Comedian Arj Barker gives his picks for must-sees in his home state, California.
Marin County's Nature
I grew up in Marin so I'm probably biased in my opinion, but it has so much to offer hikers and bikers and nature likers in general. From the famous and well-touristed Muir Woods, to the lesser-known Carson Falls outside of Fairfax, there is much to see and enjoy. Lakes, meadows, forests, views, secluded beaches, wild animals, Marin has it all. Make sure to end your day in Fairfax with a cold beer at one of the many crafty watering holes there. I'll probably be sitting a few chairs away. Don't miss far West Marin either, especially if you like natural beauty and the freshest, tastiest oysters this side of Depot in Auckland.
Mendocino and surrounding area
About a three-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area, is the most idyllic seaside setting in the town of Mendocino. It's so peaceful and charming and quiet there, you'll have to be careful you don't just buy a cabin and refuse to ever go home. I highly recommend renting a kayak and paddling up the Big River, enjoying the birds and seals and, if you're lucky, cheeky sea otters that play among the placid waters and the shores on either side. At night you will be cheating only yourself if you don't eat at Trattoria Luna, which is like being transported to Italy. There's plenty of local art in the town and unlimited options for hiking and taking in the nature and the dramatic coastline, in just about any direction.
Mt Shasta and surrounding wilderness
The mighty and mysterious Mt Shasta dominates the view from almost any point in this phenomenal area in California's far central North. You can drive a ways up the mountain and then hike to the top if you want. Will you discover one of the hidden entrances to the Hollow Earth, and dominion of the Magical Races, which some locals claim exist on Mt Shasta? Probably not. But it's gorgeous and if you like lakes and hiking, then you have much to do here. I suggest driving up to Castle Lake, via Lake Siskiyou, and appreciating the granite beauty and placid wonder it has to offer. Be careful of the abundant wildlife, however, I almost hit a large deer last time I was there, because I was so transfixed by the enchanting peak of Mt Shasta looming through the trees to my left.
Arcata and Humbolt County in general
The lush coastal forests and unspoiled rivers of Humboldt County should not be missed. It's also famous for its marijuana, if that's your thing. These days though, you hardly have to go there to find some grass, with legal shops opening all over California (and a handful of other states as well). There's a wildness out here though, which may be unrivalled among the rest of the state. And the large swathes of old-growth Redwood trees is worth the journey from any point on the globe. Quiet and serene, and full of elks. What more could you want?
Nothing prepares you for your first trip to Yosemite Valley. It's no wonder it's considered one the Natural Wonders of the World. At least I think it is. I should probably Google that, but it's too late. If it's not, it sure ought to be. Giant granite walls rise on either side, with flower-strewn meadows and crystal-clear streams and rivers cradled within. And lots of tourists. That's the thing. This place isn't a secret. But when you see it you'll realise why it's so popular, and it's hard to begrudge others wanting to experience it too. The best way to beat the crowds is to accept them on the valley floor but then escape them by taking long strenuous hikes into the mountainous landscapes on either side of the valley. The further out you go, the fewer people, and the more bears you'll see.
• Arj Barker is in New Zealand for the NZ International Comedy Festival, hosting the Best Foods Comedy Gala in Auckland, April 26, and Wellington, April 29, and performing his show, Organic, on May 17 in Wellington and May 18-19 in Auckland.