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California sweet – treasures of the Golden State

California is a place unlike any other. Within its state boundaries you’ll find snow-capped mountain ranges, searing deserts and mighty forests. Having grown and evolved as a result of the California Gold Rush of 1848, these days the state is a treasure-packed destination for visitors. Everything about California is bigger, brighter, bolder and more exciting from its captivating cities to its breathtakingly beautiful national parks.

With an average daily temperature of 70F all year round, San Diego in southernmost California provides a warm welcome to a journey through California. A shining example of California’s diversity, the county of San Diego possesses seventy miles of golden beaches on the western coast whereas to the east, gentle mountains gradually give way to mountains and the striking Anza-Borrego Desert State Park; the perfect place to see indigenous wildlife such as the golden eagle and the famous roadrunner. San Diego City is the eighth largest in America, and a compelling mix of the modern and the historic. The unmissable Balboa Park contains fifteen museums charting every aspect of San Diego’s history, as well as offering numerous arts and entertainments facilities and extensive public gardens. The park is also home to the world famous San Diego Zoo. The true buzz of the city can be found in the Gaslamp quarter, where the best shopping, entertainment and dining options are collected in a Victorian district which really comes into its own at night.

Santa Barbara from the pierAdjoining the north-western border of San Diego is Orange County, now popularly referred to as OC. The perfect destination for a family trip, Orange County is the place in which Walt Disney oversaw the transformation of an orange grove into his visionary theme park, Disneyland. Since its opening in 1955 Disneyland has welcomed more than 600 million visitors into its magical kingdom and remains one of world’s most popular attractions. Orange County is blessed with a number of fabulous beaches, but Newport Beach specialises in whale watching, where many different species of whale as well as dolphins and sea lions can be observed off the coast. Worthy of note is the Crystal Cathedral in the city of Garden Grove. The Crystal Cathedral is actually a large-scale Presbyterian Church, but earns its name from the fact that it is constructed entirely from panes of glass, including the spire, and is a southern-Californian landmark.

To the north-east of San Diego lies the metropolitan-urban area known as Inland Empire. This fast-developing region of California centres around the cities of Ontario, Riverside and San Bernardino, although agriculture is still prominent in an area that was once dominated by citrus groves. Winemaking is popular in the Temecula Valley, and visitors can follow a wine-tasting trail which takes in eight different producers. For a taste of luxury desert living and the great Californian outdoors the famous resorts of Palm Springs in the Coachella Valley to the east of San Bernardino provide a gateway to the Mount San Jacinto Mountains and a range of hiking trails. Meanwhile, well-heeled Palm Springs cities such as Indian Wells, La Quinta and Palm Desert offer theme parks, casinos, golf, museums and theatres along with many first-class shopping and dining facilities.

Westwards of Inland Empire, California gives way to the Mojave Desert and it’s here that you’ll find the stunning Death Valley National Park. One of the hottest, driest places on earth, temperatures in Death Valley remain at 90o F or higher for six months of the year, with average temperatures of more than 110oF during the summer months. If golf is your passion, you have the opportunity to play a round on the world’s lowest-elevation golf course at the aptly-named Furnace Creek: at 214 meters below sea level it’s unlikely that your ball is going to be affected by gusting winds.

Back at the west coast, Los Angeles County is the most populous area of the United States and contains 88 incorporated cities, the largest of which is Los Angeles itself. Los Angeles is indelibly associated with the entertainment industry: the six largest motion picture studios are all based here and a much attention is focused upon a rather well-known district called Hollywood. No visit to Hollywood could be considered complete without taking in the Hollywood Walk of Fame in which the pavement for eighteen blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street have been embedded with star shaped plaques commemorating anyone and everyone of note connected with the silver screen. Hollywood isn’t the only famous Los Angeles destination; the beaches of Malibu, Santa Monica and Venice are legendary and great for surfing, swimming, volleyball, water-skiing and celeb-spotting. For stunning film-star residences and a taste of American high society living, look no further than the cities of Beverly Hills and Bel-Air. Such is the diversity and size of Los Angeles County that finding a starting and ending point for all of its attractions is nigh on impossible. Entertainment is in the county’s blood and with innumerable theme parks, museums, galleries, theatres, beaches, state parks, shopping malls and other fun diversions on offer, even the most demanding or hard-to-please visitor will find something to love about Los Angeles.

Above Los Angeles, the Central Coast area of California stretches for three hundred and fifty miles, taking in the wildly varied terrains of the Channel Islands region, Santa Barbara, San Louis Obispo and Monterey Bay. The central coast is vast, you really need your California car hire to get around here and explore it to its full extent.

A mix of cities such as Oxnard and Ventura and smaller towns typifies the Channel Islands region, which takes its name from the five islands of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. Forming a National Park these beautiful islands provide a natural habitat for many unique land and marine species and provide an insight into how California would have looked thousands of years ago. Santa Barbara, with its idyllic location between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, has been described as the . A climate comparable to that of the Mediterranean makes Santa Barbara an attractive holiday resort and sustains a successful wine producing industry. With an emphasis on arts, culture and sustainable tourism Santa Barbara’s parks, beaches and vineyards offer a seductive retreat from the brasher side of California. Ringed by extinct volcanoes, San Louis Obispo (or SLO) offers further opportunities for coastal relaxation and recreation.

Close to SLO the famous media baron William Randolph Hearst built Hearst Castle. Taking its design from a variety of classical European architectural styles, this grand fortification sits atop a hill in a 250,000acre estate which is now a state historic park, allowing the public access to experience the castle’s twelve acres of landscaped gardens and the many fine artworks and tapestries within. Comprising a number of resorts, the picturesque Monterey Bay area is a haven for wildlife lovers. Whale watching is a popular activity, but many other marine mammals including sea otters, bottlenose dolphins, elephant and harbour seals may be observed. The area also boasts numerous world-class golf courses, wineries, stunning coastal scenery and more than one hundred galleries and museums.

Away from the Central Coast, the western side of California comprises a historic four-hundred mile belt of agricultural and open countryside known as the Central Valley. From the city of Bakersfield in the south to Sacramento in the north, the Central Valley has been describes as America’s greatest garden and provides one quarter of the food consumed by America. Here the cities of the valley are interspersed with smaller towns and farming communities, offering visitors the opportunity to step back in time to a more traditional way of Californian life. Farmer’s markets and fresh produce are highlights of the Central Valley, but the region plays host to many museums, public gardens, hiking trails and even its own brand of country music.

Further west still are the stunning High Sierra and Sierra Nevada, California’s ultimate outdoors adventure playgrounds. Dominated by three National Parks – Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon – the Sierra Nevada provides unparalleled opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, rafting and pretty much any other outdoor activity you’d care to indulge in. In the north, Lake Tahoe is ringed by mountains and blanketed in snow. Skiing, sledding and snowboarding are the orders of the day, with seven different ski resorts around the lake to choose from. Shaped by glaciers, Yosemite National Park’s granite cliffs, with their crystal waterfalls and streams and the wilderness areas of grassland, meadow and giant Sequoia tree groves make it a fascinating destination, the beauty of which is guaranteed to exhaust camera batteries.

Neighbouring the north eastern edge of the High Sierra is California’s Gold Country, a collection of counties in which the richness of mineral deposits and gold seams attracted the attentions of prospectors leading to the California Gold Rush of 1849. Nevada City’s goldmines can still be explored, and the pretty Grass Valley district is one of the best preserved examples of a gold rush town. Astride the border between Gold Country and Central Valley, historic Sacramento is California’s capital. This cosmopolitan city is one of California’s fastest-growing tourist destinations. Old Town Sacramento gives visitors a taste of the old west with cobbled streets and wooden sidewalks providing an authentic experience. More history is provided by the California State Railroad Museum, the largest museum of its kind in America. Elsewhere, Sacramento offers a fine blend of culture and entertainment to suit the whole family as well as some interesting architectural landmarks such as the Aztec-styled Ziggurat Building in the west of the city.

Sitting between California’s central and northern coast is San Francisco, an area brimming with famous landmarks such as the prison on Alcatraz and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge. Excellent views of the city, bridge and bay can gained from the Presidio, a former military fortification which is now a public park and features beautiful examples of architecture in the Spire and the Palace of Fine Arts. Further inspiration for the aesthete is provided by San Francisco’s many art and galleries museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Asian Art Museum. Wildlife lovers will enjoy San Francisco Zoo and further opportunities to spot whales and other marine mammals along the northern Californian coast.

Northward from the San Francisco area the Californian coastline stretches onward becoming wilder and less accessible as the terrain becomes more rugged toward the state’s northern border with Oregon. Thanks to the proliferation of the mighty tree here, this region has been nicknamed the Redwood Coast and these giants of nature can be admired in a number of state parks and plantations. As the natural beauty of the mountains, forests, canyons and vineyards of northern California’s rural wine country take over and major cities become fewer and further between, you could be forgiven for thinking that California’s nickname refers not to precious metal upon so vital to the state’s evolution, but to the fund of golden memories that its diversity of wonderful experiences provides.

Jon is a guest writer from Alamo who provide cheap car hire USA – check them out for your California car hire!

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