California’s 1,264 miles of coastline run between the 42nd and 32nd latitudes. That’s a stretch of the globe equal to 11 Eastern states, from New Hampshire to Georgia. The mighty Coast Ranges direct the lay of the land from Oregon to Santa Barbara, and the San Andreas Fault’s temperamental plates shift beneath much of the state’s seaside spine.
From Pelican State Beach at the Oregon border to Imperial Beach at Mexico’s door, the state seems to be three in one: Northern, Central, and Southern. Ancient forests, fast-flowing rivers, offshore sea stacks, rocky coves, verdant pastureland, and perilous sea cliffs characterize California’s top third. On the Central Coast, the terrain descends from dizzying heights and calms, with the exception of Big Sur, into wetlands, dunes, bays, and sloughs. Near Point Conception, the wide beaches and consistently mild weather of Southern California appear on cue. For work, play, and education, all of these land, and seascapes give access to every form of water, from salty Pacific depths to freshwater rivers to alpine snow and ice.