Even though the question “What is your favorite state in the U.S.?” never ceases to overwhelm and is nearly impossible to answer, I believe I’ve come to my conclusion: California is, indeed, my favorite state (in the Lower 48). Most people question my answer. When they think of Cali, they think of Hollywood + Los Angeles and many other popular cities. Perhaps even Orange County, Coachella and the Pacific Ocean come to mind as well. Now, while those are all great in my book, those are far from the [only] reasons this state is so dang AWESOME to me. The best way I know how to explain it is to, nonetheless, spell it out. Without further ado…
C is for Coastal Beauty
The fact that California has a very long and very beautiful coast is a significant allure to this state – I’d even venture to say that it’s the prime influence for her high levels of tourism. Her coast ranges from; the weird and urban Venice Beach ⇢ the picturesque and explorative El Matador State Beach ⇢ a beach with a cascading waterfall (McWay Falls) in Big Sur ⇢ the tree-lined coast of NorCal and beyond.
As mentioned above, one of my FAVORITE beaches (that I’ve ever been to) lies north of L.A. in Malibu, California: El Matador State Beach. I spent the most blissful afternoon discovering new sea caves around every bend and climbing upon her endless, massive rocks. In between my explorations, I would dip my toes into the blue/green, pristine waters and bask in the bright + abundant sunlight. The crowds are sparse here (except during major photoshoots/filming) which allows for a peaceful beach-going experience (a big contrast to the likes of Venice + Santa Monica Beach, etc). If you love seclusion, adventure, and beautiful nature (and who doesn’t?) – this beach is the perfect coastal beauty begging to be enjoyed.
If you prefer a beach closer to the city (say your time is short or you don’t have a car), I recommend spending a day at Santa Monica Beach vs. Venice Beach. Though Venice is an experience in itself, Santa Monica is a prettier, cleaner and overall a more enjoyable destination.
A is for Alabama Hills
Ever heard of them? If you’re not familiar with the West Coast, chances are you haven’t. Which is fantastic! Why? Because that’s part of this beauty’s charm: the Alabama Hills are remote, fascinating, original and you can enjoy her all to yourself! This vast range of hills and rock formations line the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. As you hike amidst giant boulders and roam through natural rock arches, the largest mountain in the lower 48 (Mt. Whitney) looks majestically down on you. She reminds you of nature’s grandeur as you breathe in your unearthly surroundings.
L is for Los Angeles
This list is all-encompassing: nature + city. Therefore, Los Angeles makes my list of why this state is SO GREAT because … I like this city! She’s perfectly situated between the Pacific Ocean, the desert and the mountains. She’s hip, lively, creative and a land of opportunities. The filmmaker (that is my profession, so perhaps I am bias) + dreamer in me is awakened. I find myself consisitently inspired when surrounded by other like-minded + big idea’d people that walk her streets. Now, like all cities, L.A. has it’s obvious downsides. However, I accept them and love her despite her flaws (the INSANE traffic being a biggie). From her unique and FUN bars (you MUST go to “Good Time at Davie Wayne’s” when in Hollywood) to her top-notch restaurants and delicious street vendors (the BEST tacos!); from her captivating art galleries to her star-lined walkways; from her popular hangout at the Santa Monica Pier to her incredible mountain hikes dotted with mansions (Runyon Canyon); from …well, I could go on and on, but ya get it! Los Angeles is rad and a warranted stop along your Cali journey.
I is for Incredible Mountains
The Sierra Nevada Mountains provide some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in all of the U.S., including Yosemite National Park. Yosemite’s landscape is so dramatic that it brought literal tears to my eyes upon first meeting her. Prior to this experience, I had never actually cried from over-whelming beauty. I believe this to be testimony to how GORGEOUS Yosemite National Park really is. I love her something fierce. Standing at Tunnel View in utter awe, I thought to myself “this is what heaven looks like”.
Her hikes are out-of-this-world phenomenal, such as: the thrilling climb up Half-Dome, the water-fall studded Mist Trail and the long distance + life changing John Muir Trail. Not only is there no shortage of beauty here, but there’s also no shortage of adventures to be had in the grand Yosemite National Park.
*Tip: Because of her sheer incredibility, the crowds are massive during peak season (May – September). I suggest exploring this beast during early-spring or mid-fall.
Yosemite is by no means the only source of incredible mountains in California – they can be found up and down the entire state (see Alabama Hills above).
Another favorite mountain locale of mine: Lake Tahoe.
Lake Tahoe is a pristine, turquoise lake surrounded by impeccable mountains well-known for great ski + snowboarding ops (a perfect winter destination as well as summer). Stay at Basecamp Hotel and have some beers at Basecamp’s Beer Garden after a day on the slopes, you won’t be disappointed! Not into skiing? Take a ride up the mountains on Heavenly Gondola for fantastic views all around.
F is for Fisherman’s Wharf + San Francisco Bay Area
San Francisco is the prettiest city in the U.S. (in my humble opinion) and deserves to be explored: primarily the Fisherman’s Wharf and Bay Area. My husband and I spent an entire day here, loving every second! Merely strolling along the piers equal the best time; observe the many sea lions on Pier 39, spot Alcatraz out at sea and grab a world famous fish sandwich from Frankie’s Pier 43.
At sunset, hike the Batteries to Bluffs Trail down to the shoreline of the San Francisco Bay and follow along the shore to the Golden Gate Bridge. With the sun setting the sky on fire, illuminating the sea + mountains in golden hues, and the inconic Golden Gate Bridge towering above – it’s so unbelievably easy to be thankful for this wondrous world.
O is for Oregon Neighbor
Short and sweet, California borders Oregon and Oregon is a crazy-beautiful state herself. Full of natural wonders, adventurous coastlines, magical forests and majestic mountains – she beckons you, full-heartedly!
Some places to be sure to visit:
Columbia River Gorge
Crater Lake National Park
Williamette National Forest
Oregon’s Adventure Coast (Coos Bay + North Bend + Charleston)
R is for Redwood National & State Parks
Enchanted. Enchanted is the BEST word to describe Redwood National and State Parks. Sauntering through these forests, I felt as if I had been transported to an ethereal, fairy world where all things magic + mystical were alive and possible. One HAS to experience this fairytale land at least once in their lifetime – no other forest is comparable.
Not only do the colossal redwoods and lush ferns delight, but these parks encompass a tree-lined coast, forested mountains and wildlife aplenty. One can enjoy a picnic along the coast, a hike through the tall trees, creature spotting in the meadows, a good book in the groves and countless photo-ops at the many scenic overlooks. Or, one can prance about these lands like the fairy it deserves (I may have done this). Regardless of how you spend your time here, you will leave with a love story of your own.
N is for Never-ending Deserts
We’ve hit the beach, climbed mountains, walked city streets and got lost in enchanted forests ALL in California soooo… what’s left but the desert? And MAN does California have some killer desert destinations!
Death Valley National Park is a doozy to start. This expansive desert spans 3.4 million acres of wilderness – HOLY WOW! that’s a LOT of land – making it the largest National Park in the lower 48. You’re sure to realize just how tiny we, humans, are in the scope of the universe when wandering about this massive park. Stand in Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation in the continent (282 feet below sea level), or climb to the heights of Dante’s View. Marvel at the moving rocks at Racetrack Playa or admire mother nature’s artistic skills at Painted Rocks. Sand Sled at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes or look-out among the erosional landscape at Zabriskie Point. With this large of a playground, you’ll have options atop options for fun and adventure, new sites and discoveries.
Oh, and don’t forget to be on the watch for desert wildlife, such as coyotes + ravens (couple of my faves).
Joshua Tree National Park boasts countless, sizable Joshua Trees (hence its namesake) among its desert terrain. Joshua trees grow very slowly (1/2 inch per year) and typically take 60 years to reach maturity. With that being said…imagine just how old the trees here must be?! They’re said to live more than 500 years – if only they could tell the stories they have seen. In Joshua Tree National Park, two deserts collide: the Colorado Desert + the Mojave Desert. Visitors can look over Coachella Valley at Keys View or hike along the boulder ridden trails of Hidden Valley. If you’re a kid at heart (like myself) and can’t keep from playing, Joshua Tree is THE park for you – you can spend ALL day climbing up the massive boulders here.
Salvation Mountain and Trona Pinnacles are two other California desert destinations worth seeking out. Trona Pinnacles is an alien-esque landscape thanks to its 500+ tufa spires that sprout from the Searles Dry Lake basin. Salvation Mountain, on the other hand, is a heart-warming art installation (my favorite artwork I’ve yet to see) that will leave you touched + inspired.
I is for Impressive Sequoia
Honey! I’ve shrunk myself! Or, did I just enter a land of GIANT trees?
The impressive and imposing sequoias of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are entirely in a league of their own. Sequoia National Park even boasts the world’s largest tree, General Sherman, who demands visitors’ admiration. Can you find these behemoths any where else in the U.S. other than in the state of California? I think not. The Giant Sequoias ONLY grow along a 260-mile stretch on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. So again, California is unbeatable.
Agree or disagree, there’s no denying the splendor of this forest. Spend a winter afternoon walking among, beneath and even INSIDE these sequoias and you’ll be transported into a miraculous wonderland. A magnetic pull will beckon you to explore deeper and deeper into her immense kingdom.
A is for Adventure
….with the list above, I believe it’s plain to see how many adventures are at your fingertips in this astounding state. Surf the waves in Malibu, discover caves along the coast on El Matador Beach, climb mountains in Yosemite, sand-sled in Death Valley, go rock-climbing in Joshua Tree, ski in Tahoe, camp in the redwoods… the possibilities for adventure are endless.
The HIGHEST peak in the lower 48, check. The LOWEST elevation, check. The LARGEST tree, check. Desert, Mountains and Ocean – the trifecta, check. Fun + bustling cities, check. I mean…I think the proof is on this page.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE so many other states: Utah, Colorado, Oregon, Wyoming and MORE. However, CA tops my list for reasons I’ve spelled out above.
California spelled out (summary)…
C – Coastal Beauty
A – Alabama Hills
L – Los Angeles
I – Incredible Mountains
F – Fisherman’s Wharf + San Francisco Bay Area
O – Oregon Neighbors
R – Redwoods National & State Parks
N – Never-ending Deserts
I – Impressive Sequoia
A – Adventure
Let me know your favorite state (in the lower 48) in the comments below and why. Or, if you agree with me, let me know! 🙂
As always, thank you for reading and happy travels!