Generalizations about such a large and diverse state as California are doomed to be untrue. California's women don't all look like the ones on Baywatch and, contrary to the lyrics of a popular song, it DOES rain in Southern California.
It would take years for a visitor to explore all the state of California riches and it's almost impossible to pick out a handful of "must-see" sights when you travel to California. Depending on your interests, you can travel to bustling cities, watch the waves roll in at a deserted beach or explore extreme natural beauty. You can spend all your time in densely populated cities, or travel to places where the population is less than the elevation. From south to north, as you travel to California, it becomes greener and wilder, from west to east it becomes higher and drier.
No matter how long you have to do it, you'll likely want to see more than you have time for. Use the California time budget calculator to create a do-able plan.
West Coast Itinerary
San Francisco and Los Angeles, as different as two cities can be, anchor a popular tourist itinerary.
Los Angeles, home of the Hollywood movie, is crowded and energetic and home to beautiful beaches.
San Francisco is a Victorian confection with pastel houses decorating the hills on all sides and bridges anchoring it all to earth. Progress on the 350-mile trip between the two cities, following the Pacific Coast on the legendary California Highway One, is often measured in photos per mile rather than miles per gallon.
The trip south from San Francisco takes you through Santa Cruz and Monterey, two of California's oldest cities. South of Carmel-by-the-Sea , the road plunges inland through the coastal redwoods of Big Sur and back out to the coast again, past William Randolph Hearst's monument to excess, the Castle. On the way to Los Angeles San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara can derail the best-planned itineraries with their beaches and Mediterranean architecture.
Nature Lovers' Itinerary
Nature lovers revel in California's seven National Parks, including Yosemite, San Francisco Maritime Park), and the largest National Park in the continental US (Death Valley, 3.3 million acres). California also boasts two out of the three oldest National Parks (Sequoia and Yosemite).
Eastern Border ItineraryA drive up the east side of California from Death Valley to Lake Tahoe leads to an enchanted world where ghost towns like Bodie are frozen in time, bristlecone pine trees live almost forever and mysterious tufa towers rise out of Mono Lake.
An interesting stop on the way is the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, site of many western movie shoots, at the foot of the tallest mountain in the continental United States, Mount Whitney.