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AFAR’s Editor in Chief recalls her early memories of this exceptional state, and introduces our new online guide.

My love affair with California started in the winter of 1985. My parents and I lived in New York City, with whiteout blizzards outside and clanging, hissing radiators inside. My maternal grandparents lived in Southern California. There was a small orchard behind the home they had built in 1954, and shortly before Christmas my grandmother used the comics from the local newspaper to wrap up avocados and oranges from their trees and packed them into a box bound for us in frigid New York. I remember tearing open the box with delight and wondering about this magical place called California, where the sweetest oranges and perfectly ripe avocados grew on backyard trees.

Three years later, my parents and I moved to California. I still remember the day we arrived at my godparents’ house in Berkeley, where we’d be staying until we found a home of our own. It was warm, as it often is in the fall, and a giant wisteria vine bloomed on the pergola near the back deck. Bougainvillea—with all its shocking hot pink flowers—formed the hedge between their house and their neighbors’. If this wasn’t paradise, I didn’t know what was.

Today, California is still my home. And for me, 30 years later, it still feels like the promised land. This is where innovative ideas are born, where social movements are fostered, and where game-changing companies are launched. (AFAR, ahem, headquartered in San Francisco, is celebrating its ninth birthday this August.) Where California leads, the country—and the world—follow.

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In my role as editor in chief, I’m often asked for travel tips in destinations all over the world. I feel most confident when I’m telling people where and how to discover the Golden State. Since we started AFAR, it has been my dream to create a high-quality digital guide with original photography and recommendations from local insiders that reveals the California I love. That’s why I’m thrilled to announce the launch of Exceptional California, our authoritative guide to the best hotels, restaurants, museums, shops, and experiences for discerning travelers. 

From a labor-of-love garden on the Central Coast to a private architecture tour of Palm Springs, we’ve sourced the state’s most memorable only-in-California experiences. I hope you’ll book a trip and tell me about the magic you discover here by posting photos with the hashtag #traveldeeper on Instagram.

>>Next: Afar's Guide to Exceptional California