Endless beaches and snowy passes of the Sierra Nevada, Hollywood, IT giants of Silicon Valley, groves of giant sequoias and futuristic interweaving of highways – all this is California, the richest US state, second only to Alaska and Texas in area. It stretches in a narrow strip along the Pacific coast from Oregon to the Mexican border.
The capital of California is Sacramento, hiding in the shadow of the more famous San Francisco and Los Angeles. Through them passes Coastal Road No. 1 with a length of 1055 km, which patriotic Americans call the most beautiful on earth. On the territory of the “Golden State” are the first Disneyland and 8 national parks, including the fabulous Yosemite and the inhospitable Death Valley. California is also one of the most famous and largest wine regions in the world. Most of its wineries are open to the public.
Regions and resorts of California
The territory of California – 1240 km from south to north and 400 km from east to west – includes several regions that differ in climate, landscape and natural beauty. The most populous, sunniest and most attractive part of the state is its Pacific coast from San Diego to San Francisco with hot summers and mild winters. Here you will find Los Angeles full of temptations, bohemian Beverly Hills and Hollywood, world-famous long sandy beaches and small towns inhabited exclusively by millionaires.
Significant expanses in the south are covered by the Mojave Desert. The scorching heat of the day, combined with cold nights and rare rains, almost deprived it of any vegetation and rewarded it with “alien” landscapes. In the Death Valley National Park located here, the lowest point in the United States (86 m below sea level) and the “hottest” place in North America (recorded temperature +56.6 ° C) are located. Another unique feature of the valley is the large rocks that are able to move on their own.
Hiking enthusiasts should head to the north of the state – to the national parks “Klamath”, “Modoc”, “Lassen” and “Shasta-Trinity” with untouched nature and many trails for hiking.
Along the eastern border of California, the Sierra Nevada mountain range stretches for 750 km with snow-capped peaks reaching a height of 4418 m, and the Yosemite National Park with stormy rivers, waterfalls and giant sequoias. Comfortable winter temperatures, plenty of snow and sunny days, groomed slopes, modern lifts and impeccable service have made the local ski resorts one of the best in the United States.
In the central part of the state, between the coast and the Sierra Nevada mountains lies the California Valley. The combination of wet winters with warm and dry summers makes it possible to grow vegetables, fruits and grapes here, from which the famous Californian wines are produced. You can fly over the valley in a hot air balloon, or you can go on a wine tour to taste the products of local winemakers on the spot.
How to get to California
The closest California airport to the Old World is in Sacramento. But to get to it is not easier than to all the others. Flights from Moscow to Sacramento are carried out by Air France, KL-M, British Airways and others with two transfers, the travel time is from 21 hours. Therefore, the only reasonable reason to fly to Sacramento is its proximity to the best ski resorts in the state. For the rest, it is more convenient and faster to get a direct Aeroflot flight Moscow – Los Angeles . The minimum cost of a round-trip ticket, depending on the season and the depth of booking, is from 500 USD (February-March) to 1000 USD (July), travel time 12 hours. Prices on the page are for July 2021.
- Countryaah – Cities in California: List of all municipalities in the state of California, including cities and towns of California.
You can fly to Los Angeles and San Francisco with one change via Paris, Amsterdam or London. The ticket price is reduced by 15-20%, but the travel time increases to 18 hours. In other major cities of California – San Diego and San Jose, you will have to travel with two transfers and spend almost a day on the road.
When choosing a route, it should be taken into account that upon arrival at US airports and subsequent transfer to local airlines, foreigners have to go through a long border control procedure (at least an hour) with the risk of missing a connecting flight.
There are no direct flights from St. Petersburg to California. The cheapest tickets to Los Angeles are from Lufthansa with a transfer in Frankfurt, but it is faster to fly with Aeroflot via Moscow (15.5 hours). The cheapest tickets to San Francisco are from KLM and Turkish Airlines, the shortest flight time is from Lufthansa.
Those wishing to fully experience the romance of traveling on American railroads can travel to California on Amtrak’s long-distance trains. They run on routes Chicago – San Francisco (66 hours), Chicago – Los Angeles (66 hours), New Orleans – Los Angeles (19 hours), Seattle – San Francisco – Los Angeles (35 hours).
A developed network of airports allows you to travel between California cities on the planes of American airlines United Airlines, Delta Airlines, etc. The flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles takes 1 hour 15 minutes, to San Diego – 1.5 hours. With travel time to and from the airport, boarding, disembarking, and baggage claim procedures, as well as lower ticket prices, Amtrak’s regional trains along the Pacific coast compete with aviation. Their main advantages are comfortable carriages, interesting views from the windows and fast Wi-Fi.
Intercity buses of companies Amtrak, Greyhound ( off. site in English), etc. are no less comfortable, and the fare is even lower. They are very convenient even for long trips from Los Angeles to Las Vegas (450 km), to the Grand Canyon (760 km) and to other places where there are no railroads. Tickets are sold at the box office at bus stations, bulky luggage should be left next to the bus when boarding – the driver will load it into the luggage compartment.
The most common type of public transportation in California is buses that run on urban and suburban routes. Suburban railway communication is well developed. The only subway in California is in Los Angeles. But in almost all major cities there are high-speed trams. So, Muni Metro in San Francisco, is a symbiosis of conventional and high-speed trams running underground in the business center of the city.
The most popular type of urban transport in San Francisco among tourists is the Cable Car, launched back in 1878, a hybrid of the usual tram and funicular .
Taxi trips in California will cost 15-20 USD. The car is usually ordered by phone, taken near the hotel or stopped on the street with a hand with a thumbs up.
Rent a Car
The most convenient way to get around California is by car, where you can easily get to the most interesting places in the state and admire the famous California landscapes. And magnificent roads, developed roadside service, low cost of rental and gasoline make the trip a real pleasure. You can rent a car at the offices of local (LA Rent-a-Car, etc.) or international rental companies (Avis, Hertz, Sixt, etc.), which are located at airports and most cities in the state (see, for example, our page ” Rent a car in Los Angeles “).
At California airports, the rental price includes airport and tourist taxes. It can be more profitable to take a taxi to the city and take the car there. Hint to the office worker that the price is too high – there is an opportunity to get a discount.
Despite the large number of cars and heavy traffic at the beginning and end of the working day, driving is not particularly difficult. The marking of street parking lots differs from the European ones – they are marked with a curb painted in different colors. Green allows temporary parking within a certain time (usually 30 minutes). Disabled spaces are marked in blue. White allows you to leave the car for an arbitrarily long time, but red curbs should always remain free. Parking in the centers of large cities must be paid through parking meters – in cash or by credit card.
In California, right turns are allowed at red lights. Before that, you need to stop at a traffic light and make sure that there is no interference with other road users and pedestrians.
From luxury downtown hotels and touristy mid-range hotels to youth hostels and unpretentious roadside motels, California’s lodging options far outstrip demand .
For those who have lost track of money – 5 * hotels in the Beverly Hills area, chosen by Hollywood celestials , which pamper their guests with exemplary service, excellent cuisine, a large selection of spa treatments and other worldly pleasures. A standard double room here will cost 700-1300 USD, but this is the very case when you realize that not a single dollar has been spent in vain.
A reasonable compromise between price and quality is 2-3 * hotels for 100-200 USD per night in close proximity to city attractions. Free Wi-Fi is available in all, but the pool, restaurant and parking may be missing. The choice of those who travel by car – motels, located mainly in the suburbs and along the roads. Despite modest prices – 80-100 USD, they have everything you need for a short stopover – 24-hour reception, air conditioning, Wi-Fi, refrigerator, free parking, swimming pool. True, furniture and plumbing can be “second freshness”.
One of the main attractions of California is a chain of luxurious beaches with white and golden sand, stretching from the Mexican border to the famous town of millionaires Santa Barbara. Lovers of serene relaxation are attracted by the beautiful nature, the service debugged like a Swiss watch, and the cult of a healthy lifestyle reigning everywhere – a clear influence of nearby Hollywood. That is why, on the beach in Santa Monica, thousands of people, young and old, wind up kilometers on roller skates along a special path running along the coast. An indispensable attribute of the neighboring Malibu beach – movie stars who have already taken place and are only claiming this title. It is here that the most attractive lifeguards in the world in red swimsuits, dreaming of the glory of Pamela Anderson, are on guard duty.
The decoration of Coronado Beach in San Diego is the Del Coronado 5 * hotel, in the interiors of which the film “Only Girls in Jazz” was filmed.
Tourists nostalgic for Marilyn Monroe or Tony Curtis will see nothing new here. On the terrace of the hotel, admiring their yachts, the most ordinary millionaires still sit, and enterprising fortune hunters still hover around them.
The beaches of San Francisco, with the exception of Aquatic Park, located in the city center, where there is no excitement at all, and Baker Beach, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and a nudist area, are of little use for swimming due to large waves and strong winds. But they are quite suitable for surfers and lovers of outdoor picnics.
The swimming season on Californian beaches starts in early July and lasts until the end of September.
Beaches can be divided into 3 categories. Free city open to all, where you will have to pay 10-30 USD for an umbrella and a couple of sunbeds. Hotel rooms with their own recreation areas near the water and free equipment for guests. And finally, private ones with excellent infrastructure, the entrance to which costs from 40 USD.
A popular diving spot in California is the protected Santa Catalina Island opposite Los Angeles, where the Sea Hunt series was filmed. Its underwater world is literally teeming with colorful fish and lobsters hiding among the corals. Here you can meet a huge sea bass weighing up to 25 kg, see a harmless leopard shark or a flat-bodied angel shark. During the spawning of sardines, moko sharks come here, reaching a length of 3 m. For fans of wreck diving – a small vessel lying at a depth of 20 m.
In 1924, a dozen bison were brought to the island. Today, hundreds of mighty animals roam here, and signs placed everywhere remind that they owe their happiness to William Wrigley, the king of chewing gum and the former owner of this piece of land.
Anacapa Island in Santa Barbara Bay has national park status. Jacques Yves Cousteau considered it one of the best diving spots in the temperate zone. Here you will surely see a sea lion, sea tomatoes grow on the tops of underwater rocks and all kinds of mollusks nest, and orange fish-garibaldi frolic in the algae.
Monterey Bay, 2.5 hours south of San Francisco, is home to seals, sea otters and turtles, and the seaweed reaches such a height that it resembles a real forest. South of Monterey are the dive sites of Point Lobos, with shallow reefs studded with starfish, and Big Sur, an unspoiled underwater paradise.
Ski resorts in California
Most ski resorts are located east of San Francisco in the Sierra Nevada mountains. During the winter, 10-15 m of snow falls here, thanks to which the skiing season lasts from mid-November to early May. California’s inherent Hollywood scope is felt on the snowy slopes. Resort owners do not skimp on investing in the development of infrastructure, modern lifts, service, maintenance of slopes in perfect condition, as well as in clubs, restaurants and hotels for every taste and budget. The only thing that upsets is that the prices for ski holidays in California are higher than in Europe.
The Heavenly resort on the alpine Lake Tahoe (1900 m) surpasses all others in terms of the area of the ski area (about 2000 hectares) and the height difference (1067 m). Directly from the center, the funicular takes skiers to the mountain slope with 30 lifts and 90 pistes of various difficulty levels.
The American track designation system is different from the European one. Simple ones are marked with a green circle, medium ones with a blue square, difficult ones with a black diamond, and the most difficult ones with two black diamonds.
On the other side of the lake is the famous Squaw Valley resort, where the 1960 Winter Olympics were held. This is the undoubted leader in the number of tracks – 170, the highest point of which lies at 2760 m. These include a magnificent track for night skiing, 3 snowparks and huge virgin space for freeriders.
Mammoth is another world class resort. Thanks to the unique microclimate, here is the longest skiing season in North America – from early October to late June. In total, there are 150 tracks located at an altitude of 2424 m to 3369 m, the longest stretches for 4.8 km. Due to its relative proximity to Los Angeles (5 hours by car) on weekends it is filled to capacity by residents of southern California.
The best places for beginners and family skiing are Badger Pass in Yosemite National Park, Dodge Ridge and Sierra Summit.
Since the movie Pretty Woman, everyone knows that the best shopping for people with endless possibilities in the glamorous Beverly Hills is on Rodeo Drive. The most prestigious brands are concentrated here, and many stores periodically close to serve only one client.
Experienced shopaholics, bypassing such places, head straight to California outlets, where all clothes – from classic to ultra-fashion – are sold with crazy discounts from 30 to 80%. In addition, twice a year – from mid-December to the end of January and from mid-July to early September, as in regular stores, seasonal sales are held in the outlets.
Resembling the ancient Babylonian fortress of Citadel Outlets in Los Angeles (100 Citadel Drive), hides behind an exotic facade more than 130 stores from Armani Exchange and Hugo Boss to DKNY and Calvin Klein. A good choice in the network of outlets Premium Outlets, of which there are more than a dozen in California. Among them is the huge Las Americas Premium Outlets in San Diego at Camino de La Piz 4211.
Store prices are excluding taxes. The receipt will add California sales tax (7.5%) and local tax (up to 1.5%) to the purchase price.
In addition to outlet stores, there are outlet chains such as Ross Stores. There are a lot of clothes in them, but it is almost impossible to find something exclusive. Large selection of goods in network supermarkets such as Wall-Mart. The place where you really have everything is the largest shopping mall on the entire Pacific coast, South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.
California Cuisine and Restaurants
Everything is mixed up on the gastronomic palette of California, which has absorbed the best culinary recipes from around the world – from Italian pizza and German hamburgers to Chinese noodles and Mexican burritos. Judging by the signs of cafes and restaurants with Jewish, Japanese, Greek, Thai, Spanish and other cuisines of the world, no matter where the tourist comes from, he will feel at home here. And French dishes, according to experts, are cooked better in local restaurants than in France itself.
The gastronomic capital of the state, Los Angeles, stands out with 20 Michelin-starred restaurants. But the famous Californian crab and cream soup with clams are best cooked in San Francisco in restaurants near the Fisherman’s Wharf. For economical and always in a hurry tourists, Hooters fast food chains operate in any city. However, regardless of the price category and cuisine, establishments decorated in the style of Gold Rush saloons are especially popular.
The easiest way to meet Hollywood celebrities is at the Villa Blanka restaurant, the main gastronomic attraction of Beverly Hills, or at the exquisite Spago, where they traditionally wash their freshly received Oscars.
At the end of the last century, the “new American cuisine” was born in California, which subsequently spread throughout the country. It is based on dishes adapted to local tastes from around the world, prepared from high quality regional products. It features organic meats, seafood, fresh vegetables and fruits in the most unexpected combinations like grilled fish with Indian bread and Asian stewed vegetables.
The average check for dinner with a glass of wine in an inexpensive restaurant is 35-50 USD per person plus a tip of 15-20%. Burger or sandwich in a street food truck – 10-15 USD.
For those who are overcome by nostalgia in the midst of a California vacation, there are Russian restaurants with dumplings, borscht, pancakes and the invariable Olivier salad. They can be found in any major city and even on Route 1 near Fort Ross.