Destinations and Activities

In Pluto's Cave, near Mt Shasta, California.

In Pluto’s Cave, near Mt Shasta, California.

Note: this is a bit of an experiment and a work in progress, so it’s currently a bit threadbare. I’ll be adding new destinations at the rate of about one every month or two, so please check back in a few weeks or months for more — HR, April 2017.

This is a slightly idiosyncratic collection of California places I enjoy visiting, with activities and / or drives I try to do every now and then based around those places. You might — or might not — also enjoy exploring them while visiting California.

These destinations and activities won’t appeal to everyone (some of them might not appeal to anyone…), but since I’ve been repeatedly asked for recommendations over the years for places to go to that are relatively easy to get to, but aren’t the obvious places (Yosemite, the Golden Gate, Fisherman’s Wharf, Disneyland, etc.), I thought I’d finally put it all down here. I don’t want you to not visit the obvious places (they’re mostly worth the visits) — I just assume you’ll do those things as well, and don’t need me to tell you about them.

Some of these places won’t appear in official state or regional guides — they’re a bit off-message for that, but more importantly, you really don’t need another guide to the well-trodden (but often enough, still beautiful or wonderful) bits of California that end up in those guides, do you? Nor will they usually appear in Time Out or Lonely Planet-style guides — you won’t earn any hipster brownie points, or get any cooler, by visiting most of these places. But they will show you some different sides of California, a bunch of places few tourists ever really see (and surprisingly few Californians know about, either, in some cases), and most of the destinations or trips described here don’t require strenuous effort or dangerous out-of-the-way trekking. But you should at least be well-prepared for desert driving if you do any of the desert destinations, and learn a bit about wildlife safety if you go hiking or drive deep into the back country (there are bears, mountain lions, and snakes, at least, out there).

The selections are loosely grouped into destinations — the overall area being described, which might be as small as the SF Bay Area or as large as the Central Valley — and, within each destination, activities, i.e. activities or day drives (or morning drives, etc.) within the specific area. Not all activities described here are short drives — some of then may take several days. Note that I typically don’t give hotel or food recommendations, as that usually leads to trouble, especially given the variable tastes and budgets involved.

Note: conditions change, businesses go under, restaurants and cafes go bad or get better, motels close, roads get affected by roadwork, etc., and — above all — individual tastes and tolerances vary, so please treat the stuff here as starting points and tips, rather than concrete recommendations or fully-formed itineraries.

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Completed Destinations

The following destinations are (more-or-less) ready for consumption:


Thumbnail Destination Drives and Places Features
Mt Shasta The Everitt Memorial Highway, Black Butte, Castle Crags State Park, Castle Lake, Pluto’s Cave, East Louie Road, Ramshorn Road, Military Pass Road A classic volcanic peak towering over a classic volcanic landscape; trees, snow, hiking, skiing, driving, all in an area that even many Californians don’t know much about…
The Sacramento Delta Rio Vista, Foster’s Bighorn, Locke, Walnut Grove, Poverty Road, The Real McCoy II, Sherman Island A classic delta landscape of levees, below-water-level settlements, sunken islands, wetlands, wildlife, weird bridges… a crucial part of California that tends to get overlooked by tourists.
A pumpjack near Bakersfield, CA Bakersfield State Route 33, the West Side, Chester Avenue, Oildale, Taft, Round Mountain Road, China Grade Loop Pumpjacks! Oil, the Bakersfield Sound (Merle, Buck), agriculture…
Sugarloaf Island, Cape Mendocino, CA The Lost Coast California’s Lost Coast — Cape Mendocino, Mattole Road, Petrolia, Mattole Beach, Honeydew, Wilder Ridge Road, Shelter Cove A wild and untamed stretch of Northern California’s coast…

Still Under Construction

The following destinations are (slowly) being written up, or are on my list of places to write about (in no particular order):

  • The Owens Valley — Mono Lake, Big Pine Canyon, Buttermilk Road, Eureka Dunes, Lake Sabrina, The Alabama Hills, Darwin, Manzanar “Relocation Center”, Dirty Sox Springs, Mt Whitney;
  • The SF Bay Area — Mt Tamalpais, Shoreline Park, The Berkeley Hills, Coyote Hills, Dumbarton, Drawbridge, Point Richmond, San Pablo Avenue, Telegraph Avenue, the University of California at Berkeley Campus;
  • Mt Lassen — Lassen Peak, Bumpass Hell, Cinder Cone, Chester, The Painted Dunes, Cold Boiling Lake, etc.;
  • The Barstow area — Old Route 66, Amboy Crater, Bagdad, Siberia, Zzyzx, Afton Canyon, Kelbaker Road, Kelso Dunes, Basin Road, Stoddard Wells Road;
  • Searles Valley / Panamint Valley / Mojave — Trona, Trona Pinnacles, Red Rock Canyon, Pearsonville, Randsburg, Johannesburg, Ballarat;
  • Death Valley — Ubehebe Crater, The Racetrack and Grandstand, Ubehebe mine, Teakettle Junction;
  • The Coast and Coastal Ranges — Gualala, Fish Rock Road, Orr Hot Springs, Montgomery Woods, Ukiah, Guerneville, Fort Ross, The Russian River, Point Arena, Jenner.