1. San Francisco
At the Ferry Building Marketplace on the Embarcadero, enjoy a culinary wonderland, with organic produce and excellent dining. In the Presidio, stretch your legs along the bay front from Crissy Field to Fort Point, under the Golden Gate Bridge. Downtown, check out over 200 stores at Westfield San Francisco.

2. Gilroy
Let the kids play at the Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park. For top brands such as Polo ralph lauren, visit Gilroy Premium Outlets. In July, the Gilroy Garlic Festival lays on food and entertainment to celebrate a local crop.

3. Pinnacles national monument
View spectacular scenery while hiking amid rock spires and caves, the remains of an ancient volcano. Keep binoculars handy to spy north America's largest bird, the extremely rare California condor.

4. Ventura
Head south to take a surf ng lesson, go whale-watching (December to March is best), or catch a boat to the remote and beautiful Channel Islands national Park.

5. Santa Barbara
Head back up the coast to visit this exquisite oceanfront city. Visit the lively pier, then check out the aquarium at the Ty Warner Sea Center. Enjoy ultra-fresh seafood (fried calamari is excellent) at The Endless Summer Bar-Cafe.

6. Pismo Beach
Stop at the California Welcome Center to ask about the "butterfly trees" at Monarch Butterfly Grove (late October to February) and for additional tips about coastal attractions, shopping and dining ideas.

7. San Luis Obispo
Visit low-key wineries in the rolling hills surrounding this relaxed university town. Its excellent restaurants include Cafe roma for Italian fare and the Firestone Grill (great tri-tip steak sandwiches).

8. Hearst Castle/San Simeon
Tour William Randolph Heart's lavish estate, with 165 rooms filled with artwork in palacelike buildings surrounded by gardens (guided tours only; book well in advance).

9. Big Sur
One of the world's great drives and an American Scenic Byway, the Big Sur Coast Highway traces a thrilling route across nearly vertical cliffs plunging to the Pacific. Plan a stop at Point Sur lighthouse, spectacularly perched on a huge mound of volcanic rock jutting offshore.

10. Monterey
Marvel at swirling sea life in floor-to-ceiling glass tanks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Stroll down Cannery row, made famous by author John Steinbeck, now a shopping district.

11. Santa Cruz
Brave the Giant Dipper rollercoaster and other rides at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, fronted by a wide and beautiful beach. For fun California fashions, visit surf shops and other boutiques lining the pretty Pacific Avenue.