1. Finally figure out what John Muir meant by “the clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
Hug a tree. Well-known for the Coast Redwood or Sequoia Sempervirens, California also features the Giant Sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum, the world’s largest living tree. Stand in the center of the Lady Bird Johnson Grove of Coast Redwoods as light filters through the Humboldt fog. But California is not only about redwoods … completists for the arboreal section of the California Bucket List must also embrace the Bristlecone Pine, the world’s oldest living organism, and the Joshua Tree, because you couldn’t make up that sort of species.
2. Squeeze up box canyons and watch coyote eyes glow red at night along the road.
282 feet below sea level lies Death Valley, the lowest point in the U.S. Don’t let the name fool you. If we ever see a heavy rain year again, time your visit for the spring when the valley briefly explodes with wildflowers, including the Golden Evening Primrose, Gravel Ghost, Bigelow Monkeyflower and the Desert Five-spot.
3. Make an epic traverse by foot, bike, or swimming. Even a train if you are lazy.
While Californians know we live in a state with huge variety, there’s nothing like a journey through our widely varied ecosystems with plenty of time to ponder and observe. The classic, long before non-Californian Cheryl Strayed decided to hike and write about it, is of course the PCT from Mexico to the Oregon border. Hiking on to Canada gets you a two-fer toward the West Coast Bucket List. Into cycling? With tailwinds at your back north to south on the Pacific Coast Route is the way to go. Swimming? There’s the Trans Tahoe relay, allowing you to swim your way to Nevada as part of a six-person team. Or if you’re going for bucket list efficiency, try the Badwater — a race from Death Valley to Whitney Portal, at 8,300 feet. Prefer to traverse in more seated style? Amtrak’s Coast Starlight offers oceanfront views unavailable to those driving the coast.
4. Trudge your way up 14,505 ft. to summit Mt. Whitney.
You’ll be sitting pretty at the highest point in the lower 48. There are a variety of routes to suit various levels, including a walk-up route, so not yet being able to handle the mountaineers’ route is no excuse. At the summit you’ll see the White Mountains to the southeast, older than the Sierras, as well as the crests of many lesser peaks as you look west, knowing, as we always do, that the ocean is there, waiting for us. Then head out again for the other eleven of California’s fourteeners.
5. Plan a road trip based completely around beer or wine. Or both. We’re non-judgmental here.
We’re well known for wine, but learning all our appellations is a lifelong pursuit. There are currently 110 distinct viticultural regions or appellations in the state, and that number is growing. So get started tasting in each region! Or try a beer trail: there’s the US 101 trail from Central to Southern California — check out Sonoma County breweries.
6. Make some enduring art of your own.
Write a poem, take that photograph, make the painting. We’ve got City Lights. Ansel Adams. Snoop Dogg. Metallica. The Coup. Carlos Santana. Bob Willis. Joanne Kyger. Culture Clash. The list goes on and on…
7. Appreciate the glaciers while they are still around.
While not known for its glaciers, the Golden State does have some, which are quickly receding. Love these vanishing patches of ice before it’s too late.
8. Hang loose and surf your own version of Mavericks.
Even if you have terrible eyesight and a fear of sharks, there are plenty of mellow places for beginners to learn. Check out Cowell’s Beach in Santa Cruz, Bolinas, or Linda Mar in NorCal, or Malibu or San Onofre in SoCal. Before you know it you’ll be moving on to Steamer Lane, Rincon, Mavericks….
9. Check ‘seeing a mountain lion’ off of your to-do list.
While it’s hard to aspire to see one of the elusive cats, spend enough time outside working on the rest of this list and keep your eyes open. Don’t worry — I’ve seen two and lived to tell the tale.
We all get into our ruts. Contemplate yours and “disrupt” it. Eat a burrito at the other end of the state, or a sushi burrito, or a kogi burrito. Although the burrito was invented in San Francisco, or so we believe, Californians generally concede that there is a direct relationship between distance from the border and quality of Mexican food. While we in NorCal don’t concede much, giving credit where credit is due, we must give it to SoCal. Despite that overambitious, disjointed attempt to judge the best burrito in the country by people not from California…
11. Head to the end of California and check out where the rock arch heads into the sea.
All true Californians must make a pilgrimage to El Arco, at the tip of the Baja California peninsula. Fortunately, circling this spectacle is part of a standard boat tour from Cabo out to sea, also including a visit to Playa el Amor, where you can walk from the Sea of Cortes to the Pacific Ocean in about three minutes, feeling the distinct texture of the different sands beneath your feet.