There is simply no end to the range of things to do in California. With 1,100 miles of Pacific coastline to work with, visitors can surf the southern breaks in San Diego, go whale watching in the north at Monterey, or sea kayak anywhere in between. Stretching along the entire coast is the sublimely scenic Pacific Coast Highway for easy road access and inspiration.
Head inland and the Sierra Nevada Mountains provide a string of winter ski resorts, summer hiking trails, camping, mountain biking, and river rafting. In southern California, the emphasis is on sun-soaked beaches like Santa Monica, while the north is home to towering redwood forests and the legendary wine-growing regions of Napa and Sonoma. There are state and national parks all across the region offering safe and scenic places to walk, bike, fish, and camp with Yosemite being the notable favorite.
Surfing is one of California’s great pastimes. It’s most popular along southern beaches like Huntington in Los Angeles and Newport Beach near San Diego. But there’s also great surf at San Luis Obispo’s Silver Shoals and even at the chilly northern beaches of Monterrey and Santa Cruz. Surf schools like Surfari in San Diego or Learn to Surf LA in Los Angeles provide instruction, gear, and insider knowledge.
There are also thousands of miles of hiking trails to explore in California. From the favorite treks of John Muir in the Sierra Nevadas to cathedrals of coastal redwoods in Humboldt Redwood State Park near Eureka, there are myriad environments to enjoy. The Sierras are home to alpine hikes, while the coast is where rolling hills, redwood groves, and wine country creates a tapestry of beauty. Firms like California Alpine Guides can lead you deep into the wilderness.
California’s state parks are ideal places for all kinds of outdoor recreation, including camping. This is one of America’s favorite weekend activities, and there’s no better way to absorb the scenery of sublime spots like Yosemite and Sequoia national parks or Big Sur. You can easily arrange your own camping outings as rangers are on site at most state parks to answer questions and provide safety, with parks charging a small fee to camp for the night in designated areas.
They say that mountain biking was created on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais, just north of San Francisco. The terrain in California runs the gamut, from exciting downhill single-track slopes to rolling dirt roads in Napa’s wine country. Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort even has its own 90 miles of alpine trails which are easily accessed by taking a gondola to the summit. The road cycling is equally impressive, and companies like Undiscovered Country make it their business to give you the two-wheel experience of a lifetime.
In the winter, the slopes of the High Sierras become favorite skiing and snowboarding spots. There are nearly two dozen ski resorts in California, including the legendary Lake Tahoe resorts, Mammoth Mountain, and Squaw Valley. Around Lake Tahoe alone there are eight different resorts to enjoy, and the snow in the Sierras is reliably light and deep. Sierra Mountain Center can even guide you into the backcountry for a hut to hut cross-country skiing adventure.
The rivers in California are another highlight of outdoor adventure. There are lazy floaters for rafting on the Kern River or whitewater rapids ideal for kayaking along the American River. Tributary Whitewater Tours can set you up with whatever type of river adventure you want statewide, though there are dozens of other outfitters located in all the main river towns.