Gold is not the only reason to go underground in California, You can discover a beautiful world below the surface in a cluster of caves in Calveras Country, where water has shaped the porous limestone into high ‘galleries’, multiple winding passages, deep black lakes and fascinating formations. Take a tour to get more challenging cave expeditions.
Just off California’s Central Coast, these five islands are home to more than 2,000 species of plants and animals, 145 of which are not found anywhere else in the world. The islands are easily reached by boat from Oxnard or Ventura, south of Santa Barbara.
While Palm Springs is famous for its wealth of spas, the real source for natural, healing, hot mineral waters lies just north in the City of Desert Hot Springs, a favorite celebrity hideaway. Most of the spas in Desert Hot Springs are fed by natural waters of 90 to 145 degrees, pumped from wells that lie deep below the earth’s surface. Health benefits include relief for stiffness and pain in joints and muscles, increased circulation and oxygen flow to the body, and reduction of fatigue and stress. As an added bonus, one the natural minerals found in the water is silicone, which leaves the body silky and smooth after a dip.
Close to the state Capital of Sacramento is Coloma, where in 1848 James Marshall noticed some shiny yellow flecks in the American River while he was building a mill for Captain John Sutter. This was the start of the Californian Gold Rush, one of the greatest mass movements of people in history, and to the settlement of the American West. Sutter’s Mill is now home to the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where visitors can pan for gold.
Midway between Los Angeles and the Arizona border, this park consists of two large eco-systems – one high desert, the other low. The higher, slightly-cooler Mojave Desert is famous for its Joshua trees, named by Mormon pioneers, who thought their limbs resembled the outstretched arms of Joshua leading them to the Promised Land. The park is one of the most popular rock-climbing areas in the world, with more than 4,500 established routes. Below 3,000 feet the Colorado Desert forms the eastern part of the park, with natural gardens of creosote bush, spidery ocotillo and cholla cactus.
Lake Tahoe, nicknamed ‘Big Blue’ thanks to its intense colour, is 22 miles long and 12 miles wide and the water in the lake is said to be so pure that you can see a white dinner plate up to a depth of 75 feet. A Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts the lake is surrounded by ski resorts in winter and adventurers in summer. At certain times of year it’s even been known for surfing and skiing to be happening simultaneously.
This north-eastern California park takes you back 600,000 years, when the collision and warping of continental plates caused violent volcanic eruptions. View four types of dormant volcanoes as well as steam vents, bubbling mud pots and boiling pools from the park’s more than 150 miles of trails.
This World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve stretching along California’s northern coast is home to some of the world’s oldest and tallest trees. Old-growth coast redwoods can live for more than 2,000 years and grow to be more than 300 feet tall, and to walk through them is like worshipping in a forest cathedral.
There two adjacent parks, managed as one, are located in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range south of Yosemite. Major attractions include Mt Whitney – at 14,494 feet, it is the highest mountain in the U.S. contiguous 48 states – and the 2,500-year-old General Sherman sequoia tree, by volume the largest living tree in the world.
The Shasta Cascade region is the size of Belgium and takes up more than 20 percent of California. Located in the north-east corner of the state it has spectacular snow-capped mountain peaks, countless lakes and rivers and vast tracks of forest that set it apart from the accepted view of the California landscape. The jewel of the Shasta Cascade is magnificent Mt Shasta. Visible from more than 100 miles away, the cone-shaped mountain is near the southern end of the Volcanic Cascade Range. Technically, it is a ‘live volcano, as indicated by the hot spring on its summit.
The park to head for. Few places in the world rival its stunning splendour. Forests teem with wildlife, spectacular waterfalls take the breath away and towering sequoias crick the neck. There are breathtaking views of the park’s scenic highlights from Olmsted Point off Highway 120. Among the vistas are the Half Dome, Clouds Rest and sparkling Tenaya Lake. Closer vistas are available from the beautiful Yosemite Valley. Other attractions include the Mariposa and Tuolomne groves of giant sequoia trees, and activities such as climbing, hang-gliding, camping and hiking – just watch out for the bears!