California may just be the perfect State. As the largest State by population, and the third-largest by area, it offers visitors a choice from a number of amazing getaways – from the alpine splendor of Yosemite and Lake Tahoe to the iconic, big cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Mendocino and Monterey deliver relaxing coastal charm while Death Valley, Mono Lake, The Coastal Redwoods, and Lassen afford World-class, picturesque scenery. The magic of Disneyland and the rolling hills of Wine Country are two more prominent getaways we cannot forget to mention.
Each destination offers a multitude of incredible things to see and do: amazing activities, beautiful beaches, captivating cities, marvelous mountains, stunning scenery, wonderful weather, and so much more! Listed below are the details for each of these classic California getaways (listed in no particular order). Each of these getaways can be experienced in one, two, or three-day trips.
Whatever type of getaways you’re yearning for; California has it and will satisfy your desire for any level of adventure.
“To breathe the same air as the angels, you must go to Tahoe.” – Mark Twain
The largest freshwater lake in California, Lake Tahoe is the jewel of California. The lake is situated in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and straddles the crook of the State border with Nevada. With a surface area of 122,000 acres, it is the second largest lake in California, behind the Salton Sea, and has a depth of over 1,600 feet – making it the second deepest lake in the U.S. after Crater Lake in Oregon. At 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, Lake Tahoe has 72 miles of shoreline.
Winter in Tahoe means World-class Skiing and Snowboarding which makes up the bulk of the area’s economy. Summer temperatures bring hiking, biking, water sports, beach activities, camping, and golfing. You don’t have to be an outdoor adventurer, however, to thoroughly enjoy Lake Tahoe. It’s a great place to come for entertainment, relaxing, shopping, dining, and gambling (on the Nevada side) with many high-class hotels and spas to choose from. With its stunningly clear, blue/green water and mountainous backdrop, it’s no wonder Lake Tahoe is a well-known location for a destination wedding – either traditionally or by eloping (like we did; overlooking Emerald Bay). Whatever you choose to do here, you can make your getaways to Lake Tahoe whatever you want and return to achieve something different with every visit.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is the world famous National Park located in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves, and biological diversity. Annual park visitation exceeds 3.5 million, with most visitor use concentrated in the seven square mile area of Yosemite Valley. Some of its infamous sights include Half Dome, El Capitan, and Glacier Point, as well as multiple waterfalls like Bridal Veil and Yosemite Falls.
“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” – John Muir
The 750,000-acre park contains thousands of lakes and ponds, 1600 miles of streams, 800 miles of hiking trails, and 350 miles of roads. Nearly 95 percent of Yosemite is Congressionally-designated Wilderness. Various outdoor activities allow you to partake in the amazing views Yosemite affords including hiking, biking, river rafting, mule and horseback riding, camping, backpacking, rock climbing, skiing, snowshoeing, photography, stargazing, and wildlife viewing. The park can be enjoyed year-round with each season offering something different.
Yosemite stands alone as one of California’s best getaways and we’re sure it will leave an imprint in your memories forever with its scenic beauty at every turn.
“There are not many places in the world where you can get to the beach in an hour, the desert in two hours and snowboarding or skiing in three hours. You can do all that in California.” – Alex Pettyfer
Mono Lake is a large, shallow, saline, soda lake with a stunning backdrop of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Located due east from Yosemite National Park, this desert lake was formed at least three-quarters of a million years ago and has no outlet. Dissolved salts in the runoff remain and make the water more than double the salt content of the world’s oceans. These salts also make the lake water alkaline and devoid of fish.
The lake does, however, provide critical nesting habitat for nearly 2 million migratory birds that feed on the shrimp and blackflies that thrive in the lake’s waters – making it an excellent place for bird watching. Located at the southern end of the lake is the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve – home to the Tufa Towers. Tufas are calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by the interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. Currently, Mono Lake is in a geologically active area with many cones and calderas dotting the immediate surrounding landscape. If you’ve got the feet for some hiking, these small geologic features make for an interesting day hike. If you’ get tired from all that hiking, there are many natural hot springs to soak your aching body within a short drive.
Other wonderful activities within the vicinity of the lake abound. Bodie State Historic Park is a ghost town located about 45 minutes from Mono Lake. It’s a fascinating place to explore if you are interested in early-California history and would like to experience a real, authentic Wild West ghost town. Devils Postpile National Monument is a short drive to see towering 60-foot columns of perfectly symmetrical basaltic lava and the 101 foot Rainbow Falls. If you enjoy the slower pace of kayaking or canoeing, Mono Lake is an excellent place to explore. Camping is available half the year on the lakes uninhabited islands. If Skiing is more your speed, Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort has more than 3,500 acres of skiable terrain with 28 lifts, and an annual average snowfall of 400 inches. The Eastern Sierras also offer excellent camping and hiking opportunities with many gem-like lakes to explore.
Mono Lake is a wonderful place to visit with seasonal getaways offering something different to see – vivid changing colored trees, snowcapped mountains, or pleasurable spring and summer temperatures with sightings of wildflowers into July. There are so many different things to see around Mono Lake you can easily fill a couple days exploring all the wonderful sights.
Death Valley National Park
“Death Valley is really wide-open – it’s bigger than Rhode Island – and it’s less a part of California than an ungoverned territory, so there’s lots of weird cops-and-robbers stuff going on. “ – Gus Van Sant
If you find the stark beauty of Mono Lake appealing, about which Mark Twain once penned, “…this lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth…” then have we found a place for you! Located about 2 hours Northwest of Las Vegas, Death Valley lies in the Great Basin east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and west of the California/Nevada border. It is the largest National Park in the lower 48 States and holds the records for lowest elevation in North America and the hottest recorded temperature in the world. Death Valley truly is a landscape of extremes!
Rainfall is, obviously, a rarity. When it does occur, wildflower “super-blooms” can spread across the valley – attracting huge numbers of tourists. Large swaths of wildflowers of various colors and species juxtapose beautifully with the otherworldly geology of barren rock and sand. Notable sights within the park include the Furnace Creek Village, Badwater Basin Salt Flats, Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes, Tecopa Hot Springs, and the infamous Sailing Stones of Racetrack Playa in addition to many more. Sightseeing is recommended by car, four-wheel drive vehicle, bicycle, mountain bike, and of course hiking. There are literally thousands of hiking opportunities. Nine designated campgrounds within the park make an excellent base camp for exploring the valley. Nights in Death Valley are particularly extraordinary for stargazing and astrophotography due to the area’s isolation from any major cities and their light pollution.
From hiking into remote desert canyons to discovering hidden natural arches, there is no shortage of things to explore and experience. With its combination of unique geology, surprising ecology, abundant sights, and obstinate history, Death Valley possesses a rareness that makes for a truly remarkable place to visit and one of California’s most interesting getaways.
“Here is the world of imagination, hopes, and dreams. In this timeless land of enchantment, the age of chivalry, magic and make-believe are reborn – and fairy tales come true. Fantasyland is dedicated to the young-in-heart, to those who that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.” ― Walt Disney
A list of California getaways is positively incomplete without the mention of Disneyland! The Grand-daddy of all other theme parks; people have been flocking to the House-of-Mouse from all over the world for more than 60 years. Located smack-dab in the heart of Southern California, Disneyland is a destination unto itself where a visit has become a right-of-passage. Young or old, it doesn’t matter: anyone can enjoy the magic of a Disneyland vacation.
Consisting of two theme parks, Disneyland and California Adventure each provide amazing rides, enchanting shows, fantastic parades, and fabulous treats. Many iconic rides like The Matterhorn Bobsleds, Space Mountain, It’s A Small World, Autopia, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Carribean, and The Haunted Mansion got their start right here. Both parks have daily parades, incredible nightly shows, such as Fantasmic and World of Color, and an amazing fireworks display over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle each night. SoCal’s great weather means it’s always a wonderful time to visit Disneyland throughout the year. Two extra special times are from mid-September through October for Halloween and November through December for Christmas when the parks are decorated for the holidays. No matter when you choose to go, numerous hotels are available within any budget and many are within a 5-minute stroll to the front gates.
However, and with whomever, you choose to travel, be sure to slow down and enjoy the little Disney details placed throughout the parks and you are guaranteed a phenomenal vacation.
“Los Angeles is 72 suburbs in search of a city.” – Dorothy Parker
Sitting at the 1st and 2nd largest cities in California, Los Angeles and San Diego are Huge! Situated in Southern California (SoCal), and located about two and a half hours from each other (without traffic) they are home to many of California’s prominent sights, attractions, industries, and events. SoCal has an unusually high concentration of 10 amusement parks, 8 water parks, 3 zoos, and an uncountable number of State and National Parks and Recreation Areas.
Beyond that, the area hosts the most iconic beaches in the U.S. (Hermosa, Huntington, La Jolla, Long Beach, Malibu, Pismo, Santa Monica, and Santa Barbara to name a few). The temperate climate and water mean beach culture is big here, and strolling down the connected beaches makes for fantastic (free) summer getaways. Like any big city, Los Angeles and San Diego have tons of shopping, restaurants, museums and entertainment options. With so much to see and do you can see why nearly 23 million people call it “Home”.
If you’re looking for getaways that involve putting your toes in the sand and the action that an amusement park allows, a visit to SoCal is definitely for you.
Monterey / Carmel
Moving up the coast along one of the most beautiful, and scenic highways in the country, Highway 1, you come to the foggy cities of Monterey and Carmel. Located on California’s central coast, they are a mere 4 miles apart and easy to explore together. The gnarled, twisting, gray bark and flat, wind-blown crown of the Monterey Cypress dominates the landscape and adds to the unique beauty of the area. Here you’ll find miles of rugged California coastline and a rich blending of Spanish, Mexican, and Californian heritage, mixed with a bohemian-artist vibe from the area’s history as one of the birthplaces of 60’s counterculture.
“We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” ― John Steinbeck
Take a ride down the infamous 17-Mile Drive to gawk at the charming fairy-tale cottages and some of the most unique, and expensive mansions situated along the coast. The waters of Monterey Bay are a popular destination for both beginner and expert SCUBA divers due to the diverse marine life just offshore. Other nearby attractions include Pebble Beach Golf Course, The Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, and hike or bike the many nearby state parks. There’s also no shortage of lodging, shops, restaurants, and art galleries to stroll through. South of Carmel, you’ll find the scenic and undeveloped shoreline of Big Sur with stunning views of tree-covered mountains rising steeply from the rugged coast. Getaways to Monterey and Carmel are undeniably calm and quiet as well as astoundingly beautiful.
Arguably the Nation’s most unique and iconic city, San Francisco, and the surrounding Bay Area are the cultural, commercial, and financial heavyweight of Northern California. At roughly 885,000 residents, San Francisco is the fourth largest city in California, but at only 46.8 square miles it is the most densely populated. “The City” is known for its cool summers, fog, steep rolling hills, eclectic mix of architecture, and landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, and the former Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.
“San Francisco is the only city I can think of that can survive all the things you people are doing to it and still look beautiful.” — Frank Lloyd Wright
San Francisco is a city overflowing with so much culture and history – from earthquakes, fires, and the Gold-Rush to the LGTBQ movement, civil rights, and the counterculture of the 1950’s and 60’s. Activities in and around “The City” are virtually limitless with the vast amount of festivals, museums, sporting events, restaurants, shopping, beaches, and the many different districts/neighborhoods to walk around. Public transportation is among the best in the Nation (which, sadly, isn’t saying much) with traffic and parking a nightmare for getting around in your car. Cycling is an amazing way to see the city as it’s one of the friendliest cities for cyclists, and renting a bike is an easy option.
Summer getaways to San Francisco are a fantastic way for us to beat the heat of the Central Valley and with so much to see and do there’s no shortage of new things to experience with each visit.
“I love driving; driving along the California coastline is the best drive in the world.” – Al Jardine
Another beautiful, coastal, artist community; we’ve moved north, past the mega-metropolis of the San Francisco-Bay Area, to find the sleepy little communities of Mendocino and Fort Bragg. Located about 10 miles from each other, these two small towns are situated on California’s Highway 1 and can easily be explored together in a single trip. Much like Monterey and Carmel, The vibe here is super laid back and perfect for relaxing. The area is known for bed and breakfast inns, boutique shops, artist galleries, wine tasting, and multiple state parks. Additionally, hiking, biking, and camping are enjoyed by many along the coast.
Despite its small size, the town’s scenic location on a headland surrounded by the Pacific Ocean has made it extremely popular as an artist colony and with vacationers. Mendocino has played host to a surprising number of films and T.V. shows – serving as a backdrop to movies like East of Eden, Summer of ’42, The Karate Kid III, and The Majestic, as well as the Television series Murder, She Wrote. The area’s location along the Pacific Ocean means year-round temperatures are regulated and rarely fluctuate. The summer climate is characterized by frequent morning fog and cool daily temps – a perfect summer escape for us Northern Californians and our record-breaking heat. If you’re in need of low-key, tranquil getaways with pleasing coastal views, we suggest an escape to Mendocino and Fort Bragg.
Redwoods National and State Parks
“The mornings along the coast where the fog and mist meet with the salty spray of the seas is one of my favourite smells. I love the smell in the evergreen forest just after it rains – The Redwood Forest in California has the coast, too, so you have the best of everything!” – Paul Walker
There’s a popular saying that goes, “Everything’s bigger in Texas”, but unfortunately for The Lone-Star State that hasn’t been absolutely true for the last 20 million years. During that time, California has been home to the two tallest and most massive trees on the planet: The Giant Sequoia and Sequoia sempervirens – The California Redwood. A native evergreen tree, this species is the tallest living trees on Earth, reaching up to 379 feet (115.5 m) in height and up to 29.2 feet (8.9 m) in diameter. In addition to their staggering height, these trees are also among the oldest living things on Earth. Mature Coast redwoods live an average of 500–700 years and a few are documented to be 2,000 years old. Redwood National and State Parks are a complex combination of various State and National Parks stretching from the California/Oregon border down the coast to the Big Sur area of Monterey County.
Besides the incredible flora, the parks are home to an impressive amount of wildlife including the black bear, coyote, cougar, bobcat, beaver, river otter, black-tailed deer, and elk. Dolphins and Pacific gray whales are occasionally seen offshore accompanied by sea lions, seals, and otters.
While lodging in the area is sparse, camping is readily available and is what we would recommend for truly immersive getaways. Almost 200 miles (320 km) of hiking trails exist in the parks and are the only way to reach backcountry campsites. Horseback riding and mountain biking are popular but are only allowed on certain trails. Kayaking is popular along the seacoast and in the various rivers and streams. Fishing for salmon and steelhead is best in the Smith and Klamath rivers. Popular sites include Fern Canyon and Gold Bluffs Beach. The Avenue of the Giants offers visitors a 32 mile (51 km) drive through Humboldt Redwoods State Park with eight stops along an auto tour of park highlights.
The lush coastal redwood forests have so many opportunities for gorgeous panoramas of the coastal bluffs combined with towering redwood trees. Consistent temperatures throughout the year, around the low sixties, make it a great place to visit whenever you’d like. It’s certainly a wonderful place for us to escape the oppressive heat of the Central Valley to come and lose ourselves among the turquoise water and fairytale giants. If you’re a lover of nature, you will not be disappointed with multiple getaways to the numerous parks within the Redwoods.
“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.” – John Steinbeck
N.P.S. – Redwoods | Redwoods National and State Parks Wiki | California Department of Parks and Recreation | Coastal Redwoods Wiki | Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park | Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park | Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park
“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir
Most people are familiar with California’s history with earthquakes, but few are aware that the same geologic conditions that cause earthquakes have also created a long chain of volcanic mountains along the west coast of North America called the Cascades. The movement of one tectonic plate sliding under another has forced the upper plate to form these volcanoes. Lassen Peak is the southern-most volcano in the Cascade Range and is the largest plug dome volcano in the world (10,457-feet [3,187 m]). Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the few areas in the world where all four types of volcano can be found (plug dome, shield, cinder cone, and strato), and is still active with boiling mud pots, stinking fumaroles, and churning hot springs.
The area is equally great to visit throughout the year as there are no shortage of activities to participate in. Winter activities include snowshoeing, sledding, skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling. Warmer weather allows plentiful hiking, fishing, camping, and water activities. No matter the season, the volcanic nature of the area is fascinating to view with hydrothermal features like steam and volcanic-gas vents, mud pots, and boiling pools. Lassen Peak is cut by glaciated canyons and is dotted and threaded by lakes and rushing clear streams. A hike to the summit is an easy 5-mile round-trip for anyone in moderate physical condition.
The most popular trail in the entire park is the path to Bumpass Hell, a geothermal basin. The trail is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) and offers views of mudpots, hydrothermal vents, and creeks. Bumpass Hell is the most spectacular of these geothermal areas, but others of note are Sulphur Works, Little Hot Springs Valley, Boiling Springs Lake and Devil’s Kitchen.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is a wonderfully diverse landscape full of interesting geologic oddities and a wide variety of wildlife. With a fraction of the visitors of more prominent getaways in California, it remains a well-kept secret for anyone wishing to experience the allure of the State’s wilderness without its typical crowds.
Wine Country Getaways
“What wine goes with Captain Crunch?” ― George Carlin
California: Mother Nature’s gift to wine-lovers everywhere. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that California is well known for its wine – namely Napa Valley. What you may not know is there are several other wine regions throughout the state with literally thousands of wineries to seek out:
- North Coast – Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma
- Central Coast – Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Monterey, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara
- Sierra Foothills – Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado County, Nevada County, and Placer County
- Inland Valleys – Lodi, Clarksburg, Sacramento Valley, San Joaquin Valley, and Madera County
- Southern California – Los Angeles, San Diego, Temecula Valley, and Cucamonga Valley
Traveling around wine regions can easily be paired with other getaways since there are so many different places in California. However, a stay at a local bed and breakfast offers a fantastic way to enjoy the slow pace of the different wine regions as well as any of the numerous and exciting places in their vicinity (many of which are on this list). Chances are good if you are on a trip somewhere in California, then there is a winery close to you worth visiting.
No matter what region you decide on, the wine is excellent – each offering unique varietals that grow best in that climate and terrain. Some regions of the north coast are extremely touristy and charge quite a bit for tasting. On the other hand, other regions like the Sierra Foothills generally don’t charge for your tastings and most times it’s the winemaker pouring – which is pretty cool!
An invigorating way to enjoy your winery getaways is to take in the scenic views of the vineyards with a picnic of wine, cheese, and crackers – it’s one of our favorite things to do when we go wine tasting.
As you can see, California provides so many beautiful getaways we are sure an escape to any of these locations will be an unforgettable experience for you.
“The journey not the arrival matters.” – T.S. Eliot
We’d love to hear about your favorite California getaway or a California getaway you would love to go on. Feel free to let us know in the comments below or drop us an email.
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