Sunny beaches, towering redwoods, snowy peaks, desert oases...California

The moment you arrive in the Golden State, you may suspect you’ve been cast as the ingenue in a road-trip movie. Everything seems staged for a script riddled with exclamation points: no way are they going to surf those skyscraper-sized waves at Mavericks! That can’t be the Terminator in the governor’s mansion – in his second term! Brrrrrrr...don’t all those naked people ever get cold?!
Even if you’ve seen it on TV, California still comes as a shock to the system. The Venice Beach's skateboarders, San Francisco's same-sex-wedding planners, Santa Cruz's wild-mushroom hunters, Rodeo Dr-pillaging trophy wives and cheerful San Diego's doomsday cult members aren’t on different channels. They live here.

Unless you want to stir up old NorCal/SoCal rivalries dating from the 19th century – a diverting local pastime when played with good sports – don’t get Californians started about water. NorCal scolds SoCal for watering its lawns and filling its pools with water piped in from the Sierras, while SoCal points out that NorCal shouldn’t talk with its mouth full of organic veggies grown in the Sierras-irrigated Central Valley.
You might not get a word in edgewise when it comes to technology or the environment – but listen up, because those wild Californian ideas might become the next big thing. California’s technological innovations need no introduction – perhaps you’ve heard of PCs, iPods, Google and the internet?
Once you get the hang of California’s improvised lifestyle, you’ll notice that plot devices aren’t necessary to get Californians to act out. On the contrary, movies can’t begin to capture how Californians behave when there are no cameras on. The Sierra Nevada Gold Rush, San Francisco’s Summer of Love, the LA punk scene, Silicon Valley high-tech booms: no screenwriter could make this stuff up, no matter how talented. Like any Hollywood blockbuster based on a great work of fiction, movies about California can’t compare to the original. But don’t just sit back and enjoy the show – California is the place to take part and make a scene. Other places on the planet have their wow factor, but there’s only one region that so consistently merits the delighted disbelief of a long, drawn-out ‘Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuude!’