Ranging from the Pacific coastal beaches to the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Mojave Desert, California’s geography is incredibly diverse, as Lisa Kloetzli from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) – with campuses in Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Orange County and San Diego – asserts. Add the year-round sunshine (almost) into the mix and it is no wonder that the people of the USA’s Golden State are easy-going, although California holds more than its fair share of excitement too. “California is home to some of the biggest fashion brands, action sports companies, entertainment studios and design firms on Earth,” she says. “Between the inspiring surroundings and world-renowned attractions, what’s not to love?”
The city of Los Angeles, home of the world-renowned Hollywood district, is arguably one of the most glamourous cities in the world. “You can be having a coffee and literally run into a celebrity,” enthuses Young Lee at Cal America Education Institute in the city. At the centre of the USA’s film industry, students can spot names such as Charlie Chaplin embedded in brass stars on the pavements of the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame. “The entertainment industry meets the fashion world in Los Angeles,” continues Kloetzli. “FIDM Los Angeles is just steps away from the Staples Center sports arena... and the Grammy Museum. Plus, the beautiful beaches are just minutes away.”
South of Los Angeles is the affluent Orange County (OC), occupying an inviting stretch of Southern California. Home to Laguna, Newport and Huntington Beach, the county has a popular surf culture that students who used to watch the TV programme The OC might have an affinity with. “The OC is located just minutes away from some of the biggest action sports companies in the world – Quiksilver, Volcom, Hurley, Vans and RVCA to name a few,” Kloetzli continues. And as students move away from the coast, they can enjoy the international neighbourhoods such as in Westminster, known as ‘Little Saigon’ due to its large Vietnamese-American population.
Further inland is the city of Fullerton, one of the largest in the OC according to Merti Hentschel from California State University, Fullerton. “We are just minutes away from downtown Fullerton where there is a variety of shops, cinemas and trendy restaurants which have become hotspots for Orange County nightlife,” she reveals. Another attraction is Disney California Adventure Park, only a 10-minute drive away from Fullerton, which comprises many areas including Buena Vista Street – Walt Disney’s charming interpretation of Los Angeles.
Further south still and almost bordering Mexico is the city of San Diego, which manages to retain a resort-like feel amidst the skyscrapers of the revamped downtown. “San Diego has big city diversity within a small city atmosphere,” notes Teresa Neale from Converse International School of Languages, “and students enjoy going to the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, the beaches and our downtown dance clubs.” They are even able to indulge in a spot of celebrity spotting here too, Tracey Taylor from Bellus Academy reveals, explaining that the school hosted the casting for the America’s Next Top Model TV show this year. “Bellus Academy was also the exclusive provider of hair and make-up artistry services for Fashion Week San Diego 2012 and will participate in 2013 as well,” she says. There are also a lot of cultural activities available in San Diego, with Taylor highlighting the city’s 15 museums, several art galleries, beautiful gardens and the Tony Award-winning Globe Theatres.
North of San Diego is the suburb of San Marco with its rolling hills and a tranquil atmosphere, says Dawn Schmid from ALCI California State University San Marcos. The Double Peak Park offers a panoramic view of San Diego County, and, according to many, it is possible to see the San Bernardo Mountains and the skyscrapers of San Diego on a clear day.
Chico is another college town, as Joe Picard from California State University Chico. While recommending downtown Chico and Friday night concerts in the park, he is also a big fan of the nearby city of San Francisco, nicknamed Paris of the West. “The San Francisco Bay area is a small, networked city and encompasses much of what people thirst for in life,” says Jean Marie Buckley from Buckley Education Group. “Students can hop on a vintage electric street car and get off at AT&T Park – referred to as the China Basin Area – as it’s a marvel how planners built the stadium in a part of town that no one would previously walk through,” she suggests, adding, “Or they can find bunkers built in World War II on the Golden Gate and Pacific Ocean.”
Nadine Baladi from ILSC San Francisco notes that the infamous Golden Gate Bridge is “a classical piece of architecture with an amazing history. As the gateway of the San Francisco Bay, at one end, the bridge leads you straight into the hustle and bustle of the city. On the north end, the bridge lands in the Marin Highlands, a park of pristine beauty fabulous for hiking, mountain biking and just taking in the grand views.” She also recommends a number of things to see, such as ‘The Rock’. “Otherwise known as Alcatraz Island, The Rock housed the former federal prison where famous gangsters, such as Al Capone, were imprisoned,” she explains. And luckily for students who fancy a bite to eat, the city is also considered the culinary capital of the USA, as Mary Risley from Tante Marie Cooking School in San Francisco divulges. “If you are the type of person that likes to know different cuisines, you can go to North Beach, China Town or Mission District to find some cool places to eat,” Evelyne Souza from Intrax adds.
San Francisco is surrounded by some of the most beautiful natural attractions California has to offer, as Sydney Penny from Brandon College in the city notes. “We suggest that students take a day trip to Marin, go skiing at Lake Tahoe, see the stunning natural beauty of Big Sur and Yosemite Park, take in the sights at Monterey and Carmel, go wine-tasting in Napa Valley and check out the old town of Sacramento,” he adds. Indeed, according to Bethany Daniels Muhlhauser from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, the magazine Newsweek lists Sacramento as one of the USA’s 10 best cities, “providing students with many opportunities for culture, fun and career connections”, she says.
Not to be overlooked are California’s quieter locations. Idyllwild-Pine Cove, for instance, is “a stunning beautiful tranquil setting” only a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, according to Lydia Kremer from Idyllwild Arts Academy. Situated in a 200-acre forest campus in the San Jacinto village of Idyllwild, the school has taught several artists in the past including Pete Seeger. “Palm Springs is a glamourous resort town with palm trees and swimming pools, only an hour away!”
Meanwhile, “Acrata is a small college town nestled in the redwoods in the heart of California’s northern coast,” enthuses Emily Kirsch from Humboldt State University. “International students ... come to this beautiful part of the state to see pristine beaches, clear blue rivers and world-famous redwood trees.” Redwood National Park, located 60km north of Arcata, is home to some of the oldest redwood trees in the world. Plus, according to Kirsch, the area is home to a real wealth of US history, was home to the USA’s first organic brewery and was also where Bigfoot was discovered, named and honoured with a museum.
Indeed, the entire state has a vibrant history, with Trin Hong from the UCLA Extension American Language Center noting that California was originally part of Mexico and that its historical influence is still present in the culture and has influenced many of its city names. It is this history, interwoven with the glamourous influence of Hollywood and relaxed vibe of the coastal cities, that makes the Golden State so unique.
“California is the second most popular region in the USA with clients at my agency – it is far from France and is therefore considered an exotic place to stay. Students have evocative city names in mind such as San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles and enjoy the cable cars, Golden Gate Bridge and the Lakers basketball team. Add this to the folklore, pleasant climate and famous Californian way of life and you have a perfect study destination. And, of course, there are lots of very good English schools in California! Students are surprised by the variety of landscapes, foods and cultures, and according to students, Californians are welcoming and open-minded. French students also find the baseball and basketball games very impressive!”
Rose Policastro, You’re Welcome, France
“California is known from American films and offers at least three great locations: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. The first thing every student does when arriving in San Francisco is to take a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. The area has a lot to offer, such as national parks, stunning ocean views, great social opportunities and entertainment, and all of this in a moderate climate. A visit to the famous China Town is a must. When you are in California, you feel this great comfort brought to you by very nice people. Everybody is so relaxed and easy-going – simply enjoying life.”
Marina Moskalenko, Study.UA, Ukraine