The latest “Living the Dream” TV advert provides an irresistible sampling of some of California’s most amazing settings. From paddleboarding on the crystal-clear waters of Lake Tahoe to sizing up your shot at the seventh hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links, the featured destinations deliver bucket list-worthy experiences in breathtaking settings. Ready to start exploring? Good. We’ll tell you more about these incredible places—including the mysterious castle structure in Laguna Beach and the dunes near Pismo Beach—and give you tips on how to include them in your next trip to California.
Lake Tahoe’s crystal-clear blue waters are what standup paddleboarders’ dreams are made of. With 72 miles of coastline and an abundance of SUP rental outfitters, paddling is easy and accessible. Some resorts, like The Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe, offer standup paddleboarding or kayaking tours (plus instruction) for all levels. Truckee’s Tahoe Adventure Company leads full moon and sunset paddles, as well as guided tours for everything from mountain biking to rock climbing. If you’re an experienced paddler, it’s not hard to find a launching site—there are 30 around the lake—where you can just hop in and go.
Stay where you launch at one of Lake Tahoe’s coveted beach campgrounds, such as D.L. Bliss State Park, with 140 campsites that have easy access to a launching point at the white-sand Lester Beach. Paddle two miles to Emerald Bay, or set out on one of the nearby hiking trails, like Rubicon Trail, Lighthouse Trail, or Balancing Rock Trail—the latter of which features a precarious boulder you’ll definitely want to photograph.
Malibu Beach may be a part of Los Angeles County, but it feels worlds away from the bustle of Hollywood—which is part of the reason celebrities retreat to this picturesque beach community 30 minutes from downtown. You can’t go wrong with a day at any of Malibu’s beaches, but each has a distinct appeal. Near the Malibu Pier is surfer-favourite Surfrider Beach, where you can catch a 300-yard ride on the three-point break. The pier is home to a surf museum, board rentals, boat tours, and Malibu Farms, a restaurant with organic eats that’s a favourite of local Gabrielle Reece. Explore the tidepools at Leo Carrillo State Park; find the sea caves at El Matador State Beach; picnic and sunbathe at Zuma Beach; and surf, dive, and fish from Point Dume State Beach. Malibu’s beaches are also prime locations for spotting grey whales during their migration from December to mid-April.
Malibu’s outdoorsy appeal doesn’t stop at the Pacific—the town is also centrally located to the expansive trail system of the Santa Monica Mountains. Hike the 3.8-mile round-trip Escondido Falls Trail to see the 150-foot waterfall, or wander around Malibu Creek State Park to find remaining pieces of the outdoor set from the groundbreaking TV show M*A*S*H*. Even shopping in Malibu has a laid-back, sunny vibe—stop by the upscale Malibu Country Mart, a boutique outdoor mall nestled between a mountain backdrop and the nearby beach.
In January 2015, friends Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson made history when they ascended El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park. The Dawn Wall is notoriously difficult due to its steep, smooth granite face, and it was long thought that free climbing this section was impossible. That changed when over the course of 19 days, using ropes only to catch falls, the duo climbed the challenging 3,000 vertical feet and became the first to achieve the feat.
In addition to being a hotbed for aspirational rock climbers, Yosemite is full of boundless wonders around every corner. The park’s must-see landmarks—Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Yosemite Falls, and many more—will keep your camera busy. Take Glacier Point Road (about an hour’s drive) for views of the domes and glacier peaks, or stop off for an easy, family-friendly hike at one of roughly a dozen trailheads. Advanced hikers should head for Upper Yosemite Falls Trails, a 7.2-mile round-trip hike that reaches the top of the falls by the same name—which happens to be the tallest in the U.S. In the winter, opt for seeing the park from atop a pair of cross-country skis or snowshoes—the snowy beauty and starry nights are unforgettable.
Wine-loving visitors are unlikely to stumble upon Newton Vineyard anytime soon. The 540-acre property is situated at the end of a winding road atop the ruggedly beautiful Spring Mountain in St. Helena. Folks who come here do so intentionally, and probably because they’ve heard great things about the two appointment-only experiences offered onsite.
The $50 Tour and Tasting includes a walk through the otherworldly—perhaps even Dr. Seuss-like—English gardens, a visit to the Chardonnay cellars, and a seated tasting of specially selected wines. For $100, visitors get a true VIP experience, climbing aboard a six-wheel-drive Pinzgauer and exploring the breathtaking environs and soaking in the panoramic views. The Vineyard Tour and Tasting, as it is known, culminates in an over-the-top tasting at Pino Solo, an iconic tree located at what seems like the top of the world.
You only have to drive 15 minutes from downtown Santa Cruz to find yourself surrounded by California redwoods at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. It’s home to more than 40 acres of old-growth redwood trees, the tallest of which tops out at 277 feet tall and measures 16 feet wide. Here, you can go horseback riding, camp, swim, and hike on 30 miles of trails. (For even more expansive redwood groves, go 20 miles north to Big Basin Redwoods State Park.)
If you only have an hour, walk the flat .8-mile Redwood Grove Loop Trail to learn about the unique ecosystem and history of the park. If you have a full day, take the Cowell Highlights Loop, which takes you to the visitor’s centre and the 805-foot-high Observation Deck, which offers vistas of Monterey Bay.
Wildlife viewing is another reason to visit: Black-tailed deer, coyotes, and bobcats roam the property and birders should keep an eye out for white-crowned sparrows and great blue herons. As you wander the park’s paths, see if you can spot the bright yellow banana slugs.
At the base of a cliff on Laguna Beach’s secluded Victoria Beach sits a mysterious 60-foot landmark named “La Tour”—nicknamed “Pirate Tower” by locals. Erected in 1926, the concrete castle-like structure was built to house a wooden spiral staircase connecting the beach to a house on the top of the bluff. The residence, called the “Norman House,” was built as a summer getaway for state senator William Edward Brown and his family, with architecture inspired by the classic castles and storybook homes he saw during a post-World War I trip to France. In the 1940s, Brown sold the house to a retired Naval officer who was known to dress as a pirate and hide coins in the tower for neighbourhood kids to find—hence the tower’s nickname.
Although the tower is privately owned and the public cannot go inside, the exterior still makes for gorgeous photos. To find the turret, access the public Victoria Beach from Victoria Drive near Sunset Terrace. A long staircase will take you down to the southwest-facing oceanfront. Because of limited parking and its somewhat hidden nature, Victoria is one of Laguna Beach’s most private public beaches. Depending on tides, you may need to hike over some rocks to reach La Tour—we recommend going at low tide for the easiest journey.
For a destination that reaches triple-digit temperatures in the summer, it makes sense that Greater Palm Springs is known for its pools. Whether it’s to escape to a luxury cabana or socialise with a tiki cocktail in hand, Palm Springs is sure to have a pool environment that suits your style. At the expansive La Quinta Resort, the pools—41 in total—may be as well known as the legendary golf courses.
The entire family can enjoy the splurges of the Main Pool, which offers views of the Santa Rosa Mountains and an outdoor fireplace to cozy up to after a night dip in the effervescent hot spa. While you sip a handcrafted cocktail, kids can indulge in a signature milkshake.
If you’re sans kids, the Plunge Adult Pool caters to a hip crowd, keeping the vibe alive from when it was once a retreat for film stars like Clark Gable and Betty Davis. The three-lane lap pool provides a tranquil option for active holiday-makers. And if you’re seeking full privacy, you can get it—La Quinta offers luxury suites with private pools and spas in a secluded courtyard or patio, complete with lush amenities.
This funky section of the Los Angeles coast attracts an eclectic crowd of beachgoers to its boardwalk lined with surf shops, street performers, tattoo parlours, and juice vendors. Venice’s wide sandy beach is large enough to accommodate basketball and volleyball courts, a gym (the famous Muscle Beach), and a bike path that continues for more than 20 miles along the coast.
Stroll a few blocks inland to experience L.A.’s walkable—and irresistible—shopping mecca, Abbot Kinney Boulevard. A diverse collection of cafés, boutiques, and design stores make this vibrant neighbourhood one of the best spots to find an only-in-L.A. souvenir. Listen before you buy on the turntables at record store VNYL, sample fragrance oils at Le Labo, or browse the whimsical curated gifts at Burro. If you’re in town on the first Friday of the month, head to Abbot Kinney to sample from a collection of L.A.’s best food trucks and shop with live music in the background.
Acclaimed chef Corey Lee is shown in the latest “Living the Dream” commercial serving a feast on one of Santa Cruz’s beautiful beaches. San Francisco–based Lee, a James Beard Award winner, is the creative force behind Benu—a three-Michelin star restaurant—as well as Monsieur Benjamin, and In Situ, a new concept in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Dining on Lee’s cuisine is the stuff dreams are made of, as is visiting one of Santa Cruz’s many waterfront destinations. The city of Santa Cruz has a distinctive culture that combines deep surfing roots with a college town vibe and lively amusement park boardwalk. Nearly 30 miles of coastline means the area has plentiful beaches with diverse attributes. If you’re visiting Santa Cruz for the first time, start with a 3-mile walk (one way) along West Cliff Drive, where you can watch local surfers catch a wave at the legendary Steamer Lane. For a look into surf history, stop by the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum before continuing on to Natural Bridges State Beach, home to Monarch butterflies in the winter.
Surfers can test their skills at Pleasure Point Beach or Cowell Beach, two popular spots, while extreme water sport fans can kite and windsurf at Waddell Beach in Davenport—where there’s also guided horseback rides and a Nature Center. Throughout the winter migration season, the protected cove at Davenport Landing offers wonderful whale-watching views.
The seven-mile stretch of coastline north of downtown San Diego is one of Southern California’s classic beach towns, distinguished both by its jaw-dropping beauty and high-end shopping. There’s an abundance of water activities that launch from La Jolla’s beaches and allow you to choose your own ocean adventure.
Beginner surfers and families will feel at home at La Jolla Shores, where predictable waves, a playground, and ample parking make for an easy day trip. The nearby La Jolla Cove is ecologically protected, making it the perfect snorkeling and diving destination to encounter bright orange Garibaldi and docile leopard sharks. Above water, make sure to look (and listen) for the barking sea lions that take residence on the rocks around the cove. Don’t be surprised if one swims by you while you’re exploring the local caves and sea cliffs on a kayaking tour.
Although Pebble Beach’s seventh hole is just 106 yards, among the shortest in the sport, it’s also one of golf’s most iconic locations. Perched on a cliff overlooking the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful fairway backdrop. It’s a big reason why Pebble Beach always seems to find its way onto lists of top public golf courses.
Securing a tee time at the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links will cost you—rates start around $500, depending on season—but there are other ways to witness the course in person. You can watch top golfers go for the green during February’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, or take a break from shopping in Carmel-by-the-Sea’s main street to dine at The Lodge at Pebble Beach, located next to the oceanfront 18th green.
Three miles south of Pismo Beach you'll find Oceano Dunes Preserve, one of the most extensive coastal dunes left in California. The Preserve offers rare opportunities for on-the-sand activities. You can camp on the beach and in the open dune area, go horse riding and drive straight onto the beach. In fact, it’s the only California State Park that allows vehicles to do so (four- or all-wheel drive recommended).
Thrill-seekers: don’t miss the opportunity to fly up and down the massive mounds of sand in your own ATV or SunBuggy. There are several businesses that rent such vehicles, including BJ’s ATV Rentals, Steve’s ATV Rentals and SunBuggy Fun Rentals. Just make sure you pay attention to your surroundings as you fly up and down the maze-like array of dunes as it’s easy to lose your bearings.
If you’d rather experience that thrill while letting someone else worry about driving, Pacific Adventure Tours or Xtreme Hummer Adventures will take you on a heart-pumping Hummer ride that promises to have you racing over the tops of dunes, climbing sideways and even flying backwards in a real USMC Humvee.
Sand is the signature element of the Pismo Beach area, but there are plenty of water activities too. For an adrenaline rush, try kiteboarding or surfing; for a mellower experience, go on Central Coast Kayak’s three-hour Cave Excursion to explore the protected coves, caves and rock gardens of the area that are only accessible from the water, or hire a kayak to sightsee at your own pace.
For a peek at how movies are made, there’s no better place to visit than the entertainment capital of the world: Hollywood. Whether you want to tour the theatre where the Oscars are held, see celebrity homes, go to a live taping of a TV show, or visit a working soundstage, Tinseltown has got you covered.
The major studios—including Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, Paramount, and Universal—all offer guided tours featuring notable TV shows and movies. The must-do Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood takes you through the backlots of the largest working movie studio, showcasing everything from the neighbourhood set of Desperate Housewives to the terrifying shark from Jaws. And during the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, you’ll visit actual film locations—and possibly see your favourite talk show host wandering the 110-acre lot. The tour ends at Stage 48, where visitors can reenact a scene from Friends.
The 'other' San Francisco span may not be as photographed as its sister Golden Gate Bridge, but this toll bridge—built only six months after the Golden Gate in 1936—serves as an important conduit between the City by the Bay and hipper-by-the-minute Oakland. And with a now-permanent art installation featuring 25,000 LED lights on the bridge’s cables, the Bay Bridge will shine brightly for years to come.
Another welcome addition to the bridge came in October 2016, when a 2.2-mile path opened to pedestrians and cyclists to access Yerba Buena Island (notable mostly for its groves of twisted coastal live oaks) and Treasure Island, a worthy day trip for flea market shopping, wine sampling over a game of bocce (Sol Rouge Winery and Vie Winery) and boating lessons at Treasure Island Sailing Center. You can also learn about the island’s history at the Treasure Island Museum and directly opposite hire a beach cruiser from A Tran’s Bay Bike Shop.
You can learn about the bridge’s history, go on a virtual bridge tour, and find out about tolls and pedestrian access points at baybridgeinfo.org.
Oakland has recently experienced a cultural renaissance, with innovative artists and trendsetting chefs making their mark on this more affordable city across the Bay. This is the place to taste the specialities of artisanal food makers, sample wine in an urban setting, and see up-and-coming artists’ works. Although the trendiness level is high, Oakland still maintains a historical vibe around its working waterfront. Wander around the Old Town to see Victorian-style homes or grab a drink at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, built in 1883, to get a sense of how the city felt in the 19th century.