Updated 2016

Watch just a little TV or a few movies and you can feel like you know what to expect when you get to California, but there is much more to this enormous western state than you’ll ever see on a screen. Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego anchor the highly populated region of Southern California while San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose do their own kind of business in the north.

California is twice the size of Great Britain and the landscape more varied than you can imagine. Most of the population is nestled against the white sandy beaches, but mountains are never far away, particularly in the northern part of the state. Most of the southeastern part is covered in dramatic desert landscapes and Northern California contains some of the most famous forests in the world, including Big Sur.

The two best-known cities are Los Angeles (including Hollywood) and San Francisco, but they are very different from one another. Los Angeles goes on forever and includes the finest beaches, movie studios, and thrill rides the state has to offer, while San Francisco is the capital of culture and has a distinctly European feel to it.

Read: Four Things to do in Santa Cruz.

Getting There

California is filled with airports, but the most popular for long-haul flights are the enormous Los Angeles International and the also-busy San Francisco International. If you are coming from somewhere else in North America it’s also possible to get good deals into San Diego, Orange County, Long Beach, Burbank and Ontario in the south and Oakland and San Jose in the north.

Read: Seaside Secrets Along Sonoma’s Coastal Highway & Hiking Half Dome.

Where To Stay

Needless to say, there are thousands of hotels in California and since the state is so spread out you should take special care of exactly where you want to spend time. In the last decade or so there have been quite a few more hostels in California coming available so traveling on a shoestring is easier than ever before.

Unless you are planning on staying only within San Francisco, you’ll likely want to rent a car for your California visit. Fortunately they tend to be reasonably priced, especially for weeklong rentals beginning at airports.

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