1. Death Valley

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As one of the largest national parks in the country, this dessert valley does not cease to surprise visitors with it diverse geography, changing climates and expansive landscape. Located in the central part of the state near the Nevada border, its 3.3 million acres include salt flats that dip below sea level, mountainous sand dunes and sandstone canyons of many colors. Not surprisingly there are also mystical elements like the mysterious moving rocks that leave trails of their movement across dried mudflats. If there is a place in California that will make skeptics believe in magic, Death Valley will do the trick.

2. Mammoth Lakes

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A snow-covered wonderland in the winter and a scenic lake town in the summer, this high elevation destination is an ideal escape for those looking to take a break from city life. For ski and snowboard enthusiasts there is plenty of fresh powder in the winter months and in the summer there is plenty of hiking, fishing, biking and paddle boarding to keep you active. After a trip to Mammoth, the beach will seem like old news to you.

 Mono PassLee Vining, United StatesThis was my first long solo-hike, up to Mono Pass! It was incredible to be up there alone, I highly recommend this hike to everyone! It’s about 8 miles round trip with about a 1,000 ft elevation gain, so not too strenuous! Super beautiful! #hiking

3. Gold Country

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Take a step back in time to a rougher period in California’s history, when everyone was delirious from gold fever. There are many artifacts still standing from this era near the Sierra Nevada foothills, including Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where the first sighting of this precious metal changed the course of the state’s history. Other notable stops include Columbia State Historical Park, a replica of one of the largest towns of that time. For those who revel in the supernatural, there is Bodie, one of the state’s largest ghost towns with plenty of rumors of haunted happenings. Just make sure to leave before the sun goes down.

4. Sequoia

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California may conjure up images of white sand beaches, but if you do not go further inland you will miss another kind of beauty: its towering redwood trees. Located in central California, an entire forest of these giant beauties awaits and it never gets old. If you want to take a break from the real world, escape to Crystal Cave, a subterranean space that has its own underground streams and stunning rock formations.

5. Yosemite

 Glacier PointYosemite Village, United StatesGlacier Point was one of my favorite views in Yosemite. Go at sunrise to get this view with the sun coming up behind half dome.
Warning: that ledge is as dangerous as it looks, be careful out there.

This is the granddaddy of all of California’s national parks and no matter when you go it will stun you into silence. Yosemite’s big stars are the scenic mountains and waterfalls, but Yosemite Valley should not be overlooked, where you can get an ant’s eye view of it all.

6. Angeles National Forest (San Gabriel Mountains)

Less than an hour away from Los Angeles (unless you are stuck in heinous traffic), there is the expansive San Gabriel Mountains that have plenty of trails to explore and will give your lungs a break from the smoggy city air. Be prepared for a dessert-like climate that can change from freezing to scorching in the time span of just a few hours.

7. Mono Lake

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Located in Mono County in the northeastern part of the Golden State, this lake is known for it eerie beauty and its usually high content of salt due to the lack of an outlet for the water to go anywhere. If it feels as if it has been created during the prehistoric era, this is because it was formed at least 760,000 years ago.

8. Joshua Tree

 Hidden Valley campgroundTwentynine Palms, United StatesOne of my favorite places in California! Watched the sunset from The Eye at Hidden Valley Campground!

The result of the crossroads of two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, this national park is worth making the trek out from Los Angeles to immerse yourself into a different world. The diverse desert landscape with it short shrubby trees and spiky leaves seems like it came right out of a Dr. Seuss book. To really get the full experience, you should spend the night at one of the nine campgrounds, where you can hear the coyotes howl at the moon in the pitch-black night.

9. Lassen

Volcanic activity has shaped one of California’s most unexpected national parks, with its bubbling hydrothermal pools and jagged volcanic peaks formed from long-ago eruptions.

10. Lake Tahoe

 Speedboat BeachKings Beach, United StatesThis is one of my favorite spots in Tahoe. In Summer it’s a great swim spot, but no matter the time of year it’s the perfect place to catch sunset. #laketahoe #sunset

The giant headache to get up to this popular destination on winter roads or in summer traffic will disappear once you step out of your car and breathe in that crisp mountain air.