12 Golden Opportunities to Experience California

It’s no accident that the most populous state in the country is known as The Golden State. With sunshine-filled days and tropical temperatures year-round, California is indeed golden. Here, beaches marry mountains, and celebrities brush with street performers. You’ll find Alcatraz, an island housing what was once the most notorious prison; Death Valley, a desert marking the lowest point in the contiguous U.S.; Redwood Forest, which boasts the world’s tallest trees; and Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S. There are taco shops and star chef-owned restaurants, beach clothing shacks and Rodeo Drive boutiques. From Chinatown in San Fran to a museum dedicated to yo-yos in Chico, get ready to experience the diversity, ease and greatness that is California.
By: Jennifer Frazier
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Photo By: Andreas Hub / laif

Photo By: Robert Holmes

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Hang Loose in Huntington Beach

Featuring everything from bike rentals and surfing to fire pits (bring the marshmallows) and volleyball nets, this 9.5-mile stretch of gorgeous beach offers something for everyone. Known by locals as HB, Huntington Beach, with its old-school, classic pier housing a diner and small beach shops, is one of the best places to escape the rush of many of the California beaches and just relax with the locals. Photo courtesy of Visit California/Ryan Killackey.

Asian Exploration in San Francisco

If you can’t make it to China, this is the next best thing. Touted as the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, this San Francisco community, anchored on Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, was established in 1848. From the numerous dim sum restaurants and open-air markets to massage parlors and a fortune cookie factory (the fortune cookie was invented in California!), enjoy every bit of this cultural attraction, but be forewarned that many menus are in Chinese only. Photo courtesy of California Travel and Tourism Commission/Andreas Hub.

A Great Lake in Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is where California and Nevada meet. Located on the border of the two states, this freshwater lake reaches a depth of 1,645 feet, making it the second deepest in the country. Known for its breathtaking beauty, this natural attraction is surrounded by mountains on all sides and offers the best of every season, from snow skiing in the winter to water sports come summer. Photo courtesy of Visit California/Ryan Killackey.

Calling All Hippies in San Francisco

If you either miss the 60s, or you are so young that you missed the 60s, don’t fret. Head to the Haight. The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, named after the cross streets that anchor this area, was Ground Zero in the peace-loving, daisy-donning sixties. Today, it’s much the same. Groovy bookstores mingle with vintage clothing stores that blend with laid-back coffee shops. It’s the San Francisco place to find peace and love. Photo courtesy of California Travel and Tourism Commission/Bongo.

Yo! Get Your Yo-Yo On in Chico

Some folks say the art of the yo-yo is all in the wrist. We say who cares how it’s done, as long as it’s fun. The National Yo-Yo Museum, boasting the world’s largest display of yo-yo memorabilia, has perfected the fun of this toy, which is quite simply an axle connected to two disks. See the world’s largest yo-yo, measuring a whopping 50 inches in height and weighing 256 pounds, as well as the earliest yo-yos from the 1920s to today’s toys used by top competitors. Photo courtesy of Visit California/Blaise.

Escape to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay

Visiting a prison isn’t typically the idea of a fun afternoon for most. Still, we are telling you, when you are near San Francisco Bay, visit Alcatraz Island, the home of Alcatraz Prison that once housed the most dangerous criminals. Known both as "The Rock" and "Evil Island," this spot started as the home of a military prison in 1868. When it converted to a Federal Bureau of Prisons federal prison in 1934, it became known as the inescapable prison, known for its icy cold, shark-infested waters. Visits today include a tour, including stories from former prisoners and a chance to get locked in a creepy cell. Photo courtesy of California Travel and Tourism Commission/Bongo.

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

This mile-wide, three-mile long suspension bridge is known internationally. Show a picture of it, and people near and far will recognize this ever-memorable attraction. Connecting San Francisco to Marin County, the bridge, once declared one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers, is by far one of the most photographed sites in the country, and is certainly the most photographed bridge. And for good reason. Photo courtesy of California Travel and Tourism Commission/Andreas Hub.

Bowl Time in Hollywood

Hollywood is no stranger to stars. In fact, there’s an entire Walk of Fame lined with them on the sidewalk. This place, however, is all about musical stars. At the Hollywood Bowl, in an amphitheater with the famous Hollywood sign in the backdrop, see performances by everyone from Lenny Kravitz and Elton John to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Playboy Jazz Festival. Past shows have included Louis Armstrong, Nat "King" Cole, Judy Garland, The Doors (during their "Dream Concert" in 1968), Cher (during her final two concerts of her Living Proof: The Farewell Tour) and even The Beatles. Bring your own picnic, including a bottle of wine, and enjoy the show, as there’s no bad seat in the house. Photo courtesy of Visit California/Robert Holmes.

The Happiest Tea Time in Anaheim

Visit this California amusement park and you’ll know why it’s called "The Happiest Place on Earth." The brainchild of legendary Walt Disney, this 72-acre fun spot opened in 1955 and has expanded through the years, marrying new rides and attractions with the classics, like the Mad Tea Party ride and its spinning teacups. All the park’s signs that say, "Welcome to the Magic," are perfectly fitting. You’ll see why after mere minutes onsite. Photo courtesy of Visit California/Ryan Killackey.

Grab Some Powder in Mammoth Lakes

Think of California, and beaches come to mind. However, that’s not the only natural wonder this great state flaunts. It’s also home to some of the best snow skiing. Lose the bikini and grab your snowboard or snow skis and hit the slopes at Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort. Located in Eastern California, along the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the Inyo National Forest, this large resort encompasses about 3,500 acres of skiable terrain, serviced by 28 lifts and two gondolas. Snow season here is one of the longest reported, lasting from November to June. And a bonus: As of 2006, those aged at least 80 years may ski free. Photo courtesy of Dan Krauss.

All About Love in Pacific Grove

This combo beach/park holds legendary status. Literally. As the story goes, this place was once called "Lovers of Jesus Point," thanks to the Methodist retreat camps that once set up here. Today, Lover’s Point, one of four small marine protected areas located near the cities of Monterey and Pacific Grove, is known as a picture-perfect spot for weddings, swimming, boating and family portraits. It’s not all tourists seeking a postcard moment, though. This is where you can find pure California beauty, worthy of true love. Photo courtesy of Visit California/Chris Leschincky.

A Salty Scene in Mono County

A visit to Mono Lake would be the perfect field trip for a science class of eager students. At least 760,000 years old and one of the oldest continuously existing lakes on the continent, it’s known for its magnificent tufa towers, which are technically a variety of limestone, formed by the precipitation of carbonate minerals from ambient temperature water bodies. In laymen’s terms? This mysterious terminal lake, which is two times as salty as the ocean, boasts these drippy-sand-looking towers above water and thick, still water. It’s truly like nothing you’ll ever see, as well as one heck of a science experiment. Photo courtesy of Visit California.