Rethink your California “Bucket List for 2015”; epic destinations!

The General Sherman Tree, in Sequoia National Park, is largest tree in the world, and always draws an admiring crowd!

We live in, arguably, the most spectacular state in America. With all the wonderful destinations at your beck and call and the start of a New Year approaching, I suggest you update your bucket list of California destinations for 2015.  To whet your appetite, here are some of our favorites – most of them in N. California.

Of California’s nine wonderful national parks, several stand out: Pinnacles, due to its close proximity to the valley and stunning topography.  When you journey to places like Pinnacles National Park, explore the surrounding countryside, which will yield other extraordinary places like Mission San Antonio just 30 miles south, and, across the scenic coastal range, the Big Sur coast.

Have you made it to Lassen National Park, perhaps the most impressive park of volcanic and thermal features in the country? With mud pots, fumaroles and a volcano that exploded huge boulders for miles less than 100 years ago, it has to be on your list!  Further south, Death Valley is stunning for its austerity, particularly impressive in the spring when rains bring wildflowers in abundance.

California’s State Parks can’t be overlooked, from Mt. Diablo State Park – you’ve seen it for how many years on our western horizon, but have  you been to the top, camped in it, and admired the 100 mile views?  How about Calaveras Big Trees and it’s towering Redwood groves, or Big Basin State Park, northwest of Santa Cruz in the coastal mountains, oldest of the state’s parks and home to towering Coast Redwoods.  Spring is a fine time to visit these parks, with seasonal streams flowing full and wildflowers coming into bloom.

Have you fully explored San Francisco’s unique waterfront? The City offers special places for walking, bicycling, public transit or auto.  Start at the Golden Gate Bridge and explore Fort Point, the only Civil War fort on the West Coast. Travel east past Crissy Field, through the Marina District and stop and explore the San Francisco Maritime Museum and the Hyde Street Pier where a dozen historic ships await your arrival, with Fisherman’s Wharf right next door.

Skip SF’s tourist-stop Pier 39, continue on the Embarcadero to reach the renovated historic Ferry Building and explore a wealth of cute shops and eateries. Here you can take the ferry to Oakland and return, or take a Hornblower scenic cruise on the bay. Continue south, past AT&T ballpark, across the Lefty O’Doul Bridge into Mission Bay; soon you’re in the heart of several commercial shipyards where you can see big ships lying in drydock for repairs. Unique ocean and bay vistas present themselves at every mile of such a trip!

Don’t ignore the treasures of our San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta.  From backwater river towns such as Rio Vista, Walnut Grove and Locke, fishing for striped bass, salmon and crayfish, to scores of bucolic orchards and vineyards – you’ll find surprises around every turn.

California’s Gold Rush history brings tourists from around the world. The site of California’s Gold discovery in 1848 is in nearby Coloma; Mother Lode Gold Rush sites march south down the Sierra. Here you’ll find wonderful, historic towns just waiting to be explored. Start at Coloma, include Placerville, Fiddletown, Sutter Creek, Columbia, Sonora, and finish your day tour in Jamestown’s Railtown 1897 (the “movie railroad, with locomotives appearing in scores of movies and TV shows).

Dig into your hometown’s history, such as Stockton’s. Line up a downtown historic walking tour (call the Downtown Stockton Alliance, 464-5246) and explore the Haggin Museum and San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum.  Discover historic nuggets such as Mokelumne City, which rivaled Stockton for both population and shipping supremacy before a huge flood wiped it off the map in 1861. You will find our city and county’s roots are deeply intertwined in the storied history of our state and region.

The magical Sierra offers so much to see and do. From Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks to big-time ski areas, with fishing, hiking, biking and camping opportunities close at hand.  Camp or hike at such meccas as Pinecrest Lake, Lake Alpine and the Arnold Rim Trail, all within 1.5 hours of town.

When traveling, watch for unique “by accident finds” like the Salton Sea, just south of Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks. A former barren valley well below sea level similar to Death Valley, it became an environmental disaster in the early 1900s when the flood-stricken Colorado River overflowed its banks and flooded the dry Salton Sink, forming a landlocked sea now 35 miles long and 25 miles wide.  The Salton Sea is surrounded by five ghost resorts, created in the 1970s after two very wet El Nino winters raised the lake level by 10+ Feet, flooding homes and ruining casinos.

Pick a favorite movie shot in California, even in Stockton, and explore the film locations. Sideways, which won an Academy Award in 2004, affords a fine day tour of the Santa Barbara County area, yielding film locations including the Hitching Post Restaurant, Los Olivos restaurant and a motel in Buellton, where much of the film was shot.  In Stockton, one can claim film locations such as the Lido Hotel, the old downtown bus station, the Hotel Stockton, University of Pacific and more, sites used in movies like Fat City, All the Kings Men and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Visit California’s north coast in the winter or early spring when you can have stunning ocean vistas all to yourself. The coast north of Bodega Bay is amazing, from quaint towns like Jenner and Mendocino, to beautiful oceanfront campgrounds to old Fort Ross dating back to Russian explorers.  Further north, you find Redwoods National Park and continuing California majesty.

So, take the New Year’s start to update your own California bucket list – and, get exploring! No list can ever be complete, so polish up your own and share notable destinations that I have missed.  I’ll publish other reader favorites in my upcoming Record Valley Travel blogs!

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com.

Happy travels in the West!

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