15 Best Places to Visit in California


California is one of the top destinations in the United States, popular for both local and international travelers. With its bustling cities, beaches, amusement parks, and unparalleled natural wonders, California has crafted itself as a promising land for exploration.

Cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are home to many iconic landmarks of the state, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Hollywood and Disneyland. These are places where many find top cultural attractions.

However, its national parks, mountains, forests, deserts, coastal areas, and islands offer extraordinary experiences of their own. The world’s tallest and largest trees, the vastness of North America’s largest Alpine lake, and the famous sites of Yosemite all provide opportunities for unforgettable experiences.

Whether you’re up for a road trip, enjoying a family vacation, abandoning a city, or just seeking some sightseeing thrills, start with a list of California’s top attractions.


On This Page:

  • 1. Yosemite National Park
  • 2. San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge
  • 3. Disneyland
  • 4. Death Valley National Park
  • 5. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
  • 6. Big Sur
  • 7. Lake Tahoe
  • 8. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
  • 9. Redwood National and State Parks
  • 10. Griffith Observatory
  • 11. Joshua Tree National Park
  • 12. Universal Studios Hollywood
  • 13. Hearst Castle
  • 14. Santa Catalina Island
  • 15. Channel Islands National Park


1.Yosemite National Park

 Yosemite National Park |Mick Haupt | unsplash.com

Yosemite National Park in Northern California is among the most natural and breathtaking national parks in the United States. Its landscape of mountains, valleys, rivers, and incredible waterfalls has attracted tourists, artists, and athletes for decades. For nature lovers, a visit to Yosemite ranks among the best things to do in California.

Much of Yosemite National Park’s significant sights and activities center around Yosemite Valley. Carved by glaciers during the last Ice Age, the valley boasts towering cliffs and extraordinary waterfalls as some of the park’s most valuable features. It’s a place where you’ll encounter iconic landmarks like Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and El Capitan.

Scenic routes such as Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road border the valley, providing access to high-country areas, viewpoint spots, and incredible vistas. While not always accessible to tourists, it’s definitely worth catching a glimpse of the majestic sequoia trees. The largest grove of sequoias, Mariposa Grove, is located in the southern part of the park.

The best way to explore Yosemite is through its incredible hiking trails, which immerse you in the midst of nature’s bounty. From easy strolls along streams and lakes to challenging paths leading to mountain summits and famous landmarks, there’s something for everyone. If you’re looking to spend a few nights and set up camp for a while, you’ll find plenty of exceptional campgrounds in and around Yosemite and its surrounding areas.

2.San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridg

San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridg |Jan Senderek | unsplash.com

The most beautiful city in America, San Francisco, should definitely be on everyone’s must-see list. It provides a stunning natural environment with its combination of ocean and hills, but what truly makes it special are its historic neighborhoods, landmarks, green spaces, vibrant cultural institutions, and its recently cherished outlook.

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge is a significant sight that many associate with San Francisco, and indeed, California. Whether against the backdrop of San Francisco Bay’s blue waters, framed by orange, or emerging from the fog, it presents an incredible spectacle. You can admire the bridge from afar, or for a more personal experience, drive across it, walk upon it, or even cycle over it.

Other popular tourist attractions include Fisherman’s Wharf and the notorious Alcatraz Island. This former prison island now hosts a national park and offers enough raw appeal for exploration. Ferries depart from Pier 33 near Fisherman’s Wharf for the island.

For those looking to make the most of their time and explore the city, there are plenty of sights worth visiting. Families travel with children for their delightful attractions, and again, with older kids, they venture together.



Disneyland | Barbara Zandoval | unsplash.com

Disneyland, located in Anaheim, is California’s top family destination and one of the premier family vacation spots in the United States. This massive amusement park offers all kinds of rides, games, shows, and entertainment, complete with restaurants and hotels. The park combines themed rides with recreated worlds and cultures. You can find shows and other entertainment designed for both children and adults.

The long lines and wait times have been somewhat reduced through the innovation of FastPass+, which allows you to book specific ride times, character meet-and-greets, and entertainment events. However, the park will be very busy during school breaks, such as summer, Christmas, spring break, or any other holidays.

Remember that there is much more to Disneyland than just the parks. The entire Disneyland Resort experience includes hotels, dining, shopping in the Downtown Disney District, and Disney Adventure Park. While the parks are certainly a must-see for your children, you will find something fun for every member of the family.

4.Death Valley National Park

 Death Valley National Park Pietro De Grandi |https://unsplash.com

Death Valley National Park in California harbors several inhospitable regions where an extremely hot, arid desert has sculpted the landscape in remarkable ways. Salt flats, dry lake beds, sand dunes, mountains, unique rock formations, and a lake situated below sea level create a unique geological wonder in this remote wilderness. Among the main attractions easily accessible in Death Valley are Stovepipe Wells, Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point, and the sand dunes of Dante’s View. These and other common points of interest can be reached easily by regular vehicles. If you have a 4WD vehicle, you can venture further to places like The Race Track.

While Death Valley can be crossed in a day trip from Las Vegas, Nevada, there’s so much to do here that you might want to spend more time. You can drive through the park and stop at viewpoints and waterholes, do some cycling, explore remnants of past mining activities, and if there’s water in the lake, you can even take a dip in the shallow waters of Badwater Lake.

5.Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway |Geranimo | unsplash.com

If you ever feel like sleeping in in the morning and crafting your afternoons, you’ve been eyeing the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway on your bucket list of Californian adventures. Consider the desert landscapes of California. The higher you climb, the cooler it gets. Spring brings an easy mix of pools and snow.

This tramway stretches for two miles and ascends to the northern slope of Mount San Jacinto at 8,516 feet. The design of this tramway is unique; each tram rotates during ascent, allowing for a continuous panorama of views in a 360-degree spin. In reality, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the largest of its kind.

Up top, opt for a 50-mile hike or trek along the trails, or choose to indulge in a remarkable sight between two restaurants for lunch or dinner without any interruption. The Palm Springs area offers some of the best hiking around.

 6.Big Sur

Big Sur | Venti Views| unsplash.com

This beautiful stretch of the Central Coast offers the opportunity to retreat into nature. Camping and hiking find their prime spots in places like Garrapata State Park and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

Big Sur stretches for nearly four miles south from Point Lobos and extends about 17 miles north to Salmon Cove near San Simeon. This scenic route winds its way along the rugged coastline, offering stunning views. Previously a true wilderness expanse – the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Ventana Wilderness, where a 220-mile side trail exists.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a premier destination for hikers, sunset enthusiasts, and nature lovers alike. The park offers camping facilities, and for those seeking a bit more comfort, the tranquil setting of Big Sur Lodge presents a peaceful retreat. One of the highlights of the park is Pfeiffer Falls, accessible via the Valley View Trail. A branch of this trail leads to the Valley Overlook, offering views of the ocean and the Big Sur River watershed.

Garrapata State Park is another popular area within Big Sur. Its main attraction is Garrapata Beach, a long, expansive stretch of golden sandy shoreline. The coastline here can be rugged, and while it may not be ideal for swimming, it’s excellent for capturing stunning sunsets. For those looking to get some exercise, the park offers day hiking trails that provide beautiful views of the coastline, mountains, and iconic redwoods.


7.Lake Tahoe


Lake Tahoe | Tim Peterson| unsplash.com

Lake Tahoe sits high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and is a popular destination in California. But it’s not just a lake; it’s an area that boasts forests and mountains, small towns, and a variety of activities.

Yellowstone Lake, with its turquoise waters and dramatic mountain scenery, is a colorful playground for boaters, beachgoers, campers, and nature lovers alike. Its beautiful beaches and aquatic adventures make it a primary attraction for families in the summer. Surrounding areas boast places like D.L. Bliss State Park and Kings Beach State Recreation Area, known for their deep blue waters.

8.Sequoia and Kings Canyon

National Parks


Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks| Thomas Wavid Johns | unsplash.com

The habitats of the world’s largest trees, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are bucket list destinations. Here, the sequoia trees are the largest living things on Earth, with many of them over 2,000 years old, and some even more than 3,000 years old.

These associated parks are surrounded by a vast area encompassing mountains, majestic granite cliffs, deep canyons, lakes, rivers, and forested lands, yet they are quite distinct from each other. If you plan to visit both parks, you will need at least a few days’ time.

While both parks feature sequoia trees, Sequoia National Park may arguably be the best place to witness these ancient marvels. Easy hiking trails, many paved, wind among the trees and provide easy access to major sites. Another major attraction of this park is Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States at 14,495 feet (excluding Alaska).

In Sequoia National Park, you’ll find some beautiful campgrounds situated conveniently near trees and other attractions, making them ideal for exploring the iconic sequoias, including the more remote and lesser-known ones, which are perfect for those seeking a quieter experience.

Kings Canyon National Park, on the other hand, is more rugged and wild, with unknown mountain peaks, roaring rivers, and secluded areas where you can escape the crowds and immerse yourself in nature. It’s a popular destination for hiking. You’ll find some incredible campgrounds in Kings Canyon, with spots close to the trees in Grant Grove area, and scenic locations like Cedar Grove area along the 26-mile Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.

9.Redwood National and State Parks


Redwood National and State Parks | Nik Shuliahin | unsplash.com

When you walk through the vast forest of giant sequoias, towering over you at heights of over 300 feet, you feel like you’re entering another era. Descendants of the Jurassic-era trees, these giants are the tallest trees on Earth and are truly a vital asset of California.

These collectively managed parks, which include Redwood National Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, span an extraordinary part of northern California. Each offers something unique, but all provide fantastic hiking trails and beautiful campgrounds.

10.Griffith Observatory


Griffith Observatory | Venti Views | unsplash.com

One of California’s incredible free attractions is the Griffith Observatory. Situated high on Mount Hollywood, it overlooks the city of Los Angeles. This iconic California attraction not only offers spectacular views over the city but also provides an opportunity to learn about the celestial bodies.

Inside the observatory, there are six galleries covering all aspects of space and how we observe it. Adjacent to the galleries are public telescopes through which you can marvel at the wonders of the cosmos.

Even if all of this doesn’t appeal to you, the parking lot is an excellent spot to snap a picture of the Hollywood Sign.

11.Joshua Tree National Park


Joshua Tree National Park | Cedric Letsch | unsplash.com

Elsewhere on land where giants like boulders and rocks form whimsical shapes reminiscent of wild creatures, Joshua Tree brings a kind of magic. Encompassing 800,000 acres, the park offers more than just Joshua trees, with various sites available.

Cholla Cactus Garden, where cholla cacti sprawl endlessly towards the mountains, the historic ruins of Keys Ranch, the eerie allure of the Lost Palms Oasis, and the panoramic vistas from Keys View at 5,000 feet elevation are some highlights. Not to mention the Skull Rock without feeling a bit of whimsy; a massive boulder shaped like a grinning face.

If you have some time to spare, you might consider staying overnight at one of the awe-inspiring campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park is less than three hours from Los Angeles and just over an hour from Palm Springs.


12.Universal Studios Hollywood

 Universal Studios Hollywood | Marti Sotto | unsplash.com

This inseparable joy park and film studio is one of the most popular attractions in California, catering to families with big kids and teens alike. Rides and sets range from movie-based necessities, including awe-inspiring realistic simulator rides to roller coasters, and much more.

You can explore vast sets via studio tours. Among the park’s most popular experiences are those of Harry Potter’s wizarding world, Fast and Furious – Supercharged, Jurassic World, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, and others, meticulously crafted. You can enjoy water, show, shopping opportunities, and participate in various events throughout the year.

13.Hearst Castle


Hearst Castle | Rachel Davis | unsplash.com

Hearst Castle, known as Hearst San Simeon Historical Monument, began construction in 1919 and took 28 years to complete, which elevated a local landmark into a remarkable and esteemed place. Built by newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, the castle, boasting 165 rooms, has never been finished.

Perched atop a 1,600-foot hill, it offers extraordinary views over the ancient Southern Sea and the Santa Lucia Range. A primary attraction here is the vast art collection. Once, this castle was the world’s largest personal zoo, and to this day, zebras and other exotic animals roam among its historic walls.

The castle is located roughly equidistant between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The driving time from any city is approximately four hours at maximum.

14.Santa Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island | Stella Guan | hunsplash.com

Channel Islands, a part of Santa Catalina Island, is located approximately 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles. This island is popular among boat captains and daily tourists alike. Avalon serves as the main population center and where most activities take place. On other parts of the island, there are two smaller harbor towns.

Most people visit Santa Catalina Island for relaxation and to enjoy a day of leisure. Among other popular activities are glass-bottom boat tours, scuba diving, kayaking, and parasailing. You can reach the island by ferry from San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach, and Dana Point.

15.Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park | Lisha Riabinina |unsplash.com

Channel Islands National Park, formed from five individual islands, is an extraordinary natural site and an exceptional place to observe unique wildlife. These islands have been independently developed and, as a result, harbor a diverse range of fauna.

Located off the coast of Southern California, the islands are accessible only by concession boats and planes, or by private boats. To learn about current conditions and arrange transportation, you can visit visitor centers located in Ventura and Santa Barbara.