These six stories about spectacular outdoor destinations—from blooming gardens to surreal desert, ocean beaches to the Golden Gate Bridge—will have you dusting off your hiking boots.
You don’t need crampons or a 75-pound backpack to appreciate the splendors of the West. A city park, a car, or a simple pair of shoes may be your ticket to beauty. In urban areas, botanical gardens offer a quick hit, while the Western landscape—a patchwork of deserts, rainforests, coastlines, valleys, and mountain ranges—delivers a promise of road trips and great walks. Here are just a few VIA articles to help start your summer.
Gardens of Delight  These 17 Eden-tamed destinations will, literally, lead you down the garden path, past pools and fountains, redwoods and cacti, common flowers and endangered species.
Golden Gate Bridge to Bodega Bay  From the comfort of your car, Highway 1 winds north from San Francisco past scenic beach towns, ocean bluffs, nature preserves, unspoiled beaches, and places to spot whales.
Joshua Tree  In Southern California, two deserts collide in this national park. Drive past the aptly named Jumbo Rocks and then up to Keys View for an overlook to the Salton Sea. Or take an easy trail at Hidden Valley, where rustlers once hid cattle.
Secluded Ocean Beaches  Eleven beaches made the list of readers’ favorite places to have a beach almost to themselves in California, Oregon, and Hawaii. Surf, sun, and a bit of beachcombing may be in order.
Editors’ Pick: Best Hikes  The VIA staff, sure-footed and well-traveled, shares 11 places to get back to nature. Don some sturdy shoes and get ready to leave civilization at the parking lot.
Olympic National Park  You may need a raincoat for a visit to the Olympic Peninsula where you’ll discover Hobbit-like primeval temperate rain forests, a Hall of Mosses, Roosevelt elk, and some 73 miles of beaches.
Photograph of Joshua Tree National Park from Wikimedia Commons/Doug Dolde 
This article was first published in April 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.