San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge

When we think of San Francisco vacations, several words come to mind. Complex. Bohemian. Spirited. Progressive. Stunningly beautiful. Endlessly intriguing.

As that famous San Francisco fog rolls over the Golden Gate Bridge, so, too, do the images of this iconic California city roll through the imagination. A cable car chugging past gingerbread Victorians on Nob Hill, the hippies of Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love, the colorful historic prison at Alcatraz, the exotic markets of Chinatown, the boiling pots of Dungeness crab at Fisherman’s Wharf — all of it refreshingly original amid the sea of charmless big-box stores and strip malls dominating almost every other American city.

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Carmel Beach sunset

Sunshine, bikinis, tanned lifeguards, and endless volleyball games on the sand. If that’s what you think of California beaches, you’re only half right.

The above may be an apt description of some Los Angeles-area beaches, but it doesn’t begin to describe what lies north of the Golden State’s Central Coast. Northern California beaches are a whole ‘nother species, every bit as alluring as their southern counterparts for reasons having nothing to do with bare skin and toned abs.

With hundreds of miles of coastline, from the Central Coast to the Oregon border, Northern California beaches and tiny coastal towns are treasures waiting to be discovered by anyone wanting to walk on the cooler, wilder side. (Meaning sweaters and sturdy windbreakers, not bikinis, are the beach apparel of choice. But don’t get too depressed, guys, there’s plenty to make up for it!)

Are you ready to cut through the fog (and sometimes lots of wind and rain) for the adventure of a lifetime? Then keep reading!

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Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe Skier

Lake Tahoe Skier

To soak up the feel of this very special place is to view it in layers of human history, all of which reveal themselves in varying degrees of subtlety or swagger.

In quieter moments, it’s possible to see Lake Tahoe through the eyes of the Washo Indians, who lived peacefully on its shores for centuries and considered Lake Tahoe a sacred place.

Attend a pioneer-themed celebration, and you see Lake Tahoe California as it was in 1859, when the discovery of the Comstock Lode in nearby Virginia City, Nevada, attracted fortune seekers, entrepreneurs, and timber barons.

Gradually, people began to appreciate Lake Tahoe for its beauty alone, and by the turn of the century, wealthy Bay Area vacationers were flocking to posh, gabled shore-side Lake Tahoe resorts. They erected mansions intended as summer homes (many of which are now available for touring) that spoke volumes about Victorian excess and the kooky tastes of the very rich.

Superimposed on these images is the Lake Tahoe California of the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, where neon ruled, one-armed bandits one-upped the mountain vistas, and lovebirds married on impulse in tacky chapels. Despite Lake Tahoe California’s recent massive transformation, you can still find pockets of roadside kitsch, only now we believe the correct term is “retro chic.”

The Lake Tahoe of today – the ruggedly handsome, hip, tony, eco-friendly, publicity-hogging one — embraces its history, yet takes pride in its new identity as a world-class destination for outdoor adventure, fine wines and dining, upscale shopping, and the arts.

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Explore the Cooler Half of California