Towns and Cities
Los Angeles and San Francisco may be great places to visit, but here are seven more Californian towns and cities with a lot to offer.
This fetching port city to the south of San Francisco was named by a Spanish explorer way back in 1602, but not founded until 1770; it was the capital of California until 1848. Reflecting this long past, it has a host of historic buildings, including the house where Robert Louis Stevenson lived in 1879, plus an attractive Fisherman's Wharf, celebrated for its seafood restaurants. The famous Monterey Jazz Festival takes place in September. Close by is the beautiful coastal scenery of the Monterey Peninsula (with the historic Carmel Mission), and, further south, the stunning coastline of Big Sur.
The desert oasis of Palm Springs developed as a health spa in the late 19th century, and became an immensely popular winter resort. Today it has plenty to attract the visitor, including first-class hotels, golf courses, art galleries, the Knotts Soak City water park (slides, shoots and pools), the Living Desert Wildlife and Botanical Park, and the Aerial Tramway (a cable car ride over spectacular mountain scenery).
The state capital of California has an impressive Capitol building, befitting its role as the seat of government and of the Governor of California. Old Sacramento has a collection of evocative historic buildings dating from the Gold Rush of 1849 and the 1860s and 1870s, when it developed as a hub for the Pony Express, river traffic and the railroad. The Discovery Museum celebrates that era, while the California State Railroad Museum has a large collection covering all the decades of Californian railway history. Sutter's Fort was the focus of Anglo-European settlement before the Gold Rush, and the original building and reconstructions give a vivid picture of life in those times. Close by is the California State Indian Museum, which reveals the culture of the various peoples who inhabited these lands before the arrival of the Europeans.
The second largest city in California developed after 1769 around a fine natural harbour. Its 19th-century prosperity (and louche notoriety) is in evidence in the 'Gaslamp Quarter' in the Old Town, with elaborate buildings of the 1870s and 1880s lining Fifth Avenue. San Diego Zoo is perhaps the best zoo in North America, celebrated not only for its innovative presentation, but also its conservation and captive breeding programme. Coronado, on the tip of a peninsula in San Diego Bay, is an exclusive residential and resort area, with a fine beach and the beautiful Hotel del Coronado (the 'Del'), built in 1888; it featured in the classic 1959 comedy 'Some Like It Hot' and boasts a long history of celebrity guests.
Third largest city in California (bigger than San Francisco), and 'Capital of Silicon Valley', San Jose is pleasant, prosperous and modern, but it still retains some vestiges of a past that dates back to its foundation in 1777. This is reflected in History San Jose, an open-air museum with some 30 historic buildings reconstructed to look as San Jose might have been in the early 1900s. San Jose also has a major collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and Planetarium, plus an innovative Museum of Art. For children, there is the interactive Children's Discovery Museum, and for the young-at-heart Paramount's Great America Amusement Park, with some serious heart-in-mouth roller coasters and rides. The Tech Museum of Innovation is a hands-on science museum with a special focus on computing. Most famous of all is the Winchester Mystery House, a mansion built continuously over 38 years, from 1884, by the heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune ('The Gun that Won the West'): she believed that if building ever stopped, she would be haunted by the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles, and as a result the sprawling complex has 160 rooms, stairs and passages that lead nowhere, and a host of other oddities.
Although founded in 1782, the university city of Santa Barbara was largely reconstructed in Mediterranean and colonial style after a devastating earthquake in 1925. Its Museum of Art has an excellent collection of European, American and Asian art and photography, as well as Roman antiquities. The Santa Barbara Mission is one of the finest in California; founded by Spanish Franciscans in 1786, most of it was built in classic Mission style in the 1830s. The city is also celebrated for its superb beaches, giving rise to its nickname the 'Riviera of the West'.
This pleasant, coastal university town has a famous waterfront, with its old-style amusement park (with the 1924 Giant Dipper roller coaster) at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The Museum of Art and History (MAH) at the McPherson Center, built in the wake of the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, has an eclectic permanent collection and hosts temporary exhibits, while the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum recounts the history of this famous Californian pursuit. At the Mystery Spot, a tourist attraction set in redwood groves to the east of Santa Cruz, the laws of physics and gravity seem to have been rewritten in a set of natural wonders and optical illusions. You can also try your hand at Frisbee golf at the Delaveaga Park Disk Golf Course.