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The California Countryside has its share of superlatives and other oddments…those first, mosts, biggests, smallests, bests and one-of-a-kinds that make a visit there even more fun. Some are along the roadside, some are in town or in the woods.

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is one and a half times the size of the country’s largest national park, covering 5,312 square miles. At the center of the bay is an underwater canyon that is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.

The Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast, marking the rocky shoreline since 1853.

The website already mentions that Castroville is the “Artichoke Center of the World," producing 95 percent of the nation’s artichokes. But it doesn’t point out that the annual Castroville Artichoke Festival includes the crowning of Artichoke Queen - an honor first bestowed in 1947, when a young woman named Norma Jean won the title. She later gained fame as actress Marilyn Monroe.

California has two official state trees - both redwoods and both found primarily in the countryside. Redwoods are the oldest living thing on the entire planet, some estimated at 3,000 to 4,000 years old. Among these redwoods are the tallest (the coastal redwood, Sequaia sempervirens) and the largest (the Sierra redwood, Sequaia gigante). The coastal redwood Founders Tree in Humboldt County's Avenue of the Giants is the tallest at 364 feet. The General Sherman Tree, a Sierra redwood in Sequoia National Park, is the largest, 101.5 feet in circumference, even when measured 100 feet above the ground.

California's Mount Whitney in the Sequoia National Forest is the tallest point (14,495 feet) in the lower 48 United States and Death Valley clocks in as the lowest (282 feet below sea level). They're only about 100 miles apart. Death Valley also is the hottest (and driest) place in all of the US

While not the tallest mountain in California, Mount Shasta is the most dramatic. It is a singular peak rising 10,000 above the plain below. The total elevation 14,162 feet.

The California Countryside's roadside attractions include the "World's Biggest Clam" in Pismo Beach and the "World's Largest Artichoke" in Castroville. Castroville is considered the artichoke capital of the world. Other capitals in the world of produce: Gilroy for garlic, Fresno for raisins, and Tulelake for horseradish. In fact, Tulelake grows more than one third of the world's supply.

Tulare County, whose county seat is Visalia, is the biggest dairy center in the world. With more than 800,000 cows, this bucolic gateway to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks has more cows than people. Got milk? Yep.

The city of Tulare plays host each year to more than 100,000 delegates to the world's largest agricultural gathering, the World Ag Expo, held at the sprawling Agri-Center.

Modesto is home to both the world's largest winery and the world's largest cannery. Chico, on the other hand, is home to, yes, the National Yo-Yo Museum, has on display the world's largest yo-yo, all 256 pounds of it.

In Mendocino County, Fort Bragg's Tattoo Museum was founded in 1986. No procedures on premises, last we looked. The town is also the host of the world's largest Salmon Barbecue The annual day-long festival serves more than 5,000 pounds of fish and raises money for the Salmon Restoration Association.

Petaluma hosts the World's Wristwrestling Championships every year and in nearby Cotati one can attend the annual Cotati Accordion Festival.

San Luis Obispo is the site of the world's first motel. Local hotelier James Vail coined the contraction in 1925 when he opened the Milestone Motel on Monterey Street. Modeled in the Mission style, the motel later changed its name to the Motel Inn. It is currently being restored and will once again be welcoming the weary off the 101.

Visalia, founded in 1852, is the oldest town between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Three venerable structures were each made from one tree: The One Log Houses in Eureka and Phillipsville and the One Tree Church in Santa Rosa.

The largest concentration of wintering bald eagle can be found at the Lower Klamath and Tulelake National Wildlife Refuges in northeastern Siskiyou County.

In Sonoma County, Osmosis is the only day spa in the U.S. that offers the "Enzyme Bath," a rejuvenating dry heat treatment from Japan.


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