Top Things To Do In California
Discover the endless possibilities for adventure and relaxation in the diverse state of California. From the iconic landmarks of San Francisco to the sun-soaked beaches of Southern California, the Golden State offers a myriad of experiences for every type of traveler. Explore the natural wonders of Yosemite National Park, indulge in the world-class wineries of Napa Valley, or soak up the glamorous atmosphere of Los Angeles. Whether you're seeking outdoor thrills, cultural immersion, the best tourist attractions or simply a laid-back escape, California's vibrant landscapes and rich culture make it a must-visit destination. As a lifelong resident of California, I'll share my personal thoughts here on how to best spend your time. I've explored much of the state many times over but some areas I have greater familiarity with than others. It's a huge state so there are also some places I have not visited personally including Death Valley National Park.
Where To Base Your California Vacation
If you're flying in from out of the state, then it makes sense to base your trip around the Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco / Oakland / San Jose areas unless time is not an option then you can explore everything mentioned below. An exception would be if you're looking to ski then I would suggest flying into Reno, Nevada then base your stay in the Lake Tahoe area which straddles both California & Nevada.
- The Getty Center
- The Broad Museum
- Getty Villa
- Santa Monica Pier
- Venice Beach
- Rodeo Drive
- Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
- Griffith Observatory
- Universal Studios Hollywood
Los Angeles Region
- Pasadena - though technically a suburb of L.A., Pasadena is the cultural hub of the San Gabriel Valley. My favorite city in the L.A. area.
- Norton Simon Museum
- Old Town Pasadena
- Pasadena City Hall - if there's one building to photograph in California, this would be the one I would choose.
- The Huntington Library, Art Museums & Botanical Gardens
- Santa Barbara
- Santa Barbara Mission
- Los Olivos
- Orange County Coast
- Newport Beach
- Laguna Beach
- Dana Point
- San Juan Capistrano
- Joshua Tree National Park (winter & spring)
- Palm Springs (winter & spring)
- Disneyland & Disney's California Adventure
- Gaslamp District
- Old Town San Diego
- Seaport Village
- La Jolla Cove
- Coronado Island
- Balboa Park
- San Diego Zoo
San Diego Region
- Temecula Wine Country
- Anza Borrego Desert State Park
- The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
- Golden Gate Bridge / Crissy Field - arguably the most scenic city waterfront in the U.S.
- The Exploratorium - great for kids and adults alike
- Chinatown / North Beach - most of the local Chinese population is based around the Sunset District these days but the historic Chinatown is still worth a visit if you haven't been
- Mission District - amazing Mexican food but I have to say that the streets are very dirty and personal safety can be an issue. There are lots of street murals to see here.
- Golden Gate Park - an amazing place to have a picnic or go for a stroll / bike ride
- De Young Museum
- Japanese Tea Garden
- California Academy of Sciences
San Francisco Region
- Napa Valley & Sonoma Wine Country
- Monterey / Carmel / Big Sur
Most Scenic Drives in California
- Yosemite Valley
- Redwood Coast
- 17-Mile Drive
- Lake Tahoe
- Mount Tamalpais State Park
- California Highway 1
- Big Sur
- Sonoma Coast
Charming Small Towns in California
If I had my choice I'd spend little time in large cities. The streets are generally dirty and property crime (car break-ins, robberies, etc...) can be a major issue especially in Oakland, San Francisco and some parts of LA. Fortunately, California has no shortage of charming small towns to visit. There's no quantifiable number for what constitutes a "small town" but I consider them to be any town that is neither within an urban area nor a surburb of a metropolis.
- Sutter Creek
- Nevada City
- Pacific Grove
- St. Helena
- Morro Bay
- Paso Robles
Under-Rated Part of California
Mount Shasta always seems to fly under the radar here in California. Perhaps because it shares more in common geographically with Southern Oregon and is hours from the next closest metro area but the scenery here is top-notch. From the 14,179 ft. Mount Shasta peak to beautiful waterfalls and mountain scenery I find this area to be very beautiful.
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