Even if you’re not a kid anymore, the beginning of summer still conjures that sense of school’s-out freedom. “It's delightful to connect with your inner nine-year-old again,” says Robert Niles, the founder of website Theme Park Insider. “It's still fun to play.”
In the latest episode of the California Now Podcast, Niles and two other California experts join host Soterios Johnson to talk about the best ways to create your own carefree summer in the Golden State—at theme parks, beaches, and national parks.
Niles begins by telling Johnson what’s new at California’s theme parks. Highlights include the return of nightly shows at Disneyland, a Ferrari-themed attraction at Carlsbad’s LEGOLAND California, and the recently debuted Wonder Woman Flight of Courage coaster at Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita—which, he says, feels like “a beautiful jet fighter soaring across the landscape.” Niles also raves about the new Emperor dive coaster at SeaWorld San Diego: “SeaWorld San Diego is becoming this kind of sleeper coaster park,” he says. A great ride, he adds, “goes right up to the edge of being too much but doesn't go over.”
Niles offers a variety of tips for making the most of a theme park visit, including how to find discounts and when it makes sense to use a park’s line-skipping program. He also recommends downloading the park’s app, and not just for the map. “Everything is being done through apps these days,” he says. “Not just buying the tickets, but reserving ride times, even buying food. All of these things make your day go a little bit smoother.”
For more summer bliss, you really can’t go wrong at California’s beaches. Keryn Means, the Long Beach-based editor of PCH Travel Magazine, tells Johnson about a recent Central Coast road trip with her family, with beach town stops including Ventura, San Luis Obispo, and Cayucos. She shares unique things to do in each town—from watching seals to finding amazing brown-butter cookies—and discusses the joy that comes from watching the landscape change. “In Cambria, there's more rocks on the beach, which are every color,” she says, “and sometimes you'll find sea glass.”
Don’t try to cover too much ground, Means advises—after all, the California coastline is 840 miles long. “Pick the spot where you're going to sleep that night and give yourself the day to get there,” she says. “Be open to spontaneity. Remember that the California coast points west, so the sunsets are worth stopping for every single time. Just pull over—because it’s magical and every day is a little different.”
California’s nine national parks boast their own kind of variety and a “whole range of superlatives,” says John McKinney, author of Hiking California's National Parks Series. You’ll find the world’s biggest tree, he points out, North America’s tallest waterfall, and one of the nation’s newest national parks, along with a lot of interesting history.
“My guiding principle,” he says, “is every trail tells a story.” He shares some of his favorite hikes, including the Heather, Emerald and Pear Lakes trail in Sequoia National Park and Devil's Elbow in Yosemite. “It's kind of Yosemite's Riviera,” he says, “and was one of Ansel Adams' favorite views of El Capitan.”
He also recommends some parks where you’re more likely to find solitude this summer. “The redwoods are rarely crowded and the hiking is great—it's almost a different state up there in the fog,” he says. Check out the fairly new Grove of Titans, which tells its own story. “You can get to this small but spectacular grove of some of the tallest trees on Earth,” he says. “It's very mysterious.”