8 Wonders Of California

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A guide to the best road trip destinations in the Golden State

Two years ago I decided to pack up all of my stuff and drive it all the way across the country to the Golden State of California. I couldn’t wait to explore each mile of my new home. Every long weekend, holiday, and any excuse I could think of to take off work early on a Friday, I would jump in the car with my boyfriend, open up Google Maps and experience the most incredibly beautiful road trip adventures this state has to offer.

Here are my top 8 Wonders of California, in no particular order (they’re all just too good!) So what are you waiting for? Pack up your hiking shoes and your tent, gas up the car (don’t forget the snacks!) and hit the road already.

Alamere Falls, Point Reyes National Seashore

While spending a mid-June weekend exploring San Francisco, we decided to take a beautiful hour and a half drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to Palomarin Trailhead in search of a rare “Tidefall” (a waterfall that flows into the ocean).

The trek is 8.4 miles out and back, with several different terrains. It starts off with a long, shady 2-mile flat walk on a dirt and rock path. We passed two small lakes and debated stopping for a swim, but kept on.

Next, the trail to the falls turn left down a very narrow path with weeds and plants growing taller than our heads. (Be sure to pack long sleeves and pants to avoid Poison Ivy, only one of us made it out of there without it.)

After about ¾ of a mile rubbing up against plants, we finally made it to the cliff you must climb down to get to the beach. While the cliff is very steep at times, on the way down you pass several smaller waterfalls and beautiful wild flowers.

Once we arrived at the beach we enjoyed the view, did a little yoga, ate our packed lunches and took a very cold dip in the Northern Pacific Ocean.

While reviews online do rate this hike as easy, be sure to wear the correct footwear for a long rocky terrain and give yourself plenty of time to make it back before sunset.

Calaveras Big Tree State Park

Last August we celebrated my birthday with a long weekend camping trip to a very underrated state park. I almost don’t even want to include it because I want to keep it a secret. Even in the very middle of summer the park felt like were the only people there.

We camped in the North Grove campground and the campsites were some of the largest I have ever seen. Each space has plenty of privacy and an amazing view. In the middle of the campground there is a giant meadow with a nice large deck walkway stretching through the middle. We were able to practice yoga on it during the day and at night lay down to watch a meteor shower with the best view of the sky at night.

From the North Grove you are able to hike several trailheads to large beautiful trees, both alive and fallen. A short drive away is the South Grove, home to the largest Sequoia tree in the park, Agassiz Tree.

After a day of hiking and taking in the insane beauty of these large trees, we decided to buy some floaties and take a dip in the North Fork of the Stanislaus River, which runs right through the middle of the park. Fair warning, the water was extremely cold.

On our way home from Calaveras we stopped in Yosemite, our next Wonder of California. Check out the video below of our trip to Calaveras Big Tree State Park and Yosemite National Park!

Land of Gold from Mellow Brick Road Films on Vimeo.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is by far the most well known destination to make the list. Upon arriving in the park it is very apparent this is not one of California’s best kept secrets.

All vehicles, unless camping, must park in designated parking lots and shuttle or walk to trail heads. While we weren’t stoked to be getting on a giant diesel bus in the middle of nature, the park stretches over 1,000 square miles, making it impossible to explore everything by foot in one afternoon.

via Instagram @bentleyd

On this particular trip we just had time to hike to the top of Vernal Falls before sundown. The hike is just under 2 1/2 miles and is very strenuous, with the last half mile completely up stairs. But what we found at the top was incredible. Not only is there an amazing view of the park, but also a mini lake created from Nevada Falls’ flow above. We were able to slide down a natural made rock slide and plunge into the cold waters. Thankfully there was warm sun to dry us as we relaxed on the rocks.

Since visiting last August, we have made several trips back to Yosemite and highly suggest taking longer than a weekend to explore this extremely large park.

Our goal is to visit it once every season, to get the full effect of its beauty.

via Instagram @bentleyd

Lake Arrowhead

Lake Arrowhead is a private lake that we are fortunate to visit several times throughout the year as my boyfriend’s family owns a small homey mountain cabin and boat. The lake is one of the best kept secret getaways just a couple of hours outside of Los Angeles nestled in the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest. The water is incredibly clean and clear but do not be fooled, it is quite chilly for swimming, just barely making it to just over 70 degrees fahrenheit in the summer months.

There is a great little Swiss chalet- inspired village right on the lake with ample shopping and activities such as live music, boat shows and other events and festivals. My favorite place in the village to hit up, a chocolate shop that’s in walking distance to a cute wine bar.

In the warmer months when we are not spending our days on the lake, we have found several awesome hikes in the area. One of the bests is Heart Rock Trail, because I am a total romantic. This is a very easy 1 1/2 mile hike that dogs are allowed on. This beautiful naturally made heart shaped rock is right next to a waterfall, that has been unfortunately dry lately due to the drought.

But don’t worry, there is another waterfall flowing very nearby. Aztec Falls can be accessed by parking at Splinters Cabin Trailhead. It is a short 1-mile roundtrip hike, but do not let the distance fool you! Most of it is down stream and you must climb over large slippery rocks. Once you arrive at the falls you may notice several thrill seekers jumping off rocks into the water from as far as 60 feet! Jump at your own risk!

via Instagram @bentleyd

While we have visited Lake Arrowhead many times, there is still so much more in the area we have yet to experience and see including hot springs, more waterfalls and zip lining in Big Bear just a town over.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park

This was a very last minute trip for us. On a Saturday morning in early June, we decided we had to get out of LA and into the wilderness. After a few phone calls to discover that all of the campsites in the area were booked, we looked into lodging in the park.

via Bentley.Photos

While I wouldn’t totally suggest it, we called Montecito Sequoia Lodge and their Rustic Mountain View Cabin home – for $119 for one night. While it was expensive for a large shack of a cabin with only a wood burning stove and no bathroom; it did include a bed, electricity, a couple of meals, a hot tub, a shared camp style bathroom and access to their small onsite lake where we enjoyed canoeing after sunrise.

via Bentley.Photos

And just a short 30 minute drive Sunday morning brought us to General Sherman’s Tree, the WORLD’S largest tree by volume!

via Instagram @bentleyd

While you do have to park in a parking lot about a mile away from the tree and either hike or catch a continuously running shuttle, they park was very clean and not as crowded as we thought it would be in the summer. Unfortunately, the tree does have a fence around it to preserve its roots, so technically you are not allowed to touch it.

via Bentley.Photos

The best part about this adventure though? The drive! There are some of the most beautiful landscapes and views I have ever seen. From General Sherman’s Tree we drove up to Hume Lake and enjoyed a lakeside snack in the sunshine before making the 4 1/2 hour drive home.

Death Valley National Park

With a reputation for being a brutal hot, dry, barren desert, Death Valley National Park was not at the top of my list of places I wanted to visit. But last November to celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday, I let him pick our destination.

via Instagram @bentleyd

In contrast to our mountainous hiking trips, our first stop was the lowest elevation in North America. Clocking in at 280 feet below sea level, the Badwater Basin is in the southern end of the park. It is 200 square miles of salt flats with small pools of salt water right off of the highway. Although there is not much to do here, the view is absolutely breathtaking and the salt is the strangest thing to walk on.

After the basin we decided to take a 2-mile roundtrip hike to see Natural Bridge, a rock formation located in a canyon just east of Badwater Basin. Although the hike was steep starting out and of course it was hot, after about a half mile there was some shade from the canyon and the natural beauty of these rocks were amazing.

We also stopped by Artists Pallet, a colorful mountain view just a short walk from the highway, and then made it back to set up camp at Sunset Campgrounds just as it started getting dark.

The park was a lot larger than I expected (5,219 square miles!) with beautiful views as you drive through mountains and valleys. There were several places we did not get to see because the park is so vast, but what we did see I was amazed by.

via Instagram @bentleyd

We even found a waterfall in the middle of the desert! Darwin Falls is among a lush oasis in the heart the desert. Trust me, this is not a mirage, it is a real waterfall flowing! The hike is only 2 miles round trip and was by far the easiest hike in the park. Just a half mile from the trailhead we began to hear water trickling and seeing green plants. Upon arriving to the falls, we immediately forgot we were in the desert, blasting the AC and chugging water just an hour before.

Check out our video of the trip below!

Low Road from Mellow Brick Road Films on Vimeo.

Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park, Big Sur

via Instagram @bentleyd

The old saying that “half the fun is getting there” happens to be extremely true for Big Sur. The road looks like it’s straight out of a car commercial (because it is) with views of cliffs high above the ocean. And on the other side of the road, a lush green forest.

McWay waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park can hardly be called a hike, as it is a third of a mile away from the trailhead, right off of California 1 Pacific Coast Highway. But if you happen to be driving by, you would probably miss it.

Although it may be tempting to climb down to the waterfall, the terrain makes it virtually impossible to do so. Also, we found out before hand it is a protected park and is illegal to attempt the trek to the falls. Word on the street is daredevils will kayak in from the ocean.

The park has great benches along the trail with excellent views high above the pacific, making it a great place for whale watching if you happen to be there in the winter during the gray whale migration. I am also happy to say from one the benches I saw one of the best, if not the best, sunset I have ever witnessed. Big Sur is a magical place.

Lake Tahoe

In August of this year we celebrated my birthday with friends and family by road tripping to Lake Tahoe. Instead of our usual camp out, we stayed in a great cabin we found on AirBnB in North Lake Tahoe.

via Bentley.Photos

First off, the water in Lake Tahoe is like nothing else I have ever seen! While it is extremely cold water, it is worth it to take the plunge and swim around in the crystal clear lake. Right now, the water is more clear than it has been in the past decade with deepest clarity just over 93 feet!

GoPro Photo of the Day and Week by @bentleyd

The wind conditions were absolutely perfect so we rented paddle boards and were able to paddle for more than an hour into the center of the lake. We played around on the boards, practicing yoga and attempting to hold our breath under the water. At 6,200+ feet elevation, this proved very difficult!

After our day of paddle boarding we asked a few locals for the best hike in the area for sunset. They suggested Stateline Lookout Trail, an old trail reaching 7,000 feet in elevation with panoramic views of the lake that has historically helped to spot wildfires in the area. Although it felt like we were climbing straight up hill for a half mile, the views were well worth the climb!

Besides our day of paddle boarding and the sunset hike, we spent most of the weekend relaxing at the cabin, playing games and enjoying nature and the hot tub. I will definitely be planning another trip soon to check out everything else Lake Tahoe has to offer!

My 8 Wonders Of California on a map. Drop a pin and just go!

To keep following Kaitee and Bentley’s outdoor adventures, follow them on Instagram, @kaiteet & @bentleyd.

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Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and NoMiddleman.com, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.