest wines produced amid the rolling hills and Mexican-style plazas of the Sonoma Valley. Many of the vineyards offer tastings.

Looking for adventure

Head further inland and the geography becomes even more dramatic. Beyond state capital Sacramento – a key hub during Gold Rush days – the Sierra Nevada mountains dragon-back down eastern California. Here, unlike in Hollywood, Mother Nature is the premier director, fashioning a landscape of mirror-clear lakes hugged by snowy peaks, grand granite valleys and gorgeous gorges.

Tahoe is the USA's largest alpine lake, formed two million years ago; it's an ideal spot for a sunset cruise or simply marvelling at the mountains' reflections. Yosemite, to the south, is the place for hikes – hundreds of trails (from easy ambles to tough climbs) riddle this valley of pungent pines, whispering streams and rock monoliths. It's no coincidence that John Muir, grandfather of the entire conservation movement, was so inspired here; it's the world's second-oldest national park.

Further south, lie the contiguous parks of Sequoia and King's Canyon. Between them they protect some of the planet's tallest and oldest trees (the General Sherman is 84m high and reputedly 2,700 years old) and conceal some of the deepest gorges, which plunge down 2,500m. To arrive back in LA after all this is to have looped around 1,000 miles, via movie stars and mountains, castles and cafés, valleys and vineyards. Quite some roadtrip.

Did you know?

Monterey Bay is reportedly the only place in the world where you can find five different species of seal and sea lion. These include the Steller's Sea Lion and the Northern Fur Seal.

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New for 2013, Scenic California is a 14 day escorted holiday from Travelsphere.


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