California beckons visitors with sunshine, beautiful landscapes and urban sophistication. A place of dreams, this enticing state has it all: spectacular sandy beaches, snow-capped mountains, idyllic farmlands and ancient redwoods, along with interesting, multicultural cities. Tourists come to picturesque San Francisco to marvel at the steep, rolling hills sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. Los Angeles dazzles visitors with its quintessential Southern California scenery and Hollywood glamour. San Diego and Santa Barbara have perfectly balmy weather, golden sand beaches and historic Spanish architecture.
Another important reason to visit California is nature. Yosemite National Park is a must-see natural area, where awe-inspiring granite cliffs are lined with dramatic waterfalls. In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe is a breathtaking alpine backdrop for hiking, boating, and skiing. Farther south, in the Sierra National Forest, is the more remote destination of Mammoth Lakes, a pristine environment with well-groomed trails and excellent fishing in hundreds of lakes and streams.
1 Het San Francisco Bay Area
This famous city is known for its eclectic culture and surreal beauty. When the midday sun hits the escarpments or the fog rolls over the Golden Gate Bridge from the Pacific Ocean, the city has a mystical quality. Visitors are immediately awed by the scenery and breathtaking views, from the mist-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge , to the hilltop homes of Pacific Heights, and the picturesque row of ” Painted Ladies ” Victorian homes. While exploring the top attractions, tourists discover the charm of the city’s walkable (if steep) streets and historic neighborhoods that are full of multicultural flair. Several must-see places all within walking distance North Beach (Little Italy),Chinatown, Russian Hill, en Fisherman’s Wharf.
Today, San Francisco is California’s most sophisticated city, a place to enjoy world-class opera, ballet, theater and gourmet dining. The city has an impressive assortment of top-rated restaurants offering a wide variety of international dishes and trendsetting menus. The hip and edgy Missie district is known for its array of ethnic dishes, atmospheric coffee shops and up-and-coming restaurants. The stylish Hayes Valley neighborhood is dotted with chic fine-dining restaurants and interesting boutiques.
For visitors with more time, adding in a few San Francisco day trips is a great way to extend a vacation. The San Francisco Bay Area has a wealth of urban and natural attractions. Just north of San Francisco, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, the charming town of Sausalito in Marin County is a favorite tourist destination, and it’s also fun to get there by ferry. Just beyond Sausalito are inspirational nature trails Tennessee Valley , Stinson Beach , and Muir Woods . Further north in Sonoma Countyare places for lovely walks along the coast and in the rolling hills. Across the bay, the college town of Berkeley offers the inspiring scenery of its Ivory Tower campus, along with impressive cultural attractions and gourmet restaurants. Also in the East Bay, the vibrant multicultural city of Oakland offers thriving parks, interesting museums, historic theaters, lively neighborhood events and summer festivals. For those seeking a classic California beach town complete with a boardwalk theme park and surfing scene, Santa Cruz is the place to go. To appreciate the rugged, rugged Pacific coast, head to Half Moon Bay, then stop at the rural community of pescaderoto visit the State Beach Bird Sanctuary or attend a candlelight dinner at Harley Farms Goat Dairy.
2 Los Angeles at Disneyland
Los Angeles epitomizes the sunny Southern California lifestyle, with its wide, palm-lined boulevards; exclusive designer boutiques; and sun-drenched beaches. Founded in 1781 and built up during the movie boom of the 1920s and 1930s, this sprawling urban center is still synonymous with the glitz and glamor of Hollywood. But long before movie stars arrived, in 1769 a Spanish missionary expedition arrived at this spiritually inspiring location at the mouth of a river and named the city ‘El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles’ (the city of Our Lady the Queen of the angels’), which refers to a painting of the Virgin Mary surrounded by angels in the Chapel of Saint Francis in Assisi, Italy. For insight into history, visit the San Gabriel Mission Church and Museum. The missionary church continues to provide Catholic masses to the public.
Those intrigued by the idea of spotting Hollywood stars should head to their rattling grounds of Rodeo Drive , lined with haute couture boutiques; the exclusive Beverly Hills and Bel Air neighborhoods; the Chateau Marmont hotel on Sunset Boulevard; and Franklin Village in Hollywood. If you’re in Hollywood, be sure to take a stroll through the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame . Other must-see tourist sites include Venice beach , with its eclectic atmosphere, and the upbeat Santa Monica beach scene. For culture, the J. Paul Getty Museum andLA Philharmonic Walt Disney Concert Hall are the top attractions. Los Angeles also has pleasant outdoor spaces, most notably the Huntington Botanical Gardens , filled with 12 vibrant 120-acre gardens, including a Shakespearean garden and a Chinese-themed garden with pagodas. At this site, tourists can also see the Huntington Library which houses a collection of rare books, including a manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
For families with children, the highlight of a Southern California vacation is a visit to Disneyland. This famous amusement park is located in Anaheim, about 50 km from Los Angeles. The park focuses on Disney-themed attractions and consists of eight different themed lands, such as Mickey’s Toontown, Adventureland, and Fantasyland. Highlights for preschoolers include the kiddie rides, such as the caterpillar Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and the Mad Tea Party spinning teacups, as well as the chance to meet Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and Princess Elsa. Older kids enjoy the thrilling rollercoaster rides, such as the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Space Mountain, and Indiana Jones Adventure. Parents will appreciate that Disneyland has several excellent hotels and award-winning restaurants.
3 San Diego: sunshine, beaches and Spanish architecture
Blessed with a balmy year-round climate and beautiful beaches, San Diego is the quintessential Southern California city. Major attractions include Balboa Park , an expansive green space with signature gardens and several museums; the famous San Diego Zoo which is home to pandas and other exotic animals; and Seaworld . For sunbathing enthusiasts, the sandy beaches of La Jolla are worth the drive 22 miles north of downtown San Diego. La Jolla is a quaint little town, equally popular for its gourmet restaurants, art museums, performing arts and antique shops. Another interesting tourist destination is the Mission San Juan Capistrano, in a beautiful natural setting 66 miles north. More adventurous travelers will want to visit Mexico’s Tijuana, which is just a short day trip from San Diego.
As the oldest city in California, San Diego has a wealth of historic sites. Founded in 1769, the San Diego Mission was the original mission and cradle of Christianity in California. Listed as a Registered National Historic Landmark, the mission buildings are made of adobe with a distinctive white-painted facade. Unique in its architectural style, the mission’s church features a campanario (bell wall) that soars 46 feet high above a courtyard and garden blooming with flowers. For more historic ambiance, head to the Old Town , an area filled with cute boutiques, art galleries, museums, theaters, and authentic Mexican restaurants. San Diego’s Gas Lamp Quarteris another place to discover the charm of times gone by. This historic district has 16 square blocks of city streets and is filled with restored Victorian-era buildings standing next to modern buildings. Tourists enjoy strolling through the Gaslamp Quarter to discover trendy boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants.
4 Yosemite National Park: UNESCO World Heritage Site
A masterpiece created by Mother Nature, the Yosemite Valley is surrounded by sheer granite cliffs carved by glaciers millions of years ago. When naturalist John Muir discovered Yosemite in the 1860s, he described it as the “greatest of all the special temples of nature.” This vast 1,200-square-mile desert was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984 and has 500 miles of hiking trails. Yosemite’s highlights include Yosemite Falls , a dramatic waterfall over 2,000 feet tall, and Half Dome, an iconic steep granite mountain. Yet every part of the park is beautiful, from vast meadows and crystal-clear streams to giant redwood orchards. The park has an incredible biological diversity, with more than 400 different animal species.
5 Lake Tahoe: Hiking, Mountain Biking and Skiing
Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, this enchanting lake is a place of sublime beauty and serenity. The lake has brilliant turquoise waters with a translucent quality and the landscape is so pristine that it has a meditative effect. Visitors come to admire the beauty and enjoy outdoor activities. In the summer, Lake Tahoe is a popular destination for hiking, mountain biking, water sports, and lakeside sunbathing. Kings Beach is a favorite spot for swimming and boating. The breathtaking Emerald Bay State Park , the peaceful DL Bliss State Park, and the densely forested Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park has enchanting lakeside scenery, well-maintained nature trails, and scenic picnic spots. In the winter, usually December through April, Lake Tahoe offers excellent powder downhill skiing, as well as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding. Squaw Valley and Heavenly are world-class ski resorts that attract most visitors for alpine skiing, but several other Lake Tahoe ski resorts also have top-notch facilities and beautiful alpine terrain.
6 Gold Country in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada
In 1948, when John Sutter and James Marshal were building a sawmill at Coloma along the American River, they discovered small nuggets of gold on the site. A pivotal moment in California history, this event led to the 1849 mass migration to the West Coast known as the Gold Rush . Thousands of prospectors set out for this location in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in hopes of finding their fortune. Tourists can visit the gold discovery site at the old sawmill in Coloma, which is now part of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Because of its historical significance, this park is one of the most important sites in California. Visitors have a chance to pan for gold in the American River, just like the prospectors did in 1849. After exploring the site, it is possible to explore the park’s hiking trails or have a picnic under the oak trees. Other nearby wilderness areas include Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park , with 12 miles of hiking and biking trails plus fishing areas; Dave Moore Natural Area , with a one-mile walking route; and Bassi Road in Lotus, featuring scenic backcountry lanes. The American River is also a great place for white water rafting, kayaking and fishing.
To continue the discovery of the Gold Rush era, head to the historic towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City, about 40 miles away from Coloma. These atmospheric Gold Rush towns have the distinctive atmosphere of the mid-1800s. The historic buildings are now filled with interesting art galleries, boutiques and fine restaurants. Empire Mine State Park is the top attraction in Grass Valley , where visitors can explore the old mining area and the property’s stately old Victorian home. Bursting with Gold Rush charm, Nevada City appeals to tourists for its quaint atmosphere and wide selection of restaurants and historic hotels. Most noteworthy, the National Hoteldates back to the 1850s and is one of the oldest hotels in the west.
7 Sonoma County en Mendocino Nature Sites
To experience the natural beauty of Northern California, an ideal place to start is about two hours north of San Francisco. The Point Reyes National Seashore, on Tomales Bay, offers spectacular coastal trails overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The area also has peaceful hidden coves and protected estuaries that are ideal for kayaking. Point Reyes is a bird watcher’s paradise and is home to a remarkable variety of bird species, including the snowy plover, northern spotted owl, peregrine falcon and brown pelican. Point Reyes is equally remarkable for its plant life, with over 900 species of plants, including rare and endangered species. The park’s biodiversity supports a wide variety of habitats, from grasslands and wetlands to chaparral and pine forests. During the spring, the meadows of Point Reyes are blanketed in vibrant wildflowers.
Farther north is Bodega Bay , a dreamy fishing village 51 miles north of Point Reyes, about a 90-minute drive up the coast from Sonoma. Beach lovers and outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy Bodega Bay’s invigorating natural environment. It is a great place for nature walks, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking and surfing. For a quiet coastal community, Bodega Bay has an extensive choice of hotels, lodges and holiday rental options.
Another top destination is the historic seaside town of Mendocino , about 100 miles north of Bodega Bay. In this idyllic pastoral landscape, visitors are rejuvenated by the fresh sea air and inspired by the pristine sandy beaches and beautiful coastal scenery. Being in Northern California, the weather is often cool and foggy, better suited for hiking than sunbathing. Nature lovers enjoy walks along Mendocino’s jagged coast or through the shady redwoods. Outdoor enthusiasts head to Lake Mendocino for boating and fishing or the Great Estuary and Noyo Riverfor kayaking, as well as a chance to spot wildlife including river otters, seals and birds. In addition to its natural attractions, the city of Mendocino has an abundance of art galleries, museums, shops, fine-dining restaurants and performing arts.
8 Central Coast in Big Sur
With its wooded hills, undulating farmlands and endless stretches of sandy beach, the Central Coast is an inviting part of California to explore. Relatively undiscovered by tourists, the rolling hills are dotted with charming country towns such as Arroyo Grande and Paso Robles . The largest city, San Luis Obispo , is tucked away in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains, just 10 miles from the beach. This fun university town has a friendly atmosphere, year-round sunshine and a historic Spanish mission. Two popular beaches are within a 30 minute drive: the surfer’s favorite Pismo Beach and the more secluded and resort-like Avila Beach. One of the most famous landmarks in the United States, Hearst Castle , is about 40 miles away in San Simeon. An incomparably off-the-beaten-path California attraction, Hearst Castle was built in 1922 for newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst Castle. Perched on a hilltop high above the Pacific Ocean, it resembles a 16th-century Spanish cathedral. Created by architect Julia Morgan, this architectural masterpiece is filled with precious works of art, including a Roman floor mosaic from Italy, a 3,000-year-old Egyptian statue, and a beautiful Rubens tapestry. Known to Hearst as “La Cuesta Encantada” (“the enchanted hill”) “), the huge property is now open to the public as a museum.
When visiting the Central Coast, a must-see destination is Big Sur . This breathtaking 90-mile stretch of mountainous coastline is completely untouched due to its remoteness. Big Sur is only accessible via a two-lane road on Highway One that winds along dire hairpin bends overlooking the ocean. The trail begins 20 miles south of Carmel and ends around Ragged Point, about 15 miles north of San Simeon. Visitors are awestruck by the scenery of rugged ocean bluffs, shady redwood forests, and sheer cliffs shedding into the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. Unforgettable locations include the high terrace of Pitcher Plant Restaurant, with its dazzling backdrop of deep blue seas, and theMcWay Waterfall Hiking Trail , featuring the most iconic viewpoint in Big Sur.
9 Santa Barbara
One of the most beautiful coastal cities in California, this resort destination is a beach lover’s paradise, with balmy weather and an attractive coastline of golden sands. Santa Barbara is also a historic city steeped in old-world charm. The 18th century Mission Santa Barbara is known as the “Queen of the Missions” and is surrounded by flowering gardens, the Santa Barbara Courthouseis an example of exquisite Spanish-Moorish style and most of downtown Santa Barbara is adorned with traditional Spanish-style architecture. Santa Barbara is a place for relaxation and pampering. Take a stroll along the waterfront, sunbathe on the beach, indulge in a luxurious spa treatment and enjoy gourmet meals on pleasant outdoor terraces.
10 The Redwood Forests en Pristine Coastline van Humboldt County
Rugged and pristine, Humboldt County is an escape to nature, a place for hiking, hunting, fishing and outdoor adventure. This rural area delights visitors with its lush redwood forests, secluded beaches, and peaceful marshes filled with birdlife. The combination of fragrant Douglas firs and salty ocean breezes gives the place an invigorating feel. In this remote area of Northern California, the wide open spaces and fresh air inspire visitors to take a deep breath. The landscape offers endless inspiration for walks through the towering redwoods, along serene beaches and over rushing rivers and steep canyons criss-crossed by suspension bridges.
In the southern part of Humboldt County, Humboldt Redwoods State Park is California’s largest redwood state park containing the Rockefeller Forest, the world’s largest old-growth redwood forest. Redwood National Park is known for Fern Canyon , a densely forested freshwater creek with overgrown ferns (where scenes for Jurassic Park were filmed). The Arcata Community Forest , just a few blocks from downtown Arcata has an extensive network of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails, plus a playground and picnic areas. Arcata is also known for its Kinetic Grand Championship Bicycle Raceannually on Memorial Day, when contestants race past kinetic sculptures. Other must-see sights include Moonstone Beach , a beautiful coastline (near the fishing village of Trinidad), overlooking rocky coves and jagged headlands. Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge draws visitors for scenic nature walks. Bird watchers will be delighted by the incredible diversity of species in the refuge and the chance to spot shorebirds such as the western sandpiper or great blue heron. More adventurous types head to Trinity River for whitewater rafting, Stone Lagoon for stand-up paddle boarding, or Moonstone Beach for surfing.
Amidst the beautiful redwood forests along Humboldt Bay is the historic seaport of Eureka , Humboldt’s main urban center. Eureka Old Town features hundreds of ornate Victorian buildings. The most notable mansion is the Carson House , built in the 1880s for lumber baron William Carson. Several of the old Victorians are now quaint bed and breakfasts with four-poster beds and an elegant ambiance. Carter House Inns are housed in old Victorians with bright, modern rooms. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the English Tudor style Eureka Innwas built in 1922 for nature-loving holidaymakers. For an interesting perspective on Eureka, take a Humboldt Bay Harbor Cruise on a vessel that dates back to 1910. This tour includes a historical narrative about the area and a chance to see harbor seals, shorebirds, oyster beds and other marine life as fishing fleets navigate the waters traverse in search of crabs, salmon and shrimp. Visit the. To soak up the local culture, the Clarke Historical Museum displays exhibits on regional history and the Morris Graves Museum , featuring a collection of Morris Graves artwork and temporary exhibits.
11 Mammoth Lakes: Hiking, Fishing and Skiing
Mammoth Lakes attracts many visitors for outdoor adventures and boasts approximately 300 sunny days per year. The fresh mountain air invigorates body and mind, while the beautiful countryside provides a great environment for hiking and mountain biking. Mammoth Lakes has over 300 miles of hiking trails in diverse wilderness areas such as Devils Postpile National Monument and the Pacific Crest Trail . The landscape ranges from peaceful meadows and pine forests to granite rocks, including a summit that rises to 11,053 feet. With nearly a hundred lakes, many stocked with trout, Mammoth Lakes is an incredible place for summer fishing. In the winter, Mammoth Lakes is popular for cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, and snowboarding, as well as ice skating and sledding. Thealpine ski terrain covers 3,100 acres with 150 trails accessible by 28 chairlifts. Mammoth Lakes is ready to welcome visitors any time of year to its gourmet restaurants, rustic lodges, and luxury mountain resorts.