Home to some of the world’s most iconic cities, like the star-studded Los Angeles, gorgeous white-sand beaches lining the San Diego coast, and the largest trees in the world in the northern nature parks — California is a place where culture-savvy travelers, nature-enthusiasts, and artsy explorers all meet.
Pull out your bucket lists, because you’re about to find 52 things to do in California that will each give you a new reason to visit the Golden State.
1. STAY AT THE GRAND CALIFORNIAN
Beat the crowds to your favorite amusement rides in Disneyland Resort when you stay at the Grand Californian. It has its own entrance gate for Extra Magic Hours, where you’ll have exclusive park access one hour before opening. Slide down the outdoor pool water slide or treat yourself to an elegant meal in Napa Rose onsite restaurant.
2. JOIN THE RESISTANCE AT STAR WARS: GALAXY’S EDGE
Cruise at light speeds through the universe at the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction in the Disneyland theme park. Set off on the Smuggler’s Run adventure as you soar the intergalactic airways in the Millennium Falcon, or plot your next attack on the First Order, where you’re sure to discover the force when you need it most.
3. TAKE IN THE HEART OF ORIGINAL DISNEY AT FANTASYLAND
The enchanting Sleeping Beauty Castle meets you as you arrive in Fantasyland. Located in the Disneyland amusement park, this themed area invites you to live out your favorite Disney fairytales. Let your wildest imagination soar beneath the floppy ears of Dumbo the Flying Elephant or encounter the peculiar characters of Alice in Wonderland.
4. POWER UP AT THE NEWEST LAND – AVENGERS CAMPUS
After countless successful missions, the Avengers now hope to inspire the superheroes of tomorrow at Disneyland’s Avengers Campus. You’ll be teleported into the Marvel Universe, where you never know when you might bump into Spidey, the Black Panther, or Iron Man en route to the Avengers Headquarters Building.
5. WALK THE BOARDWALK AT PIXAR PIER
Screams from the Incredicoaster can be heard as you pass beneath the iconic Victorian-marquee sign welcoming you to Pixar Pier. Skip to the playful tunes from the merry-go-round as you strut along the waterfront of Disney California Adventure Park’s artificial lake.
6. GET A SELFIE WITH THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
After the salty fog clears up, grab a selfie in front of the world’s most photographed bridge. Sweeping views perched atop the Marin Headlands show the entire span of the red-orange architectural wonder crossing over the Pacific Ocean strait against a backdrop of the San Francisco skyline.
7. BOOK A ROOM ON THE RMS QUEEN MARY
Built in 1930, and docked in the port of Long Beach, the RMS Queen Mary floats as elegant as it ever has. This retired ocean liner lets visitors relive the golden era of trans-Atlantic cruise travel by staying in elegant accommodations exuding art-deco decadence. Although it’s temporarily closed due to the ongoing pandemic, it’s not long before it opens its decks again.
8. CELEBRATE EL CAPITAN BY TAKING A ROCK CLIMBING CLASS AT YOSEMITE
File in line with the ranks of millions of people arriving every year to experience the natural wonders inside of Yosemite National Park. Take in views of the graceful Bridalveil Falls framed by giant Sequoia trees dating back thousands of years before working up the courage to scale the 3,000-ft wall of El Capitan.
Details: Yosemite National Park | Website
9. FLOAT DOWN MERCED RIVER
Plop into an airy tube and float down Merced River and take in views of the piney foliage lining the riverbanks and cliffside backdrops of Yosemite Valley. You’ll splash along the river with friends as you cool off from the golden sun.
10. HIKE THE TRAILS TO SEE NORTH AMERICA’S HIGHEST WATERFALL
Yosemite Falls is all the more reason to go chasing waterfalls to experience the rush of America’s highest waterfall. Of the 750 miles of hiking trails in Yosemite National Park, the 7.6-mile trek to Yosemite Falls is a favorite, where you’ll hear the roaring crash of Yosemite Creek plunging 2,425-feet, long before reaching the photo-worthy site.
Details: Yosemite Village, CA 95389 | Website
11. STEP BACK IN TIME AT THE OLD MISSION SANTA BARBARA
Listen for chimes from the iconic pink-capped bell towers welcoming you to Mission Santa Barbara. Founded in the late 1700s, you can re-imagine the hey-days of this still-active church when it was buzzing with nearly 1800 people. See stained-glass windows depicting religious stories and admire the lush green gardens.
12. SNOWBOARD KIRKWOOD AT LAKE TAHOE
Frontside the powder-white chutes at Kirkwood to experience one of the top ski resorts near Lake Tahoe’s northern shore. Although a smaller resort than neighboring peaks at Palisades and Diamond Peak, it’s a place catering to snowboarders who’ve already had their taste of faceplants in the snow and are ready to take their skills to the next level!
13. RETURN TO LAKE TAHOE IN SUMMER FOR A KAYAK RIDE
Dip your paddle gently into the clear blue waters of Lake Tahoe as you and your partner cruise the surface of the world’s largest alpine lake in a bright tandem kayak. Views of the Sierra Nevada summits emerging from the forested lakefronts give you plenty to explore during your day on the lake.
14. RIDE THE GONDOLA AT THE SAN DIEGO ZOO
Snap a quick photo with Rex the Lion statue before grabbing passes for the San Diego Zoo. Zip across the park’s 100-acres on the Skyfari Aerial Tram for the best chance at fitting in a day of seeing tigers lurking in brush, elephants splashing in the water, penguins dressed to impress, and koalas being the cute fuzzy creatures that they are.
15. ROAD TRIP BIG SUR
Pack up your favorite road trip snacks and grab a camera, because there are plenty of photo hotspots during your excursion along Big Sur. The thousands of birds soaring around Point Lobos State Reserve make it a hotspot for wildlife photography. Capture photos of Keyhole Rock on Pfeiffer Beach. Grab every angle of the beautiful Spanish architecture of Carmen Mission, while living the sweet life in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
16. DRIVE THRU THE GIANT SEQUOIA TUNNEL LOG
Explore Northern California at the feet of giants when you visit Sequoia National Park. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the 36-ft diameter of Giant Sherman, the tallest tree in the world at 275 feet. You can even drive your car through the Giant Sequoia tunnel log.
17. TOUR CRYSTAL CAVE
No interior designers were needed to outfit the walls of the Crystal Cave, with natural-formed marble and limestone structures. Instead, historic waters once flowing beneath the surface of Sequoia National Park left behind this underground jewel. Trickling water reverberates through the small cave as your expert guide on the Discovery Tour tells you all about its history.
18. SEE THE WATERFALLS OF KINGS CANYON
Kings Canyon runs seamlessly with Sequoia National Park, but has its own splashy attractions to draw you away from record-breaking trees, like the General Grant Tree. Shaded trails lead to the 100-ft drop of Mist Falls, Tokopah Falls, and seeing water seemingly jetting out of rocks at Roaring River Falls.
Planning a National Parks road trip? The America the Beautiful Pass covers entrance for an entire year to all the US National Parks and over 2,000 federal recreation fee sites. Fees are covered for everyone in the car for per-vehicle sites and for up to 4 adults for per-person sites. This is a no-brainer, friends. While fees vary, you’ll likely break-even after two visits. Plus, REI will donate 10% of pass sale proceeds to the NPS Foundation.
19. LEARN TO SURF IN MALIBU
Surf’s up as you immerse yourself into one of Southern California’s favorite pastimes. Malibu is an iconic surfing spot where you can get your feet wet in the sport at Zuma Beach with private lessons by Malibu Makos Surf Club or shoot the curl at Topanga State Beach.
20. PHOTOGRAPH THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN
Marketing at its finest, the Hollywood Sign originated as a promotional sign before becoming the iconic beacon for dream-chasing movie stars. Hiking trails in Griffith Park let you look up at the famous letters sitting high in Mount Lee. Alternatively, go for a stroll on the Griffith Observatory trails to see it at eye level.
21. ADMIRE THE ART AT THE GETTY
The Getty sits as a modern architectural masterpiece holding one of the most impressive art collections in Los Angeles. Stroll the breezy gardens before witnessing the rich blues used in the Irises painting by Van Gogh, admire the realistic details of the Victorious Youth bronze sculpture by Lysippos, and see an impressionist interpretation of dawn in the Sunrise painting by Monet.
22. CATCH A CONCERT AT MAGIC CASTLE
Magic Castle is a place that lives up to its enchanting legends. Take advantage if someone slips you a guest card to the exclusive entertainment venue, where you can fill your night with jaw-dropping magic shows, belly-tickling comedy shows, and live concerts.
23. WATCH THE STREET PERFORMERS AT VENICE BEACH BOARDWALK
There’s never a dull moment on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. Grunts from muscleheads after each rep echo throughout the boardwalk, as hipster vendors show off beach artwork, and talented street performers put on a show as if you’re an undercover judge for America’s Got Talent.
Details: 1800 Ocean Front Walk, Venice, CA 90291 | Website
24. TAKE YOUR CHANCES AT FURNACE CREEK
Heat up your California vacation with a trip to Death Valley National Park. This sprawling 3.4 million-acre desert is the lowest and hottest place on Earth, with temperatures swelling to 134°F historically in Furnace Creek. Blast the AC while gawking at the colorful volcanic rocks painting the scenery along the Artists Drive Scenic Loop. Later, enjoy sweeping views of the eroded badlands at Zabriskie Point.
Details: 271 Highway 190, Death Valley, CA 92328 | Website
25. RIDE HIGH IN A HOT AIR BALLOON IN NAPA VALLEY
There’s nothing like that first sensation right when you lift off the ground during a hot air balloon tour of Napa Valley. You’ll soar over 3,000-feet high, and you’ll watch as the balloon shadow creeps over the neat rows of vineyards lining the rolling hills of California’s famous wine region.
26. TAKE A WINE TOUR THROUGH WINE COUNTRY
Delight your taste buds with some of the finest wine in the world found in the Napa Valley wine country. First, swirl around the ruby-colored Pinot Noir to release its fragrant fruit and spice aromas. Later, sample the dry, full-bodied, fruity taste of the Cabernet Sauvignon in the Artesa Vineyards.
27. FERRY TO ALCATRAZ ISLAND
Beautiful flowers covering the grounds of Alcatraz Island is a stark contrast to this legendary island’s past. Head to Pier 33 in San Francisco to catch the 15-minute ride to a place where infamous criminals like Al Capone and Machine-Gun Kelly once called home. Audio guides provide an immersive exploration as you walk the abandoned prison.
28. AVOID THE CROWDS AT LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK
In a place where volcanoes meet glacier lakes, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a place where Earth’s geology has carved out a beautiful national park. See views of Lassen Peak reflected perfectly in Manzanitas Lake before winding through the lava rocks in the Devastated area in search of each of the four types of volcanoes in the park.
Details: 21820 Lassen National Park Hwy. Mineral, CA 96063 | Website
29. NOD TO DENMARK WITH A VISIT TO SOLVANG
The massive Solvang Windmill towers over the Old-World Danish architecture as you drive along Mission Drive in Solvang. Pick up an apple strudel at Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery before exploring California’s famous Danish town, full of boutique shops, museums, and statues replicated from the originals in Copenhagen.
30. TAKE A CABLE CAR RIDE THROUGH SAN FRANCISCO
Hold on to the rails as you ascend the sloping hillsides of San Francisco on a ride on the iconic cable car rides. These vintage red railcars remain a popular way to go sightseeing in San Francisco, offering you an open-air ride on the Powell-Hyde line to Fisherman’s Wharf.
31. BUILD YOUR COLLECTION AT GLASS BEACH
Forget about the sandy shores that California is typically known for when visiting Glass Beach. It’s not hard to figure out where it gets its name as you step across colorful eroded glass showcasing that one man’s trash can become one of nature’s treasures.
Details: MacKerricher State Park, Fort Bragg, CA 95437 | Website
32. CATCH A WHALE WATCHING TOUR FROM OLD FISHERMAN’S WARF
Sitting atop wooden stilts, the Old Fisherman’s Wharf is the starting point to excursions in Monterey Bay in search of humpbacks and gray whales. The historic wharf buildings now house the best seafood restaurants in Monterey Bay, serving up classics like clam chowder or unique dishes like avocado crab seafood towers in Old Fishermen’s Grotto restaurant.
Read More: 13 SENSATIONAL THINGS TO DO IN MONTEREY
33. SOAK IN A NATURAL MINERAL SPRING AT DESERT HOT SPRINGS
Nestled in Coachella Valley, Desert Hot Springs has harnessed the natural healing powers from a 600-year old spring. Rejuvenate your body and soul with a wellness trip to Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel or Miracle Springs Resort and Spa, where 100°F water temperatures allow you to soak all day to views of the surrounding Santa Rosa Mountains.
Read More: 37 BEST HOT SPRINGS CALIFORNIA HAS TO OFFER
34. INDULGE IN VIP TOUR WITH UNIVERSAL STUDIOS
The red carpet rolls out for you as you journey into the worlds of your favorite movies and cartoons at Universal Studios. Skip the line with guided VIP tours where you’ll go behind the scenes of themed sections like Harry Potter and the Wizarding World and Jurassic Park, where you’ll relive their plots through fun rides.
Details: 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608 | Website
35. PLAY IN THE ‘EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD’
Melting snow rushing down from Burney Mountain eventually flows into the illustrious Burney Falls. Set off on the moderate 1.2-mile hike to what Theodore Roosevelt called the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ and take a quick, refreshing dip in the icy waters below the scenic falls.
Details: McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, 24898 CA-89, Burney, CA 96013 | Website
36. LISTEN TO THE MUSIC AT THE INTEGRATRON
Feel the power of the Joshua Tree energy forcefield, where you’ll walk away feeling rejuvenated from the inside out. The white-dome of The Integratron stands out against the dusty Mojave Desert landscape. Listen as melodic ambient sounds resound during an hour-long sound bath played at the optimal hertz to activate the cells in your body.
37. CLIMB TO THE MOUNTAINS ON THE PALM SPRINGS AERIAL TRAMWAY
You’ll have one of the best views in Mt. San Jacinto State Park when you ride the uniquely-rotating Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, offering 360-degree views of Chino Canyon. Finish off the 2.5-mile trip to the San Jacinto peak with a scenic snack at the Pines Café located on the summit.
38. WALK HIDDEN VALLEY NATURE TRAIL
As evening approaches, it’s the perfect time to stroll the beaten path of the Hidden Valley Nature Trail in Joshua Tree National Park. The one-mile loop trail is accessible for everyone who wants to experience bouldering or the red beauty of the Mojave Desert sunset.
39. HANG WITH THE FISH AT MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM
Massive kelp forests appear to wave at you while spotting the abundance of marine life inhabiting the gigantic tanks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Themed sections like ‘Open Sea’ and ‘Into the Deep’ showcase creatures like sharks, sea turtles, sea otters, rays, and plenty of fish. After, stand around the touch tank to feel the slick bodies of sea stars and sea urchins.
Read More: 13 SENSATIONAL THINGS TO DO IN MONTEREY
40. SNORKEL AT LA JOLLA COVE
Nature is the perfect aquarium as you explore the depths of La Jolla Ecological Reserve and Underwater Park. Snorkel near the surface of the warm, shallow waters whose high visibility offers fantastic views of leopard sharks, sea bass, and garibaldi fish before dropping off into a 600-ft deep underwater canyon.
41. FEEL THE SPIRITS AT WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE
If you didn’t know better, the Winchester Mystery House looks like just another stunning Victorian mansion. But ghost tours through this quirky mansion reveal spirits lurking in shadows of staircases leading into walls, doors that lead to nowhere, and over 100 other rooms mysteriously built with the Winchester Rifle fortune.
42. NOSH ON DIM SUM IN CHINATOWN
Even when LA’s Chinatown isn’t celebrating the street-packed Chinese New Year Festival or the illuminating Chinese Lantern Festival, it’s still a buzzing district full of visitors searching for the best dim sum houses. Go for a walk down Broadway and pass beneath dangling red lanterns overhead, where you’ll discover authentic dumplings and other treats.
Details: Los Angeles, CA 90012 | Website
43. DRIVE LOMBARD STREET IF YOU DARE
You might think your GPS needs an update as you approach Lombard Street, but the zig-zagged route marked on the map perfectly represents the world’s most crooked street. Anticipation builds as you wait in the only acceptable traffic line as you skillfully maneuver the eight curvy turns leading down the steep block.
44. CATCH YOUR BREATH WITH VIEWS AT PINNACLES NATIONAL PARK
Colorful hues of orange and green paint the scenery of Pinnacles National Park. Hike High Peaks Trail for one of the best viewpoints exhibiting the unique pointy rock structures emerging from the canyon. Or trek the Condor Gulch Trail, where you might spot the California Condor soar overhead.
Read More: PINNACLES NATIONAL PARK – EPIC GUIDE
45. IMAGINE LIVING LIKE A KING AT HEARST CASTLE
Hearst Castle is one of 700 buildings designed by Julia Morgan in her lifetime. Only someone with her architectural genius could build a castle fit for a California King. Tour the former residence to imagine strolling through the decadent halls and opening the doors to lush garden views reaching out to the Pacific Coast.
46. SAIL TO CATALINA ISLAND
Set sail on the Catalina Flyer from Long Beach, and in an hour, you’ll find yourself lounging in a cabana on the idyllic white sands of Descanso Beach on Catalina Island. Afterward, hop in a golf cart to tour the island’s Two Harbors port town, or go for a wildlife excursion on the Bison tour.
47. PLAN AN OVERNIGHT AT HOTEL DEL CORONADO
The ocean-washed burgundy rooftops of the historic Hotel del Coronado stand as if a landmark setting on the waterfront of San Diego Bay. Elegant Victorian-style rooms are just a few paces from the beach, and you’ll have plenty of amenities for a comfortable overnight stay.
48. PEER THRU TELESCOPES AT GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY
Not only does the Griffith Observatory have one of the best viewpoints overlooking Los Angeles, but it also provides you a glimpse into our vast universe. Exhibitions are out of this world as they take you on a journey thru the cosmos and witness the powerful telescope whose special lenses can even reveal sunspots on our burning star.
Details: 2800 E Observatory Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90027 | Website
49. TIME A TRIP TO ANTELOPE VALLEY’S CALIFORNIA POPPY RESERVE
Whether it’s because of the myth that it’s illegal to pick poppies in California, or the protected state reserve status of Antelope Valley, but these poppy fields are some of the most beautiful you’ll see. Plan your visit to California on a mid-morning April for the best views of these radiant fields of the California state flower.
Details: 15101 Lancaster Rd, Lancaster, CA 93536 | Website
50. DAY TRIP TO SAUSALITO
Sausalito is the Cinque Terre of the West Coast as it’s established itself as one of San Francisco’s favorite seaside town destinations. Drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and arrive in the town, where you’ll wander past colorful houseboats floating on Richardson Bay, see elephant statues at Viña del Mar Park, and watch the white masts bobbing in the Sausalito Shipyard and Marina.
Details: Sausalito, CA | Website
51. TAKE IN THE VIEWS ALONG THE TORREY PINES COASTAL HIKE
Block out a couple of hours from your busy schedule to remind yourself that California has some of the best natural scenery in the United States. Sounds of the gentle waves crashing on the rugged coast provide the perfect soundtrack while trekking the Torrey Pines Coastal Hike in Channel Islands National Park, just north of San Diego.
Details: Channel Islands National Park | Website
52. SELECT A WILD ROOM AT MADONNA INN
Pick a door at the Madonna Inn and what awaits behind it is always a surprise. This unique inn offers more than 100 uniquely designed accommodations. Feel the pink and floral feminist energy exuding from the signature Madonna Suite. Let water trickle over you in the rock waterfall shower in the Bridal Falls-themed room. Or see the golden color pallet selected to outfit every detail of the Desert Sands room.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO CALIFORNIA
- SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: 29 AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
- NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: 18+ Magical Things To Do In Northern California
- LAKE TAHOE CAMPING: 23 Of The Best Lake Tahoe Camping Destinations
- BODEGA BAY: 11 Amazing Outdoorsy Things To Do In Bodega Bay
- HALF MOON BAY: 16 Things To Do In Half Moon Bay For Fun In The Sun
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