Be it because of its size or its cultural leadership: The golden state embodies the diversity and wealth of the entire USA. California is an almost immeasurable country simply because of its varied topography. There are mesmerizing forests with towering redwoods, mountain peaks and deserts, as well as expansive white sandy beaches, wild coastlines and of course two of the world’s most exciting metropolises: San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The third largest US state – after Alaska and Texas – fascinates with the highest mountain in the USA (outside Alaska) – the 4,421 m high Mount Whitney – and the lowest point of the entire state – the Death Valley Depression 86 meters below sea level. These two facts alone show the range of this mighty country. Not forgetting, of course, that aspect of the Golden State that everyone knows from film and television: “California” conjures up images of bikini beach beauties and movie stars stepping out of stretch limousines and being hounded by autograph hunters and reporters. The California of clichés is propagated by the media, the Hollywood PR machine and the tourism industry alike. The cliché has been part of California for centuries, however. Spanish tales described the country as an “exotic outpost” as early as the 16th century – and almost 300 years later the gold rush glorified the country as a place where everyone could become rich and happy. Whatever the truth, the image of the sun state looks back on a long history.
According to itypetravel.com, California’s daughters and sons are as colorful as they are dazzling – and here on the west coast they pride themselves on being simply hipper and cooler than the conservative east. California was and is a Mecca for creative people – from fine arts to literature, architecture, music, photography and film. In addition to many failed existences that never achieved the fame they dreamed of, the density of intellectuals is particularly high here. The hippie movement and the computer age started in California.
“California is an outpost of our civilizations” John B. Priestley
If you see the US as a melting pot, then California is an ethnic microcosm. Around a third of all immigrants to the USA live here. California offers the greatest ethnic diversity – the percentage of whites and African Americans is below the national average. The Asian population is about three times the US average, and Hispanics make up about a quarter of Californians. This mix is particularly evident in the large metropolises of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Location and size
With an area of 423,970 km², California is the third largest state in the USA. It stretches from the Oregon border in the north to the Mexican border in the south. The state borders the Pacific Ocean to the west. California is slightly larger than Germany.
The westernmost US state is characterized by a spectacular variety of landscapes. From the misty redwood forests on the north coast to the mighty high mountains of the Sierra Nevada to the bizarre desert formations in the south, each of California’s 12 regions has its own character. As a result, many travelers often have the impression of entering a completely different country when they travel from one region to the next.
Of the slightly more than 37 million inhabitants, around 18 million live in the Greater Los Angeles Area. The capital Sacramento is populated by half a million people, around 800,000 people live in San Francisco and around 3 million in the greater San Diego area.
Both Los International Airport (LAX) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) are the airports that are served by numerous airlines from Europe on a daily basis.
Much of California has a generally mild Mediterranean climate, with long, warm summers and short, wet winters. Temperatures typically range from 7° to 20°C in San Francisco to 8° to 28°C in Los Angeles. In the Sierra Nevada mountain range and other mountain regions, winters are cold and large amounts of snow can be expected. Summers around Los Angeles are hot and dry, while San Francisco is often shrouded in the city’s signature fog from May through August. For many Californians, September and October are considered the best months for warm, windless weather. Seawater temperatures range from 14° to 20°C in Southern California and from 9° to 13°C in Northern California.
|Average temperatures in Los Angeles in °C|
|Average temperatures in San Francisco in °C|
California’s Big Cities
California’s big cities are culturally diverse, vibrant and worth seeing. Culture, nature and the pioneering spirit of the 21st century meet here and open up unforgettable worlds of experience for the visitor.
For many visitors, Los Angeles is the quintessential California metropolis: Hollywood, Beverly Hills, beautiful people, sunny weather, busy highways and miles of beaches. The city lives up to expectations in every respect. But there is much more to discover: Latin American culture, lively bars, fantastic restaurants, fascinating contemporary architecture and one of the hottest art scenes in the country.
San Diego spoils residents and visitors with a pleasant climate. Miles of coastline with gorgeous beaches make it easy to fall in love with this place. In the city itself, the Mexican influence is pervasive, influencing culture and life in a pleasant way. The historic “Gaslamp Quarter” is the center of nightlife and one of the most important sights along with Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo and Sea World.
The Golden Gate Bridge, thick fog, pretty old wooden houses, steep hills and spacious parks leave no doubt that San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. San Francisco is a pedestrian city that’s easy to explore and features highlights like the Cable Car, Alcatraz Island Prison, and Pier 39. Beyond the city limits, there’s plenty to explore with the Marin Headlands and vineyards of beautiful Napa Valley.
California National Parks and Lakes
Lassen Volcanic National Park and Mount Shasta
In northeastern California, there are still active volcanoes to explore at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Although the last eruption was in 1917, boiling mud pools, steaming chimneys, and hot springs at Bumpass Hell and elsewhere in the park indicate volcanic activity. In winter up to 12 m of snow often fall here. By mid-June, however, the roads are mostly passable, opening up more than 150 miles (240 km) of hiking trails to visitors. Further north is 4,317 m high Mount Shasta, an extinct volcano that is often snow-capped. This area attracts nature lovers because of its numerous hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as refreshing and inviting blue lakes like Lake Shasta.
Redwood National and State Park
California’s coast redwoods are among the tallest trees in the world, reaching heights of up to 100 m. To protect this remarkable species and its habitat, several grassland zones from the Oregon border to the central coast at Big Sur have been designated as national and state parks. The California-Oregon border is home to pristine and impressive sanctuaries for these redwoods. Start at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, where you can admire the giant trees and then maybe even encounter Roosevelt moose in the dunes on a trip to Gold Bluffs Beach. Heading south, the Avenue of the Giants winds 31 miles through redwood forests.
With the clear blue lake and mountain peaks as a backdrop, Lake Tahoe is undoubtedly one of California’s most impressive areas. With a depth of 500 m, the lake is one of the deepest mountain lakes in the world. Even if the water temperature is rather cool even in summer, the beautiful landscape makes this area a Mecca for water sports enthusiasts. VUSA tip: Enjoy a ride on the Tahoe Queen sternwheeler or join a guided kayak tour. On land, visit historic buildings near Camp Richardson. If you’re looking for travel souvenirs, you’ll find them in Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe. The 150-mile Tahoe Rim Trail is a dream trail for hikers, mountain bikers, or horseback riders. Of course, you can also just relax on one of the many sunny sandy beaches (look out for parked cars and dirt tracks leading straight to the lake shore).