The best things to do in California: powder snow to ski to fine wines

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California is famous for its sun, beaches and palm trees, but that’s only part of the picture. Along with the most miles of coastline in the United States, the Golden State offers small town getaways, cold-weather snowy adventures, fine food and wine, Indigenous culture, and unique natural encounters.

For travelers looking for all of this and more, here’s an introduction to some of the best things to do in California, from mountains to vineyards.

Introducing Northern California

In search of winter mountain adventures

Spikes developed for winter recreation are easy to find in the elevated, snow-capped areas of California. Rising to 14,179 feet (4,322 m), Mount Shasta in the far north of the state is a playground for cross-country skiing, night skiing and snow tubing from mid-December to April. In the interior of Fresno, Mammoth Mountain in the High Sierras receives an average of 30 feet (9 m) of snow each season. It’s a great place to hang on to a snowboard, put on snowshoes, or go dog sledding. At the end of the day, lie down to some of America’s most comfortable vacation rentals, lodges, and resorts.

In Southern California, snowboard in the state’s freestyle capital, Big Bear, or take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of Mount San Jacinto for access to winter campsites and ski resorts. best places for family snowball battles. If you’d rather stay warm, Palomar Mountain offers scenic seasonal walks through cedars, pines, and firs.


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Dine at award-winning restaurants

A multi-colored array of fresh produce (one-third of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in the Golden State) and top-notch local meats and seafood bring superior flavors to the diverse California restaurant scene. Dining options statewide range from hip street food to casual dining and upscale fine dining.

California is no stranger to food awards. In addition to the gongs regularly harvested by restaurants in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, 2021 saw a Michelin star and Bib Gourmand recognition for restaurants like Port house in Elk (Mendocino County), dumpling spot Yue Huang in Sacramento, Loquita in Santa Barbara and Young and beautiful in Carlsbad. It underscores California’s status as a premier dining destination.

Exploring wine regions such as the Russian River Valley is a California dream © Jayme Burrows / Stocksy United

Follow the California wine routes

Most travelers instantly connect California wine to Napa Valley, but the state is home to over 130 distinct and federally recognized AVAs (American Wine Zones). Beyond Napa, start the wine adventure in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County – we recommend Sonoma-CutrerIt’s tasty Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Lodi in the Central Valley is best known for its Zinfandels, but the region is emerging as a prime destination for lesser-known varietals such as albariño and vermentino, including crisp whites made by Klinker Brick Winery.

In Paso Robles, the Tin city food and wine market hosts Desparadas wines, known for its red and white wines and blends of French and Italian influence. Meanwhile, Temecula in Riverside County – between LA and San Diego – is the perfect country for growing Syrah.

Learn about California’s native culture

Innovative cultural centers, open-air sacred sites, learning spaces, and hands-on arts and crafts experiences are just a few of the many ways visitors can learn about the more than 100 tribes. recognized by the federal government in California.

North near Eureka, Fort Humboldt State Historic Park features exhibits that explore the impact of miners and settlers on many California tribes, including the Karok, Hupa, Wiyot, Yuki, and Shasta.

After riding a bike American River Parkway (Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail) in Folsom, 300 miles (483 km) south of Eureka, stop at Folsom History Museum to see exhibits on the region’s indigenous peoples and the history of the Gold Rush (a new museum dedicated to Folsom’s Chinese heritage is in the works from 2021).

Chumash Painted Cave Historical Park near Santa Barbara features rock art believed to have been painted by the Chumash people in the 1600s and before. Continuing south towards Los Angeles – home to America’s largest indigenous population – the Haramokngna Native American Cultural Center highlights the history and culture of the Chumash, Kitanemuk, Serrano, Tataviam and Tongva tribes.

Further south and inland in the Coachella Valley, construction is underway on the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ Cultural Plaza. When complete, the center will include a museum and spa using mineral-rich waters from a nearby hot spring that Native Americans have used for healing and spiritual purposes for centuries.

In San Diego County, the area currently covered by the Mission Trails Regional Park played an important role for the indigenous Kumeyaay and Luiseño peoples. Today it is a great place for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and weekend camping.

Exterior view of Hearst Castle, California
Hearst Castle, near Cambria, is one of America’s most lavish homes © Shutterstock / Abbie Warnock-Matthews

Experience American Culture in Small Town California

Small towns offer the best of America. North of San Francisco, Chico is a vibrant college hub surrounded by farming communities – always a good sign when looking for great food in Northeast California. that of the city Bidwell Park is a great place to splash around in swimming holes, go horseback riding, fishing and hiking. You can also visit the highly regarded Sierra Nevada Brewing Company brewery and admire the work of local artists at Northern California Museum of Art.

Located in the Trinity Mountains a few hours north of Redding, Dunsmuir is a popular fly-fishing destination and a notable stopover for enthusiasts of American railroad history. Calistoga, near Napa, is a place to bathe in soothing mineral waters at spas ranging from modest to opulent; some are clothing optional as well. Along the central California coast, Cambria is an artistic seaside town dotted with cozy inns. It is also the setting for Hearst Castle, the lavish former home of William Randolph Hearst.

Inland and easily accessible from Los Angeles, Ojai attracts wellness enthusiasts who also love the comfort of bedding in boutique hotels. And the mountain town of Idyllwild puts 30,000 acres of the San Jacinto wilderness close at hand, along with art galleries, outdoor rock climbing, and an annual outdoor jazz festival.

Humpback whale breaches Monterey Bay, California
Whales can be spotted along the California coast © Chase Dekker / Shutterstock

Witness remarkable natural events

California sees amazing natural phenomena every year. If the timing is right, try to capture the annual bioluminescence events at Point Reyes (Sonoma County), Long Beach (Los Angeles County), Newport Beach and Laguna Beach (Orange County) and San Diego.

During the day, the ocean takes on a reddish-brown hue from algal blooms, and these same microscopic organisms light up the ocean at night. These “red tides” are best seen from land, however, as the algae produce toxins that can irritate people with asthma and other health problems.

The annual migration of Monarch butterflies begins in November and continues through March, bringing many of these distinctive butterflies to the Central Coast, including the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove in Monterey County. Although the number of butterflies is impressive, the number of western monarchs has declined by 99% since the 1980s, possibly due to a combination of climate change, drought conditions and habitat loss.

The annual migration of whales is another good reason to visit northern California from December to April, when some 20,000 gray whales pass between Alaska and Mexico. However, humpback whales, blue whales, orcas and other species are seen year round. Monterey Bay is the state’s most famous whale watching destination.

Shop for products made by California artisans

Locally made housewares, clothing, and accessories can be found statewide, showcasing California creativity. Sweet July in Oakland, highlights African American-owned businesses and manufacturers in the Bay Area; Shop for cookware, jewelry, and personal care products from producers like Johanna Howard Home, 54 Thrones, and ByChari.

In Santa Ana, Alta Baja Market at 4th Street Market celebrates food from California, the Southwest, and Mexico. This is a good place to find wines from the emerging wine region of the Valley of Guadalupe in Mexico.

In downtown Los Angeles, Line is home to sustainable fashion boutiques such as Coast by Coast swimwear and Banks Journal men’s clothing, as well as a wine shop, florist, produce market and restaurants.

Remember the obvious California experiences

In addition to getting off the beaten track, you’ll want to take the time to lounge on California beaches, soak up the hustle and bustle of the big cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and take incredible hikes in the California hills. and enjoy the thrill of the fantastic theme parks – including Disneyland. And don’t overlook outdoor adventures in legendary national parks such as Yosemite, Joshua Tree, and Death Valley.


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