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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.
The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees