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It's July and summer is finally here. There's no better time to get out into the Great Outdoors, and where's the greatest, most glorious great outdoors of all? It has to be California: a bold claim, but one that we stand behind. There are simply very few places on earth which possess the undiluted grandeur and staggering natural beauty of the Golden State.
From the desolate tumbleweeds of the Mojave Desert to the granite peaks of the Southern Sierra, to the misty, unkempt shoreline and damp, mossy forests of the northern coast - California is a state that defies you to categorise it as anything other than exhaustingly diverse.
But don't just take our word for it. We asked award-winning travel writer Mike Gerrard to spill the beans on a state he knows like the back of his hand, with an introductory guide to California's contribution to America's Best Idea: its National Parks.
Mike, whose own website specialises in the Pacific Coast Highway, has traversed the length and breadth of California many times over and writes below of exactly what makes the state such a magnet for nature-lovers, scenery freaks and adventure-hunters the world over, with part two focusing on his recommendations for some classic California trips.
"Think of California and you inevitably think first of surfing, beaches and Beverly Hills, of Hollywood and Disneyland, and of landmarks like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. But drive over that bridge, or head a short way east from San Francisco or Los Angeles, and you’ll see what the state has really got to offer. Its National Parks will take you from the dense and sometimes dank forests of Giant Redwood and Sequoia trees to the desert landscape of Death Valley, the hottest and driest National Park in the United States.
Yosemite is not only a National Park but a World Heritage Site, and is over 750,000 acres of mostly untamed wilderness, of glaciers and mountains – its highest point is Mount Lyell which rises to 13,114 feet (3,998 m). Even bigger than Yosemite is the Joshua Tree National Park, big enough to encompass two separate deserts as well as the forests of Joshua Trees that give the park its name – and gave U2 an album title, though the famous album cover shot was taken in Death Valley.
If you add to these major National Parks a few smaller parks, California’s State Parks as well as its National Seashores, National Monuments, National Preserves and other features, then you realise just what an amazing state this is. California, here I come."
Don't forget to click through to Part Two of this post, where Mike shares some recommendations for some classic trips within California's National Parks.
Virgin Holidays will be able to tailor-make a bespoke Californian holiday to your exact needs, with accommodation-only or fly-drive options in a wide variety of locations, or for the more adventurous, forget the plans - just book a flight to California with Virgin Atlantic, hire a car and go, go, go.
What's your favourite Californian National Park? What are the best things to see and do? We'd love to know what you think so tell us in the comments below. Thanks!
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.