By Ian J Stevenson
California is one of the most beautiful states to visit, and its long narrow shape, hugging the Pacific ocean, makes it perfect for a coastal drive of unparalleled beauty. The first decision is whether to start – at the southern tip (California/Mexico border), and then north to the border of Oregon, or the reverse (from north to south). As most visitors come from the north, the latter choice is the more common.
The second decision is whether to start right at the Oregon border. The drive from there to San Francisco, even non-stop, requires about seven hours on secondary roads. Whether this is worth it depends entirely on personal preferences. If rugged coastline is what you want, this is for you, but if something more ‘touristy’ with lots of facilities and attractions geared to kids is your thing, then best forget it.
Starting from San Francisco, the major points of interest are:
The City of San Francisco itself: This alone is worth a couple of days. The Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, trolley cars, the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz will alone occupy a full day. Other sights include Chinatown, the Mission District and the Conservatory of Flowers. Due to its size, a guided tour is worth the money. Pack a jacket, as bone-chilling fog is common to the area.
San Jose: An hour south of San Francisco, this city is known for its beaches, boardwalk, and amusement pier. It attracts huge crowds during spring break. If the thought of thousands of students turns you off, best visit some other time.
Monterey Bay area: An hour and a half from San Jose. Cannery row, Fisherman’s Wharf and neighboring towns such as Salinas, will all seem familiar to readers of John Steinbeck’s novels. Located right at the Wharf is one of the countries best aquariums. This is also the spot for the freshest seafood found anywhere. A few miles south is the must-see town of Carmel by the Sea, and the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course.
Hearst Castle: Located at San Simeon, two hours south of Monterey, this truly spectacular creation of publishing giant William Randolph Hearst, shouldn’t be missed. Park at the visitor’s center, and board buses for the three different tours offered.
Los Angeles: Four and a half hours from the Castle lies the sprawling city of Los Angeles. Universal Studios, the Getty Villa and Museum and Walt Disney World’s four theme parks are just a few of the attractions. The city’s vast size and intimidating traffic, make parking the car, and hopping aboard a tour bus a more relaxing way to see the sights.
San Diego: A further two hours from Los Angeles is California’s second largest city. With little variation in climate throughout the year, this a perfect holiday destination at any time. A boat tour is an ideal way to get a different view of San Diego’s beautiful shoreline. For animal lovers, the world-famous San Diego Zoo, Wild Animal Park and Sea World will keep a first-time visitor busy for a couple of days. The Anza Borrego Desert State Park offers the nature-conscious a glimpse into the ecology of Southern California. Tourists seeing the lush vegetation, are seldom aware of the fact that little of it is natural. Most of Southern California’s coast is classified as “coastal desert.” The grass and palm trees are all planted, and depend on irrigation for survival.
Obviously, these are only a few of the attractions found touring the coast. An area as rich in scenic beauty, history and culture couldn’t possibly be dealt with in a single article. Hopefully, this will serve as an introduction, that will encourage potential visitors to further research what this vast state has to offer and enable them to plan their own itinerary.
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I’m Ian Stevenson, administrator and author at Flights To Tours.