If you are planning a vacation to California and want to experience the best of the best, take a look at my list of California vacation ideas.
Having a vacation in California can be both exciting and informative. This is because you get to enjoy the best California has to offer, while learning its history and culture. Plus, check here for more ideas on how to plan your trip in California.
CALIFORNIA. The Sunshine State. The Golden State. There are a lot of nicknames for one of the most beautiful states in America. California is a place where you can visit museums, partake in festivals and sightseeing, or even ride a roller coaster down the beach at Pacific Park in Santa Monica. A vacation to California will ignite your spirit and your creativity and you’ll soon find that there’s no end to the adventures you can enjoy in what is possibly the biggest state in America.
Vacation In California Ideas
If you are planning on visiting California, then you better start packing your bags. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. It boasts amazing beaches, cool coastal regions, historical landmarks, and some of the most sought after outdoor activities. If you are looking to plan a vacation in California, there are multiple places which definitely need to be at the top of your list.
Why should you stay in a hotel while in California? Vacation home rentals are the perfect way to enjoy your time here. Beaches, rain forests, desert, mountains are all here for you. Cozy up with family or friends and explore this beautiful state with a rental that fits your group best! Every town has fun activities for you to partake in with your friends and family.
20 Best Places to Visit in California
Last updated on April 20, 2022
California is known as the mecca of celebrity culture in the USA and in some ways, it is; this is where you’ll find Hollywood, after all! But there’s a lot more to this large American state than famous faces, film studios and the amusement parks that go with them. It’s also home to Silicon Valley, the global headquarters of many big tech companies. And don’t forget the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
There’s also some fantastic natural beauty on offer in California. There are giant redwoods to see, deserts and rock formations, and fantastic beaches along the coast. It’s home to sweeping landscapes, vineyards, and a collection of cities that are as famous as the state itself: think San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Packed full of culture and good food, the best places to visit in California are fascinating to explore.
20. Santa Cruz[SEE MAP]
Located on the northern shore of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz lies just to the south of San Jose and San Francisco. Known for its beautiful beach boardwalk and counterculture scene, the city is a very pleasant place to spend some time, with lots of incredible scenery nearby.
Life in ‘Surf City’ revolves around its beaches and boardwalk, which attract everyone from families and students to hippies, surfers, and street performers. As such, there is a very youthful and bohemian feel about town, with watersports such as paddle boarding, sailing, and surfing to be enjoyed.
Besides its wonderful waterfront, Santa Cruz also has a fun and lively downtown home to a plethora of great restaurants, shops, and bars. In addition, the nearby Natural Bridges State Beach and Big Basin Redwoods State Park are both well worth visiting for their lovely nature trails and spectacular scenery.
19. Sonoma Valley[SEE MAP]
Best Places to Visit in CaliforniaPlay Video
Part of the San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma Valley lies just to the north of the city, not far from San Pablo Bay. Home to lovely rural landscapes, the fertile valley is renowned for its vineyards and wineries. It was actually here that California’s world-famous wine industry began.
Much more relaxed and laidback than the glitzy and glamorous Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley is a pleasant and picturesque place to visit. In the town of Sonoma, you can find a number of excellent restaurants serving up local delicacies, as well as tasting rooms where you can sample some of the region’s fine wines.
Scattered around the Valley of the Moon (as it is also known) are sprawling estates and quaint wineries. Hiking and cycling are popular pastimes while taking a balloon ride above Sonoma Valley allows you to bask in the splendid scenery below.
18. Santa Monica[SEE MAP]
Bordered on three sides by Los Angeles, Santa Monica is a laidback beachfront city that offers a welcome respite from sightseeing around the home of Hollywood. Developed as a seaside resort town in the early 20th century, SaMo has long been a popular tourist destination due to its sun, sea and sand.
Jutting out into the Pacific is the bustling Santa Monica Pier, which sports a huge Ferris Wheel and old-fashioned amusement park. While this is great fun for the whole family, plenty of other activities can be enjoyed along its expansive beachfront, such as swimming, volleyball, and surfing.
Besides its golden sands, Santa Monica has a thriving alternative scene for visitors to delve into, with little art galleries and street murals to be found at the Bergamot Station Arts Center. A wealth of great bars, restaurants, shops, and hotels are also scattered about town catering to every budget and clientele.
17. Palm Springs[SEE MAP]
Palm Springs is a year-round desert playground on Interstate 10, connecting the Los Angeles area with Arizona. Home to many celebrities over the decades, Palm Springs is a good place to golf in the wintertime when temperatures are cooler than in summer.
The city, once popular with college students on spring break, is known for its mid-20th century modern architecture featured in many homes and business buildings. This architectural style is celebrated annually with Modernism Week. Sonny Bono, half of the defunct Sonny and Cher singing duo, once served as major of this southern California city.
While the desert oasis city once attracted Hollywood movie stars in the 50s and 60s, Palm Springs now appeals to all kinds of tourists and travellers and is home to a sizeable retiree population. There’s hiking in the nearby desert and San Jacinto Mountains as well as a plethora of museums to explore.
16. Joshua Tree National Park[SEE MAP]
Lying to the east of Los Angeles at the point where the Colorado and Mojave Deserts meet, Joshua Tree National Park is home to incredible wilderness and spectacular scenery. Named after the distinctive tree-like Yuccas that dot its diverse desert landscapes, the park has long been popular with nature lovers and outdoor aficionados.
Exploring the national park’s mountains, canyons, and rock formations really is a treat, with plenty of scenic trails and climbing routes snaking through the rugged scenery. As two separate desert ecosystems lie within the park, there is lots of diverse fauna and flora on show. Coyotes, rattlesnakes, and golden eagles can all be spotted from time to time.
While hiking, rock climbing and camping are all popular, the park’s dramatic geography and odd-shaped Joshua Trees make for some incredible photos. Such is the majesty and mystique of the Mojave Desert that U2 famously named one of their best-selling albums, The Joshua Tree, after it.
15. Laguna Beach[SEE MAP]
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Set in a very scenic spot along southern California’s Pacific coastline, Laguna Beach is a beautiful place to visit with a very Mediterranean look and feel. While it is home to lots of beautiful beaches and luxury resorts, the popular seaside resort city is particularly known for its thriving artistic community.
Gorgeous public sculptures and art galleries can be found around town, with quaint cottages and artistic-looking homes and houses dotted here and there. Every summer, it hosts many fantastic events, such as the Festival of Arts, Sawdust Festival, and Pageant of the Masters, where artists showcase their latest creations.
Laguna Beach itself is just as impressive as its many artworks. Secluded coves and golden sands line the rugged cliffs that tumble down to the Pacific. While its many trails and paths are perfect for hiking or cycling, its wild waters attract surfers, and there is some exceptional scuba diving to be had beneath the waves.
14. Anaheim-Disneyland[SEE MAP]
Part of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, Anaheim is known for one thing and one thing only: Disneyland. However, this does it a major injustice. Over the years, it has slowly grown into the largest city in Orange County and so has much more going for it.
Home to a diverse range of neighbourhoods, Anaheim has pockets of great bars, restaurants, and shops, with many of these to be found clustered around downtown. It’s also a great place to visit if you want to watch baseball or hockey; both the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are based here. In addition, it boasts a large convention centre and hosts many events and competitions throughout the year.
Its main draw is admittedly Disneyland, which attracts millions of visitors every year with its exhilarating rides and plethora of entertainment opportunities. Fun for all of the family, the major tourist destination is home to shops, restaurants, and hotels, with another theme park and spa located within the resort.
13. Carmel-by-the-Sea[SEE MAP]
© Vampy1 / Dreamstime
Located just to the south of Monterey Bay, Carmel-by-the-Sea lies along California’s Pacific Coast Highway in a very scenic spot. Surrounded by dramatic cliffs and verdant hills, the oceanside town has long been popular among artists, writers, and poets due to its spectacular natural setting.
The former artists’ colony has a very quaint look and feel; this is in large part due to its charming cottages and atmospheric old houses. Its rich artistic heritage is still on show in the numerous art galleries and studios dotted about town. Fine restaurants, cosy cafes, and boutique shops abound, and there are lots of lovely inns and B&Bs for visitors to stay at.
At the heart of the small town is the beautiful white-sand Carmel Beach which over the years has been replicated and reproduced in countless paintings and artworks. While it is often shrouded in mist, its sumptuous setting and fierce sunsets make it very popular among locals and out-of-towners alike.
12. Channel Islands[SEE MAP]
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Strung out along southern California’s scenic coastline, the Channel Islands are a small archipelago of eight islands surrounded by the sparkling Pacific Ocean. Five of the Channel Islands lie within a national park of the same name that protects and preserves its sensitive ecosystems. With rugged canyons, jagged cliffs, and pristine beaches, they are a fantastic place to explore.
While two of the islands are inaccessible to citizens (as they are used by the US Navy), fishing, scuba diving, and sailing are permitted in their surrounding waters. The only inhabited island is Santa Catalina, home to the small town and village of Avalon and Two Harbors.
The island has been a tourist resort since the 1920s, with chewing gum magnate William Wrigley kicking off the tourism movement. Catalina Island is, however, also a popular day trip destination since it’s just 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles.
It’s a good place to ride glass-bottom boat to explore reefs and old shipwrecks; snorkeling and scuba diving also are popular activities. Native Americans have lived on the island for 8,000 years; you can learn more about them and the island’s history at the Catalina Island Museum. Surprisingly, the island even boasts a small population of American bison that were brought to the island during the filming of a movie.