How do you picture traveling in California in your mind? Do you think of haunted mansions and exploring ghost towns? Do you imagine adventuring in the wild outdoors surrounded by picturesque trees that have existed for thousands of years? Usually, the answers we get are no. Because Hollywood movies have immortalized another notion: rolling beaches surrounded by bombshells.
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, don’t you think it’s about time to visit California’s hidden gems? To explore the paths less traveled? Hence, before you contact any travel agency, like the online travel agency MustGo, be sure to check out the places we recommend down below.
Redwoods National Forest
For our first few stops, we are going to share with you our favorite spots to escape to if you want to be in the sweet comfort of nature. Redwoods National Forest is one, aptly named with its towering redwoods that almost look like sculptures carved from red stone. And they might as well have since most of these trees have been there for over a thousand years.
Here’s a tip before going to Redwoods National Forest: There are a lot of available lodging choices in the area, but we recommend checking out the Historic Requa Inn. It’s an Arts and Crafts inn that has had its doors open for more than a century already. It’s the perfect place to stay in to complete a weekend with ancient trees.
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
While we don’t know the exact age of the trees in Redwoods, we do know the age of one particular tree in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Named Methuselah, this tree is said to be 4,848 years old.
No wonder most of the trees in this park grow to as high as 11,000 above sea level as they’ve certainly taken their time in history to do so. Should you choose to visit them, take your time to ponder on the fact that most of them will still probably be silently growing long after you have already passed, but at one point in time, you had the chance to cross paths with these immortal trees and walk amongst them.
Here’s a tip before going to Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest: There are a lot of hiking trails that you would want to explore in the area to make the most out of your trip, so we highly recommend bringing lots of water and wearing hiking-appropriate footwear.
The Secret Cactus Garden, Getty Center
The two spots that we have shared with you above were both made by nature and while both of them were majestic, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any man-made spots that are equally as green and beautiful as the two spots that we are going to share next.
First of the two is the breathtaking secret cactus garden in the sky at Getty Center. It’s on an elevated space overlooking the entire city of Los Angel and since not a lot of people know about it yet, then chances are, it’s not going to be too crowded as well. A perfect hideaway for those who want a calming space to think coupled with a breathtaking view.
Here’s a tip before going to the Secret Cactus Garden at Getty Center: The Getty Center offers free musical and theatrical performances so be sure to check out their calendar of activities before visiting.
California Citrus State Historic Park
Here’s another location that a lot of people don’t even know exists: the California Citrus State Historic Park. Picture this: a sunny and refreshing afternoon in a very Instagrammable location picking citrus. The thing we love best about this spot? It’s absolutely free. The perfect vacation for the whole family on a budget.
Here’s a tip before going to the California Citrus State Historic Park: The park offers a companion app that serves as a virtual tour guide. We definitely recommend downloading and checking out the app a day before your planned trip.
Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park
Citrus-picking can be a fun activity, especially for younger kids, but we can all see how it can lose its charm for those that are a little bit older already. Hence, the two spots that we are going to share with you next are places that are perfect to visit by your family car.
Let’s start with Gilroy Gardens, home of the world-renowned Circus Trees that were grafted into living sculptures by Michael Bonfante way back in the 1920s. We assure you, you’ll never see trees like these anywhere else. But aside from those trees, don’t forget that this is a theme park as well with over 40 different rides and attractions.
Here’s a tip before going to Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park: Expect that it’s going to be an action-packed day so make sure to bring extra clothes that your kids can change into just in case.
Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center
Here’s another spot that we’re sure your kids will love. You see, the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center has a secret dinosaur trail filled with realistic dinosaur statues that can give even adults a good fright if you’re not careful (or if you’re not especially fond of dinosaurs).
We recommend going through their rock garden as well. It is filled with treasures just waiting to be uncovered, and with the help of extra polishing at home, you can even turn them into gorgeous bookends and paperweights.
Here’s a tip before going to Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center: Go on a Saturday. That’s where their free guided tours are available. It’s going to be an afternoon of fun and learning, perfect for every dinosaur lover for sure.
San Dieguito River Park
Let’s face it, though. Dinosaur scare is not exactly the adrenaline rush that most of us are looking for, so how about heights? That’s right. The next two spots that we are going to feature have jaw-dropping rope bridges for those who are looking for the perfect balance between excitement and exhilarating sights.
The first stop is the Lake Hodges Pedestrian Bridge Trail, a 990-foot suspension bridge that can accommodate both walking and biking, located within the San Dieguito River Park.
Here’s a tip before going to San Dieguito River Park: Want to add another layer of interest to your trip? Then go on a full moon. The San Dieguito River Park offers guided family-friendly full moon hikes each month.
Ziplines at Pacific Crest
A rope bridge that is wide enough you can bike on it? That’s right, it still lacks that knee-wriggling experience that you’re probably looking for. Well, if that’s the case, then we’re sure that the Treetop Trail at Ziplines at Pacific Crest won’t disappoint. Their trails offer the perfect rickety rope bridges that even Indiana Jones will enjoy.
Don’t worry, though, you are completely safe with the zipline harnesses attached as you cross each route. Helmets are going to be provided as well.
Here’s a tip before going to Ziplines at Pacific Crest: Pack light and wear appropriate footwear. No heels and slippers this time.
Bodie Ghost Town
For those who are looking for a different type of adrenaline-rush, the one that can give you goosebumps, then we’re sure that you will enjoy the next three locations that we have ranked according to their scare factor.
First on the list is the Bodie Ghost Town, which was originally a lively and bustling mining town during the Gold Rush that eventually declined around the 1940s. The entire town was preserved, though, including each property’s interiors and the things that the owners originally owned.
If you do choose to give this spot a visit, we encourage you to take your time and enjoy the authenticity of the place and ponder about the people who once walked the ground that you are now walking on, struggling to find their fortune in the Wild West.
Here’s a tip before going to Bodie Ghost Town: Have a movie marathon of your favorite western movies to set the mood before your trip. Here are two of our favorites: for those who want an absolute classic, we recommend The Treasure of the Sierra Madre starring Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt; and for those who are looking for a more modern fare, then Django Unchained starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio might be more right up your alley.
The Hidden Tunnels of Los Angeles
Here’s a point in our history that is as interesting as the Gold Rush: the Prohibition. But even so, don’t think for a second that Los Angeles took this sitting down, especially with its culture of living a fun life.
Hence, the people’s response is a network of underground tunnels to smuggle in “giggle water”. The good part is, these tunnels still exist for everyone to explore. Some parts are heavily filled with street art, while other parts have been closed due to earthquake risks.
Here’s a tip before entering the Hidden Tunnels of Los Angeles: While a lot of the tunnels that people explore are deemed “earthquake-safe”, the entire network of tunnels are officially “closed to the public” so explore them at your own risk.
The Winchester Mystery House
If abandoned towns and hidden tunnels don’t scare you, we promise you that the next spot will absolutely deliver. If you’re a horror fan then chances are you’ve already heard of the creepy Winchester Mystery House. It’s a mansion built by Sarah Winchester to protect her and her family from the ghosts seeking vengeance for being killed by the Winchester rifle.
To help lure these ghosts away, she had the home built like a maze with doorways opening to walls, staircases leading nowhere, and windows looking into more interior rooms instead of outside.
Unfortunately, the original seven-story house has been reduced to four stories due to its own fair share of earthquakes throughout the years, but no natural calamity has certainly ruined its creepy charm.
Here’s a tip before going to the Winchester Mystery House: Watch the movie dedicated to this house first to ramp up the anticipation and chill factor.
For the last stretch of our travel list, allow us to share with you a couple more locations, this time spots that are perfect for a weekend getaway date to share with your special someone. For couples who enjoy excellent wine and dining, then might we suggest the romantic town of Murphys?
Its streets are filled with over two dozen wineries that offer wine-tasting the whole year-round. And if you’re looking for the perfect place to stay in, we recommend Querencia, an inn that seems that it has popped out of a Nicholas Sparks novel.
Here’s a tip before going to Murphys: Since we are already talking about romance novels, Querencia is also the perfect place to enjoy a good book, so make sure to pack one for an awesome bookstagram post.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
If snuggling between the sheets of Querencia is not your definition of a romantic evening, then how about cozying up beneath a blanket of stars while stargazing? Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is situated within a nest of mountains with minimal light pollution which is the main reason why it’s where the first International Dark Sky Community in California was founded.
You can visit it anytime, especially if you’re expecting an astronomical display, like a meteor shower. Regardless, though, we recommend paying a visit in early spring because it’s when the desert is carpeted with colorful wildflowers.
Here’s a tip before going to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Don’t forget to bring your stargazing implements like a star chart, a pair of binoculars and plenty of cozy blankets. A thermos of hot cocoa is a nice touch for your stargazing date night as well.
And that wraps up our lineup of the most interesting hidden gems in the Golden State. What were your favorites? Did we forget to mention your favorite spot? In the end, we hope that you have enjoyed our list and that you do take the time to explore each of them. We wish you safe travels!