California’s Best-Kept Secrets

Discover 8 of California’s Best-Kept Secrets

Discover 8 of California’s Best-Kept Secrets
These remote and surprising spots fly under the radar for even the most well-versed California travelers

Think you’ve seen all of California? Think again. We traveled to eight different remote locations to showcase some of California’s lesser-known attractions in our Hidden Gems video series. From scenic byways to wine country destinations to historic honky-tonks, these locations make great trips for those who like to explore a little off the beaten path. Discover these surprising California spots, listed north to south.

 

1. A tranquil lake and an active volcano

Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park

Where it is: 160 miles north of Sacramento, in California’s Shasta Cascade

Tucked away in California’s northeast Shasta Cascade region are many secret finds, especially for outdoors lovers. Lake Almanor offers classic lake bliss: water sports, family-friendly activities, and a tranquil ambience. It also neighbors one of California’s coolest (and most surprising) spots: Lassen Volcanic National Park, with its bubbling mud pots and steaming vents. While the area is most popular during summer, fall brings incredible autumn leaves and winter offers its own version of serenity, with skiing and snowshoeing. Explore it up close on our scenic Volcanoes to the Sea road trip.

Watch the video here.

 

2. A rugged northern coastline perfect for whale-watching

Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands

Where it is: About 140 miles north of San Francisco

Head north to discover the untouched beauty of Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, containing 1,700 acres filled with dramatic seascapes. The protected lands in Mendocino County are so special, in fact, that President Obama declared them part of the California Coastal National Monument in March 2014. View the rugged coastline from the top of Point Arena’s 115-foot historic lighthouse—the tallest of its kind on the Pacific Coast. Depending on the time of year, you’ll catch glimpses of humpback, blue, or gray whales coming up for air as they migrate between Alaska and Mexico.

Watch the video here.

 

3. Under-the-radar wine-tasting

Murphys

Where it is: In California’s Gold Country, about 85 miles southeast of Sacramento

California has no shortage of amazing wine country destinations. But if you’re looking for a lesser-known locale for sipping, head to the quaint town of Murphys, where more than two dozen boutique wineries are open year-round for wine-tasting. Plus, Gold Country has both deep history (thanks to the prospectors) and impressive natural features, like Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Moaning Cavern, the biggest cavern in the Golden State. For a unique place to stay, check out Querencia, a secret-hideaway-style inn overlooking vineyards and the Sierra foothills.

Watch the video here.

 

4. An epic alpine byway worth a road trip

Sierra Vista Scenic Byway

Where it is: Starts at North Fork, 45 miles from Fresno, and in the geographic center of California 

If you’re into granite domes, glaciated peaks, and twisty scenic roads with barely any people around, drive this 100-mile stretch of road between Yosemite National Park and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. You’ll immediately get a feel for what California looked like a century ago, and you can embrace the time-machine theme with stops at the Jesse Ross Cabin from the 1860s and Jones’ Store, which still doesn’t have electricity (but does have great pie). Take the drive when you go see the Sierra’s summer wildflowers, or to embark on a classic California rafting adventure

Watch the video here.

 

5. The craziest trees you’ve ever seen

Gilroy Gardens

Where it is: Gilroy, 40 miles inland from Santa Cruz

The elaborately grafted trees at Gilroy Gardens theme park twist and contort in fanciful ways that you have to see for yourself. The park, in California’s Central Coast, combines a unique adventure in Mother Nature with amusement park rides. The family-friendly theme park features more than 40 rides, many with produce-inspired themes such as the Mushroom Swing, the Artichoke Dip, and (a no-brainer in the Garlic Capital of the World) the Garlic Twirl.

Watch the video here.

 

6. A honky-tonk venue where you can still dance to live country music

Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace

Where it is: Bakersfield, about 110 miles north of Los Angeles 

Country fans: Put on your boots and head to this Bakersfield venue for live music and dancing that celebrates the rock-meets-country musical style known as the Bakersfield Sound. Country star Buck Owens opened his namesake Crystal Palace in 1996, and today it still boasts a full calendar of music and events. The venue is also home to a museum filled with music memorabilia, much of it from the 1960s, when Owens put his stamp on the music scene. The Crystal Palace is one of many historic music venues in Californiaincluding fellow honky-tonk spot Trout’s. While you’re in Bakersfield, experience the Central Valley city’s other cool features, like its Basque cuisine and the Kern River.

Watch the video here.

 

7. An alpine getaway that makes it possible to surf and ski in the same day

Big Bear Lake

Where it is: In the San Bernardino Mountains, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles

You may have heard the claim that in California, it’s feasible to surf and ski in the same day. Big Bear Lake is a place that makes that possible. Only a couple hours from both San Diego and Los Angeles in the Inland Empire, Big Bear Lake sits at 6,700 feet/2,000 meters in the San Bernardino Mountains. In the winter, snowboarding and skiing abound at Big Bear Mountain and Snow Summit; in the summer, it’s all about hiking, cycling, and off-road jeep adventures on the 60-plus miles of cross-country trails. And, of course, paddleboarding, kayaking, boating, or fishing on the shimmering lake.

Watch the video here.

 

8. One of the best spots for stargazing

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Where it is: Borrego Springs, 90 miles northeast of San Diego

You haven’t seen a night sky until you’ve seen it in the remote Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Surrounded by mountains and with a local focus on eliminating light pollution, this is the first International Dark Sky Community in the Golden State, making it a prime spot for stargazing. During daylight hours, explore the town of Borrego Springs and keep an eye out for the cool statues of other-worldly creatures made by metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda. In late winter and early spring, you’ll see a gorgeous carpet of wildflowers covering the desert.

Watch the video here.

Buck Owens' Crystal Palace
Hear the Bakersfield Sound, Live
Country star Buck Owens had one of his biggest hits with “The Streets of Bakersfield,” and he opened this music venue in its namesake city to celebrate the rock-meets-country musical style known as the Bakersfield Sound.
Circus Trees of Gilroy Gardens
The Off-Road Trails of Big Bear Lake
A lot of people don’t expect to find alpine scenery when they come to Southern California, but the Inland Empire’s Big Bear area abounds with it.
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