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Yosemite 

In Yosemite, nature rules – we’re just along for the ride. In fact, 95 per cent of this national park is wilderness waiting to be explored. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it sprawls more than 3,000 square kilometres across the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Tourists flock here to see the cascading waterfalls, jutting granite cliffs and groves of ancient sequoias. Be sure to stop by Tunnel View, a jaw-dropping vista showcasing Apple screensaver-favourite El Capitan and drive up to Glacier Point for more spectacular views. 

Yosemite’s park rangers are famously friendly and remarkably knowledgeable. Surrounded by California’s wildest of wilds, enjoy evening lectures covering everything from astronomy to wildlife, arranged by the National Park Service. A roaring campfire, a star-mottled sky and your own expert guide – is there a cooler classroom anywhere in the world?

Visit in February and you may be lucky enough to catch the natural ‘Firefall’, when the waters of Horsetail Fall burn golden as the sun sets. Head here in April for gushing waterfalls, fewer tourists, pleasant weather and waived fees during National Parks Week. 

Situated just outside Yosemite, Tenaya Lodge is a 302-room property decorated with Native American flourishes throughout. It’s an ideal base for the family to relax before and after heading out to explore the great outdoors on a California holiday.

Palm Springs

Famously sunny for 360 days of the year, Palm Springs is a popular vacation resort situated in the arid Coachella Valley. During your California adventure holiday, drag yourself away from the indulgent spa treatments, pool-side cocktails and world-class golf courses here for a spot of outdoor adventure. 

This luxury oasis in the desert offers easy access to the San Andreas Fault. This spine of dramatic mountains and valleys works its way 1,200 kilometres through California. Take a guided jeep tour around the slot canyons. Photograph this rugged natural wonder (be sure to keep your camera covered as it can get a little dusty). Your expert guide will explain the geology of the landscape, as well as the native flora and fauna that manages to thrive despite the inhospitable conditions.

Drive out from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree National Park to experience more of California’s great outdoors. Less of a tourist trap than some of the state’s other national parks, much of Joshua Tree’s sprawling, yucca-spotted landscape is designated wilderness. It’s begging to be discovered, clambered over and even climbed up. Thrill-seekers can experience a guided rock climb with experts who know the lay of the land like the back of their hand.

In the heart of Palm Springs’ downtown, rest up after a busy day of adventuring at the Avalon Hotel. The deluxe rooms and private villas of this property epitomise Hollywood Regency style. The pools, manicured gardens and full-service spa ensure you’re well recuperated ahead of your next adventure out.

San Francisco 

With trendy neighbourhoods, iconic landmarks and more gourmet restaurants than you can shake a breadstick at, San Francisco is a dream destination for a California city break.

But if it’s a prison break you’re after, there’s Alcatraz. The notorious island prison drifts two kilometres off the shore of the ‘City by the Bay’. Though many tried, no prisoner ever managed to successfully escape (unless you count David Copperfield). Closed in 1963, it’s now a National Historic Landmark, and can be visited via a 15-minute ferry ride from Pier 33. Take a guided tour behind the scenes, learn about the jail’s most infamous cellmates and explore other historic buildings on this nine-hectare islet. 

There’s more adventure to be had on the water. Board San Francisco’s only America’s Cup racing yacht for a cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge, taking in the sights and sounds of the city’s curvaceous shoreline. Alternatively, see San Francisco like the seabirds do with a luxury seaplane tour. 

For a good old-fashioned ramble, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area offers plenty of marked walking routes, with Land’s End Trail being a stand-out favourite. Lace up your boots and do your stretches for a nearly five-kilometre circular route, offering glorious views of the Golden Gate Bridge from Eagle’s Point. 

Situated moments from Union Square in the heart of San Francisco, Hotel Zeppelin is a contemporary property, which celebrates the counterculture spirit of the city. After a day of adventure, sip a cool drink at the hotel’s trendy Mantel Bar – the perfect nightcap.

Death Valley National Park

As America’s lowest, driest and hottest national park, Death Valley is as extreme as the U.S. gets. Around 91 per cent of its area is wilderness. With one foot in California and another in Nevada, this dramatic landscape has adventure by the duneful. 

During the day, drive or hike to spectacular vantage points such as Dante’s View. Head to the dramatic lows of Badwater Basin. Weave through otherworldly chasms of striated rock such as Mosaic Canyon and Golden Canyon. After sunset, camp out under a star-scape so vivid it’s garnered the International Dark-Sky Associations gold tier classification. There are plenty of spots to pitch a tent in Death Valley, from National Park Service campgrounds to exceptional private sites. Wherever you choose, make the most of this clear night sky by coming equipped with binoculars or a telescope. 

As with all of California’s desert regions, it’s best to visit here during the winter months, when the heat is dialled down several notches. Stay at the popular Death Valley stop-over of Furnace Creek. It’s around the corner from the park’s visitor’s centre and, what may well be, the lowest golf course in the world.  

 

Lake Tahoe

If you’re looking for adventure, you’ve come to the right place. Straddling the border between California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is North America’s largest alpine lake. This is a worthy attraction for nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts and winter sports fans.

Drive the National Scenic Byway from Heavenly Village to Tahoe Science Center. This is the most picturesque portion of the 116-kilometre loop around the lake. You’ll pass by gorgeous pine woodland and snow-capped peaks with views over the sparkling blue water below. Alternatively, step out from behind the wheel to enjoy the well-marked foot trails, as well as boating, windsurfing, kayaking and more on this vast body of water. As this high-altitude region receives periodic snow flurries, especially during the winter months, be mindful of the weather and check ahead. 

On higher ground, that winter snow transforms the slopes surrounding Lake Tahoe into the perfect winter sports retreats. From large resorts such as Heavenly Mountain and Squaw Valley, to smaller ones including Boreal Mountain and Diamond Peak, the ski resorts here draw visitors to Tahoe’s white, fluffy peaks.