The 20 Best Places To Visit In California That You Can’t Miss

The 20 Best Places To Visit In California That You Can’t Miss

Answering a question on the best places to visit in California is no easy thing.

You see, there are many gorgeous places to visit in California. Nicknamed the Golden State, 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. I am not a fan of the cold weather so if you ask me summer I’d plan to travel in the summer, when flowers blossom elegantly and the weather is just perfect, bound to guarantee a fabulous getaway. Having said that, any season is good to go!

The places to visit in California are numerous and intriguing. Where you go really is a matter of season. Places 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 best places to visit in California, in any season. I have listed them from North to South, for an easier way to plan your time in the Golden State. 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

Volcano junkies must head to Mount Shasta

The 20 Best Places To Visit In California

Mount Shasta 

Located at the southern end of the Cascade Range in Siskiyou County in Northern California, 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. This is a great place 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.

Lake Tahoe California

Such clear waters call for adventure sports!

Lake Tahoe

Another of the best places to visit in California is Lake Tahoe. A perfect place in the winter, when you can enjoy the views of the snow-capped mountains, if you go during the summer 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 (Kings Beach is perfect for swimming, by the way), 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.

what to do in california

Napa Valley is one of the best places to visit in California

Napa Valley

The area of Napa Valley has to be mentioned among the best places to visit in California. Gorgeous landscapes, beautiful wineries where you can spend days on end wine tasting, fabulous dining opportunities and plenty of chances to get pampered in one of the many luxury and boutique hotels – you will simply love it. 

And if you want to go for a hike, just head to the neighboring Sonoma Valley, which is packed with good hiking trails. Places like Trione-Annadel State Park, Foothill Regional Park, and Sonoma Coast State Park will give you an abundance of trails to choose from. 

GOOD TO KNOW: Sonoma historic town is a lovely place to visit. Make sure to go by the square and the Old Spanish Mission.

Napa Valley definitely deserves a few days, but if you don’t have much time you can go there on a day trip too. If you want to go wine tasting, it may be a good idea to opt for a guided tour so that you don’t have to worry about driving. These are some good options:

Yosemite

Yosemite is one of the best places to visit in California

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park easily is one of the most beautiful ones in the world, and definitely one of the best places to visit in California. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984, this is the perfect place for nature and hiking lovers, as it boasts more than 1200 km of trails.

What you will love about the Yosemite National Park is the fantastic biodiversity, with more than 400 different species of animals and just as many kind of birds. 

An absolute must-see is Yosemite Falls. With its roughly 740 meters, this is the fifth highest waterfall in the world. You can go to the top of Yosemite Falls via a hiking trail that, together with the hike to Half Dome is among the most challenging ones in the national park. Easiest trails are Vernal Falls footbridge and the Mirror Lake Loop. The best season to enjoy the waterfalls is between May and June, when the snow melts. 

I recommend spending a few days in Yosemite to make the most of it. This Yosemite Valley 3-day camping adventure may be a good option. But if you are short on time you may go there on day trips from San Francisco such as these:

what to do in San Francisco in 3 days

San Francisco Bay Area

Think of California and one of the first images that springs to mind is that of Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. This is one of the best places to visit in California, and one of the most important landmarks in the city. Other than that, you have to make sure to visit Alcatraz, to take in the views of Lombard Street, to walk around Chinatown, North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. Another must-visit is the Mission District, though many may find it a bit too hipster.

If you want to make the most of Golden Gate Bridge, you may want to opt for one of these tours.

Santa Cruz

When it comes to Northern California seaside towns, Santa Cruz is a must-visit. At just 90 minutes drive from San Francisco, but enjoying a much better climate, in Santa Cruz you will find a boardwalk amusement park, a surfing scene (though the water of the Pacific Ocean is particularly cold), and a beautiful redwood forest which you can admire during a steam-train ride. 

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 – definitely one of the best places to visit in California. 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 best places to visit in California especially during the summer, make sure to book your stay in advance.

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

Not far from Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a lovely seaside village where you can enjoy a beautiful sandy beach and several excellent restaurants. 

Big Sur

Big Sur is one of the best places to visit in California. This coast is around 144 km long and home to the tallest single-span bridge in the world, Bixby Bridge. A road trip along the Big Sur will offer impressive views of the cliffs and of the Pacific Ocean – but make sure not to do it in the busy season, as this certainly isn’t an off-the-beaten-path destination! If you have time, you may want to opt for a hike to take in the magnificent views – the Big Sur is a great place for that.

If you want to visit an off-the-beaten-path head to Hearst Castle, which was built in 1922 but truly resembles a 16th century church. You can take a guided tour of Hearst Castle and enjoy breathtaking views of the ocean from there. 

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 quick getaway – that’s why it’s one of the best places to visit in California. 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!

best places to visit in California

The huge sequoia trees are a must see!

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia is one of the best places to visit in California, significantly less crowded than Yosemite, and as such a very good alternative to the most famous park in California. During the summer you will have full sight of what this national park is all about, especially as you will be able to go camping.

In Sequoia National Park you will get to see the largest trees in the world. Make sure to also 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.

Death Valley

The Death Valley is bound to be mentioned in a post about the best places to visit in California. This desert is one of the driest places in North America, and it can get terribly hot in the summer months. If you do decide to visit, make sure to head to Dante’s View for impressive views of the valley – but go as soon as the sun rises, as it gets too hot during the day.

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 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 one of the best places to visit in Southern California

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.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles rightly deserves to be listed in a post about the best places to visit in California. Located in Southern California, the urban center was founded in 1781 but the city started flourishing along the movie industry, from the 1920s onwards. 

Los Angeles means the glitter of Hollywood, the palm ringed beaches, Rodeo Drive and the luxury shopping of Beverly Hills. It means Venice Beach – where you absolutely have to go roller blading or biking. From Los Angeles, you can easily access the lovely Santa Monica, which I have already mentioned, and Pasadena, where you will find the fabulous Huntington Botanical Gardens. 

Anaheim 

Anaheim is a small city outside Los Angeles, in Orange County, Southern California. It is best known as the home of Disneyland Resort. It is one of the best family destinations in California. 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. 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.

Palm Springs

It’s easy to see why Palm Springs is one of the best places to visit in California. This small town is known as the perfect weekend getaway from Los Angeles. You can spend your time browsing the buildings in modernist style, spotting vintage cars, and enjoying the mild weather during the winter time. If you are a lover of architecture and design, you may want to visit during Modernism Week. 

The nearby San Jacinto Mountains and Indian Canyons will provide plenty of hiking opportunities. 

GOOD TO KNOW: Coachella Festival is at a short drive from Palm Springs and takes place every year in April. Make sure to get tickets well in advance as they usually sell out!

things to do in California

Joshua Tree National Park

At about one hour from Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park is a must-see. It is named after the Joshua tree you will see there. You should spend a few days there to properly enjoy the desert landscape, the views, and the silence. It’s a perfect place for sunrise so make sure to rise early! Other than that, it’s a great place for hiking. 

San Clemente Beach Coastal Trail 

Also located in Orange County, Southern California, 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.

San Diego

San Diego is one of the most fun cities in California. Right by the Pacific Ocean, this is a place where you will get a proper idea of what laid-back means. But there is a lot to see! 

This is the oldest city in California, and you can truly get this when you visit the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, the birthplace of Christianity in California. Other landmarks include Balboa Park; Old Town San Diego State Historic Park; and the world-famous San Diego Zoo, which is well-known for its conservation projects. 

At a short drive from San Diego, La Jolla is the perfect place for a day at the beach.

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.

 
 
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 the United States and 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:

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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Read about the best places to visit in California - via @clautavani

Find out which are the best places to visit in California - via @clautavani

35 Unmissable Things To Do In California

35 Unmissable Things To Do In California

One of many travelers biggest dreams is to visit California, and jump head first into all the great things to do in California. This is 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 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 you work your way along the coast as you 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 are many more things to do in California, and it may be worth summing a few of them up. So, here is a list of what to do in California.

what to do in San Francisco in 3 days

35 Great 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 the bridge is a must-visit. One of the landmarks of San Francisco, this is considered one of the top things to do in California (actually, northern California) and you should not miss it.

Here’s a selection of the best tours that go there:

Ride San Francisco Street Cable Car

I was only 13 years old when my uncle visited California 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 the city, and riding it is one of the iconic things to do in California. 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. It’s a must-do!

visit California

Visiting Alcatraz is what to do in California

Visit Alcatraz Island

Just over a mile off the coast, in San Francisco Bay, is the legendary Alcatraz Island – allegedly one of the top places to visit in the state. 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 are some tours that go to Alcatraz Island:

Spend a weekend in Santa Cruz or Carmel-by-the-Sea

In Northern California, Santa Cruz and the lovely Carmel-by-the-Sea are two perfect places to spend a weekend. The first enjoys a good, pleasant climate and is a good surfing destination; the second is a seaside village with a relaxed atmosphere and world-class restaurants.

what to do in california

Walking along the Pier is one of the top things to do in California

Walk on Santa Monica Pier

A landmark of the Golden 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 you should not miss on that.

Venice Beach

Spending a day at the beach is what to do in California

Go to Venice Beach

I am from Sardinia and I love a good urban beach. Having said so, going to the beach should not be what to do in California day in day ou. 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?). This is also home to the world-famous Muscle Beach, where some of the biggest names in bodybuilding got their start.

And to Malibu Surfrider Beach

One of the best things to do in California is learning how to surf and there is no better place for that than Malibu Surfrider Beach. There are surf shops where you can rent your gear and you can even sign up for a surf lesson – probably the best thing to do if you are a complete newbie. 

GOOD TO KNOW: Another great beach is that of Santa Barbara. In fact, make sure to visit Santa Barbara to enjoy examples of Spanish colonial architecture!

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 visiting is one of the most family-friendly activities.

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.

If Disneyland doesn’t sound appealing, you may want to opt for another theme park visit of Universal Studios Hollywood. Make sure you get your ticket before going here.

what to do in california

Visiting the Death Valley is one of the unmissable things to do in California

Take a Trip to Death Valley

As alive and vibrant as Venice Beach is, Death Valley is equally dead and foreboding. Of all the things to do in California, visiting the Death Valley has to be move to the top of your list.

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

This is the hottest and driest spot in North America, and one of the top attractions 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 mighty sights located in the Death Valley National Park is a place known as Dante’s View. From this one spot, you can see almost the entire valley on a clear day. Make sure to go in the early morning hours before the sun gets oppressively hot.

Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin

Go to Badwater Basin

One of the coolest places in the Death Valley is Badwater Basin, known to be the lowest place in the United States at little over 85 meters below sea level. It’s a massive salt flat where you can walk endlessly – but keen in mind it can get scorchingly hot and you will definitely need a hat and sunglasses, and copious amounts of water.

Go Stand Up Paddle Boarding 

Apparently, SUP 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. Go to the beach in San Diego, and you will often see people do that! 

First, it is an inexpensive sport to indulge in. Second, California’s abundant coastline gives paddle boarders plenty of options. And third, there are rental shops everywhere, and wherever they are, there also are experienced instructors who are eager to teach SUP to beginners. It’s definitely what to do in California if you like water!

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. It’s much warmer in San Diego!

things to do in california

Driving along the Big Sur is one of the things to do in California

Visit the Big Sur Region and the Central Coast

This is an area along California’s Central Coast covering roughly 90 miles and one of the coolest areas 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.

A road trip is one of the things to do in California. Rent a car and sleep along the way.

One thing to be aware of if you plan to drive here is that the Pacific Coast Highway can be very congested during the peak summer months. Visit California in late autumn or early spring if you want to have the highway to yourself. On the other hand, definitely stay away during the winter as this is the rainy season along the coast. 

TIP: For off-the-beaten-path place in the area, go to Hearst Castle. It dates back to 1922. You can visit Hearst Castle on a guided tour and then enjoy the views of the Pacific Ocean from there.

GOOD TO KNOW: On the Central Coast you will also find Pismo Beach, a small town with a beautiful beach perfect for a relaxing day. Off the California Coast, about 15 minutes drive inland from Pismo Beach there is San Luis Obispo, a sun-drenched city (it enjoys a whopping 315 days of sunshine per year!) with a lovely historic center.

best things to do in california

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 thing about it 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, the Lake Tahoe comes alive with skiing and snowmobiling. As an interesting side note, this is one of the largest natural lakes in the world. Looks like you need to add this to the list of things to do in California.

You can take this half day photographic scenic tour.

what to do in california

Visiting Napa Valley is what to do in California

Drink all the wine in Napa Valley

If there is one thing you should never miss when you visit California, that’s going on a wine tour in Napa Valley. Make sure to look around for the best vineyards and ask to visit them and pair your visit with wine tasting. You can easily visit the vineyards on a self-guided itinerary, but I recommend going on a guided tour so you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving.

Here are some great tours that go to Napa Valley:

places to visit in California

Don’t miss Redwood!

Visit Redwood National and State 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 and State Park in the northern part of the California is home to old-growth forests featuring the tallest and most massive trees on the planet and a great place to visit!

The 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. If Cheryl Strayed inspired you to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) – arguably one of the coolest things to do in California (and beyond) – you will want to visit Yosemite. For full enjoyment, make sure to go on a multi-day hike for some awe-inspiring landscapes.

Here are some good tours that go to Yosemite:

TIP: For more adventure opportunities, you may want to go to the nearby Mammoth Lakes, which is equally great in the winter, when you can practice ski and other winter sports, and in the summer, for hiking, kayaking and more.

what to do in california

One of the best things to do in California is admiring the sunset over McWay Falls

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. It doesn’t take much to understand why this is one of California’s top attractions.

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

This beach is 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. 

things to do in california

The lovely colors of Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve

Get a color fix in Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve

One of the best things to do in California is going to Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. Not far from Los Angeles, if you are in need of a color fix this is a place to visit if you are traveling to California in the spring – so from mid February to mid May. Keep in mind that you need to stay on the trail and you really can’t pick the flowers!

Visit Broad Museum in Los Angeles

If you are a fan of contemporary art, visiting Broad Museum will be one of the unmissable things to do in California for you. The museum if free to visit, and you can admire pieces of – among many others – Andy Warhol.

Explore San Francisco Chinatown

Love me a good Chinatown – and what a great one this is. So much so that exploring this part of town really qualifies as one of the unmissable things to do in California. This is the kind of place where you can get a fix for any good Chinese food craving, and get lost in the narrow streets while browsing at shops. 

Attend a Lakers Game

I am a firm believer that there is no better way to get a good understanding of the local vibe than attending a sports game. Now – California is a big state so you definitely can’t associate all its people with those that go to the stadium, but you get the idea. Besides, it is one of the most fun things to do in California!

Lakers stadium is the Staples Center and the season goes from October to April – so something you can do if you visit California in the fall, winter or spring. 

Shop at Grove Shopping Mall

Chances are you won’t be able to afford much at this shopping mall, as it is a favorite of celebrities and – as such – one of the most expensive places in Los Angeles. So, opt for window shopping and people-watching – among the best things to do in California anyways!

fishermans wharf

Fishermans Wharf is a must-see when in San Francisco

Roam around Fishermans Wharf 

This is probably one of the most touristy spots in town – but locals seem to love it too, so you may as well go for a walk or to grab a bite of delicious sea food. It’s the kind of place where street artists like to hang out, to the vibe is very much easygoing. It reaches perfection at sunset time, when it is time for a good drink.

Runyon Canyon hike

One of the most fun things to do in California

Hike Runyon Canyon

If you are in the least bit into hiking as much as I am, one of the best things to do in California is a going on a hike. Trails are not amiss there – and you will find an abundance of them even close to Los Angeles. Runyon Canyon hike is one of the most popular ones. There are several trails in the park, for hikes of all levels and duration. You will definitely find one that suits your interests and expertise!

Things to do in California

Another of the unmissable things to do in California

Hike to the Hollywood Sign

Speaking of hikes, nothing screams more California than the Hollywood Sign and the best part of it is that you can hike all the way there – this is by far one of the unmissable things to do in California. You can hike independently or, if you prefer, join a group hike like this one or this one.

Look at the stars from Griffith Observatory

Not far from the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory is the place to go in Los Angeles if you want to admire stars. Other than the stars, the views from there are breathtaking. 

things to do in California

Visiting Joshua Tree is by far one of the best things to do in California

Explore Joshua Tree National Park

Visiting Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best things to do in California. I recommend spending at least a couple of days there to take in the incredible views and the desert landscape. It’s the kind of place you should go if you are tired of all the traffic, noise and pollution of the city. Make sure to set your alarm clock extra early, in time to catch the most incredible sunrise! 

Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Visit Palm Springs

There is no doubt that Palm Springs is one of the coolest small cities in California. This is the kind of place where people from LA go spend a weekend. It’s packed with buildings in modernist style, and you will also be able to spot vintage cars. The city is nicely set in the desert, so the climate is pleasant especially in the winter months. 

TIP: If you are looking for a lesser-known place to visit (at least to foreigners), head to Anza-Borrego State Park. It’s less than 2 hours drive from town and you will be able to admire an incredible desert landscape with beautiful rock formations, mountains, flora and fauna.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

A great view in Lassen

Explore Lassen Volcanic National Park

If you are a volcano junkie like me you should go to Lassen Volcanic National Park. In fact, you should go regardless – visiting is one of the best things to do in California. The landscape is truly stunning, and though the volcano is dormant, you will be able to see geysers, lava rocks and mud pits. The park is open year round – you can enjoy winter sports with the snow, and endless hiking in the spring. 

Solvang

Solvang is a lovely place to explore

Visit Solvang

At about 45 km north of Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez Valley, Solvang is one of the most unique places to visit in California and it will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. This is a place that looks, feels and very much is Danish – but from the late 18th century! There is a Hans Christian Andersen Museum that is nice to visit and walking the cobbled alleys and going from one small café to a bakery is a real pleasure. You can even get a fix for traditional Danish food!

things to do in California

You can go to Santa Catalina on a day trip

Spend a day in Santa Catalina

One of the best things to do in California is spending a day or two in Santa Catalina. The island is located off the coast of Southern California, at about 48 miles from Los Angeles, and it is the kind of place where you can enjoy all sorts of nature and adventure activities such as zip lining. You can go snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, horse riding and camping – there are also plenty of kid-friendly things to do. If that is not your kind of thing, you can opt to visit one of the museums or art galleries.

Visit San Diego Zoo

I would never recommend visiting a zoo due to ethical concerns, but I have to make an exception for this one and if you happen to be in Southern California you really should go. This century-old zoo, which has an incredible variety of animals, is known for its efforts in conservation. Enclosures are cage-less and meant to recreate the animals natural habitat. The on-site veterinarians, scientists and keepers make an enormous effort to keep the animals happy, active and healthy. 

Old Ghost Town Bodie

Old Ghost Town Bodie

Go to Bodie State Historic Park

If you are a fan of eerie places, one of the best things to do in California is visiting the Old Ghost Town in Bodie State Historic Park. It’s a bit difficult to get there – you will need your own car and several hours of driving from Sacramento (the closest major town); but it is worth it.

A State Historic Park since 1962, Bodie used to be a bustling mining town – the kind you’d see in old Western movies, with a saloon, a main street with stores, prostitutes and what not. People moved out of the city when there was no more gold to dig. You can visit the town independently or go on a guided tour – whichever you opt for, make sure to go to the museum to look at the photos that will show you how the town used to look like back in the day. 

things to do in California

The unique pebbles of Glass Beach

Admire Glass Beach

Once a massive garbage dump, at Glass Beach nature has reclaimed its place, with the sea and wind shaping the glass waste and turning it into small, rounded and colorful pebbles. It’s an incredibly colorful place, but it is difficult to catch its unique beauty on photograph, so visiting is what to do in California to see it with your won eyes. You will be mesmerized by the waves bringing in flashes of colors every time they hit the shore.

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

Further readings about the United States

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Discover the best things to do in California - via @clautavani