For both domestic and foreign tourists, California is one of the most popular vacation spots in the United States. California is a fascinating place with a variety of travel options because to its vibrant cities, beaches, amusement parks, and unique natural treasures.
Some of the most famous landmarks in the state, like the Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood, and Disneyland, are located in the gateway towns of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Many of the top cultural attractions are also located here.
However, the national parks, which cover mountains, woods, deserts, coastal regions, and islands, provide their own exceptional experiences. The largest alpine lake in North America, the tallest and largest trees on Earth, and the well-known Yosemite sights all present once-in-a-lifetime chances for outdoor adventure.
Start with our list of the top California attractions if you’re planning a road trip, a family holiday, a getaway in the city, or are simply seeking to do some sightseeing.
California’s Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco
San Francisco, one of the most stunning cities in America, ought to be on everyone’s travel bucket list. Although the beach and hills provide a beautiful natural backdrop, it is the charming neighbourhoods, historic landmarks, parks, outstanding cultural institutions, and laid-back attitude that truly distinguish this city.
One of the most well-known landmarks and what many people picture when they think of San Francisco or even California is the majestic Golden Gate Bridge. An amazing image is the orange frame rising out of the frequently present fog or against the blue San Francisco Bay ocean. You can view the bridge from a distance or, for a more intimate encounter, you can cycle, stroll, or drive over it.
The notorious Alcatraz Island and Fisherman’s Wharf are two other well-liked tourist destinations. Visit this now-national park, which was formerly a prison. From Pier 33, which is close to Fisherman’s Wharf, ferries depart for the island.
See some of the attractions on foot if you have time to explore the city and don’t mind getting a little exercise. With our post on things to do with kids in San Francisco, families travelling with children will discover a variety of activities to amuse small children and even older children.
National Park Yosemite
One of the most beautiful and popular national parks in the United States is Yosemite National Park in Northern California. For many years, tourists, athletes, and artists have been lured to this area by the mountains, valleys, rivers, and breathtaking waterfalls. A trip here is among the top things to do in California for nature enthusiasts.
Yosemite Valley is where the majority of the park’s most popular attractions and activities are located. The granite walls and enormous waterfalls in the park were sculpted by glaciers during the most recent ice period. The famous sights, such as Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and El Capitan, may be found here.
The Tioga Road and the Glacier Point Road, which are both located outside the Valley and provide access to alpine regions, lookout spots, and breathtaking vistas, respectively. The gigantic sequoias are occasionally disregarded by tourists but are nevertheless unquestionably worthwhile viewing. In Mariposa Grove, a region of the park to the south, is where the biggest stand is found.
Getting outside on some of the fantastic hiking routes is one of the greatest ways to discover Yosemite. These range from short strolls by streams and lakes to challenging hikes that will lead you to the tops of mountains and to well-known historical places. There are many excellent campgrounds in Yosemite and the surrounding area if you plan to stay a few nights and stay there for a while.
The top family resort in California and one of the most popular in the US is Disneyland, which is situated in Anaheim. This enormous amusement park features a wide variety of rides, games, performances, and entertainment in addition to restaurants and hotels. Theme rides and re-created worlds and cultures are found throughout the park. Both kids’ and adults’ shows and other forms of entertainment are available.
The creation of FastPass+, which allows you to reserve certain ride times, a hug with a character, and entertainment events, has helped to somewhat alleviate long line ups and wait times. However, the park will be extremely crowded while children are off of school, whether it is for the summer, Christmas, spring break, or any other holiday.
Remember that Disneyland consists of more than just its theme parks. Hotels, restaurants, shops in the Downtown Disney District, and the Disney Adventure Park make up the full Disneyland resort experience. You’ll find enjoyment for the entire family, even though your kids are undoubtedly coming to see the parks.
National Park of Death Valley
With its severe heat and some of California’s most hostile terrain, Death Valley National Park is a curiously beautiful desert region. This distant valley’s unique landscape is made up of salt fields, dry, parched soil, sand dunes, mountains, unusual rock formations, and a lake below sea level.
The sand dunes next to Stove Pipe Wells, Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point, and Dantes View are some of Death Valley’s most accessible attractions. All of these and other places are simple to get to with a typical car. You can travel to more isolated locations, such as The Race Track, if your car has 4WD.
Although you can travel to Death Valley in one day from Las Vegas, Nevada, there is so much to see and do that you might want to consider staying overnight or longer. If there is water in the lake at the time, you can paddle in the shallow Badwater Lake as well as drive around the park and stop at viewpoint points, trek along small paths, and see the ruins of the valley’s old industries.
You may reconnect with nature along this stunning section of California’s Central Coast. Some of the best locations for camping and trekking are Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Garrapata State Park.
Yankee Point, four miles south of Carmel, marks the start of Big Sur, which continues along Highway No. 1 to Salmon Cove, 17 miles north of San Simeon. Beautiful views of the gorgeous shoreline may be seen from this lovely drive. The Santa Lucia Mountains and Ventana Forests, which have more than 220 miles of paths, are a real wilderness that extends to the east.
Hikers, sunbathers, and those seeking a nature escape will love Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The park offers camping options, and the Big Sur Lodge provides a tranquil refuge in a prime setting for those seeking a little more comfort. Pfeiffer Falls, one of the park’s highlights, is accessible through the Valley View Trail. This trail branches off to the Valley Overlook, which offers views of the ocean and the Big Sur River Valley.
A prominent region of Big Sur is Garrapata State Park. Garrapata Beach, a lengthy, broad, crescent-shaped expanse of golden sand, is the major draw here. It may not be the ideal for swimming here due to the large waves, but it’s fantastic for strolling and soaking up the sun. There are also day hiking paths in the park that offer stunning views of the coastline, mountains, and redwoods for anyone wishing to get a little exercise.
Stunning California’s Lake Tahoe is a well-liked year-round vacation resort and is located high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. There is more to Water Tahoe than just the lake; there are also mountains, woods, tiny villages, and a wide range of recreational opportunities.
The turquoise coves and mountains around the blue lake make it a popular summer destination for campers, boaters, and nature enthusiasts. One of the biggest attractions for families visiting the area in the summer are the stunning beaches and little coves. Popular beaches near Lake Tahoe include D.H. Bliss State Park and Kings Beach State Recreation Area.
Beach kayaking at D.H. Bliss State Park
At D.H. Bliss State Park, a kayak is used on the beach. Photo credit: Lana Law
Excellent hiking trails are available in the highlands and along the coast for hikers of all levels. The campgrounds there are also very good, and many of them are in forested or seaside regions. The beaches are where much of the summertime excitement takes place. The attention changes to the ski resorts in the winter.
A number of well-known ski resorts may be found around Lake Tahoe, which is also California’s top skiing destination. Skiers go to the region in the winter from all over the country to enjoy the fantastic terrain and excellent snow conditions.
National Parks in Sequoia and Kings Canyon
The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are must-see locations because they are home to the world’s biggest trees. The sequoia trees in this area are the biggest living creatures on earth and many of them are older than 2,000 years, with some even older than 3,000.
These two parks are close to one another, but they are very distinct from one another. They both span a region of mountains with spectacular granite peaks, deep gorges, lakes, rivers, and woods. You will want at least a few days if you want to explore both parks.
Even though gigantic sequoias may be found in both parks, Sequoia National Park is undoubtedly the greatest location to see these prehistoric marvels. Easy walking paths that wind through the trees and are frequently paved offer quick access to the main attractions. Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the US at 14,495 feet, is also located in this park (apart from Alaska).
Sequoia National Park has various lovely campgrounds, many of which are conveniently located for exploring the trees and other sights including Moro Rock and the well-known General Sherman Tree huge sequoia.
With craggy peaks, raging rivers, and isolated areas where you may get away from the people and enjoy nature, Kings Canyon National Park is more untamed and rough. Hiking is very popular in this park. Additionally, Kings Canyon is home to some excellent campgrounds, both close to the trees and at the far end of the 26-mile Kings Canyon Scenic Byway in the Cedar Grove region and Grant Grove area, respectively.
Redwood State and National Parks
It feels like you’ve entered another time when you’re walking through a grove of enormous redwoods that stand more than 300 feet above you. These trees, which are the tallest on the earth and are descended from Jurassic-era trees, are undoubtedly one of California’s finest assets.
Along a stunning length of the Northern California Coast, these cooperatively managed parks—Redwood National Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park extend out. There are fantastic hiking paths and lovely campgrounds in all of them, however, each one has a little something unique to offer.
Park National Joshua Tree
Joshua trees add a touch of romance to this otherwise lunar-like terrain, where enormous boulders and bizarre rock formations inspire imaginative creations. The park’s 800,000 acres offer a variety of unique locations, including a lot more than just Joshua trees.
Highlights include the Cholla Cactus Garden, where chollas stretch out eternally down the slope to the mountains beyond, the old Keys Ranch ruins, the enormous palm trees of the Lost Palms Oasis, and the view from Keys View, which is located at an elevation of almost 5,000 feet. Don’t forget to visit Skull Rock, a huge rock that resembles an alien skull.
Joshua Tree National Park contains Joshua Trees.
Joshua Trees at Joshua Tree National Park. Lana Law Photo
If you plan to remain for a while, you should think about spending a night at one of Joshua Tree National Park’s fantastic campgrounds where you may sleep under the stars and trees.
Palm Springs and Los Angeles can both be reached in less than an hour by car from Joshua Tree National Park.
Hollywood Universal Studios
One of California’s most well-liked tourist destinations, this amusement park and film studio is ideal for families with older kids and teenagers. Roller coasters, startlingly realistic simulator rides, and many other attractions are based on well-known movies.
On studio tours, large setups can be toured. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Fast & Furious – Supercharged, Jurassic World, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, and The Walking Dead Attraction are a few of the park’s most well-liked attractions. Additionally, there are places to eat, live performances, shops, and a variety of events that take place all year round.