The 10 Best Places To Visit In California (That Aren’t Just Cities)

The 10 Best Places To Visit In California (That Aren’t Just Cities)

There are many gorgeous places to visit in California. This in my opinion is one of the most beautiful states in the United States of America. California has a lot to offer to any kind of traveler.  

California is known to be evergreen throughout the year – every season always looks beautiful there. However, if you ask me summer is the best season to visit California. Flowers blossom elegantly and the weather is just perfect, bound to guarantee a fabulous getaway.

The best places to visit in California during the summer are quite numerous and intriguing. However, those inland and in the central valley may be best avoided during those months, as the temperatures are blasting.

Furthermore, destinations like the San Francisco, San Diego or Los Angeles may not exactly be ideal during summer – what with traffic, crowds and what not. Your best bet for a great summer holiday in California is either the mountains or the coast.

In this post, I highlight the 10 best places to visit in California where you should head for your summer holidays. At the end of the post, I share some useful tips to plan your trip there.

Looking for more things to do in California? Make sure to read my post 15 Unmissable Things To Do In California.”

best places to visit in California

The huge sequoia trees are a must see!

The 10 Best Places To Visit In California For A Great Getaway

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia is one of the best places to visit in California during the summer, significantly less crowded than Yosemite, and as such a very good alternative to the most famous park in California. That’s the season when you will have full sight of what this national park is all about. In Sequoia National Park you will get to see the largest trees in the world. Summer is by far the best season to camp there – which you really should be doing for full enjoyment.

Summer is also an excellent time to explore Kings Canyon National Park, where one of the deepest canyons in North America is located. This is a great place to admire wildlife – if you are lucky, you can spot bears and even cougars.

Lake Tahoe California

Such clear waters call for adventure sports!

Lake Tahoe

Another place in California that is best explored in the summer is Lake Tahoe. During this season you will find mild temperatures during the day, and nice and cool ones at night. It’s a much better place to visit than the boiling hot Central Valley!

In Lake Tahoe you will have no shortage of things to do – though you can surely relax there, this is a place to go in search of the most fun-filled activities. From hiking to mountain biking to boating and more water sports, this is the place to go if you are looking for action. If you visit, make sure to stop by the Donner Memorial State Park and Museum, a small museum opened in 2015 to portray the history and experience of emigrants.

You can even go on a photographic tour of Lake Tahoe. Book yours here.

Places to visit in California

Pismo Beach is one of the most charming places to visit in California

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach may well have everything you are looking for in a summer getaway. There is a small downtown with plenty of souvenir shops and local restaurants; a gorgeous beach where you can hang out, go sunbathing, enjoy swimming in the ocean. You can even rent an ATV to explore the beach.

TIP: If you intend to visit Pismo Beach, make sure to book your hotel in advance as this an increasingly popular destination!

Fishing pier of Monterey

Monterey is a lovely place to visit

Monterey

If you enjoy a little bit of culture and history during your trip, then you will love visiting Monterey. There you will find several museums and art galleries; a beautiful aquarium; and an excellent selection of good restaurants. Monterey is also home to great beaches.

TIP: Since Monterey is one of the most famous places to visit in California during the summer, make sure to book your stay in advance.

TIP: Try to visit Monterey on weekdays, as it will be less crowded.

best places to visit in California

Volcano junkies must head to Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta 

Located at the southern end of the Cascade Range in Siskiyou County, Mount Shasta is a potentially active volcano and one of the best places to visit in California, especially if you enjoy nature and outdoor activities. Needless to say, summer is a great time to visit, for you will be able to go hiking, biking and camping. There are various good hotels and camping sites in Mount Shasta, so there will be no shortage of good places to stay.

TIP: If you like fishing, make sure to spend some time at Lake Siskiyou.

Santa Catalina Island

If you like action, you won’t be disappointed by Santa Catalina Island. This island off the coast of California offers all sorts of adventurous activities, such as zip lining, as well as things for nature and wildlife lovers such as dolphin watching cruises. You will be able to go sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, camping, boating, horse riding and much more.

And if you are in need of something a bit more sophisticated, head to the many museums and art galleries on the island. There is so much to see and do that it definitely should be mentioned as one of the best places to visit in California.

Anaheim 

Anaheim is a small city outside Los Angeles, in Orange County. It is best known as the home of Disneyland Resort. It is the best place to visit as a family during summer. But the Disney themed park isn’t the only place you should visit there!

If you enjoy the ocean, make sure to head to Huntington Beach. This beautiful beach is perfect for surfing.

But there is more! If you are in search of a bit of culture, you will find some interesting museums. A few minutes drive from Anaheim you will find Santa Ana, home of The Discovery Cube Orange County, which was once known as the Discovery Science Center and the Taco Bell Discovery Science Center.

If science is not your thing, head to the Bowers Museum, which has a great art collection.

beaches in California

Santa Barbara guarantees beautiful sunsets

Santa Barbara

Among the best places to visit in California it is worth mentioning Santa Barbara. This is the kind of place where no matter your taste in travel you can find something you will enjoy. Great beaches and coves? Check. Good weather? Definitely check. Culture, history and art? Once again, check.

One of the things you are bound to love in Santa Barbara is the presence of Spanish Colonial Revival Style architecture. Head to Casa Del Herrero and the Old Mission for great examples of it.

If you are in search for something a bit more active, you will find plenty of rock climbing, hiking, kayaking, cycling, boating, fishing opportunities. And if you are in search of good wine, you will find it no shortage of it in the surrounding vineyards, where you will have plenty of chances to go wine tasting.

For a fabulous wine tasting tour of Santa Barbara, click here.

California

Easy to see why Santa Monica is a favorite of travelers and locals alike

Santa Monica

You will have heard of Santa Monica from movies and TV series, and will definitely know it’s one of the places where Hollywood celebrities love to live. Other than that, it is a great place to visit.

Among the places to visit in Santa Monica, don’t skip Santa Monica Pier and the Pacific Pier. You will have a chance to go surfing or – waves permitting – stand up paddle. And you will find plenty of excellent dining opportunities.

TIP: Santa Monica is a fantastic place to go for a romantic getaway.

San Clemente Beach Coastal Trail 

Also located in Orange County, San Clemente Beach Coastal Trail is a roughly 3 km trail that gives access to the shoreline of San Clemente. It’s open every day from roughly 4:00 am to midnight, and you can easily walk it, bike it or run it and get to access San Clemente beach and Calafia beach.

It’s a favorite of locals as well as tourists, so a great place where you will find a mixed crowd.

sunset in California

A beautiful sunset in Santa Monica

Useful Information To Plan Your Trip To California

Getting a visa for the United States

Before even considering a summer trip to California, you should ask yourself: “Do I need an ESTA to travel to the USA from UK?”

Yes, you do. ESTA is a total compulsory requirement for UK citizens (in fact, for all citizens of the European Union) to visit USA. The ESTA actually is an authorization that allows the British citizens or nationals to visit or pass through the United States. It lasts for just 90 days; after which it expires.

Getting to California

California is well connected to the rest of Europe via direct flights from most capital cities and not only. The cheapest flights are those to Los Angeles, so I would suggest to look into those first.

Moving around California

California calls for a road trip! This is the kind of place where you should rent a car and drive around endlessly, especially if you have time. You can check the prices of car rental here.

To better prepare for your road trip, head over to my post 13 Road Trip Essentials For The Perfect Summer Road Trip.”

Other useful information

As always, I strongly advise you to get a good travel insurance for all your trips. Get yours here.

Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”

For more readings about California, you can also check one of these books:

For more places to visit and things to do in the United States, read my posts 10 Things To Do For A Fabulous Trip To Miami,” 13 Classic Things To Do In New York City” and Seven Adrenaline Filled Things To Do In Yellowstone.”

Legal Disclaimer: This post was written in cooperation with Esta Visa USA. Needless to say, the views expressed are my own.

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Discover the places to visit in California - via @clautavani

15 Unmissable Things To Do In California

15 Unmissable Things To Do In California

One of my biggest dreams as of late is to visit California, and jump head first into all the great things to do in California. After having seen New York and explored Oregon and Colorado, it is definitely due. After all, California one of the most unique states on the US mainland.

Most people who visit California think Hollywood and go south. But there are a lot more things to do in California, many more places to visit in California than just Hollywood. From beautiful cities to gorgeous countryside, from water sports to historical sites to raw nature at its finest, there is something for everyone in the state Americans affectionately refer to as the ‘Left Coast’.

Most travelers heading to California for an extended holiday will land either in San Diego or Los Angeles. Both destinations are a great place to start and definitely among the coolest places to visit in California. But then I recommend travelers to work their way along the coast as they head into the mountainous northern regions. While there, one of the top things to do in California is to take a trip along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. It is a breath-taking drive one is bound to remember for the rest of his life.

Anyways, there’s many more things to do in California, and it may be worth summing a few of them up. So, here are the 15 things to do in California which I would not want to miss.

15 Unmissable Things To Do In California

Admire the Golden Gate Bridge

I know it is possibly among the most cliché-like tourist attractions in California, but I never said I only travel off the beaten path. After all I continue to claim I am an unsuccessful backpacker. That’s why I have vowed that as soon as I visit California, I will go admire the Golden Gate Bridge. One of the landmarks of San Francisco, this is considered one of the top things to do in California and I won’t miss on it.

Here’s a selection of the best tours that go to the Golden Gate Bridge:

Ride San Francisco Street Cable Car

I was only 13 years old when my uncle visited San Francisco and came back with pictures of himself riding the incredible manually operated cable car – the only manually operated one left in the world. It is an icon of San Francisco, and riding it is one of the iconic things to do in California. Apparently during the peak time there were 23 lines running through the city. There now remain only 3 and they are beautiful to look at (and to ride) when in the city.

visit California

Alcatraz is one of the unmissable places to visit in California

Visit Alcatraz Island

Just over a mile off the coast of San Francisco, in San Francisco Bay, is the legendary Alcatraz Island – allegedly one of the top places to visit in California. Affectionately known as the Rock, the island is home to one of America’s most notorious federal prisons.

Alcatraz prison operated from 1934 until 1963 and housed infamous criminals like George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, and Rafael Miranda. Today, it is possible to tour the island and the federal prison thanks to the US National Park Service. One thing to be aware of is that the weather on the island can sometimes be unpredictable. Regardless, visiting Alcatraz is one of the most interesting things to do in California.

Here’s some tour that go to Alcatraz Island:

places to visit in California

Walking along Santa Monica Pier is one of the top things to do in California – photo courtesy of AMaleki (flickr)

Walk on Santa Monica Pier

One of the most famous places to visit in California is Santa Monica Pier, a landmark of the state for over 100 years. Walking along the Pier, riding its famous solar powered Ferris wheel, and enjoying its amusement park are among the top things to do in California and I certainly won’t miss on that.

Go to Venice Beach

I am from Sardinia and I love a good urban beach. Having said so, going to the beach wouldn’t be my main reason to visit California. After all, Los Angeles is a city not normally thought of in terms of its beaches. However, there is one gem known as Venice Beach. This beach is quintessential Southern California replete with roller skaters, sunbathers, and those infinite California girls the Beach Boys used to sing about (I wonder if with my pale skin and dark hair I could ever pass for one?). Venice is also home to the world-famous Muscle Beach, where some of the biggest names in bodybuilding got their start.

Here’s some good tours that go to Santa Monica and Venice Beach:

Spend a Day at Disneyland

While Walt Disney World in Florida is the most popular tourist attraction in the US, the Disney brand started in Anaheim, California. Disneyland is one of the biggest tourist attractions in California, and those who visit California should hardly skip it. I owe it to myself to visit Disneyland if I want to truly understand where it all began.

The Disneyland amusement park actually consists of two separate parks and a shopping district all within the same general neighborhood. It’s easy to see why going to Disneyland is one of the coolest things to do in California. There are three local hotels with direct access to the Disney property. Search online to get the best package deals on hotels, flights and even family travel insurance. You can get yours here.

things to do in California

The Death Valley is one of the unmissable places to visit in California – photo courtesy of Albert De Bruijn (flickr)

Take a Trip to Death Valley

As alive and vibrant as Venice Beach is, Death Valley is equally dead and foreboding. I love deserts – I have made it a point to visit Atacama in Chile. I was impressed by the beauty of Wadi Rum, in Jordan. Of all the things to do in California, visiting the Death Valley may well be at the top of my list.

To find out more about Wadi Rum, read my post “All the Places to Visit in Jordan.”

The Death Valley is the hottest and driest spot in North America, and one of the top places to visit in California. It consists of mile after mile of mostly barren desert, and scorching heat that can be so depressing in the summer that visitors are warned against traveling through during the heat of the day.

One of the most popular tourist attractions in California, located in the Death Valley is a place known as Dante’s View. From this one spot, it is possible to see almost the entire valley on a clear day. I will have to make sure to go in the early morning hours before the sun gets oppressively hot.

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SUP is one of the things to do in California – photo courtesy of Explore SUP

Go Stand Up Paddle Boarding

I regularly see people that go stand up paddle boarding (SUP) here in Sardinia. A friend of mine actually is a SUP instructor, and another one has just bought a board. Apparently, it is the new kid on the block of water sports. It is growing in popularity among Californians for a number of reasons and going SUP is one of the nicest things to do in California, for many reasons.

First, it is an inexpensive sport to indulge in. Second, California’s abundant coastline gives paddle boarders plenty of options. And third, there’s rental shops everywhere, and wherever they are, there also are experienced instructors who are eager to teach SUP to beginners. Looks like, if I visit California, I won’t have to miss on this.

Of all the places to visit in California, Los Angeles and San Diego are probably the best bet for SUP given that they are the major population centers in California. Besides, due to the Pacific currents the water gets colder up north.

visit California

Driving along the Big Sur is one of the things to do in California – photo courtesy of Bring Back Words (Flickr)

Visit the Big Sur Region

Big Sur is an area along California’s central coast covering roughly 90 miles and one of the coolest places to visit in California. The previously mentioned Pacific Coast Highway runs right through it. Big Sur is home to Bixby Bridge (the tallest single-span bridge in the world), numerous lighthouses, and some of the most impressive cliffs on the US West Coast. I have no doubt that going to Big Sur is one of the things to do in California. Perhaps renting an RV through San Francisco RV rental is a good idea, so that I don’t have to worry about finding accommodation along the way.

One thing to be aware of if planning to drive to Big Sur is that the Pacific Coast Highway can be very congested during the peak summer months. I was advised that I should visit California in late autumn or early spring if I want to have the highway to myself. I was also told that I should definitely stay away during the winter as this is the rainy season along the coast. And I’d better make sure I have roadside assistance if I decide to drive.

At the time of writing, part of the Pacific Coast Highway around Big Sur is out due to a landslide, and there is no final date as to when the reparation work will be complete: do double check before taking the trip there.

Visit Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is thought to be one of the best tourist attractions in California. It is located in the northern part of the state on the border with Nevada. The best part of Lake Tahoe is that there are plenty of things to do year-round. During the summer months, the region is perfect for sunbathing, hiking, water sports, and other outdoor activities. During the winter, Lake Tahoe comes alive with skiing and snowmobiling. As an interesting side note, Lake Tahoe is one of the largest natural lakes in the world. Looks like I need to add this to the list of things to do in California.

Here’s a few tours that go to Lake Tahoe:

Drink all the wine in Napa Valley

If there is one thing I would never want to miss if I visit California, that’s going on a wine tour in Napa Valley. I come from a wine region myself, and I love driving around hills covered in gorgeous vineyards and then couple it together with some wine tasting. I know that this is among the best places to visit in California for wine, so I am quite set on it.

Here’s some great tours that go to Napa Valley:

things to do in California

Those who visit California should not miss on Redwood National Park – photo courtesy of Globelink (Pixabay)

Visit Redwood National Park

Some Europeans have said that visiting one national park in America is like visiting them all. I don’t think so! Such an assessment is far from the truth. The Redwood National Park in the northern part of the California is home to old-growth forests featuring the tallest and most massive trees on the planet. Redwood National Park is certainly one of the most amazing places to visit in California.

The national park is densely populated by coastal redwoods, also known as sequoia trees. The sequoias here are the only surviving species of the sequoia genus. The tallest among them approach 400 feet in height and nearly 30 feet in diameter. Some of these trees are so massive that engineers simply bored through them, rather than cutting them down, in order to complete a road through the forest. It’s easy to see why going to Redwood National Park is one of the greatest things to do in California.

Hike around Yosemite National Park

I love hiking, I enjoy multi-day hikes, and never miss an opportunity to do so. I have even walked parts of the Jordan Trail and the entire Jesus Trail in Israel. Plus, I am currently reading Wild, the book by Cheryl Strayed and I have a mild obsession for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) – arguably one of the coolest things to do in California (and beyond). I doubt I will ever have enough time to walk it all, but I won’t ever forgive myself if I visit California and don’t at least walk parts of it.

To read more about my experience on the Jordan Trail, check my post “Why I hiked the Jordan Trail.”

The PCT goes right through Yosemite National Park, which arguably is one of the nicest places to visit in California. Sure enough, I will make sure to go on a multi-day hike when I go.

Here’s some good tours that go to Yosemite National Park:

visit California

One of the best things to do in California is admiring the sunset over McWay Falls – photo courtesy of W. Tipton (flickr)

Admire McWay falls

The power of social media is such that through it I have discovered the existence of McWay falls, an 80 foot waterfall located in Julia Pfeiferr Burns State Park. Picture after picture, I have made up my mind that this is one of the places to visit in California that I absolutely must go to.

Considered to be a tide fall because of its close proximity to the ocean, it used to fall directly into the Pacific, but then a landslide in 1985 altered the terrain and it now flows to a beach that is not accessible. Admiring the splendid beach and the waterfalls is definitely one of the things to do in California.

Go to Pfeiffer beach

Again, I had not even heard about Pfeiffer beach until a blogger friend of mine went there and mentioned in his blog about a beach that is apparently very quiet, beautiful and unusual, because the sand is of a purple color due to manganese garnet particles washed down from the hillside close by. I am all about discovering new places and looks like going to Pfeiffer beach is one of the things to do in California I should not miss.

California is known as the Golden State due to the amount of sunshine it receives every year. I like to think of it as golden because of all it offers tourists. There are so many things to do in California that I shall never be bored. Those planning to visit California in the future should prepare for the trip of a lifetime. There are so many places to visit in California that I’ll never get it all in on a single holiday.

Have you ever been to California? What did you like the most about it?

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