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Dreaming of a trip to California? Stretching for nearly 900 miles along the Pacific, the Golden State is massive — home to theme parks and national parks, sprawling cities and tiny rural towns. Whether you’re traveling with the entire family or looking for a quiet, private retreat, there’s more than one way to have vacation in California.
To help you plan the perfect California getaway, we spoke to a variety of travel experts, including points and miles gurus and budget-conscious backpackers. The result? Four awesome ways to experience this diverse and beautiful destination.
The arduous 16-mile roundtrip hike up Half Dome is the pinnacle of a visit to Yosemite National Park. The trek climbs more than a mile vertically, including a summit ascent so steep you need cables to pull yourself to the top. Climbers, however, are rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of the Yosemite Valley. Permits are only issued for summer dates through a lottery that opens in March. Demand is extremely high, so apply for up to seven dates (midweek days have a higher acceptance rate). The application fee is $10 plus an additional $10 per permit if you’re selected. An additional permit lottery is held two days in advance of the hiking day. If you’d like to get a head start to beat the bottleneck at the cables, apply for a wilderness permit to camp in Little Yosemite Valley. The lottery for wilderness permits opens 24 weeks in advance, but has to be entered via fax (seriously). A handful of last-minute permits are also available from the Yosemite Valley Wilderness Center on a first-come, first-served basis the day before the hike. Confirmed reservations cost $5, plus $5 per person, and entrance to Yosemite National Park is $35 per vehicle — not a bad value for a trip to California.
The Family Getaway
Disneyland in Anaheim, California is one of the most quintessential family vacation destinations. For 45,000 Marriott points per night, travelers with tots in tow can stay right across the street at the Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance. The property is just a five-minute walk from Disneyland (as its name suggests) and, if the famous theme park just isn’t enough, travelers can take advantage of the hotel’s own on-site waterpark. Ideal for families with young children, the Courtyard rooms even feature bunk beds. Continue the adventure by taking your little flyers (aspiring pilots as young as 11) to the nearby Flightdeck Flight Simulation Center where they can pretend to jump in the cockpit of a Boeing 737 or a fighter jet.
Looking for a California vacation paid for with your hard-earned points? Just south of San Francisco (SFO), The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay is famous for being one of the most picturesque (and most expensive) properties in the Ritz portfolio. It boasts a beautiful oceanside location, and onsite amenities include an open-air terrace (where you can roast s’mores) and two championship golf courses. Award nights start at 60,000 points — an especially great deal, when you consider that the hotel’s cash rates typically range from $700 to $1,000. Getting to SFO with points and miles is easy, too. All the major carriers fly here, and American and United economy awards start at just 12,500 miles one-way. Southwest is another great option for travelers with a Companion Pass.
The Stylish Retreat
Palm Springs, California has long been a decidedly trendy spot for Southern California-bound travelers (there’s even been a $400 million downtown revitalization project designed to keep it that way). It’s an attractive desert destination filled with striking examples of mid-century modern architecture like the flying saucer-esque Bob Hope House and sharp-edged Palm Springs Tramway. Another must-see? The so-called Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway at Ladera Circle — originally known as the House of Tomorrow — which offers daily guided tours. Bed down at the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs Hotel, which opened at the end of 2017. Playing homage to the area’s aesthetic, guests will discover spaces filled with mid-century furnishings — though the rooftop pool is the property’s crown jewel.
With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
- Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. restaurants. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X).
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with The Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, and Ruth's Chris Steak House. This is an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
- $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
- Choose to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges of $100 or more.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Annual Fee is $250.
- Terms apply.
- See Rates & Fees