FROMMER'S CALIFORNIA 2012 is a 884-page guidebook with a glossy colored pull-out map. The book is glitzy, and is printed on glossy paper, with a color photo or color map on every other page. The authors are Basch, de Lis, Hiss, Lenkert, Luna, and Poole. There are 17 chapters, including: San Francisco (Chapter 4); S.F. Bay area (Ch. 5); Wine Country (Ch. 6); Northern Coast (Ch. 7); Far North:Lake Tahoe, Mount Shasta, Lassen National Park (Ch. 8); High Sierra (Ch. 9); Sacramento and Gold Country (Ch. 10); Central Coast (Ch. 12); Los Angeles (Ch. 13); Side Trips from L.A. (Ch. 14); Southern California Deserts (Ch. 15); and San Diego (Ch. 16).
Since the book is so huge and the topic at hand is so massive, let's just plunge into an account of some of the best photographs. The photos include the Skunk Train located just north of Mendocino (page 8); Yosemite Valley (page 11); cable car museum in S.F. (p. 129); aerial tram at Lake Tahoe (p. 45); and Cathedral Peak (p. 50). This reviewer points out that Cathedral Peak is arguably the most beautiful mountain in the United States, and that it can be reached by a short hike from the main road in upper Yosemite. The photos also include Golden Gate Bridge (pages 13, 56, 64), Lombard Street ("crookedest street in the world") (pages 62, 124), sequoias at Mariposa Grove (p. 359); El Capitan in Yosemite Nat'l. Park (p. 360); Devil's Postpile (p. 382); Mt.Whitney (p.383); quaint bridges and houses in the Gold Country (pages 404; 406; 407; 411); jellyfish in Monterey Bay Aquarium (p. 435); Solvang (a pleasant Danish tourist trap north of L.A.) (page 511); Warner Brothers Studio (p. 522). This last photo is clever, as it contains a close-up of a light fixture reading W.B. LIGHTING). Other photos include Santa Monica ferris wheel (page 606), which is featured in Spielberg's movie 1941, in one of the most amusing episodes ever committed to film (in my opinion), beaches in L.A. (pages 631, 632, 633), the magnificent architecture of Disney Concert Hall (p. 657), and San Diego/Coronado Bay Bridge in the twilight, with small boats in the foreground (page 827). The photos are professional (not amateur).
Notably lacking from the photographs is a picture of one or more of the coves at Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel, the U.S.S. Hornet located at Alameda Island, the tafoni stone formations at Salt Point State Park, the band concourse shell in Golden Gate Park, the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park with its Teletubbies roof-garden, and the new copper-coated De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Another notable omission is what is arguably one of the finest views in California, namely, the view from the Palace of the Legion of Honor where one can see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, and the Pacific Ocean (all in one grand vista).
Now, let is consider other aspects of this ambitious book. Oakland (pages 168-175) gets only a few pages, which is fine, since there is NOT much to see or do in Oakland. Oakland is distinguished by a 15-mile long ribbon of crime, stretching along San Pablo Avenue and along East 14th Street. YOSHI'S JAZZ CLUB is mentioned, but unfortunately, it gets only 2 lines of coverage (page 171). This is a shame, since YOSHI'S is a venerable institution, which devotes itself to America's greatest art form (jazz). What is also lacking is the CHABOT SCIENCE CENTER, a huge museum located atop the Oakland hills. The book devotes an entire page, with a photo, to a small ship docked at Jack London Square. This is bizarre, since there is nothing unusual about the boat. It is just a boring 165-foot ship. What is even more bizarre, is the book's omission of the U.S.S.Hornet, docked just across the water from Jack London Square. The U.S.S.Hornet is a genuine movie star, having appeared in a couple of movies, e.g., Battle of Midway and Thirty Seconds over Tokyo. The U.S.S.Hornet has a small admission fee, and the visitor can view jet planes aboard, and living quarters below the deck.
Point Reyes is covered on pages 248-256. This is fine, but magnificent DRAKE'S BAY, along with the little nature center and restaurant (with fresh oysters) gets short shrift. DRAKE'S BAY features white-colored undulating cliffs. On the plus side, the book mentions DRAKE'S BAY OYSTER FARM (page 253). On the plus side, the authors were very good to comment on the elegant Tudor-style architecture of PELICAN INN, as a place to stay or dine (page 185). I've been to PELICAN INN several times. The rooms have furnishings from Merrie Olde England, e.g., canopy beds. The pub/restaurant has a dart board. Also on the plus side, the authors mentioned TOMALES POINT TRAIL, which leads hikers along a peninsula with a vast view of the Pacific ocean, where the trail leads through two or three herds of elk (page 251). I have walked this trail, and I've walked through a herd of elk. Despite being much bigger than human beings, the herd of elk parted into two halves, much like the Red Sea parting way before Moses. I would have included a photograph of the elk. This trail could be characterized as the most overlooked trail in the United States of America (please note that the trail is located just an hour drive north of San Francisco).
Berkeley is covered (pages 160-168). We see a photo of a student protest. But here, the authors have fallen into a trap of disclosing what is not relevant any more, and what the authors think that the readers expect. The student protests occurred mainly in the 1960s, during the period of the fruitless war in Vietnam. I am not sure why the authors of this guidebook (as well as other guidebooks) insist in prolonging the stereotype that the University of California is "about" student protests. The authors write that "protests led to the most famous student riots in U.S. history" (page 160). (Was this comment really necessary for a guidebook?) The same space, in this book, could have been used to disclose much more important things, such as Prof. Lewis' discovery of the structures of acids and bases (one can see LEWIS HALL on the U.C.Berkeley campus). The authors write that the best place in Berkeley for hanging out is Telegraph Avenue (page 162). This is not correct. Telegraph Avenue is a good place to view beggars and riff-raff. The best place for hanging out is on nearby Bancroft Avenue, e.g., at Cafe Strada, Cafe Milano, and International House.
Regarding the deserts, we see a fine photograph of a palm oasis at Coachella Valley Preserve (page 732). Regarding Joshua Tree National Park, the book advises, "An excellent first stop" is the small nature center at the entrance of the park. But I do not agree. Why stop to view a selection of postcards, nature books, and a small display of photographs, when the real thing is located just up the road?!?!?
I have explored Joshua Tree National Park on about eight occasions during the past year. Therefore, I feel inspired to fill in the following details, regarding the spots of greatest interest (and safety) within this park. HIDDEN VALLEY is the best first choice, in this park. It is an enclosed valley, so there is no way you can get lost. Immediately upon entering HIDDEN VALLEY, from its single entrance, if you look to the right (and upwards), you can see a 20-foot stone formation that looks exactly like a human face. If you walk around the outside circumference of HIDDEN VALLEY, you will pass a couple of dramatic monoliths (obelisks). These are very beautiful. They are about 30-feet tall, and made of volcanic granite. Next on your list in J.-Tree Nat'l. Park should be SPATULA ROCK, located at Ryan Campground. At both Hidden Valley and Spatula Rock, you can admire the daredevil climbers who use ropes to climb hundreds of feet up the cliffs. If you continue driving, you will reach SPLIT ROCK TRAIL. Split Rock Trail takes the form of a loop, which features many beautiful granite stone formations, some of these being tall monoliths. The book does mention the area called, Wonderland of Rocks (page 751). But this is not as pretty as Hidden Valley, Split Rock Trail, or Jumbo Rocks campground. Another problem is that it is easy to get lost in Wonderland of Rocks (this means permanently lost). What is also missing from the writing is a suitable red-boxed warning regarding the weather in the desert in the months June to August. Tourists periodically perish (die) because of the heat, e.g., by heat stroke. The book does provide warnings (pages 754-755), but they are too subtle to send a clear-cut message to tourists.
The book does mention Anza-Borrego State Park (pages 754-757), and its excellent trail to Borrego Palm Canyon. The oasis found at the end of this trail is very beautiful. Unfortunately, this reviewer has found that most of Anza-Borrego park contains almost nothing, after exploring much of the park by automobile and on foot. The notable exception is the southern half Anza-Borrego State Park, that is, the road leading to AGUA CALIENTE COUNTRY PARK, which has a generous selection (to each side of the road) of tall barrel cacti (the northern half of Anza-Borrego State Park does not have any tall barrel cactus). RED ROCK CANYON STATE PARK is a notable omission from this guidebook, in the book's account of desert parks. This park is reached by route 14, and one can park on the dirt road, where parking spots occur just to the east of route 14, and also just to the west of route 14. One can park to the east of route 14, in a wide parking lot, and walk north for about one mile along route 14, where one finds a magnificent red cliff with fluted formations, resembling a gothic cathedral. Also, one can park to the west of route 14, to the side of a dirt road, and view other magnificent red cliffs with fluted formations, resembling gothic cathedrals. Either way, the parking spot is just a ten second drive away from route 14. I recommend visiting the "gothic cathedral" structures on both the east side and west side of route 14. I was glad to see mention of another desert park, TRONA PINNACLES (page 763). The photograph on page 763 does not do justice to this park. The pinnacles are like upside down ice cream cones, some are nearly 140 feet tall. But the photo shows a blunt-topped pinnacle, not one of the pointy pinnacles. A tiny glitch in the writing, is that the text states that TRONA PINNACLES is in Death Valley (but Trona Pinnacles actually is not in or near Death Valley -- I guess it is an hour's drive away).
Regarding the northern California coastline, please let me put the various redwood parks in perspective. The best of these is FOUNDER'S GROVE in Humboldt State Park (page 278). This is the best one, because of the presence of a few fallen redwoods, which enables the tourist to witness at close range the huge size of these trees, and to climb on top of the trees, as one might climb on top of a beached whale. Next best is ARMSTRONG WOODS STATE PARK, located at Guerneville (pages 240). The redwoods at Armstrong, I recall, are bigger and of more variety than the redwoods at Muir Woods. Next on the list is MUIR WOODS, which is usually crowded with tourists (this is not a complaint), and which is located in a steep valley, and which has several fine hiking trails which ring the steep sides of the valley. Finally, at the bottom of the list of redwood parks are REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK (pages 288-297) and JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOOD PARK (page 289). In my opinion, the trees and scenery at these last two parks simply cannot match that at FOUNDER'S GROVE or at ARMSTRONG WOODS. The trail through Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood National Park is, quite frankly, a disappointment. At one point in the trail through this Grove, there is an interesting redwood which is hollow, and which has a "window" in it.
The book is careful to devote a half page, plus a photo, to McArthur-Burney Falls (page 338). The book is correct at stating that these falls are "absolutely gorgeous."