Santa Monica
Photo: David Pruter/Fotolia

Whether you are looking for a relaxing beach holiday, action-packed adventures, historic attractions, or family fun, Southern California ticks all the boxes. Here you can find everything from mountains and deserts to islands and beaches. The list of CA activities is endless and you can spend your time hiking through canyons, caves and national parks, relaxing in thermal hot springs, or taking to the skies in a hot air balloon. Find Best Places to Visit in Northern California

»San Diego

San Diego

Boasting more than 90 diverse museums and nine fascinating art districts, San Diego is the perfect spot for art and culture enthusiasts. You can also look forward wonderful beaches, water sports, and limitless fun activities for families. In the historic Gaslamp Quarter and Old Town State Park, you can learn about the history of San Diego.

Families can have the time of their lives at Disneyland, Disneyland Park, LEGOLAND, Sea World San Diego and San Diego Zoo/Safari Park. First-time visitors can get their bearings on an Old Town Trolley Tour or choose a Segway, walking, or biking tour of the city. Seventy-five miles of brilliant coastline offer everything from sunbathing to swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, and much more. Photo: f8grapher/Fotolia

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»Santa Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island

Located just southwest of Los Angeles in the California Channel Islands, Santa Catalina is an idyllic location for an action-packed island holiday. You can try your hand at a variety of adrenalin-boosting activities such as the thrilling Catalina Island Zip Line Eco Tour, the Ocean Runner Ribcraft Dolphin Tour, or an extreme off-road Cape Canyon Expedition.

If you prefer a more sedate pace, you can play it safe on a Skyline Tour of the island. Other great activities include the Catalina Island Undersea Expedition, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding as well as snorkeling, sunbathing, swimming, horseback riding, boating, and camping. For a break from the beach, you can visit the Catalina Island Museum and the Catalina Art Gallery. Photo: kenkistler1/Fotolia

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»Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park lies adjacent to Kings Canyon National Park in an area of outstanding natural beauty in the southern Sierra Nevada. Together, the two parks comprise towering mountains, deep canyons, and enormous caves as well as some of the largest trees in the world.

The highlight of any visit is exploring a few of the remaining extensive groves of giant sequoias. It is a good idea to start out at the Giant Forest Museum for an introduction and to then set off by foot, car, or shuttle bus. (Some of the paths are accessible for wheel chairs). Hikers and nature lovers can select from dozens of hiking trails for all abilities, drive the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, go rock climbing, cave touring, or join a variety of ranger-led activities. More California vacations Photo: maislam/Fotolia

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»Long Beach

Long Beach

Long Beach is a favorite Southern California ocean-side playground where you can enjoy just about any adventure activity you can imagine. On the cultural side, the Long Beach Museum of Art will wow art lovers with not only brilliant visual arts but also the extravagant views over the Pacific.

Music lovers can visit the Long Beach Performing Arts Center to attend the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra or the Long Beach Opera. Family activities include fun on the beach, touring the historic Queen Mary, exploring the Aquarium of the Pacific, and visiting the USS Battleship Iowa at nearby San Pedro. Disneyland, Disneyland Parks, LEGOLAND, and many other family attractions are just an hour away. Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/Fotolia

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»Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara truly has something for everyone. Whether you are looking for idyllic beaches and coves, wonderful weather, arts, culture and history, or an activity-packed outdoor adventure, you will find it in Santa Barbara.

On the cultural side, you can admire the city’s striking legacy of Spanish architecture at Casa Del Herrero, the Granada Theatre and the Old Mission Santa Barbara, watch a show at the Lobero Theatre, and visit the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara. The many miles of beaches tempt bathers and surfers, and you can try stand-up paddleboarding at Butterfly Bay. Other great activities include rock climbing, hiking, kayaking, cycling, fishing, and touring the expansive wine growing area. Photo: Bill Perry/Fotolia

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»Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is unique in that it lies below sea level, making it the hottest, lowest, and driest national park in America. Despite its morbid-sounding name, the park is surrounded by towering snow-capped mountains, huge desert sand dunes, and small but verdant oases that provide a wide diversity of habitats.

A good place to start your visit is the Furnace Creek Visitors’ Center, where you can watch an orientation movie and get maps and info. You can go on a ranger-guided tour or set off to explore the 3.4-million-acre area on foot, by bicycle, car, or Jeep. Scenic drives include the Twenty Mule Team Canyon and two of the best viewpoints are at Dante’s View and Zabriskie Point. Photo: doncon402/Fotolia

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»Santa Monica

Santa Monica

Santa Monica is situated just west of downtown Los Angeles and is an ideal base for exploring all the attractions of LA and its environs. One of Santa Monica’s prime landmarks is the Santa Monica Pier where you will find Pacific Park amusement park, the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, numerous restaurants with great Pacific Ocean views, and the historic Looff Hippodrome Carousel.

Art lovers can visit the Edgemar Center for the Arts, the 18th Street Art Complex, or Bergamot Station, which houses over 20 art galleries. Cyclists can try the 22-mile Marvin Braude Bike Trail, while surfing and paddleboarding is great at Bay St. There is a wide variety of options for evening dining and entertainment. Photo: lunamarina/Fotolia

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»Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Vibrant and bustling Los Angeles offers visitors an eclectic mix of world-class cultural attractions, thrill-a-minute theme parks like Disneyland and Universal Studios, and miles and miles of hiking and biking trails and sundrenched beaches.

Your cultural itinerary could include attending the LA Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, catching a concert at the famous Hollywood Bowl, or visiting the County Museum of Art on Museum Row. For family fun in the sun, you can spend time on fabulous Malibu Beach, go hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains or Griffith Park, or cycle along the network of bike paths that cross the city. Foodies can get even a taste of LA on a Melting Pot Food Tour. Photo: Justin/Fotolia

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Anaheim is situated on the Southern California coastline between Los Angeles and San Diego and is famously home to the Disneyland Resort as well as a host of other family theme parks, including Knott’s Berry Farm. If you enjoy beach activities, you have several outstanding options to choose from, including Huntington Beach (aka Surf City USA), the premier surfing beach in Orange County.

Some of the interesting museums you can visit include the Battleship Iowa, the Discovery Science Center, and the Marconi Automotive Museum. You can feast your eyes on the art on display at the Bowers Museum and the MUZEO Museum and Cultural Center, or stroll through the Anaheim Packing District and Center Street Promenade to discover the foodie heart of the city. More California destinations and California beaches Photo: Earl Robbins/Fotolia

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Malibu lies along a magnificent 32-mile stretch of Pacific coastline and is the playground of Hollywood’s rich and famous, who have snapped up prime oceanfront properties to build their weekend getaways overlooking extraordinary Malibu Beach. Surfers come from near and far to ride the waves on Surfrider Beach, adjacent to the iconic Malibu Pier, where you can charter a boat, do some fishing, hire water sports equipment, shop for souvenirs, or book a whale watching excursion.

You can learn about Malibu’s past at the historic Adamson House and the Malibu Lagoon Museum, visit some art galleries, or pull on your hiking boots and head inland to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area to see wildflowers and waterfalls. More California vacations Photo: Byron Moore/Fotolia

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»Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Palm Springs boasts over 350 days of sunshine and warm, dry winters, providing the perfect destination for outdoor adventurers. You can go hiking in several scenic desert locations or go on a thrilling off-road jeep, bicycle, or motorbike adventure.

Golf is very popular in Palm Springs and the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens and the Wet ‘n Wild Palm Springs water-park are must-dos. You can visit a variety of interesting museums, including the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum and the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, and there are many good venues for art, live theater, and entertainment. A highlight of any visit is a ride up to the Mount San Jacinto State Park on the revolving Palms Springs Aerial Tramway. Photo: Byron Moore/Fotolia

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»Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet, you will find the fascinating Joshua Tree National Park, home to a surreal geological landscape that provides a surprising variety of habitats for flora and fauna. The park is named for the Joshua tree, a species of yucca that dominates the landscape. You can explore the scenic desert landscape on one of several nature walks or go further afield on a day hike or overnight back-packing adventure. You can also enjoy horseback riding, mountain biking and great rock climbing and bouldering, or join one of several ranger-led programs. Spend a night camping in the park to enjoy the outstanding star gazing. Read more Photo: sborisov/Fotolia

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»North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area

North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area

The Algodones Sand Dunes system is one of the largest in North America, about eight miles wide and 40 miles long, situated on the eastern edge of Southern California. The wilderness area of the dunes system provides intrepid hikers with an immense trail-less expanse of complete solitude to explore on foot or horseback only.

If you would like to go dune back-packing and backcountry camping, you need to bring everything you need with you, including plenty of water. No vehicles are allowed in the wilderness area, but off-road fanatics can have fun in the Imperial Sand Dunes and in Glamis, to the north of the wilderness area. Photo: thierry/Fotolia

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Pasadena lies northeast of Los Angeles and is best known as the host city for the Rose Bowl Game, a legendary college football match held annually on New Year’s Day. Less well-known is the fact that Pasadena has an interesting historic area, Old Pasadena, where you can stroll through many lovely Victorian and art deco buildings.

The city is just packed with art and culture attractions, including the Amory Center for the Arts, the Norton Simon Museum, the Pacific Asia Museum, and the Kidspace Children’s Museum, to name but a few. You can also get out of town and back to nature at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Photo: angeldibilio/Fotolia

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»La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches along the San Diego coastline and is a perfect spot to spend some time soaking up the sunshine and paddling in the Pacific. Because the cove forms part of the San Diego La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, marine life is plentiful and good visibility makes snorkeling and scuba particularly enjoyable here.

You can rent all the equipment you need in the town and if you love kayaking, you can go on a guided Caves and Coves Kayaking Tour, which includes La Jolla Cove. Families will particularly enjoy the gentle waves in La Jolla Cove and there are lifeguards on duty most of the day. Photo: rabbit75_fot/Fotolia

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»The Giant Forest

The Giant Forest

The Giant Forest is one of several groves of enormous Sequoia trees in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. This particular grove is a must-see while you are in the area as it is home to the General Sherman Tree, which has the distinction of being the largest living tree in the world.

The best way to explore the Giant Forest is on foot along a network of trails, but there is also an accessible trail along the General’s Highway. You can get all the information you need at the Giant Forest Museum, which has a large car park and is the starting point for several trails. Ranger-led tours are also available. Photo: AndreasJ/Fotolia

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»Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Located within the San Diego city limits, the 2,000-acre Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve offers locals and visitors an easily accessible wilderness with some of the best viewpoints along the Pacific coastline.

You can go walking, running, hiking, and wildlife watching along a network of trails that include both gentle strolls and strenuous hikes involving many stairs. The reserve is a haven for wildlife and includes a large area of wetlands that are a vital resting place for migrating marine birds. Nestled below the cliff-top trails, you will find the pristine Torrey Pines State Beach (which you can access along the Beach Trail), where you can swim, soak up the sun, or enjoy a picnic. Photo: Aleksei Potov/Fotolia

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»Heisler Park

Heisler Park

Heisler Park is perched along a series of the bluffs which stand guard over the beaches of the Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve. Here you can take a pleasant stroll along the walking trails through attractive gardens, stopping to enjoy wonderful vistas of the Pacific Ocean (which may include large pods of dolphins or an occasional whale).

The park provides access to several beaches, including Picnic Beach, Rockpile Beach, Main Beach, and Diver’s Cove, where you can explore the protected tidal pools and enjoy wading in the warm water. Part of the park has picnic tables and barbecues that are perfectly positioned to admire the sunset, and there are lawn bowling greens and restrooms. Photo: rouda100/Fotolia

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»Sturtevant Falls

Sturtevant Falls

The attractive Sturtevant Falls are doubtlessly the highlight of any visit to the Big Santa Anita Canyon, which lies in the foothills of the Angeles National Forest, within easy reach of Los Angeles. You can reach the waterfall by hiking a relatively easy 3.5-mile trail from the Chantry Flat Recreation Area, off the 210 freeway.

Your hike starts off with a fairly steep descent along a paved trail (bear in mind that you will have an equally steep ascent at the end of your hike) and then levels out to lead you through a shaded area to the base of the 40-foot Sturtevant Falls, where you can relax, have a picnic, and enjoy getting back to nature. Photo: lstock/Fotolia

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»McWay Falls

McWay Falls

Driving the Big Sur Scenic Route between San Simeon and Carmel has always featured on the list of California must-dos, and visiting the McWay Falls is one of the many highlights of the journey. You can find the falls in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, 34 miles south of Carmel.

You can reach several good viewpoints along the short (0.6 miles) Waterfall Trail, which will give you an excellent view of the McWay creek plummeting 80 feet to the beach below. The beautiful falls and the azure waters in the McWay Cove form one of the most iconic images of Big Sur. Within the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park you can also find several other great scenic hiking trails through old-growth redwoods, highland meadows, and hardwood forests. Photo: lucky_photo/Fotolia

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»San Clemente Coastal Trail

San Clemente Coastal Trail

The San Clemente Coastal Trail (aka the Beach Trail) is very popular with both San Clemente locals and visitors alike. The relatively short trail (just 2.5 miles long) runs along the edge of the coast from North Beach to the San Clemente State Beach Park and passes nearly all of the town’s favorite beaches and hang-outs.

You can walk the trail in about an hour or get more energetic and enjoy a run or jog along the beautiful Pacific coastline. Cyclists can ride the bike-friendly trail and dogs can come along too, provided they are on a lead. Along the way, you can stop off at a number of great surfing spots and look out for dolphins swimming offshore. Photo: jonbilous/Fotolia

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»Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park, located about two hours by road from San Diego and Palm Springs. It’s always wise to start your tour at the Visitors’ Center, where you can watch a short orientation film, pick up maps, and see the Desert Garden and pupfish pond.

You can go exploring along several self-guided hiking trails or join a ranger-led interpretive trail to discover how the barren desert supports an amazing variety of plants and wildlife. In addition, there are also biking and horseback riding trails and you can pitch a tent or park your RV in one of the campsites to enjoy some excellent stargazing once the sun sets. Photo: volgariver/Fotolia

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»Beverley Hills

Beverley Hills

Come and spend a weekend getaway rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous in fabulous Beverly Hills, where you could be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of your favorite movie star as you stroll along famous Rodeo Drive.

You can go on a Beverly Hills Trolley Tour, which highlights celebrity homes and gives you a good overview of the city. Historic sites you can visit include Greystone Mansion and Gardens, the Paley Center for Media (formerly known as the Museum of TV and Radio), and the historic Saban Theatre, where you can watch a show. Foodies can get a taste of Beverly Hills on a Melting Pot Food Tour. Photo: Steven Santos/Fotolia

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»San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Situated at the southern end of San Diego Bay and surrounded by adjacent densely urbanized areas, the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge protects the last remnants of mudflats and marshes, providing an essential sanctuary for many endangered, migratory, and endemic bird species. You can do some amazing bird watching along the 1.5-mile Visitors’ Center trail and explore the Living Coast Discovery Center where you can learn about the marine environment and view live animals. Cyclists can enjoy excellent wildlife viewing along the Bayshore Bikeway and during winter you can join a monthly guided walking tour of the salt flats. Photo: San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

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25 Best Places to Visit in California