As the Eagles would say: Welcome to Hotel California! America’s most popular state with one of the highest populations. In this article, we’ll explore some places to visit in California, ensuring that you can soak up all that this sunny state has to offer.
You probably already know something about California even if you have never stepped foot in America. The state stretches from the borders of Mexico in the south and all along the Pacific Ocean on its west until it meets with the state of Oregon in the north. On the eastern side, it has borders with both Nevada and Arizona. The capital of California is Sacramento, but its most famous cities are Los Angles and San Francisco.
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Places to visit in California, The Golden State
California was named the Golden State for its sunny warm weather and the Golden Rush of 1848. It’s a big state of approximately 424 thousand km and consists of almost 500 cities, with three towns with a population of over one million.
So if you are considering whether it’s worth visiting California and may be wondering if there will be anything to do besides walk the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The answer to both questions is YES! California is a beautiful state with so much to do; we will prove it to you.
Popular Places in California
If you’re set to be visiting the Golden State anytime soon, there is probably a number of iconic destinations and landmarks you want to add to your itinerary. Check out these popular places to visit in California and embrace all that it has to offer.
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. It spans the Golden Gate Strait, the entrance to the San Francisco Bay, and connects the city of San Francisco to Marin County. Visiting the Golden Gate Bridge provides a memorable experience with stunning views and the chance to appreciate the architectural and natural beauty of the area.
The bridge has pedestrian walkways on both sides, allowing visitors to walk or bike across. The walkway offers fantastic views of the city, the bay, and the Pacific Ocean. Keep in mind that the bridge is quite long, so plan your visit accordingly and be prepared for some uphill walking if you decide to cross the entire span.
Be sure to visit the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, which is located at the southeastern side of the bridge. The Welcome Center provides information about the history and construction of the bridge. You can learn about the engineering marvel that the bridge represents and browse through exhibits and displays.
There are several access points to visit the Golden Gate Bridge. The most popular is the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, located on the San Francisco side of the bridge. From here, you can enjoy panoramic views of the bridge, the bay, and the city skyline. Remember, the Golden Gate Bridge is not just a landmark; it’s also an active transportation route. Be respectful of other visitors and cyclists sharing the walkways.
Visiting Santa Barbara is a delightful experience. Located on the central coast of California, Santa Barbara is known for its beautiful beaches, Spanish colonial architecture, and charming atmosphere.
Start your visit at Stearns Wharf, one of California’s oldest wooden piers, and enjoy panoramic ocean views, browse the shops, and savour delicious seafood at the waterfront restaurants. State Street is Santa Barbara’s main thoroughfare here you’ll find a mix of boutique shops, art galleries, cafes, and restaurants.
Santa Barbara County Courthouse
Don’t miss the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, a stunning Spanish-Moorish-style building with beautiful gardens and panoramic views from its tower. You can take a guided tour or simply enjoy the architecture and peaceful surroundings.
The Old Mission Santa Barbara, often called the “Queen of the Missions.” is also worth a visit. This historic mission showcases Spanish colonial architecture, a museum, and lovely gardens. It provides insight into the area’s rich history and is a peaceful place to explore.
Santa Barbara Zoo
Spend a fun-filled day at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Located near the ocean, this small yet impressive zoo houses a variety of animals from around the world. The scenic setting adds to the overall experience.
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
Take a leisurely stroll through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, a peaceful oasis with native plants, flowers, and trails. It’s a great place to relax, enjoy nature, and learn about the region’s flora.
Enjoy the beautiful coastline at Butterfly Beach, known for its stunning views and tranquil atmosphere. Relax on the sandy beach, take a walk along the shoreline, or have a picnic while appreciating the Pacific Ocean.
Santa Barbara Wine Country
Take a short drive into the Santa Ynez Valley and explore the Santa Barbara Wine Country. Sample world-class wines at vineyards and wineries, enjoy scenic drives and appreciate the picturesque countryside.
Santa Barbara Harbor
Visit the Santa Barbara Harbor, a bustling marina with boats, yachts, and waterfront restaurants. You can also take a sailing excursion or enjoy water activities such as kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding.
For a unique experience, consider visiting Lotusland, a stunning garden estate with diverse plant collections and whimsical sculptures. This botanical garden requires advance reservations but offers a truly enchanting experience.
Santa Barbara offers a mix of natural beauty, cultural attractions, and a relaxed coastal vibe. Whether you’re interested in history, outdoor activities, or simply enjoying the beach, Santa Barbara has something for everyone.
Unique Places to Visit in California
California is full of unique activities, landmarks and historical sites that are unlike any other in the rest of the world, from visiting long-forgotten prison complexes to hot air balloon rides over the Valley, be sure to check out these unique places to visit in California below.
Alcatraz is a small island in San Francisco Bay. It’s known for its notorious federal prison that housed some of America’s most vicious criminals from 1934 to 1963. Do you fancy a quick history lesson? We’ve got you covered.
The American government used Alcatraz as a prison complex, a fort and a military prison. That was until the Indians of All Tribes, an organisation of Native Americans that called for the return of illegally taken lands, occupied the island for 19 months in 1969 to call for its freedom.
Nowadays, Alcatraz is a famous tourist destination. The main thing visitors do on the island is the guided tours. The tours take you around the old prison complex and briefly examine what life was like for the imprisoned inmates there. You can also visit the island’s lighthouse, the guardhouse and the warden’s house.
The island has a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline, so take lots of pictures. If you’re looking into buying some souvenirs on your way out, you can visit the local bookstore, which offers a nice collection of books, cards and much more. However, there are no restaurants or other shops around the island, so pack your food and snacks.
You will need to take the ferry from San Francisco’s Pier 33 to te to the island, and you can buy tickets to Alcatraz Island from the National Parks Services’ official website.
Napa Valley is California’s premier wine country. It is located 80 kilometres northeast of San Francisco and is about a 1-hour drive by car. Napa Valley is famous for its gorgeous vineyards and wineries that offer world-class wine of all kinds. The area is beautiful for long walks, strolling, bike riding, or driving. If you are a wine lover, then Napa Valley calls your name.
Hundreds of wineries in Napa Valley offer different wine-tasting experiences, from classic ones that overlook vast vineyards to more modern ones downtown. You can take a guided tour around the distilleries to learn about the wine production process and their histories. Usually, you can do up to 3 wine tastings daily, each taking around 90 minutes.
Not a wine-lover? That’s totally cool because Napa Valley is not just about wine! You can take a hot air balloon for a full panorama view of the valley while enjoying a beautiful sunset. You might not expect this, but Napa Valley also offers some hiking trails for the ones who like physical labour.
Napa Valley offers various restaurants, from casual to fancy Michelin-star dining experiences. Children can enjoy Napa Valley by visiting Connolly Animal Ranch or shopping with their parents at the farmer’s market.
Visiting Big Sur is a breathtaking experience, offering stunning coastal views, rugged landscapes, and a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Here’s what you should know about visiting Big Sur:
One of the main attractions of Big Sur is driving along the iconic Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway. The winding road offers incredible panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, cliffs, and rocky coastline. Be prepared for narrow roads and sharp turns, but take your time to enjoy the awe-inspiring scenery.
Bixby Creek Bridge
One of the most photographed spots in Big Sur is the Bixby Creek Bridge, an iconic architectural marvel. Stop at the designated turnout to capture stunning views of the bridge and the coastline.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Explore the natural beauty of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which offers hiking trails through ancient redwoods, scenic riverside trails, and breathtaking waterfalls like Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View Falls. The park also provides campsites and picnic areas.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Don’t miss Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, known for McWay Falls, an enchanting waterfall that cascades directly onto the beach. Take a short trail to an overlook for a picturesque view of the waterfall and the turquoise cove below.
Point Sur State Historic Park
Visit Point Sur State Historic Park and see the historic Point Sur Lighthouse, perched on a volcanic rock. Take a guided tour to learn about the history and significance of the lighthouse.
Andrew Molera State Park
Enjoy coastal hikes, beautiful meadows, and scenic trails at Andrew Molera State Park. The park offers opportunities for horseback riding, camping, birdwatching, and beach access.
Take a detour to Pfeiffer Beach, known for its dramatic rock formations and purple sand. It’s a secluded and picturesque spot, but be aware that the road leading to the beach can be narrow and winding.
Limekiln State Park
Explore Limekiln State Park and discover its lush redwood forest, picturesque creek, and historic lime kilns. Hike along the trails, have a picnic, or camp amidst the tranquil surroundings.
For more adventurous visitors, Ventana Wilderness offers opportunities for hiking, backpacking, and camping in a stunning natural setting. Trails such as the Cone Peak or the Sykes Hot Springs trail provide challenging but rewarding experiences.
Nature Places to Visit in California
The sunny state boasts much natural scenery that is just jaw-dropping to look at. Check out some natural places to visit in California and immerse yourself in its tranquil, serene landscapes.
Lake Tahoe is located in the western part of California and covers the entire California/Nevada border. It is around 496 km big and is considered one of the 20 oldest lakes in the world, ageing approximately two million years old, give or take.
It is a beautiful location for anyone visiting California at least once. The lake is enormous, crystal clear and has been used as the backdrop of many Hollywood films, including The Godfather II. Unlike most of California’s attractions that have their peak season during the summer, this spot is a great place for a winter retreat.
Lake Tahoe is a skier paradise with 11 ski and snowboarding resorts, 167 lifts, and more than 800 trails. If you’re more of a water than a snow person, visiting Lake Tahoe in the summer will allow you to go kayaking or swim in its crystal-clear water. Many people also like fishing because the lake has around 15 fish species. Not a physical activities kind of person? No problem. You can take a scenic drive around the lake and enjoy the beautiful surrounding nature.
Lake Tahoe is a beautiful destination that can serve your trip’s needs, whether it’s an adventure or just relaxing by the tranquil water.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is located in Central California’s western Sierra Nevada Mountains and has been protected since 1864. It is famous for its ancient sequoia trees, deep valleys, vast wilderness, giant waterfalls, grand meadows and granite cliffs. If you love nature and connecting with the earth, Yosemite is the place for you whether you decide to go alone o with your family.
Hiking in Yosemite is a must-do activity. About 800 miles of hiking trails suit hikers of all skill levels. So if hiking is what calls your name, then pack your backpack and get ready to see the most impressive sites you will lay your eyes on. If you’re not a big hiker and would instead do something more chill, don’t worry! Yosemite is one of America’s most famous camping locations.
There are 13 camping grounds around the park ranging from highly developed ones with actual working toilets and more secluded ones for people who like to be one with nature. But because camping in Yosemite is very popular, reservations are a must and are very hard to get. So if you plan to take your family there, find a suitable camping ground for you and reserve it as early as possible because places run out quickly!
Whether you stay in Yosemite for a couple of days hiking or camping or just go for a quick visit to take some gorgeous pictures or swim in one of its many lakes, Yosemite National Park is a must-visit.
Sierra Nevada Mountains
The Sierra Nevada Mountains are located along the east of California. It’s where Lake Tahoe and Yosemite Park are located, but the mountains are a marvel even if you’re not visiting these specific areas.
Hikers from all over the United States come to California to hike at Sierra. The Mountains offer a wide range of hiking trails for all skill levels. You can find short routes that take a couple of hours or long multi-day ones. During the snowy winter, the mountains offer a fantastic skiing experience. There are multiple world-class resorts where you can rent equipment and have a wonderful time with your friends or family. Furthermore, being away from civilisations and very high up, the Sierra Nevada Mountains are excellent for stargazing. You can visit multiple observatories or have a camping trip to enjoy the wilderness and the stars in peace.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is a unique and mesmerizing desert landscape located in Southern California and it is definitely one of the more adventurous places to visit in California. Check out the details of this national park below.
Joshua Tree National Park is known for its distinct desert scenery, characterized by its namesake Joshua trees, towering rock formations, vast sandy plains, and rugged mountains. The park is an enchanting blend of the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert.
The park is famous for its namesake Joshua trees, unique plants that are found primarily in the Mojave Desert. These trees with their spiky branches and twisted forms create an otherworldly atmosphere and are a photographer’s delight.
Hiking and Nature Trails
Joshua Tree offers numerous hiking and nature trails for visitors to explore the park’s diverse landscapes. Popular trails include Hidden Valley, Barker Dam, Ryan Mountain, and Cholla Cactus Garden. Each trail offers its own unique scenery and opportunities to spot wildlife and native plants.
With its distinctive rock formations, Joshua Tree National Park is a renowned destination for rock climbers of all skill levels. The park offers a wide range of climbing routes, from easy bouldering problems to challenging multi-pitch climbs. However, please note that climbing requires experience and proper gear.
Joshua Tree is an excellent place for stargazing due to its remote location and limited light pollution. The park has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park, making it an ideal spot to observe the night sky and enjoy the stars and constellations.
Cultural and Historical Sites
Explore the cultural and historical sites within the park, such as Keys Ranch, which offers guided tours that provide insights into the area’s ranching and mining history. You can also find Native American petroglyphs and historic homesteader cabins scattered throughout the park.
Camping and Picnicking
Joshua Tree National Park offers several campgrounds where visitors can experience the park’s tranquility overnight. There are also picnic areas throughout the park where you can enjoy a meal surrounded by the desert landscape.
Stop by one of the park’s visitor centres, such as the Joshua Tree Visitor Center or the Oasis Visitor Center, to gather information, get maps, and learn about the park’s natural and cultural history.
Places in California to visit for families
California is a great destination for those visiting with their family, from the iconic Disneyland Park to Universal Studios and more, it’s sure to be a Califonia vacation that you’ll never forget. Check out some family-friendly places in California to visit below.
Disneyland Park needs no introductions (but we will still give you one). Hailed as the happiest place on Earth, Disneyland is a kid’s (and many adults) dream destination. Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, is the original Disneyland built by Walt Disney. It opened in 1955 and has welcomed millions of visitors yearly, reaching around 19 million in 2019. If all these millions of people went to Disneyland, you must also! We don’t want any kind of FOMO feelings around here.
The theme park has eight “lands”: Main Street, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Each land offers a wide range of rides, live shows, restaurants and even shops for you to do some shopping (aka buy those famous Mickey ears). For example, Star Wars Land, one of the newest lands, offers an extraordinary immersive experience in Star Wars world that, if you are a fan, you do not want to miss!
The best thing about Disneyland is that you can plan your entire trip around it and never get bored! You can even stay at one of the Disneyland Resort hotels to make your trip more convenient and easy. The resort is right by the park, and staying there will make your life much easier because you won’t have to worry about transportation. The hotels also have a touch of Disney magic that will make your trip more magical.
Buying tickets to the park is very easy. You can get them online through their official website or even by them in person at the park’s entrance. However, we recommend buying them online in advance to avoid long lines and ensure availability during peak seasons.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Do you want more theme parks? We’ve got you! When you visit California, you must visit Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angelos. Universal Studios is a theme park and an entertainment centre that offers a wide range of rides, shows and experiences based on famous Hollywood movies and TV shows. Just like Disneyland rides, all rides and sections of Universal Studios are themed and are very immersive. Universal Studios will give you the Hollywood experience you dream of when you think of California.
The theme park has many different attractions. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is one of the most popular destinations in Universal Studios! You can take long walks on Hogsmead’s streets, visit the great halls of Hogwarts or even buy your first wand from Ollivander! Don’t like Harry Potter, no worries! The park has a lot more to offer. You can explore the Mushroom Kingdom at Super Nintendo World, try the fantastic Mario Kart Ride, or go on an epic adventure in Jurassic World.
If rides differ from your thing, then the world-famous Studio Tour might take your fancy. The Studio Tours takes you behind the scenes of some of Hollywood‘s most famous movies and TV shows. You will see the sets, the props and even some special effects in action. If you’re a movie-lover, the Studio Tour will be an experience of a lifetime.
You can buy tickets and passes to Universal Studio Hollywood through their official website. The park can be packed during the peak seasons, so ensure you get your tickets well in advance.
Santa Monica Pier
Up for some classic American fun? Santa Monica Pier got everything: from an amusement park overlooking the Pacific Ocean to foot trucks, souvenir vendors, and many water activities. Santa Monica Pier is located at Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica, California.
It has been around since 1909 and has gone through a lot of renovation to become the entertainment centre it is today. It’s a beautiful place to take your family or to go on a romantic date. There are many activities to do, and you’ll never be bored!
Santa Monica Pier has multiple fun rides you can try, but nothing beats the ferry wheel overlooking the water! Being up there and looking at the vast Pacific Ocean will become your core memory. After trying the rides at the Pier, you can visit the Aquarium, where they showcase some of the local marine life and have many interactive experiences for children and adults alike.
You also find many restaurants, small snack vendors, and even shops where you can shop. Watching the sunset at the Pier is a viral activity for tourists and locals alike, so make sure you catch it.
Places to visit in Los Angeles
Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the United States, offers a diverse range of attractions and sightseeing opportunities, making it one of the best places to visit in California. Check them out below!
Explore the heart of the entertainment industry, stroll along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and snap a photo with the iconic Hollywood Sign. Visit the TCL Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Museum, and enjoy the vibrant nightlife on Hollywood Boulevard.
Griffith Park and Observatory
Escape the city bustle and enjoy nature in Griffith Park, one of the largest urban parks in the United States. You can choose to hike trails, that are surrounded by stunning nature or visit the animal at the Los Angeles Zoo. The Griffith Observatory also offers breathtaking views of Los Angeles and the night sky. Explore interactive exhibits, learn about astronomy, and gaze at the stars through telescopes.
This art museum is known for its stunning architecture and its vast collection of European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts. The Getty Center is set on a hilltop and offers panoramic views of Los Angeles.
The Getty Villa
Located in the Pacific Palisades neighbourhood, the Getty Villa is an art museum dedicated to ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art and culture. The museum’s architecture is inspired by an ancient Roman villa and the surrounding gardens are beautiful to explore.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
Discover a diverse collection of artwork spanning thousands of years and various cultures at LACMA. From modern and contemporary art to ancient Egyptian artifacts, the museum offers something for every art enthusiast.
Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills
Experience luxury and high-end shopping on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Take a walk along the palm-lined streets, admire the opulent mansions, and spot famous landmarks like the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, it’s definitely one of the worthwhile places to visit in California and feel like a movie star!
La Brea Tar Pits and Museum
Explore the fascinating world of Ice Age fossils at the La Brea Tar Pits. The tar pits have trapped and preserved numerous prehistoric animals, and the on-site museum displays these fossils and provides insights into ancient Los Angeles.
These are just a few highlights of what Los Angeles has to offer. The city is vast and diverse, so there’s something for everyone, whether you’re interested in art, entertainment, nature, or history.
There is something for everyone in California! Whether going on a solo trip or visiting with your family or friends, you will always find the perfect activity somewhere in California. Don’t let anyone tell you these activities are tourist cliches because the truth is they are for a reason. No one wants to miss the opportunity to visit Disneyland, camp at Yosemite, or swim in Lake Tahoe, and you shouldn’t either! So pack your bags and head to the Golden State for the time of your life.