There are so many options for things to do in California. This beautiful state offers a diverse landscape. You can see everything from mountains to Redwood Forests to Beaches and deserts. There are so many California sights that you should add to your California bucket list.
I have always loved the laid back vibe of California. There are so many places to visit in California. Some of the top things to do in California are to take in the beauty of the gigantic redwoods or discover the beautiful coastal beaches. California is a place for laid back vibes, dreamers, and outdoorsy folk. The Golden State offers so many memorable experiences to experience. In collaboration with other travel writers, we have come up with a list of the best things to do in California
We have compiled a list of the best fun things to do in California to experience this beauty of a State. Although I have been to California several times, I still have not explored all the regions. I have added many of these suggestions to my California bucket list. Make sure to save this guide when planning your California vacation for some inspiration and new regions to explore. California is a beautiful state and we find ourselves returning again and again.
Here are the top things to do in California during your next visit.
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Best Time to Visit California
If you are a beach lover then the best time to visit California is usually between May and October but note that it is also high season. If you are looking for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding, then the months of December, January, and February are the best.
If you want to beat the crowds then the best time to visit Los Angeles and the area is from March to May and between September and November, when there are fewer crowds and it isn’t as hot.
I have visited Palm Springs in December and early January and the temperatures were very comfortable. It was hot and sunny during the day and then it cooled off at night. San Diego in February was also a pleasant time to visit. It was warm, comfortable enough to do all the sightseeing and then it cooled off at night.
Traveling to Northern California you will always get cooler temperatures. I traveled to Northern California in September and different areas of San Francisco had different temperatures. Usually, a light jacket was always required.
Top Things to do in Northern California
Self-Guided San Francisco Walking Tour
Jenn and Ed Coleman from Coleman Concierge
Are you looking for something to do in California that offers you a little of everything? A little exercise in an ideal climate – check. Instagrammable spots and gorgeous views – check. Culture, food, history, and art rolled into a perfect package, you know it. A self-guided San Francisco walking tour is the best way to explore the bay. The Golden Gate Park corridor combines with a stroll along the waterfront to create an 18-mile loop that can be sliced, diced, and connected with public transportation to be just right for you.
The first and most popular segment runs from Powell Street Station at the top of Knob Hill down to the water’s edge at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. Along the way, you’ll find Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Coit Tower. It’s only a 3-mile jaunt, and you can catch one of the world-famous cable cars back to the top.
The next segment is so perfect for cyclists, dozens of tours run daily. Bike trails run along the bay to the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge. If you’re riding, you cross the bridge and return via ferry. If your hiking, you can continue around from the batteries to the bluff and see the mighty Pacific Ocean crashing onto Baker Beach.
Follow the beach around to the Dutch Windmills and Golden Gate Park. If you’re tired, you can catch the N-line back to downtown at regular intervals by the Park. If not, explore one of San Francisco’s premier green spaces that takes you right out onto Haight-Ashbury. On the way back to downtown, you can check out the Painted Ladies and Hayes Valley. Whether you take this walking tour as a long day or leisurely weekend, you’ll experience the heart and soul of San Francisco and have the pictures to prove it.
Ride the Cable Cars in San Francisco
Sage from Everyday Wanderer
From Alcatraz to the Southern Pacific Railroad Station, California has many landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places. But did you know that San Francisco is home to the only landmark you can ride? With their clanging bells, San Francisco’s crimson and gold cable cars are as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge.
But did you know that San Francisco’s cable cars were nearly obsolete as more modern modes of transportation hit the streets of San Francisco? Thanks to Freidel Klussmann’s crusade to save the cable cars in the 1940s and 1950s, these landmarks have been preserved and are ready to take you for a ride when you visit San Francisco.
While many of the original cable car lines have been removed, there are three cable car lines that still wind through the City by the Bay. Two of the lines start at the intersection of Powell and Market and continue to Fisherman’s Wharf. If you ride this line, you’ll note that the turnaround on Hyde Street near the wharf is named after Mrs. Klussmann.
The third cable car line starts at California and Market and continues to Van Ness Avenue.
Pro Tip: After riding the cable cars, swing by the Cable Car Museum in the city’s Nob Hill neighborhood at 1201 Mason Street. Here you’ll see the massive cables that pull the red trolleys up and down the hills of San Francisco hard at work. There is no admission fee, and the museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Although you can board a cable car along its route by waiting near one of the brown and white cable car signs, your ride will be shortened when you’re asked to disembark at the end of the line. Additionally, the cable cars are often so full when they leave the starting point that there isn’t any room to accommodate additional riders along the way.
Visit Muir Woods Largest Trees in the World
Leona from Wandermust Family
If you are looking for the best things to do in California the national monument of Muir Woods should be at the top of your list.
Muir Woods is a short 40-minute drive from the center of San Francisco and crosses the Golden Gate Bridge to do so. As such it is the perfect day trip to take from San Francisco!
Muir Woods is home to some of the largest trees in the world – the redwoods and are a sight to behold. You can’t help but be impressed by these trees – the tallest things on earth that seem to stretch endlessly into the sky. You can’t help but feel small among them.
The whole of Muir Woods has boardwalks which makes it really easy even for those with accessibility issues and we had no problem getting around with a stroller!
There is also a cafe and gift shop on site which means it is really easy to spend half a day or full day there.
Our biggest tip for going however is to make sure you make a parking reservation before you go or else you might find yourself having to drive back to the nearest town to get a reservation and parking space. To book your reservation visit GoMuirWoods.com or call 1-800-410-2419.
If possible travel in offseason as in summer the woods can get very busy but when we were there in February we had the place pretty much to ourselves but be sure to pack layers as it can be cold among the large trees.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Julie from More Than Main Street
Are the giant redwoods in California on your bucket list? Well, if they aren’t…they should be! One of our favorite day trips from San Francisco is Big Basin Redwoods State Park. These majestic trees are a sight to see! You truly feel small in the world next to these gentle giants. Not only can you see the infamous redwoods, but Big Basin has waterfalls, a variety of wildlife, over 80 miles of trails, and trees over 2500 years old! It costs $10 (cash) to park and lots get full fast, so arrive as early as possible.
If you have a short amount of time, I’d recommend hiking the Redwood Loop Trail to hit all the highlights. This trail is wheelchair and stroller friendly and is a little over a half-mile long. They have a self-guided tour brochure at the trail entrance, so you know what you’re seeing along the loop. If you have more time or like a bit more of a challenge, there are quite a few other hiking and camping options. Be sure to check the park website if you’re looking for a guided hike, planned events/activities, and trail closures.
Driving through mountain roads to get to Big Basin is not for the weary. Be prepared if you get carsick, but also be prepared for some awesome scenery along the way! Located about an hour and a half from San Francisco or about an hour and a half from Monterey, we feel like visiting Big Basin Redwoods State Park should be included in any California road trip itinerary!
Taylor of Travel Outlandish
Whales are the largest creatures on earth, stretching up to 100 ft and weighing in at 200 tons. They travel incredible distances between breeding and feeding seasons. But I guess what I’m really getting at with all these whale facts is that whales are truly incredible creatures! You’ve never seen anything like them. And if you’re visiting California, you’re in one of the best places on earth to see them. Why wouldn’t you go?
California’s geography allows visitors to catch whales on their migratory path from Alaska to Mexico. The temperate waters off the coast serve as home to most species (including gray whales, orcas, humpbacks, minke, finback, and blue whales) at various points in the year
Some of the best places for whale watching in California are in Monterey, Newport Beach, Santa Barbara, and San Diego. If you have a choice, Monterey Bay is excellent! The waters of Monterey Bay are rich with a variety of marine life ranging from otters to elephant seals to humpback whales, and if you’re already in San Francisco, it’s something you could do with just a day to spare.
Russian River Valley
Kurosh from Road Goat
The Russian River Valley is one of the most scenic regions in all California. Angelinos (those from Los Angeles) and Bay Area dwellers often seek to escape the hustle and bustle of big cities. The Russian River Valley wine region offers just that, as well as a glass of fine wine.
Located in the geographic heart of the beautiful Sonoma County, the Russian River Valley region is home to some of the wine country’s most revered grape varietals and boasts world-class standards for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Go to Gary Farrell Vineyards for the breathtaking view, and Korbel for the sparkling sweetness. If you want to get off the beaten track, Porter Creek Vineyard is an unpretentious hippy vineyard in a beautiful setting.
This region is also a top pick for many foodies as well – Wild Flour Bread shop offers traditional bakery taste and you may just try the most amazing bread in the world. You can dine in Guerneville for small-town charm coupled with classic dishes and of course, more wine.
And once you’ve had enough of all the wine and food that Russian River Valley region has to offer (in most cases, you won’t have!), you can canoe down the beautiful Russian River that flows alongside the lush redwood forests of Northern California. You might as well stop by the breathtaking Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock’s timeless film “The Birds” was shot. At the end of the day, a simple drive down the scenic roads along the valley with redwoods and the river at your side may just prove to be your perfect Californian getaway.
Jack London State Park
Tom from Travel Past 50
The American writer Jack London had this great sense of outdoor adventure, and the California state park that is made out of land he settled on in after his wandering time was over illustrates his life nearly as well as his books.
The Jack London Historic State Park is near Glen Ellen, California, in the Sonoma County wine country. Be sure to arrive with plenty of time to explore the myriad details of the farm and forest that London built.
Start with “The House of Happy Walls,” which was a smaller version of the original home London built on the property. That home burned down in 1913 before he and his wife were able to occupy it. After London’s death, his wife Charmian built the smaller home that is now the museum and visitor center of the State Park.
After viewing the London artifacts in the home, take a brisk one-hour walk up the hill around the vineyards, through the pasture land and redwood forest to a lake London built to provide irrigation and water for the livestock. On a warm day, you can relish the constant shade of the enormous trees. For the more active visitor, there are also 29 miles of wilderness hiking and mountain biking trails on nine routes that traverse through mixed forest, redwood groves, oak woodlands, and grassy meadows.
The park has signs along the walking path that lead you through the various points of interest. They include quotes from London about what he was trying to accomplish by bringing the farm back to fruition after the area had been rendered sterile by the practices of his predecessors. In addition to those signs, there are also signs warning about mountain lions and rattlesnakes, which a slight edge to the walk.
Visit Sutro Baths in San Francisco
Sean Lau from LivingoutLau
Sutro Baths is a historical landmark located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco. In 1896, Sutro baths opened as the first public swimming pool. However, the baths struggled economically due to the high maintenance costs. Eventually, the baths were sold to developers to build high-rise apartments. But why don’t you see an apartment there right now? Because shortly after it was sold, the whole facility was burned down through an act of arson.
Now when you visit Sutro baths, you will see nothing but ruins. The National Park Service had bought the site and deemed it a historical site in 1980. Now visitors can come to see the ruins and visit the museum next to the baths itself.
But history aside, the reason why Sutro Baths were one of my favorite thing to do in California is because of how beautiful it is. Sutro Baths are located right on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. During high tides, you can even see some of the waves crashing into the ruins of Sutro Baths
Try to come at sunset as Sutro Baths will reflect the colors from the sky, making it one of the most beautiful sceneries ever seen. Or come earlier and stroll around the adjacent trail known as Land’s End for some beautiful view of the Californian coast.
The best thing about Sutro Baths? It is completely free. You don’t have to pay a penny to enter and you get to stay as long as you want. Though I would definitely not recommend staying late into the night because it would be hard to see and the cliffs could be dangerous.
Visit Armstrong Redwoods State Nature Preserve
Leah from An Adventure is Calling
Redwood trees, also known as Coastal Redwoods or California Redwoods, are one of the beautiful things that make California unique. They can only be found in California (and the very tip of southwestern Oregon), so many travelers to California prioritize getting to walk among them.
Armstrong Redwoods State Nature Preserve is the perfect place to enjoy these beautiful, tall evergreens. This state park is a 1.5-hour drive from San Francisco and is located in Guerneville, Sonoma County. The general parking fee is $8 to enter the park, but if you’re up for an additional walk, you can park for free outside of the gate by the visitor’s center or along the entrance road. You’ll find several trail options in the park, and several of them are wheelchair accessible and stroller-friendly.
During your visit, you will not want to miss the park’s oldest redwood tree, Colonel Armstrong, which is over 1,400 years old. You’ll also want to admire Parson Jones, the park’s tallest tree, which is over 310 feet tall (taller than the length of a football field). The park has several picnic areas, horseback riding trails, and restrooms, so plan to make a day of your visit.
Armstrong Redwoods is lovely throughout the year, but it is best enjoyed during the hot months, as the redwood trees offer a natural, cool canopy from the hot sun. Stop by one of the many local restaurants or food trucks on River Road in Guerneville (before turning onto Armstrong Woods Road) and bring your food into the park. Bring plenty of water, food, good walking shoes, and bug repellant (mosquitos love it here!).
Visit Lake Tahoe
Sierra Schmidt from Free to Travel Mama
Lake Tahoe is in a basin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains which means that its stunning blue waters are only rivaled by the majestic mountains that surround it. One of Lake Tahoe’s most valuable features is that it has so much beauty, as well as activities, to offer in every season of the year.
Winter in Lake Tahoe becomes high tourist season when its snow-capped mountains turn into a winter wonderland filled with skiers, sledders, and snowboarders. Northstar and Heavenly are two of the most popular resorts offering high-quality ski schools, daycare for little ones, and cozy lodges filled with hot chocolate and other tasty treats. Other winter activities include ice skating outdoors in Heavenly Village and taking the gondola up the mountain for picture-perfect views.
In summer, the crystal clear waters invite swimmers, paddle boarders, and kayaks to enjoy the clean and beautiful, but chilly, lake activities. Meeks Bay and Sand Harbor are popular spots to pack a picnic, take in the view, and spend the day on one of the most beautiful lakes you will ever see. Treat yourself to ice cream at Camp Richardson before you head back to your lodging for the evening!
Spring and Autumn are the shoulder seasons and are the perfect time for hiking while temperatures are moderate. Spring brings the added benefit of melting snow which equals rushing waterfalls, and Fall offers its glorious autumn colors in the leaves. Some moderate hikes are to Eagle Falls or down the steep, but short hill to tour the Vikingsholm Mansion and view Emerald Bay from ground level.
No matter the season, Lake Tahoe’s mountain community is sure to be a favorite thing to do when visiting California!
Anisa from Two Traveling Texans
How would you like to walk in the footsteps of some of America’s most notorious criminals like Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the “Birdman of Alcatraz”), and George “Machine Gun” Kelly? On a small island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, you can.
Alcatraz was originally developed as a military fortification with a lighthouse, but it is most famous for being a high-security federal prison from 1934-1963. While 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, none of them were successful. Now it’s become one of the most popular tourist attractions in California so be sure to get your tickets in advance.
The only way to see Alcatraz is through the official tours. They offer a day tour, night tour, and behind the scenes tour. The Alcatraz night tour offers a bit of a spooky atmosphere and special ranger talks while the behind the scenes tour will take you to areas of Alcatraz Island that the other tours don’t.
All the tours include a scenic boat ride to the island with the views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline. Then, it’s a short but steep walk up to the prison. There you can learn about the history of Alcatraz and what the lives of the prisoners were like on the audio tour of the cell block. The personal stories make it one of the best audio tours I have taken. Alcatraz Island is a fascinating place with a bit of an eerie feel and definitely worth a visit if you get the chance.
Kiteboarding in Sherman Island
Patricia from Ze Wandering Frogs
Surfing is what first comes to mind when you think about water sport in California. But the state is also an excellent destination for kiteboarding. But the Golden State is also a popular destination for kiteboarding with several spots available along the Pacific Coast and within the San Francisco Bay Area. Sherman Island, situated in the Sacramento Delta about one hour and a half from San Francisco, attracts kiteboarders from all levels in the summer months. From May to September, and sometimes longer, strong winds blow almost all day long in the “Delta,” providing for top kitesurfing conditions.
Lessons are available for beginners, who can learn the basics of the sport on the grassy fields and go on a downwind from Kitopia Island. Expert riders can try new tricks or kite among the small islands. Different entrance points along Sherman Island and the Sacramento River allow riders to kite in different areas. Strong tides are present in the brackish water of the river.
Many come for the day from San Francisco or the Bay Area. Others spend the night close to the kitesurfing spot. However, there are no accommodations within the Sherman Island County Park, where most of the launch areas are located. Camping cars can stay days and nights with time-limited permits (US$5 per vehicle for day use, or US$50 for the annual pass, US$12.50 for overnight camping, with discounts for the pass holders). The remote park offers neither food nor water, and visitors need to be self-sufficient. A nearby campground on Brannan Island about 10-15 minutes away is an alternate option for those with tents or looking for shower amenities.
Kiteboarding is an exciting sport, and Sherman Island has been a fantastic spot, totally recommended for all water sport enthusiasts.
Drink Wine in Sonoma
Rebecca Arnold of Rebecca and the World
One of the best things to do in California is to taste wine – after all, the state is the largest producer of wine in the United States.
Most people will think of Napa first when they plan a wine-tasting trip, but if you visit Sonoma instead, you’ll find wineries that are just as great – but usually with fewer visitors and cheaper tasting fees. Less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco, it’s also easily accessible.
Wine production is a big part of Sonoma’s economy, and the area’s great climate and soil conditions make it the perfect place for growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
There are plenty of wineries surrounding Sonoma town – so many that you’d need months to try them all. Most require reservations in advance, especially in high season or if you’re traveling with a large group. Tasting fees range from $15 all the way up to $40 for sips of an estate’s reserve wines. Make sure to research the wineries and find out if you need to reserve in advance. Then, plot your preferred wineries in Google Maps so you can plan the perfect day of wine tasting. Alternatively, hire a driver so you can safely explore the wineries.
For something truly unique, jump in a vintage VW with a local guide who’ll take you to three or four of the best wineries in Sonoma. It’s a fun – and totally Instagrammable – way to explore Sonoma.
You don’t even need to leave Sonoma town to taste wine. Around Sonoma’s pretty plaza sit dozens of tasting rooms, including most of the best wineries in Sonoma, each within walking distance of each other.
Visit Burney Falls
Nina Ragusa from Where in the World is Nina
Burney Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls on the West Coast and in the state of California, and rightfully so. It may not be the highest, it may not be the widest but it’s definitely one of the most beautiful and most unique waterfalls around. It’s129 feet tall and has roaring water pouring over its fern-laced facade year-round, some of which seemingly comes from nowhere!
There’s this triangle rock in the middle that splits it into two falls and then the mossy dribbles on either side of the falls create this ethereal spectacle! It’s no wonder it’s so busy, particularly during April-October.
I visited mid-September and there was a reasonable crowd but during high season and especially on the weekends, the parking lot is known to fill up and the park will close at capacity.
To get to the falls, there’s a very easy and short half-mile walk down a hill. You will have to walk the half-mile back up to the parking when you leave. There is also a loop trail around the falls if you have more time.
For photographers, don’t forget your lens cloths because Burney Falls is very misty!
Wine Tasting in Napa Valley
Catherine D’Cruz from We Go With Kids
Napa Valley is synonymous with wine, and wine has been produced in this region since the nineteenth century. Napa Valley is located in northern California, about an hour north of San Francisco. You can take a full-day ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train that includes lunch, during the tour from San Francisco. The area gained international recognition after California wines won every category in the 1976 Judgment of Paris wine competition. Napa Valley wineries specialize in the production of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot, zinfandel, and many others.
While each winery in Napa is distinctive, most focus solely on wine production rather than offer full dining menus. Most are open from about 10 am to 5 pm daily, and we were able to take advantage of facility tours, free snacks, aerial tram rides, and even grape stomping during our visit to Napa Valley. We recommend visiting during the Fall to experience the harvest, and make sure to designate a driver before starting wine tastings.
We visited Napa with kids, and our young sons enjoyed exploring wineries with us. The Napa scenery is really picturesque, and the manicured wineries are the perfect backdrop for family photos. Our favorite was V. Sattui Winery, which featured a deli with delicious sandwiches that were perfect for making a picnic lunch. There are many gourmet restaurants and resorts in Napa Valley that make this region an ideal location for a short getaway in Northern California. Due to its proximity to San Francisco, a few days in Napa can be combined with a few days in the city as well.
Drive Along Pacific Coast Highway 1
Richa Joshi from MyTicklefeet
One of our most favorite things to do when visiting California is to experience the gorgeous drive on the Pacific Coast Highway aka Highway 1. The best way to explore Highway 1, which runs along the California coast, is to cover the span between LA to San Francisco or vice versa. You can easily fly into either LAX or SFO airport and return the rental car at the other airport and fly out.
For this road trip give yourself at the very least a weekend for this drive in order to take enough stops along the way. You will be surprised by how quickly the landscape changes from southern California to the north. Start your Highway 1 drive from Santa Monica Beach in LA and enjoy the coastal views passing by Malibu on your way up north.
The must-see places in the south and central California section of the drive are Santa Barbara, Solvang, and Pismo beach. Solvang is a cute little Danish town in the heart of the state surrounded by Central California’s wine country. Taking a wine stop here at Santa Ynez valley vineyards would also be a perfect addition to this road trip.
As you head north, make sure to stop by Morro Bay and Big Sur until you reach Monterey. The 17- mile scenic drive in Monterey is a must-add detour along this highway 1 road trip. As you make your way towards San Francisco, make sure to also stop by Half Moon Bay which is surfer’s paradise in the north. Once in San Francisco, don’t forget to drive through the Golden Gate Bridge to complete this road trip. If you are driving from north to south then you will end this road trip in Santa Monica Beach in LA.
Cycle the Golden Gate Bridge
Laura & Charlie from The Travelling Stomach
You can’t think of San Francisco without thinking of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and there’s no better way to get up close and personal with this great suspension bridge than by cycling across it.
Hire a bike from Blazing Saddles for only $32 for the day and the bay is your oyster. The cost includes a handy little handlebar bag for your valuables, helmet for safety, lock, and map of your route (don’t worry it’s pretty impossible to get lost!)
The classic route across the bridge begins with a scenic ride through Aquatic Park, the Marine and Presidio Park leading you to the base of the bridge for the only tough uphill section, but once you’re up on the bridge it’ll be worth it. Views across the bay are incredible as you pedal across the world’s most photographed bridge. It’s best to bring a jacket for this section as no matter the weather in San Francisco there’s always chill crosswinds blowing out in the Bay.
A thrilling downhill ride brings you into Sausalito, a lovely, charming bayside town. Park up your bike and book your ferry back to San Francisco when you arrive as they have a maximum bike capacity and can get pretty busy later on during the day. Spend your afternoon meandering around this quaint town and grab a bite to eat in either Scoma’s, for seafood with excellent views, Poggio, for traditional Italian fare, or Bocce Bar, a more casual vibe with pizza and, as the name suggests, Bocce.
If you want to explore further continue cycling on through Mill Valley where you can see some of California’s famous redwood trees and on towards Tiburon, another great fishing town with even more amazing choices for food and shopping. You can also catch a ferry back to San Francisco from here so there’s no need to return to Sausalito.
Places to Visit in Central California
Visit the Cottages of Carmel
Priya Vin from Outside Suburbia
We often find ourselves in the West coast since our daughter goes to school there. We have done a few road trips from San Francisco to the little towns in Northern California and we love the drive up Highway 1 to Big Sur. There are many little towns perfect for weekend trips, and during one such trip, we stumbled upon Carmel, a charming little town by the sea. There are so many wonderful things to do in Carmel. It has a white sand beach, some forests and natural parklands nearby. Book your accommodations early since there are only a few Inns in town.
Wake up early and walk to the beach, you will pass by many cute cottages with names like Hanel & Gretel and Ocean’s End. Stroll around the quaint village, through the narrow streets and flower-filled courtyards admiring all the pretty tiles and gardens. The whole village is so photogenic. Tuck box looks like it belongs in a fairytale book! You can have breakfast or afternoon tea there. Then go on a couple of scenic drives. Drive to Big Sur, have lunch with a view at one of the restaurants where you can see the land meet the ocean and be back to catch the sunset.
Visit Big Sur
Brooke Herron A Different Kind of Travel
Big Sur, on the Northern California Coast near Monterey, is one of the most spectacular coastal destinations in the state.
With its winding roads, panoramic views, miles of hiking trails in forests of looming redwood trees or on bluffs overlooking the ocean it is beloved by both California natives and visitors alike.
If you are looking for Southern California style beaches with thousands of bodies laying out in the sun catching the perfect tan-Big Sur is not the place you will find them. The coast in Northern California gets windier and cooler than in Southern California so you’ll find more people tide-pooling, picnicking or throwing a frisbee (and either wearing or carrying an extra layer of clothing) than laying in bathing suits.
Must-visit sites in Big Sur:
This gorgeous and somewhat ‘tucked away’ beach is known for its’ purple sand (caused by Manganese garnet washed down from the hillside above) but it remains a place people come back to over and over because of it’s beauty-particularly the unique rock formations. I suggest taking a picnic and wearing pants you can easily roll up so you can do some tide-pooling and see some of the spectacular sea creatures hiding in these Northern California waters. And don’t forget your camera! At certain times of the day, the sand can really appear as if someone just spilled purple dye on it. It is something you won’t see anywhere else on this Coast.
Pfeiffer Beach is located on Sycamore Canyon Road off of Highway 1. Parking is limited which helps to keep this beach from getting over-crowded. Get there early or you likely won’t get a parking spot.
Andrew Molera State Park
Choose one of the many ridge, bluff or panorama trail options in Andrew Molera State Park and enjoy hiking that comes with spectacular views. Depending on which trail you choose- you’ll wind through meadows, bluffs or beaches. Among hikers’ favorite for the best views are the Ridge and Bluff Trails. Pack a lunch and make a whole day of it.
Andrew Molera State Park offers viewpoints and various parking areas along Highway 1.
*Do be aware that some of the trails in this park are closed due to some damage that occurred last year. Check this site for local conditions and news about trail closures in Big Sur.
Alabama Hills, California
Cat and Joe from Walk My World
Snow-capped mountains and arches that wouldn’t look out of place in Utah might not be the first things that spring to mind when you think about California, but that’s exactly what you’ll find in Alabama Hills. Movie Road is the most iconic spot in the area and even if you don’t know It by name, you’ll probably have seen it on Instagram or as the backdrop to many movies including Gladiator and Iron Man! It’s easily one of the most scenic roads we’ve ever driven on with majestic Mount Whitney looming over it.
The best time to visit Movie Road – if you can stomach a really early start – is sunrise. The mountains glow red in the early morning light and it’s much quieter than later in the day. If you want a shot walking on the road it’s also the safest time of day to do it – although you definitely still need to watch out for cars.
When you’ve finished at Movie Road, head on the short and easy walking trail to Mobius Arch. The arch perfectly frames Mount Whitney and the surrounding Sierra Mountain range.
The nearest town to base yourself in is Lone Pine which is a 10-minute drive from Movie Road. Alabama Hills is easily combined with a trip to Death Valley National Park which is only one hour 45 minutes away.
Sequoia National Park
James Ian at Travel Collecting
One of the best things to do in California is to head to Sequoia National Park and hike through the giants. Sequoia trees are the largest trees on earth (redwoods are the tallest, but sequoias are bigger – and still incredibly tall). In Sequoia National Park and the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park, there are several groves of ancient trees that include several of the largest plants on the planet. Most of the biggest trees have been named, and walking from one to another is truly awe-inspiring.
There are several easy hikes, including the Congress Trail (read a complete description of the Congress Trail here). This easy hike starts with the short, paved General Sherman Tree Trail to the largest tree of them all. The trail actually goes through a tunnel that has been cut into the trunk of a fallen tree. From the General Sherman Tree, the Congress Trail proceeds past more giants such as the President Tree and Chief Sequoya Tree.
There are also a couple of groves of trees, including the Senate and the House (do you see a theme to the names?). There is also the Room Tree off a short spur trail that is hollow inside and you can walk into it. Nearby is the Giant Forest Museum, where you can learn all about these fascinating trees. Another short trail, the Big Trees trail, circles a small meadow that is great for wildlife viewing in the late afternoon. In Kings Canyon is another famous tree, General Grant Tree, also easily accessible along a short trail. Seeing the giant sequoias is a real highlight of any trip to California.
Hiking Half Dome
Dayna Brockbank from Happily Ever Travels
The incredible and iconic view of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, California can actually be conquered–by you! Although difficult, hiking Half Dome will definitely be one of the highlights of your trip to California.
What makes this hike so unique is not the 9 hours required or the view, but the fact that to get to the top of the Dome you have to dawn a pair of gloves, grab onto a chain and pull yourself vertically up the entire backside of the famous dome.
Sound exhilarating? It is! After about 5-6 hours of hiking uphill, you finally arrive at the base of the dome and have to prepare yourself for the most exciting part of the hike!
This hike is considered difficult and takes about 10-12 total, although I witnessed many people who were struggling and a little out-of-shape make it all the way to the top!
However, there are a few loops you have to jump through to be able to climb legally. The hike is only open from about May 24 through October 15 each year.
If your trip coincides with these dates, then the next step is to apply for the “lottery.”
You should apply to the daily lottery 2 days before you plan to hike. There are approximately 50 tickets available each day. You can apply on this website and read more information about the lottery process on the National Parks Service website.
The lottery costs $10 per application to apply and another $10 per person after you are accepted.
The most important thing to remember is to pack more than enough water for each person, even if it seems a bit heavy. Start the hike before sunrise in order to make sure you finish before it gets dark. You can pack gloves, but usually, there will be gloves that people leave in front of the cables that are free for anyone to use. Remember to pack plenty of food and be careful not to stand too close to the edge when you reach the top of the dome!
Visit Monterey Bay Aquarium
Sinead Camplin from Map Made Memories
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of my favorite places to visit in California. The enormous aquarium is located on the oceanfront at the historic Cannery Row in Monterey. It is around a five-hour drive north of Los Angeles. The entrance ticket is not cheap at $50 for an adult but you could easily spend a whole day here and still not see everything.
You can explore diverse sections introducing you to sea birds, penguins, and deep-sea animals as well as the animals who naturally inhabit Monterey Bay. Our children were enthralled by the ethereal jellyfish exhibit and the adorable, playful sea otters. My highlight was the huge 28-foot high kelp forest exhibit which makes you feel you are glimpsing a hidden world.
The Open Sea exhibit – the aquariums largest exhibit – is a huge tank that is home to sharks, sea turtles and a variety of deep-sea fish. The glittering, flitting shoals of sardines here was mesmerizing. There are several hands-on areas where adults and children alike can touch and hold animals such as crabs and starfish under the watchful eye of knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteer guides.
Plus there are daily feeding sessions and shows in the aquariums auditorium. The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to ‘inspire conservation of the ocean’ and any visitor will leave with a newfound, or rekindled, love and respect of the ocean and its animals.
Visit Yosemite National Park
Kris from Nomad by Trade
Yosemite is not only one of the best places to visit in California, but it’s also one of the most iconic National Parks in the entire United States. Visitors from around the world flock to the famous Yosemite Valley where sheer granite cliffs rise to the sky and waterfalls tumble down cascades hundreds or thousands of feet high.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find miles and miles of hiking trails in Yosemite ranging from easy paved strolls to challenging paths that gain thousands of feet in elevation. You’ll enjoy views of alpine lakes, waterfalls, mountain peaks, sequoia trees, and more along the many trails offered. There are also plenty of scenic drives you can take if hiking isn’t quite your thing. For the very adventurous, Yosemite is also one of the world’s top rock climbing destinations, and during warmer months climbers can usually be seen scaling cliffs like the famous El Capitan.
Yosemite National Park is located in eastern California in the Sierra Nevada mountains. For those flying in, Fresno is the nearest major airport, though San Francisco has many more flight options if you can make the longer drive. The park is open year-round, though several of its roads close during the winter due to snow cover and tire chains can become mandatory at any time. Summer is the most popular (and crowded) time of year to visit, but springtime offers the best views of waterfalls as the snowmelt has them absolutely roaring.
Visit Death Valley
Michelle Stelly from The Wandering Queen
One of the best things to do in California is to visit Death Valley National Park. Death Valley is located in eastern California about 3 and a half hours away from Los Angeles. The national park features salt flats, sand dunes, colorful pastel mountains, craters, and rocks that move on their own. This area in California is definitely a unique, one of a kind place.
The best time to visit this national park is during the wintertime. Death Valley is known to be the hottest place on Earth. Temperatures rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. It holds the world record for hottest temperature, which is 134 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some of the best things to do in the park are to watch sunrise and sunset. Sunrise at Zabriskie Point is a must; many people flock to the viewpoint at the crack of dawn. Dante’s Viewpoint and The Mesquite Sand Dunes are two excellent spots for sunset.
Another great area to experience is The Artist’s Palette. It is a picturesque area filled with pastel mountains. They are splashed with pinks, yellows, blues, and greens. Another excellent spot to experience is the salt flats located in Badwater Basin. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America, standing at 282 feet below sea level. The basin is filled with Sodium Chloride, better known as table salt. The vast white views of the salts on the ground combined with the mountains in the distance make this a great area to improve your photography. If you love to hike, then Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch, and the Badlands Loop is a remarkable area to explore. The formations are unique and stunning. Just make sure to bring and drink plenty of water!
Day Trip to Channel Island National Park (Ventura, California)
Tanya Raedeke from Rad Family Travel
What to do: Hop on a ferry from Ventura to explore a lesser-known U.S. National Park: Channel Islands. Dubbed California’s Galapagos, you’ll love exploring this largely untouched landscape and learning about its unique plants, flowers, and animals. We chose to ferry to Santa Cruz Island. Don your snorkeling gear for diving into the kelp forest or rent a kayak if you love the water. The hike up to Cavern Point on ranger-led tour is worth the gorgeous view over a picnic lunch.
Humpback and Blue Whale watching during the ferry ride to any of the Channel Islands is a bonus in the summer, as well as traversing alongside mega-pods of dolphins. Once on the island, meet the Island Fox and California sea lions. Anacapa Island and Santa Rosa are also popular islands to visit. Don’t miss the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center on Spinnaker Drive in Ventura before or after your excursion.
The only way to get to Channel Islands National Park is via the Island Packers ferry. Currently, day fares are about $59 for adults and $41 for children. Don’t hesitate – this outdoor adventure is worth every penny! The best time to go for premium marine life sightings above and below water is in the summer or fall.
More Tips for exploring Channel Islands National Park
- Plan ahead for this day trip! Island Packers excursions fill up way in advance. We booked ours about 4 weeks out and we’re lucky to find space on a trip for six people. I suggest booking 2 months out if you can.
- Look at the weather forecast and pack layers. We went in June and there was a heavy marine layer until 2 p.m. Chilly boat ride, but when the sun came out we were peeling off the warmer gear.
- Take a picnic lunch, lots of water, and snacks. There is no way to purchase food or drinks on the islands. There are water spigots and vaulted bathrooms on Santa Cruz.
- In addition to wearing hiking shoes and a wristwatch, pack a towel, swimsuit, snorkel gear, water sandals, your best camera, if you’re feeling super adventurous.
Learn more great tips from Tanya at Rad Family Trip, like how to camp overnight and more at Channel Islands National Park.
Things to do in Southern California
Visit Balboa Park in San Diego
Megan from Bobo & Chichi
One of the best places to visit in California in sunny San Diego is Balboa Park. While most people come for part of a day you could actually spend multiple days here enjoying all the different museums, exhibits, and gardens Balboa Park has to offer. Located in the heart of downtown San Diego, Balboa Park has 17 different museums, a Spanish Art Village, archery, hiking trails, and more. The stunning Spanish style architecture here makes it one of the most beautiful places to relax in San Diego as well. Balboa Park is also directly attached to the world-famous and renowned San Diego Zoo.
Some of our favorite stops in Balboa Park include the Fleet Science Center, which has a planetarium and special events all the time including talks with an astrophysicist in the planetarium monthly.
Also, don’t miss out on having one of the delicious craft brews on draft and meal at Panama 66 located at the San Diego Museum of Art overlooking a sculpture park. San Diego is famous for its craft beer scene and here you can try some of the best local drafts on tap in between museums.
If you’re more into gardens be sure to explore the Japanese Friendship Garden or check out one of the many hiking trails.
Visit Santa Barbara County Courthouse
Stephanie from The World As I See It
There are so many great things to do in Santa Barbara. When planning your California vacation be sure to add a couple of days in Santa Barbara. Nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the mighty Pacific Ocean lies Santa Barbara. It’s charming, has a rich Mediterranean vibe and is full of things to do for those who love art, history, food, and outdoor activities. And one place to visit to add to your Santa Barbara itinerary that combines many of these things is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.
Located in Santa Barbara’s downtown, you can visit the courthouse for free and even join a free tour to learn about the history of the building which dates back to the 1920s, its interesting stories and all of the incredible details within. You can easily spend a couple of hours exploring the courthouse, wandering the magnificent gardens, checking out the different rooms and climbing up the clock tower for stunning 360-degree views over Santa Barbara. And don’t forget to look up as within the tower is a painting of the constellations as they would have looked in 1602 when Santa Barbara was first named.
While the entire building, inside and out is beautiful, the most striking room in the courthouse is the Mural Room. This jewel of a room is reminiscent of a California Sistine chapel. The room is home to 6,700 square feet of hand-painted murals by artist Groesbeck. The mural depicts the history of Santa Barbara and covers the walls and ceiling. Whether you’re visiting Santa Barbara for a few days or a few hours, a must-stop on your California itinerary is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.
Ali Richards from Diary of a Detour
If you’re planning a California road trip then Solvang is a short detour from Highway 101 and well worth a visit. You can spend a few hours there and be transported to Scandinavia, a unique experience not to be missed.
Solvang is a city of Danish settlers which was founded in 1911 and is so quirky. You’ll see Scandinavian architecture, windmills, a whole host of tempting bakeries and really cute shops.
Parking is free throughout Solvang so it’s easy to park in the center and walk around the shops and other sights. If you have time there are horse-drawn old-fashioned trolley cars taking visitors on a short, guided tour around the city.
There are a number of interesting museums to visit too, which include the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, the Vintage Motorcycle Museum, the Wildling Museum and the Elverhoj Museum Of History And Art. Do call ahead if you plan to visit the motorcycle museum as it is only open on certain days, but it is well worth checking out.
If you are traveling with children then Hans Christian Andersen Park is ideal for a walk or play. There is a skate park and playground as well as picnic tables and large oak trees.
Throughout the year you’ll find a variety of special event days, which celebrate Danish culture with music, dancing, food, a Viking encampment, parades, and other fun. A list of events can be found on the Solvang visitor website.
Solvang makes a great stopover on a California road trip whether you are staying for a few hours like we did or can stay over at one of the many hotels. It’s worth it for the architecture alone, but do explore further and you won’t be able to resist the bakeries!
Visit La Jolla
Dave from Jones Around The World
“San Diego is easily my favorite city in all of California, and no visit to sunny SoCal would be complete without exploring the beautiful beaches, scenic coastline, and charming city center found in La Jolla! This small beachfront suburb, located about 20 minutes north of San Diego, is truly a gem, and is always bustling with locals and tourists!
It almost always has perfect weather, has dozens of amazing eateries in town (many with rooftop terraces overlooking the beach & sunsets), and simply a fantastic atmosphere! It’s a popular location for snorkeling & scuba-diving in the area, and you’ll see tons of people swimming out from La Jolla cove (no tour necessary)! You could also rent kayaks and get a workout in while you take in the gorgeous coastline from the sea!
There’s also a fantastic coastal trail that will you lead across several fantastic viewpoints and photo opportunities, and you definitely can’t leave without snapping some shots of the funny seals that hang out on the rocks down at La Jolla beach! It’s actually one of the most photographed beaches in all of California, so expect tons of people if you plan on having a beach day!
After a few hours of swimming, walking, and relaxing in the grassy park near the beach – I’d recommend heading up to the Mexican restaurant, El Puesto, for some tacos and cocktails that will leave you absolutely speechless!
Whether you’re in San Diego to visit the popular zoo, or to attend the San Diego’s best music festivals, make sure you schedule in a visit to La Jolla during your travel itinerary! It could also be a great day trip from Orange County or Los Angeles!”
Visit Downtown Los Angeles Arts District
Wendy Lee from Empty Nesters Hit The Road
If you’re wondering how to spend a day in LA, then look no further than the Downtown Arts District. This part of the town began as a collection of fruit packing warehouses, then became a low-rent district popular with starving artists, and today is home to art galleries, trendy restaurants, and spectacular street art.
Any visit to the DTLA Arts District should begin with a walking tour of the murals. Long before this section of town become hip, graffiti artists were attracted to its collection of large, empty walls. Often they were chased away by the building owners or even the police. But today owners give permission for the murals to be painted, and sometimes even pay for the materials. This is the background that will be covered in a tour along with the colorful history of the artists.
After a tour, it’s time to head to one of the top-rated restaurants like Factory Kitchen, Manuela or Bavel. For something more casual check-out Angel City Brewery or Arts District Brewing. There is a restaurant, brewery, or cafe to suit all tastes in this part of the city.
Other popular sights in the Arts District include Hauser & Wirth and Art Share LA. Hauser & Wirth is part of an international gallery chain that offers museum-quality exhibits in a refurbished flour mill. Art Share, located in a former recycling warehouse, houses a collection of gallery spaces and classrooms for local artists.
Weekdays are a less busy time to visit the Arts District, but not all galleries will be open. Weekends can be crowded, but the party-like atmosphere adds to the experience.
Take in an Amazing Sunset at Santa Monica Pier
Emma Caldwell from Emma Jane Explores
There are few places that feel more iconic to Los Angeles than Santa Monica pier. The famous stretch of boardwalk that marks the end of the well-traveled Route 66 is full of joy and fun at any time of day. For my money, though, the best time to visit and explore the pier is just before sunset. The pier itself is quaint, with the feature being Pacific Park: a traditional amusement park with a Ferris wheel and rollercoaster. There’s an aquarium, carnival-style games and a beautiful carousel in the Looff Hippodrome.
Wandering the pier is 100% free, though if you want to go on any rides or play any games then you’ll need to cough up some cash.
Take some time to walk amongst the kitschy rides and food joints serving up American fare all day long, snap your photo with the end of Route 66 sign and then settle back on the beach by the pier to watch one of the most spectacular sunset displays in the world. As the rays start to disappear on the horizon, the sky changes color and the pier begins to become a silhouette against the orange-colored ether.
As the sunset draws to a close, the lights of the Santa Monica pier begin to glow – a neon playground against a darkening sky. Don’t worry though, when the sun goes down in Santa Monica, that definitely doesn’t mark the end of the day. The pier heaves with activities until late in the night, so there’s plenty of time to explore, grab some dinner and enjoy.
Visit Disneyland California
Holly from Four Around the World
A visit to California is not complete without spending some time at the Disneyland theme parks and resort area. Especially if you are visiting with family!
While it is far from being a cheap experience, the original Disneyland park and California Adventure Park are a must for the young at heart. The park entrances are located next to one another so if you are short on time, and only have one day, a multi-park pass may be a perfect way to get an express experience for both.
However, if you have longer, and we recommend it, 2-3 days is a great amount of time to immerse yourself in all things Disney, with incredible interactive rides, character meetings, and entertainment. Everywhere you turn there is something happening.
If it is your first time to Disneyland, the best way to make the most of your time at either park is to utilize the Fast Pass system, which allows you to pre-book your ride time and skip the long queue. This means spending less time waiting around and more time having fun.
There are plenty of places to eat at both theme parks, although some are a bit pricy. If you want to keep costs down, there are restaurants, takeaway, and supermarkets within a short walk from the park entrance. You can also save significantly by staying at a hotel within a 10-15 minute walk of the Disneyland Resort complex rather than at one of the Disneyland Hotels. They do come with some great perks though!
Visit Palm Springs to See its Retro Urban Buzz
Carol from Wandering Carol
If you’re traveling to California, you don’t want to miss Palm Springs, where urban chic rises out of the desert like a contemporary oasis.
Located 107 miles east of Los Angeles, the city has changed a lot over the years, and a new urban buzz has put it back on the map in a major way. Retro chic has boosted the hip factor of this prime desert getaway, and today, it’s attracting a younger crowd, drawn by updated mid-century modern resorts such as the Riviera Palm Springs, a former Rat Pack favorite, or the funky fun vibe at artsy motels like Holiday House and Sparrows Lodge. Keeping with the region’s burgeoning designer flavor, the new Kimpton Rowan is tasteful and contemporary and has the only rooftop pool in town.
For retro entertainment, one of the most fun things to do in Palm Springs is to hit up Fabulous Bingo night at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club. This is bingo as you’ve never seen it. Held on Monday nights, and hosted by former Palm Springs Follies entertainer Shirley Claire, it’s a mix of song, game, and risqué sass. And who knows, you might even win.
Finally, an excursion to the 200-acre Sunnylands Estate, once owned by the wealthy UK ambassador Walter Annenberg and his wife Lenore, ushers you into the word of mid-century modern at its peak. Nicknamed the ‘West Coast Camp David’ this 25,000-square-foot home of glass, class, and views has hosted a bevy of world leaders and influential politicians ranging from Queen of England to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
Visit Joshua Tree National Park
Dhara from It’s Not About the Miles
California is blessed with an abundance of stunning national parks, and none is more unique than Joshua Tree National Park. A desert park in southern California, Joshua Tree National Park sits on two deserts and is home to amazing flora and fauna. There are tons of things to do in Joshua Tree NP, even if you visit just for the day.
One of the more unique features of this park is the many giant rock formations you see in the northern part of the park. Some of them actually have recognizable shapes and names, such as the famous Skull Rock, which looks exactly like a skull! Not only are the rock formations awesome to see and photograph, but they also present great opportunities for rock scrambling or bouldering. If you visit on a nice weather day when it’s not too hot, you’ll see lots of visitors trying to clamber to the top. And you’ll see more expert climbers using equipment to scale tall rock towers.
The other feature that sets this park apart is the namesake Joshua Trees. You can see fields of mature specimens again mostly in the northern Mojave Desert portion of the park. It’s fun to photograph single mature trees at sunset or at night against the Milky Way.
You can do a number of hikes in Joshua Tree NP: some short, some long. Other than the Joshua trees, the park contains many desert plants. The Cholla Cactus garden in the southern section of the park is worth seeing.
Visit Joshua Tree any time from fall to spring for pleasant daytime temperatures. In the spring, you might witness wildflowers in bloom. It’s fabulous to see the carpets of color in the desert!
It costs $25 per car to get into Joshua Tree. You can also use a National Parks pass if you have one.
Visit Griffith Observatory
Taylor from Taverna Travels
If you’re spending time in the City of Angels, then a visit to the Griffith Observatory is a must for any LA itinerary. Located in the hills just north of Los Feliz, the Observatory has so much to offer. From live events at the Planetarium, incredible views of Los Angeles, and a number of awesome hiking trails, you can easily spend half a day enjoying the exhibits and grounds.
I recommend arriving in the late afternoon and spending some time hiking the trails about the Observatory. From the paid parking area there will be a well-marked path leading uphill to a great viewpoint. I recommend making your way to Mount Hollywood, a relatively easy uphill hike that can be done in approximately an hour and a half. You’ll be rewarded with awesome views of the Observatory, the Hollywood sign, and the city down below. After your hike, spend some time exploring the Observatory itself, before grabbing food from the cafe to enjoy as the sun sets over the city.
Here is what you need to know! The Observatory and grounds are open Tuesday through Friday from 12 pm to 10 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 10 pm. The Observatory and grounds are closed on Mondays. Entry is completely free! There are a number of ways to reach the Griffith Observatory but I recommend arriving by the DASH Observatory bus from the Vermont/Sunset Metro Red Line station or driving and parking in one of the lots. There are a number of paid parking options, typically ranging from $4-10 an hour depending on the proximity of the Observatory.
Visit Salvation Mountian
Theresa Goodrich from The Local Tourist
One of the quirkiest things to do in a state of quirky attractions is Salvation Mountain. Located in the desert in Imperial County, this folk art installation draws visitors from all over the world.
It’s more than just a roadside stop for a bit of kitsch; Salvation Mountain was and is a labor of love.
Artist Leonard Knight created the mountain because he wanted to spread a message of peace and harmony. His message of choice was “God is Love,” and he originally shared it via a hot air balloon. That didn’t work out so well, so he decided to build a mountain out of rubbish. When that collapsed, he rebuilt with the adobe and it’s still standing.
The complex includes the mountain as well as a hogan, a home Knight built to protect himself from the heat, although he never inhabited it, preferring to live in his truck. There are also large domes he called the Museum, and they’re meant to replicate that hot air balloon.
Knight passed away in 2014, but his creation continues through the support of a charity created to keep it going. You can find Salvation Mountain east of the Salton Sea in Southern California.
Visit San Juan Capistrano
Maggie Turansky from The World Was Here First
If you’re visiting Southern California and are looking for the perfect place to stop between Los Angeles and San Diego, then the lovely town of San Juan Capistrano is an excellent option.
Located in South Orange County, almost equidistant between San Diego and Los Angeles, San Juan Capistrano is famous for its 18th-century Spanish mission, the Mission San Juan Capistrano. This historical site is home to the oldest building in California and was also the sight of the first vineyard and winery in the state.
Visiting the Mission is one of the top things to do in San Juan Capistrano, however, there are a few other points of interest that are worth exploring. For instance, take the time to wander through the historic Los Rios district. This is said to be the oldest continuously occupied street in California and today it is home to a number of cute independent shops and cool cafes. There is even a small petting zoo in the district which is perfect if you’re visiting with kids.
You can easily reach San Juan Capistrano by driving up Interstate 5 from Los Angeles or San Diego and it will take about an hour and a half to get there from both cities, depending on the traffic. You can also easily reach SJC from many places in coastal California by train. As the train station is located in the center of the historic downtown, you don’t need to worry about not having a car, either!
All in all, if you’re looking for a fun and historic place to visit in California, you really cannot go wrong with San Juan Capistrano in Orange County!
Day Trip to Catalina Island
Sherianne at OutOfOffice
Santa Catalina Island is an easy hour-long ferry ride from the Los Angeles/Long Beach area. The resort town of Avalon sits on a cliff encircling a boat-filled harbor. The island’s average temperature is 75 and sunshine. Catalina was popular with Old Hollywood; Marilyn Monroe and William Wrigley of Wrigley’s gum once lived here, the Chicago Cubs held spring training on the island from 1921-1951 and over 300 motion pictures have been filmed on the island. There is a lot to do in and around Avalon. Taking the DIY golf cart skyline tour around the island is a must-do and the incredible views are a highlight of any visit to Catalina Island.
Other options are wandering through Wrigley’s 37 acre garden of extremely rare plants, play a game of mini-golf, or take a tour of the historic Casino. Be sure to shop for souvenirs along Crescent Ave, stop at Lloyd’s to watch the salt water taffy being pulled, and walk to the end of the pier to feed the seals and watch them play in the water below you. Go on a dolphin-watching cruise, take a glass-bottom boat or semi-submersible tour.
Adrenaline junkies can go zip-lining across Catalina’s canyons or go off-roading. Catalina Island is also a popular place for scuba diving, snorkeling, paddleboarding, and kayaking. Walking along the harbor past the Catalina Casino to the Descanso Beach Club is my favorite island activity. Rent a chair on the secluded cove and lie in the sun or have lunch seaside and sip on one of their signature cocktails.
Where to Stay in California
Where to Stay in San Francisco
For hotels, I usually use Booking.com, as you will notice in my recommendations below. I always seem to find the best prices on hotels. Click here to search Booking.com for the best deals.
- Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco – Located five minutes’ walk to the shops and restaurants at Union Square and Yerba Buena Gardens. Book your stay at Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco here.
- Mansion on Sutter – Located 2.5km from Lombard Street. Book your stay at Mansion on Sutter here.
- Staypineapple, An Elegant Hotel, Union Square – Staypineapple is a historic 1913 hotel located just 5 minutes’ walk Union Square. Book your stay at Staypineapple here.
Where to Stay in Los Angeles Area
- Millennium Biltmore Los Angeles– this luxury hotel is just a 4-minute walk from Pershing Square Subway Station. Book your stay at Millennium Biltmore Los Angeles here.
- Santa Monica Proper Hotel – A beautiful hotel with a retro vibe. Book your stay at Santa Monica Proper here.
- Paséa Hotel & Spa–This hotel is adjacent to the Huntington Beach Pier. Book your stay at Pasea Hotel here.
Where to Stay in San Diego Area
- Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa – this boutique hotel is adjacent to the University of California San Diego. It has an outdoor pool, 3 restaurants, and a spa. Read more about Estancia La Jolla here. Book your stay at Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa here.
- La Valencia Hotel– I love the old-world charm of this hotel. You will have some of the best lunch views at this hotel. Book your stay at Santa Monica Proper here. Check here for the best rates.
- L’Auberge Del Mar Resort and Spa–This hotel is located in the charming coastal village of Del Mar and is facing the Pacific Ocean. Read more about L’auberge Del Mar Resort here. Check for the best rates at L’Auberge Del Mar Resort and Spa.
If you are looking for more space or want to book a stay to feel like you are at home then an Airbnb may be the answer especially if you are traveling with your family. Click here to get $40 USD off your first stay and you can also get $15 off an experience.
How to Get Around California
I would highly recommend renting a car during your stay in California. Driving is the best way to explore California. We always check Auto Europe as they always have the best car rental rates worldwide. Check for the best car rental rates here. You might even consider renting a convertible!
Top Things to do in California Conclusion
I hope this guide of the top things to do in California has inspired you to explore this gorgeous state. Whether you are looking to explore the California beaches and looking to explore the incredible forests of California, there is something for everyone to make your trip memorable.
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