A California Tasting

 
 

Ashley Ricks
Published November 14, 2018

There’s no place quite like Hollywood and no state quite like California.

Whether it’s the draw of its wine country, the natural beauty of Yosemite and the Pacific coastline or the starlit glamour of Hollywood, California offers a menu of appealing travel experiences you can’t get anywhere else.

Here are five iconic California tours, each offering intimate access to some of the Golden State’s most famed destinations.

Yosemite National Park

For outdoor enthusiasts, no trip to California would be complete without a visit to Yosemite National Park, where the breathtaking beauty of the natural landscape is matched only by the vast array of ways to get out and enjoy it. Guests can hike, raft, bike and in the winter months, even ski and snow tube the terrain that so inspired legendary photographer Ansel Adams and others.

At the height of the summer travel season, scheduling group tours in Yosemite can be challenging, if not impossible. But during the fall and winter months, Yosemite Hospitality can easily accommodate large groups for guided bus tours of the Yosemite Valley. Overnight groups can arrange lodging at one of the four main hotels in the national park, including the Yosemite Valley Lodge, just steps away from picturesque Yosemite Falls, or the more upscale and historic Majestic Yosemite Hotel, built in 1927. For the more adventurous overnighter, the park also offers rustic, canvas tent cabins at Half Dome Village.

“Our team of hospitality naturalists can work with groups to arrange anything from a private guided hike on a trail in the park to a starry-skies evening program in Yosemite, which is a very popular option,” said Lisa Cesaro, marketing manager for Yosemite Hospitality. “We often have groups that work with us to schedule a hike to the top of Yosemite Falls, for example, and our guides are able to not just lead them on the trip but also talk with them about the park and its history along the way.”

Yosemite is a true year-round attraction, and winter is an ideal time to visit.

“We have California’s original ski area in the park,” Cesaro said. “It’s the oldest ski area in California, built in 1935. We can do group bookings for lift tickets, rentals and even lessons.”

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel offers occasional food- and wine-tasting events during the winter months, and free shuttles from park accommodations make access to the ski zone easy.

www.travelyosemite.com

A Day in LA Tours

Los Angeles

Strolling down the Hollywood Walk of Fame and past the boutiques of Rodeo Drive is high on most California visitors’ must-do lists.

The seven-hour guided tour of Los Angeles offered by A Day in LA Tours lets groups enjoy all the highlights of the City of Angels without having to navigate the city’s notoriously challenging traffic on their own.

The daylong excursion hits all the city’s high points: Venice Beach, the Santa Monica Pier, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive and Hollywood are just a few of the famous stops.

A Day in LA Tours has a fleet of 50-seat buses and can accommodate large groups of up to 300. “With our large groups, we usually have ample time to plan and customize exactly what they want to see,” said Kevin Silberman, president of the tour company. “Most of our tours start at the beach, where guests will see the Santa Monica Pier and the end of Route 66, which is a very iconic spot.”

The itinerary also includes some self-guided walking, with about 45 minutes of sightseeing time at most stops. “We do our best to make sure people have time to get off the bus and aren’t just stuck in their seats all day,” Silberman said.

Tours typically allow guests a midday lunch break at Los Angeles’ famed Original Farmers Market, itself a historic site, having opened in 1934. The tours also build in ample time for attendees to find their favorite stars and take photos along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, along with other famous spots.

Guests can visit Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the site of movie legends’ handprints and footprints, as well as the Dolby Theatre, home to the Oscars, during the Hollywood Boulevard stop. And the bus stop at the Griffith Park or Mulholland Drive overlook offers picture-perfect views of the iconic Hollywood sign.

Large tours can be tailored to meet the needs of the group, and multiday itineraries are available.

www.adayinlatours.com

Local Roots Food Tours

Sacramento

In 2012, Sacramento branded itself America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, and there’s ample justification for the claim.

“We have a thriving food scene, and the branding was really the edification of something that has been going on in Sacramento for years,” said Dawnie Andrak, owner of Local Roots Food Tours, which offers a culinary walking tour of the city. “We are in close proximity to lots of local farms and producers, and it is very easy in Sacramento to put together a meal entirely from ingredients sourced within 50 to 100 miles from here.”

Local Roots offers three different walking tour packages, each three hours long and dedicated to exploring and tasting the cuisine and history of a particular section of the city. Private, customizable itineraries of shorter lengths are also available, and Andrak’s team can work with groups of up to 200.

“We tend to highlight locally owned establishments on our tours,” said Andrak. “We like to feature folks who have seasonal menus who are changing their menus based on what is in season and available so we know that they’re supporting local producers and local farmers.”

Each tour includes five to six stops, and at each one, tour patrons can enjoy an appetizer-sized sample of the chef’s creations. “Nobody goes away hungry,” said Andrak.

The guided, group format helps make it easy for those who are not natives to experience the shining stars in Sacramento’s food scene without having to ferret them out for themselves.

Mayahuel, a Mexican restaurant that also touts itself as a tequila museum, is a favorite stop among guests, as is local spice shop The Allspicery.

“We have so many wonderful local restaurants in Sacramento that are sometimes hidden gems,” said Andrak. “At times we even get feedback from locals after a tour saying, ‘I didn’t know about this place, but I will definitely be back.’”

www.localrootsfoodtours.com

Silver City Ghost Town

Bodfish

At Silver City Ghost Town in the Kern River Valley, visitors come to appreciate the dual meaning of the term “ghost town.” The town features 21 historic buildings, dating from the late 19th century to the early 1920s.

Rumor has it that the assembled village of quaint, abandoned California mining town buildings is haunted.

“We purchased the first half of the property in 1988, and I was a skeptic for seven years until I saw what looked like a person peeling back the curtains to look at me in a building I knew was locked with no one inside,” said owner J. Paul Corlew, who reopened Silver City as a tourist attraction in 1992 following years of abandonment.

Since then, Corlew and members of his family have had multiple paranormal experiences — including seeing spirits and witnessing items flying off shelves — which they happily recount to visitors on their occasional guided, nighttime ghost hunt tours and History Mystery Lantern Tours.

For those more interested in the site as a ghost town in the historic sense, self-guided tours of the property are available daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Informational signs offer insight into the origins and use of each building, all of which were gathered from within seven miles of the current site. Many still boast their original building signage, and all offer a firsthand look at California life during its peak mining boom days.

“We call ourselves a composite town because we’re a collection of buildings salvaged from historic mining towns located throughout Kern Valley,” Corlew said.

The original owner, Dave Mills, built Silver City in the late 1960s. “People were breaking into these abandoned buildings and destroying them, and he wanted to bring them here to preserve them,” Corlew said.

www.silvercityghosttown.com

Wine Tours

Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley

Any dream trip to California would be incomplete without a day in the state’s famous wine country. To enjoy the intimate quality of many of the wineries in Napa and Sonoma, traveling with small groups of under 20 is ideal, said Bill Kim, general manager of California Tours Inc., which offers several guided Wine Country tour options.

Many of the wineries limit tour and tastings reservations to about 20 at a time, so when working with larger tour groups, Kim often encourages them to break into smaller groups using multiple buses. “One group will do one tasting at a winery while the other will go to a different winery nearby, and then we just flip it — so both groups get to do both tours,” he said.

Kim works with tour planners to learn their group’s wine preferences, which helps him decide what wineries to visit. 

“Everyone has a different desire for their wine and the flavors that they enjoy,” he said. “So I ask a lot of questions to learn their background and interests so we can customize the best destinations for them.”

While catering to the group’s preferences, Kim also said he hopes to be able to introduce visitors to California wines they’ve never experienced before.

www.california-tour.com