California Dreamin’: Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State
California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Redwood Forests: Stand Beneath Ancient Giants
With some trees reaching heights of over 350 feet, California's towering redwood forests are home to some of the oldest and largest living organisms on Earth. When walking beneath these ancient giants in Redwood National and State Parks, it's hard not to feel small and humbled.
Many visitors are awestruck when they first encounter the grandeur of the redwoods. Mike, who visited from Texas, said, "I've seen big trees before, but nothing prepared me for the sheer magnitude of these ancient redwoods. Just looking up at them almost gave me vertigo!"
Redwood trees can live for over 2,000 years, and some of the oldest trees in Redwood National Park are estimated to be well over 1,500 years old. That means some trees predate the Roman Empire! Generations upon generations have walked among these giants.
A must-see for many is Hyperion, the world's tallest known living tree, measuring in at a monumental 379 feet. Unfortunately its exact location is kept secret to protect the tree, but you'll still find plenty of impressively tall specimens throughout the parks.
In addition to their staggering height, the massive girth of old-growth redwood trunks is a sight to behold. The largest coast redwood ever recorded had a circumference of over 100 feet! Wrapping your arms around one of these giant trunks provides perspective on just how substantial they truly are.
Beyond size, there is profound beauty in the forest ecosystem that redwoods anchor. Soft green ferns blanket the forest floor, and sunlight filters through the canopy hundreds of feet above, creating a cathedral-like glow. The sound of birds chirping high above in the canopy resonates through the forest.
For many, walking among shady groves of ancient redwoods stirs something on a spiritual level. Kathy, who visited with her kids, said "I've never felt more connected to the cycles of life. It's so humbling, and it gave me great perspective."
The serenity and natural splendor of redwood forests make them a premier destination for hiking, photography, camping, and more. Miles of trails cater to different ability levels, including the popular Lady Bird Johnson Grove loop that is wheelchair accessible.
What else is in this post?
- California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Redwood Forests: Stand Beneath Ancient Giants
- California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Channel Islands: Escape to California's Galapagos
- California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Death Valley: Land of Extremes
- California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Yosemite Glaciers: Walk on Ice in the Summer Heat
- California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Big Sur Coastline: Marvel at Untamed Beauty
- California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Hollywood Magic: Behind the Scenes of Movie Making
- California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Craft Breweries: Sip California's Craft Beer Revolution
- California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Farmers Markets: Sample the Bounty of the Central Valley
California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Channel Islands: Escape to California's Galapagos
With turquoise waters and rugged sea cliffs, the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast have rightly earned the nickname "California's Galapagos." This remote island chain provides a serene escape from the hustle of the mainland and a chance to encounter wildlife found nowhere else.
The Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary spans five of the eight Channel Islands. Visitors can't drive here - you have to take a boat or plane. This isolation is part of what makes the islands so special. As Rebecca from San Diego said after kayaking among the caves and coves of Santa Cruz Island, "It felt like we were a million miles away, not just an hour boat ride from the mainland!"
The islands' unique geography and ecosystems constantly inspire wonder and discovery. As you hike the many scenic trails, you'll feel as though you're exploring new frontiers. Liz from Sacramento said she felt like a kid on a treasure hunt while hiking the pristine backcountry: "Around every bend we'd spot different birds and seals sunbathing on the rocks. I learned so much about the natural world here!"
That diversity supports an abundance of wildlife found nowhere else. Each island has endemic species, from the diminutive island fox to the majestic bald eagle. While out on a whale watching tour, Jen from San Francisco said, "Seeing the huge blue whale fluke up and dive right by our boat took my breath away!"
The Channel Islands let you get up close with wildlife in ways you can't elsewhere. Park ranger-guided hikes and snorkeling trips offer the chance to encounter sea lions, dolphins, island foxes, shorebirds and more. After snorkeling with garibaldi fish off Anacapa Island's coast, Ryan from Long Beach said, "Swimming alongside the brightly colored fish and kelp forests was like entering an alien world right in my own backyard!"
With sweeping vistas and miles of secluded coastline, the Channel Islands are a nature photographer's paradise. From sunrise seascapes to close-ups of endemic wildflowers, there are endless compositions to capture. After photographing a bald eagle in flight, Greg from Sacramento said, "The Channel Islands let me create the kind of iconic shots of California's diverse landscapes and wildlife I've always dreamed of capturing."
California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Death Valley: Land of Extremes
With scorching temperatures, vast salt flats, and shifting sand dunes, Death Valley is a land of extremes that thrills adventurous spirits. As the hottest, driest place in North America, this national park pushes the limits of what we think is possible.
Death Valley bloomed after prehistoric Lake Manly dried up, exposing colorful badlands and sculpted canyons. Temperatures regularly soar above 120°F in summer, with the hottest temperature on Earth recorded here in 1913 - 134°F! Visiting in the cooler months allows you to explore in comfort.
The extremes give Death Valley a nearly alien beauty. Mesmerizing salt flats stretch for miles, crusted in patterns that change with each rainfall. Towering dunes glow like molten gold. Artist's Palette awes with rocks striped in vivid pinks, greens and yellows.
Seeing these surreal landscapes altered Jake's view of what's possible on Earth. "I couldn't believe the diversity crammed into such an inhospitable place! It was like walking on Mars at times."
Death Valley also reveals life's tenacity, with endemic fish thriving in remote springs and hardy wildflowers erupting after flash floods. The diversity amazes visitors like Beth: "I was stunned to see wildflowers blanketing the peaks! Life finds a way even in such an extreme place."
The park's extremes create unforgettable adventures. Stargazing here means Milky Way views beyond imagination. "The starriest skies I've ever seen!" raved Luis. "I was speechless seeing the night sky unspoiled by light pollution."
Death Valley's not without peril, making preparation key. Carrying extra water and avoiding midday summer hikes are vital. But witnessing these mind-boggling extremes leaves a powerful impact on visitors. As Lauren summed up, "The raw beauty and diversity of Death Valley gave me a new appreciation for the tenacity of life on Earth."
California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Yosemite Glaciers: Walk on Ice in the Summer Heat
While most visitors expect sunny skies in California's summer, Yosemite offers a truly unique experience - the chance to walk on glaciers amid summer heat. As remnants from the ice age, seeing and touching Yosemite's living glaciers provides vivid perspective on climate change's effects.
Yosemite once had over 100 named glaciers. Now only 25 survive. Though shrinking, these glaciers remain marvels of nature. Ice forms at high elevations and compresses into glaciers that creep downslope, carving out the landscapes visitors marvel over today.
The most accessible and well-known glacier is Lyell Glacier, located on Mt. Lyell. At just under a square mile, it’s Yosemite’s largest remaining glacier. As Jess from Fresno shared, “Standing at the base of the dusty gray glacier was humbling. Seeing the deep crevasses sliced into the ice really hit home that this is a living, moving thing.”
Even in summer, wild temperature swings make glacier hikes invigorating. Layers are key, as Mark from San Diego advised. “In the sun I was always peeling off layers, but the glacier still had sections covered in snow that chilled me to the bone!”
The icy landscape looks otherworldly, making you forget you’re in temperate California. “Exploring the alien, shattered terrain was my favorite Yosemite experience,” Sofia from Los Angeles said. “Only in Yosemite can you walk from dense forests into an arctic wonderland.”
Perhaps the most impactful aspect is touching the ice itself. Feeling the cold, slick ice underfoot and watching meltwater run through cracks emphasizes the fragility of these glaciers. “I never thought about where the water comes from before,” mused Lily from Sacramento. “Seeing the glacier melting before my eyes drove home the effects of climate change.”
This perspective shifts how we view wilderness and our role in shaping it. “Realizing how much glaciers have retreated in my lifetime left me motivated to reduce my own impact,” shared James from San Francisco. “If we don’t act, places like this may not exist for future generations.”
Some key glaciers to visit include Lyell Glacier, Maclure Glacier, and the Dana Glacier group. Guided hikes are available for those wanting an easier introduction to glacier walking. As Samantha from Berkeley discovered, “Having a guide break down how glaciers form and retreat expanded my entire understanding.”
California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Big Sur Coastline: Marvel at Untamed Beauty
With crashing waves, soaring cliffs, and forests creeping right up to seaside precipices, Big Sur’s untamed coastline never fails to inspire awe. The 90-mile stretch along Highway One delivers nonstop jaw-dropping views and adventures for those wanting to connect with California’s wild spirit.
Big Sur has lured bohemians, artists and wanderers for decades with its raw natural splendor. As Amy from Oakland said after a coastal hike, “There’s an energy here that stirs your soul - it feels deliciously undiscovered and undomesticated still.”
The allure begins with the seascapes. Dramatic overlooks perched hundreds of feet above the Pacific showcase nature’s power, like Thor’s Well swallowing waves with a thunderous roar. After photographing McWay Falls emptying directly onto the beach, Mark from Los Angeles raved, “It was incredible seeing water cascading over that sheer cliff into the ocean - like experiencing the edge of the world.”
Sheer cliffs plunge into cobalt waters, with trails winding down to secluded beaches untouched except by the tides. “I felt like I’d been transported back to California’s wild frontier days,” said Liz from San Diego of the pristine sands at Wildcat Beach. “Finding pockets of untouched wilderness so close to the bustle of LA felt unreal.”
abiThe views from trails like the Soberanes Point loop seem to never end, each bend revealing new angles on this intersection of forest and sea. “It was just nonstop wow moments hiking below towering redwoods right at the cliff’s edge,” shared James from San Francisco. “Big Sur expansiveness makes your problems feel so small.”
Abundant wildlife thrives along this pristine coastline. Migrating California gray whales surface so close you can see their blowholes. Intertidal zones teem with starfish, anemones and scuttling crabs. “Seeing seals sunbathing on rocks while falcons circled overhead showed me how much life thrives in this coastal habitat,” said Sofia from Sacramento.
Camping among meadows shaded by redwoods brings you even closer to Big Sur’s wild spirit. “Falling asleep to the sound of the surf crashing below our campsite made me feel more connected to the elements than ever,” shared Lily from San Diego. “Waking up to mist swirling through the trees each morning thrilled my soul.”
California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Hollywood Magic: Behind the Scenes of Movie Making
There’s something magical about the movies that makes us suspend disbelief and get swept away into fantastical worlds and epic stories. For many travelers to California, going behind the scenes at a real movie studio provides a glimpse into how Hollywood harnesses technology and creativity to bring that magic to life.
Seeing the actual sets and soundstages where some of your favorite films were made stirs the imagination. Mark from Atlanta said that walking through the original Whoville set on the Warner Bros studio tour made him feel like he “stepped straight into the Grinch movie!” Likewise, Jen from Chicago shared that exploring the Focus Features lot “brought me into the creative process in a tactile way that gave me new appreciation for moviemaking.”
Witnessing the craftsmanship involved in set design elicits a newfound respect. From intricate architectural details on building facades to the richly decorated interiors of sets, the worldbuilding is astounding. “I was blown away by how real everything looked up close,” remarked Sofia from Dallas. “The intricate wall textures and patinas made the sets feel like active places with history.”
For many, the most impactful part is seeing the ingenuity used to pull off movie magic tricks. On Universal Studios’ behind-the-scenes tour, Chris from Philadelphia was fascinated to discover “the shark from Jaws was just a simple mechanical triangle to give the illusion of a killer creature attacking!” While filmmaking does increasingly utilize CGI, many tricks still employ clever practical effects.
Beyond the physical sets, the human artistry involved in filmmaking also comes to life. Costume and prop departments give insight into how every detail is meticulously crafted to develop characters and story. “It was incredible to see rows of historic military uniforms being aged and weathered so they looked battle-worn,” said James from Seattle. “Everything is considered to make the world immersive.”
Insider industry perspectives further peel back the curtain. Many tours feature talks from current set designers, make-up artists, and technicians. Amy from Denver appreciated “hearing their passion for the craft firsthand.” She added, “Hearing how they problem-solve and improvise to bring ideas to life showed the human creativity that makes movies magical.”
California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Craft Breweries: Sip California's Craft Beer Revolution
California is at the epicenter of America's craft beer renaissance, with adventurous brewmasters constantly pushing boundaries and reinventing what beer can be. For visitors, craft brewery tours unlock a world of complex flavors while offering immersion into California's thriving beer culture.
The meteoric rise of craft brewing here stems from quality ingredients—especially abundant West Coast hops—combined with innovative techniques and diverse influences. California confidently asserts its own bold takes on classic styles while creating entirely new brews.
This spirit of exploration lets craft breweries create truly memorable experiences. At Sierra Nevada's estate in Chico, Mark from Atlanta enjoyed “sampling wild brews with botanicals straight from their onsite hop farm that you just can’t get anywhere else." That commitment to local ingredients and small batch experimentation yields complex, nuanced flavors and aromas.
Equally important as taste is each brewery's unique vibe that reflects regional culture. In San Diego, known for laidback surf vibes, James from Houston found “the bright, open brewhouses with surfboards on the walls and sun pouring through really brought good times to life.” Up north, among redwood forests, Amy from Denver said, “Sipping berry-infused sours inside a cozy log cabin taproom felt so Northern California!"
This diversity makes visiting multiple breweries a must. From sprawling warehouse spaces with games to urban hideaways tucked behind restaurants, each space's design and decor set the mood. As Chris from Phoenix discovered, "Every brewery had such distinct personality—it was like getting insider access to different Californian subcultures."
Of course, tasting experimental brews is the highlight for many. With knowledgeable brewers as guides, visitors can sample a hugely diverse range of styles, flavors and brewing techniques. From the hoppiest of West Coast IPAs to bold stoutsbrewed with vanilla and chiles, there are countless options. Greg from Houston was thrilled "to go right to the source and try all these creative brews before they ever hit store shelves."
Beyond beer, breweries build community and connections. Chatty taprooms full of locals cultivate an inviting, spirited atmosphere. Jen from Denver said, "The brewers really fostered a welcoming vibe where fellow beer lovers end up making new friends at the bar!" Through collaborations with food trucks and tours showcasing art, music and more, breweries reveal themselves as cultural hubs.
California Dreamin': Top 10 Unique Experiences You Can Only Have in the Golden State - Farmers Markets: Sample the Bounty of the Central Valley
The fertile Central Valley is California’s agricultural heartland, supplying much of the nation’s produce. Getting a true taste of the region means experiencing the bounty first-hand at farmers markets across the valley. Beyond affording access to impossibly fresh fruits and veggies, these markets provide an enriching, sensory-filled opportunity to connect with local culture and foodways.
The rich soil and ideal growing conditions here yield an unparalleled variety of produce, from sweet cherry varieties nurtured for generations to just-picked summer berries still warm from the sun. James from Austin described the experience of tasting a ripe, sweet white peach at a Fresno market: “I never knew a peach could be so juicy and full of flavor. It was life-changing!”
Equally memorable are the aromatic heirloom tomatoes in every size, shape and hue of red, yellow, green, orange and purple. “The smell just hit me walking up, and I couldn’t resist buying five different colorful varieties to try,” shared Amy from Minneapolis. “They were so rich and tasted like sunshine.” Beyond expected staples, adventurous finds surprise market-goers, like young moringa pods bursting with nutrition.
Beyond amazing produce, markets spotlight specialty growers and artisanal products. “I discovered micro-creameries handcrafting cheeses from the milk of their own goats and sheep,” said James from Houston. The makers’ passion adds meaning when you taste an ash-ripened goat cheese or creamy burrata.
For Sophia from Denver, the star discovery was small-batch vermouth: “The complex herbal flavors were made with botanicals grown on the winemaker’s property. It opened my eyes to what’s possible with sustainable agriculture.” From pepper vinegars to fruit preserves and beyond, gifts from the valley tantalize the tastebuds back home.
Of course, prepared foods let you sample local flavors on-the-spot. Chris from Philadelphia was “blown away by the tender tri-tip sandwiches grilled over orange wood,” while Beth from Chicago “couldn’t get enough of the Creole-inspired jambalaya.” The convergence of diverse cultures and ingredients creates eye-opening fusions.