When choosing a travel destination, there’s often that initial question: Should we go domestic or international? International destinations are exotic, escapist, and can encourage us to step out of our comfort zones. But so can domestic destinations. And they are less complicated to get to, so it’s not an easy choice to make.

If you’ve landed on domestic, my suggestion for a must-explore U.S. destination in 2016 is the state of California, where you can either plug in to city life or tune out in a wealth of natural landscapes. The number of attractions in California seems nearly endless. Even as a Californian, I can forget just how much this state has to offer—and what a luxury it can be to simply jump in a car (rented or owned) and explore.

Here are just a few things to see throughout the Golden State that I hope will inspire your adventures in 2016.

Big-city life

California’s most popular cities among travelers are full of entertainment, outdoor fun, and lively food scenes. In San Francisco, finally take that picture in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, stroll the streets of walkable neighborhoods like the Castro, and dine in some of the Mission’s many inspired restaurants. In Los Angeles, traverse the city, experience food and culture from around the world, go wine tasting in Malibu, and see an outdoor concert at the Hollywood Bowl. In San Diego, travelers of all ages will have fun, but it is especially equipped for families. The San Diego Zoo, LEGOLAND® California Resort, and other kid-centric attractions turn parents into heroes daily.

Inland nature

Get out of those bigger metropolises and the state becomes a nature lover’s haven, full of legendary parks. In California, there are 127 state and national parks, as well as numerous protected forests and recreational areas. Since 2016 will mark the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, celebrate with a getaway to one of these amazing natural spaces. Yosemite National Park in Northern California is known for awe-inspiring cliffs of granite and thundering waterfalls. South of there, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to thick swatches of giant sequoia trees as well as the highest peak on the U.S. mainland. In Death Valley, an otherworldly, desert landscape is bequeathed with sand dunes, salt plains, deep canyons, and shaded oases. The list of parks goes on and on with an impressive array of forest, mountain, and desert landscapes.

Mammoth Lakes Resorts


From sea to mountain slopes

One of the most famous attractions in California is, of course, the beach. In Southern California, sprawling shores teem with culture near beach towns and surfing hubs. Get off the shore for sailing and yachting adventures, whale watching, and water-sports fun. And visit islands like the hip-and-happening Catalina Island, as well as the rest of the protected Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. In the north, rocky cliffs descend into the sea creating jaw-dropping vistas. Big Sur and Carmel are perfect places to experience these stunning scenes. You can also visit Point Reyes National Seashore where you can hike, canoe, horseback ride, and enjoy the beach all in a protected natural area.

Viewfinder Tip: California is the ultimate road-trip state. Pick a general region and explore by car from attraction to attraction.

One of the most outstanding luxuries of Southern California is that one can start the day on the sunny shores of the Pacific and be speeding down snowy peaks on skis by the afternoon. This feat is easily achieved with ski resorts such as Big Bear Mountain Resorts, one of the closest to Southern California beaches. Other impressive mountains in California include Heavenly Mountain Resort near Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley Ski Resort, and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. Don’t forget that off seasons are also fun times to visit ski resorts as the mountains are primed for hiking and biking, and water activities in thawed lakes can be refreshing.

California’s awesome landscapes, dynamic cities, and mild weather make it an easy destination for a much-needed getaway in 2016. So what are you waiting for?

What’s your go-to destination for 2016?