Underrated and SpectacularThey're listed first because under-visited spots are still the most pristine, and because they're personal favorites.
- East of Sierras: The fantastic landscape along US 395 is unmatched.
- Channel Islands: I call these isolated islands near Santa Barbara California's Galapagos, they've got so many endemic species.
- Lassen Volcanic National Park: It erupted in 1915 and has been recovering ever since.
- San Andreas Fault: The big crack in the middle of California holds unique geological features.
- Big Sur's Ventana Wilderness: The Santa Lucia Mountains draw hikers and animal inhabitants including California condors.
- Joshua Tree: Not really trees, they look kinda like them. Popular with rock climbers.
- Anza-Borrego: The largest desert state park in the U. S.
- Death Valley: Possibly the world's hottest place, it abounds with austere natural beauty.
- Yosemite National Park: It's a victim of its own beauty, but still worth a stop off-season.
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: A less-crowded alternative to Yosemite.
- Mount Shasta: The country's tallest volcanic peak.
- Lake Shasta: It can be crowded in summer, but in late fall or winter, you'll have it almost to yourself.
- Lake Tahoe: It's over-developed, but a list of California lakes seems incomplete without it.
- Mono Lake: Lowered water levels have created fantastic tufa towers and a unique ecosystem.
- Monarch Butterflies: These fragile creatures gather by the thousands in winter.
- Tule Elk: These once-endangered elk thrive in the central valley's Tule Elk State Reserve and around Point Reyes.
- Whale-Watching: Where to see them depends on the time of year.
- Elephant Seals: They winter at Ano Nuevo State Park near Santa Cruz and at Piedras Blancas near Hearst Castle.
Trees and Wildflowers
- The Big Trees: Giant sequoias grow in Sequoia National Park and Yosemite. For tall coastal redwoods, go to Muir Woods near San Francisco and or Redwood National Park.
- Hite Cove Trail: This moderate trail is one of California's best wildflower walks.