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!
|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)|
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!
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:
|Los Angeles||4 million|
|San Diego||1,4 million|
|San José||1 million|
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Remember: If you are not a US citizen or Green Card holder, you need a US visa or ESTA to enter the USA!
With an ESTA, you can stay 90 days visa-free in the USA. Apply online now!
Once you arrive at the airport, there are many options for the next step of the journey or the transfer to your accommodation:
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.
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!
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 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" 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 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!
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.
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!
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.
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:
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:
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:
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!
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.
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.
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:
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 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!
Here are some Californian specialties that will make your mouth water:
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!
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:
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.
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!
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.
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!
Win one of 55,000 Green Cards in the official Green Card Lottery of the US authorities!