The Golden State has extra to see than most nations, and it’s bigger than many as properly. Given its many landscapes — from forests and deserts and mountains to a shoreline that runs alongside all the western facet — I’ve spent most of my life exploring this state and nonetheless discover new factors of curiosity continually.
So what are the perfect locations to see? As a local Californian, pictures junkie, and perpetual traveler, right here’s my final California bucket listing from south to north:
1. Surf’s Up in San Diego
San Diego is the third-largest metropolis in California and possibly has the perfect climate of wherever on the earth. Given its proximity to Mexico, plan on having among the greatest meals within the state and a pleasant mixture of cultures (although that’s true throughout California). Coronado Island, the seashores of La Jolla, and the funky tradition of Hillcrest make these areas my private favorites. Pacific Seaside is a favourite of the twentysomething crowd, and Ocean Seaside is a laid-back surfer/hippie spot.
In your manner north, cease by Encinitas for much more of a hippie vibe, and the free Self-Realization Fellowship meditation gardens. For those who’re tremendous into browsing, you would possibly already know in regards to the well-known waves at San Onofre.
2. Be Blown Away by Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Font’s Level in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park have to be the perfect dawn in all of California, the place sunsets often reign supreme. The unimaginable rock formations and wind caves are tremendous enjoyable to discover, too. In case you are tenting, don’t overlook to search for at night time; the world is nice for stargazing. I can’t say sufficient nice issues about this lovely park! It’s solely a 2.5-hour drive from Los Angeles, and greatest to go to within the winter.
3. Discover the Final Free Place in America, Slab Metropolis
I first went to Slab Metropolis to see the Salvation Mountain artwork set up, solely to search out that Slab Metropolis is definitely a neighborhood of squatters and outcasts utilizing what’s been rejected and left behind by others to create a free society that operates almost independently of the remainder of the world. It felt like getting into a brand new dimension. The artwork set up alone, although, is well worth the lengthy drive into the center of nowhere. It was created by US Military veteran Leonard Knight, a faithful Christian who expressed his dedication to his faith via artwork, although I’d say anybody, no matter non secular affiliation, would discover the set up interesting. For those who’d like a singular expertise, hire a camper van and drive towards “the final free place in America.”
4. See the Magnificent “Bushes” in Joshua Tree Nationwide Park
For those who take pleasure in mountain climbing and love stargazing within the wilderness, Joshua Tree is ideal for each and past. It’s also the one place that you could see Joshua bushes, which are literally agaves, a succulent plant. This nationwide park is known for mountain climbing and bouldering as properly. Simply watch out in the summertime months — it could get blazing scorching.
5. Take a Scenic Helicopter Flight over Orange County
Have you ever heard that the sunsets are higher in Southern California? They’re sensible with explosions of orange, purple, and pinks, and generally even inexperienced flashes because the solar hits the watery horizon. What higher strategy to see the OC sundown than on a helicopter experience? For those who depart from John Wayne Airport in Newport Seaside down the coast, and fly all the best way to Dana Level and again, you’ll move by Laguna Seaside, Corona del Mar, and different iconic landmarks. Seeing these locations soaking within the golden-hour glow is a lovely and distinctive expertise I extremely advocate when in Orange County.
I additionally extremely advocate watching the sundown from the Newport or Balboa Piers in Newport Seaside, the place I lived for 4 years. Different favorites of mine are Laguna Seaside and driving a bicycle from Newport to Huntington for some nice train. There’s even a drum circle on the Huntington Seaside Pier on Sunday evenings for those who’re into that.
6. Go to Disneyland
This one’s a traditional. I grew up about quarter-hour from Disneyland and had a parks move for many of my life and nonetheless by no means acquired bored with it. Whilst an grownup, I nonetheless love the Magic Kingdom. It’s so nostalgic and glowing clear (not like different amusement parks), and the meals is actually actually good. You too can get beer and wine in California Journey if that’s extra your pace.
7. Be taught to Ski in Massive Bear Lake (within the Winter)…
Massive Bear Lake is a mountain resort city within the San Bernardino Mountains that body higher Los Angeles. It has been a ski city since 1925, and is the primary place the place I strapped on a snowboard. It’s good for snowboarding lovers of all ranges — in actual fact, many come to Massive Bear Lake to be taught to ski for the very first time. There are two mountains to select from: Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, although I’d say go for each for those who can, since there’s a shuttle between the 2. You possibly can additionally snowshoe or sled in between.
8. …or Go Mountaineering & Tenting in Massive Bear Lake (within the Summer time)
There are such a lot of unimaginable mountain climbing trails to select from! You may be positive to search out one which most accurately fits your capability. Massive Bear Lake additionally has many campgrounds and RV parks, so for those who plan to spend the night time, contemplate tenting out — gear is on the market for hire, and the amenities are nice. Serrano Campground is the most well-liked space for each tent and RV tenting.
9. Hike to the Hollywood Signal
This hike surprises some individuals, given its steepness and publicity to the weather, however it’s an effective way to see the entire metropolis from some of the iconic landmarks in LA. The hike is simply over 6.5 miles, with over 1,700 toes of elevation achieve. Put together for a exercise — go within the early morning or later afternoon hours if trying it in the summertime. As at all times when mountain climbing in California in the summertime, pay attention to snakes, significantly rattlesnakes. I encounter them on a regular basis within the dry summer time months.
10. Spend a Few Days in Venice Seaside
Venice Seaside is a traditional LA cease for those who love locations which are just a bit bit bizarre. Take a look at the skate park, get an overpriced espresso on Abbot Kinney Blvd., and watch the sundown on the sand. For those who’d relatively go much less bizarre and extra traditional, keep in close by Santa Monica and watch the sundown close to the pier because the Ferris wheel lights up. Alternatively, keep in Silver Lake for a hipster vibe near the well-known Sundown Blvd., or in West Hollywood if you would like extra of a celebration vibe. If I can speak you out of even visiting the Stroll of Fame, enable me to strive — it’s the worst a part of LA and so overrated.
11. Discover the Kelso Dunes within the Mojave Nationwide Protect and Monument
Protecting 1.6 million acres, the Mojave Trails Nationwide Monument is the most important nationwide monument (protected space) within the contiguous United States; the Mojave Nationwide Protect, subsequent door, is big as properly. There are many cool issues to do, however personally, I feel the sand dunes come out on prime. Sure, you don’t must journey all the best way to Namibia to see sand dunes — I used to be so pleasantly stunned to have discovered them again dwelling! They’re nowhere close to as in style because the sand dunes in Namibia, however the expertise was simply as spectacular, minus the crowds.
Mountaineering up via the unfastened sand might be fairly tiring, however the panoramic view you get from the highest is totally beautiful. You possibly can glide down slowly after taking within the views. I like to recommend going barefoot for this.
The sand dunes are unimaginable at each dawn and sundown and are accessible with a traditional, non-4×4 automotive, so long as you keep on the tar highway and don’t proceed onto the sand.
Guide your keep in Mojave Nationwide Protect right here or camp within the protect itself. There are websites simply on the base of the dunes, however they don’t have any companies, like showers, bogs, or operating water. Please pack the whole lot out.
12. Stare on the Stars on Salty Flats in Badwater Basin, Dying Valley
The Badwater Basin, which sits beneath sea degree, makes up a big a part of Dying Valley Nationwide Park and is unimaginable for stargazing, or throughout a full moon. It’s a flat and simple stroll out to them from the primary viewing space; from there you possibly can go so far as you please. It’s the bottom level in North America positioned within the hottest desert on the earth, so for those who’re visiting in the summertime, achieve this after darkish.
One other can’t-miss place in Dying Valley that I like is Golden Canyon. The hike via this dry rocky terrain isn’t for the faint of coronary heart, so ensure to learn my information to the Golden Canyon hike earlier than you partake.
13. Go to the Alabama Hills
The Alabama Hills are the gateway to Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in California, in addition to the very best summit within the decrease 48. The jagged formation of the mountain makes it a lovely sight, particularly when lined in snow. It’s acquired beautiful arches, terrific views of the Jap Sierras, and many Hollywood historical past. Each Mobius Arch and Boot Arch had been highlights throughout my latest California desert highway journey!
The perfect time to benefit from the Alabama Hills is within the winter or the spring. Within the wintertime, you possibly can see snow on the mountaintops, and generally snow within the Alabama Hills themselves, whereas within the springtime, there are swaths of wildflowers in bloom.
14. Search for McWay Falls in Massive Sur
The Central Coast is my favourite a part of California, starting with Santa Barbara, the place I attended faculty (I’m a UCSB Gaucho for all times), and heading as much as San Francisco through Massive Sur. This is likely one of the hottest parks in California, so it often books up properly prematurely for good cause. You will note unimaginable coastal redwood bushes, and naturally, discover the distinctive McWay Falls, standing 80 toes tall and flowing straight into the ocean when the tide is available in. It’s a beautiful spot you don’t even have to hike to — simply park your automotive exterior of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and stroll over.
Lastly, no Massive Sur highway journey is full and not using a cease on the notorious Bixby Bridge, which makes an idead ending in your Massive Sur journey as you head north to Monterrey.
15. See the World’s Largest Bushes
Heading again inland, you’ve acquired the trifecta of California’s most well-known nationwide parks: Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia, the final of which is known for the world’s most large bushes. It’s unimaginable to behold such outdated dwelling organisms, with out even having the ability to see all the best way to the highest in lots of instances.
16. Stroll Throughout the Golden Gate Bridge
One of the vital iconic landmarks in San Francisco, if not all the US, the Golden Gate Bridge is greatest explored on foot and within the morning. You possibly can stroll throughout it and take a brief stroll in Golden Gate Park’s lovely gardens afterward (a terrific spot for a picnic!). Another choice is to hire a motorcycle and experience throughout the bridge.
If you wish to see it from afar, I counsel heading to Baker Seaside, which is a nudist spot. When you’ve acquired that splendid selfie with the bridge as your backdrop, there are many nice eating places and cafés round to fill your stomach.
17. Go to the Largest Chinatown Outdoors of China
As cool as San Francisco is, don’t simply follow the traditional Fisherman’s Wharf and Painted Women. Take a look at Chinatown for some severely good meals, and make your strategy to Oakland for stay music or ecstatic dance. It’s straightforward when you possibly can take BART and UberPool or Lyft Line throughout the Bay Space.
18. Test Out Mammoth Lakes for Mountaineering or Snowboarding
You should definitely take a look at Mammoth Lakes, simply south of Yosemite and on the opposite facet of the Sierras from King’s Canyon, for among the most sensible stargazing, waterfall chasing, and snowboarding within the winter. I beloved mountain climbing there this summer time and seeing the glimmering Emerald Lake and Duck Go pictured above.
19. Discover Yosemite Nationwide Park
The crown jewel of California and the primary land to be federally protected within the US, Yosemite is on everybody’s bucket listing after they go to California — and it must be! You possibly can have a unbelievable time within the valley, however if you wish to keep away from the crowds, I counsel tenting in White Wolf and sticking to the paths close to Glacier Level, which is a superb place to begin for Nevada Falls and completely different views of Half Dome. That’s solely attainable to do as soon as the snow has melted, however Yosemite is magical within the winter as properly.
20. Backpack to Lake Aloha
This a part of the Sierras jogs my memory a number of Patagonia due to how pristine the wilderness is. Get blown away by how clear the water is at Lake Aloha, an underrated various to the mega-popular and much bigger Lake Tahoe.
The hike to the lake is an journey that’s nearly as lovely because the lake itself, so that you would possibly need to contemplate including a pair days to your backpacking itinerary simply to benefit from the views. Discover out the right way to hike to Lake Aloha right here.
21. Benefit from the Crystal-Clear Waters of Lake Tahoe
One other favourite for swimming in the summertime, Lake Tahoe, on the border with Nevada, is understood for insanely clear water. It’s good for stand-up paddleboarding or mountain climbing. It’s a giant lake with southern and northern areas, the latter of which is much less developed. Be certain to additionally discover Emerald Bay and Mt. Tallac when within the space!
22. …or Expertise Lake Tahoe in Winter
The wealth of actions round Lake Tahoe is actually not restricted to the summer time months. From snowboarding the slopes to snowshoeing via the mountains, there’s hundreds to do in Lake Tahoe within the winter. You’ll discover cozy cabins tucked away excessive above the lake, which make for the perfect chilly getaway.
23. Chill out in Wine Nation
Although I’m not a wine drinker, this isn’t an entire listing with out mentioning the well-known wine areas north of San Francisco. Probably the most well-known are Napa and Sonoma. The latter tends to be a bit cheaper and fewer posh, whereas Napa might be expensive however has a few of California’s most well-known wines.
24. Head to Magical Mendocino
Mendocino captures the whole lot that I like about NorCal: a foggy shoreline, dolphins and whales within the distance, and crisp, spring-like climate year-round. A longtime favourite amongst Hollywood celebrities, famend poets, and outside lovers, Mendocino is certain to enchant you into desirous to return time and again. Discover out what makes Mendocino so magical right here.
25. Hunt for Sea Glass in Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg is usually in comparison with its southern neighbor Mendocino due to its equally as charming ambiance. Nevertheless, you’ll possible discover that Fort Bragg is a little more reasonably priced and has a definite character of its personal.
One of the vital in style locations in Fort Bragg is Glass Seaside, the place you would possibly have the ability to discover an abundance of sea glass on the shore. Discover out what else to do in Fort Bragg right here.
26. Climb Volcanoes in Lassen Volcanic Nationwide Park
As one of many least-visited nationwide parks within the West, not to mention California, Lassen Volcanic Nationwide Park feels lots like a hidden gem. Though fewer individuals go to Lassen, it actually doesn’t fall brief its wow issue, and its unimaginable vistas, crystal-clear lakes, and scorching springs are positive to impress.
For an entire listing of what to do right here, see this information to tackling Lassen Volcanic Nationwide Park in 48 hours.
27. Go to the Misplaced Coast
You principally can’t go improper driving north to Humboldt and alongside the scenic route between Moonstone and Trinidad and past. There are a number of viewpoints in addition to nice eating places alongside the best way.
Every seashore is beautiful in its personal manner. You’ll see locals strolling their canines, and surfers braving the chilly and catching some waves. Oh, and also you would possibly spot some whales, too!
You possibly can stroll among the many coastal redwoods in Humboldt and north into Redwood Nationwide Park. You will note only a few vacationers, which is at all times most well-liked.
I like this a part of California a lot, I’ve been again six occasions!
28. Hug the Largest Tree within the World at Redwood Nationwide and State Parks
Redwood Nationwide and State Parks homes Hyperion, the identify of a coastal redwood and the tallest tree on the earth. Coastal redwoods, that are widespread within the park, can stand over 350 toes tall, are essentially the most large bushes on the earth, and may stay so long as 2,500 years.
The park stays open all yr, although the perfect time to go to is within the spring or fall, when the crowds are a lot smaller. Nonetheless, you received’t get almost the customer numbers of the geographically decrease parks within the state.
It’s a humbling expertise seeing these giants up shut, not to mention waking up surrounded by them, to say the least. In case you are into tenting, you are able to do so on the state park campgrounds (there’s none within the nationwide park space). There are additionally a variety of mountain climbing trails.
29. Drive the 395 Freeway
If you wish to see a variety of issues which are on this listing already, contemplate packing up and heading out on an epic journey alongside the 395 freeway, which incorporates massive stops like Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. That is positively the highway journey if you wish to see the easiest of what California has to supply.
Discover out the place to cease alongside the 395 freeway right here.
Pin me for later:
Whereas these are among the greatest locations to see, you possibly can guess there’s a lot extra past this listing. As I stated to start with, California can fill a lifetime with adventures.
What are a few of your favourite spots within the Golden State?
*Some hyperlinks on this publish are affiliate hyperlinks. Any buy you make helps this web site at no additional price to you. I solely advocate companies I repeatedly use and love myself. Your belief at all times comes first.