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10 Places to visit in and around California

This summer we have been on the road through California (plus Nevada and Arizona) for about three weeks. We lived the vanlife again and visited a lot of beautiful places and sites. California offers awesome places at the coast but also at the hinterlands of the country.

We want to share our experiences of our trip with you and made a list of the places we recommend you to visit.

Google Map of California

1. Redwoods

In Northern California there are several places where you can find the so called “Redwoods”. These are pretty old giant trees. When we came down from Oregon we drove on Highway 101. Along that route you can find several spots to see those giant trees. At many places the trees are situated directly next to the road.

To enjoy the myth of the Redwoods we recommend to stop the car at a certain point and walk some paces. If you find a silent place the atmosphere can get stunning, especially when the sunlight comes through the woods.

We stopped for a while and left the main road at the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. As mentioned, in the whole North Californian coastal area you can find the Redwoods at several spots. Even in the area of San Francisco you can find Red Woods. Check out the Muir Woods National Monument.

2. San Francisco

For us, one of the greatest ways of experiencing a city is going by bike. If you don’t bring bikes with you it is worth to rent some. And San Francisco really is a city with a lot of cyclists!

We had bikes on two days. The first cycling tour was probably the most touristy one. There are a lot of bike rental shops at and around Fisherman’s Wharf which is a very popular place with a lot of restaurants and shops. Furthermore, a lot of attractions which include a boat trip are starting from there.

We rented our bikes at Blazing Saddles for $36 a full day and started a trip to the north of San Francisco. First, we went along to coast into the direction of the famous Golden Gate Bridge. On the way are a lot of possibilities to get some stunning pictures of the bridge.

Also, the ride over to bridge to the north was breathtaking. You get an awesome view to the Pacific Ocean on one side. On the other side you have a beautiful view to the San Francisco Bay.

You can take a ferry from Sausalito back to Fisherman’s Wharf. We went further and our bike trip brought us around the whole Richardson Bay to Tiburon. From there we took the ferry back to the city. From the ferry you get a nice view to Angel Island and Alcatraz.

The second day, we got some bikes from City Ride Bike Rentals for around $20 and made a trip through the North and the western part of San Francisco. We went through the city and Presidio to Land’s End. Then, we checked out the West Coast of San Francisco and went back to the city through the Golden Gate Park.

Of course, there is a lot more to see in San Francisco! We just mentioned some basics in a mixture with our experiences.

3. Yosemite

The Yosemite National Park is situated not far east from San Francisco. We highly recommend to visit that area if you are travelling to California. Just by driving through the park you can get some awesome views. If you leave the car and go out for a hike you find even more places with fantastic prospects.

You will find the most views and possibilities around the Yosemite Valley. Among other things, you will find some campgrounds down there. In summer they are hopelessly booked out. You have to book a site several month before you travel to Yosemite.

If you want to be flexible we recommend you to get a place at one of the campgrounds that are not situated in the valley. We found a site at one of the camps in the north of the valley (White Wolf Campground). It takes a while to go the main valley but for us it was blessing not to stay at the tourist crowds you will find in high season at Yosemite.

4. Central Coast

The so called “Central Coast” of California is more or less situated between the areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Almost all the way between those giant cities you can follow Highway 1 which is also known as “Central Coast Highway”.

Most of the time you drive along the coast which offers nice beaches, tiny little coves as well as a lot of parts with cliff coasts. Be sure that your camera has a fully loaded battery! A specific area at the Central Coast is called Big Sur. It’s a very special picturesque area and when you are travelling along Highway 1 you won’t miss it.

5. Death Valley

The deepest point of the United States is situated at Death Valley National Park. It is at 282 ft (85.5 m) below sea level. But that is not enough. The deepest spot is the hottest at the same time. Here at the Badwater Basin, they measured a temperature of 134 °F (56.7 °C) in 1913. And this record is not valid for the US only. Actually, it is the world’s record!

On our way from the Central Coast to Las Vegas we passed Death Valley. Most of the time you are happy sitting in the car with a running air condition. But, from time to time you should leave your car to experience how hot it can be outside. When driving through the valley it is highly recommended to bring and drink enough of water.

6. Las Vegas (Nevada)

Almost everybody might know Las Vegas. It’s that place where a lot of Hollywood blockbuster are set. It’s all about gambling and partying. The so called “Las Vegas Strip” is the main road which connects most of the Hotels and Casinos. People walk up and down the road on both sides. Furthermore it is permitted to drink alcohol at the strip. And that’s a rare exception in the US.

If you are not scared of crowds of people and would like to experience the lifestyle of Vegas you should go there for sure. Even in Las Vegas, we celebrated vanlife and booked a spot at one of the RV parks. The camping lot was not really beautiful, but cheap. Nevertheless, Las Vegas is very expensive. If you are into partying you should bring enough credit. Entrance fees and drinks are ridiculously high – especially for men.

7. Grand Canyon (Arizona)

Probably, the Grand Canyon is as famous as the Yosemite National Park. It’s the valley of the Colorado River and offers really stunning views. The most impressive part of the Grand Canyon is situated at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. There you can walk directly along the cliffs. And they offer a free shuttle to get from viewpoint to viewpoint.

Furthermore, it is possible to do a two day hike with staying a night on a campground in the valley. Furthermore you can do some rafting on Colorado River. During the high season you should book a campsite weeks before you travel to the canyon. We were pretty happy having a site at the Mather Campground. It offers a lot of space and trees that give you some shade.

8. Hollywood

The world famous film factory called Hollywood is located at the north of Los Angeles. When you are traveling to L.A. you definitely want to see the famous Hollywood sign and the Walk of Fame. At the Hollywood Hills and Bel Air you find the mansions of the rich and the famous.

If you like to drive through the hills with your own car take the Mulholland Drive. It brings you to a lot of nice vista points. In case you want to know more about the several mansions and their residents and some places where famous Hollywood movies have been filmed you can take part in a tour. At the Santa Monica Boulevard you can find a lot of vendors for open van tours through the hills. But, be careful and don’t pay too much. It is worth to bargain.

9. Los Angeles

Beside Hollywood, Los Angeles has a lot more to offer. The coastal area of L.A. begins in the north at Malibu. Here, you will find an area which extends along a lot of big beaches where you can swim and surf.

Going down south from Malibu you will get to Santa Monica and Venice. Different to San Francisco, L.A. is not at all a city of cyclists. But, we recommend to rent a bike and drive along Venice Beach and Santa Monica Beach. You will see a lot of restaurants, shops, buskers and interesting personalities. Maybe you have heard about the Muscle Beach?

Further south of L.A. you will find Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo Beach. Palos Verdes and Long Beach are the southernmost parts of Los Angeles County. Every mentioned beach along the coast of L.A. has it’s own character. Some are packed in the summertime. Some are good to surf. Everybody will find his or her favorite beach. Palos Verdes is a district located at hills where you can find some nice views around the area and the Pacific Ocean.

We are pretty sure that there are more things to see, especially in the interior of Los Angeles…

10. Orange County

Down south from Long Beach begins the area of Orange County. Huntington Beach is a pretty famous area for surfing. Furthermore there is Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. The whole area is characterized by a kind of beach life and the warm climate. You will see a lot of people, surf shops, cars and palm trees. Do you know the TV series called The O.C.? It gives you an impression of the area.

At the south of Orange County you will find Dana Point and Trestles. Both are pretty good places for surfing.

11. San Diego

One moment… Why is there an eleven on a list with ten points? The last point on our list is a very special place. Why? Because we have never been there, yet. Several people recommended us independently of each other to visit San Diego. As a result, it is a kind of an reminder to ourselves on this list.

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