5 surprises in California and the Golden West
Think of California and the Golden West and all the usual suspects come to mind: the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Las Vegas… Titan’s escorted tour ticks all these boxes, but it has some nice surprises too. Alongside A-list cities and blockbuster scenery you’ll uncover ancient forests of cool ponderosa pine, world-renowned vineyards with Pacific Ocean views, rolling hills of fruit and almond groves and - unlikely as they both sound - the world’s first Dark Skies City and the planet’s wettest desert. Now there’s a real surprise.
Shop ‘til you drop in Scottsdale
Scottsdale rises out of the surrounding Sonoran Desert like a shimmering oasis. This is the place where legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright spent his winters - his estate is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site - and although at times you can feel like you’re on the set of a Wild West movie (don’t miss the swing-door Rusty Spur Saloon, the oldest bar in town), you can also shop like a film star in Arizona’s largest shopping mall with its luxury fashion brands and expensive boutiques. Outside the city you’ll quickly find yourself back on the Sonoran which – as the wettest desert in the world – boasts the planet’s most diverse desert species. A selfie with the iconic saguaro cactus, which uniquely grows here, is a must.
Catch a wave on Pismo Beach
If your Californian dream is shaped by Beach Boys classics like Surfin’ USA and California Girls, you’re going to love Pismo Beach. It has the classic California beach town vibe: long, languorous beaches sloping into curling Pacific waves, and of course board sports in all shapes and sizes: body boards, kite boards, surf boards, stand-up paddleboards... you get the drift. But it’s not just watersports fans who love Pismo Beach’s clean ocean waters, you can spot seals, otters, sea lions and whales off its shores. Those who don’t come for the six-mile-beach or resident sea life often come for the nearby SLO (San Luis Obispo) wineries, whose ocean aspect - on fossilized shells, sand and shale - and cool Pacific air produce some of California’s finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines.
Relive the Roaring 20s in Visalia
Although it’s commonly known as the Gateway to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks - and often overlooked because of this – Visalia is certainly worth a visit. The town is pure Americana, complete with pedestrianised Main Street and baseball field. Only in California, a stroll downtown brings you face to face with a 20-metre-tall sequoia tree, as well as a beautifully renovated Art Deco hotel which is like something from The Great Gatsby. Out of town, Visalia is surrounded by rich agricultural farmland, particularly fruit and nut trees. In springtime, it’s a tapestry of orange, plum, apricot and almond blossom as thousands of orchards unfurl into bloom.
Follow Route 66 through Flagstaff
Few places in the world can boast their own Seven Wonders, but Flagstaff does just that. The city is not only gateway to the Grand Canyon but also to Wupatki National Monument, Oak Creek Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano, San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest and Walnut Canyon. Add its location - in the midst of the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest - and if you love the great outdoors, this is the place to be. The surrounding attractions may be awesome, but Flagstaff itself is also pretty cool. It oozes vintage America; in fact, the original Route 66 drove right through here and you’ll spot the iconic road signs all over town. You can see stars here too, and not just the Hollywood kind. In 2001 Flagstaff became the world’s first Dark Skies City, and astronomers still come to stargaze its clear, dry cloudless skies.
Visit Calico, a Wild West ghost town
You can’t come to California and not visit a real-life ghost town. In Calico you can walk through streets and into buildings that look much as they would have in the late 1800s, when prospectors came to find their fortune in the town’s gold and silver mines. In its heyday Calico had 1200 inhabitants, 500 mines and 22 saloons, but the good times were short and in the mid 1890s, it was abandoned to the surrounding mountains and Mojave Desert. Calico remained empty and lifeless until 1955, when it was bought and restored to its old, dusty Wild West charm.
Although Sophie’s most memorable travel experiences include swimming with horses in the sea off Cape Tribulation, nearly driving off the edge of the Grand Canyon and bungee jumping out of a helicopter over Queenstown, her holidays are a little less adrenalin-fuelled now, often revolving around dog walks and surfing with her family and two dachshunds in Cornwall.
Sophie | About the author
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