Central California
Why visit?
General advices.
Northern Cal.
Southern Cal.
Eastern Cal.
Sierra Nevada

Central Cal:
When to go

Central California (at this site defined as San Francisco and down to Santa Barbara), is world famous, and for
a very good reason: The Highway 1 is often called the most beautiful road on the planet, and San Francisco might
very well be the most gorgeous city in the world, and attract millions of tourists. But it´s easy to bypass many
of the most wonderful places along the central coast, and there is plenty of pleasures to choose between. The single
most important thing though, is not to rush, and try to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles om a single day.

Attractions: (From San Francisco and south)

1. San Francisco
Obviously, San Francisco is one of the highlights when visiting California. To the extent that you just havn´t "done"
California if you havn´t spent at least 2-3 days there. But what to see among all the attractions? Some activities are so
ineviteble that it´s almost impossible not to do them. Like stroll in Chinatown, take the famous cable cars, drive the "worlds
crockest street" Lombart Street, visit Fichermans Wharf and so on. And there´s plenty of information of those activities on the
internet. So I´ll focus on a few someone less obvious attractions, with emphasis on beautiful views and photography.

1.1. Marin Headlands.
Just north of the Golden gate Bridge is a fabuluos area. Just drive north on Hwy. 101, under the Golden Gate Bridge,
and take Alexander Ave. exit and then turn left to go under highway. Then drive right up the Conzelman Road and either
make an immediate left turn onto road down to parking lot (if you can find an empty parking spot). This is one of the spots
where you can take postcard images of the Goden Gate (see first picture below). Or continue on Conzelman Road and park where
the road becomes a single lane road, and hike 200 steep yards up to Hawk Hill for an absolutely incredible view over San Francisco.
The views are clearly best fairly late in the afternoon if you want to take pictures.

Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands

Hawk Hill

1.2 Bakers Beach
Notwithstanding the fabulous views from Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Bridge is probably best seen from Bakers Beach,
just south of the bridge. It has become a nudist beach (although nudity is formally prohibited). But the vast majority of
visitors keep their clothes on, and there is no reason whatsover to feel uncomfortable carrying photo gear among the (very few)
nudist there. Just drive Lincoln Blvd south of Golden Gate Bridge and turn at the sign Bakers Beach. Parking is free. The best
light for photography is late afternoon/just before sunset.

Bakers Beach

Treasure Island

1.3 Treasure Island
A very easy detour is to take the I-80 Freeway over to Berkeley. But instead of passing the bridge (and paying a toll),
you keep left and turn left at Treasure Island. Drive the small road and stop at the parking before the gate. Try to go
in the morning since the light is best at that time. San Francisco, the Golden Gate- and Bay Bridge is beautiful from there.

3. Pigeon Point Lighthouse
50 miles south of San Francisco is Pigeon Point Lighthouse, one of the tallest lighthouses in America. The lighthouse itself is
closed for the public, but the grounds remain open. A mile or two south of the lighthouse is a de-luxe $50-campground,
from which I shot the sunset shot below.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

4. Año Nuevo State Reserve
Año Nuevo State Reserve is on of the highlights along the central coast. It´s 5 miles south of Pigeon Point Lighthouse. The main
interest are the giant elephant seals, as the reserve is the largest mainland breeding colony in the world for the northern elephant
seal. Teh best time to visit is during the breeding season from December through March, when the huge males are there. But there are
plenty of other attractions: The beautiful (endangered) California Garter Snake, Pelicans, Coyotes, Turkey Vultures, and other
raptors). A good advice is to visit the park early in the morning as wildlife is most abundant then. You have to hike a mile or two
though. And don´t wear your posh Italian shoes either as the trails sometimes crosses sand dunes and clay.

California Garter Snake at Año Nuevo SP

Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo SP

5. Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is a lot like Southern California: Lots of sand and sun, and very liberal. It´s well worth a visit only because it´s the
surfing capital of California. Cruising between Natural Bridges State Beach in northern Santa Cruz, and the boardwalk
downtown Santa Cruz, is defintively a joy. And (free) parking is surprisingly easy to find. Stop by at the Lighthouse
Point, right at the famous Steamer Lane, which is one of the best places in the world to watch surfing. Or go south to the
boardwalk, at the amusement park, if you are in the mood for a roller-coaster ride.

Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz

6. Moss Landing State Beach
If you want to make sure you´ll see Sea Otters live in California, Moss Landing State Beach is the place. It´s a small beach,
just turn at the sign and drive around the pond. Usually, there are at least 60-90 Sea Otters relaxing on their backs there.

Sea Otter at Moss Landing State Beach

7. Elkhorn Slough
If you´re into bird watching, and don´t mind an occational Sea Otter or two, Elkhorn Slough is paradise. Just turn into Dolan
Road at Moss Landing, and pass the railroad och then turn to the left at Elkhorn Road and turn left into the Reserve gate. The staff
at the Visitor Center is very helpful, and are happy to advice an appropriate trail depending on your preferences and time avaliable.
Expect to see lots of different birds: There are more then 340 species there (Heron, Egret, Hummingbird, Owl, Woodpecker and
you name it). And you can borrow binoculars if you want.

White Heron at Elkhorn Slough

8. Monterey
Monterey is probably the best city in California for a tourist: Lots of cheap motels (all the budget chains Motel6, Super 8, Travelodge
etc. along Fremont Street), and close to several attractions from Santa Cruz to Garrapata Beach (see below). And there are plenty to
see in Monterey itself: The famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the largest and best aquariums in the world. And you can stroll at
the Fishermans Wharf and have a meal and perhaps take a whale watching tour (there are a couple of operators, just show up around
9AM and take a pick, although you can make a reservations if you want to be on the safe side). But don´t expect to se that many
whales, and it might be best during November to April at the Grey Whale migration.

Humpback Whale in Monterey Bay

And you can always drive the famous 17 Mile Drive for $8,50. It´s very beautiful, but not really better than the rest of Highway 1,
so I´m not sure I can recommend it unless you´re into golf (you´ll pass the famous Pebble Beach) or achitecture (there are some
expensive and really nice designs there. The most famous sight is of course the Lone Cypress, which is the only tree in the
world that is copyrighted! But if still decide to take the route, late afternoon is clearly the best time (the light is superior).

8. Point Lobos State Reserve
You don´t have to spend o lot of time at photography forums to realise that Point Lobos State Reserve is one of the mst beautiful
places along the entire American westcoast. If you´re busy on your vacation, and have to choose between tourst traps such as 17
Mile Drive and Point Lobos State Reserve, the latter wins hands down. Not only is Point Lobos extremely attractive, it has also
several unique features: The Monterey Cypresses and unique geological formations. There are several short trails, and the state
reserve is now open until 30 min. after sunset, which is great for sunset photography. And there is no shortage of wildlife there:
Sea Otters, Seals, Sea Lions and plenty of birds. Watch out for the Poison Oaks, and that the park can be full at some times,
though. The entrance of Point Lobos State Reserve is located just 3 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1.

Sunset at Point Lobos

9. Garrapata State Park
Along with Point Lobos State Reserve, Garrapata State Park is one of the most beautiful places along the entire coast.
Particularly during the spring, when the flowers creates wonderful colours. The park is situated 7 miles south of Carmel,
and parking is along the Highway 1 on numerous gravel turnouts. The park has several short and pleasant trails, as well
as beach access. And the place is quite frequently visited by fishermen and divers. Definitively worth a few hours visit!
In fact, it´s virtually impossible not to stop as the view is stunning even from the highway.

Garrapata State Park

10. Big Sur
Big Sur is probably the most well known place along the world famous Highway 1. And rightly so. Even if both Point Lobos
State Reserve and Garrapata State Park certainly can match Big Sur in terms of beauty, Point Lobos and Garrapata are "done"
in a few hours of a day each, whereas you easily can explore Big Surs many attractions and trails for weeks. Big Sur is a
place where timing makes all the difference though, i.e. what time of the day you view the landscape. Don´t make the
mistake of the average tourist of passing through Big Sur, with a few 5 minutes stops, in the middle of the day when the
light is flat and the air is hazy. Big Sur is still beautiful under these circumstances, but it´s som much better to
explore Big Sur during early morning and late afternoon/sunset. Admittedly, thats a valid recommendations for any place,
but it´s particularly true for Big Sur.

10.1 McWay Falls
So what are the highlights? The most obvious, and accessible, one is McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Just
turn into the park from Highway 1 and park, and walk 1/3 mile to the 80 foot waterfall. The fall is most likely, together
with the Lone Cypress, the most photographed view at the coast (to my knowledge, the fall is still not copyrighted!)
Best time to see the fall is late afternoon when the sun spreads it´s last light on the fall. And spring is best since the
fall has most water at that season.

McWay Falls

10.2 Pfeiffer Beach
Another obvious jewel in Big Sur is Pfeffer Beach. It´s quite hard to find for the average tourist since there are no signs
to the beach. Make a turn into the paved but pretty much single laned Sycamore Canyon Road, about one mile south of Pfeiffer
State Park. Drive carefully and you´ll eventually reach the beach. And be caucious even at the beach: The waves there can be
flat out dangerous. I almost lost my photo backpacker last time I was there shooting the sunset (see below), and there´s a
memorial sign at the parking lot due to a tragic accident in 1997 (if I recall it right), when a 11 year old girl was walking
in the water and was suddenly cought by a wave and sucked into the ocean. Her mother and aunt rushed to rescue her, but where
also caught by the waves and drowned. Still, given these warnings, Pheiffer Beach is a beauty. Any time of the day, altough
afternoons and sunsets are probably best.

Pfeiffer Beach

10.3 Bixby Bridge
Another popular attraction is Bixby Bridge, one og the most photographed bridges in the world. Make sure to see it late in the
afternoon, when the light is warm. And don´t mix it up with the similar Big Creek Bridge or Rocky Creek Bridge.

Bixby Bridge

10.4 Hurricane Point
South of Bixby Bridge is an overlook named Hurricane Point, with a large gravel parking. It´s one of those places where you
automacically stop. But bring a sturdy tripod if you want to take pictures, because it´s usually very windy there.

Hurricane Point

10.5 Point Sur
Point Sur has a beautiful setting, and even a lighthouse. You can take a tour there on weekends, and even moonlight
tours sometimes! A nice view ot the peninsula is from the north late afternoons.

Point Sur

10.6 Andrew Molera State Park
Visiting Big Sur and barely go outside the car while seeing the attractions at 10.1 - 10.5 is not a fulfilling way to
experience Big Sur though. A couple of decent hikes are necessary. One great alternative is the large Andrew Molera
State Park. If you want you can choose to horsback ride from the nearby stable. If thats not your cup of tea you can
hike. An advice is to wear hiking boots, or have an old school husband to carry you, because there is a creek to cross.
An early start in the morning is best if you want to see some wildlife or some nice fog. And at the beach, you usually
have the whole of it for yourself.

Big Sur morning fog

Turkey Vulture

10.7 Miscellaneous
If you want to see Redwood trees, and don´t have time to go all the way to Redwood National Park och Muir Woods, you
can take the short 1,4 mile roundtrip trail from Big Sur State Park to Pfeiffer Fall. Just park at the huge parking
lot and walk upwards the road.

Or you can hike the strenuous 4.5 mile roundtrip Ewoldsen Trail from the very same
parking lot where you park the car and watch McWay Falls (Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It´s very nice although
some wise guys grafitti halfway up on a sign ("Killer loop") is painfully accurate.

Or you can hike down the short steep trail to Partington Cove. The trail starts at an iron gate where the Highway 1
make a turn 1.8 miles north of Juila Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The cove is absloutely gorgeous altough there isn´t
a lot of space to explore down at the beach.

11. Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara is a wonderful city. I had the privilage of spending a few weeks there during my Masters Thesis in Political
Science, and I´ve came back numerous times since then. The city has a distinct Spanish/Mexican. It´s a very postmodern city
where quality of life is emphasized. That´s expressed in numerous environmental and esthetic restrictions regarding traffic
buildings. Perhaps the main attraction in the city is Santa Barbara Mission, which is considered to be the jewel of the missions
in California. Another landmark in the city is the Presidio, which almost rivals the Mission in terms of beauty. In addition,
the beach, the Main Steet and the Courthouse are clearly worth exploring.

Santa Barbara Mission

From top of Santa Barbara Courthouse
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