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Things to Do in California

From southern California’s beachy San Diego and star-studded Los Angeles to history-steeped San Francisco and quieter towns in the north, the Golden State serves up an endless array of destinations and activities. Cruise out to Alcatraz, the famed former prison in the San Francisco Bay, or visit Catalina Island on a boat trip from Long Beach or Dana Point. Outdoor adventures in Yosemite National Park, skiing in Lake Tahoe, or a stroll down the Santa Monica Pier give a glimpse of the state’s majestic natural features. Visit LA to stroll on the Walk of Fame, hit the theme parks in Anaheim, or hike up to snap a photo in front of the Hollywood sign. Monterey and Carmel are home to miles of coastline, a wealth of marine life, and world-class golf facilities. Both the San Diego Zoo and the Monterey Bay Aquarium are considered the top wildlife facilities in their categories, home to an incredible array of animals and opportunities to learn about our non-human neighbors. California’s miles of farm country mean dining opportunities include farm-fresh, high-quality meat and produce. Foodies can dig into fish tacos in SoCal, munch sourdough bread in San Francisco, or hit the wine trail in Napa and Sonoma.
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Aquarium of the Pacific
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Sitting on Rainbow Harbor you’ll find one of Long Beach’s top attractions: Aquarium of the Pacific. Home to more than 11,000 aquatic animals and approximately 500 species, there is much to see throughout their 32 exhibits. In fact, many people arrive at opening time and don’t leave until closing. Get up close to playful seals and sea lions, visit a lagoon with more than 150 sharks, see ultraviolet sea animals against a black light, take in otherworldly jellyfish of all shapes and sizes and roam the numerous indoor and outdoor exhibits.

Many of the exhibits are also interactive, allowing you to pet fish, manta rays and even small sharks; feed birds in the Lorikeet Forest; and partake in tropical reef feedings. Check the schedule when you arrive to see what shows and lectures are going on for the day. If you’re traveling as a family, stop at the desk to pick up special worksheets and scavenger hunt-like tasks for kids to fill out while exploring the museum.

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Carlsbad Village
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Carlsbad Village is the downtown area at the heart — and waterfront — of Carlsbad, a fun-loving Southern California beach town. Visitors to Carlsbad spend most of their time in the village, as it’s where most of the shops, restaurants and hotels are found, including the famous Carlsbad Inn — a Bavarian looking hotel on the corner of Carlsbad Village Drive and Ocean Street. A visit the Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa is a great way to relax with a massage or spa treatment using the local alkaline artisan mineral water. To mingle and pick up fresh local fruits, stop in at the Carlsbad Farmer’s Market, which happens every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. And of course the beaches and boardwalk that run along Carlsbad Village are the main draw. Tamarack Beach is a great, centrally located stretch that’s ideal for bike riding, surfing or sunbathing.

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Hollywood Walk of Fame
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Marilyn Monroe? 6774 Hollywood Blvd. James Dean? 1719 Vine St. Elvis Presley? 6777 Hollywood Blvd. No, not last known addresses, just the exact spot for the brass star honoring these celebrities on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

These stars and many others are sought out, worshiped, photographed, and stepped on day after day long this stretch of sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard. Since 1960 more than 2,000 performers - from legends to long-forgotten bit-part players - have been honored with a pink-marble, five-pointed sidewalk star.

Follow this celestial sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard between La Brea Avenue and Gower Street, and along Vine Street between Yucca Street and Sunset Boulevard.

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Yosemite Falls
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The highest measured waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls is the superstar attraction in the park, especially in late spring when the snow melts and water flow is at its peak. With a cumulative drop of 2,425 feet (739 meters), Yosemite Falls actually consists of three falls and is also the sixth highest waterfall in the world (seventh according to some sources). Though there is some discussion about its place in the world's highest list, it's an incontrovertible fact that Yellowstone Falls is the centerpiece of the valley and the park.

The best views of the cascading torrent can be seen from various vantage points, including Yosemite Village and Yosemite Lodge. For active viewers, a one-mile loop trail leads to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall and also possible to hike to the top of Yosemite Falls as a strenuous, all-day hike. For a unique experience, on a clear night with plenty of moonlight and enough water to create mist.

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Cannery Row
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In 1958, Monterey’s most famous waterfront street changed its official name from Ocean View Avenue to its long-time nickname Cannery Row in honor of the 1945 John Steinbeck novel of the same name.

Today’s Cannery Row is a far cry from that of the “tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron …” described in Steinbeck’s novel. There has not been a cannery here since 1973 and the street is now filled with shops, from boutiques to chain stores, hotels and restaurants -- and usually populated by more tourists than locals.

It is a wonderful place for strolling, admiring ocean views, snacking on salt-water taffy, gaining easy beach access and watching the many characters that gravitate here. The world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is located at the northern end of Cannery Row, housed in what was once a sardine cannery.

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Alcatraz
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For almost 150 years, Alcatraz has given the innocent chills and the guilty cold sweats. Over the years it's been the nation's first military prison, then a forbidding maximum-security penitentiary, now a National Park. No wonder that first step you take off the ferry and onto 'The Rock' seems to cue ominous music: dunh-dunh-dunnnnh!

The trip to Alcatraz is popular and space is extremely limited. Purchase Alcatraz tickets as far in advance as possible, up to 90 days. The roster of Alcatraz inmates read like an America's Most Wanted list. A-list criminals doing time on Alcatraz included Chicago crime boss Al "Scarface" Capone, dapper kidnapper George "Machine Gun" Kelly, and hot-headed Harlem mafioso and sometime poet "Bumpy" Johnson. Though Alcatraz was considered escape-proof, in 1962 the Anglin brothers and Frank Morris floated away on a makeshift raft and were never seen again. A visit to Alcatraz is more than just seeing the inside of an old prison.

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California State Capitol and Museum
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Standing tall against Sacramento’s city skyline, the impressive white granite dome of the California State Capitol is beautiful from the outside…but even more interesting once you take a peek inside. The 19th-century structure is the center of the state’s government, and also home to an excellent public museum. It’s here that visitors can glimpse at the inner workings of the state government and learn about California’s extensive history.

The legislative chambers, styled in deep reds and with intricate wood carvings (taking cues from British Parliament,) are equally as important as they are elegant. Don’t miss the stained glass State Seal installed in the ceiling of the hallway leading from the rotunda — it’s stamped onto every bill signed into law in the state. Other details include tile work of state symbols as well as mosaics of the golden poppy, the state flower.

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San Diego Zoo
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Packed into 40 hectares, the San Diego Zoo presents a stunning variety of nature's largest, smallest, noblest, oddest, and most endangered creatures. This famous zoo has more than 3,000 animals representing over 800 species.

Stop first at the San Diego Zoo visitor center to pick up a map. Highlights of the zoo include the Tiger River bioclimatic exhibit, which realistically recreates an Asian rainforest environment, and Gorilla Tropics, which does the same with an African rainforest. The koalas and the rare giant pandas are also popular.

The gardens at the San Diego Zoo are renowned and some of the plants are used for the specialized food requirements of particular animals. Especially for kids, the Children’s Zoo allows young ones to pet small critters; they will also enjoy the animal nursery, which shows off the zoo’s newest arrivals. For an aerial perspective on the park, take a ride on the Skyfari.

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Hollywood Sign
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One of LA's most distinguishing icons, the famous HOLLYWOOD sign proudly stands on the hillside of the Hollywood Hills, overlooking its namesake city and the movie industry it has come to symbolize.

LA's most famous landmark first appeared on its hillside perch in 1923, as a advertising gimmick for a real-estate development called Hollywoodland. Each letter stands 50 feet (15 m) tall and is made of sheet metal painted white.

Once aglow with 4,000 light bulbs, the sign even had its own caretaker, who lived behind the letter L until 1939. The last four letters were lopped off in the 1940s as the sign started to crumble along with the rest of Hollywood. In the late 1970s, Alice Cooper and Hugh Hefner joined forces with fans and other celebrities to save the famous symbol.

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More Things to Do in California

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

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Cinema buffs believe Alfred Hitchcock had it right: seen from below at Fort Point, the bridge induces a thrilling case of Vertigo. Fog aficionados prefer the lookout at Vista Point in Marin, on the north side of the bridge, to watch gusts rush through the bridge cables. Crissy Field is a key spot to appreciate the whole span, with windsurfers and kite-fliers to add action to your snapshots. Unlike the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge provides access to cyclists and pedestrians.

From the Golden Gate Bridge itself, you can see stunning vistas of San Francisco and Marin County, as well as Alcatraz, Angel Island, and oceangoing liners passing through the bridge’s tall red towers. Golden Gate Bridge connects the city of San Francisco with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Sausalito and the Muir Woods National Monument.

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Williamson Wines

Williamson Wines

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Catalina Express

Catalina Express

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Find an island escape right off the urban shore of Southern California by taking a quick ride aboard a Catalina Express ferry. The passenger ferry service offers crossings to the towns of Two Harbors and Avalon on Catalina Island from the ports of San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point on the mainland. Trips take about an hour, and most visitors head to Avalon, which can be reached from all three mainland ports. Only the San Pedro departures arrive in Two Harbors. Once on Catalina Island, you can spend a day or more relaxing in the Mediterranean-like atmosphere. Avalon is a popular spot for watersports like scuba diving, kayaking and fishing, while Two Harbors is a great choice for those who want to explore the inland areas of the island to spot local wildlife like Catalina fox and buffalo while hiking or mountain biking.

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Computer History Museum

Computer History Museum

5 Tours and Activities
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Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1)

Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1)

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Also known as State Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH, runs north-south along most of the United States Pacific Coast. The California stretch is known for its endless scenic locales, making it one of the nation’s most popular road trip routes.

Segments of Highway 1 vary greatly. In some locations it can be a twisting, slow-moving two-lane road, while in other spots, the PCH is and moves like a freeway. As a general rule, speed is not the highway’s strength, which goes hand-in-hand with its scenery, leading many drivers to happily roll along at a slower pace. From beaches to mountains and forests, just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new appears. At some points, little separates the road from dropping into the Pacific below, so be prepared for major coastal views.

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Coronado

Coronado

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Across the bay from downtown San Diego, Coronado is a pleasant escape from the jumble of the city and the buzz of the beaches. Follow the tree-lined, manicured median strip of Orange Avenue toward the commercial center, Coronado Village, around the landmark Hotel del Coronado. Then park your car; you won’t need it again until you leave.

Locals call Coronado an island, but it's connected to the mainland by the spectacular, 2.1 mile (3.4 kilometer) Coronado Bay Bridge, as well as by a long, narrow spit of sand known as the Silver Strand. The visitor center doubles as the Coronado Museum of History and Art. And then there’s the fabulous, easily recognizable Hotel del Coronado, the interior of which is filled with warm, polished wood, giving the hotel an old-fashioned feel of Panama hats and linen suits. Guests have included 10 presidents and world royalty. For a taste of the Del without the stay, have breakfast or lunch at the beach-view Sheerwater restaurant.

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Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf

Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf

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Just like its San Francisco counterpart, Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf is crammed full of souvenir shops, candy stores, street performers and seafood restaurants all vying for tourist dollars.

Though it is most definitely a crowded tourist scene, Fisherman’s Wharf is more than worth a visit for the bay views, sea lion and pelican-spotting, and eating clam chowder from a sourdough bowl. Many restaurants offer free samples of chowder to passersby, so you can compare before settling on a place to eat. Several restaurants also offer more incentives such as free calamari appetizers.

The neighboring Wharf II is the heart of Monterey’s fishing industry and you can watch the trawlers unloading the day’s catch. Charter boat companies offer deep-sea fishing cruises, and other activities on offer include glass bottom boat tours and whale watching tours.

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USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Museum

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Essentially a floating city, the U.S.S. Midway Museum is housed inside the namesake ship, formerly one of the U.S. Navy’s flagships from 1945 to 1991. Aboard the hulking vessel, visitors can explore more than 60 exhibits as well as peak inside the museum’s aircraft collection. Exhibits in the U.S.S. Midway Museum include the engine room, the ship’s brig, machine shops, and the crew’s sleeping quarters. You’ll walk along the narrow confines of the upper decks to the bridge, admiral’s war room, and the control tower. On the ship’s flight deck, you can walk right up to aircrafts, including an F-14 Tomcat, F-4 Phantom jet fighter, and an A-7 Corsair. Three flight simulators, music videos, films, interactive exhibits, and the Ejection Seat Theater round out this family-friendly experience.
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Old Mission Santa Barbara

Old Mission Santa Barbara

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Also known as the Santa Barbara Mission or simply “The Mission,” Mission Santa Barbara has come to be more than just a Catholic outpost; it has come to represent all that is historic and cultural in Santa Barbara. A Spanish mission founded by the Franciscan Order in 1786 and built upon a hill overlooking the valley, The Mission, with its beautiful construction and commanding position on the landscape, is a long-standing Santa Barbara favorite.

Rich in history, the missions of California were Spanish colonial outposts and served to help colonize the area. Known for its rolling lawns and rose garden, which are open to the public year round, Mission Santa Barbara is one of the longest continuously operating missions in California. It still takes parishioners to this day, thus maintaining the longest unbroken tradition of choral singing among the California missions.

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Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa Valley Wine Train

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All aboard for the best train in the West! The beautiful and romantic Napa Valley Wine Train takes the most stunning parts of the Napa and Sonoma valleys and sandwiches them together in a spectacular glide through the rolling countryside. Watch the sun set from elegantly restored vintage Pullman cars as you sweep through the wandering valleys of Napa and Sonoma wine country sipping some of the world’s best wine and nibbling exotic cheeses. Little could be more breathtaking or romantic than this train ride through some of the world’s most famous wineries and some of the most beautiful land in California.

Perfect for those that don’t have much time to spend in this little slice of heaven, the Napa Valley Wine Trail gives you a sweeping view of the Napa and Sonoma valleys while regaling you in luxury, history, and of course, superb wines.

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Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

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See what life is like under the ocean without getting wet at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, which contains more than 60 tanks teeming with colorful marine life. Along with coral reefs, sharks and jellyfish exhibits, the two-story, 70,000 gallon kelp forest will capture your attention. Hands-on displays, exhibits and dailyfeeding presentations offer the chance to learn about ocean science while having fun.<//p>

Birch Aquarium at Scripps is home to more than 5,000 specimens that represent more than 380 speciesof fishes and invertebrates. Tide-Pool Plaza has three tide pools where visitors can touch and learn about residents that include starfish, hermit crabs, sea cucumbers, and lobsters. Docents are on hand to answer questions. Tide-Pool Plaza comes with the added perk of a Pacific Ocean view.

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17-Mile Drive

17-Mile Drive

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17-Mile Drive is often said to be one of the most scenic drives in the world and is an essential experience on any visit to California. Driving along the road offers some of the best views of Monterey Bay and many scenic lookouts with designated stopping points.

The drive runs along a winding road, through upscale neighborhoods from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach and goes past forested areas, along the oceanfront and past several golf courses. Some of the best places to stop are at Cypress Point Lookout, where you can see harbor seals basking on sand and rocks; Spanish Bay where you can follow a paved coastal trail to Asilomar State Beach, and the iconic Lone Cypress, which has stood on its wave-lashed, wind-beaten rocky perch for more than 250 years.

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El Capitan

El Capitan

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Yes, it's a big rock, but what makes El Capitan a must-witness sight in Yosemite is the fact that it's the largest exposed-granite monolith in the world. Oh, and people climb it. Rising 3,593 feet (1095 meters)—more than 350 stories—above the Valley, El Capitan was once considered impossible to climb. However, since Warren Harding first conquered the "nose" in 1958, El Capitan has become the standard for big-wall climbing.

Take binoculars to spot the little bits of color that pinpoint adventurous climbers tackling the smooth and nearly vertical cliff.

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Santa Barbara County Courthouse

Santa Barbara County Courthouse

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After the great earthquake of 1925 ruined much of the city, an opportunity arose to give this beloved city by the sea something that would reflect the areas culture and beauty; something that would both honor and impress its residents. Designed in Spanish-Moorish style and completed in 1929, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse is now one of the main tourist attractions on a visit to the American Riviera.
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