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The Rough Guide to California (Rough Guide Travel Guides) Paperback – 28 Sep 2000
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This 6th edition provides topical and comprehensive information on the entire state of California, including practical details on camping and hiking, plus critical reviews of hotels and restaurants in all price ranges.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
California is America squared. It9s the place you go to find more America than you ever thought possible. What9s Wrong with America by Scott Bradfield
No region of the world, perhaps, has been as publicized, and idealized, as California, and none lives up to the hype to quite the same degree. A terrestrial paradise of sun, sand, surf and sea, it has a whole lot more besides: high mountain ranges, fast-paced glitzy cities, deep primeval forests, and hot dry deserts.
Having zoomed from the Stone Age to Silicon Valley in little more than a couple of centuries, California doesn't dwell on the past. In some ways this part of America represents the ultimate 'now' society, with all that entails - life is lived very much in the fast lane, and conspicuous consumption is emphasized to the exclusion of almost everything else. But this is only one side of the coin, and the deeper sense of age here often gets skimmed over. Provided you get out of the cities, it is readily apparent in the landscape: dense groves of ancient trees, primitive rock carvings left by the aboriginal Native American culture, and the eerie ghost towns of the Gold Rush pioneers. A land of superlatives, California really is full of the oldest, the tallest, the largest, the most spectacular, all of which goes far beyond local bravura.
It's important to bear in mind, too, that the supposed 'superficiality' of California is largely a myth, an image promoted as much by Americans on the East Coast as by foreigners - even if the area's endeavors to gain cultural credibility can sometimes seem brash. Politically, it's probably the USA's most schizophrenic region, home state of some of its most reactionary figures - Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon to name just two - yet also the source of some of the country's most progressive political movements. Some of the fiercest protests of the Sixties emanated from here, and in many ways this is still the heart of liberal America. Consider the level of environmental awareness, which puts the smoky East to shame, and the fact that California has set the standard for the rest of the US (and the world) regarding gay pride and social permissiveness.
Economically, too, the region is crucial. The computer industries of Silicon Valley have led the American economy to new heights, the cash-flush entertainment field is dominated by California's film industry and recently ascendant music business, and even in the increasingly important financial markets, Los Angeles has become a major player.
Where to go
California is the third largest state in the US, covering nearly 160,000 square miles: keep in mind that distances between the main destinations can be huge, and that you won't, unless you're here for an extended period, be able to see everything on one trip.
In an area so varied it's hard to pick out specific highlights. You may well start off in Los Angeles, far and away the biggest and most stimulating city: a maddening collection of freeways and beaches, seedy suburbs and high-gloss neighborhoods and extreme lifestyles that you should see at least once, even if you make a quick exit for more relaxed locales. From Los Angeles you have a number of choices. You can head south to San Diego, the seventh largest city in America, complete with broad, welcoming beaches and a handy position close to the Mexican border, or you could push inland to the Californian desert areas, notably Death Valley - as its name suggests, a barren inhospitable landscape of volcanic craters and windswept sand dunes that in summer (when you can fry an egg on your car bonnet) becomes the hottest place on earth. It's a logical trip from here across to the Grand Canyon via Las Vegas; though not in California, we've included these last two in Chapter Three of the guide. An alternative is to make the steady journey up the Central Coast, a gorgeous run following the shoreline north through some of the state's most dramatic scenery, and taking in some of its liveliest small towns, notably Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz.
The Central Coast makes the transition from Southern to Northern California - a break that's more than just geographical. San Francisco, at the top end, is California's second city, and quite different from LA: the coast's oldest, most European-looking city, it's set compactly over a series of steep hills, with wooden houses tumbling down to water on both sides. San Francisco also gives access to some of the state's most extraordinary scenery, not least in the national parks to the east, especially Yosemite, where powerful waterfalls cascade into a sheer glacial valley that's been immortalized by Ansel Adams and countless others in search of the definitive landscape photograph.
North of San Francisco, the population thins and the physical look changes yet again. The climate is wetter up here, the valleys that much greener, flanked by a jagged coastline shadowed by mighty redwoods, the tallest trees in the world. Though many visitors choose to venture no further than the Wine Country and the Russian River Valley on weekend forays from the city, it's well worth taking time out to explore the state's northernmost regions, a volcano-scarred desolation
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Research wise, I can't fault it, but its heavy going and not easy to dip in and out of.
However, if you want to get around and see as much as possible, I would not just rely in one book - you could miss something and be disappointed. I used this in conjunction with Fodor, had a great time, want go back and recommend this book.
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