View towards Bear Gulch visitor area from the High Peaks trail, Pinnacles National Park, California

There are many beautiful parts of the USA to visit, yet California remains a popular destination. What makes this particular state such a travelers delight, and what attracts so many visitors each year? Here are some of the highlights:

1 Los Angeles

No visit to California would be complete without seeing the city of the stars. The Kodak Theatre and the mansions of Bel Air are synonymous with Hollywood glamour, making this city the top destination for movie buffs and celebrity hunters alike. Take a walk along Sunset Boulevard for the opportunity to spot Hollywood royalty, or visit Warner Studios for a tour around a working film lot. Universal Studios is also worth a visit for a movie-themed amusement park experience.This city has it all.

You can get away from the city by visiting any of the local beaches. Huntington, Laguna, Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu are all nearby and offer stunning vistas of the Pacific Ocean. Any visit to the L.A. suburbs should also include the cruise liner RMS Queen Mary, in Long Beach, and Disneyland in Anaheim.

2 Death Valley

The surreal landscape of this national park is not to be missed. Waterless salt plains, gigantic craters, and incongruous sand dunes are just a few of the attractions in the area. This region provides a variety of enriching experiences for visitors.

Any trip to the park should include the multi-colored mountains of ‘The Artist’s Pallet’, and ‘Badwater Basin’ that lies at 250 feet below sea level. Other parts of the park to see are the enormous boulders at ‘Sailing Stones’ that move across the valley floor by their own volition, and ‘Scotty’s Castle’ that was built by an early settler.

If you have time then the ghost town Rhyolite is well worth a visit. Here, the collapsed buildings and abandoned trucks serve as reminders of the harsh conditions of this arid desert.

3 Sequoia & Kings Canyon

This area of unspoiled wilderness will delight nature lovers. Near the center of Sequoia National Park lies Moro Rock, where visitors can get unparalleled views of the surrounding countryside. Nearby, there are several groves of Sequoia trees that can be viewed along marked trails. The visitor can, therefore, enjoy a walk past General Sherman, General Grant, and the Fallen Tunnel in this home of the giants.

Travellers should then follow highway 180 through Sequoia National Park, out to Big Stump, and on to Kings Canyon. This natural wonder is a must-see while visiting the area. If you continue along the highway it winds around vertiginous cliffs lining the canyon where the Kings and San Joaquin river headwaters meet. Stop at the scenic viewpoints along the way to absorb the splendor of this part of the park.

4 Yosemite Valley

This glacial valley cups the Merced River in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It opens out before the visitor as you drive along Highway 140. The iconic mountains and numerous waterfalls in this valley make this natural attraction a highlight of any visit to the state. The mountains El Capitan and Half Dome can be seen from the valley floor, and Bridal Veil and Yosemite waterfalls are within walking distance. Yosemite Valley Lodge is the only lodge within the valley and is the best accommodation in the area. However, it is so popular with visitors it can be fully booked a year in advance. As the lodge lies close to Yosemite Falls, guests can hear the waterfall from their room when it is in full torrent. For the more adventurous there are also three campsites from which to explore the valley.

With its numerous hiking and climbing routes, this state park is popular with fitness enthusiasts, nature lovers, and tourists. There are tours that explain how the valley was created as well as describing the wildlife in the area. Yosemite can entertain even the most seasoned traveler with ten waterfalls, three giant Sequoia groves, redwoods, and many hiking trails. To get a panoramic vista of the valley, visit the superb viewpoint at Glacier Point. It can be reached by hiking trail or by road.

5 The Big Sur

This area of California is synonymous with The Pacific Coast Highway that winds along the shoreline from Carmel in the south to Monterey in the north. Weaving around coastal cliffs and crossing deep ravines, the route offers breathtaking views to delight motorists.

Among the highlights on this journey are the stretches of pristine beach that lead down to the Pacific Ocean, and Bixby Creek bridge which spans a deep gully. The bridge has viewpoints either side. Here, travelers can stop and admire the workmanship of this piece of architecture. Take your time to enjoy the scenery and it will be a drive you’ll never forget.

6 Hearst Castle

Having reached the northern end of the Pacific Coast Highway, travelers can then visit the magnificent Hearst Castle. This sprawling mansion was built by the media mogul William Randolph Hearst and was completed in 1947. The baroque grandeur of the 165 rooms, pools, and gardens of the estate is complemented by the stunning countryside surrounding it.

There are a number of individual tours available that focus on different aspects of the building. These range from the decadence and variety of the rooms to the architecture. Some of the most remarkable features are the decorative ceilings and fabulous artwork that Hearst collected over the years.

7 Monterey

The Monterey Peninsula lies between San Simeon and San Francisco on the Pacific coast. The town of Monterey lies at the tip of the peninsula. The writer John Steinbeck, who lived nearby, made the area famous by making it the setting for some of his books. The town has a large aquarium, a thriving harbor area, and a number of quality seafood restaurants along the shoreline. There are also regular whale watching trips from the wharf.

The Monterey peninsula itself has some stunning scenery, and visitors who want to see the flora and fauna of the area should try the 17-mile drive that takes you through the beautiful countryside. Highlights include Pebble Beach, with its exclusive golf club, and Bird Rock where hundreds of seals gather en masse to create a cacophony of sound as they call to one another across the booming surf.

8 Joshua Tree National Park

This park is relatively unknown, yet it should not be missed. It is situated east of Los Angeles and nestles between the Mojave and Colorado deserts. The ethereal landscape ranges from alien rock formations to the figure-like Joshua Trees. The sights and sounds of this park are unusual and unique. The wildlife in this wilderness is also fascinating. Bats, coyote, kangaroo rats, and snakes are all indigenous to this area, and visitors can spot any number of mammals, birds, and amphibians here.

There are also music festivals held in the park in spring and autumn. Situated at Joshua Tree lake these events take in music, rock climbing, and family friendly fun. These joyful occasions attract large crowds and combine all the park has to offer with a lively atmosphere.

9 San Francisco

This city has a laid-back atmosphere, as befits the birthplace of the hippy movement. The amazing architecture, the friendly residents, and the warm climate combine to make this one of the most charming cities on the West Coast. The famous Golden Gate Bridge, California Street, and Lombard Street all attract visitors from across the globe.

Another attraction for visitors to San Francisco is the infamous Alcatraz Prison that sits on the island in the bay. It can only be reached by boat, and the tour ferries run half hourly in the morning, between 9:30 and 12, all year round. In the afternoon they run every 35 minutes until 3:55 in the summer and 1:55 in the winter. There are various tours around the prison, and the fascinating history of the site is of interest to both tourists and locals.

10 The Mystery Spot

This quirky attraction is off the beaten track, but it is still a fascinating destination. Follow the signs through a residential estate in Santa Cruz and you eventually come to a small car park. Here, you will find a makeshift entrance to the attraction. After paying a minimal fee you are taken up a garden path to a dilapidated shack. At this point, you might feel you have been ripped off, but it is worth the time and cost once you see what happens at the site.

The site is advertised as ‘a gravitational anomaly’. This description gives no clue to the surprises in store for the visitor. Watch as the seemingly impossible becomes real. You can find yourself perfectly balanced on a 45-degree platform attached to a wall of the shack, or swing a pendulum that will not return to its start position. You can also watch a ball roll uphill, or switch places with your taller partner to see them become shorter than you. These might seem like cheap gimmicks but that couldn’t be further from the truth. An abnormality in the magnetic field of the planet, at this location, has created a scientific flaw that changes the rules of physics. So, it is worthwhile putting disbelief to one side and visiting this amazing site.

There are many superb destinations in California, but these locations offer some of the best all-around attractions. These ten spots give a variety of experiences, both rural and urban, that will satisfy any taste. So, pack your bags and head for the Golden State. You’ll have the time of your life.

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