California: Introduction

  • © jver64,

    © jver64,


California is the dream destination on the Pacific, America’s most enticing blend of stunning nature, cool cities and friendly, eccentric people. After the legendary ‘Westward, Ho’ trek to the West, the pioneers discovered their promised land in this region. Despite great hardships, for many the American Dream became a reality here. To this day, the stretch of land between the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific has lost none of its fascination.

In contrast to those days, today the landscape may be explored and enjoyed in comfort by car. The Golden State is the ideal destination for individualists who want to experience nature at their own pace without having to forego the amenities of civilisation. California boasts a string of superlatives. The mountains in the northeast, swathed in eternal ice, are amongst the highest on the continent. Death Valley in the southeast not only marks the lowest point in the US, but also the hottest. On the Pacific coast, trees reach higher into the sky than anywhere else. Some, such as the sequoias in the Sierra Nevada in the east, are amongst the oldest on the planet.

Truly no other part of America has been praised as much as this, the third-largest state in the US after Alaska and Texas. There’s more than enough of everything: mighty waterfalls in the Yosemite National Park and small picturesque towns along the coast, rough desert landscapes and fertile valleys, real whales in the ocean and artificial Mickey Mice in Disneyland. Even though it’s the most populous state in the US, California has a low population density compared to the British Isles. Over half of California’s 38 million inhabitants cluster around Los Angeles.

Endless supply of sun, sand and beach

Between Oregon in the north and Mexico in the south, there’s a lot of space for lonely mountain ranges, untouched forests and deserts devoid of people. Add to this the fact that the supply of sun, sand and beach seems to be endless. Where nature is so bountiful, the people are too, taking time to enjoy life. The Californian lifestyle is extremely easy-going and relaxed.

California was already enchanting as far back as 150 years ago, when the gold rush pulled in 300,000 people from all corners of the earth. While precious few found the coveted precious metal, the new country offered everybody a chance – first with the construction of the railways, later in the oil business, and then most of all in agriculture. The growing film industry, which settled in the early 20th century in Los Angeles, made the American Dream California-style accessible to the whole world. Today, high-tech sectors are constructing the future. California boasts the world’s sixth-largest economy. However, the model of a lavish, lovable and liveable life has an underbelly too. The car-mad Californians produced one sprawling metropolis after the other that exude activity but threaten nature. California, politically liberal and ecologically sensitive, couldn’t help paving the way for environmental innovation. The serious beginnings of producing energy using solar and wind power point the way to a future of alternative sources of power.

Pacemaker for environmental innovation

In years to come, energy will remain an important buzzword, as the population is ever increasing. Mexicans, immigrating legally or illegally, are changing the population structure. These days, nearly 35 per cent of all Californians are considered Hispanics (the official denomination). This makes the time of Anglo-American domination appear nearly like an intermezzo. In terms of colonial politics, Baja (lower) California and Alta (upper) California belonged to Mexico and were given independence, together with Mexico, by Spain in 1821. Americans pushing Pacificwards from the east worked towards the secession of the northern part. In 1846, in the wake of the Mexican-American War, settlers founded the California Republic, which due to the bear on the flag has entered the history books as the Bear Flag Republic. In 1850, as the gold rush awakened Washington’s interest in the lands far to the west, young California became the 31st state of the USA.

California: the Bear Flag Republic

When planning your visit, think of the distances and the cultural idiosyncrasies of the regions. California is divided into three regions by geographic and tourist criteria. Each of them, and each metropolis, is worth a separate visit. If you want to get to know the variety of the state on a round trip, you can put together a selection of real highlights: in quiet North California, still really lonely in parts, tranquil Pacific coves and virgin redwood forests await, as well as the fascinating volcanic summits of Mount Shasta and Cascade Range. In Central California, don’t miss the drive along the breathtaking coast on Highway 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and beyond the Central Valley the high alpine mountain world of the Sierra Nevada with its 3000-year-old sequoias, famous nature parks such as Yosemite and ghost towns dating back to the times of the gold rush.

With beaches, entertainment parks and wildly romantic deserts, Southern California is an all-year round destination, thanks to its location. The interior shows its best side during the time of the desert bloom in March and April. Immortalised by the Beach Boys’ songs, the surfing scene on the beaches between San Diego and Los Angeles enjoys the easy life mainly in high summer and autumn, when the Pacific is warm enough to swim in. And winter is the best time for golfing in Palm Springs or walks in the otherwise burning-hot Death Valley.

Stimulating super cities

Last but by no means least: the stimulating super-cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles are close enough together for you to get to know them in a single trip, but far enough apart to maintain their individual character: the innovative city on the Golden Gate presents a more European and cultured identity, yet is proud to be the cradle of the internet and iPad, while the entertainment capital a day trip further south is a glitzy hub for extroverts, show and glamour.

What all this means is that California offers more than any other region in the US. But don’t forget: to see a lot means covering great distances. To truly experience California, take your time.

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