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By Tiago Magalhaes
Looking for that one fascinating trip that will seemingly stop time, allow you to forget all your problems, and leave you with an unforgettable experience? Then California is the place for you! From the city of stars and dazzling skyscrapers, to harmonious little surf villages, or from the stunning convergence between the breathtaking mountains and the hollow waves, to the vast nothingness of inland West, California is the perfect place for the perfect trip, and this is the perfect guide to ensure this.
The first and most important tip, is to start off your journey in Northern California, and drive south, and NOT the opposite. Why? This is because throughout your whole trip, you will have the option to drive along the coast, and by driving southwards, the road taken is literally on the edge of the endless cliff, providing you with the finest view of the Californian mountains and the deep blue Pacific Ocean.
Now beginning the trip with Northern California, which has endless programs to decide upon, and choosing which ones to do and which ones not to do is certainly a painful task. I would recommend starting off your trip in San Francisco, and staying around four to five days there, as there is a lot to do. In San Francisco there are many fascinating places to visit, such as Fisherman's Wharf, Alcatraz Prison, Pier 39 (where you will easily spot many sea lions and seals), Coit Tower, the Painted Ladies, and of course, Golden Gate Bridge. Visiting Sausalito, which is a small, welcoming, town on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, is also a super recommended program. Another really nice activity which you might consider is biking over the Golden Gate Bridge. There are many places where you can schedule a bike tour, which includes biking over the Golden Gate Bridge and ending at Sausalito, thus completing two excellent programs at once. Besides San Francisco, there are dozens of smaller cities nearby, such as Palo Alto and Berkeley, which are definitely worth the visit.
When you're done with San Francisco, choose a brand new day to start your illustrious drive down south. Wake up early and take Highway 1 towards the coast. On Highway 1, drive towards Half Moon Bay. If it's in interest, stopping by Mavericks is totally recommended. Mavericks is a surf spot on the tip of Half Moon Bay, where the world's bravest surfers go out and risk their lives to surf 60+ ft waves. After Half Moon Bay, head south towards Monterey and visit their world famous aquarium (which is featured in Finding Dory). After a long day, continue south for around 15 minutes until you reach Carmel-by-the-Sea, which is a beautiful little European town, known for being a top-10 destination in the US year after year. If possible, stay a day in Carmel to get to know the truly beautiful city, and then continue your drive south. During the whole drive south, the view of the ocean from Highway 1 will constantly surprise you with more and more beauty.
Now, as if the trip hasn't been good enough, comes one of the most well known pieces of the journey; Big Sur. Continue your coastal drive south from Carmel, and you will soon reach Big Sur. Big Sur is a rugged stretch of land in Central Coast California, and it is known for its many seaside cliffs and views. The region also has inumerous state parks for hiking and camping. For the entire trip simply sit back and watch the view, and don't bother to stop the car on the side of the road and simply gaze at the beauty of planet Earth. Enjoy your drive through Big Sur State Park, and drive your way all the way down to Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara is a sort of marking point on your trip, as until now you have been seeing more than doing, but from now on, there will be much more action. Take a day or two to adventure around the pleasant little city of Santa Barbara. Be sure to visit Stearns Wharf and State Street, and enjoy some of the wonderful cuisine while admiring the Spanish colonial architecture and the Santa Ynez mountains in the background.
From Santa Barbara, you have many options to go for, and you can always mix them up. One of them is to go to Los Angeles, which is a unique city and the heart of California. There, you can visit Hollywood, see the Walk of Fame, and live like a star. You can also spend the day shopping around at Third Street Promenade, or head to Venice or Santa Monica. How many days you stay in Los Angeles really depends on what you are looking for in your trip. Staying in L.A., you should also certainly grab a day and drive to Malibu, where you will come across various paradisaic beaches.
Another option is to head to San Diego, where you can wander around and get to know the city, which is absolutely fascinating. In San Diego, be sure to visit La Jolla, which is a small community within the city with lovely rocky seasides.
My personal opinion is to stay around a week in Orange County, or more specifically, San Clemente. Staying in San Clemente was unquestionably my favorite part of the trip. San Clemente is another small and peaceful town by the sea. What I recommend is renting a house there and spending some days. The town is the perfect surf spot, and its entire coast is full of the most perfect waves. The most well known surf spot in San Clemente is Trestles. Trestles is a collection of surf spots in San Onofre State Park, and is considered surfers’ paradise. For me it was the best part of the trip, and needless to say, anyone looking for some good waves should go there.
Everyone should visit California at least once in their life. It is truly a unique place, and it fits anyone's style. I hope you decide to give it a try, because I 100% guarantee you will love it. Be sure to remember, the West Coast is the Best Coast!
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