Anaheim

Anaheim, the 10th largest city in California, is synonymous with Disneyland, which opened in 1955 on the site of a former orange grove and changed the city's profile forever. Disney's Magic Kingdom soon became the most-visited place in all of North America. It is continually expanding and updating its facilities. Together, the two Disney parks draw nearly 50 million visitors a year.

Disneyland is still the primary must-see attraction for families with children. The park has greatly expanded since its launch in 1954. Divided into themed sections, it can fill days of fun-filled exploration. Tomorrowland offers some of the most popular spots, including 3-D Star Tours, the Haunted Mansion and the Space Mountain roller coaster. Other favorites are the Indiana Jones Adventure, Matterhorn Bobsleds, the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and Pirates of the Caribbean. Mickey's new Soundsational Parade gives regulars a reason to return, and the nightly fireworks can be seen for miles.

The Fastpass system cuts waiting time for popular rides. If there's a long line, you can scan your admission ticket into a machine that issues you a time-stamped pass for the next available turn. This allows you to visit other attractions and then return at your designated ride time. The Package Check Service lets you check your purchases at various locations so your hands can be free for fun.

Adjacent to Disneyland, California Adventure is a smaller theme park debuted its new 12-acre/5-hectare expansion at the beginning of summer 2012, including Cars Land; fans of Lightning McQueen and Luigi are in for a treat. There are three new rides, as well as a host of improvements and a new Ghirardelli chocolate shop.

Visitors can also tour a 1940s art-deco Hollywood back lot; visit a Northern California winery in a Spanish mission; take a virtual aerial tour of California (Soarin' Over California); watch the 3-D movie It's Tough to Be a Bug ; and experience the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride. The interactive Toy Story Mania! invites you to don your 3-D glasses and explore the world of Woody and Buzz Lightyear. Entertainment includes Block Party Bash and Turtle Talk with Crush.

Restaurants abound, including some that are reminiscent of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Still, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Anaheim. The city has completed a US$5 billion investment anchoring Anaheim to Downtown Disney and The Shops at Anaheim GardenWalk shopping, dining and entertainment districts, as well as the Anaheim Convention Center. Despite the economic downturn in California, investment in Anaheim has continued at a brisk pace. Knott's Berry Farm, a few miles/kilometers northwest in Buena Park, adds another dimension to the theme park motif.

Sports fans will also find favor in this city that is home to two notable professional sports teams: the MLB Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; and perhaps the quirkiest team in the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks.

San Diego

San Diego, California, is sunny and mild—not just in weather, but in personality, as well. This is a place where the people are friendly and the insects don't bite. To top it off, San Diego is blessed with considerable natural beauty: broad, gorgeous beaches on its west side, creviced canyons on the east, and sweet-smelling tropical flowers everywhere.

A quintessential U.S. Navy town, San Diego has also boomed in recent years. While new buildings have sprung up all over, the trendy downtown neighborhood, the Gaslamp Quarter, plus such nearby attractions as Balboa Park, continue to pull in locals and tourists alike.

North of downtown San Diego, in La Jolla, prestigious scientific research institutes with names such as Salk and Scripps attract top researchers, while the glorious beaches still draw surfers and sun-worshippers in droves. Unfortunately, this growth has brought traffic—San Diego highway congestion can rival Los Angeles at morning and evening rush hours.

The greater San Diego area is actually a series of individual towns, each with its own personality. La Jolla is San Diego's answer to Beverly Hills. Coronado, a pristine spit of land connected to downtown by the Coronado Bay Bridge, has the palatial Hotel del Coronado and broad avenues running past Victorian homes; it is also home to several aircraft carriers.

Then there are San Diego's beaches: Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla Cove, Del Mar and many more.

San Diego's is also home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, and certainly, SeaWorld and Legoland California are top visitor attractions. Plan to see them all, but don't forget that there are many other sightseeing experiences waiting for you in this hospitable city. San Diego's showplace is Balboa Park, which is at the top of our list of best parks in the world. It has been called the "Smithsonian of the West" because it is the largest museum complex west of the Mississippi, it contains more than a dozen museums.

Walk through the Gaslamp Quarter downtown—a 16-block National Historic District with beautifully restored Victorian buildings (some date from the Civil War) housing more than 100 retailers and another 100 restaurants and nightclubs.

At the northern edge of centra l San Diego is the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, near the site of California's first European settlement. It has several restored structures and museums (including a working blacksmith), as well as restaurants featuring margaritas and mariachis, galleries and shops.

San Francisco

San Francisco, California, is a world-class destination, a favorite of international travelers and domestic tourists alike. An unmatched spectrum of dining experiences, first-class cultural events, exceptional scenery and a pleasant climate combine for an enjoyable visit. Tourism is its prime industry, and the city has a thriving convention business that keeps its hotels and restaurants busy throughout the year.

You'll find San Francisco one of the world's most scenic cities—it's all the images and ideas come to life: the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Chinatown, pastel Victorian houses, steep hills, extraordinary restaurants, earthquakes. See the white-capped waters of San Francisco Bay, eat crab cakes along Fisherman's Wharf, attend a game with one of the Bay Area teams—the 49ers or the Giants. The roller-coaster landscape of hilly streets, the diverse population, and the spectacular setting on San Francisco Bay charm visitors from all over the world.

Start by viewing the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park and walking down one of the most crooked streets in the world (Lombard). Explore some art museums and one of the world's most innovative, hands-on science museums. Stop by one of the country's few fortune-cookie factories, too.

The whole waterfront area has undergone a complete structural renaissance, starting with its rebuilding following Loma Prieta, the massive earthquake that tore up the Bay Area in 1989, and finishing with the construction of AT&T Park, the Giants' stadium.

What makes San Francisco even more appealing is that it's the nucleus of the larger Bay Area, whose many sights and activities augment San Francisco's beauty and culture. Among the choices are the giant redwoods of Muir Woods, the charming bayside city of Sausalito (with its slew of art galleries and inviting cafes), and the collegiate atmospheres of Palo Alto (Stanford) and Berkeley (University of California, Berkeley). Strolling along the northernmost stretch of Berkeley's lively Telegraph Avenue—lined with ethnic eateries, eclectic shops, used-book stores, record outlets, and colorful street stalls selling handmade jewelry and tie-dyed T-shirts—makes for a memorable day of browsing.

Los Angeles

The nation's second most-populous city (after New York), Los Angeles is a great place in which to do business or take a vacation. Los Angeles' marvelous restaurants, terrific nightlife, sunny beaches, diverse cultural offerings, amusement parks and easygoing attitudes converge in a vast Southern California landscape flooded with sunshine and lined with palms. Visitors should see Los Angeles at least once, though a single visit will hardly be enough to appreciate such a large area jam-packed

Los Angeles is a city of visual delights. It has more museums—and more major museums—than any other U.S. city. It's worth a trip there just to tour the impressive Getty Center in Brentwood. Situated on a hilltop and enjoying a commanding view of the area, the billion-dollar repository of fine art merges priceless collections with stunning architecture and impressive gardens. The original Getty Villa in Malibu houses antiquities in a beautiful location.

Downtown, a stroll through Olvera Street, the birthplace of LA, is essential, as is the ascent of Bunker Hill, once the city's most fashionable place to live. At the top are the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), with striking temporary exhibitions and permanent collections. The impressive Rafael Moneo-designed cathedral, Our Lady of the Angels, is worth visiting. The Museum of Neon Art, one of the few of its kind, has reopened in a larger location in the middle of downtown.

Of course, the traditional LA icons are still in place. The starstruck will want to cruise the revitalized Hollywood Boulevard (in Hollywood), where throngs of tourists match their hand- and footprints to those stars in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. A drive down the Sunset Strip is a visual adventure filled with giant billboards, boutique shops and hip hotels.

Some tourists like to visit the stars of yesterday in such lush cemeteries as Forest Lawn, Westwood and Hollywood Forever Cemetery. And a must for first-time visitors is Universal City, home of Universal Studios, and the adjacent Universal CityWalk, a colorful four-block area of shops and restaurants in the San Fernando Valley, north of downtown. You could easily spend a day there.

While you're checking off highlights, take time to savor experiences that don't make the guidebooks: the view from a downtown high-rise or sidewalk cafe, the murals that tell the story of the city's people, the architecture that reflects dozens of languages and eras, and the people themselves—as friendly, diverse and cosmopolitan a crowd as you're likely to find anywhere.


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