California Blog: Your Last Minute Vacation Destination

I was recently granted the opportunity to visit California. I have been to various locations around the world, but this was one of the most unique and interesting. If you’re planning a last-minute vacation, this destination is one to consider. It was a life changing trip for me, and it’s one that I hope everyone gets the chance to take.

California is a postcard.

Like the back of an enormous camel, its mountains and valleys roll up and down seemingly without end. Enormous redwood, eucalyptus, and maple trees tower above thick, lush grass and mazes of neat, intricate vineyards. This place holds true majesty. Every half mile offers clearings through the trees with new spectacular views. Like a gorgeous woman, the landscape draws attention and engenders awe. California offers both beautiful views of the city (nothing compares to standing on the 56th floor of a hotel and gazing at the city lights beneath you) and more bucolic ones like those present in Napa Valley and Santa Rosa.

The California countryside encourages people to slow down and take in their surroundings.

The climate is warm with a constant, pleasant breeze. The idyllic atmosphere makes one feel truly at ease. Standing on a beach in Santa Monica, one can simultaneously enjoy views of the vast, rolling ocean and of the mountains piercing through the clouds like fingers. The Pebble Beach Golf Course also holds magnificent views of the ocean and is worth checking out.

The wine of California is superb.

It contains many varying textures and complex flavors. We visited The Ridge, Clos Du Bois, Frank’s Family Vineyard, and Mondavi for wine tasting. I recommend Santa Rosa and Sonoma, because its wineries are typically cheaper and less busy than those of Napa Valley. They’re not lesser in quality either. Additionally, each vineyard we visited was unique in character. This meant the tastings didn’t feel repetitive at all.

I enjoyed The Ridge and Frank’s Family Vineyard the most. The guides at these vineyards made each individual customer feel special. They gave our group private wine tastings, and their wines stood out to us in quality. The guide at The Ridge took us on a short jeep ride through their vineyard. He said their vineyard produces all organic wine and utilizes renewable energy in their wine production. It may be helpful to note that if you become a club member, Clos Du Bois and The Ridge will not charge for tastings but Frank’s will.

Nothing can quite compare to touring the California countryside with a pleasant buzz from wine tasting and a full belly from the delicious eateries.

In Santa Rosa, I recommend Costeax French Bakery and Basilico and in Sacramento, I recommend Old Siam. Costeax has a plethora of scrumptious pastries. We tried almond crescents, fruit filled coffee cakes, muffins, biscotti, bear claws, and molasses cookies (yes exercising will be imperative when we get back). The macaroons stole the show for me though. They were fluffy, covered in heavenly chocolate, and even though we ate them the day after buying them, still moist. Basilico is an excellent Italian restaurant. We tried the best wine of our lives there: a 2015 Zinfandel from Frank’s Family Vineyard. This wine is sweet and remarkably smooth despite its almost 15 percent alcohol content. One of my traveling companions described the atmosphere of the California countryside: “It’s like being in the United States and Europe at the same time.”

Starting a conversation with a stranger is not unusual in this state.

In each region we visited, the people were relaxed and sociable. From the fishermen to the shop owners, they were all happy to have a conversation with us. This contributes to the charm of California. Even those in the city were amiable to a certain degree. That being said, the city is still the city. In San Francisco, people seemed to honk just for the fun of it. But while it’s sometimes hectic, it does retain a certain level of relaxation. San Francisco offers stunning views of the ocean with Alcatraz in the background. It also holds many tourist attractions including the crooked road, ship viewing in Fishermen’s Wharf, and plenty of delightful shops and restaurants scattered throughout.

If you’re a wildlife lover, this state is for you.

California is plentiful in its ocean life. Depending on the region, you may see whales, sea lions, leopard sharks, bat rays, sea otters, elephant seals and more. I’d recommend checking out the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We went on a whale watching trip in Morro Bay one morning. It was an exhilarating and amazing experience. I still can’t believe the amount of sea life I saw! As we left the estuary leading to the ocean, sea lions, sea otters, and harbor seals were as common a site as cows on a farm. All the sea otters were congregating in one place as if they were holding a convention!

We also passed the famous 23-million-year-old Morro Rock, towering 576 feet above us. We passed hundreds of pelicans blending in to bleach white rocks. Sea otters and sea lions swam beside us, basking in the sunlight and peering at us inquisitively. We rode out for 25 minutes before seeing the first spout about a mile away. When we got closer, we could make out a swirling vortex of water about 200 feet across the ocean’s surface. It called to mind the ancient Greek tale about the Straight of Messina with the monster Charybdis that created giant whirlpools to drown sailors.

It was chaos.

Flocks of birds dove into the water and sat on the surface while hundreds of sea lions splashed and writhed about. The birds and sea lions were chasing baitfish, harassing and corralling them into bait balls. In the midst of all the chaos, the whales made their appearance. But we heard them before we saw them. It’s amazing how loud they can be by simply exhaling. Water shot up ten or fifteen feet high, and we saw a fin as long as half my body break to the surface. The whales didn’t care how many other lifeforms were in their way. They were going to get their food. We were about 100 feet away so as not to disturb them.

We could only see parts of their bodies, but we could feel their presence.

They are the true giants of the earth, and every move they made demanded attention and respect. They called to each other with deep, rumbling, alien- like sounds. Two of them sounded angry as they competed with each other for food. We saw five different whales, all of which the guide believed to be humpbacks. Whatever they were, they were behemoths. They refreshed my fascination and love for nature.

California’s beauty is made imperfect by the rearing of poverty’s ugly head.

According to ABC, San Francisco has the second highest homeless population in the US. We traveled through San Francisco and Napa Valley and then headed all the way down to LA and Pasadena. There were many homeless in each region. However, San Francisco stands out. Due to its high cost of living and densely packed population, the poverty is particularly evident here. Every other street is littered with the homeless. Indeed, I felt strange walking into the luxurious Hilton Hotel after seeing the suffering surrounding it. It was a jewel of paradise in the middle of suffering and poverty. My companions and I handed out four containers of food to four different homeless people the night after we arrived. It didn’t take long. We had walked about a quarter mile when our food ran out.

While it felt good helping, the homelessness here is devastatingly widespread.

I recall seeing one man sprawled on the sidewalk in front of a stop light. It struck me as an odd place for him to be, because most of the homeless were seen further within the city. The man wore a filthy jacket and as we paid for parking, he began to moan in pain. Every 15 seconds or so, he let out another guttural moan. He tried to speak to us, but his words jumbled together and we couldn’t understand him. I couldn’t imagine him walking into any building to find a job. Of course, that’s if the jobs are available.

No matter your political preference, if you walk these streets, you will feel sympathy for these people.

It would be easy to say the homeless here are simply lazy, unmotivated individuals who deserve their stock in life. This is not so. When a city has the second highest homeless population in the United States (ABC), it’s not a problem with the people but with the system. I saw one old man dressed as the Tin Man posing on a basket with a cup for money at his feet. Others made drums out of trash can lids or made paintings and sculptures.

These people were trying to succeed and were surprisingly innovative. However, I could see the desperation in their eyes. For those lying on the street, I don’t think it was due to a lack of motivation or effort but to a lack of hope. When all else leaves, hope is the last to go. But when hope does leave, people give up. They stop trying. This is unfortunate, because if these people could get jobs, they could contribute to the economy rather than being a burden on it.

The situation is not hopeless though. California has the potential to be a paradise for all. Like the ocean, it is rich with life and diversity. It’s a wonderful place to live or to visit. However, it needs to work on providing more opportunities for success for all its people so they can enjoy everything their state has to offer on a more equal economic and social basis.

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