Saturday, January 15, 2011

Top 8 California Destinations with Family

I am spending a good deal of the day shoveling snow. Don't get me wrong, I love the snow. For real. I wish there was more snow around here. But still, when surrounded by the white stuff in the middle of Michigan winter, I think back to growing up in California. A student of mine the other day asked me where he should go if he could only go to one place in California this summer. That got me thinking of a list that may be infinite, but that I have boiled down to 8:

First off, there's the Sierras

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is a wonderful place. From the moment you drive into view of the valley, there is nothing but splendor to see. You are totally surrounded and ensconced in a natural world that seems totally alien and magical. There is a lot to see and a million hikes to take. While the summer days get terribly crowded, I reccomend going just as the snow starts to melt off in the spring. The snowy areas are beautiful, the green areas are lush and vivid, and the falls are huge. Best of all, there are no crowds.

Kings Canyon National Park
I haven't been down to the floor of Kings Canyon for years. But just at the entrance of the park is Grant's Grove, a collection of 2000 year old redwoods that are as breathtaking a sight as one can imagine. Believe it or not, I recommend doing this in the winter, if you can. The walking paths are plowed and the nearby John Muir Lodge has amazingly cheap winter rates.

The Northern Coast:
San Francisco
The sights and smells of San Francisco make it one of my top two favorite cities in the world. There is a bunch for a family to do, but my favorites are Chinatown and the Exploratorium--the best hands-on science museum in the world.

Santa Cruz
Just a hundred miles below San Francisco is Santa Cruz. This quaint small town is bursting with activity and is vibrant any day of the week. On the coast is the Santa Cruz boardwalk, maybe the best seaside theme park in the world. The main drag offers restaurants, coffee shops, and bookstores; what more could you ask for?

I lived in Monterey for a year and whenever my mind settles, I'm back there. On the south end of Monterey Bay, the peninsula offers tons of attractions. Cannery Row is terribly touristy, but if you're a fan of Steinbeck, you can really twist your head, squint your eyes, and see the town that he wrote so much about. The aquarium is expensive, but absolutely amazing. And for the sake of everything you love, don't miss whale watching. Get your crew on a boat and go see the whales. There are three lines that leave every day from Fisherman's Warf. Seeing a wild animal as massive and majestic as these is an extraordinary experience.

Southern California

Obviously, LA is a hotspot of entertainment. It took me a long time to warm up to LA, as it is so rife with people as to be a bit daunting. But I have found pockets of places that really appeal to me there, such as Westwood, where you could spend all day and all your money. I bet just about anyone could tell you more to do in LA than I can, because whenever I'm in the area, I spend all my time in:

Disneyland is slightly more corporate and busy than it was 20 years ago, but it is still the most quaint and enjoyable theme park in the world. Try and go any time other than the summer. I've heard that it is least crowded between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We've gone every time of year and I feel like Halloween may have been the best. Pack an extra wallet, but trust me, it's worth it.

San Diego
I went to college in San Diego and have to often wonder why it was that I ever left. For years there was a billboard outside of LAX that said, "Welcome to LA. Now that you've seen it, come on down to San Diego." Dudes, San Diego has the greatest beaches in the state, the best surfing, the most unreal taco shops in the world, and some of the best weather around. Even without going to the zoo or going to Sea World, you can fill your days with pleasure there.

Now that I've made myself totally homesick, I'm going to make some coffee, shovel some snow, and read some Kerouac.

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