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California Travel Guides

Explore a destination in California to see the top hotels and top things to do, as well as photos and tips from U.S. News Travel.


Anaheim-Disneyland

Many vacationers come to Anaheim for Disneyland. A plaque at the entrance of the park reads: "Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy," and for more than 50 years, this complex of amusement parks and hotels has remained a fun fantasy world. Even if you've been to other Disney resorts, nothing beats the original's unique place as a vintage landmark in the heart of Southern California. This vibrant park is still a great place for families  in fact, your kids will most likely have so much fun with Mickey and friends that they'll never want to leave. And with plenty of thrilling rides and a bustling entertainment district, you might not want to leave either. 


Big Sur

Big Sur is not just a destination, it's a state of mind. Stretching 90 miles between Monterey Bay and San Simeon on the west coast of central California, Big Sur's remote location, peaceful nature and incomparable beauty entices visitors to change gears, both figuratively and literally. Pacific Coast Highway, which was built less than 100 years ago, is the main road that runs through the region and becomes the most scenic in Big Sur. Sitting high above the surf, the highway clings to the edge of the area's cliffs, providing spectacular views as it weaves in and out of the seemingly endless coastline. Driving conditions aside, Big Sur's calming culture is contagious, and has been known to attract minds of all kinds seeking inspiration, refuge or transformation. It was Jack Kerouac who took off to Big Sur in search of inner peace, as recounted in his novel "Big Sur." Fellow writer Henry Miller called Big Sur the first place he felt at home in America, later penning the memoir "Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch." Since then, countless musicians, artists, writers and photographers have chronicled Big Sur's powerful presence in their work, yet travelers say its grandeur remains indescribable.


Disneyland

A plaque at the entrance of Disneyland says: "Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy," and for more than 50 years, this complex of amusement parks and hotels has remained a fun fantasy world. Even if you've been to other Disney resorts, nothing beats the original's unique place as a vintage landmark in the heart of Southern California. This vibrant park is still  a great place for families -- in fact, your kids will most likely have so much fun with Mickey and friends that they'll never want to leave. And with plenty of thrilling rides and a bustling Downtown entertainment district, you might not want to leave either. 

Lake Tahoe

Incredible, extraordinary, mind-boggling … try as you might, you'll have difficulty finding words that do justice to the sheer beauty of Lake Tahoe. Resting on the California-Nevada border, Lake Tahoe has long been a favorite vacation spot, welcoming upward of 2.7 million people a year. Visitors are drawn here by the steep granite cliff sides and towering mountaintops, as well as the crystal-clear waters that have earned Lake Tahoe the reputation of being one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the United States. While the stunning blue lake alone is worth a trip, the surrounding area, also known as Lake Tahoe, boasts miles of hiking trails, dozens of picture-perfect vistas and some of the best skiing in North America.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles both confirms and dismantles all of its stereotypes. Sure, it's a sprawling metropolis with eternally congested freeways, but it also contains one of the most diverse and unique sets of neighborhoods in the United States. La-La Land is filled to the brim with the glamour of chic Hollywood name brands and movie set backdrops, yet it's also home to renowned art galleries like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and architectural masterpieces like the Getty Center. The world's visual entertainment empire, LA offers tourists behind-the-scenes looks into the world of filmmaking and television broadcasting at studios like Paramount Pictures Studios and Warner Bros. Studio. What's more, the City of Angels features some of the country's most eclectic cuisine and dozens of highly acclaimed restaurants. Away from the revitalized downtown area, the Malibu and Santa Monica beaches provide sun, sand and surfing, while Venice Beach offers close-ups of the city's most unique residents.

Monterey

The Monterey Peninsula is different than any other part of California. Here, time slows, the architecture is humble (with the exception of the homes in Pebble Beach), and the lifestyle is the perfect synthesis of SoCal laid back and NorCal sophisticated. On the northern side of the peninsula, the town of Monterey draws most of the tourists, while farther south, Carmel-by-the-Sea lures the easygoing wealthy set. Tremendous price tags on real estate helps maintain the small-community atmosphere along Monterey's jaw-dropping coastline.


Napa Valley

After a visit to Napa Valley in the 1880s, writer Robert Louis Stevenson pronounced, "Wine is bottled poetry." You'll see this quote as you pass the area's landmark sign on Highway 29. Unfortunately, Stevenson was referring to French wine — what Napa vintners should aspire to. But as the film "Bottle Shock" documents, California wineries have since risen to the level of their European predecessors. Now, both connoisseurs and amateurs savor the respected vintages from Napa.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs, centered in the Southern California desert, is far from being a dried-up destination. This city once lured the likes of heartthrob crooner Frank Sinatra and rock 'n' roll legend Elvis Presley. In fact, the King even took up residence here in the late 1960s, honeymooning with Priscilla and later having their daughter, Lisa Marie. In the '60s, glamorous piano bars and retro storefronts lined the vibrant streets of the desert town, which is beautifully bookended by the San Jacinto Mountains.

Sacramento

Los Angeles has star power. San Francisco has urban culture. San Diego has to-die-for weather. So why is Sacramento the capital of California? The rationale goes back to the days of the Gold Rush when it was a hotbed for gold diggers — actual miners, not the other kind. And though it's not celebrity-studded or on the seaside, the seat of California's state government has plenty of culture. For this reason, the Capitol building of aptly named Capitol Park is the first stop for many visitors. And there is more to explore. The Midtown neighborhood hosts burgeoning theater and nightlife scenes that cosmopolitan visitors will appreciate. The Gold Rush may be over, but Sacramento's still a great place to be.

San Diego

Consistently sunny weather and 70 miles of magnificent coastline are what draw active types and sun seekers alike to San Diego throughout the year: that and the mouthwatering Mexican cuisine, thriving nightlife and one of the country's favorite zoos. And then there are the beaches: Retreat to Mission Beach to catch a wave, to La Jolla to soak up the sun and to Coronado for a leisurely seaside stroll. When you're ready to ditch your flip-flops and board shorts for more formal attire, you'll find pockets of vivacious nightlife throughout, especially near the historical Gaslamp Quarter.

San Francisco

A jumbled collage of colorful neighborhoods and beautiful views, San Francisco draws those free-spirited types who have an eye for edgy art, a taste for imaginative cuisine and a zeal for adventure. It's really not surprising that songwriter Tony Bennett left his heart here: The city boasts jaw-dropping sights, world-class cuisine, cozy cafes and plenty of booming nightlife venues – there's no shortage of ways to stay busy here. Spend an hour or two sunning yourself alongside sea lions on the bay, admiring the views of the city from Twin Peaks, or strolling along the Marina. And for the quintessential San Franciscan experience, enjoy a ride on a cable car.


San Jose

San Jose has quietly gone about the business of developing and expanding to become larger in both size and population than its northern neighbor, San Francisco. This sprawling capital of Silicon Valley even skirts the misty overcast and rain that characterizes the Bay Area. On the surface, greater San Jose hosts cookie-cutter housing developments, tech company parks and commercial subdivisions that stretch along the city's main arteries. But San Jose is turning into more than just the playground of tech nerds. Look around downtown and you'll find a little character  sites like the San Jose Museum of Art displays pieces by local artists and the Tech Museum of Innovation features hands-on exhibits for the budding software engineer. Venues like the SAP Center (home of the San Jose Sharks) and California Theatre bring in world-class performers. And with a theme park and a trendy shopping street, California's original capital is shaping up to be fun for the whole family.

Santa Barbara

In the early 20th century when Flying A Studios opened its doors, Santa Barbara was slated to become the epicenter of America's movie-making industry. But the movie stars moved south to Los Angeles, and today's Santa Barbarans wouldn't want it any other way. On "America's Riviera," Santa Barbara aspires for a casual yet fashionable elegance. Just take a look at the well-dressed pedestrians on State Street to comprehend the city's understated indulgence. And although some of America's budget-friendly favorites — like Motel 6 and the McDonald's Egg McMuffin — have their origins here, Santa Barbara's boutique shops and world-class resorts have a reputation for making a dent in your vacation savings. If you can afford the price tag, this quiet, seaside paradise might just be the ideal California retreat for you.

Santa Cruz

This county in northern California is filled with an eclectic bunch of University of California, Santa Cruz students, Silicon Valley tycoons, surfing enthusiasts and left-leaning residents. Its landscape is just as varied, with Pacific Ocean waves crashing against rugged cliffs, redwood trees rising sky-high in nearby forests and the Santa Cruz Mountains looming above it all. 

Sequoia National Park

Home to some of the tallest trees in the world, Sequoia National Park is a humbling place to visit. With the magnificent trees towering hundreds of feet above you, it's easy to feel small in comparison. Located about 80 miles east of Fresno, California, in the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range, the park was established in 1890 as a measure to protect the giant trees from being logged, making it America's second national park. The adjacent Kings Canyon National Park was formed in 1940 and eventually, both parks became linked together.

Sonoma

Sonoma, a county in Northern California known for its bucolic charms and array of wineries, could also be described as Napa's rustic, less-refined and more-relaxed sister. Its rolling hills, which rise into the Sonoma Mountains and descend to the Pacific shore, also contain a cache of small cities that are worth a visit: Try Santa Rosa for an urban escape, complete with museums and buzzy restaurants, but pop by Glen Ellen for a slice of small-town Americana. In short, if you want a laid-back introduction to stellar vintages and gorgeous properties, Sonoma – rather than Napa – should be your California wine country destination.



Yosemite

One of California's most formidable natural landscapes, Yosemite National Park features nearly 1,200 square miles of sheer awe: towering waterfalls, millennia-old Sequoia trees, striking, daunting cliff faces and some of the most unique rock formations in the United States. But despite its enormous size, most of the tourist activity takes place within the 8-square-mile area of Yosemite Valley. Here you'll find the park's most famous landmarks – Half Dome and El Capitan – as well as excellent hiking trails through the natural monuments. Even inexperienced hikers can enjoy Yosemite: Guided tours and climbing lessons are available from local adventure outfitters. Just don't expect to experience it by yourself. Like so many other American tourist destinations, crowds are the biggest obstacles to an enjoyable Yosemite vacation – approximately 4 million people visit each year. But if you go at the right time (and start your day a little earlier than usual), Mother Nature's wonders will reveal themselves to you in a miraculous and serene way.

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