California Travel Guide

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Where else but California can you combine in one trip a hot-air balloon ride, theme parks, national parks, beaches and even skiing? California vacations offer more diversity than almost any other state in the country. No matter what type of trip you choose, California sunshine and a laid-back attitude will accompany your vacation.

This California travel guide will show you how to make the most of your trip to California, including the sophisticated cities, spectacular landscapes, historical attractions, and the best spots for a family getaway. From touring wineries to trotting on horseback through the mountains, California truly has it all! Let VacationRentals.com show you that these pleasures are in your budget, and get ready for the thrills and sites that keep travelers returning to the Golden State year after year.

What to Do in California

Northern California

The Great Outdoors

Northern California vacations offer redwoods forests, the beauty of Lake Tahoe, and the picturesque vineyards of Napa. A trip to California can be the ultimate relaxing getaway: choose a rental along a lake or near wine country. Another bonus of California is great weather beyond July and August, but it doesn’t have to be summer to go for a long bicycle ride or hike amongst the massive redwood trees.

california wine vacationA Sophisticated Side

San Francisco is one of the most refined cities in the country. Options for fine dining, theater, art, and history are plentiful in the Bay Area. If you’re interested in learning about wine, there is no more beautiful environment than Napa Valley for a lesson. Take winery tours, attend tastings, and even soak your bones in one of the well-known hot springs.

For the Kids

Any good California travel guide will tell you not to miss walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Kids will love the height and surrounding views. Don’t be afraid to bring the kids on winery tours. Napa is full of chances to go bike riding, explore vineyards, and even the intricacies of how the winery works can be captivating for kids.

More traditional family friendly activities include visiting the home of Ghirardelli chocolate for a taste, river-rafting in the Gold Country, or going for a swim in Lake Tahoe. From kayaking to hiking, from the Redwoods State Park to the River Delta, California is full of fun for kids!

Central California

The Great Outdoors

If you’re looking for beauty, Central California vacations won’t disappoint. Sequoia National Park is unspoiled nature at its peak, and a great place for families to reconnect over a hike. The landscapes become more breathtaking across this region of the state, from Death Valley to the craggy California Travel Guidecoastline of Big Sur to Pismo Beach. If you can picture your family trotting along the ocean’s edge for a sunset horseback ride, Central California might be right for you.

A Sophisticated Side

A good California travel guide will have many recommendations for the sophisticated side of Central California. Santa Barbara is not to be missed, with its lovely beaches, restaurants, and quaint streets. Art fanatics will love the displays of paintings and photographs for sale along the ocean.

Practice your swing at one of the most famous courses in the country: Pebble Beach. If you’d rather relax, the Madera Wine trail is a less-crowded alternative to Napa Valley, while the town of Solvang has a reputation for being one of the most charming places in America. Throughout this region, you will be encouraged to take things at a slower pace.

For the Kids

Take the kids whale watching in Monterey or let them sample their first surfing lesson in the warm Pacific waters. In Death Valley, explore the desert landscape or take a kayaking tour in Morro Bay. From bird watching to white water rafting, your kids won’t have a dull moment during Central California vacations.

Southern California

The Great Outdoors

Southern California vacations are full of action, both indoors and out. Surfing, hot-air balloon rides, and kayaking are all ways to enjoy the spectacular backdrop. Relaxation is found on the beautiful beaches, from Newport to Santa Monica. Quintessentially California, the southern section of the state allows you to enjoy the landscape from the seat of a bicycle, the saddle of a horse, or cruising along the coastline with the top down in a convertible.

A Sophisticated Side

Any good California travel guide will cover the positive and negative sides of Los Angeles. While it can be crowded and a bit glitzy, it is also packed with energy and home to some of the best restaurants and nightlife in the country. The center of the film industry is based here, so don’t be surprised to see an actor or two while you’re dining at the hottest new restaurant in town. Culture is big in Southern California; from art to music to farmer’s markets, Southern California vacations will stimulate all the senses.

For the Kids

One word is guaranteed to make your kids faces light up: Disneyland. Bring them to where Disney began, and enjoy the California sunshine as you ride roller coasters, enjoy an ice cream cone or two, and watch the fireworks at night. Beyond the theme parks, splash around at the beaches, or take a trip to the San Diego Zoo.

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What to See in California

sightseeing california

Northern California

It is important for a California travel guide to point travelers in the direction of the fantastic historical sites available in Northern California as well. No trip to San Francisco would be complete without visiting the fascinating former jail of Alcatraz. The famous island prison now offers a tour, complete with audio guide, that will teach you about more than prison life. Other landmarks include the Golden Gate Bridge, the Asian Art Museum, and the Santa Cruz mountains.

Central California

Central California vacations can be full of interesting attractions as well. Discover what true wealth can buy with a tour of the Hearst Castle or give the kids a treat with a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. For a dose of history, wander through the streets of San Luis Obispo and visit the town’s restored mission. From Pebble Beach to Big Sur, locations are landmarks themselves in Central California.

Southern California

The most memorable day of vacation for your kids might be a trip to the San Diego Zoo. Adults will love visiting Joshua Tree, strolling on the Santa Monica Pier, driving the hills of Hollywood, or strolling along the streets of Palm Springs. Another treat for kids is a trip to famous LEGOLAND.

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Where to Shop and Eat in California

california shopping

Northern California

In recent decades, California has become known for its wines and organic fruits and vegetables. As a result, California cuisine has a distinctly fresh twist. Foodies won’t know where to begin to tackle the culinary scene in San Francisco, but some local favorites are Chez Panisse and fresh seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf. Escape the city to Napa Valley for more temptations, including the famous French Laundry in Yountville.

San Francisco doesn’t only have a great reputation for food but for shopping as well. Whether you want to hit the farmer’s markets or are looking for designer labels, you’ll find it in San Francisco. Chestnut Street is filled with sophisticated shops while Fillmore Street boasts designer boutiques. Haight Street has a distinctly '60s vibe while Mission Street is known for its eccentricity. Don’t spend all your money in one place though—the wineries of Napa will tempt you into buying cases of your new favorite wines!

Central California

In Central California, you will experience all of the organic produce and innovative cooking as in the North and South, but with more reasonable prices. From Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo, dining is a pleasure that is taken seriously. Don’t expect a quick meal—everything is just a bit slower in California. Some local favorites are Cantinetta Luca in Carmel and Downey’s in Santa Barbara.

A good California travel guide will tell you to leave behind the malls and head for small towns with reputations for great shopping. Central California vacations are full of chances to get your shopping fix, including the jewelry stores and antique shops of Monterey or the boutiques of Carmel.

Southern California

The dining in Southern California is almost as good as the shopping. Restaurants are as diverse as the population in LA, so whatever your fancy, there will be a restaurant to match. Try ethnic cuisine from Afghan to Vietnamese or stick with old favorites such as Cut, a restaurant by Wolfgang Puck in Beverly Hills, or catch a flamenco show at Café Sevilla.

Los Angeles rivals New York City for having the best shopping in the country. The words "Rodeo Drive" send chills up some shoppers' spines, so don’t miss the chance to visit Armani, Valentino, or Dolce & Gabbana for yourself. Whether you’re just window shopping or in the market for some designer duds, a stroll through LA’s shopping districts is sure to impress.

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When to Visit California

There is almost no bad time of year to plan California vacations. The climate is often compared to the Mediterranean, with warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters. The state of California is so large however, that it’s difficult to make generalizations about the weather.

Summer is a popular time to visit California, but the shoulder season of the spring and autumn can be more pleasant and less crowded. The sunshine of Los Angeles persists year-round, while San Francisco is more susceptible to seasonal changes. Go skiing in Lake Tahoe during the winter months or plan an outdoor family adventure in the autumn or spring in the redwood forests. No matter what time of year you want to visit California, there will be a part of the state with perfect weather.

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What to Bring to California

There are so many different kinds of California vacations that one list of items to bring doesn’t exist. Some trips will require a bit of driving, especially if you plan on exploring Napa Valley or the coast, so bring along good maps or a GPS system. Remember your sunscreen, a hat, and light clothes. Swimsuits are a must, and if you plan on doing any hiking or horseback riding, don’t forget a pair of jeans and good footwear.

Throughout the state there are restaurants where you can get a little dressed up, so bring a cocktail dress or two and a pair of heels. In general, "California cool" prevails, so there’s never a reason for very fancy dress. Bring items to keep the kids happy in the car and maybe a CD or two to listen to while you’re cruising along the California coast.

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Local Services in California

No California travel guide would be complete without mentioning that everything is available around the clock in the Golden State. Especially in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, you will be able to eat late or early, find an open grocery store, and even fill prescriptions if you need to. Banks and ATMs are widely available in the cities. Farmer’s markets are spread throughout the state, and don’t miss out on the great tours available at historical attractions and wineries.

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What to Know About California

Many people plan California vacations in one location and don’t explore. Most of California is nearby other attractions, so don’t be afraid to hop in your car and see what the neighboring areas have to offer. Leave the beaches behind for a day of exploring vineyards or escape LA for a horseback ride outside of the city. California inns and hotels have a reputation for being expensive, so savvy travelers always choose vacation rentals to maximize the value of their trip to California.

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Getting to California

Travelers are not short for choice when it comes to California airports. A good California travel guide should mention options beyond Los Angeles and San Francisco including Burbank, Oakland, Orange County, Palm Springs, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Barbara, and Santa Monica. Once you arrive in California, rent a car and hit the highways. The coastal roads in California are breathtaking.

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Why California Vacation Rentals?

California vacations have a reputation for being expensive. Wineries, organic food, and adventurous activities all have a price tag attached. Skip overpriced hotels for the comfort of your own vacation rental, and escape the crowds for a truly laid-back California experience. Whether you choose a beachfront villa in Malibu or a condo in San Francisco’s hippest neighborhood, you’ll be glad you choose the more local route towards discovering California.

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