Recently my husband and I took a drive from Phoenix over to California with my mother in law. First off, the drive there is pretty awesome. There are many different mountain types along the way hilly, rocky, mountains out of giant rocks, and more types of mountains then I even realized existed. We drove across fault lines, got amazing views from thousands of feet up, and even see sand dunes that go on forever. Honestly, I had no idea Arizona had sand dunes…
I’m excited to share with you all my favorite places to go in California because it’s such a diverse and amazing state. Just looking at some of the statistics of the state is mind-blowing really. The state has a population of around 40 million making it the 5th largest economy in the world (putting that into perspective that even beats the UK’s economy.)
People thinking of California might think of beaches, the Golden Gabe Bridge, famous people, or even Hollywood. Really there is an overwhelming amount of tourist attractions as well as local aspects that are worth exploring. I really realized that when we spent a week there.
From the northern part of California, all the way down to the south here are 21 places I think you really need to visit when you visit the state. No matter if you are spending a few days or months exploring the state you are sure to find something to keep you busy during your entire visit.
21+ Things To Do In California
When we were visiting one of the places we spent a day exploring was in LaJolla. It is a beautiful little town right on the ocean full of friendly people. While you are there you can explore the tide pools, watch the seals sunbathing in the children’s pool, sunbathe, explore caves, really the list could go on. This is one place you could spend quite a long time exploring.
Yosemite National Park
California has no lack of national parks with this being one of them, each of them has their own unique perspective. In Yosemite, you will see some of the world’s most beautiful views from the valley floor all the way up to the highest point at over 12,000 feet. I have put together a complete guide on exploring this wonderful national park that could keep you busy exploring for weeks or just for the day.
While visiting make sure to stop and get some of the amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge from Vista Point instead of just driving across it. You can access Vista point from a car or on foot. Looking for some of the best dinings in the world? Well then make sure to stop down at Fishermans wharf for some of the fresh catches of the day.
The city offers 23 different iconic cablecar lines throughout the city. They have been open since the 1800s and are a great way for tourists to get a look around town. The city offers baseball games, monuments, parks, arts, nature, gardens and so much more. San Francisco could be a perfect place to keep you busy for quite a while.
Death Valley National Park
Many people think that there isn’t much to see in Death Valley, but they couldn’t be more wrong. This otherworld looking landscape is just the place to spend a few days exploring. As it is the lowest point in all of North America, it has also recorded the hottest temperature in the world at 134’F. This is why it is best to explore the valley from the autumn through spring, during the summer the daytime temperatures are too unbearable.
Make sure to start your day exploring Zabriskie Point to watch a one of a kind sunrise. Oh yeah, if you come at the right time (in the spring) you can even catch the wildflower bloom, some years are even lucky enough to witness a super bloom. You will even get a chance to walk around a pretty large crater formed by a volcanic steam explosion. This is one place you will want to make sure to add to your list of things to do in California!
Highway 1 Road Trip
This is one of the most iconic drives in the USA Highway 1 or the Pacific Coast Highway. The beauty seen along the rocky and beautiful coast is one of a kind at about 750 miles long. People will often tackle this trip in a few days staying at local hotels along the way. Some of the sections along the way are rather crowded and will take a while to get through. Other areas are rather empty and you won’t see restrooms or gas stations along the way.
Due to both of these facts be sure to make sure you have a full tank of gas. Along this trip, you will pass over the Golden Gate bridge go through Los Angelos, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Malibu, and many other iconic towns. While driving through these amazing cities you will be driving along a beautiful rocky coastline getting to witness some of the most amazing and beautiful views.
There are multiple places to view giant sequoias in California. You can visit Sequoia National park make sure to stop and see General Sherman (the largest known living tree on earth) for the absolute best place to view these gentle giants.
While Sequoia National park is the best, there are a few other places in the state you can view them as well. In northern California, you can visit Humboldt Redwoods State Park to view the giant sequoia’s. In Yosemite National park you can see them at Mariposa Grove. Lastly, you can also see them at Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
Joshua Tree National Park
This national park is located right where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet, creating a unique ecosystem. Due to the uniqueness of the ecosystem, you will get to see thee amazingly unique trees were named by Mormons. Locals call them the “J-Trees.” Ultimately they are Joshua Trees, which is what the park was named after.
Not only will you get to see these totally unique trees while in the park, but you will also get to see some pretty amazing landscapes. While in the park you will also get to view many great rock formations where rock climbers can even get some rock climbing in. There are mountains, ranches, old abandoned mines, and simply amazing views at over 10,000 feet. Oh yeah and if you can stay in the park and camp, or find an Airbnb right on the outskirts of the park you will get to witness some of the most amazing views of the night sky.
Coming in as the second deepest lake in the USA, and the highest in elevation is this most memorable lake. It is quite a large lake coming in at a 72-mile shoreline. As if that wasn’t enough this beautiful lake is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for endless amazing views. During the warmer months, warm-weather activities take place here.
Boating, kayaking, swimming, stand up paddleboards and much more. Once it gets colder it is a perfect place to enjoy skiing or snowboarding. There is always something to keep everyone of any age busy.
Visit the Wildflower Blooms
I’m sure if you like to travel, you heard about the absolutely amazing wildflower bloom that happened last spring in California. Well despite the fact that the super bloom was amazing last year, it is pretty stunning every single year but as you can imagine a super bloom doesn’t happen every single year. Conditions have to be just right.
Once you see them you will debate if they are real or not they are so stunning and widespread. It is well worth a trip out to see the flowers. There are a couple of different notable places to witness the blooms, THIS website lists the top places in southern California to witness the blooms for yourself.
Go Skiing or Snowboarding
Skiing and snowboarding is a popular wintertime sport in the state of California. There are many different places throughout the state you can enjoy skiing. Near Lake Tahoe, there are multiple places to enjoy the snow and even more places to enjoy in Yosemite.
San Bernardino Range hosts Snow Summit and Bear Mountain. For anyone looking for a bit of a less crowded ski area head 70 miles north-east of Fresno to the Sierra National Forest, China Peak. Visit California has a complete list of the different ski trails, resorts to stay at and just how to save some money if you want to visit multiple trails. California is a perfect state for anyone looking to enjoy some skiing or snowboarding.
An island is always a perfect place for a getaway. California has a couple of them for travelers or locals to enjoy. Just off the southern coast, you will find this beautiful island. You can reach the island from either a boat taking about an hour to get there or by helicopter with about a 15-minute arrival time.
When you arrive on the island you can take a trolly for an inexpensive way to explore the island. The waters off of the island are crystal clear and perfect for viewing colorful fish and other wildlife. Hiking, dining, shopping, parasailing, there is a fun way to spend the day on the island.
Visit An Amusement Park
Did you know that the great state of California has 3 amazing theme parks? Yes, all in one great state. You can find Great America, Six Flags and Disney in the state, there is no shortage of amusement parks to keep you busy. Pick one and spend a day or two enjoying the thrills and fun of the amusement park. Or you could visit each of them and decide which one of them is your favorite.
Scenic Drive Through Highway 120
This is simply an amazingly beautiful drive in California. It runs East to West across the central part of the state, going through Yosemite National Park. The drive includes the Tioga Pass, which is a mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains. This is the highest paved highway pass in California at an elevation of 9,945 feet. This road is not maintained during the wintertime, so make sure to visit during the spring or summer.
Along Tioga Pass, there is an unbelievable amount of beauty you will be able to see in Yosemite. They have spots you can pull off to really enjoy the view. Head over to THIS great site to see the best places to stop in this section of the drive.
Visit the Channel Islands
This beautiful island chain is classified as a National Park. With it being so, I’m sure you can just imagine all of the amazing opportunities you can have while visiting this island. Taking a kayak around the island is one of the best ways to witness everything the island has to offer. There are many different sea caves around the island that can only be accessed by something smaller such as a kayak. The islands that are included in the chain of islands are Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara, and San Miguel. You could spend weeks exploring these islands on foot as well as a boat or just choose where you want to visit for part of a day.
From December to April you can witness the annual migration of the gray whales from the Bering Sea to Mexico, In the summer months, you can see Humpback and even sometimes giant blue whales in search of food. Tours are offered to take you to the best viewing spots for a very high chance of seeing these beautiful creatures and the perfect thing to add to your list of things to do in California.
Devils Postpile Monument
These basalt formations are hexagonal shaped and very unique. They look like almost a smaller version of the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland. In order to visit these, you will have to take a shuttle bus and pay an admission fee and make sure to come during summer (that’s the only time they are open). The shuttle will drop you off at the start of the trail. After that, you will need to hike about a mile to see the monument. I mean just look at this amazing formation, it is simply amazing to think of.
There are so many fun things to do while visiting Big Sur. You can spend the day at a beach with beautiful waterfalls, float down the river, drive across the famous Bixby bridge and so much more. There are many different parks to visit along the beach you won’t want to miss as well. You could spend a week or two just exploring all the different parks along the shore.
Make sure to grab breakfast at the Big Sur bakery, although the prices might be higher then you are used to. I’m sure the delicious treats are worth the extra cost.
San Diego Zoo
The SanDiego Zoo is one of a kind zoo with over 100 acres of property containing 3,500 rare and endangered animals as well as over 700,000 exotic plant species. In other words, expect the visit of a lifetime. Visitors can purchase different passes that include entering the zoo early and experiencing sunrise as a visitor, get a behind scenes view of the different breeds of cats inside the zoo.
With a zoo of this size, you will need to make sure to plan to spend plenty of time exploring. There are many different experiences that families are sure to enjoy while visiting this zoo you will have memories to last a lifetime.
Whale Watching and Aquarium
Whale Watching in Monterrey Bay is an absolutely amazing experience. Not only will you get a chance to view countless different species of whales but you will also get the chance to view dolphins and different marine birds. Monterey Bay also has one of the best aquariums in the world. So why not spend a couple of days visiting and you will have time for both whale watching as well as spend a day at the aquarium.
This state has something for everyone and this amazing observatory is just another example of something for everyone. Head to the observatory later in the evening and get a look into the other world of outer space. They host activities, special events, programs and much more. You can also visit during the day for a closer look at some of the local attractions.
Skateboard At Venice Beach Boardwalk
If you are a skater this is one place you will not want to miss. The skatepark here is one of a kind amazing. It is a 3.5 million dollar park and right along the beach. There is no other skate park in the world along the beach. As if that wasn’t enough there is 16,000 sq ft to skate at all day long.
Go To The Beach
There are 15 different beaches just in LA. That means there are a countless amount of beaches in California with about 800 miles of coastline. How can you not just spend a day or a few soaking up the sun and enjoying the beautiful beaches? Even if you don’t feel like taking a swim in the water, just walking along the coastline and enjoying the beautiful one of a kind scenery will be a perfect and memorable day!
Have you ever been to California? If so what were your favorite things to do in California? Leave a comment below letting me know, I would love to hear from you!