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David Baldacci to receive Lifetime Achievement Award from Library of Virginia

Best-selling author David Baldacci will receive this year’s Literary Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Virginia. The award, which recognizes outstanding and long-lasting contributions to literature by an author with Virginia ties, will be given at the library’s Literary Awards Celebration in October. Read more here.

Carnaval Dominicano: Masks, Traditions, and Culture

The single biggest celebration of culture in the Dominican Republic takes place during the month of February. Carnival celebrations unite Dominicans from all walks of life and of all ages as everyone takes to the streets as participant or spectator. Parades kick off in the country’s main regions and cities pre-Lent on the first Sunday of February. They continue every Sunday of the month, culminating with Independence Day festivities on February 27.

Carnival celebrations unite Dominicans from all walks of life and of all ages. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
Carnival celebrations unite Dominicans from all walks of life and of all ages. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

A tradition that dates back to the Spaniards, who brought it to the island in the 15th century, Carnaval Dominicano is the oldest carnival in the Caribbean region. It metamorphosed after contact with indigenous and African influences, as residents used it to make fun of the colonial masters in their elaborate costumes. Over the years, it turned into a Dominican version comprised of characters that tell the history, and folklore of the country’s various provinces, and reflect Dominicans’ mixed heritage. Diversity is indeed the cornerstone of Carnival in the DR. From the more Taíno influenced north coast costumes to the African influenced southwest, it’s a vibrantly cheerful part of the Dominican Republic’s history, culture, and people.

The cities with the oldest Carnival traditions in the country are Santo Domingo, La Vega, Santiago, Montecristi, and Cabral. Although former dictator Rafael Trujillo prioritized the “social carnivals” for the elite and created separation of the classes with private club performances, the Dominican people rose above and turned it into a celebration for all.

Each city or province has its main Carnival character: a limping devil or diablo cojuelo with respective masks. Why is it limping? The legend says that this devil was so mischievous that it was banished and pushed down to Earth, and left with an injured leg turned lame.

If you don’t see some form of devil at Carnival, you’re not in the Dominican Republic. In addition, parades include Dominican folklore personalities and comparsas groups in varying costumes, with specific messages that range from the comical to the political. No two parades will be the same, allowing you to hop around the entire month across the DR’s thirty-one provinces to see the range in roots and traditions.

Carnival ends the first Sunday in March with the grand Desfile Nacional, or National Parade in Santo Domingo—on the heels of Independence Day celebrations. The most popular Carnival devils and groups from the thirty-one provinces descend on the Malecón (the city’s seafront boulevard) and compete for national prizes. This final parade is the longest, most spectacular display of diversity and creative costumes you’ll see anywhere in the Caribbean. In 2016, over 170 groups paraded, from 2pm to about 9pm.

Below are thirteen of the main carnival characters from around the Dominican Republic, and the meaning behind the elaborate masks, costumes, and personalities of Carnaval Dominicano.

Dominican Republic Carnival Masks and Characters

La Vega’s Diablo Cojuelo

Diablo cojuelo (“limping devil”) is instantly recognized because of the exaggerated mask features with protruding eyes and teeth. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
Diablo cojuelo (“limping devil”) is instantly recognized because of the exaggerated mask features with protruding eyes and teeth. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Dating back to the 1500s, Carnaval de La Vega or Carnaval Vegano is the biggest, most vibrant carnival celebration in the Dominican Republic. Its principal character, the diablo cojuelo or limping devil, is instantly recognized because of the exaggerated mask features, with protruding eyes and teeth.

Dressed in a cloak, shiny shirt and broad trousers covered with bells, mirrors, and ribbons–all meant as a mockery of the Spanish medieval knights–the devils scare the crowd away with their giant masks and their whips. Each group of these limping devils from La Vega design and handcraft their masks every year, months ahead of Carnival, and hidden from the competitors.

Carnaval de La Vega is also one of the most commercially sponsored carnivals in the country. Masks have evolved over recent years to become more oriental and baroque in their features, which many criticize. But they still impress with their larger-than-life costumes as crowds spill all over the streets for one big, small-town party.

The Vejiga: The Devil’s Weapon

A defining characteristic across the country’s carnivals is the devils’ use of <em>vejigas</em>, which are made of a cow’s dried, inflated bladder, cured with lemon, ashes, and salt. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
A defining characteristic across the country’s carnivals is the devils’ use of vejigas, which are made of a cow’s dried, inflated bladder, cured with lemon, ashes, and salt. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

A defining characteristic across the country’s Carnivals is the devils’ use of vejigas, inflicting pain on anyone in their path. These aren’t your regular whips: they are made of a cow’s dried, inflated bladder, cured with lemon, ashes, and salt. They are so hard to the touch that anyone who receives a vejigazo on their buttocks may be bruised for weeks. Watch your behind! The sisal rope seen in this image is used by Santiago’s devils as an additional weapon; the Cachúas from Cabral also use their own version of a fouet.

La Vega’s Carnaval de La Boa

Carnaval de La Boa in La Vega. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
Carnaval de La Boa in La Vega. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Held in the morning, prior to the main La Vega Carnival a couple of streets away, is the less publicized Carnaval de La Boa. This is a traditional version of how Carnival used to be celebrated in La Vega 50 years ago–with simpler costumed devils with whips, who dance, leap, and pose with children. It stretches just one block, but is a popular pick for families.

Los Lechones of Santiago

Santiago’s reigning carnival characters are Los Lechones or “piglets”–devils in masks that resemble the face of a pig. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
Santiago’s reigning carnival characters are Los Lechones or “piglets”–devils in masks that resemble the face of a pig. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Carnaval de Santiago is the second most popular Carnival in the country after La Vega. It’s one of the most creative and colorful, and among the liveliest in crowd participation around the city’s iconic Restoration Heroes Monument. Santiago’s reigning carnival characters are the lechones or “piglets”—devils in masks that resemble the face of a pig (Santiago’s pork is renowned). They aren’t scary because of their tall horns, but rather have a curved, long snout. There are hundreds of participating lechones groups–with variances in their masks and costumes to denote their neighborhood.

The two most popular are Los Pepines, with tall, pointed snouts but smooth horns, and Los Joyeros, with masks that are spiked with numerous thorns. Their clothing is similar, and consists of a long-sleeved shirt and pants made of silk, adorned with sequins, beads, and mirrors, and fitted with a wide belt.

Santiago’s devils open up the parade as they were originally considered the guardians of carnival or vejigantes, warding off the crowds and keeping order in the streets.

Fear of the lechones is due to their signature fouet or sisal rope, which they swing mercilessly up in the air at high velocity above their heads, before it hits the ground with a loud bang. You will shudder at the sound of the air whistling above you. You don’t want to be within its range–remain behind the sidewalk barricades for safety. They also carry a vejiga in the other hand to swing at participants’ rear ends if they are in their way. Between cracking whips and hitting bottoms, the lechones dance a style of African dance, swinging their legs side to side and lunging forward.

Los Taimáscaros of Puerto Plata

Los Taimáscaros of Puerto Plata. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
Los Taimáscaros of Puerto Plata. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Puerto Plata’s most popular devil characters are Los Taimáscaros, made of the words Taíno and “mask.” A group of young men from Puerto Plata created this identity in 199 to help uplift the community spirit while reinforcing the trio of cultures that represent them as Dominicans: Taíno, African, and European. To date, there are about thirteen active tribes forming the Taimáscaros group. Within that group, the most popular are Tribu Yucahu, who have won multiple awards over the years for their ingenuity in costume and dance, including the highest national Carnival prize. The Taimáscaros’ masks reflect the face of a Taíno god or deity, while the costumes incorporate their other heritage.

Los Guloyas of San Pedro de Macorís

UNESCO classified Los Guloyas in 2005 as a masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
UNESCO classified Los Guloyas in 2005 as a masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

A unique Afro-Caribbean group in the Dominican Republic are the Cocolos: the descendants of enslaved Africans who were brought to the DR in the late 19th century from the British islands of the Caribbean. Approximately 6,000 originally came from Anguilla, Barbados, St. Kitts, Nevis, Tortola, Turks and Caicos, and St. Croix, among other places, to work in the DR’s sugar industry. Dominicans first gave them the name Tortolo—assumed to have derived from Tortola in the BVIs—which later evolved into Cocolos. Their dancers, known as the Guloyas, participate in the Carnival and wear gorgeous, beaded costumes with feathery hats. They dance to their own drums and twirl happily in the streets in their unique Afro-Caribbean moves. UNESCO classified the Guloyas in 2005 as a masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Los Pintaos of Barahona

The southwest town of Barahona is known for Los Pintaos–the painted–a group created in 1997 by Francisco Suero Medina, locally known as El Gato. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
The southwest town of Barahona is known for Los Pintaos–the painted–a group created in 1997 by Francisco Suero Medina, locally known as El Gato. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Some of the comparsas or carnival groups have more recent origins yet carry great cultural significance. The southwest town of Barahona is known for Los Pintaos–the painted–a group created in 1997 by Francisco Suero Medina, locally known as El Gato. They made their debut in the national parade in 2000, and in 2008 were awarded the highest Carnival award granted by the Ministry of Culture: the Premio Nacional de Carnaval Felipe Abreu. The Pintaos represent the Maroons, who rebelled against Spanish colonialism and slavery and took refuge in the mountains of Bahoruco, southwest of the DR, in the early 16th century. Their costume is the intricate paint that covers their naked body, save for a piece of cloth covering their private parts. They dance in the street, sometimes holding sticks, and spread their joy and rebellious nature to the crowds, celebrating the Maroon heritage. They’re unmistakable at Carnival and are a cultural icon of Barahona.

Las Cachúas of Cabral

The southwest also has a devilish character inspired from the days of Maroon resistance in the mountains of Barahona: Las Cachúas, from the town of Cabral. The Cachúas make an appearance at the National Parade, but are mostly known to participate in the Carnaval Cimarrón or Maroon Carnival, spanning three days at the end of Holy Week. It’s the last of all the carnivals to be celebrated in the country, as it’s held during Easter. They wear a mask made out of vibrant papier mâché, as they roam all weekend with whips starting at midnight on Holy Saturday. It all ends with a big, loud folkloric ceremony on Monday after Holy Week, when they burn Judas in effigy in the village cemetery.

Los Indios

Los Indios represent the first people to inhabit the Dominican Republic. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
Los Indios represent the first people to inhabit the Dominican Republic. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

In areas such as Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, and La Vega, you will see various groups representing the Taíno, first inhabitants of the Dominican Republic who were exterminated by the Spaniards through disease and murder. Adults and children dress up in grass skirts and feathers, bodies smeared in brown paint, torsos bare for the men. They carry bows and spears.

Los Brujos of San Juan de La Managua

Los Brujos of San Juan de La Managua. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
Los Brujos of San Juan de La Managua. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

It was believed that there once were witches living in the southwestern city of San Juan de La Managua. Witchcraft was a common practice, hence the name of one of the Carnival troupes from this region.

Los Chiveros de Dajabón

Los Chiveros de Dajabón wear masks resembling goats to showcase the importance of farming. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
Los Chiveros de Dajabón wear masks resembling goats to showcase the importance of farming. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

To showcase the importance of farming in the area and its gastronomy, participants from this border town with Haiti wear masks resembling goats.

El Roba La Gallina: The Hen Robber

It’s not all about scary devils and whips in Carnival. Some are fun folkloric characters that are meant to evoke laughter. The most beloved is El Roba la Gallina or the hen robber. This is usually a man dressed up as a woman in an extravagant layered dress, with huge breasts, hips, and elaborate makeup, who goes around the neighborhood colmados or shops begging for food, money, or sweets for her pollitos or children. She carries a big purse, handing out candy to the crowds, while she would later steal chickens and shove them in that emptied bag. Crowds burst into laughter as Roba La Gallina performs at Carnival, dancing and shaking her bottom as she parades down the streets and sings the rhyme, “ti-ti manatí, ton ton, molondrón, roba la gallina, palo con ella!”

The Comparsas

The Comparsas Zoomorfas are just one of the troupes that bring life to Carnival. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
The Comparsas Zoomorfas are just one of the troupes that bring life to Carnival. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

These numerous carnival dance troupes bring a lot of life and fun to Carnival. Each has its theme–often a dramatic, comical representation of political, social, or religious issues. While there’s no record of how far back the carnival troupes have existed, they are thought to have come from Cuban influences, during their migration to the DR in the late 19th century. The above is a member of the Comparsas Zoomorfas.

Other groups to look out for at Carnival Dominicano are the Platanuses from Cotui, whose devils cover themselves in plantain leaves, the Toros from Montecristi, with masks representing bulls, and the Travestis (the Transvestites), who are crowd favorites.

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8 Places to Eat and Drink in New Orleans

“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.” Mark Twain said that, and in my experience eating and drinking my way across the city, he’s spot on. Sure, New Orleans has its must-visits (Café du Monde, Commander’s Palace, Dooky Chase’s, and anything with John Besh’s name on it) but there will forever be another hundred spots in town where any item on the menu will confirm Twain’s assertion. Here are eight favorites where you can sup, sip, sin, and experience the culinary glory of New Orleans.

spread of fried foods at Willie Maes in New Orleans
Willie Mae’s. Photo © Jason Frye.

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

It’s a bold statement, but I’ll make it. Willie Mae’s Scotch House serves the best fried chicken you’ll ever eat. Crispy, succulent — all the adjectives that could possibly be used to describe good fried chicken are applicable to this fried chicken. Throw in red beans and rice, fried okra, and cornbread, and you’ve got a simple meal that will have you making plans to return tomorrow.

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz

In 1939, Ernest and Mary Hansen started selling shaved ice doused in homemade syrups off their front porch. He invented the ice-shaver, she perfected the syrups, and now, nearly eight decades later, granddaughter Ashley serves up sno-balls using their original machine and original recipes. These icy treats are the only reasonable solution to the sweltering summer heat. Plus, you never know who you’ll see there: maybe Top Chef fan favorite Nina Compton.

Jason Frye and Chef Nina Compton enjoying Sno-Bliz
Jason Frye and Chef Nina Compton enjoying Sno-Bliz. Photo © Jason Frye.

Compère Lapin

Speaking of Nina Compton, her restaurant, Compère Lapin (French for “brother rabbit” and mischievous subject of many a Creole and Caribbean folktale), marries impeccable technique with the flavors of Compton’s native St. Lucia and her adopted New Orleans. Conch croquettes, pig ears with smoky aioli, curried goat, and black drum fly out of the kitchen. The bar also shakes up some crazy good cocktails and punches.

Enjoy the food and the bar at Compére Lapin
Enjoy the food and the bar at Compére Lapin. Photo courtesy of Compére Lapin.

Toups’ Meatery

Chef Isaac Toups (another former Top Chef contestant) leans on his deep Cajun roots — his family’s been in Louisiana for 300 years — and his own culinary inventiveness to create dishes that honor, elevate, and celebrate traditional Cajun cuisine.

Gulf Seafood Couvillion at Toup’s Meatery
Gulf Seafood Couvillion at Toup’s Meatery. Photo © Denny Culbert, courtesy of Toup’s Meatery.


Maypop combines New Orleans’ palate with the flavors and techniques of southeast Asia, resulting in dishes that wow with every bite. It’s so good Chef Michael Gulotta was named Food & Wine’s 2016 Best New Chef. Go see for yourself if the crispy skinned fish in grapefruit curry or the fermented pork belly and red beans in XO sauce are worth the hype. (Hint: they are.)


If wine, food, live jazz, and cocktails sound like a good time, Bacchanal is where it’s at. The menu has a Mediterranean flair, so every dish is light and lovely, and their wine selection matches the menu about as ideally as can be. Throw in a cocktail list that eschews the frozen Bourbon Street standards in favor of flavor-forward drinks and you’ve got a winner.

The Sazerac Bar

The Sazerac Bar is the epitome of yesteryear elegance and the cocktails match the ambience, especially the namesake drink. Believed by many to be the first American cocktail, the Sazerac combines rye, bitters, sugar, and an herbsaint rinse to create a powerful yet sippable cocktail. It’s spicy, tempered by a touch of sweetness, herbaceous, and fiery, just like this town.

The Sazerac Bar
The Sazerac Bar. Photo courtesy of The Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Cane & Table

The cocktail menu at Cane & Table is a personalized map made to your satisfy your individual tastes. Are you feeling Refreshing or Heady? Classic or Adventurous? Make a choice, select a drink from the appropriate corner of the menu, and prepare yourself for deliciousness. Creativity and flavor are King and Queen here, and combinations like coconut and scotch, aqua vit and pineapple, and habanero and mezcal delight guest after guest.

Enjoy a freshly prepared cocktail at Cane & Table
Enjoy a freshly prepared cocktail at Cane & Table. Photo © Kevin O’Mara, courtesy of Cane & Table.

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You DON’T Want A Unicorn!

You Don't Want A Unicorn coverYou Don’t Want a Unicorn!

By Ame Dyckman

Illustrated by Liz Climo

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Family Life: Pets, Humor: General, Personal Development: Responsibility

Grades: Pre-K-3rd


Storytime Kit

Be careful what pet you wish for in the newest picture book from fan-favorite author Ame Dyckman and rising-star illustrator Liz Climo.


When a little boy throws a coin in a well asking for a pet unicorn, he has no idea what kind of trouble he’s in for. Unbeknownst to him, unicorns make the absolutely worst pets: they shed, they poke holes in your ceiling, and they make a big mess. With a knowing wink from Ame Dyckman, creator of Wolfie the Bunny and cheerful illustrations from Rory the Dinosaur creator and Tumblr star Liz Climo, this rollicking story shares all of the ways a pet unicorn can ruin your life, and is sure to have readers in stitches.



“Imaginative fun throughout.” —Booklist


“The tone of the wry, bemused narrator is perfect…and the target audience will likely be eager for a repeat listen.” —Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books


“Climo’s rainbow-bright illustrations take Dyckman’s silly premise to a whole new level of absurdity…. This is a crowd-pleaser, complete with cupcake poops and rainbow burps, and…a welcoming and unobtrusive gender-nonconforming vibe.”—The Horn Book


“Climo creates gleeful unicorn havoc… a lot of mischievous fun.” —Publishers Weekly



Sujean Rim on Writing & Illustrating CHEE-KEE: A PANDA IN BEARLAND


When I was little, I didn’t like being asked “What are you?” and “Where are you from?” because it made me feel like I didn’t really belong. I would answer, “I’m from here, I’m an American born in Brooklyn.”


I just wanted to fit in.


But when I began to think about my parents immigrating to the United States, I realized how easy I had it.


My mom and dad were born and raised in South Korea, and like so many others, they believed in the American dream. They loved what this country stood for and had faith that coming to America would make their lives better, and make their children’s futures brighter.


My dad was in the 1960 and 1964 Olympics; he was a discus and hammer thrower, and he was pretty good. So when he was among a group of international athletes invited to participate in a US-sponsored athletic program, he jumped at the opportunity. And in 1967, my parents packed up their lives, took about five different connecting flights, and moved to the United States of America.


Life was an adjustment to say the least.


They moved around a bit for various job opportunities, and without another Korean soul in sight, they had a lot to learn on their own. My parents not only looked different and hardly spoke English, but they came with an entirely different set of traditions.


“What are you?” and “Where do you come from?” were accompanied with “Can’t you speak English?” and “Don’t you know how to do this?” They endured lots of stares and even some spying by curious neighbors. As you can imagine, it wasn’t always comfortable. But no matter how lost they felt and how confusing it was just to go grocery shopping (where was the kimchi aisle?), my mom and dad hung in there.


Sure, there were some hard times and tears of frustration, but they made a home for themselves, and they did it by being true to who they are. I am so proud of them.


Their journey was the inspiration for the Loo family. Since pandas are most commonly found in China, and my parents come from Korea, I decided to draw from both Asian cultures to create the fictional Island of Coney. While there are nods to both countries in the artwork, my favorite detail is in the sailboat that the Loo family arrives in: I made the sail from an old Korean newspaper article I found about my dad and his days as an athlete.


This book is a valentine to my mom and dad, but it’s also dedicated to anyone who has ever felt like fish out of water, an odd bird…or a chubby little panda in a big bear of a world.



Sujean Rim coverABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sujean Rim wrote and illustrated the Birdie series, as well as illustrated many campaigns for clients including Target, UNAIDS, Tiffany & Co., Bloomingdale’s, and more. Sujean lives with family in New York. Visit her online at or on Twitter at @sujeanie.


Chee-Kee: A Panda in Bearland coverABOUT THE BOOK

The Loo family has traveled very far to start a new life. In Bearland, none of the other bears look, talk, or act like the Loo family. For Chee-Kee Loo, everything is strange; and he feels like he’ll never fit in. But one day, some bears find themselves in a jam, and Chee-Kee might be just the right panda to save the day.


In this heartfelt and lovable story, meet Chee-Kee the panda, a one-of-a-kind bear in all the best ways. Based on Sujean’s family’s experience immigrating from South Korea to the United States, this picture book is full of many layers of meaning, humor and heart with universal appeal and a fresh perspective.

The Best of California in One Week

In just five days, you can experience California’s two most famous cities and its biggest natural attraction (but you’ll be doing a lot of driving). Make it a full week and you’ll have enough time for a coastal drive along Big Sur.

View of downtown San Francisco's skyline with pyramid building
View of downtown San Francisco. Photo © Lunamarina/Dreamstime

Day 1

San Francisco

Fly into San Francisco and rent a car. Spend your San Francisco day in Golden Gate Park. Indulge your artistic side at the de Young Museum or learn more about our world at the nearby California Academy of Sciences. Unwind with a walk through the park’s Japanese Tea Garden. Then make your way to the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the world’s most famous photo-ops. End your day with a meal at one of the city’s culinary stars<—or grab an authentic burrito at a local taqueria, which may be just as tasty.

If You Have More Time

Extend the love affair with a side trip to wander the redwoods in Marin. Muir Woods National Monument, (note: reservations required) just north of San Francisco, is home to acres of staggeringly beautiful redwoods accessible via the paved Redwood Trail. Afterwards, fill up on British comfort food at The Pelican Inn. It’s just a short walk from the restaurant to lovely Muir Beach, perfect for wildlife-watching and beachcombing. End the day at the Farley Bar at Cavallo Point Lodge to watch the fog roll in over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Redwood trees in Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods National Monument. Photo © Dreamstime.

Day 2

San Francisco to Yosemite (200 miles, 4 hours)

Leave San Francisco at 8am to reach Yosemite by noon. The drive to the Big Oak Flat entrance takes at least four hours; however, traffic, especially in summer and on weekends, can make it much longer.

Day 3

Yosemite Valley

Spend a day touring around Yosemite Valley, seeing Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. If you want to break a sweat, hike the 5.4-mile round-trip Mist Trail. Spend a night under the stars at one of the park’s campgrounds or enjoy a night indoors at the classic Majestic Yosemite Hotel (just be sure to make reservations well in advance).

If You Have More Time

In summer, combine a trip to Yosemite National Park with Lake Tahoe by crossing through Yosemite via Tioga Pass Road (Hwy. 120). On the Eastern Sierra, scenic U.S. 395 leads north almost to the Nevada border, and road-trippers can take forested Highway 89 west to its junction with U.S. 50 to continue to South Lake Tahoe.

boardwalk in yosemite valley leading toward a waterfall
Yosemite Valley. Photo © Sasha Buzko/iStock.

Day 4

Yosemite Valley to Los Angeles (300 miles, 5 hours)

Exit the park via its southern entrance and drive south on Highway 41. The majority of the trip will be spent on Highway 99 south before using I-5 south, Highway 170 south, and U.S. 101 south as you get closer to the city.

If You Have More Time

Cross Highway 120 into the Eastern Sierra and head south on U.S. 395 for a side trip to Death Valley. From the Wild West town of Lone Pine, turn east onto Highway 190 for the one-hour drive to Panamint Springs, where a rustic resort has serviced hungry travelers since 1937. From Panamint Springs, it’s another hour east along Highway 190 to the aptly named park hub of Furnace Creek.

A lifeguard station on the beach next to the Santa Monica Pier.
Enjoy the beach and the amusement rides at the Santa Monica Pier. Photo © Tono Balaguer/123rf.

Day 5

Los Angeles

You’ve been to the mountains, you’ve seen the desert; now it’s time for the beach! Experience the best of Southern California beach culture at the chaotic but entertaining Venice Boardwalk or the Santa Monica Pier. If time allows, head inland a few miles to stroll the Hollywood Walk of Fame and snap a pic at TCL Chinese Theatre. Of course, some people would give all of that up for a day at Disneyland (you know who you are).

If You Have More Time

Plan a day trip to Palm Springs, a 2-4 hour drive east on I-10, or follow I-5 south to explore San Diego. Stop for a surf or a swim in one of the beach towns, wander through lush Balboa Park, and dine in the Gaslamp Quarter.

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Discover California

Diverse, wacky, and unforgettable, California is larger than life. The boisterous cities seem bigger, redwood forests and snow-capped mountains loom taller, and sandy coastlines stretch longer than anywhere else.

If you love the outdoors, remote backpacking spots, and extreme sports, you could spend a month exploring California and never once enter the city limits of San Francisco or Los Angeles. If high art, nightlife, and gourmet restaurants top your list, you can stay entirely inside those cities, soaking in their infinitely variable culture. Hot-spot clubbing, award-winning plays, experimental art exhibits and splashy gallery openings, and some of the best cuisine in the country often coexist within the same six-block street.

The Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur, California.
The Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur, California. Photo © Dionigi Pozzi/123rf.

There’s no one true way to describe California, just as there’s no one true way to experience it. Southern California isn’t all surfers and movie stars, while Northern California is more than just expensive real estate and radical politics. Tiny coastal towns, sweeping farmlands, and forested mountain ranges all defy stereotypes—from oases of swimming pools in the desert to remote wineries nestled within rural mountains.

The pace of life is as diverse as everything else in the state. Fast moving and fast living are hallmarks of the Los Angeles basin, yet the quiet frenzy of the San Francisco Bay Area sometimes seems just as fast. Outside the major urban areas, the hectic speed diminishes. California’s numerous wine regions invite visitors to relax and slow that pace even further. Beyond the farms and vineyards, an even more venerable and variable pace emerges—that of nature. The gushing waterfalls of Yosemite, towering redwoods of Humboldt, bone-dry deserts of Death Valley, delicate native wildflowers along the coast… even the imperceptible crawl and occasional sudden jolt of the land itself all make up the unique rhythm of California.

To best discover what California has to offer, choose something that you want to fall in love with and pursue it here—whether your passion is organic wine, Gold Country ghost towns, Hollywood movie stars, or just lying on the beach. No matter who you are or what you’re into, you can make this place your own.

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