Content Produced in Partnership with Visit California
When it comes to the outdoors in the winter months, California has an undeniable edge over just about every other coastal state. Its climate ranges from hot desert to subarctic, which means that you can get everything from tropical island vibes by the shore to cozy mountain towns high in the Sierra Nevadas. We think that means it's time to pack both your surfboard and your snowboard because the Golden State offers the perfect mix of sun, surf and snow to combat the winter chill.
Ski and Surf in the Same Day
California is one of the only places in the world you can shred fresh powder in the morning and slip into a wet suit to dominate the waves in the afternoon. With ski resorts like Big Bear just a couple hours away from LA, you can soar down a 600-meter half-pipe at a top ranked terrain park and still make it back in time to catch a sunset surf session. The carefree water culture translates over to the ski/snowboard community so enjoy your laid-back companions as you romp from coast to mountains and back again.
Snowkiting is a Thing
Inspired by the graceful kiteboarding acrobatics he’d witnessed off the coast of Fiji, Sierra Snowkite School Director Tyler Brown decided to adapt the water sport to something more befitting the Sierra Mountains: snowkiting. Snowkiting involves a ski or snowboard, a harness and a large kite — and a healthy dose of courage. Strap on your blade of choice, slip into the harness and let the wind power you across the deep backcountry powder of Royal Gorge Cross Country Resort. As your skill increases, you’ll be able to get enough air to try a backflip and other aerial maneuvers.
Go for a Dive at Catalina Island
The Mediterranean flavored island of Catalina is one of the world’s premiere spots for scuba diving. With its extraordinarily easy access points and abundance of wildlife, Avalon Underwater Park has become a favorite in the scuba diving world. A mere flick of the flippers will launch you into a spectacular kelp forest occupied by horn sharks, octopus, sea urchins, lobsters and a myriad of other sea creatures. Swim out a little further and you'll be greeted by several ship wrecks just waiting to be explored.
Snowmobile at Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Mountain is well-known for its snowy slopes and relaxing hot springs. It also has plenty of other outdoor pursuits for those in the know. Beginners can hire an experienced snowmobile guide to tour the pristine backcountry while more confident riders can take advantage of the resort's top-of-the-line equipment to explore on their own. Either way, it's one of the most exhilarating ways to see thousands of acres of untouched lines and lush pine forests.
Whale Watch at Santa Cruz
One of the greatest animal migrations in the world takes place right off the coast of California every winter. Twenty thousand gray whales make the 6,000 mile trip down from their Alaskan feeding grounds to Mexico to breed. One of the best places to see them is near Santa Cruz where the relatively calm bay waters are filled with sardines, anchovies, and plankton. They can often be seen breaching from shore, but for a more close-up perspective, you can opt for a whale-watching cruise or a chartered sailboat. For a staggeringly intimate encounter, paddle out in a kayak or stand up paddle board when the waters are calm. While the whales imbibe on their favorite foods, you can imbibe in a little marine life observation.
Snowbike at Lake Tahoe
While still a relatively new sport, snowbiking (or fat biking) is quickly making its debut at ski resorts around the nation and California is no exception. Snowbikes are, for the most part, similar to their summer counterparts, but spindly tires are replaced with solid five-inch behemoths for traction and stability to plow through the snow. Getting up hills is an intense workout, but bombing down them is more than worth the trek. Take a group tour with Tahoe Mountain Guides for breathtaking views of the snow-covered hills of Truckee and Lake Tahoe.
Stargaze at Joshua Tree National Park
Opportunities to enjoy the majestic night sky are becoming increasingly scarce as light pollution grows in cities. Joshua Tree National Park, which is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island, boasts some of the darkest skies in Southern California and is one of the last remaining places you can see the Milky Way and the constellations. Winter is the perfect time to visit since the nights are longer and the sky is less hazy. We say pack up the telescope and get to gazing.