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California

by Philip Greenspun, 1990-1998


Venice

Elephant Seal Colony. Just north of the Hearst Castle. San Simeon, California. California is an unmanageable unimaginable monster of a state, 850 miles from top to bottom and 200 miles wide. It is the nation's most populous state, packed with about 30 million people who really don't have all that much in common, yet there are vast wilderness areas that would nearly swallow up puny eastern states. Mt. Whitney, the highest point (14,494') in the Lower 48, is in the Sierra Mountains; Death Valley, the lowest point (-282') is just 60 miles (?) away.

If I had to choose just one state in which to be a tourist, it would be California. It has shining complicated cities, a dramatic coast, majestic forests, limitless moutains, challenging deserts, photogenic wildlife, and diverse ethnic cultures.

Regions of California

Monk. Mission Santa Barbara.

  • Northern Coast, a few hundred miles between San Francisco and Oregon that most people forget is there
  • Northeast Corner, bigger than many states, contains Lassen Volcanic National Park and Mt. Shasta
  • San Francisco, the best city in the U.S.
  • Santa Cruz, where I finally understood California
  • Central Coast, where cliffs (and motorhomes) meet the sea
  • Los Angeles, "a thin veneer of civilization over a desert"
  • San Diego, etc. Two zoos plus Sea World.
  • Deserts, Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs
  • The Central Valley, please God tell me something nice to say about this hot dry wasteland, which includes Sacramento, the state capital
  • The Sierra Nevada, the highest mountain range in the Lower 48

Practical Advice


Readers' Comments


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Christen Christner , September 07, 1998; 03:02 A.M.

I Grew up in california and and living in Oregon now From time to time I miss the places and "feeling: of being in california and my life there you pictures took me right back there and made me feel as if I was right back there They showed more of Cali than all the "commerical" stuff you can usally find and your picturers are beautiful... Thank you for sharing them, They really touched the California Girl in me and made me miss home just a little bit more

david dray , July 05, 1999; 12:26 P.M.

I have grown up in Socal and I find what you have to say about California(ns) to be, for the most part, true.However, you must realize that this is a recent phenomonon,at least as far as the community of Pacific Beach, a community in San Diego, is concerned. Growing up in P.B. during the late 60's and 70's was a real "small town" experience. It has been my observation that transplants from other locales seek to change the town they settle in to reflect the area they grew up in.This is why today P.B. is now infested with uber-yuppies and fad following Gen Xers (tongue stud anyone?) who have made this place a reflection of Melrose Ave, Brooklyn etc..

Margaret Janssen , August 08, 1999; 10:10 A.M.

As a resident of this hot and dry desert (Central Valley) I would like to add that it does get wet here occasionally - it floods in the winters! Also, the Central Valley has the big Delta where the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems meet to drain into the Bay Area.

There is a completely different world along the rivers and sloughs. You don't really get a handle on it until you tie up your boat to an overhanging tree, mix up a cold one, and lean back for a while . . .

Rafael Solis , February 07, 2000; 10:29 P.M.

The Central Valley, although hot and dry, is one of the most desirable places to live in California, here are just a few reasons: 1) Cheap! (median house price is $140K) 2) The closest to almost any nice place in California (Yosemite/Kings Canyon/Sequoia NP 1.5 hrs -this is no typo, there are 3 great National Parks within 1.5 hours of Fresno, Monterey/Carmel, 2.5 hrs., San Fco. 3 hrs, Los Angeles (nice?) 3 hrs) 3) Conmuting to work: non-existent (I drive 10 minutes to mine.. Thinking about now, I should walk!) 4) A great multi-ethnic community (Mexican/south-american, Armenian, Basque, Hmong, Laotian, Japanese, Polish, Italian, etc..). Great food! 5) Great Bandwitdh! Fresno is one of the few places in California where you can still get a T-1 line connected to your house (well, there is also cable modem and DSL for less money). THis may not last too long, I've heard that E-Commerce startups are "eyeing" Fresno and surrounding areas for this reason. 6) I should keep my mouth shut.. may attract too many people!

Phil you should come to Fresno next time and enjoy a bike ride in the "blossom trail" and a good Basque dinner at the "Santa Fe Hotel". In early summer nothing beats a white water rafting trip in the upper Kings River...Cheers..

In other words, a nice place to live...

Katherine Anderson , February 16, 2000; 02:18 P.M.

California is a place of contradiction, love and hate, passionate opinion and sheer indifference...and it is impossible to separate one from the other. People come to California too often with an ideal sketched in their head - like thinking Disneyland is representative of the whole, when it is really representative of a fantasy. It would be warm, there would be lots of women, we'd play volleyball every day, it would never rain. When reality intrudes upon fantasy, disillusionment breeds bitterness. We are ever ready to overlook the faults of our hometown areas, probably because we have had time to look beneath them for their individual beauty, but are often unwilling to do so elsewhere. I think Phil has captured the heart of the contradictive sentiments about California:

San Francisco, the best city in the U.S -- There are laws against virtually everything -- shining complicated cities -- the grit and interest ...is gone -- a dramatic coast. -- overrun by credentialist yuppies -- majestic forests -- cluttered with shops, restaurants, tourists -- limitless moutains -- office workers...touring wineries -- challenging deserts -- America's first BurbClave -- photogenic wildlife -- the place is packed with tourists -- diverse ethnic cultures -- really only dramatic for about 30 miles -- a kind of paradise...

Where do most of the complaints stem from? Tourist locales. Its not the place, its often the people who visit it. Most of the constricting laws, rules, and regulations exist in California because of the uninformed and, of course, the tourists. Again, they expect Disneyland and forget the real world. The laws are meant to edify the ignorant and protect the stupid from disaster. Between lawsuit-happy people and willing lawyers, one must cover ones ass. There is allegedly a California state law against getting closer than 15' [to an elephant seal colony]. This is not frivolous. Breeding elephant seals can be just as unpredictable, dangerous and vicious as grizzly bears - males are heavier and almost as fast, and can easily outrun you. The reason the sign is there is because someone probably lost that particular race - likely a tourist. And if everybody threw their trash on the ground in California, why leave the east coast? You can get that aplenty minus the airfare.

The Michelin Green Guide recommends a 2.5 day stay in Santa Barbara to see the sights, but I can't for the life of me imagine why. Perhaps because all Phil saw were tourists...where are the photos of the twisted Valley oaks, huddled in the mist like old men in rags of gray-green Spanish moss? Where are the photos of the Channel Islands, with craggy cliffs and desolate grasslands echoing the waves of the sea in the wind? Missing as well, the street festivals and carnivals...how about Fiesta, with the black hair and bright costume of a little girl? The Summer Solstice Parades painted faces and outrageous costumes? The brilliant chalk drawings of I Madonnari (Italian street painting festival)? Santa Barbara Polo grounds? The Sespe hot springs? The Museum of Natural History? Where are the intricately painted ceilings of The Arlington Theater and the courthouse? Chartreuse lichens sleeping on ochre sandstone, framed by spiraling red manzanita? Dolphins surfing the clear water? Sea-weary fishing boats hauling in the dawn catch, with grizzled fathers and sons? The lone horsewoman shaking the deserted beach with her companions hooves? One might say, Well, I cant fit all that in 2.5 days. Id say that is correct.

I would revise Phils statement:

"If Californians did not have myriads of carefully set forth rules, they would simply kill..." the tourists. Or maybe the lawyers.

-- A native

William A. Baker , April 15, 2000; 06:12 A.M.

Five years ago, I came to the Central Valley (Sacramento, to be precise) kicking and screaming in order to accomodate my wife's career. After years of living in New York and San Francisco, there was no way in hell I'd be happy living in Podunkville. After all, Sacramento is so average it's a popular test market for floggers of new junk. Want to see the latest Adam Sandler flick sneak-previewed? Come to Sacramento.

Well, I was wrong. Sure, the joint is 95% dross, LA-style banality, but there are thriving pockets of culture worth exploring. And Sacramento is world-class in two categories: cheeseburgers and corrupt politics. As the self-inflated solons hereabouts frequently repeat, if California were an independent country it'd have the seventh highest GNP on the planet, and Sacto is the corrupt--legally corrupt--capitol of the whole mess. It makes for one helluva sideshow, even better if you're tapped into the political gossip grapevine.

But the pinnacle of Sacramento culture is cheeseburgers. I've chowed sliders from Boston to San Diego, Anchorage to Memphis, and the best damn cheeseburger in the world, bar friggin' none, is a double Frenchburger from Nationwide Meats. There's no secret to it: they grind up prime steak to make their hamburger meat, which makes for both a six dollar burger and an ungodly great taste. New York may have the Chrysler Building, Barcelona may have Guernica, but Sacramento has the Frenchburger.

(Actually, Sacramento is a surprisingly active photography community, given how plastic and vapid it is otherwise. ViewCamera/CameraArts are published here. Hutchings and other contributors are locals. There's a beauty salon in Midtown that doubles as a gallery for platinum prints. One of my neighbors has had his digital manipulations published in a number of high-profile collections. I've been very, very impressed by the quality of architectural and landscape photography I've seen in local shows. Too bad the rest of the local visual arts community blows.)

Dave Wyman , August 18, 2000; 04:59 A.M.

Long ago I spent a few years living in Chico, California, in the northern end of the Central Valley. Sometimes I wish I still lived in Chico, called by some the City of Trees, and voted the most bicycle friendly town in America. While it's hot in the summer, the Central Valley is not often humid, as it is in other regions of the U.S. It certainly isn't hot or dry in the winter, and there is, for this southern California resident, a fair amount of color in the fall. Although there several good sized cities in the Central Valley, it is also filled with the largest concentration of fruit farms, almond groves and vineyards in the U.S. And there are little towns and wildlife refuges scattered along the back roads that can't even be glimpsed from the main highways. In fact, a chunk of my book, "Backroads of Northern California," (pardon the unabashed plug, but it is a pictorial guidebook with 55,000 words, see more at www.idrivebackroads.com) is devoted to the Central Valley and I didn't have any problem finding photographic subjects, including agricultural scenes, historic mansions, autumn color, drawbridges over the Sacramento River, state parklands, and the grounds of Chico State college.

Harold Edward Sugden , April 17, 2001; 01:20 A.M.

I live at the bottom end of the Great Valley, next to Bakersfield. Aside from the fact that it is the seat of Kern County and Kern produces more oil and gas than Oklahoma and is one of the three richest agricultural counties in the United States, I can't say much for it. Over time it almost grows on you. Land and mountain locked, with a dry dull metal sky. Really hot in summer, snows once every 12 years and possibly not as corrupt as Sacramento, it is, in it's way, vibrant. Hopefully, Kern County is also photogenic. Given time, effort and a better 'eye' I hope I can find just how interesting this place is. It is a challenge but then why not take it on? I live here, can't go very far to get those great shots from far-away-places: So I'll search them out close by. Who knows, I just may just do well?

Harold Sugden

Ryan Thompson , January 04, 2002; 06:37 A.M.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I've traveled enough states to realize there are kind and interesting people all over America. Outstandingly; California offers a very diverse population, industry and geography - the product of which are open minds. The closed ones I've met weren't raised here.

I disagree that California doesn't offer a sense of community. Our casual stature and diverse interests may be too eccentric for those set in "their ways" - although we have plenty of monocultural, gated suburbs too. Admittedly though - Los Angeles, while containing some of the State's most interesting lifestyle, can't shed the crap of a big city. So if you aren't "streetsmart", try any Santa of California (other than Santa Monica) instead.

J Dooley , July 25, 2002; 01:11 A.M.

I'm a native Washingtonian (the state,) live in Seattle, and the nicest people I've met have been native Californians, who, along with the rest of us who aren't completely self-centered, complain about the snobbishness of people in Seattle. I've also lived in California, and I think Seattle is the leader in lack of community spirit. So Phil, you Really don't want to come here.

liz boeder , June 07, 2003; 12:40 P.M.

Please take a look at the work of Roman Loranc. He can be found at www.romanloranc.com. Beautiful images of the rapidly disappearing beauty of the Central Valley. On a recent trip to Monterey, I was drawn in to a gallery featuring his lovely work. There's beauty everywhere, if you take the time to get off the freeway and look.....

Jim Epler , April 16, 2007; 06:29 P.M.

Please don't forget about Southern California, especially San Diego! Most think only of the Zoo and Sea World, but there are so many other wonderful and interesting aspects to consider as you explore this city. Balboa Park is a fantastic place to shoot. For a 180 degree panoramic view of the city, visit Soledad Mountain in La Jolla. In the spring "The Flower Fields" of Carlsbad are blooming with color. The Hotel Del on Coronado Island is a must see for any visitor to "America's Finest City." In fact, I'd recommend visiting the Wild Animal Park in Escondido before visiting the Zoo; it is more unique in that it resembles an African preserve and many of the animals coexist together in a large open area.

One of the more interesting features of San Diego is the eclectic mix of neighborhoods that are woven through the fabric of the community. From Ocean Beach to North Park, Old Town to La Jolla , Hillcrest to Point Loma, the delineated makeup is unique to any city I've experienced.

As a hobby I take and post photographs of San Diego on my Web site http://photography.us.com. Feel free to check them out!

An approaching plane flies over the San Diego city skyline.

A view of an airliner flying over Interstate 5 as it makes its approach to Lindbergh Field. The downtown San Diego city skyline can be seen in the distance.

bryan vallecio , September 13, 2007; 03:34 P.M.

that was a good picture good job.

Image Attachment: DSC02377.JPG

jaber alhameli , November 07, 2007; 07:15 A.M.

i traveled 16 hours from meddile east (dubai) this summer to visit california. i have been to oregen few years ago but i found cali is way different than oregon. It is amazing every part from cali has different flavor and style. i have takin houndreds of pictures with my nikon D70s and 18-70 ,70-200 2.8f sigma lens for different parts of cali,and i hope to visit cali again in the coming years.

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justin smith , August 15, 2010; 11:55 P.M.

I love traveling around coast along side palos verde. take the 110 down till it ends at san pedro then head straight to the ocean and youll hit palos verdes. go up the coast and youll see tons of great palm trees, cliffs, wildlife, and some beautiful homes on the land side.


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