Flights to California: Tinsel towns, redwood forest and deathly desert

Meet the locals

Platinum-blonde Hollywood starlets may be the state's most conspicuous residents. But a California holiday reveals a much wider cast of characters. Stroll the crowded markets of San Francisco's Chinatown and meet Mandarin-speaking herbalists hawking herbal teas and homeopathic remedies. Dedicated vintners in knee-high rubber boots tend the vines and pour cabernet samples in Napa. In San Jose, technology geeks keep the cyber-world turning.

Back to nature

Put the top down and coast along Highway 1, where the Pacific Ocean meets the cliffs of the wild Big Sur coast - with epic results. The soaring El Capitan rock-face stands sentinel over the vast wilderness of Yosemite National Park. Giant redwoods with trunks thick enough to confound the most dedicated tree-hugger tower overhead in nearby Sequoia National Park. Pack a hat and a gallon of sunblock when visiting the barren landscapes of Death Valley - summertime temperatures soar past 45 degrees.

Get cultured

Spanish padres left adobe-brick missions and scented rose gardens scattered along the California coast. Look for their 18th-century salmon-coloured buildings, still standing in cities like San Diego. Spend a midsummer night with Mendelssohn, or jive to Afro-Cuban jazz in Walt Disney Concert Hall, LA's twisted, metallic Frank Gehry-designed performance hall. Avant-garde contemporary sculptures push artistic norms at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adrenaline rush

After your flight to California grab a surfboard and hit Huntington Beach. Here, the coast's die-hard surfer dudes bob patiently, waiting for that perfect wave. Join adrenaline junkies skiing, biking and hiking among the blue-grey peaks guarding massive Lake Tahoe. Or risk even higher blood pressure in one of the local casinos. Manmade spectacles thrill at Disneyland. Become a screaming rollercoaster fan and prove your mettle by raising your hands high through dizzying corkscrew turns.

Fast facts

Where? California sits on America's Pacific coast, extending 1,287 km from the Oregon border in the north to Mexico in the south.

Population: California has more than 37 million residents, making it the most populous US state. Its largest cities are Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose.

Getting about: If you drove the entire length of California non-stop it would take you 15 hours. If you encountered no traffic, that is.

Did you know? After the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846, the California Republic declared itself an independent nation. The United States adopted California as its 31st state in 1850.