Distant Voice – California dreamin’

What sort of place do you imagine California to be? Golden beaches, palm trees, movie stars walking along Hollywood Boulevard… and perhaps, if you listen to Katy Perry, a place where perfectly tanned girls stroll around in “Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top”.

It’s not completely wrong, but every time I tell people that I’m from California and they respond with some variation of this stereotype, I can’t help but roll my eyes. Yes, California does have some amazing beaches complete with hot surfers, but that’s only in one very specific part of the state. California in its entirety is endlessly vast, and offers so much more.

For example, take the Bay Area, the greater metropolitan area around San Francisco. It’s still fantastic weather – unless you’re actually in San Francisco, in which case it’s foggy all the time – but you won’t find many surfers or sandy beaches here. Instead, the area prides itself on the world-class vineyards in Napa Valley, the cutting-edge technology born in Silicon Valley, one of the best public transportation systems in the country, and its brilliant sports teams. (San Francisco Giants, anyone?)

Going further north towards the border of Oregon, you’ll discover a rich expanse of coastal forests. Redwood National Park is particularly famous for being home to the tallest trees on earth: redwood sequoias. The forests extend inland and back south along the Sierra Nevada, where you’ll find the gorgeous Yosemite National Park with its rocky rivers and waterfalls. It’s a great place for camping and hiking, as well as rock climbing: the El Capitan of Yosemite is the world’s largest granite monolith and is renowned as the mecca of rock climbing.

The Sierra Nevada also boasts numerous ski resorts such as the ever-popular Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Mountain. I know what you’re thinking: wait, it snows in California? Yes, it does – and it’s surprisingly good quality snow too. Just ask the skiers and snowboarders from all over the United States that flock to the slopes of California every winter.

If the combination of beaches and snow isn’t already enough, barely 200 kilometers south of the mountains you’ll also discover the desert region. You may have heard of the Mojave Desert; it’s home to Death Valley, which despite its macabre name is actually quite a fascinating place. From salt flats to red cliffs, it has every possible variety of desert scenery you can think of. It is also where the lowest point of elevation in North America can be found, at 86 metres below sea level.

Then, of course, there’s the Central Valley, which is the awkward bit in the middle of the state that’s not quite Northern or Southern California and is thus often forgotten about. It really doesn’t deserve to be, though, because it’s easily the most important part of the state. Not only is it where the capital city of Sacramento is located, it’s also one of the top agricultural lands in the United States. In fact, it’s where one quarter of the entire country’s food is produced.

From lush forests to snowy peaks, from barren deserts to rich farmland, there’s really nothing the state can’t offer. Every Californian is aware of this fact, and that’s why we all find ourselves a bit irked whenever people ask us, “Do you miss the beaches?” No, we don’t, because there were never any beaches where we came from – unless, of course, the Californian in question actually is from the Los Angeles area. If you’re still looking for the golden sand, palm trees, movie stars and “California Gurls,” Los Angeles is where you’ll find them.

We’re delighted, of course, that we have such a wonderful place in our state – we enjoy visiting seaside resorts just as much as you do – but next time you meet someone from California, it might be worth a try to ask about the mountains, the deserts, or the vineyards instead of the sunny beaches. You’ll spare many of us an eye-roll, and we’ll love you for that!


PHOTO/Dawn Ellner