THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold VC_Questionnaire_AlexHonnold_ED_29790110_1280x640
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THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold
The El Capitan free-solo rock climber explains his love for Yosemite and more California favorites

On June 3, 2017, Honnold became the first person to ever ascend El Capitan, the 3,000-foot granite wall in Yosemite National Park, without the use of ropes, a harness, or a safety net of any kind. His free-solo feat, long considered inconceivable within the rock-climbing world, sealed the 31-year-old’s status as the best rock climber who has ever lived. Climber, filmmaker, and Honnold’s close friend Jimmy Chin documented the climb, which took just under four hours, for a National Geographic feature story and feature film.

Honnold was born in Sacramento and grew up with the Sierra Nevada as his mountain playground. He began climbing when he was 11, and at 19 left his studies at UC Berkeley to devote himself to his rock-climbing pursuits. Yosemite has been a second home to Honnold, who has notched some of his greatest climbing achievements there, including a solo of Yosemite’s Triple Crown—Mt. Watkins, El Capitan, and Half Dome—while living out of his van.

Even Honnold doubted the probability of a totally unsupported ascent of “El Cap,” one of the world’s most iconic climbing destinations. “I think it’s important to let yourself feel that doubt, because I didn’t want to put pressure on myself,” he said, in a post-climb interview with Men's Journal. “But, I knew I had to at least practice it and see if it was possible, otherwise I’d have always wondered whether I could, or should, have gone for it.”

Despite the international celebrity that followed, Honnold has maintained his self-proclaimed “simple dirtbag-climber existence,” living in his van in his favorite place on earth.

Where do you live? I’m from Sacramento, but have spent basically my whole life traveling and living out of my van. I spend more time in Yosemite than any other place—often three months or more a year.

Why there? Yosemite has the best climbing on earth.

What is your greatest California love? The Sierra Nevada. I grew up there and spent my whole life playing in the mountains. The smell of the dry pine forest around Tahoe and the High Sierra—that feels like home to me. There are so many [climbing] opportunities with big mountains, and the rock is so good. The sheer walls in the Sierra are unlike any other mountain range in the United States. The whole Eastern Sierra just drops off with several thousand-foot walls. It’s amazing for climbing.

What is the biggest misperception about Californians? A lot of people just think about Hollywood, surf culture and the beach. Obviously, that is California, but for me it’s 100 percent mountain-focused.

What is the stereotype that most holds true? That there’s crazy traffic, especially in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

What is your favorite Golden State splurge? There’s so much great food and fresh produce in California. The Mexican and Asian food is so good.

Time for a road trip—where are you going? I’d go up north on the coast. There’s a lot of rock up there I haven’t seen.

If you could decree an official state culinary experience, what would it be? I would decree Asian noodles. I love eating them. L.A. and the Bay Area are amazing for food and have the best options.

Best California song? "Californication" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

How would your California dream day unfold? I live my dream day. Wake up in Yosemite, pedal my bicycle down to El Capitan (which is the biggest rock wall in the world), and go climb it. Afterwards, I hang out with my friends in the Valley and socialize.

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Laura Flippen

Discover Gold Country

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October
Average (°F)
Sept - Nov
87°
High
43°
Low
Dec - Feb
60°
High
38°
Low
Mar - May
80°
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44°
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June - Aug
92°
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56°
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Bumping up against the west side of the Sierra Nevada Range, on California’s eastern side, the Sierra foothills that make up the Gold Country are California Classics.

Discovery of gold in 1848 sparked the largest mass migration in U.S. history, with more than 300,000 pioneers heading west.

Here, the state’s past, present, and future merge into one unforgettable destination. Pan for gold like a 49er, bike through meadow-and-oak countryside, and raft a rapid-filled river, then explore historic towns with Old West architecture and a new generation of pioneers, opening up outstanding wineries, farm-to-table restaurants, inviting shops, and charming B&Bs.

Sep 7 - Sep 9
Rub elbows with craft-beer makers and sample all manner of California brews at this annual three-day event

Beyond being the state capital, Sacramento has staked its claim as one of California’s nerve centers for great craft beer. This annual event, first launched in 2015, further enhances...

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Courtesy of California Craft Brewers Association
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SPECIAL FEATURE
Spend a few nights in California’s prospecting past—while enjoying plenty of 21st-century comforts

It’s no coincidence that the state highway running through the Sierra Nevada foothills is number 49. This is Gold Country, where, starting in 1849, a reef of gold-bearing quartz ...

5 Classic Gold Country B&Bs
Courtesy of Hanford House Inn
SPECIAL FEATURE
Find whitewater rafting fun for all—from newbies to nerves-of-steel experts

Think of a river, and chances are you’ve got your own daydream. Maybe you want to float on inner tubes, or maybe your style is to careen through raucous rapids in an eight-person inflatable raft....

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During California's Gold Rush, over 25 million ounces of gold were mined from the Sierra Nevada foothills.
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Spotlight: Sacramento

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Golden past, bright future

Like many cities, California’s state capitol is undergoing an energetic renaissance. Young adults looking for an urban vibe are moving into this...

California Auto Museum
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California Auto Museum

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold vca_maps_goldcountry
This shrine to cool motors of all types has plenty to see and do

While many museums ask visitors to look but not touch, the California Auto Museum, in Sacramento, abides by the opposite policy. “...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini UFOs. Artisanal cheeses, emerald-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—California’s farmers’ markets...

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Laura Flippen
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Laura Flippen

Nevada City

Great food, wine, and shows find a home in the Mother Lode

This forest-wrapped hamlet of handsome Victorian-era homes and tree-lined streets 60 miles/98 kilometers northeast of Sacramento is one of the...

SPECIAL FEATURE
From Gold Rush history to the 8th wonder of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

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Amy Meredith/Flickr
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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Auburn

Explore an ideally situated Gold Country town with a sporty side

History and modern culture merge with outdoor adventure in this appealing town on the west side of the Sierra Nevada. While Auburn has long been...

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Marshall Gold Discovery

See where the rush for gold started

Driving the sleepy stretch of winding Highway 49 between Auburn and Placerville, it’s hard to believe the region was the booming heart of one of...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Take on whitewater rapids, pan for gold and explore California history

Pluck a bit of gold from a riverbed scoured by the original ’49ers. Descend deep into the earth to check out unusual rock formations. Get your heart racing with a ride down whitewater rapids. For...

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Rob Brodman

The American River

Rush for gold, rush for adrenaline

The most popular whitewater-rafting river in the West, the American tumbles through the Gold Country, an inviting jumble of churning rapids, deep...

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Laura Flippen

Columbia State Historic Park

Step into the 1850s in this Gold Country gem

With throwback charm and a treaure trove of historic artifacts, this park presents the Gold Rush in living, breathing color. Costumed...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Elegant estates, relaxed wineries, urban tasting rooms

Elegant estates at the end of country roads lined with vineyards? Check. Low-key wineries housed in converted barns? Check again. Urban wine trails with hip in-town tasting rooms? Yup,...

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Laura Flippen

Sip Wine in the Gold Country

Sample vintages from old vines and new varietals

The roots of old Zinfandel grapevines run deep in this northeastern region of California, with winemaking here dating back to the Gold Rush days...

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Jenny Martin

Murphys

Explore a blossoming country town with big-city appeal

Like San Francisco in the mid-1800s, Murphys was one of California’s richest boom towns, but this appealing town in Calaveras County still feels...

September

“Mountains. Magic. Music.” The tagline of this lively, four-day event says it all. Families and fans are encouraged to turn the event into a giant camping party, and there’s tons of space for...

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Courtesy of Strawberry Music Festival
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Jenny Pfeiffer

Apple Hill

Wine, beer, a bliss-out spa—and juicy, sweet apples

Autumn in the Gold Country means clear blue skies, fiery red grapevines, and an invigorating snap in the air. It’s apple season too, with more...

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Jenny Ella Pfeiffer

Moaning Cavern

Walk, climb, or rappel into a subterranean wonderland

Discovered by miners in 1851, this vertical chamber near Angels Camp is so massive it is the largest public cavern in California—big enough to...

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold Jamestown_Railtown_1280x642

Jamestown

Climb aboard majestic locomotives for a cruise through the Sierra foothills

The Hollywood film industry’s attraction to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park has helped keep its steam-hissing locomotives and railroad cars...

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Sutter's Fort State Historic Park was the first permanent European settlement in the Central Valley.
SPECIAL FEATURE
Hands-on fun for all at farms, ranches, and fields statewide

From almonds and olives up north to avocados, oranges, and dates in South, the Golden State has a crop (or 10) for nearly every stretch of terrain. After all,...

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Tai Power Seeff
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Trip 4 days 10 stops

California Gold

Whitewater Rafting, Tucked-Away Wineries
THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold Sac_StateCapitol_1280x642

Begin your trip in the center of the state, home to the capital city of Sacramento. Like many cities, California’s state capital is undergoing an energetic renaissance. Young adults looking for an urban vibe are moving into this low-key city, with microbreweries, gastropubs, and trendy boutiques...

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold VCW_D_GC_T7_WellsFargo_Columbia_Flippen_Webdam-1280x642

With throwback charm and a treasure trove of historic artifacts, this park presents the Gold Rush in living, breathing color. Costumed docents do more than lead tours of this carefully preserved Mother Lode town—the state’s second largest city at the peak of the Gold Rush; they actually live and...