California’s Finest Destinations… and Ones to Overlook

When you live in California, and you are the adventure/outdoor type, you hopefully have amassed an extensive knowledge about the best places to visit in California.  You’ve also had many friends visit that want to experience as much as they can on their trip to California.  Inevitably you have participated in their agenda and often cringed at some of the so called “attractions” you were forced to see.  From Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco to Disneyland to The Gas Lamp District in San Diego; you have experienced these tourist traps and asked yourself,

Why the hell did I burn a vacation day for this place ?!”

This article is more of a guide for The Rugged Male, or the rugged family that’s visiting California for the first time.  We aim to provide some insider trading on some of the lesser known but much cooler attractions in California and some to avoid.  Here we go!

The Best Places to Visit in California

1.  Lake Tahoe Region

The first thing to understand is that there is a big difference between South Lake and North Lake, most notable is that they are in different states.  South Lake is on the Nevada side and is all too close to Reno, a city that looks like a bomb went off 15 years ago and the only creatures that survived are wearing fanny packs, smoking cheap cigarettes and pulling a slot machine handle.

North Lake Tahoe is where the outdoor enthusiasts live and where the legit ski mountains are located – Squaw Valley & Alpine Meadows.  All the local businesses are run by mountain enthusiasts hustling to keep their dream lifestyle alive.  The shoulder seasons are tough and all the locals have at least two jobs.   The restaurants are full of fireplaces, acoustic guitars and weekly specials.   South Lake is littered with casinos, big hotels & cheesy night clubs – nuff said.  See the difference here.  The main drag of both North & South Lake Tahoe.

2.  Napa Valley – Merlot or Meth ?

Planning a vacation to Napa?  You may want to consider Sonoma instead.  The Napa Valley is a strange mix of two very diverse cultures.  The locals have a huge meth amphetamine problem and the wineries are owned by insanely rich silicon valley douchebags turned wine snob.  As soon as you step off their reservation and head into town to look for a bourbon or anything other than wine, you will be in for a whole different experience.  I’m not sure which group is less fun to be around.

We offer a much better alternative that is closer to the city.  Spend the morning hiking in majestic Muir Woods, then pop down for lunch in Stinson Beach, a magical and secret destination for locals.  Pick up a bottle of your favorite Napa wine at Safeway supermarket beforehand; same Napa wine and cheaper.  Take a stroll on the massive half moon shaped beach then head into the very cool town to enjoy a pint at one of the two restaurants. Perfect!

3.  Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is a word many East Coasters have heard before but have never seen written.  It’s not some new species of termite, this is Yoh-sem-it-tee.  As John Muir says, “It’s where nature has gathered her choicest treasures”.   Not even three hours from San Francisco or San Jose, Yosemite is truly God’s Country and you don’t have to be in triathlete or rock climber to experience it.  Yosemite is best in early spring so you can see the majestic waterfalls flowing, but go any time you can, even in the winter.  This trip takes some planning as permits are required to control the amount of tourists who are often not so cool with their treatment of the land.

4.  California’s Central Coast & Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a wonderful place to visit in California. It is perhaps the most beautiful beach town where the mountains touch the sea.  Santa Barbara has a rich history with roots dating back to the 1600’s when Spanish explorers set up missions to spread Christianity.  Now it’s chock full of great restaurants, top notch surf, hiking and wineries.  It’s a must see when visiting California, especially because so many people miss it.  You can’t really fly there and when traveling North or South in California, most people take Interstate-5.  Santa Barbara is off US-101 which is slower but runs along the coast.  My initial thought when I visited for the first time was – “Why didn’t I go to college at UCSB ?!“.

In an effort to keep this article web-friendly we will end it here.  It’s just impossible to list all the cool places to visit in California.  We do our best to be ambassadors and try very hard to to steer tourists in the right direction, as long as they are friendly and try to speak our language, like any other foreign country.  We also must keep some of the secret spots for ourselves.