Around 42 million people visit California each year, and there’s a long list of reasons why. Millions of people head to the state’s top-rated tourist attractions, but they aren’t the only draw. Not only are there fascinating natural wonders around every corner, but there’s also a diverse range of food, music, and cultural events as well. Art lovers will find no shortage of inspiring collections, and food and wine aficionados can choose from a never-ending list of cuisine and beverage experiences. Within the 164,000 square miles that make up the Golden State, there’s something for everyone.

01Arriving There

California offers the convenience of 27 primary commercial airports with two major international airports, one in San Francisco and the other in Los Angeles. Many of the major hotels offer airport shuttle services,  and there are designated areas where they make pickups. You can rent a car, which is faster, but if you’re seeking a more economical solution, consider a shared-ride shuttle, which is cost-efficient, but slower. Taxis are another option but look for those licensed and approved by the city if possible.

decorFun Fact

California is the only state in the U.S. to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics. Officials chose Squaw Valley as the site for the 1960 Winter Olympics. California landed both the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympic Games.

02How To Make the Most of Your Time

California is the third-largest state in the U.S., with a population of around 40 million people. There’s an endless number of places to see and experience, but don’t make the mistake of planning too many destinations along the way. Make a list of your top choices and give yourself plenty of time to enjoy them. Be prepared to stand in lines--long lines--for popular attractions at sites such as Disneyland, which can also get pretty expensive. Try other theme parks like Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, 12 miles northwest of Santa Ana, or Legoland in Carlsbad, just 30 minutes north of San Diego. Your money will go further. You’ll find limitless possibilities and discoveries following roads-less-traveled across California. Try locales that aren’t on every top ten destination list.

03What to Avoid

California has several large cities, and like anywhere else in the nation, traffic jams are a fact of life. Avoid travel during peak congestion times or plan ahead, giving yourself extra time if you can’t. What looks like a short half-hour drive on Google maps can quickly become a two-hour crawl. Take rideshares to avoid the hassles of not only traffic battles, but also the challenges of finding available and affordable parking in popular, highly populated areas. Be smart when exploring natural areas, and avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations. Dress appropriately if you’re going hiking. Keep your eyes open for wildlife, especially rattlesnakes, coyotes, black bears, and mountain lions. Never swim alone in the ocean, and be aware of the aqueducts and flood channels which aren’t safe for swimmers, especially after a rain.  

04Live Like a Local

There is an infinite list of touristy sites around California, and then there are the true treasures that you probably wouldn’t know about unless you’re a resident. Live like a local and explore places Californians know and love. History buffs should explore a City of Angels “secret” attraction, 14 staircases hidden across LA County. Many locals say the granite steps of the Saroyan Stairs, built in the historic Hollywoodland neighborhood in 1923, are the most beautiful. You’ll discover a challenging, yet beautiful 148-step ascension with tremendous views of the storybook-style homes that surround this famous neighborhood.

05Things You Can Do Without Any Spending Money

California’s sunsets are magical, and best of all, you don’t have to pay an admission fee to enjoy them. One of the top sites to experience the magnificence is in Sunset Cliffs, a 68-acre regional park owned by the City of San Diego. Panoramic views of the ocean and powerful cliff formations provide a beautiful frame for watching the sun’s descent along the horizon. The Hollywood Bowl is an established venue site in Hollywood, but it’s also a beautiful, hike-friendly--and public--park. If there isn’t a performance going on in the Bowl, you can take the “Bowl Walk,” and enjoy shaded walkways, historic references along the trail, tons of wildlife, and picnic spots throughout. If you enjoy looking at vistas from above, travel to the Northstar area in Tahoe, and enjoy a free gondola ride with a birds-eye-view of this beautiful resort area.

06Where to Take Instagram Pics and Where to Put the Phone Away

California offers epic opportunities to fill your Instagram with amazing photos. Balboa Park in San Diego deserves top honors on the list. Lush gardens fill the park’s 1200 acres. Explore the park’s walking trails and find a tropical sanctum called Palm Canyon, the perfect backdrop for a momentous selfie. In the fall, don’t miss the colorful splendor of Yosemite National Park, a photographer’s dream locale. Visit Haight-Ashbury to experience the history of hippie culture. A plethora of record shops, galleries, and vintage clothing stores fill this five-block area in San Francisco. This is the epicenter of 1960s counterculture. You’ll find great architecture, graffitied walls, and painted murals for artistic shots. Don’t forget to put your phone or camera down sometimes to truly take in California through the eyes of an explorer, not a tourist. You’ll miss out not only its majestic natural wonders but its varied and exceptional array of cultural experiences.

decorFun Fact

San Francisco's population soared from 200 in 1848 to 36,000 by 1855, a span of only seven years. Historians say the Gold Rush triggered the boon. The discovery of gold was also the inspiration behind the state's motto. State leaders chose "Eureka" in 1963. It's a Greek word that means, "I found it."

07Festivals & Events

California is one of the top destinations in the world for epic festivals and events. Coachella is the oldest music and art festival and takes place on two consecutive weekends in April. Around 125,000 people attend the 20-year-old event. If you’re into the visual arts, plan a visit to the Palm Springs International Film Festival in January. Foodies should mark their calendars for the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival in October. Rub elbows with world-class epicureans from around the globe or experience cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs or interactive mixology courses from the experts. For the holiday season and winter fun, make your way to Yosemite National Park at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel for a seven-course feast called the Bracebridge Dinners, a New Year’s Eve Gala, live music, lots of food, and wine tasting events.

08Where to Eat & Drink

California cuisine is a style of cooking, not the type of food served. Californians love good food featuring an abundance of natural ingredients and fresh seafood available from the top of the state to the most southern point. Not only will you find some of the best Chinese food in California, but you can also sample authentic Cuban, Japanese, Persian, and Indian food as well. Avocado is the King of Fruits here. From avocado toast to guacamole, to avocado sandwiches and Cobb salads, the list of dishes featuring avocados goes on and on. Seafood also inspires creative dishes served California-style, such as fish tacos, clam chowder, and spot prawns with tomato, seasoned with jalapeno and cilantro. Don’t leave without trying one of the state’s traditional, historic dishes, Cioppino. Italian immigrants created this delicious seafood stew in the 1800s in San Francisco, and restaurants still serve it today.

09Joshua Tree Will Take Your Breath Away

Take a short 45-minute drive from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree National Forest and discover a shrouded gem within the park. Giant boulders and Joshua trees surround an extraordinary landscape called Hidden Valley. Locals come here to hike, camp out, and then end the day stargazing the crystalline night skies above. A one-mile loop starts at the parking lot, but hikers must climb over and through a gap in the rocks to reach it. Visitors are free to climb around on the rocks and explore the amazing array of these geological formations.

decorFun Fact

The hottest, driest place in America is Death Valley, California, a 3.4 million-acre national park and the largest in the country. Although it is home to the lowest point in the country, Badwater Basin, it is also only 76 miles away from its highest point, Mt. Whitney.

10Take a Coastline Drive

If you’re into cruising instead of hiking, consider a journey along the 90-mile Big Sur coastline. The views you’ll encounter along the 17 miles of twists and turns on historic Highway 1 are no-less-than magnificent, yet they aren’t for the inexperienced driver. You’ll no doubt recognize views and landmarks from movies, TV shows, and commercials. This mountainous area along the central coast of California became a haven for artists and writers in the 1950s and 60s, and free spirits such as Steve McQueen, Jimi Hendrix, and scores of other icons hung out here. Take in renown landmarks such as Bixby Creek Bridge, the top spots for selfies in Big Sur.