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9 Amazing California Adventures

Famous for sunshine and celebs, amazing California also wows with fantastic off-the-beaten path adventures. Here are nine things to do in the vast and diverse Golden State.

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Amazing California: 1. Ride the Skunk Train

Don’t let the name fool you. One of North America’s most scenic trains, the restored Skunk Train meanders 40 miles of amazing California coast along the “Redwood Route” north of Mendocino much as it has since 1885. Nostalgia runs deep on this former logging railroad, built to move redwoods out of the rugged back country. The line criss-crosses the Noyo River and cuts through coastal mountains to towering redwood forests with views much unchanged since centuries past. As for the name? The trains were nicknamed for their original gas engines, which prompted folks to say, “You can smell ’em before you can see ’em.” During summer, a barbecue dinner is served. (Photo by RevUp Creative Media)

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Amazing California: 2. Catch a Big One in Gualala River

The Gualala River in northern Sonoma County is a catch-and-release river and is famous for its wild steelhead. Just past the mouth of the river is the town of Gualala, a three-hour drive from San Francisco where you travel over narrow, twisting roads and amazing California ocean and mountain views. (Photo by Herman Turnip / Flickr Creative Commons)

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Amazing California: 3. Stroll the Boardwalk

Ousted American Idol fan favourite James Durbin rocked a concert on his hometown historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk then took to the rides of this classic seaside amusement park on Monterey Bay. You too can stroll the beautiful California oceanfront or purchase tickets for 35 rides and attractions, including two National Historic Landmarks, the 1924 Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster and the Looff Carousel, turning 100 in 2011. Didn’t catch Durbin? In summer the park has Free Friday Night concerts on the Bandstand. (Photo by NatalieKBeats / Flickr Creative Commons)

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Amazing California: 4. Wear a Wetsuit

Antsy pre-teens? Travel the world that’s hidden underwater. Give them an exciting California adventure to remember at Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Underwater Explorers program. Kids aged 8-13 years can sign on for an aquatic adventure with a surface SCUBA dive in the Great Tide Pool. (Photo by Jimg944 / Flickr Creative Commons)

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Amazing California: 5. Cruise the Highway

On a recent visit, Halifax, NS editor Janice Hudson was amazed by California’s dramatic and stark changes in scenery and terrain. “It was particularly striking as we drove out of Palm Springs and headed up the mountains toward Idyllwild. After about an hour, the desert cactus blooms and spiny plants and scrub changed into lush green forests of massive pine trees and fields of wild flowers. It was a totally different eco system and it was much colder up in the mountains. It reminded us of Colorado or Alberta and the change was quite striking” (Photo by Eric Harmatz / Flickr Creative Commons)

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Amazing California: 6. Take in Some Scenery

It’s impressive how California state parks are so large and yet well maintained. For hiking, Hudson found Joshua Tree Park – celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2011 – a highlight. One can stay in Yucca Valley and spend a day hiking trails in the park (Lost Horse Mine has views of the highest snow-covered peaks beyond Palm Springs). The huge rockpiles of granite and limestone are incredible and seem to appear out of nowhere, she says. “People who enjoy rock climbing would really love it–you can freely climb any of the cliffs.” You can also camp among the rockpiles. Another favorite? Hiking the hills above Laguna Beach – the Top of the World Park (Alta Laguna Park). It connects with a web of trails that cover Laguna Canyon and beyond. (Photo by Betsy Weber / Flickr Creative Commons)

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Amazing California: 7. Journey Back in Time

 For history buffs, the tiny village of San Juan Capistrano, just south of Laguna Beach, serves up historic mission buildings in an intimate setting sans scores of tourists. The mission has some of the oldest buildings with fabulous California gardens. The town also includes many beautiful historic adobe buildings. (Photo by North Fielder / Flickr Creative Commons)

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Amazing California: 8. Celebrate the Arts

 Craft your own San Francisco art crawl, going off-the-beaten path to seek out fine art. Modern, ethnic and contemporary art museums make a cultural California destination, such as the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in the South of Market (SOMA) district, the Asian Art Museum in the Civic Center area and the Luggage Store Annex and Tenderloin National Forest in the Tenderloin neighborhood, which itself is emerging as a revitalized arts district. (Photo by Smart Destinations / Flickr Creative Commons)

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Amazing California: 9. Have Dessert in the Desert

 The former mining town of Julian, a mountain-top Alpine village just an hour east of San Diego in the Cuyamaca mountains, is now famous for incredible pies, and is replete with antique shops, cafés, and a Wild-West vibe. Says Hudson: “We bought some pie slices there and then drove down the mountains into the desert near Borrego Springs, California. We pulled over and drove off road for a bit, parked, and then ate our pie from the back of the car.” (Photo by Deidre Woolard /Flickr Creative Commons)