Itching to explore California beyond the selfie spots and the mouse ears? We present eight of the best experiences from “California 101,” our guide to the best attractions across the state.Less
Whatever the season, the views from Emerald Bay Overlook, the rocks next to the main parking lot and Eagle Falls Vista Point (all on the slopes above the bay) are wrap-around wonderlands of lake and forest, with tiny Fannette Island and its stone teahouse ruins completing the scene. There's camping, kayaking and Vikingsholm Castle, a Scandinavian-style mansion from the 1920s.
In food-and-view-obsessed San Francisco, no venue is foodier than the Ferry Building and no view beats the Golden Gate Bridge. The real estate that connects them — and Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero — is the waterfront, a stretch of more than five miles that will feed you, teach you, entertain you and muss your hair (thanks to the stiff breezes).
Granite walls. Falling water. Tall trees for miles. Yosemite National Park, 315 miles north of Los Angeles in the Sierra Nevada, is vast, gorgeous and — because it’s so popular — off-limits to most impulse visitors in summer. Rangers require that all day-trippers who drive in between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m., May 20 through Sept. 30, have advance reservations. (If you have overnight reservations, you’re covered.)
In all the California coastline, there is no more dramatic meeting of land and water than Big Sur. Also, possibly no more dramatic confluence of land, water and lunch than Nepenthe. At this clifftop compound, diners since 1949 have gaped at the surf and rocks 800 feet below. Nepenthe restaurant does lunch and dinner indoors and out, including its celebrated Ambrosia burgers and vegetarian burgers.
The strange trees, innumerable rocks and wide sky of Joshua Tree National Park bring climbers, boulderers, desert campers, stargazers and geology geeks from all over — more than 3 million visitors in 2021. There’s also a thriving art scene and a growing number of funky shops, restaurants and vacation rentals in the nearby communities of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms on Highway 62.
Running a river is a signature thrill in California’s Gold Country — and if it’s early summer you can expect a few splashes of cold water on your face. Guides say the south fork of the American River is a perfect introduction to river rafting, thanks to its evocative scenery and relatively mild Class II and III rapids. Rookies should sign on with a licensed, experienced company; there are more than a dozen, many based in the Coloma-Lotus area.
Grand Central Market, which dates back more than a century, gives you a quicker, slicker view of L.A. diversity than just about any address in town. Gentrified in recent years, the space offers quick food from around the world and hipster takes on favorites like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich ($5.50 and up), giving visitors a chance to rub elbows with downtown regulars.
Even with no social context, the murals would be striking. But context matters. When state and local officials expanded Interstate 5 through San Diego and built the Coronado Bridge in the 1960s, they split the long-standing blue-collar neighborhood of Barrio Logan. Then in 1970, when the California Highway Patrol started building an office where a park was expected, the largely Mexican American neighborhood rose up, occupied the site for 12 days and at last got a 7-acre park built.