When you think of planning a vacation to California, certainly the big cities in Northern and Southern California come to mind.
But I recently discovered that you absolutely must visit the heart of the state in Central California – the real, the diverse, the charming and the natural California.
The Majestic Mountain Loop Tour
We began our trip by flying into Fresno Yosemite International Airport, which delivered us less than an hour away from the famed national parks of the area. We embarked on the most wonderful, and aptly named tour: The Majestic Mountain Loop, where in three days, we were escorted in a small group through Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite national parks. All the logistics were taken care of for us; all we had to do was enjoy and explore – from our visit to Moro Rock to seeing the General Sherman, the largest living tree on earth; to hiking the Zumwalt Meadows and the Half Dome. We saw beautiful waterfalls, dined at scenic restaurants and stayed in historic hotels. It was memorable from start to finish.
After completing the Majestic Mountain Loop, we headed toward the coast through the agricultural center of the world, passing kilometers upon kilometers of orchards full of peaches, oranges, almonds and more. At a “u-pick” farm, I experienced a moment of incredible appreciation for nature in the simple act of reaching up into a tree, finding a peach and eating it right off the branch. Not surprisingly, we found some terrific restaurants using the local produce. We savored an unforgettable meal at Parma Restaurant, located in Fresno, where handmade pastas were tossed with the fresh vegetables of the day, with grilled fruits served for dessert.
Wine Tasting in Paso Robles
Continuing west through the Coastal Mountain Range, we reached Paso Robles, where we toured and tasted at the beautiful Summerwood Winery, one of over 250 wineries in the area. Charming inns and bed and breakfasts welcome visitors all throughout this region. The region also hosts various food and wine festivals throughout the year, which attract some stellar chefs, so why not plan your trip around an event?
Central Coast Attractions
From Paso Robles, we were just a quick drive to Cambria, where charming little shops and restaurants greeted us. Just a short walk from the main street of Cambria, we discovered Moonstone Beach, which has that stunning, craggy California Coast appeal. We even spotted a whale as we walked the boardwalk.
About 15 minutes north of Moonstone, we traveled up the coastal “Highway 1 Discovery Route” toward Hearst Castle, an architectural and historic wonder perched up on the bluffs overlooking the coast. After a guided tour of the grounds, we headed to Hearst San Simeon State Park, where we watched the windsurfers jump around on the waves. Finally, we rounded out our trip with a short jaunt north through Big Sur on our way to explore the Monterey Bay Aquarium – a “must” for families – before wrapping up our trip in Sacramento, the State Capital and historic center of California.
Visiting Central California gave me a whole new appreciation for the state. Yes, California has some glitzy metropolitan cities, but it also offers the most spectacular experiences in nature – from the mountains to the sea.