Stunning places in California
November 11, 2016 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Seeking comfort and beauty. Can you recommend beautiful spots to visit in California? I'm looking for excessively, stunningly beautiful places. Bonus points if they are peaceful.

I clicked a link to this "Tree Cathedral" in Italy and it made me realize I would like to focus on something beautiful right now.

Natural beauty and manmade beauty are both welcome. I like the idea of visiting these places and taking some time to let them sink in (a few hours or a few days). Kind of like visiting a place of worship. Links and pictures would be appreciated.

I'm interested in places that are open to the public, and private places that might require reservations (like The Tree Nest ).
posted by sweetjane to Travel & Transportation around California (38 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
Does it matter if it is north or south? Lake Tahoe comes to mind immediately.
posted by kmr at 10:49 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can go lie on my back in a Redwood "Cathedral Grove" for quite a while. Those formations occur in pretty much any growth of redwoods, though you have to get away from Muir Woods to find one that's little enough traveled to be peaceful. One of the state parks down near Santa Cruz, or Roy's Redwoods in Marin, are both places to spend some time looking up through the needles.

Man-made, the Sea Ranch Chapel is worth a visit and probably has some of what you're looking for.

(I'm deliberately avoiding any of the obvious National Parks & such)
posted by straw at 10:49 AM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

We spent some time exploring the twenty lakes basin at Saddlebag, which for me is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
posted by dowcrag at 10:58 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're okay with maybe being cold and wet, the Lost Coast. Bring everything you need to stay warm and dry in the case of a massive winter storm. Also make sure you have a schedule of tides so you don't get trapped by the water. Walk up the black sand beach until you can't see any people.
posted by a sourceless light at 11:02 AM on November 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

Big Sur.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 11:13 AM on November 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

Half Moon Bay in San Mateo county is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline I've seen in California - and I've been up and down the coast of the entire state more times than I can count on two hands and feet.
posted by Everydayville at 11:22 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Point Lobos is reliably fantastic and easily accessible.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:26 AM on November 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon (closed till spring) and Pinnacles National Parks!
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 11:34 AM on November 11, 2016

I love Death Valley. I've been all over and around it, it's all pretty stunning. If you approach from the direction of Lake Isabel you can take a little detour and also see some awesome redwood forest.
posted by jbenben at 11:37 AM on November 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh please go to Treebones in Big Sur! Magical and peaceful.
posted by EtTuHealy at 11:40 AM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'll second Death Valley and Point Lobos. Actually there are quite a few places around the Monterey Bay area that are quite scenic. Saw a Great White shark while diving at Point Lobos once. Maybe not the scenery you were looking for...
posted by elendil71 at 12:02 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding Death Valley.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 12:04 PM on November 11, 2016

Cuffey's Cove up by Mendocino.
posted by notquitemaryann at 12:05 PM on November 11, 2016

So many places to see!
* The Marin Headlands, though it's certainly not peaceful due to all of the people and car traffic.
* Twin Peaks
* Alamere Falls at Point Reyes
* Glacier Point in Yosemite (along with the rest of Yosemite)
* Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, along with Point Lobos and the Bixby Bridge in the immediate area.
* Eagle Rock in Lake Tahoe, along with Emerald Bay.
* Big Trees State Park
* Devil's Postpile and the June Lakes Loop in fall.

Really, we could do this all day.
posted by cnc at 12:07 PM on November 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
posted by Tiny Bungalow at 12:42 PM on November 11, 2016

Armstrong Redwoods is a little farther north of Muir Woods, but just as beautiful and far less busy.

Also remember that it's November, so if you head anywhere east, pack your car and dress appropriately.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:42 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Death Valley. I remember stopping off the road somewhere between Panamint and Stovepipe just to drink in the silence. I've never been somewhere so very quiet, no birds, no wind, just the shimmering salt flats and the endless range for miles and miles in every direction. The sheer stillness was profoundly moving. It felt like worship to me.
posted by freya_lamb at 12:46 PM on November 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

The biggest trees in the world at sequoia and kings canyon. They're so incredibly large and so incredibly old; it's a really unique feeling just to be there.
posted by Gravel at 12:46 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've very fond of the Russian River valley between the coast and, say, Forest Hills (including the Guerneville area). Rent a kayak. Chill. The coast around the outlet of the Russian River is stunning, too. Wide, coastal horizons put me into a trancelike kind of peace. There are lots of trails in all these areas.

Sir Francis Drake Blvd. is more easily accessible from the SF Bay area. Between San Rafael and Olema, it passes through a relatively tight canyon, lined with parks and preserves and redwoods and camping.

I also love Napa-Bothe State Park. Even if you don't want to camp, you can come in as a day use visitor and hike the easy trail up Coyote Peak. The last time I did that hike (around Thanksgiving a couple years ago), I passed one person on the entire 2-3 hour loop. I climbed a huge pine tree near the top and sat there in silence looking out over the woods and valley below.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:48 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lake Arrowhead and the San Bernardino Forest. I have very fond tween memories of riding in the backseat, looking out at the majesty, while the soundtrack to "Chariots of Fire" played.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 1:23 PM on November 11, 2016

Not as majestic as some of these, but the Berkeley Botanical Garden is lovely and beautiful, and they're now offering free admission from 9-11 until November 30th.
posted by bookworm4125 at 2:48 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Joshua Tree National Monument. We were there in late October and were often alone on walks through the desert and in and around the magnificent rocks. Very beautiful and peaceful.
posted by Jackson at 3:06 PM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Does it matter if it is north or south?
North or south doesn’t matter. I live in Southern CA and I don’t mind the distance. I will be continuously revisiting this thread for trips of various lengths.

Wanted to add that specific destinations (like campgrounds, stopping points, specific trails) are awesome and very helpful. Also I love any type of ruins, like the cemetery at Cuffey’s Cove.

(Metafilter you are the best!)
posted by sweetjane at 3:35 PM on November 11, 2016

Lake Tahoe for sure. Mammoth and June Lakes area are amazing. In southern California Malibu is really pretty. As are areas of Santa Barbara, Ojai, and Solvang. But in general so much of California is visually amazing...from the mountains to the ocean.
posted by ljs30 at 3:38 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love Asilomar Conference Ground. Extraordinarily peaceful.
posted by guster4lovers at 3:44 PM on November 11, 2016

ljs30's mention of June Lake reminded me: It's been over a decade since I've been there, but this time of year (in between fishing season and ski season), it used to be cheap! And, yes, gorgeous and spectacular, especially a hike through the snow to the upper lakes.

(And on that trip you could also go by the tufa towers at Mono Lake)
posted by straw at 4:26 PM on November 11, 2016

There's something very soothing about watching the La Jolla seals at sunset.
posted by praemunire at 6:17 PM on November 11, 2016

Not exactly what you asked for, but I just saw a post that the roses are still in bloom at Huntington Gardens, so I'll suggest public gardens.
posted by soakimbo at 6:25 PM on November 11, 2016

excessively, stunningly beautiful places.

Mt. Shasta. Drive as far up the mountain as you can, and go during sunset.
posted by moons in june at 6:50 PM on November 11, 2016

Lava Beds National Monument up on the OR border. I've only been there in the winter. It's stunning, in an other-worldly kind of way.
posted by rtha at 7:46 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Minaret Lake, The Minarets, particularly Clyde Minaret which, if climbed by the southern route, has exactly one 5-grade pitch. Take the Shadow Lake trail, and at the foot of Clyde Minaret there are numerous small lakes that are a delight to see (though the water is about 33 F, no matter the season). Works between Memorial Day and Labor Day and be prepared for snow the day after Labor Day - ask me how I know....
posted by jet_silver at 7:52 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you are ok with cold and windy, Point Reyes is gorgeous and huge. At the very least you should plan on a full day there.
posted by aspo at 8:31 PM on November 11, 2016

If you're up to man-made places showing off natural beauty, the Monterey Bay Aquarium always has some amazing displays, and the bat-ray petting pool is a delight.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:38 PM on November 11, 2016

Alabama Hills.
posted by mollywas at 12:32 AM on November 12, 2016

Seconding Big Sur/Carmel/Monterey. Driving PH1 from SF to LA was soooo good for my soul.
posted by raider at 10:26 AM on November 12, 2016

I get the "place of worship" feeling a lot when I'm out in Anza Borrego. Specifically the Domelands and wind caves and a couple of Kumeyaay sites around Dos Cabezas (because they really were areas of worship). I especially like the Mortero Palms oasis. Bonus -- that link describes a hike that takes you to the longest wooden railroad trestle in the world. It's not exactly a ruin, but nothing runs on that line anymore, so it might still itch that scratch for you.
posted by natabat at 11:19 AM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Little Lakes / Rock Creek. Off of Highway 395 near Mammoth.

Also the Lassen wilderness near Shasta. Driving the national forest roads down from there to Tahoe without descending is amazing when it's not snowy, if you're not in a hurry.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:33 PM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lots of great suggestions uppost.

I would add a drive up Route 395 and forays into the Eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada in Sept/Oct. Gorgeous Fall colors.
posted by thaths at 2:07 AM on November 22, 2016

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