One of the USA’s most diverse states is California. Sitting on the west coast, it hosts a plethora of natural and man-made wonders for every kind of tourist. You’ll never run out of things to do in California. Today, let us look at some of the best attractions here. We’ll cover ten of the best tourist spots here.
Most people going to California for a holiday think of Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Diego. And for good reason, too – they hold some of the most popular attractions in the US, nay, in the world! Each city has so many attractions that each of them would take individual posts all for themselves. However, there are plenty of wonderful places to see around the state of California, outside these three cities. For these reasons, we will keep LA, SF, and SD out of our list of things to do in California.
Your best bet to enjoy everything in California is to be in good physical shape, start from the flat south and work up to the mountainous wilds up north. You will get to see something of every sort – wonderful beaches, theme parks, legendary structures, beautifully wild forests, somber desert, wine valleys, giant trees – you name it.
Even the transportation here is of enjoyment. If you like scenic train rides in the US, you can get onto the Pacific Surfliner and the Coast Starlight which run through California. If driving is more your thing, you can take a road trip along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, dipping into secluded little beaches for breaks.
- Top 10 things to do in California
- Enjoy a day or two at the Santa Catalina Island
- Frequently Asked Questions About California
- Parting Thoughts
- Explore the West Coast!
Top 10 things to do in California
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Napa Valley
- Santa Catalina
- The Mojave
- Monterey Bay
- 17 Mile Drive
- Palm Springs
Now, keep in mind that this list is nowhere near complete. We could have added a hundred more attractions there. But we’ve gathered the 10 most popular tourist spots in California according to google’s metrics. So, without further ado, let’s delve into them, shall we?
Admire the structure and beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge
It might sound like a cliché, but you can’t cross this off your things to do on the California list. This awesome bridge spans the one-mile-wide strait between the SF Bay and the Pacific. The bridge connects San Francisco and Marin County via route 101 and state route 1. The huge, famous bridge was constructed way back in 1937. At that time, it was both the tallest and longest bridge in the world. Its main span is 4200 feet long and the twin towers rise up to 746 feet.
The scenery here with the bridge is so beautiful that it has become one of the most iconic pictures about America, besides the Statue of Liberty, etc. The bridge is a great place to take a walk, bike, and spend time with family or friends. The visitor center has good learning and souvenir-shopping opportunities. As you may guess, it’s free to visit this insanely popular tourist spot in California. Instead of going on the bridge, you can also choose to fly above in a chopper tour or cruise below on a boat tour.
Hiking and Climbing in the Yosemite National Park
One of America’s most famous national parks, Yosemite beckons all nature tourists with open arms. There are so many places to visit in Yosemite National Park that we really should cover it in a whole article. However, the basic idea is that you hike around the huge, beautiful forest, climb up the mountains to snap magnificent pictures, stay at some old, colorful forest lodges full of heritage, go camping, kayaking, and the line is growing too long. You get the idea.
The most popular places to see in Yosemite are:
- Yosemite Valley with the Tunnel view
- Half Dome
- Yosemite Falls
- El Capitan
- Mariposa Grove
- The Ahwahnee
- Glacier Point
- Bridalveil Fall
- Tuolumne Meadows
- Mist Trail
- Tenaya Lake
- Badger Pass ski zone
- …and many more…
Drink your fill in Napa Valley AVA
AVA stands for the ‘American Viticultural Area’ – the official name for wine country. The region produces the best quality wine in the US, even competing with the European wine countries. The wide land is covered with vineyards. You can visit the popular wineries or go off the beaten path to find hidden gems. There are many organic farms and curated parks to explore here as well.
If you don’t have much time, we suggest you hop on the Napa Valley Wine Train. It’s one of the most popular train rides in the USA. For three hours, you’ll enjoy the fine terrain, have gourmet lunch, and yes, taste wine. The train itself is an antique. For a laid-back vacation, enjoy your vacation at plenty of resorts, go golfing, or shop from boutiques in the quaint little towns. There is a castle or two here and there for a change of taste as well.
Enjoy a day or two at the Santa Catalina Island
Off the coast of southern California, Santa Catalina is a little rocky island in the gulf of that name. The beauty of this only 22-mile long island is sure to take your breath away. It’s a local favorite place for a day trip. The sea around the island is beautiful and you should take the ferry. Because the journey itself is the start of the adventure. Or you can take a helicopter ride for added thrill and reduced time!
The first thing you do on the island should be renting a golf cart. Or a bicycle for the more active. It’s the best way to explore the various points of interest in Santa Catalina. For example:
- Explore downtown Catalina for food, shopping, and nightlife
- Go snorkeling at various points around the island
- Hike up and then zipline across the island
- Take a semi-submarine tour – kids will love this!
- Laze around on the many fine beaches
- Kayaking, boating, fishing… the list goes on
Feel tiny in the Redwoods National Park
This is actually a congress of quite a few national and state parks in the same area, covering around 140,000 acres of land combined. Along the northern California coast, this old forest is well-known around the world to ecotourists. The place is dedicated to and gets its name from the giant redwood trees that are only found in this area. They are one of the biggest and tallest flora species in the world.
Other than the giant trees, the parks protect lots of other wildlife and indigenous culture. Camping, hiking, biking, taking a scenic ride, etc. are the best things you can do in the Redwoods. You’ll need at least three days here. Trails, viewpoints, visitor centers, and camping grounds are in every park. You can also take an RV here – though some roads in the forest aren’t suitable for tall vehicles. Taking a break from the forest, you can enjoy the 37-mile long virgin coastline as well.
Burn lots of calories in the Mojave Desert
One of the driest places in America is the Mojave Desert, which is primarily in southeast California but extends a little bit into Utah and Arizona as well. The desert’s primary flora is the Joshua tree which is found only in this place. If you like it hot and dry, and the backcountry vibe, this is your top attraction in California. So, what can you do in this desert?
Plenty, it turns out. The landscape is unique and offers a lot of photogenic spots – especially at sunset. The hiking trails meander through boulders and sand and canyons and gorges, over and under stunning geographical formations. Death Valley, Mojave Preserve, Providence Mountain, Willow Springs, Oak Creek, Air Force Museum are some of the most popular places in the Mojave. Also, like most rocky deserts, it’s wildly popular for adventure sports.
Be awed by the giants in Sequoia National Park
Another place to see giant trees in California in the Sequoia National Park and Biosphere. It is a UNESCO world heritage, protecting the giant sequoias which give the place its name. These trees are so big that the area contains 5 of the 10 tallest trees in the whole world, topped by General Sherman. Another famous giant tree here is General Grant.
Other than giant sequoias, you have a lot of other stuff to do here as well. The park is home to America’s tallest peak, Mount Whitney, which you can attempt to climb. There is plenty of hiking, biking, camping and playing among the giants in the park. There are scenic roads to drive on – one of them goes through a tree. Yes, through one. Plenty of recreational opportunities dot the area as well.
Have some family fun at Monterey Bay
While Monterey is best known for the scenic outdoors, it hosts some of the state’s oldest historic sites. The Monterey State Historic Park has a very enjoyable historic walk. From there, you can go straight to the waterfront for some boating or cruising fun or go shopping in the Cannery Row. Towards the south, Carmel is advertised as a humble seaside village, but movie stars live here.
Of course, the most exciting attraction here is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is a massive open sea exhibition for lots and lots of ocean species including dolphins, seals, sharks, rays, sea turtles, jellyfish, sea snakes, many colorful fishes small and big, octopus and whatnot! There are 45 fun exhibits you can interact with. You must get on one of the tours in the Aquarium which lets you feed the animals. This is undoubtedly one of the most fun things to do in California.
Take it low and slow on 17 Mile Drive
One of the most scenic roadways in the US, the 17 Mile Drive is a loop of the road through the gated community of Pebble Beach. Starting from Pacific Grove, much of it hugs the pacific coastline and passes by landmarks such as the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock, Del Monte forest, many famous golf courses, mansions, and giant tree groves. The road climbs up and down, sometimes offering you views from 600-800 feet above the shore.
Motorbikes are not allowed here, but you can take your car or even better, cycle on the road. The drive has lots of things to do on both sides other than just enjoying the breathtaking scenery. You can take a walk on the many boardwalks, enjoy the magnificent beaches, bike on the shores instead of the road, enjoy the sunset performance at Spanish Bay, go golfing on the many golf courses, go birdwatching, picnic, camp, hike around and through the giant trees, get spooked by ghost trees – and so much more!
Have a great vacation at Palm Springs
It’s back to dry and sunny with the last entry in our things to do on the California list. Palm Springs is a desert resort city, known for its hot springs, resorts, spas, stylish hotels, mid-century modern architecture, artistic and cultural elements. It’s great for both couples and families. Vintage boutiques and antiques aplenty overflow the shopping district, and there is fine dining and music everywhere.
Palm Springs is also known for its famous Aerial Tramway. It’s a classic canyon-hugging gondola ride, running from 1963. The temperature drops quickly as the cabin rises up the steep line, and you get to enjoy the gorgeous (and chilling) bird’s eye view of the area. Fortify yourself with some calories at the mountaintop restaurant while enjoying the beauty of the entire Coachella Valley below. Then you can directly ride back down, or take the hiking route through the San Jacinto Mountains.
Frequently Asked Questions About California
1. When is the best time to visit California?
May to September is the best time to go to California for a vacation. At this time, the temperature is pleasant enough to enjoy and there’s a low chance of rain. But if you’re visiting Mojave, we’d recommend the winters if you don’t want to get cooked alive. But then again if you’re into climbing the peaks, summer and spring would be best.
2. Can I get affordable hotels in California?
Some of the cheapest places to stay in California are in the backpackers’ hostels or house sitting or homestays. Other than that, here are some popular budget accommodations in California:
- Excalibur Hotel & Casino – from $12
- Colorado Belle Casino & Resort – from $14
- Hotel Plaza – from $17
- Pioneer Hotel and Gambling Hall – from $19
- OYO Hotel & Casino – from $21
- Capital O Posada Del Mar – from $22
These prices are considered for one room one night two adults only.
3. Which are the most popular places to eat in California?
- Brown Sugar Kitchen, Oakland
- El Molino Central, Sonoma
- Hog Island Oyster Co, Marshall
- Koi Palace, Daly City
- Manresa, Los Gatos
- The Restaurant At Meadowood, Saint Helena
- Shed, Healdsburg
- Ember, Arroyo Grande
- Localis, Sacramento
- La Copine, Yucca Valley
- Pho 79, Garden Grove
- Rajdhani, Artesia
- Sichuan Impression, Alhambra
4. What are some California Holiday Packages?
- Westerner 2 Plus – 14 days
- San Fran To Vegas – 6 days
- Best of California 2020 – 9 days
- Northern California – 8 days
- USA Road Trip: Sin, Surf & Sierras – 8 days
- California Express – 3 days
- Wild West – 5 days
- California’s Great National Parks – 8 days
5. Are there some low-cost flights to California?
There are many international airports in California. We will consider LAX only for the rough fare comparison.
- New York
- American – from $138
- Spirit – from $152
- United – from $152
- JetBlue – from $155
- Delta – from $199
- Norwegian – from $451
- New Zealand Air – from $491
- WestJet – from $496
- Aeroflot – from $789
- Turkish – from 872
- Cathay Pacific – from $695
- China Eastern – $840
- Aeroflot – from $862
- Turkish – from $885
- Emirates – from $1131
- China Air – from $444
- Air China – from $503
- Eva Air – from $577
- Qantas – from $602
- JAL – from $670
Please note that all of the above are in respect to one passenger flying one-way in the Economy class on the first of July at any time available. All prices are subjected to market fluctuation.
Today, we have composed BookOnBoard’s Guide to California. In this guide, we have presented much important information about CA tourism. For example, Best Places to visit in California, Cheapest places to stay in California, Most popular places to eat in California, Fun things to do in California, Affordable hotels in California, Low-cost flights to California, California Holiday Packages, etc.
We hope that you have enjoyed the article! Please let us know your suggestions and thoughts. You can use the comment form below to let us know your ideas as well. Do you need us to cover a specific place? Let us know about it as well. Till then, happy trails!