Often hyped as the land of milk and honey where all your dreams come true, California is roughly split into two parts: south of Santa Barbara, the shallow and superficial part, and north of Santa Barbara which is the more hippie/alternative part.
California was my first ever flight with Virgin Atlantic airline. They supposedly have great service but the stewardesses spent most of their time gossiping about what they were going to do in LA, giving each other makeup tips, what brand of makeup they use etc. They looked annoyed when interrupted by any passenger. I will not be in a rush to fly with them again.
Despite being home to some of the world's most glamorous celebrities, LA is rather disappointing - it's a run-down, urban sprawl strangled with traffic jams. Another gripe is that great distances make it impossible to walk around and public transport is terrible so a car is essential. Ironically, LA is not actually a great place for celebrity-spotting.
The main attractions are the movie studios (Warner Bros, Universal, etc) and Hollywood Boulevard. Hollywood Boulevard is where the "Walk of Fame" is, where celebrities have stars with their names on it engraved on the pavement. The "Walk of Fame" is not all glitz and glamour, as you'll sometimes see homeless people urinating openly, and dodgy people panhandling. One guy stopped me on the street, showed me a photo of him and a girl driving a cadillac into the sunset, claimed it was his sister, that it was a scene from their upcoming movie but he was waiting to get paid for it, so in the meantime he needed some money. It was a pretty good story so I was happy to contribute.
If you're into arts and hippy stuff, you will like San Fran. While it is a very laid-back city, it's also expensive, cold, grubby and full of homeless people. No need to take any plastic bags with you, just wait outside and the wind will blow one in your face. But at least unlike LA, you don't need a car because the public transport is quite good.
The self-proclaimed "Original Bushman", he conceals himself behind his bush of branches, leaps out to frighten unsuspecting passers-by. Then requests a tip for the privilege
San Jose - Big Basin Redwoods Park - Boulder Creek - Los Gatos
San Jose is more known as Silicon Valley. It's where the big tech companies have their headquarters so it's mostly offices. There's also a few people there proactively searching for the next Google or Amazon. When I was shopping at Walmart, some venture capitalist guy came up to me and offered me his business card, saying if I ever had an idea and needed funding to call him.
Not far from SJ are the redwoods in Big Basin, the world's tallest trees (over 110 meters), thanks to their fast regenerative powers. When a tree top breaks off, a new one quickly sprouts. In the park, they had marked a "Mother" and "Father of the Forest", two trees who towered over all the others. Bring mosquito repellent.
Boulder Creek and Los Gatos are small quintessential American towns, not far from San Jose.
San Diego is all about beaches and sun. There's also an interesting restaurant, Dick's Last Resort, where you can expect to be insulted by the waitresses, have napkins thrown in your face and be treated obnoxiously all throughout the meal. Basically you get the same rude treatment as in Paris restaurants, but at least in San Diego it's deliberate.
The OC, short for Orange County, is one of the poshest areas of California. Swanky cars and plush houses on hills. I had lunch at Johnny Rockets and for 51 minutes (I wound up clock watching), I had to listen to a teenage girl next to me having a 90 decibel conversation with a friend that was a series of "like", "totally", "um", "omg", "soooo unfaaaair" and a whole bunch of claptrap - in the context of some girls at school she clearly didn't like. That's how a lot of Californians speak.
Santa Barbara - Santa Ynez - Big Sur - Carmel - Monterey
Santa Barbara is a small city near the coast. Its red-tiled roofs, white buildings and Spanish mission gives it a Mediterranean vibe. The drive from Santa Barbara to Monterrey along the Pacific coastline is very scenic with spots like Big Sur and Carmel on the way.
When I got lost in the Santa Ynez mountains, this guy thought I was trespassing his property and came out brandishing a shotgun. It was resolved amicably and even invited me for lunch inside his house
He took me to an apple tree, asked me to kneel down and pray for his sister who had cancer. He then offered me some apples
Petaluma - Jenner by the Sea - Fort Ross
Petaluma is small quintessentially American town in Sonoma County with a population of 60,000.
Jenner-By-The-Sea is a quaint oceanside village overlooking the mouth of the Russian River.
Fort Ross, originally Fortress Ross, is a former Russian establishment on the coast.
San Bernardino - Calico Ghost Town - Death Valley
San Bernardino is a city with super cheap Mexican food buffets.
Calico is a silver mining town that was abandoned after the mines dried up, and now lives on as one of the few original camps of the Wild Wild West.
Death Valley is a desert valley in the East. It is the lowest, driest, and hottest area in North America. It was given its morbid name by a group of pioneers who got lost there in 1849 whilst looking for a shortcut. They all thought they were going to die in the valley.
Badwater basin - Death Valley: a surveyor could not get his mule to drink from this spring due to the high salt, so he named it Badwater
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is one of the highlights of California. Granite cliffs, waterfalls, pristine streams, giant tree groves etc, some of the views will blow your mind.