Tiburon, CA (Photo: Florent Lamoureux via Flickr)

California is the third largest state and the most populous. Yet even with its sophisticated crowds and thriving cities full of culture, one is constantly surrounded by nature—from its beaches to desolate deserts to perfectly preserved forests—depending on which direction you drive. A land of contrasts and diverse terrain, the rugged Pacific Coast pummels the West Coast while the Sierra Nevada, home to three National Parks, envelopes the east. Thick Redwoods forests tower above in the northwest while the wild Mojave Desert spreads across the dry southeast. California includes both the highest and lowest points in the contiguous United States with Mount Whitney and ominous DeathValley—if you dare. Rent a convertible and take a joyride along the coast on Highway 101 from star-studded Los Angeles to free-spirited San Francisco, stopping to take in the breathtaking views from Big Sur State Park along the way. It’s no wonder California has a reputation for outdoorsy, health-concious, laid back types—in such a stimulating environment, it’s hard not to be transformed.