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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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Golden Gate Bridge
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288 Tours and Activities

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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Alcatraz
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97 Tours and Activities

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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Coronado
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53 Tours and Activities

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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San Francisco Bay
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103 Tours and Activities

Few waterways carry the prestige and iconographic status of the beautiful San Francisco Bay. From the first years of its European discovery the Golden Gate became known as a pivotal access point to the American West.

Trade and military strategy aside, The Bay is California’s most important ecological treasure. A natural nursery for crab, halibut, waterfowl, seals and sea lions, as well as endangered species, the San Francisco Bay provides a great ecological treasure to residents and visitors alike. Whale watching, ferrying out to Alcatraz and Marin, or simple sunset tours with the glistening Golden Gate Bridge are favorite pastimes, while residents simply feel assured looking out of their windows and knowing that its calm waters are there.

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Point Loma
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Both a seaside community and a top San Diego attraction, there’s a lot to be said for this little slip of a peninsula. Most easily recognized for its hilly views and the picturesque Old Point Loma Lighthouse, Point Loma is also famous for its historical significance (the first European settlers in California landed here, thus earning it the title “where California began”). People come to Point Loma to view these attractions, as well as to visit its naval base, the Cabrillo National Monument, and walk the hiking trails and take in the stunning views of the bay. With plenty to do and see, it’s no wonder Point Loma is one of San Diego’s most photographed spots.

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Cabrillo National Monument
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On the southern tip of Point Loma, at the top of hill, you'll find Cabrillo National Monument. The spot is San Diego’s finest locale for history and fine views across the bay to San Diego's downtown. It's also the best place in San Diego to see the gray whale migration (January to March) from land. After a few minutes here, you may forget you’re in a major metropolitan area.

The visitors center at Cabrillo National Monument has an excellent presentation on Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s 1542 voyage up the California coast, plus good exhibits on the native inhabitants and the area’s natural history. Also here is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which is appointed with late-19th century pieces, including lamps and picture frames hand-covered with hundreds of shells. On the ocean side, you can drive or walk down to the tide pools (at low tide) to look for anemones, starfish, crabs, and limpets.

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San Francisco Chinatown
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A city within a city, Chinatown is a historic maze of mysterious sights where an ancient culture from the other side of the world survives and flourishes with remarkable authenticity. You enter the oldest Chinatown in America through Dragon’s Gate, on Grant Avenue at Bush Street. Once you walk through the gate, a 24-block labyrinth of restaurants, markets, temples, and shops unfolds.

Wander through the massive collection of Chinese artifacts at the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum, or ponder Thomas Chang’s monumental photographs at the Chinese Cultural Center. You can glimpse skaters practicing revolutionary moves beneath the stature of Sun Yat-sen in St. Mary’s Square or head to Spofford Alley to hear the clicking mah-jong tiles, a Chinese orchestra warming up, or even beauticians gossiping over blow-dryers.

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Hollywood Walk of Fame
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201 Tours and Activities

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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Hollywood Sign
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152 Tours and Activities

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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Bay Bridge
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48 Tours and Activities

Though it doesn’t often get the attention of its famous sibling, the Golden Gate, the San Francisco Bay Bridge is spectacular in its own right. Once the largest and most expensive bridge of its time, in 75 years the Bay Bridge has proved critics wrong – the dream of connecting San Francisco to Oakland would not be stopped by anything. Logistics, cost, and politics couldn’t stop the expansion, and now the Bay Bridge has made history yet again my becoming the world’s largest self -anchored suspension bridge. Safely transporting the 280,000 automobiles that transverse its roads every day, the Bay Bridge connects San Francisco to Oakland, with a little stop at Yerba Buena Island along the way.

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More Things to Do in California

Maritime Museum of San Diego

Maritime Museum of San Diego

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For over 60 years, the Maritime Museum of San Diego has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for being one of the most engaging and imagination-inspiring attractions in San Diego. A history lesson and an adventure in one, the Maritime Museum of San Diego has been repeatedly voted one of the best attractions in San Diego, and visitors from the world over come here to see the excellent collections of historic tall ships, including the world’s oldest active merchant ship, the Star of India, an 1863 iron hulled, triple-mast behemoth. Known the world over for excellence in restoring, maintaining, and operating these historic vessels, a trip to the Maritime Museum will have you exploring (and, on some occasions, even sailing) four different tall ships (the ones with the big masts and sails), two submarines, and several yachts and harbor boats. As you explore these amazing vessels, you’ll discover a sense of what it was like to work and live on these amazing ships.

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Madonna Estate Winery

Madonna Estate Winery

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9 Tours and Activities

Located in the world-renowned Carneros region, Madonna Estates is a unique winemaker utilizing dry-farming production and organic grapes. The vineyard is family owned and operated using a combination of traditional and modern winemaking techniques. As one of the oldest vineyards in Napa Valley, Madonna Estates is working to ensure the historic winemaking traditions of the past live on. It was one of the few original vineyards that survived the Prohibition era.

The idea behind their wines is minimal intervention and as much natural growth as possible. Mild fog, wild, and cool temperatures create a unique microclimate in this area, fed with coastal air. Madonna Estates produces ten varietals including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Grigio. The tasting room is decorated in Italian Pompeii style to reflect the family’s heritage, and the reserve room serves their highest quality vintages.

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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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North Beach

North Beach

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Standing at the apex of the Filbert Street Steps, you can understand what Italian fishermen and beat poets saw in North Beach: tough climbs and giddy vistas, a place with more sky than ground, an area that was civilized by not entirely tamed.

A vibrant Italian community thrives in North Beach, which is home to dozens of Italian restaurants and coffeehouses. Columbus Avenue, the neighborhood's main street, is lined with many eclectic shops and one-of-a-kind fashion boutiques - perfect for an afternoon stroll.

You won’t find an actual beach in North Beach, though you will discover natural beauty atop Telegraph Hill, the neighborhood’s bucolic centerpiece. A hike up the Filbert or Greenwich street steps will put you at the top, where you can take in panoramic views of the city from Coit Tower. Or forego the climb and watch wild parrots frolic in the treetops from the friendly confines of a park bench in Washington Square.

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Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf

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Where once Italian fisherman in Genoese feluccas trapped unsuspecting sealife, San Francisco has expertly created one of the most popular tourist attractions in America. Fisherman’s Wharf is filled with shops, restaurants, and a pirate’s booty of attractions.

Sea lions laze the day away sunbathing and posing for photo ops on Pier 39, where the Aquarium of the Bay, carousel, and carnival-style attractions keep little kids wide-eyed. At Pier 45, the Hyde Street Pier Historic Ships Collection give navel-gazers a chance to check out tall ships, submarines and WWII warships. Bring your quarters to consult the spooky mechanical fortune tellers and save the world from space invaders at Musée Mécanique.

And if it’s raining, head to the Wax Museum and wander among the 250-plus life-like celebrities and former presidents. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum, with its kaleidoscope tunnel, video displays, and illusions is also a curiously exciting diversion.

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Coit Tower

Coit Tower

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50 Tours and Activities

Perched on the top of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco's Pioneer Park, Coit Tower is one of the best panoramic views of the city. From the top of the art deco tower, you can spot the colorful flocks of parrots, which paint the treetops red and blue; further out, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Pier 39, Angel Island, and Lombard Street.

Before heading to the top, enter the lobby to admire the 1930s murals inside the tower's ground floor. The 26 murals tell the story of California history, with frescoes depicting the rise of the state's industry. Indeed, some of these left-leaning murals, many of which were painted by artists who studied under Diego Rivera, were considered controversial when the tower first opened.

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Cannery Row

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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Presidio

Presidio

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Once a military base, The Presidio is now a huge public park on the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula. The Spanish established a military fortress on the site in 1776, and it was later turned over to Mexico, and then to the United States in 1848. The original name was the Royal Fortress of Saint Francis, fortress being a translation of “presidio,” and the area remained an active base for military operation until 1995. Since 1996, The Presidio has been a park. It's part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, but is operated by a private trust.

Among the many outdoor recreational opportunities within The Presidio are hiking, mountain biking, and golfing. The waters just off the park's beaches are great places to go kite surfing or sailing, not to mention fishing. There's also one camping facility inside the park that's open from April-October, as well as one lodge in a former US Army residence hall.

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Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley

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54 Tours and Activities

As the hub and undisputed gem of Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Valley is a treasure trove of photographic opportunities: granite precipices and cliffs create sharp contrasts against the lush and fertile land of the valley floor. All of the big names are here: El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls…it's just a matter of deciding which waterfall to explore first or which hike to attempt next.

Activities range from birdwatching to biking, horseback riding to hiking and all manner of sport in between. In addition to the natural beauty, you'll also find the bulk of visitor amenities in Yosemite Valley: the Valley Visitor Center, Yosemite Museum and Nature Center at Happy Isles are all based in the Valley, making it the perfect base camp to explore the myriad of natural treasures of Yosemite National Park.

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San Diego Harbor

San Diego Harbor

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Maritime enthusiasts should spend some time visiting San Diego Harbor. The many attractions here include the Maritime Museum, U.S.S. Midway Museum, the Seaport Village, and Embarcadero Marina Park. The well-manicured waterfront promenades stretch along Harbor Drive and are perfect for strolling or jogging.

On the north end of San Diego Harbor is the Maritime Museum, where a number of antique trading and passenger vessels are moored in the water. South of the museum, The U.S.S. Midway Museum, a museum housed in a Navy battleship, has loads of exhibits and a stellar collection of fighter planes. South of the U.S.S. Midway Museum is Seaport Village, which has a collection of novelty shops and restaurants. Embarcadero Marina Park, with its public fishing pier and open-air amphitheater, lies south.

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17-Mile Drive

17-Mile Drive

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25 Tours and Activities

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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Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium

12 Tours and Activities

There is a reason that Monterey Bay is considered the top aquarium in the country and draws around two million visitors a year. The nearly 200 exhibits and galleries feature 623 different species of plants and creatures: from adorable sea otters to otherworldly jellyfish, swirling sardines and crafty sharks that glide through the water. Visitors can get up-close with bat rays at the petting pool, and watch divers hand-feed sharks and fish at the kelp forest and blackfooted penguins in the Splash Zone.

What makes Monterey Bay Aquarium so special is its commitment to environmental conservation and education. The aquarium continuously pumps Monterey Bay ocean water through the tanks. During the day the water is filtered for clarity and at night the unfiltered water brings in food in the form of plankton. Waste ocean water from the aquarium is returned to the bay – making the aquarium essentially a part of the ocean.

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Tunnel View

Tunnel View

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17 Tours and Activities
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Andretti Winery

Andretti Winery

9 Tours and Activities

Owned by former champion race car driver Mario Andretti, Andretti Winery is a showcase for the owner's love and appreciation for fine, food-friendly wines. Together with winemaker Bob Pepi, Andretti has produced outstanding wines, with a focus on wines that pair well with food.

The winery itself resembles a Tuscan-style villa, with bright yellowish orange structures, fountains, and beautiful gardens surrounding the primary tasting area. The relaxed tasting room is shrine to Andretti, with racing photos and assorted memorabilia. Pull a seat up at the L-shaped bar and taste the latest vintages. Andretti Winery produces wines from some of the best vineyards in California, including such flavorful reds as Cabernet Savignon, Syrah, Merlot, Sangiovese, and Pinot Noir. White vintages include Savignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay. The winery also produces a variety of special wines, as well.

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