Uncover the Golden State’s best-kept secrets for your dream getaway with our guide to hidden gems for a California vacation.
California is the destination on many people’s bucket lists. The Hollywood sign, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the beaches down near the border with Mexico are some of the most visited places on the planet.
That doesn’t make them any less worth seeing – but we would like to offer a few alternatives to the well-trodden path.
California is the third biggest state in the USA – behind Alaska and Texas – and has such geographical and climate diversity that it has something to offer everyone.
You may automatically think of catching some rays on the beach, but you are just as likely to be hiking in the mountains or travelling across the desert. Let’s face it: you will never complete the Golden State!
With that in mind, we thought we would let you know about some hidden gems in California. There is plenty to do to relax here, from searching for stars in Hollywood to checking out the online betting sites California has to offer.
But here are seven places we think you should discover – before everyone else gets in on the act.
7. Point Reyes – get away from it all
This place is a perfect example of how you can get away from it all so quickly in California. It is only about 48 km (30 mi) northwest of San Francisco, but the nature of wildlife of this peninsula area will seem a world away from the hustle and bustle of the City by the Bay.
There are plenty of campgrounds if you want to set up the tent and really feel at one with nature. But even if you are just making a day trip of it, there are hikes and coastal trails leading to some outstanding beaches on the Pacific Ocean.
You could even finish off your visit by making the most of the local cheese and oysters available in the hostelries of Point Reyes Station.
6. Sausalito – a houseboat haven
Staying in the Bay Area – but remaining even closer to what the kids might call “civilisation” – Sausalito is just the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge and is one of the only ungated neighbourhood marinas in the area.
If you ever wondered what it is like to live on a houseboat, the locals here are the ones to ask.
With around 500 houseboats, all decorated in a unique style, the feel of the place is laid-back. It almost feels like a completely different city rather than just a neighbourhood.
A leisurely walk along the boardwalk, taking in the sites of this floating utopia, is just what is needed before setting off on the road again.
5. Hopland – for wineries and hot springs
Heading north of San Francisco and into the world-famous wine country of northern California, Hopland sits at the southern tip of the Mendocino National Forest and is the perfect location for spending some time in the countryside, with a few well-spent hours tasting the local tipples.
There are a number of excellent wineries in the region, as well as some lovely shops and cafes if you want to have something to eat to soak up the local specialities.
There are also the hot springs of the area to really help you feel relaxed. Or you could just marvel at the redwoods in Montgomery Forest.
4. Lassen Volcanic National Park – home to the largest plug dome volcano in the world
Head a little bit further into the northwest of the state, and you can enjoy more hot springs in the Lassen Volcanic National Park. With fewer visitors than Yosemite to the south, you could find yourself having trails and hikes all to yourself as you explore this stunning location.
The focal point of the park is Lassen Peak, the site of the largest plug dome volcano in the world – and the park is one of the few places in the world where all four types of volcano can be found.
If you feel like cooling down after all that, the relaxing Lake Almanor is just down the road.
3. Big Bear Lake – snowboard in winter, hike in summer
Let’s go back down to the south of the state next and travel around two hours west of Los Angeles. In the heart of the San Bernardino National Forest is the place that makes it possible to surf and ski on the same day in the Golden State.
California really does have it all – and it can be found in Big Bear Lake.
Sitting at around 2,000 feet, the mountains here are a favourite with the snowboarding and skiing crowd in the winter, while hiking and off-road jeeping are popular pursuits in the summer.
As well as all that, you could take in a range of watersports activities on the eponymous lake itself.
2. Fossil Falls – stunning scenery
It is hard to imagine a waterfall cascading down in this arid landscape, but that is what was happening during the last Ice Age to create the incredible structures in the area.
Fossil Falls can be found just off Highway 395 in the Southern California desert. You can drive across the plains before taking a short hike to Fossil Falls.
Be ready to experience views like nothing you have seen before, as the rock formations created thousands of years ago make for some stunning scenery.
1. Bodega Bay – for the Pacific sunset
We thought we would leave the desert and head back to the coast for our final hidden gem destination.
Continue up Highway 1 from San Francisco, and you will see some wonderful sights – but make sure you stop in Bodega Bay if you are interested in fresh seafood and crisp wines.
There are miles of coastline in these parts, and the beaches around Bodega Bay offer the chance to relax or to get out into the surf. This is one of the best spots in the world to gaze out onto the Pacific Ocean at sunset – and most people don’t even know it is here.
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