25 Best Things to Do in California
If you are planning a vacation with many different things to do, family fun, as well as diverse history and art to discover and appreciate, then Southern California is the place to visit.
There's the lavish beaux arts architecture of the Asian Art Museum, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge backdrop at Observation Post, and the historic traditional marriage book at the Swedenborgian Church, to name a few experiences unique to San Francisco weddings.
If you are planning a vacation with many different things to do, family fun, as well as diverse history and art to discover and appreciate, then Southern California is the place to visit.
Only a short drive away from San Francisco, the Sonoma Valley is about as close to serenity as you can get.
California has an abundance of both public and private natural geothermal hot springs that bubble up from the earth with volcanically warmed waters and attract visitors who flock to the pools to enjoy their healing and therapeutic properties.
The Golden State is also home to some of the classiest and luxurious resorts and hotels in the country, which promise unforgettable retreats.
Located in San Luis Obispo County in California, Morro Bay is a beautiful coastal city in California set along California’s State Route 1.
Big Sur is home to numerous types of accommodations, from large resorts to relaxing inns, and everything in between.
Big Sur is a spectacularly beautiful, rugged, and scenic stretch of the Pacific Coast in central California, located between San Simeon and Carmel and between the ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains.
For area visitors looking for a day out with their dogs, these 13 beaches offer dog-friendly shoreline areas, including off-leash areas and pet-owner swimming permissions.
Whether you want to stick to your budget or you have extra money to splurge on a truly extravagant experience, there is a hotel for you in LA.
A quick drive north of San Francisco, Santa Rosa is a fun, vibrant and lively city to visit in the beautiful state of California. There’s no better way to get a feel for the city than to eat your way through it, so take a tasting tour of the city’s best artisanal cheese at the California Cheese Trail. For guests seeking top of the line rest and relaxation, spend a day as the Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, a Japanese-style day spa featuring an exclusive and tranquil retreat surrounded by bamboo gardens. A physically active tour is ready to be enjoyed at the Sonoma Canopy Tours, which takes adventurous eco-tourists sky walking, zip lining, rappelling and climbing through California’s majestic Redwood Forest.
History comes to life at the Railroad Square Historic District, the heart of Santa Rosa’s old town, through preserved and restored buildings, old restaurants and antique stores. Meanwhile self-guided tours are available at the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, home to the famed horticulturist, Luther Burbank. Fans of Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the whole Peanut’s gang will love a visit to the Charles M. Schulz Museum, dedicated to the man behind the characters and featuring the largest collection of original Peanuts art work in the world. Make sure to also pay a visit to the Museums of Sonoma County, which is housed in a historic post office from the 1900s.
Sun, surf and sand, it’s all there at the stunning coastal destination of Laguna Beach, California. It’s no secret that the top destinations in this lively part of Orange County are its beaches, so start by heading to Main Beach first, the largest beach in the city and home to a historic lifeguard tower built in 1929. Next, soak up the sun at the Crystal Cove State park, one of California’s largest remaining open spaces and a natural coast line excellent for surfing. Heisler Park, situated along Cliff Drive, is a picturesque green oasis that gives visitors access to more gorgeous beaches, while Crescent Bay Point Park is a hub for water sports and also offers walking paths, hiking trails and the most spectacular panoramic views of the coast. Other must visit beaches include Table Rock Beach, Aliso Beach and the Thousand Steps Beach.
Touring in-land is just as beautiful and exciting and Laguna Beach Walks offers free self-guided walking tours of the laid-back Californian town and its architectural landmarks, public art spaces and more. Free transportation and a great tour is also available at the Laguna Beach Trolly, while the Murphy-Smith Historical Bungalow gives its guests a taste of life in Laguna Beach during the early 1920s. Entertainment is abound at the Pageant of Masters, a ninety-minute stage show famous for its artistry and theatrical illusions, while sea mammal lovers can learn all about the rehabilitation process for rescued animals at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.
Located in Sonoma County and largely known to be the heart of California’s Wine Country, Healdsburg is a charming town to visit for an idyllic and romantic weekend. The city’s stars are truly its wineries. Comprehensive tours of several wineries can be enjoyed with the Wine Country Walking Tours, which take guests on an easy stroll through the historic downtown area of the city to learn the art of pairing wine and food. Adventures in Cycling, on the other hand, takes guests on an 8 to 17 mile bike ride through the vineyards with several stops for tasting sessions. For narrated tours that can teach you about Healdsburg’s history, wine making, organic gardens and sustainable farming, join the Healdsburg Wine Tour.
Vineyards that shouldn’t be missed include the Jordan Vineyard and Winery which features a wine tasting paired with food prepared by the winery’s chef, the Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery founded by Don and Rhonda Carano, and the Bella Vineyard, home to 85 year old vines that produce Zinfandel. The Rodney Strong Vineyards have an illustrious history spanning over a hundred years, while the Williamson Wines Tasting Room features award winning vintages including the Williamson Legacy Merlot. When visitors have had their fill of wine, visit the Savor Healdsburg Food Tours at the town square for the best of Healdsburg’s cuisine.
A top weekend destination of the West Coast, Monterey boasts a diverse range of activities for people of all ages and interests. Learn about Monterey’s history while touring the most significant historic houses in the area at the Monterey Historic Park. Cannery Row is another must-see part of town and is one of the most popular destinations on the Californian Central Coast as a former hub for the sardine canning industry. Now, Cannery Row is a bustling district for shopping, great restaurants and fantastic hotels. Explore, jog or hike along Monterey’s coastline and pass city landmarks along the way at the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail, or kayak, bike and stand-up paddle board while exploring the bay’s waters with Adventures by the Sea.
A visit to one of the country’s top marine protected areas is in store for all those heading to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Here, guests can explore tidal pools, dive in vibrant and beautiful kelp forests or fish for salmon along the central coast. Monterey Bay Aquarium, located in a former sardine cannery, will amaze animal lovers with over 600 species of plants and animals, while art lovers will undoubtedly enjoy a visit to the Monterey Museum of Art, home to 14,000 pieces including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Ansel Adams.
A small, breathtaking village on the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel is famous for its thriving community of artists and gorgeous landscapes. There’s no better place to visit in Carmel than the Point Lobos State Reserve. It is arguably the most incredible and beautiful two-mile stretch of seacoast in the world and provides a magnificent view of the ocean and its mighty waves. Go for a relaxing swim at Carmel Beach, a world-famous stretch of soft, white sand and secluded coves excellent for leisurely beach activities and surfing. On the other hand, the Carmel River State Beach is the best spot in town for bird-watching, kayaking or diving and is historically significant to the Rumsen Native American Tribe.
To explore the Carmel that artists love, head to the Tor House, a quaint and curious stone cottage constructed with granite boulders and home to the celebrated American Poet, Robinson Jeffers, to see the scenery that inspired many poems. Tourists can also catch a performance of plays by Californian authors at the Forest Theater, founded in 1910 by Herbert Heron. Let experts advise and educate you at the Westbrook Modern, home to American modern art from the 1940s to present, or enjoy high-end shopping and manicured multi-level gardens at The Barnyard.
Escape the hustle and bustle of city life at Santa Monica, a world-famous beach destination and a popular destination for weekend trips. There is no landmark as well loved and iconic as the Santa Monica Pier. Visit the 100 year old sea-side destination and enjoy its main attractions, Pacific Park, an amusement park for the whole family, and the Aquarium which rests beneath the pier. Santa Monica Beach is another precious location to locals with three and a half miles of shore. Go for a swim, play a game of beach volleyball, picnic or play some water sports at the beach. For recreational hiking, walking, biking or camping, head to the Santa Monica Mountains, home to nearly 20 parks and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
Enjoy a piece of aviation history at the Museum of Flying and explore over 22,000 square feet of flight technology history and aircraft replicas and artifacts. Have a fun afternoon with the whole family at Looff Hippodrome, a former horse racing building that now features a full-scale amusement park for all ages. To experience Santa Monica’s great nightlife, upscale shopping, open-air cafes and more, head to Downtown Santa Monica and Third Street Promenade. Meanwhile, locally grown and harvested produce is available at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market for sampling including regional fish and specialty nuts.
Blessed with an incredible array of beaches and natural wonders, Newport Beach delivers a fantastic sun-kissed weekend vacation for all visitors. Sunbathe the afternoon away on the five mile stretch of Newport Beach to take home that perfect tan or go for a relaxing and cooling swim at the Corona Del Mar State Beach, a half mile of protected sandy beaches literally named the “Crown of the Sea.” Surfers, body-surfers, skim boarders and the like should make a bee-line for The Wedge to brave an incredible ocean swell that can reach up to 30 feet in height. For those who want to try their hand at fishing, head to the Newport Pier, which was originally built in 1888. Don’t forget to head to the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve to experience the most popular bird-watching spot on the coast.
Visitors definitely shouldn’t miss the chance to hop aboard the M/V Sea Life Discovery, a 65 foot semi-submarine that allows guests to witness the ocean in a unique way. Meanwhile, couples in particular will love the Gondola Adventures, a romantic cruise along the Newport Harbor in an authentic Venetian Gondola. Take in the sights and sounds as you stroll along the boardwalk of Balboa Village, or head to Fashion Island for some open-air shopping at some of the most well-known department stores in the country. Browse romantic restaurants in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.
Not only is Encinitas the leading grower of poinsettias in America, it’s also one of the top surfing towns in the world. One of the top beach destinations in the city is Moonlight Beach, an excellent spot for swimming, snorkeling, surfing and, interestingly enough, surf fishing. Make sure to hit up Swami’s Beach, one of Encinitas’ most famous beaches, for an incredible swell and to watch other surfers show off their best tricks. Sunbathe, swim, surf or join a guided exploration of the tide pools at Cardiff State Beach for a fun-filled afternoon. Better yet, take part in the ultimate Californian experience at the Leucadia Surf School, which offers private and group surf lessons for those who finally want to learn to catch some waves. Pay a visit to the San Dieguito Heritage Museum, founded in 1988 to preserve the area’s history, and participate in sand painting activities, view Native American grass huts and grinding stones, or listen to Native American stories. Travelers seeking peace and quiet can spend a few hours meditating at cliff-side gardens or participate in a rejuvenating retreat at the Self Realization Fellowship Hermitage and Meditation Gardens. To experience diverse environments and extraordinary plants, visit the San Diego Botanic Garden and stop by one of its most popular gardens, the Hamilton Children’s Garden. More ideas: Weekend Getaways from San Diego.
A city surrounded by lush and magnificent redwood forests, Oakland is a great vacation destination filled with unique attractions. At the top of places to see, and touted as one of the best education centers in the United States, is the Chabot Space and Science Center where guests can peruse innovative displays and exhibits about earth and the universe. Take a cruise to one of the islands in the bay on the USS Potomac, which is often referred to as the “Floating White House” and served as the official presidential yacht for Franklin Delano Roosevelt until 1945. Learn about the history of California through over two million artifacts dedicated to natural science and art at the Oakland Museum of California.
Let music soothe you at the Fox Theater, a former movie theater that was converted into a concert hall in the downtown area or spend an exciting afternoon at the city’s annual summer festival, Art and Soul Oakland, to soak up local art, music and food. Nature lovers can navigate over 1,200 miles of trails within the majestic redwood forests of Oakland at the 120,000 acre East Bay Regional Park District. A relaxing and quiet afternoon canoeing or sailing can also be enjoyed at the first and oldest designated wildlife refuge in the United States, the heart-shaped Lake Merit. More ideas: things to do with kids.
Situated in the idyllic Santa Ynez Valley, Solvang is synonymous to wine country and makes for a great romantic country getaway. Before starting a tour of the wineries, soak up Solvang’s history at the Old Mission Santa Ines, a gorgeous restored Catholic Mission built in 1804 with a long history and a great collection of art, manuscripts and statuaries among other things. Motorcycle enthusiasts can examine a private collection of rare vintage motorcycles and European race bikes at the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum, while nature and art lovers can enjoy the best of both worlds at the Wilding Art Museum. The Solvang Trolley and Carriage is a popular tour option which takes guests on an authentic horse-drawn trolley ride through town with guides dressed in traditional Danish attire.
Above all else, Solvang is a power house in the wine industry with many outstanding vineyards. The Rusack Vineyards, for example, features a redwood deck built around four magnificent ancient oaks for visitors to taste their world-class vintages. A family-owned vineyard that practices sustainable farming methods, Lincourt Vineyards produces some of the country’s finest wines. Meanwhile, the Sevtap Winery Tasting Room, though not a producer of wine, carries the motto “Drink Good Wine” and let’s guests sample the best wines in a fun-loving environment. Other notable vineyards include the Shoestring Winery, the Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard and the Carivintas Winery.
With many fabulous tourist attractions and local favorites, San Diego promises an exciting, action packed getaway. Discover the natural landscape of San Diego at the Torrey Pines State Reserve, one of the greatest stretches of rugged landscape on California’s southern coast. It’s also home to rare Torrey pine forests and fantastic untouched beaches. Also offering a great view of the Pacific Ocean is the Cabrillo National Monument, which commemorates the landing at San Diego Bay in 1542. Equally beautiful and worthy of exploration is the Botanical Building in Balboa Park, the only greenhouse in the world built without any glass and home to over 2,100 gorgeous permanent plants.
Have a fun-filled afternoon in the San Diego Zoo, one of the most popular destinations in the city, and enjoy a ride on the Skyfari, an overhead gondola lift. To learn a bit about San Diego’s history, visit the California Tower, designed by Betram Goodhue in 1915 to replicate the beautiful churches of Spain and Mexico, or catch a show at the Old Globe, a celebrated and award winning regional theater. Visitors can honor the brave American soldiers that fought and died for the country at the USS Midway Museum, one of the aircraft carriers to serve the country the longest. Make sure to spend some time at the Maritime Museum of San Diego as well, home to one of the best collections of historic ships in the world. More ideas: where to eat in San Diego.
Start off with a trip to the Bakersfield Museum of Art as it showcases the best and most stunning pieces of work by local artists. Celebrate Kern County’s illustrious history at the Kern County Museum, which was founded in 1941 and is home to thousands of artifacts with great cultural and historical significance to the county. Take a walk on the wild side at the California Area Living Museum, known for only holding animals that cannot be rehabilitated or released, and visit their featured black bear and birds of prey exhibits.
Spend a quiet afternoon bicycling or jogging through the trails and around the lakes of Kern River Parkway Trail, the largest municipal park in Kern County, or go for a competitive game of golf in the midst of mature almond trees, redwoods and pines at the 18-hole golf course of The Links at Riverlakes Ranch. For groups traveling with children, bring the kiddos for a fun-filled afternoon on a 70 acre organic vegetable and fruit farm at the Murray Family Farms or tour the farm on a tractor-driven hay wagon. More incredible family-fun can be had at Camelot Park with their featured arcade games like Big Bass Wheel, Deal or No Deal, Haunted Hotel and more.
Head to the exciting locale of Irvine in Orange County for a luxurious weekend of parks, museums and other heart pumping adventures! Traveling with youngsters? Let the kids enjoy an afternoon of role playing or hands-on exhibits at the Pretend City Children’s Museum and let their imaginations run wild. Outdoor fun with the kids is the name of the game at Tanaka Farms where guests can learn everything about farming and growing produce. Spot bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, amphibians and reptiles at the 300 acre fresh water marsh of the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary for a fun-filled day or relax and watch a contemporary performance at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.
Irvine is also home to incredibly adventurous activities. Speed demons can get their need for speed at K1 Speed Irvine, a massive indoor go-karting facility that is suitable for all ages and skill levels. For lovers of exotic vehicles, Xtreme Adventures is a must try as it offers guests an opportunity to hit the roads behind the wheel of a Ferrari, Lamborghini or Porsche. Don’t forget to soak up a bit of artistry at the Irvine Museum, a fine arts museum with rotating exhibits of paintings from the height of the American Impressionist period.
Visit the vibrant and lively city of Berkeley for a truly remarkable and memorable vacation. On the top of the list of places to see is Sather Tower, the world’s third tallest bell clock and tower which is situated in the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. Meanwhile, nature lovers can roam the beautiful peaks and deep valleys that form the Tilden Regional Park, a favorite destination of local cyclists, hikers, runners and horseback riders. Grizzly Peak is another outdoor area that’s great for a lazy afternoon barbecue and also offers a play area for kids along with a basketball court. Stroll through over 3,000 rose bushes and see over 250 different variants of the flower at the Berkeley Rose Garden or admire the large collection of rare and endangered plants at the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley.
Art lovers can view the works of Robert Mapplethorpe, Marth Rothko and Jackson Pollock and explore an online film collection at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. The Habitot Children’s Museum, founded by teachers and parents in 1992, provides a safe and educational environment for preschoolers and younger children to play and explore. The Lawrence Hall of Science is also fantastic for children and features exhibits like KidsLab, Science of Sphere and Forces that Shape the Bay.
Just a quick drive south of Los Angeles, Santa Ana is oozing with absolutely fun activities for tourists of all ages. Housed in a Mission Revival-style building, the Bowers Museum’s goal is to encourage visitors to learn and appreciate the various cultures around the globe with artifacts from Asia, the South Pacific and Africa. For history buffs, the Lyon Air Museum, founded by Major General William Lyon, is home to a jaw-dropping array of World War II military aircrafts and vehicles. One of the best places to see in town for children is the Discovery Cube, a family oriented science center that guarantees an interactive and educational experience with sections like the Eco Challenge and Dino Quest.
Spend a day in the sun with plants and animals from Central and South America at the Santa Ana Zoo. Make sure to stop by its feature attractions like the Colors of the Amazon Aviary and the Zoofari Express Train Ride. Tourists can take part in some heart pumping activities at the world-class indoor facility of Sender One Climbing, Yoga and Fitness, which offers private and group lessons at one of the largest and tallest climbing gyms in the world. Cap off the trip with a luxurious spa treatment at Montanya Spa or an enjoyable performance by the largest orchestra in America at the Pacific Symphony.
From Joshua Tree National Park to Hearst Castle and the San Diego Zoo, California is a diverse destination, offering many exciting things to see and do for families and couples. Choices include full service luxury resorts, romantic hotels, coastal inns, museums, national parks and other attractions.
Perfect for families who like having their kids learn about nature through hands-on experiences, Joshua Tree National Park offers guided desert walking tours, hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing. There are nine campgrounds in the park where you can pitch a tent and relax surrounded by nature.
Play beach volleyball on one of the 15 volleyball courts and learn to surf in the small waves.
Kids and grown-ups alike will love the gadgets at The Tech Museum in San Jose in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Join a hands-on science workshop, play with robots, explore the ocean, space and other fun exhibits. Learn about the Silicon Valley and how its innovations have been changing the world.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in the southern Sierra Nevada range are home to giant trees, mountains and canyons. The parks experience huge elevation changes, from 1,300 feet (418m) in the foothills to 14,491 feet (4,417m). Above it all towers Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 U.S. states.
The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California is dedicated to John Steinbeck and offers multimedia experiences and educational programs that let visitors learn about literature, agriculture and art.
Visit the 30,000 square-foot Adventures of Curious George which has a giant rocket ship, a splash zone and a giant indoor playground with foam balls.
Pristine mansion and groomed lawns line the streets of this upscale neighborhood in LA. After you drive along the main boulevards, stop for lunch and some shopping.
California Science Center is a fun stop for families with kids. You can enter for free, but some of the activities cost extra. The IMAX theater houses a seven-story screen, the largest in the city.
Learn about astronomy through fun exhibits and watch a show at the planetarium. Griffith Park is a great spot for a picnic. There is also a miniature train and pony rides.
Take a look at over 2,500 stars embedded in the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, bearing the names of actors, musicians, directors and other famous people. This spot attracts millions of visitors each year.
Next to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Wax Museum houses wax statues of famous celebrities and cartoon characters.
Enjoy scenic city views from the J. Paul Getty Center which houses a collection of paintings, sculpture and photography. The outdoor Roman gardens are very relaxing.
There are over 100 shops and restaurants at The Original Farmers Market, perfect for sampling local cuisine and snacking on fresh fruit.
The Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival is an amazing event where you can sample chocolate treats prepared by skilled chocolatiers from around the Bay Area. Try tiramisu, fudge cake, cheesecake, brownies, cookies, truffles and numerous other chocolate treats. The event usually takes place in September. Have fun watching the ice cream sundae-eating contest where the winner receives his or her weight in Ghirardelli treats.
The square which overlooks the San Francisco Bay was the site of the original Ghirardelli factory. The historic buildings were restored in 1962 and now house shops and restaurants. The square spans a full city block located at the West end of Fisherman's Wharf, between Beach and Larkin Streets at 900 North Point Street. If you do not get a chance to visit during thefestival weekend, you can still take advantage of the historic walking tours on weekends from July 6 to September 2, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The 20-minute tour is free and visitors even receive a sample of the delicious treats. For more information call 415-775-5500.
Sunnylands Center & Gardens
Sunnylands Center & Gardens is a 200-acre property in Rancho Mirage, California. Called the Camp David of the West, Sunnylands is a common site of summits and conferences between government officials. The estate home was built in the mid-1960s, and it is typical of the mid-century modern style, with lots of open areas, trellises, and its signature red roof. Aside from the estate, Sunnylands has a separate visitor center and gardens. In the center, visitors can enjoy artwork from the Sunnylands Collection, which includes both paintings and pieces of applied art. The gardens are composed of nine acres of beautiful space that encourage peace of mind and healing and are also open to visitors.
37977 Bob Hope Dr, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270, Phone: 760-202-2222
The Getty Villa
The Getty Villa is the second location of the J. Paul Getty Museum, which also includes the Getty Center at a different address. The Getty Villa is situated in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of the city of Los Angeles. The collection of the museum here focuses heavily on the ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan cultures, with 44,000 artifacts from these ancient civilizations lining its halls. These pieces are arranged into thematic clusters based on topics like the Trojan War and gods and goddesses. Additionally, the building itself is a work of art; it was designed based on the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum and is accompanied by Roman-style gardens.
17985 Pacific Coast Hwy, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272, Phone: 310-440-7300
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in the world and one of the top vacation destinations. Millions of people visit the bridge and approximately 40 million people pass over the bridge each year. The easiest and quickest way to see the attraction up close is simply to drive across it. However, the 1.7 mile long bridge is open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic, for those who are interested in getting a closer view of the super structure. The nearby 75,000 acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area provides stunning views of the bridge on clear days.
Construction of the bridge began on January 5, 1933. On May 27, 1937 the bridge opened to pedestrian traffic. The bridge was a $35 million dollar construction project. A remarkable feat given that the United States was in the middle of the Great Depression. Length: 8,981 feet The length of the steel wires used in the cables is enough to circle the earth three times. The bridge is 220 above the water. The Highest Point of the bridge is over 700 feet high, while the lowest point is more than 100 feet under the sea.