California features all sorts of super-size attractions—and no, we're not talking about gigantic orders of french fries or 2 litre fizzy drinks. We’re talking about the massively awesome scale of some of California’s top sites: the biggest, the tallest, the hottest and more. Here are some of our favourite superlative features around the state, listed from north to south in all their epic glory.
California’s coastal redwoods, growing from the Oregon border south to Big Sur, are the skyscrapers of trees, often reaching over 350 feet. By the latest count, the tallest of all is a giant nicknamed “Hyperion,” towering 379 feet above the ground at a secret location in Redwood National Park. There is no path that leads to the tree—scientists prefer to keep its location under wraps. But you can see other coast redwood giants, including the 368-foot-tall Libby Tree, in the park’s aptly named Tall Trees Grove.
How many times did Lucy really pull that football away from Charlie Brown? You’ll get a good sense at this museum created by the widow and family of Charles Schulz, the comic-strip legend behind Snoopy, Linus, and the rest of the Peanuts gang. The museum, in the Sonoma County town of Santa Rosa (where Schulz lived for 30 years, until his death in 2000), includes thousands of original sketches and drawings, Schulz’s personal effects (like his own Charlie-esque baseball mitt), and TV specials on view in the theater; you can also sign up for art classes to learn how to draw cartoons.
Little Han Solos, props used in the actual films, and lots of bubble gum cards. These are just some of the items housed at a ranch—a private collection of more Star Wars memorabilia and props than any other place in the world—in rural Sonoma County, just outside the town of Petaluma. The 9,000-square-foot museum building, once home to over 20,000 chickens during Petaluma’s egg-producing heyday, now showcases vintage arcade games, action figures, models, and more. Private two-hour tours, some led by owner Steve Sansweet (a former Lucasfilm director of fan relations and author or co-author of 17 books on Star Wars) are offered by appointment only; find details here.
Only Paris has more sculptures by French artist Auguste Rodin than Stanford University, in Palo Alto, about 35 miles south of San Francisco. Its Cantor Arts Center houses 200 pieces (including a cast of The Thinker), and the outdoor Sculpture Garden displays 20 bronze pieces, including The Gates of Hell. You can take free docent-led tours of the entire collection on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
With a vertical drop of 2,425 feet, this two-tiered cascade in Yosemite National Park is the longest set of waterfalls in North America. To get there, you can take one of the park’s oldest trails: the Yosemite Falls Trail, built in the 1870s. The trail is open year-round, but most would say that the best time to experience it is during spring, when the water is really gushing from snowmelt, with rainbows framing the falls and enough mist to make you thankful you packed a rain jacket.
With 80 different labels and 20,000 acres of vineyards scattered through California’s wine regions, the family winery started by two brothers (Ernest and Julio) in 1933, is now the biggest in the world, with $4.1 billion in annual revenue. The company was founded in the Central Valley town of Modesto, but Gallo now owns labels and vineyards statewide. One of the newest is Talbott Vineyards, with estates in the Central Coast’s lovely Carmel Valley, and just east, in the Santa Lucia Highlands south of Salinas. Tasting rooms at each location let you sample Talbott’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vintages.
At 14,505 feet, this Sierra Nevada beast soars higher than any other peak in the contiguous United States. Yes, it’s a giant, but it’s also a nontechnical climb, making it one of the most-bagged summits in the country. It’s just shy of 11 miles up—way up—from the Whitney Portal trailhead, located 13 miles west of the town of Lone Pine. (Find details on required permits here.) For a relatively easy jaunt and great views of the hornlike granite spires topping Mount Whitney, try the five-to-six-mile round-trip hike to Lone Pine Lake. (Starts at Whitney Portal; no permit required.)
It's not just the most massive tree in the world; it’s the biggest living thing, period. This monster in Sequoia National Park stands 275 feet high—not the world’s tallest, but still a neck-craner. But what makes this tree a record-holder is its girth: The General measures 102 feet around at the base, giving it a volume of a whopping 52,500 cubic feet. It’s also believed to be one of the world’s oldest trees, with estimates ranging from 2,300 to 2,700 years old. Not far from the General Sherman is the equally impressive (but slightly smaller) General Grant Tree, nicknamed the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” and the site of a low-key ceremony at its base held every Christmas since 1925.
Spreading out over 3.4 million acres, Death Valley straddles the California-Nevada border and is the biggest national park outside Alaska, but it also corners the market on other extremes: It boasts of having had the highest recorded temperature in the world (134° F in 1913), and it’s also got the lowest point in North America (282 feet below sea level at Badwater Basin).
This goofy selfie stop sits right off I-15 in the aptly named desert town of Baker, about two hours south of the main entrance to Death Valley National Park. The working thermometer measures 134 feet tall, and can record temperatures of up to—yes!—134° F, in honor of the hottest temp ever recorded in Death Valley. The thermometer was decommissioned in 2012, but in a triumphant comeback, it was recommissioned on July 10, 2014—the 101st anniversary of the world’s hottest day.
With a nickname like “Surf City, USA,” Huntington Beach was a natural site for this record feat of hanging ten. During the summer of 2015, 66 surfers set a world record in the waves at this Orange County beach town. Surfers scrambled atop a 42-foot custom-made surfboard, the longest ever built, and surfed to shore. The goal was to stay on for at least 10 seconds, but the participants from this prime surf culture town were able to hang ten for even longer.
The enormous Spreckels Organ, with 4,725 pipes, debuted in San Diego’s Balboa Park in 1915. For decades it was the world's largest outdoor organ‚ until it was overtaken by another impressive pipe organ in Kufstein, Austria. But recent donations during the Spreckels’ 2015 centennial have helped add dozens of new pipes, including ones that sound like a tuba, train whistle, and police siren. The result brought the organ’s total to 5,005 pipes—and back into the number one position. On Sunday afternoons year-round, you can hear the organ take a victory lap by way of free concerts.