Must-sees and must-dos in California

We tell you how to make the most of your stay in America’s ‘golden state’

Experience California’s raw beauty

You could spend a whole week here, any time of year, if nature and adventure is what you seek. Summer is stunning for hikes, rock-climbing and rafting. Winter is gorgeous for skiing, snow-shoeing, ice-skating and horse-riding. Visit the 739-m Yosemite Falls; the famous Half-Dome is a must, though the 22-km hike to the top is optional. Go up to Glacier Point and see the splendour of the park unfurl below you, or soak in the serene beauty of Mirror Lake. The Californian outdoors don’t get much better than this. So book into any of the Yosemite National Park Hotels for a weeklong stay. The hotel maybe fully booked if you try last moment bookings.

Go behind the scenes of your favourite movies and shows

Nothing takes you behind the scenes of the movies like a tour of Hollywood’s Universal Studios, spread out over 13 city blocks. Laugh along with comedian Jimmy Fallon as he takes you on a video Studio Tour; check out the Peter Jackson-created 3-D King Kong. Relive the spectacular plane-crash from War of the Worlds, or walk down Wisteria Lane, home to the Desperate Housewives. Check out the legendary Bates Motel and stare down the gullet of the original Jaws. There are countless studio city hotels where you can plan a leisurely stay. So don”t limit your options and book well in advance for a cool stay.

Visit the iconic princess of the seas

This great ocean liner has now made Southern California its home. Commissioned in 1936, she has transported celebrities and royalty across the Atlantic, served as a stripped-down, war-troop carrier during World War II, came back in ’47 as the sea-princess she was until she gracefully retired 20 years later. Revisit this iconic beauty, which serves as a floating hotel, a wedding venue and hosts three world-class restaurants on its magnificent decks. There are multiple options in San Diego Hotels. A little research can help you find an ideal stay through advance booking online.

Watch the world’s most exotic animals do their stuff

Take a trip around the world at the San Diego zoo just by watching animals in their natural habitat. There is no sense of captivity here; just healthy, happy critters doing their stuff while you watch. Giant Pandas, snow leopards, cheetahs, flamingos, gorillas, condors, tigers, wolves, polar bears—the list is endless. To raise funds for the animals, there are regular events, the RITZ (Rendezvous in the Zoo) in June and the Food and Wine Festival in September.

Soak in California’s wilderness

Bring the kids and immerse yourself in the great Californian outdoors. The legendary Big Sur River has some of the best camping grounds on the west coast running along its banks. The Julia Pfeiffer State Park soars all the way from the rugged Pacific coastline up to 1,000-m ridges and granite cliffs that plunge into the ocean. Spend time among the giant Redwoods and conifers, the deer and exotic birds. From November to Feb, you may see migratory whales splashing down the coast.

Get up close with the giants of Planet Earth

This is California’s oldest park, and home to the giants that this coast is famous for: the redwoods. Over 18,000 acres of old-growth forest await you, with 120km of hiking trails snaking through the wild conifers, oaks and sycamores. Camp out in the shadow of the Redwood giants; hike, mountain-bike and horse-ride over the seemingly infinite lush landscape full of canyon floors and waterfalls, past shy deer, coyote, fox and the occasional mountain lion.

Explore the mysteries of the oceans

This theme park is a one-stop shop of all the wonders that thrive out of sight on our blue planet. Check out the spectacular shows where sea-lions perform comedy routines, dolphins dance and killer whales enthral you with their sheer majesty. Kids and adults alike will love the Cirque de la Mer. Spike your adrenaline on the thrilling rides, from the Manta to the Journey to Atlantis. The whole family never had so much fun, all in one place.

The world’s most iconic fun-ground

No visit to California can be complete without a wild ride through Disneyland’s many wonders. Supervised by the legendary Walt Disney himself, enter his magical kingdom of pirates and princesses, jungles, oceans and stars. Generations of families have passed through here since 1955, taking in the rides, the shows, the live music, the spectacular fireworks at night, and a chance to dine with your favourite movie characters.

Where art, music and fun blend

This one is right up there with the festival greats like Glastonbury, Woodstock and Lollapalooza, as a must-see once in your life. Two weekends of non-stop music across multiple stages, spanning genres from rock, pop, indie and electronica, along with art installations and sculptures, this is entertainment on tap. All the big boys have played here at some time or the other, in the gorgeous setting of the Colorado Desert, from 1999 to now. Knock it off your list; it will be an event you won’t forget in a hurry.

Experience the California quality of life

An endless row of sun-kissed vineyards, a great big California sky, great food and wine, an unsurpassed quality of life: that would sum up Napa Valley. Connoisseur or tourist, go vineyard hopping, sampling various grapes, or make a picnic of it in the great outdoors. In between all of that, check out the mud baths in Calistoga or pop into the delightful French Laundry restaurant. Stay at quaint B&Bs along the way. This is a slice of California heaven not to be missed.

CNT Insider Tips:

At Sea World, make your experience more wholesome by meeting animal trainers in person, to understand the unique bond they share with the animals. Try and get there at feeding time; the extra planning will be worth it.