Exploring California with Liz Hamill Scott

1. Known as the Golden State, in your opinion, what makes California so great?

To me, California is great because it’s so unbelievably diverse. Whether you love night clubbing, cutting edge cuisine, world class museums, rock climbing, desert wildflower walks, surfing, volcanoes, rivers, cityscapes…California has it all, and then some.

2. What do you consider to be the top three beaches in California?

I think this is the hardest question. So many beaches to choose from, and all so different! Do you love the broad flat sun-drenched sands of SoCal, or the rocky, foggy, nature-at-its-best cliffside beaches of Northern California?

  1. Southern California: Venice Beach. This iconic long strip of sand has everything a visitor could want in a California beach. Sunshine, surf, concessions, a crazy crowded boardwalk, and the occasional celebrity sighting. Come for the boardwalk sideshow, stay for the lovely weather!
  2. Central California: Cowell Beach is one of the top cold-water surfing spots in the state. Friendly to beginners, but interesting enough to tempt lifetime longboarders, Cowell exemplifies the surfer spirit of California.
  3. Northern California: Glass Beach in Fort Bragg draws collectors from around the world to its beach-glass strewn sands. The best time for picking up ocean-polished chips of glass torn from an old landfill is after a good storm.

3. How would you describe “California cuisine”?

Fresh. Homemade. Sustainable. Innovative. Audacious. Delicious. Upscale “California cuisine” tends to involve oversized white service plates upon which perch carefully constructed towers of fancy foods. California cuisine chefs highlight the local producers of specific ingredients, especially those who use organic, biodynamic, and sustainable methods to raise their foods. But to me, “California cuisine” can also mean a fabulous, yet affordable, ethnic specialty that’s prepared with special attention to quality. Whether it’s a chicken mole simmered all night following someone’s Mexican grandma’s recipe, or fresh-from-scratch buttermilk biscuits smothered in house-made sausage gravy, California cuisine distinguishes itself by simply tasting good.

4. In your opinion, what are California’s best kept secrets?

1) Many great wine-tasting experiences can be experienced outside the Napa Valley. Some great, but lesser known, wine regions include Paso Robles, Carmel Valley, Amador County, the Anderson Valley, and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

2) You don’t have to hock your car to get a great meal here. Look beyond the high-end haute cuisine restaurants to the tiny ethnic and traditional enclaves that the locals favor. Grab a burrito, a bowl of pho, or even some great barbecue—for under $10 per person!

3) Fall (Sept-Oct) is the best time to visit the beaches, not summer. This is especially true in Northern California, where fog socks in the sands in summertime. Come autumn, after the fog has gone but before the winter storms start in earnest, the Northern and Central Coast regions show off all their most beautiful facets.

5. What museums in California should not be missed?

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has an amazing and often-missed collection of fine and decorative arts. While you’re in the area, swing by the Page Museum to learn about the contents of the adjacent La Brea Tar Pits. San Francisco’s new deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park has great permanent Modern Art collections and attracts some of the world’s best traveling exhibits. Another iconic SF museum is the Asian Art Museum. The Tuolumne County Museum in Sonora offers some of the best local-history exhibits in the state. Check out the jail cells!

6. California is known for its accommodating weather and gorgeous landscapes. What is the best way to experience this firsthand?

The best way to experience the fabulous climate and landscape is to become a part of it, literally. Get out and take a walk. Feel the warm breeze on your skin, smell the wildflowers, taste the salty Pacific air, listen to the native birds or the hum of traffic, and see the wonders that surround you. Stroll down an urban beachside trail in SoCal, hike the trails in one of the dozens of State and National Parks, hoof it from shop to theater to restaurant in downtown San Francisco, or comb the beaches from one end of the state to the other.

7. How would you describe the differing spirits of Northern California and Southern California?

The truth is, there are three distinct “Californias”. Southern California, the Greater Bay Area, and the rest of the state. Southern Californians live fast-paced lives dominated by image and who-knows-who. The Greater Bay Area is famous for its great cuisine and wine, and its trend-setting progressive politics. Compared with SoCal, the Bay Area has a more relaxed vibe, with more emphasis on what you do than who you know. The rest of California will feel more familiar to folks visiting from other parts of the country. The rural regions and lesser cities have a more conservative, small-town culture than the densely populated Bay Area and SoCal regions.

8. What’s one thing about California that visitors would be surprised to know?

It snows here. In fact, California has whole regions that get serious snowstorms all winter long. The winter Olympics were held at Lake Tahoe in California in 1968. You can ski at the Olympic resort, now the luxurious all-inclusive Squaw Valley Village. Upcountry Yosemite and Mt. Lassen are largely inaccessible from November through May of each year, due to heavy snow and powerful winter storms. Be sure to check road conditions before you head out on a winter road trip to California’s back country.


Maps of California

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