California; The Golden State, the land of promise and potential that once figured as the symbolic haven for pioneers crossing the heartlands of America. For decades, tales of its fabled beauty and majesty trickled eastwards to the great steaming cities of New York and Chicago, where hopeful after hopeful left in search of the paradisaical land at the end of the rainbow.
Today, and California's reputation as one the most beautiful states in America is all but intact. It's thrived because of areas like the UNESCO-attested Redwood Park, and the unique biosphere reserve of the southerly Anza-Borrego. These are places that simply cannot be missed, and any self-respecting, nature-loving tourist should be sure to tick them all off.
Home to one of the few remaining primeval forest areas in all of America, the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is unrivalled in its offering of woodland campgrounds, activities and wildlife. Under a thick canopy of 1,000-year-old trees, various walkways meander across a forest bed of dense ferns and lichen-studded stumps, while there's also miles of beaches and coastal cliffs to explore here. What's more, there's on-site parking available at the Elk Prairie Campground visitor's centre, where guests can find information on a range of other park activities.
This seriously huge state park encompasses great swathes of the Colorado Desert and offers visitors a unique glimpse at a curious intermingling of natural habitats, where the iconic chaparral valleys of central California fade out into the rugged badlands of the south. For nature-lovers this means a truly fascinating array of plant life, ranging from the towering cacti of the Coachella Valley to the pines, oaks, firs and redwoods of the north, while for hikers and mountain bikers there's some seriously eye-watering panoramas of the Laguna foothills to be had.
Rugged rocky outlets and remote paradisal beaches pepper the coves and cliffs of dramatic Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, making it one of the undisputed jewels of the Californian coast. Visitors come here to stroll the tracks that range high above the Pacific, winding their way through groves of towering redwood trees and clusters of coastal shrubs. Whale spotting is also one of the park's major attractions, with peak times occurring in early January and late March each year, when the great migration of the schools takes place.
Located midway on the coast between Santa Barbara and San Jose, Hearst Castle is one of the cultural gems of the Californian coastline. It's a place where guests can explore a palimpsest of architectural wonders, from the Mediterranean revival façade to the enchanting gothic rooms, set deep inside the labyrinthine interior. Outside, the regal gardens and neo-classical swimming pools ooze with all the charm of 1950s art nouveau, and represent the spots where California's high society once met for their grand soirees.
Thousands of acres of redwood forest extends over the coastal lands of northern California at this vast nature reserve. Under the canopies of the state's most iconic trees, visitors enjoy a wide range of outdoorsy pursuits, from mountain biking to horseback riding. The hiking is a major pull, as the park offers both easy nature trails and harder day-long treks, the most popular of which culminates at Grasshopper Peak, where dramatic panoramas of the redwood treetops dominate on all sides. Inside the park there are also no fewer than seven individual campgrounds, many of which come complete with shower facilities and electricity points.