California is like one of those goodie bags you get at the end of a birthday party. The kind with a dizzying variety of bits and bobs all so exciting you can’t wait to tip the contents out and examine them thoroughly. It’s the kind of state that encompasses everything in one shot, without having to try too hard. It’s got miles and miles of coastline, national parks teeming with all manner of critters and plant life, stark desert landscapes that are as beautiful as they are bleak, and frosty mountains that beckon with the prospect of piles of soft snow. And all this not very far apart, so you can be lolling about in the water one day, biking through the desert the next, and falling face-first into said snow on the third. Saying that it has something for everyone might seem cliched, but, with California, it’s true.
WORDS: SHARMEEN HUSSSAIN
Santa Monica is the quintessential city by the sea, with the charm of a classic Californian beach town and the sophistication of a big city. Perched on the Pacific Ocean, it’s got broad stretches of come-hither beaches and a year-round mild climate, making it the perfect spot for some navel gazing.
1 SURF OFF SANTA MONICA STATE BEACH
The water is a little chilly. Okay, it’s a lot chilly, especially by the standards we’re used to. But you’ve got a wetsuit on, there’s a surfboard under your arm, and you look so undeniably cool it would be a shame to back out now. So you plunge in, head first, and, once the initial feeling of death has worn off, you’ll resurface feeling pretty exhilarated. Time to hang ten!
In the cool, clear waters off Santa Monica’s State Beach, budding surf enthusiasts bob around like sea lions. On the shore, joggers run up and down the sand, a testament to the fitness bug that holds California in a tight embrace. We half expect to see Pamela Anderson running around too, in her signature red one-piece, State Beach being one of the many filming locations for the iconic show Baywatch.
Santa Monica has always been a surfer’s paradise, its waves attracting scores of people from around the world, all year round. There’s a surf culture here that dates all the way back to the 1950s and ‘60s. People take their waves seriously. Beginners and pros share the waters here, giving each other wide berths. Sign up for a lesson or two with Poseidon Paddle & Surf for a quintessential Californian experience. It offers two-hour lessons with a private instructor for people with varying levels of skill. Once you’re done, you can even head back to the shop where they have hot showers and cake and coffee. Not a bad way to end a lesson…
2 SWING THROUGH THE AIR
If you’re not very fond of breathing, the trapeze harness will suit you nicely. It’s strapped on so tight you begin to wonder if passing out is part of the training.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), you won’t pass out. You will get used to the harness after a while, and, soon, you’ll be glad for it. Because, at the Trapeze School New York, flying is all in a day’s work. Located on the busy Santa Monica Pier, students that dare to take the plunge can spend up to two hours flying through the air, doing back flips, hanging off the trapeze bar, and even performing stunts that will have the circus calling. The best part is, no prior experience is necessary, so it’s perfect for beginners.
With expert trainers as your guides, you will learn the ropes (literally) of the rig, the dos and don’ts of the trapeze and how to follow instructions to perfectly time your moves. After that, it’s straight onto the pedestal board that’s high enough to give you stunning views over coastal Santa Monica. Standing up there can be a bit unnerving, but, once you get the hang of it, there really is no better feeling. Soon, you’ll be itching to climb the ladder to the top for your next turn to do tricks and turns that only hours ago seemed impossible
Big Bear Lake
Don’t let the name intimidate you; think of it more like your chubby, genial uncle welcoming you home for the holidays with a… bear hug. Home of the 1850s gold rush and more than a fair share of grizzlies, it’s the four-season mountain resort town that has Southern Californians coming back year after year.
3 SNOWBOARD DOWN BEAR MOUNTAIN
If we’re being completely honest with ourselves, snowboarding is a bit of an alien concept to most of us. Sure, we’ve seen it happen, we know how it works (sort of), but, when it comes to actually doing it, we’re a bit at sea. This is where Big Bear Mountain Resorts comes to the rescue. At a towering elevation of up to 2,743m above sea level, Bear Mountain and the surrounding little town are any snowsports enthusiast’s dream come true. It’s a short drive out from Los Angeles (two hours), meaning you can just hop over for a night if you haven’t much time. The San Bernardino national forest cradles this hamlet, and draws people all year round for its host of activities. Go fishing, horse riding, kayaking, and even gold mining here, since the area was once a mecca for prospectors in the late 1800s.
But the real draw is during winter, when the peaks are layered with feet of soft, powdery snow, perfect for sliding down on a board (or your rear, whichever suits you best). If you haven’t got any gear, Goldsmith’s Sports rents out all you need to get started.
Bear Mountain has the largest beginner area in the region, so, if you’re just starting out, there’s plenty of room for you to find your snowfeet. Take a lesson with a pro teacher before you venture out on your own. Once you’ve mastered the technique, there’s also a whole network of groomed powder trails to catch some big air.
4 CRAWL OVER ROCKS IN A JEEP
There’s something about driving a Jeep that feels cool. Throw an off-road, rock-filled forest trail into the mix and the feeling of coolness goes up a few notches. If it’s always been a dream of yours to get behind the wheel of one of these all-terrain beasts, consider adding Big Bear to your itinerary. With kilometre after kilometre of outback trail in the Big Bear Valley, you’ll have the chance to put the car and your driving skills to the test with Big Bear Jeep Experience. To make things more challenging, the trails are dotted with rocks and boulders that look like they were put there just to tip your vehicle over. With careful instructions from your guide, squeeze through impossible gaps between boulders and crawl over rocks at acute angles that will have you summoning your 6th grade math problems. “If Rohan drives his car between two rocks at an 80° angle at 5kmph, how long before he topples over like a turtle?” But don’t worry, the Jeep JKs can handle a lot, so, you’ll be pretty safe in one of those things. All you need is a valid driver’s licence and you’re good to go.
Along the way, your guide will give you tidbits of information about the surrounding valley, like how it attracted a host of gold prospectors in the 1850s and ’60s from all over the country. Or how the area was once dotted with big grizzly bears, which is how the place got its name. The company even conducts night drives, if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary.