California

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been to California throughout my life. With relatives and friends who live across the state, there’s always a reason to visit. As much as the golden state is portrayed in movies and entertainment shows, everyone knows it’s a naturally beautiful place with sun, surf, and sand and palm-tree-lined boulevards with majestic mountains in the distance. They also know it’s too expensive for most people to live comfortably, not to mention the risk of wildfires, mudslides, and earthquakes. Even Californians themselves sit on two opposite extremes: While there are admirable ones who are environmentally considerate, there are also unnecessarily narcissistic people who flaunt their beach bodies and fake tans.

SoCal

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Hollywood Walk of Fame: Michael Jackson's star

There are so many sizable cities in Southern California that you can drive from one to the next without having to pass through a lot of countryside. Los Angeles is a sprawling city, laid out kind of like Houston — far and wide — but with even worse traffic gridlock. The cultural diversity makes the greater L.A. area colorful and welcoming to all sorts of people. There’s a “town” for most major ethnicities, where you can get their food, groceries, clothing, and decorations. You can spend a fun evening in Anaheim‘s Downtown Disney — restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues all lit up and live performers in the outdoor courtyards. Endless beaches line the Pacific coast, so you can relax in San Diego or Huntington Beach or any other coastal city. The Santa Monica Pier offers amusements in the form of rides, restaurants, and retail. Enjoy the charming town square in Orange, where I visited my husband (then-boyfriend/fiancé) who was attending graduate school at Chapman University there and living in Garden Grove, home to Crystal Cathedral. Plenty of family fun can be had at Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood. Home to the Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the sign in Hollywood Hills, Hollywood is just as you’d imagine it. In nearby Beverly Hills, you can take driving tours to see the stars’ mansions. Irvine is a safe, pretty community, which makes its property values sky high too. On one of my more recent trips to California, we got to sit in the audience during the taping of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno at NBC‘s Burbank studios.

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

Central Coast
Hearst Castle in San Simeon is definitely worth a tour. The beautiful Greek design is showcased from the indoor pools to the artistic sculptures.

Northern California
To me, SoCal is less serious and more about fun, but Northern California is more intellectual — home to Stanford University and the Silicon Valley. San Francisco has the richness and unique characteristics of an older city, from streetcars to the world’s crookedest street, Lombard Street. The Golden Gate Bridge and classy art museums add to its dreamy quality. The vast Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but you can find all sorts of land forms in the wilderness.