California

Welcome to the Golden State! Rich in diversity, California offers travelers everything their hearts desire: a spectacular coastline, snow-capped mountains, vast deserts, ancient redwood forests, and vibrant multicultural cities. It is the heart of the American movie industry and the center of the IT and high-tech business.

Before we get any more carried away: let's head to the West Coast to enjoy the sunny 31st US state!

California facts

Capital: Sacramento
Area: about 424,000 km²
Population: about 40 million
Location: in the West of the USA
Nickname: The Golden State
State animal: Grizzly bear
Time zone: UTC −8 (Pacific)

California: location and population

As the third-largest state in the United States, California stretches along the Pacific coast in the far west of the USA, covering an area of about 424,000 km². Mexico borders to the south and Oregon to the north. In the east and southeast are Nevada and Arizona.

Nearly 40 million people live in California, more than in any other state in the USA. They mainly reside along the coast. In the heartland, however, it can be almost deserted!

The largest cities in California

Many people don't know: the capital of California is neither Los Angeles nor San Francisco, but Sacramento with just 500,000 inhabitants!

The following table gives you an overview of the largest cities in California based on the number of inhabitants:

City Population
Los Angeles 4 million
San Diego 1,4 million
San José 1 million
San Francisco 900,000
Fresno 500,000

Climate and nature

From rugged cliffs and soft sandy beaches to bone-dry hot deserts and snow-capped peaks, California has it all!

In terms of climate and nature, the south differs significantly from the disparately better-known north, where fog in the summer often cools the temperatures down a bit. The Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert are located in the south of California, where it gets almost unbearably hot during the day and bitterly cold at night.

The state also offers numerous national parks where you can explore the breathtaking Californian landscape! The tallest and oldest trees in the world grow here. The highest mountain in the heartland of the United States also rises above the Californian vastness: the summit of Mount Whitney stands at 4,418 meters.

Death Valley, on the other hand, is home to the country's lowest point: ultra-hot Badwater lies 86 meters below sea level!

Best time to travel to California

Actually, there is no best time to visit California. This state has so many different faces that it depends on your interests at which time of the year it is most exciting for you.

California in summer

Travelers can enjoy sunny weather between May and October. Especially those who want to explore the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego will find the best conditions at this time.

If you are planning a road trip on Highway 1, however, you have to be prepared for fog between June and August.

We do not recommend the month of August because beaches, hotels, and sights are more crowded and more expensive than usual due to the vacation season. The same applies to the Christmas season, during which many tourists are on the road.

California in winter

Winter sports lovers will certainly enjoy the Sierra Nevada mountains from October to April. In 2019, Lake Tahoe saw an incredible 15.2 meters of snow! Since the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada reach up to 4,000 m, you can often have a good time skiing here until June!

Heavy snowfall, however, could prevent a carefree visit to Yosemite National Park.

On the other hand, the desert of Death Valley can be fairly comfortable during these months.

Traveling to California

Many airlines, such as Lufthansa or United, offer direct flights to California. They depart from Frankfurt or Munich in Germany, for example. The flight times vary depending on the airport of departure and the destination.

Travel authorization California

Remember: If you are not a US citizen or Green Card holder, you need a US visa or ESTA to enter the USA!

 

ESTA – visa-free to the USA

With an ESTA, you can stay 90 days visa-free in the USA. Apply online now!

Airport transfer in California

Once you arrive at the airport, there are many options for the next step of the journey or the transfer to your accommodation:

  • Take a rental car and stay flexible Attention: Some roads in California are subject to road tolls! We would also recommend that you carry an international driver's license in addition to your regular driver's license. To save some money, check out Lufthansa's Fly & Drive offers!
  • Grab a cab at the airport
  • Check with your accommodation for a shuttle bus
  • Travel by Greyhound or Flixbus
  • Continue your journey by train (The USA Railpass is valid for the entire Amtrak network!)

Many California visitors arrive at the San Francisco airport. If the city of hills and hippies is also on your bucket list, you can take the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the city. It is comparable to a suburban train and costs around $10 per person.

Best travel deals for California

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National Parks in California

California is home to national parks in abundance! There are so many that you could easily spend several vacations exploring them.

Every single one is unique and impresses with its own beauty. Here are our top 5!

Yosemite National Park

300 km east of San Francisco and in the heart of the Sierra Nevada lies Yosemite National Park. Here you can find a unique nature with magnificent redwood forests, vertical cliffs, and impressive waterfalls.

The park receives up to 4 million visitors a year, displacing the native mountain lions and black bears to the more remote corners. However, if you like hiking, you can be almost completely alone and enjoy the tranquility of nature.

The hotspots are still worth the trip, though – especially Yosemite Valley! The valley stretches 11 km along the Merced River. At its end, you'll be rewarded with a fabulous view on 1000 m high granite walls, which are arranged like a U. This shape was carved into the rock by a glacier thousands of years ago. In spring, the Yosemite Falls plunge into the depths. With their 739 m height, they are among the highest waterfalls in the world.

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park is located in California's Sierra Nevada and is famous for the largest giant redwood in the world! Affectionately called the General Sherman Tree, it is estimated to be 1900 to 2500 years old and an incredible 83.8 m tall! The trunk diameter measures more than 31 m – it's worth hugging it!

In the Giant Forest of the Sequoia National Park, you can admire numerous tree giants and stretch your neck towards the sky. It can get pretty chilly here, and you might even encounter a bear on remote trails.

Sequoia National Park borders directly on Kings Canyon National Park. The two areas are therefore managed as one unit by the National Park Service. Over 2 million people visit the two parks each year!

Death Valley

“Death Valley" doesn't just appear in many westerns. It really exists! The super hot region is located in the Mojave Desert in eastern California and borders on the Great Basin Desert. But don't worry: if you don't walk through the valley in the heat of the summer (up to 57 °C!), you'll definitely come out alive.

In spring, however, it's much more pleasant, and Death Valley impresses with beautiful flowers, glittering salt lakes, and dazzling sand dunes.

From Dante's View, you can see Badwater and Mount Whitney at the same time - the lowest and the highest point of California! Just spectacular!

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is located in southern California and borders both the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert.

The desert park is famous for its rugged rock formations and the typical Joshua palm lilies – the large sister of the yucca palm that you may have in your living room. In the highlands of Joshua Tree National Park, you can admire entire forests of these trees, which can grow up to 50 m tall.

Although there are only a few hiking trails and only a few campsites, nearly 1 million visitors come to this impressive landscape every year. Rock climbers, in particular, are sure to find their next big challenge here! The Hidden Valley and Indian Cove are great places to hike. Don't forget your binoculars!

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Although Lassen Volcanic National Park is located in the northeast of California near Sacramento and impresses with a spectacular volcanic landscape, it is rather an insider tip, and not too many visitors get lost in the park yet.

The Golden State is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, and that is meant quite literally as the land was formed by volcanism. Most of the volcanoes are extinct, but Lassen Peak is only "sleeping.” When it sleeps, it breathes, which means that sulfur vapors escape from the earth's interior. It feels a bit like Iceland here, only that it's usually warmer.

You can best explore the area between June and September on the many hiking trails. Don't worry: the famous Lassen Peak volcano was last active between 1914 and 1921.

Top 10 sightseeing highlights

Besides the wonderfully diverse nature that you can admire in the numerous national parks, the state of California has so much more to offer!

The following places are a must-see and belong on your travel list!

  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Cable Cars und Lombard Street
  • Hollywood Sign
  • Walk of Fame
  • Venice Beach
  • Pacific Coast Highway
  • Alcatraz
  • Big Sur
  • Bodie
  • Santa Monica Pier

City Highlights in California

Fans of city breaks will certainly enjoy themselves in California! The numerous major cities, in particular, offer a lot to see and discover! We have summarized the top city highlights of California for your holiday.

Booking.com

City highlights Los Angeles

Los Angeles, the city of 4 million people in the south of California, can almost compete with New York.

If you're drawn to the city of stars and starlets, the following to-dos should definitely be on your bucket list:

  • Luxury shopping on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills
  • Celebrity spotting at Venice Beach
  • Visit Universal Studios
  • Admire art at the Getty Center
  • Visit the Walt Disney Concert Hall

City highlights San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge spans San Francisco Bay, but that's just one of the fascinating sights of this popular city.

You should definitely see the following highlights during your city break:

  • Fisherman's Wharf
  • Chinatown
  • Visit of Alcatraz Island – in the footsteps of Al Capone
  • Walk through Haight-Ashbury – the hippie district!
  • Walk in San Francisco Bay and enjoy the magnificent view of the Golden Gate Bridge!

City highlights Sacramento

Sacramento is a magnet for culture lovers. Numerous museums and a lively theater, opera, ballet, and music scene always provide first-class entertainment.

You also shouldn't miss the following highlights:

  • California State Railroad Museum
  • Visit the State Capitol
  • Stroll through Old Sacramento
  • Sacramento History Museum
  • Bargain hunting at the Sacramento Antique Faire

City highlights San Diego

The sun-drenched city with over a million inhabitants near the Mexican border is regularly rated as the city with the highest quality of life in America.

You simply have to experience the relaxed San Diego feeling!

  • Visit the San Diego Zoo
  • Walk in the impressive Balboa Park
  • Visit the coastal town of La Jolla
  • Visit Sunset Cliff Nature Park (The name says it all!)
  • San Diego Harbor Cruise

Roadtrip in California

Difficulties in making decisions? A little bit of everything would be nice? With so many highlights, that's not surprising. Our heads are spinning, too. Still, we've found the perfect California itinerary that lets you enjoy all the highlights.

 

California by train

No driver's license? No problem! With train connections such as Coast Starlight and Pacific Surfliner, California can also be explored by train: from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, San Juan Capistrano, North County, and San Diego.

Instagram Hotspots California

Do you still need unforgettable souvenir photos of your California holiday to make friends and acquaintances a little envious? Then you'll find the perfect scenery in these places!

Here are our top 5 Instagram hotspots:

  1. Golden Gate Bridge
  2. Painted Ladies
  3. Walk of Fame
  4. Lombard Street
  5. Potato Chip Rock

California Culinary Highlights

The state of California is not only a melting pot in terms of inhabitants but also when it comes to food. A major center of the Californian fusion kitchen is San Francisco, the city with the most creative chefs. But you will also be spoiled in the rest of California.

Californian Cuisine

Californian cuisine uses primarily regionally produced ingredients, resulting in wonderfully light creations. The basis for this cuisine is the recipes of the many ethnicities and cultures that have made their home in the Golden State.

From coherent gourmet creations to somewhat offbeat fusion ideas, the boundaries are fluid. Ever tried Chinese-Mexican or American-Japanese?

California rolls revolutionized international sushi culture. Enchiladas curry or Chinese duck hamburgers are also guaranteed to be served in one of the innovative restaurants. But of course, the show must not be neglected!

Californian specialties

Here are some Californian specialties that will make your mouth water:

  • Clam chowder in sourdough bread is typical for San Francisco. You can get it fresh and tasty at the Tartine Bakery.
  • Dungeness crabs, oysters, and all kinds of other seafood can be sampled at San Francisco's Fishermen's Wharf.
  • San Francisco's long-established Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory is handing out free samples at the store.
  • Irish Coffee was not invented in San Francisco, but The Buena Vista restaurant made it world-famous (and still serves it today).
  • Legend has it that the Mai Tai cocktail was invented at Trader Vic's in Emeryville by Victor J. Bergeron in 1944 when he was trying to impress friends from Tahiti with a mixed drink. The Bay Area restaurant is still around.
  • French fries in a burrito? That's a California specialty! And the best place to enjoy this culinary wonder is California Burrito outside of Sacramento.

Wine from California

Napa Valley, north of San Pablo Bay, has an almost Mediterranean climate. Wonderful grape varieties thrive in this area and are aged in oak barrels to create exquisite wines. These days, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon are very popular.

Excellent wines are produced not only in Napa Valley but also in neighboring Sonoma Valley and the hinterlands of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, where wine tastings are usually somewhat more relaxed.

By the way, 90% of all American wine production grows and thrives under the California sun!

Fun facts California

Want to really impress your (future) travel companion with your knowledge of California? Here are some facts he or she probably hasn't heard of:

  • If all US states were independent countries, California would be the fifth-largest economy in the world.
  • About a quarter of all Californians were born outside the United States.
  • One in eight Americans is a Californian. So if you meet a US citizen outside the United States, there's a 12.5% chance they live somewhere in California.
  • Nearly half of all Californians now live in and around Los Angeles.
  • California is the only US state to have hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics (Los Angeles in 1984 and Squaw Valley in 1960).
  • California experiences about 500,000 detectable seismic shocks annually, although most are quite small.
  • As the state of invention par excellence, California gave birth to fortune cookies, amusement parks, blue jeans, and the Barbie doll, among other things.

Moving to California

Have you been so enchanted by the sunny Golden State that you don't want to leave? If you are thinking about moving to the USA, the following information will be useful to you.

Working in California

California is one of the US states with the brightest job prospects. It is a thriving economic area with a steadily growing high-tech and IT industry that offers excellent opportunities for creative minds.

Silicon Valley near San Francisco is home to companies such as Apple, eBay, Facebook, and Hewlett-Packard. From rags to riches: that's not just a saying, but it can definitely become reality here.

However, the following also applies in California: no pain – no gain!

Living in California

According to the Cost of Living Index for 2020, the cost of living in California is 38% higher on average than in the other US states. However, they vary dramatically from city to city.

The major metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego usually have the best-paying jobs, but you should expect very high rents.

Moving to California with a Green Card

With the Green Card, you can live and work in the Golden State. As it is not easy to get a work visa, we recommend you try your luck with the Green Card Lottery. It is probably the best way for you to get to your dream destination. You can register directly here!

Green Card Lottery

Win one of 55,000 Green Cards in the official Green Card Lottery of the US authorities!