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California Holidays: An Overview

Everybody knows the one about California being the world's eigth biggest economy if it was a standalone country, but fiscal statistics aside, this is undoubtedly one seriously blessed corner of the world.

California is blessed with as perfect a climate as you could wish for (OK, maybe except for in Death Valley), and landscapes running the full scenic gamut from gorgeous beaches to ski-friendly mountain ranges via perfect winemaking country, vast (in all senses) forests and some of the world's most dramatic National Parks. All rather sickening, really, but boy does California make for an amazing luxury holiday destination. Throw in the culture, creativity and sheer energetic output of the key cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and a few treasures that are less well known - just ask! - and this is the perfect destination for family holidays or couples alike.

San Francisco or Los Angeles are the likely starting points for any Californian trip, and the two cities dovetail beautifully; San Francisco the understated, walking friendly, hipster hangout with great shopping and excellent Oriental cuisine, and LA the quirky and exuberantly OTT city of neighbourhoods you'll probably feel you knew before even arriving, thanks to the iconic status of places like Rodeo Drive, Venice Beach and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Speaking of iconic status, the stretch of coastline and road between these two cities is generally regarded as one of the most dramatic and beautiful in the world, and a Big Sur Road Trip is right at the top of several of the Original Travel team's holiday bucket lists. En route are many Californian highlights such as the giant redwood forests, and attractive towns such as Carmel, Monterrey and Santa Barbara.

There's more. South of LA and a stone's throw from the border with Mexico, San Diego is a vibrant mish mash of North and Central American culture. More relaxed than the frenetic Los Angeles but with even better beaches, it is a place to unwind; made even easier by the city's reputation for having the best craft beer in the country. And on the subject of 'liquor', very few wine regions on the planet are as pleasant to visit as the beautiful Sonoma and Napa Valleys north of San Francisco, as famous for their scenery and restaurants as their excellent wines.

After a stint in the wine region, there's no place better for burning off the excess than the jaw-droppingly beautiful Yosemite National Park, on which more in our Great American Wilderness section.

All this, and we haven't even mentioned the seriously impressive ski conditions in Lake Tahoe and the multitude of family friendly things on offer in California, ranging from the obvious (Disneyland, SeaWorld and Universal Studios anyone?) to seeing the sea lions in San Francisco and even just enjoying a bit of good old fashioned bucket and spade work on the many beautiful beaches.

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California Itinerary Ideas

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humpback whale tail
If you do three things
1
Big Sur Whale Watching

Humpback whales congregate in Monterey Bay from late April to early December when they can be observed near the surface feed on anchovies and krill. Whales from this population often approach boats and engage in 'friendly' behaviour, circling and rubbing up against the bow of the boat. With contact initiated by the whales, watchers have the chance to be part of a profound moment of connection between two species.

child in a surfing lesson
If you do three things
2
Learn to surf in Santa Barbara

Become a pro (well, competent, at least) surfer during a private surf lesson on the beach and in the waves in Santa Barbara. Having a one-to-one lesson with an expert instructor is the best way to maximise your time and (fingers firmly crossed) stand up and ride your first wave.

fish in aquarium
If you do three things
3
Monterey Bay Aquarium

Visit the world-renowned aquarium in Monterey Bay. Located on the ocean's edge the aquarium offers a fantastic window into marine life. Home to sea otters, penguins, sharks, jellies and thousands of other marine flora and fauna, the aquarium's mission is to inspire others to conserve the ocean and its inhabitants.

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What to do
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When to go
  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Yosemite National Park
Los Angeles
San Francisco
Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip
Napa & Sonoma Valleys
Yosemite National Park
Los Angeles
San Francisco
Highway One, the California Coast Road Trip
Napa & Sonoma Valleys
Best time
Low season
Off season
Half Dome view, Yosemite
Deeper Cuts
Head off the beaten track and uncover the little-known gems of a destination
Hike Snow Creek Trail

Yosemite National Park is an obvious choice for lovers of nature and dramatic landscapes, but with that comes hordes of people. Escape the crowds by avoiding the popular Mirror Lake Trail and going up the somewhat more challenging Snow Creek Trail. Along this route, enjoy some amazing views across Tenaya Canyon and of landforms such as Half Dome, with silence all around you.

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A Note on Price

All of our holidays are completely tailor-made and prices will vary based on things like when in the year you will be travelling, how far in advance you book, the class of flights included and the level of accommodation you choose. The guide prices shown across this website are designed to provide you with a broad indication of how much to budget for your trip.

Itinerary Suggestions

Ski and Surf California

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Pacific Northwest Road Trip

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