18 Best Places To Visit In California

There’s definitely no shortage of things to see and do in California, that’s for sure. With its miles of sandy coastline, rugged mountain ranges, and sprawling cities, the Golden State always has something new and exciting to offer visitors. In fact, trying to narrow it down to just 18 was pretty tough. But after much deliberation, these are the spots that I would highly recommend making a stop at if you’re ever in The Golden State. From Northern California down to San Diego and everywhere in between, here are some of the Best Places To Visit in California.

Best Places To Visit In California

1. Disneyland Resort

No trip to California is complete without a visit to Disneyland Resort, one of the top attractions in the state. Located in Anaheim, just outside of bustling Los Angeles, Disneyland is the world’s most famous theme park.

The original Disneyland Park, which opened in 1955, is now divided into eight distinct themed lands: Main Street U.S.A., Adventureland, Frontierland, Critter Country, New Orleans Square, Mickey’s Toontown, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland. Visitors can explore these lands and enjoy the many rides, shows, and attractions that Disneyland has to offer.

In addition to the original Disneyland Park, the resort also includes Disney California Adventure Park, Downtown Disney, and three on-site hotels: The Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier Hotel, and Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.

Disneyland Resort is one of the top tourist attractions in California for families and kids of all ages. Still, it’s also a popular destination for adults, couples, and groups of friends. There is so much to do at the resort that you could easily spend more than a week here and still not see everything.

If you’re planning a trip to Disneyland Resort, I recommend purchasing tickets in advance. You can often find discounts on tickets if you purchase them online. And be sure to download the Disneyland app, a handy tool for planning your visit, accessing maps and park information, and more. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on a trip to Disneyland Resort. It’s an unforgettable experience!

2. Yosemite National Park

The majestic Yosemite National Park, one of the top California attractions, is known for its dramatic mountain landscapes, beautiful waterfalls, and abundant wildlife.

This World Heritage Site, which spreads across 747,956 acres of land, is one of the largest and oldest national parks in the United States. Today, this park is home to more than 400 species of animals and 2,000 species of plants. The park is famous for its giant sequoia trees, which are among the largest living things on Earth.

Yosemite is one of the best places to go camping in California and one of the top places to visit in the springtime for wildflower watching. The park has more than 800 miles of hiking trails, which are open all year round. The park is also known for the iconic Half Dome, and El Capitan granite cliffs rise more than 3,000 feet above Yosemite Valley, while the towering Bridalveil Fall cascades 620 feet down a granite cliff.

Visiting this national park is definitely one of the best things to do in California if you love nature and being outdoors. And because of its popularity, it can be crowded, especially during the busy summer season. To avoid the crowds, I recommend visiting in spring or fall. You can also stay in one of the gateway towns outside the park and drive in for the day.

3. Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park is home to towering redwood trees, which are among the largest and oldest living things on Earth. These magnificent Coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) grow to more than 350 feet (106 meters). Some of these giants are as much as 2,000 years old, and their trunks can be as wide as 20 feet (6 meters).

The park is home to many different types of wildlife, including black bears, coastal birds, elk, deer, and bats. Visitors can hike through the park’s lush forests or hike alongside the wild coastline. There are also several scenic drives that take you through the towering redwoods.

Redwood National Park is located about 300 miles (483 kilometers) north of San Francisco, and it can be reached by car or by taking a bus from the city. The park is open all year round, but some attractions and facilities are only open during the summer months. If you’re planning to visit this park, I recommend you check the park’s website for up-to-date information about closures and openings.

4. Los Angeles

One of the best places to visit in California is no doubt Los Angeles, a metropolis that charms and surprises. Whether you’re looking for top-notch restaurants, top-notch shopping, top-notch entertainment, top-notch culture, or top-notch outdoor activities, you’ll find it all in LA.

There are countless things to do in Los Angeles. Some popular attractions include the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Griffith Observatory and Griffith ParkStaples Center, LA Live entertainment complex, Universal Studios Hollywood, and the Getty Center. Other top places to visit in Los Angeles include Venice Beach and its famed boardwalk, Rodeo Drive for shopping, Malibu for surfing and sunbathing at Zuma Beach, and more.

Just be warned that traffic in LA is notoriously bad. So be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get from one place to another. And if you can, avoid driving during rush hour

5. San Francisco

If there’s one place in California that you shouldn’t miss, it’s San Francisco. The City by the Bay always seems to be at the top of every traveler’s list, and for a good reason. San Francisco is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the United States, with a diverse population, top-notch restaurants and nightlife, world-famous landmarks, and breathtaking views.

San Francisco’s top attractions include Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, and Fisherman’s Wharf. This sprawling city is also home to top museums like the Museum of Modern Art and the California Academy of Sciences. And let’s not forget about Alcatraz, one of the most popular tourist attractions in California.

San Francisco is also a great city for foodies, with top-notch restaurants serving everything from classic French cuisine to mouthwatering seafood. It’s also a city of festivals and events, so there’s always something going on.

So whether you’re visiting San Francisco for just a day or staying long-term, I highly recommend checking out all that this beautiful city has to offer. There’s truly something for everyone, so don’t miss out on all the fun!

6. Death Valley

Visiting Death Valley is a must for anyone who wants to experience all that California has to offer. Located just outside of Las Vegas in the Mojave Desert, Death Valley is the hottest, driest, and lowest place in North America.

Although Death Valley spans over 3 million acres and you can’t explore it all, there are a few top attractions that visitors should definitely not miss.

One top attraction in Death Valley is Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. Badwater Basin is a salt desert where the ground is so salty that it rarely sees rain and never supports plant life. Another place is Zabriskie Point, a stunning vista where visitors can marvel at expansive views of multi-hued mountains and steep canyons. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is also a top attraction, where you can explore a sea of sand dunes that stretch for miles.

Since this is such a large place, I recommend staying at one of the lodgings in the park to make the most of your visit. There are a few different hotels and campgrounds to choose from, each with its own unique amenities. All in all, you should include a visit to this valley in your list of things to do in California if you’re looking for an unforgettable outdoor adventure.

7. San Diego City

A trip to California would not be complete without a visit to San Diego, one of the state’s top tourist destinations. The city offers miles of sandy beaches, an abundance of top-rated attractions, and year-round sunshine.

Visitors to San Diego can spend their days exploring local beaches like Mission Beach and La Jolla Shores, or you can hit the city’s top museums like the San Diego Museum of Art and the Fleet Science Center. If you’re looking for action, head to SeaWorld San Diego. Families will also enjoy a visit to the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

When it comes to dining, San Diego offers something for everyone. From Mexican and seafood to farm-to-table and vegan cuisine, the city’s restaurants do not disappoint. Nightlife is also vibrant in San Diego, with plenty of bars and clubs to keep visitors entertained into the early hours of the morning.

San Diego is also a great place to shop, with top malls like Fashion Valley and Horton Plaza offering everything from high-end fashion to budget-friendly souvenirs. And with so much to see and do, it’s no wonder that San Diego is one of the top places to visit in California.

8. Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is another beautiful place to visit in California, a lively beach town known for its surf culture and laid-back vibe. Located on the coast about an hour south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz has a year-round Mediterranean climate and is a popular destination for visitors from around the world.

Main Beach in Santa Cruz is a great place to sunbathe, paddleboard, and people-watch. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a classic California amusement park where visitors can ride the Giant Dipper roller coaster and try their luck at one of the many carnival games.

Outside of town, Santa Cruz is surrounded by miles of forested hiking trails and top-rated state parks. The Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is known for its magnificent redwood trees, while the Big Basin Redwoods State Park has some of the tallest trees in the world.

Back in town, visitors can stroll along the Santa Cruz Wharf, where locals and tourists alike enjoy fresh seafood from the many restaurants and cafes. The lively downtown area is full of boutique shops, art galleries, and lively bars and nightclubs.

9. Big Sur

The rugged coastline of Big Sur is one of the top tourist attractions in California. This stretch of Highway 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) winds for about 70 miles along the craggy cliffs and wilderness beaches of the central California coast. While driving along Big Sur, visitors can enjoy some amazing views of crashing waves and towering sea stacks rising from the ocean.

The region also offers countless opportunities for outdoor recreation, from hiking and biking to kayaking and camping. Big Sur also boasts many top-rated state parks, including Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which attracts visitors with its stunning redwood forests and scenic waterfalls.

Other top attractions in the area include Bixby BridgePoint Lobos State Natural Reserve, and McWay Falls. Of course, Big Sur is also known for its many top-rated hotels and resorts, which offer the perfect blend of rustic charm and modern luxury. Popular choices include the Post Ranch Inn, Ventana Inn & Spa, and Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn.

10. Santa Barbara

No list of places to visit in California would be complete without the beautiful city of Santa Barbara, which bills itself as the “American Riviera.” Located about 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles, this beautiful city on the Central Coast offers stunning scenery, a Mediterranean climate, great beaches, and rich history.

Santa Barbara is best known for Mission Santa Barbara, which has stood the test of time and remains a top tourist attraction in the city. Constructed between 1786 and 1806, this historic Spanish mission is often called “Queen of the Missions” due to its stunning beauty and size.

In addition to Mission Santa Barbara, other top attractions in Santa Barbara include the iconic Funk Zone, a lively arts and entertainment district near the waterfront; Stearns Wharf, one of the top places to visit along the California coast; and El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park, an old Spanish fort that’s also home to an interactive museum.

And if you’re looking for a place to stay, Santa Barbara offers a wide range of accommodations, from luxury hotels and resorts to more budget-friendly options. No matter where you stay, you’ll enjoy your time in this beautiful city.

11. Napa Valley

Another top attraction in California is Napa Valley, one of the premier wine-producing regions in the world. Nestled among the rolling hillsides that overlook San Pablo Bay, the valley is home to over 400 wineries and dozens of tasting rooms where visitors can sample some of California’s finest wines.

With its abundance of lush vineyards, picturesque towns, and picturesque hotels and resorts, Napa Valley offers visitors a variety of things to do. Outdoor enthusiasts can take scenic bike rides through the valley, go hiking in nearby parks or go horseback riding along miles of trails. Wine aficionados can tour top wineries, attend wine tastings, or participate in one of the many wine-themed events that are held throughout the year.

Napa Valley is also home to several top-notch restaurants, so it’s definitely worth spending a day or two exploring the culinary scene here. And for something truly unique, I suggest trying a hot air balloon ride over the vineyards.

12. Carmel-by-the-Sea

If you’re looking for the best places to visit in California, rich in history and culture, then Carmel-by-the-Sea is a top contender. This picturesque village has been beloved for many years among celebrities, artists, writers, and surfers. In fact, Ernest Hemingway once called it “the most beautiful town in California.”

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a great place to wander along the oceanfront, taking in the unique atmosphere of this friendly seaside community. There are plenty of quaint shops and art galleries to explore in the downtown area, as well as top-rated restaurants where you can enjoy a delicious meal.

You can also explore some of the top attractions in Carmel, such as the Carmel Mission, a historic landmark founded in 1771. Other popular things to do include visiting the Carmel Heritage Society Museum and going for a hike in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

Beach lovers won’t want to miss the opportunity to visit Carmel’s stunning white-sand shoreline, which is a great spot for sunbathing and swimming. In addition, the beach is popular for boogie boarding, bodysurfing, and surfing. Some of the top local surf shops offer equipment rentals for newcomers to the sport.

After a day of sightseeing, relax at one of Carmel’s top-rated hotels or spas. There are also many excellent accommodation options in the surrounding area if you’re looking for a quiet place to stay.

13. Sonoma Valley

Sonoma Valley is another of the top wine region in California and also one of the most beautiful places to visit in the state. The valley is nestled between the hills of the Mayacamas Mountains and the mountains of Sonoma Coast, with sparkling rivers and lush vineyards stretching out along its winding roads.

Napa may be better known as a wine region, but Sonoma Valley has just as many top-quality vineyards, producing an impressive array of red and white wines. You can tour the wineries to sample some of the top wines produced here, ranging from crisp Chardonnay to robust Zinfandel. The area is also known for its fantastic restaurants and top-rated hotels, where guests can relax and enjoy the stunning views.

You can also go hiking, biking, or horseback riding through the scenic countryside. Or you can just stroll through the quaint towns, such as Sonoma and Glen Ellen, to experience the charm of small-town America in California.

14. Palm Springs

If you are looking for top tourist attractions in California that offer a desert experience, head to Palm Springs. Located about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, Palm Springs has long been a favorite getaway for Hollywood celebrities and other well-to-do Californians.

Today, this lovely desert city is a top destination in California for its wide array of outdoor activities. The area is home to more than 50 hiking trails that traverse spectacular canyons, desert vistas, and towering mountains. Other popular activities include playing a round of golf, stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park, and exploring Native American culture at the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum.

And when you need a break from all the outdoor adventures, Palm Springs offers an array of excellent restaurants, shopping opportunities, art galleries, and live entertainment. So if you’re looking for top things to do in California, don’t miss out on this incredible desert oasis.

15. Santa Monica

Just west of Los Angeles, the coastal city of Santa Monica is one of the best places to visit in California. The city is especially known for its beautiful 3.5-mile-long beach, which is one of the top beaches in Southern California. The wide shoreline is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, surfing, paddleboarding, and beach volleyball.

A unique feature of Santa Monica Beach is the Santa Monica Pier, which has a famous amusement park and Ferris wheel. Nearby attractions include the California Heritage Museum, which showcases the state’s unique history through interactive exhibits. Other top things to do in Santa Monica include exploring the historic Santa Monica Farmers Market, which has been running since the 1930s, checking out the top-rated Santa Monica State Beach, and visiting the beautiful Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome Carousel.

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Santa Monica, there are plenty of top-rated hotels and resorts to choose from. I recommend the beachfront Hotel Shangri-La, which offers modern rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows that have spectacular views of the ocean.

16. Lake Tahoe

Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe is another one of the top attractions in California, with endless outdoor adventure opportunities. This large freshwater lake on the border between California and Nevada is famous for its clear blue waters and stunning mountain scenery.

The lake itself is immensely popular for boating and water sports, with many marinas offering boat rentals, SUP boards, and other water equipment. Lake Tahoe is also a top spot for fishing, with rainbow trout, brown trout, and Mackinaw trout waiting to be caught.

The lake shores are lined with hiking and biking trails, and there are several spots where you can go for a swim. One of the most popular things to do in Lake Tahoe is to take a scenic drive down the picturesque winding roads that hug the edge of the lake, providing amazing views at every turn.

Lake Tahoe becomes a top ski destination in the winter, with world-famous resorts such as Squaw Valley and Heavenly Mountain. There are also plenty of cross-country skiing trails to explore if you’d rather avoid the crowds at the resorts.

17. Monterey Town

Monterey is a historic seaside town located on California’s scenic Central Coast. Famous for its charming, old-fashioned boardwalk and iconic seaside aquarium, Monterey is definitely one of California’s most beautiful places to visit.

The centerpiece of Monterey’s seafront is Fisherman’s Wharf, a vibrant area lined with seafood restaurants and souvenir shops. Stroll along the wharf at sunset, and you will see a magical transformation as light bounces off the water, illuminating the boardwalk in sparkling hues of orange and gold.

Monterey is also home to Cannery Row, once a bustling industrial center transformed into a quaint tourist destination lined with art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. At the heart of Cannery Row is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, home to thousands of ocean creatures. Exhibits include jellyfish, sharks, octopuses, seahorses, and other fascinating sea creatures found along California’s coast.

Other top things to do in Monterey include exploring the beautiful coastline, sampling the local wine, and playing golf at one of the many top-rated courses in the area.

18. Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes is a top destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with an enviable array of things to do in the summer and winter. This place is nestled beneath the spectacular Sierra Nevada Mountains, and it offers a wealth of outdoor activities year-round.

In the summertime, you can go hiking, camping, fishing, and mountain biking. There are also plenty of opportunities for sightseeing in Mammoth Lakes, with several scenic trails and lookout points. If you’re visiting in the winter, you’ll be able to enjoy some of the best skiing and snowboarding in California. The Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is one of the top-rated ski resorts in the state, and it’s just a short drive from the town center.

Mammoth Lakes is also home to several hot springs, which are perfect for relaxing after a day on the slopes. Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is one of the most popular options, and it’s just a short drive from the Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center.

With all these attractions in one place, Mammoth Lakes has become a top choice for any traveler looking for fun things to do in California. So why not book your next trip today?

In summary

California is home to countless amazing places that are well worth visiting. With its world-famous landmarks, beautiful scenery, great food, and fun events, there’s truly something for you in this great state. Finally, I hope that this list of the best places to visit in California helps you plan your next trip to this wonderful state.  

About the author

I'm Tom Cooper, a wanderer at heart, forever in pursuit of the next adventure. The world is my canvas, and I am constantly inspired by the endless possibilities it holds.