Skip to Content

10 Most Exotic Places in California to Visit

10 Most Exotic Places in California to Visit

With jagged coastlines, soaring waterfalls, towering redwoods, and that all-around glamorous persona, there are more exotic places in California than you might think. When you consider the word “exotic,” your mind probably travels to somewhere like Bali, the Maldives, or a curvaceous Mediterranean coastline. Mine sure does!

The Golden State of California entered the nation in 1850 and features a long history of gold mining, Napa Valley winemaking, surf seeking, and movie making.

Then there’s the amusement park mecca of Orange County, which includes Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood, and the ski resorts, mountain climbing, and outdoor adventures of the Santa Monica Mountains, Redwood National Park, and Glacier Point.

The landscape boasts impressive stats of 840 miles of shoreline, a distance of 1,040 miles from snow-capped mountains to sunny San Diego and Balboa Park in Southern California.

It is approximately 560 miles from areas such as Death Valley National Park to the Pacific Ocean, nine national park offerings (including Sequoia National Park and Death Valley National Park), and more than 25 million acres of desert.

Whether your definition of exotic is all about luxury accommodations, historic architecture, and gourmet dining or leans more toward unique landscapes, secluded islands, and natural formations of spherical boulders and purple sand beaches, vacation spots in California run a wide and varied scope.

This list of California vacation spots and cultural attractions dives into the exotic side of the Golden State as we explore a Pacific Coast and California landmarks map filled with colorful, fascinating, and glamorous destinations and places to visit.

Best Exotic Places in California

1. Lake Tahoe

Lake View of Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is one of the top 10 things to do in California. It borders California and Nevada in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The crystal clear lakes of Tahoe are 1,600 feet deep, one of the deepest in North America, and feature stunning scenery of mountain views whether there are peaks of snow or valleys of wildflowers. 

One of the most famous places in California, millions of visitors enjoy hiking, skiing, snowboarding, boating, scuba diving, camping, fishing, and swimming at Sand Harbour Beach and Bliss State Park On a scale of 1-10 of relaxing places in California, it’s a high 10 in our opinion.

Things to do in Lake Tahoe

Emerald Bay State Park

Emerald Bay State Park, on the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe, is a National Natural Landmark due to its stunning mountains.

Visit the 1929 Scandinavian-style Vickingsholm mansion, a national and California landmark, which is open for tours in the summer.

It’s high on our list of favorite places to visit in California. Hike the Rubicon Trail or the Tahoe Rim Trail, journey to the spectacular Eagle Falls waterfall, or dive the Maritime Heritage Underwater Trail of boats and barges in Emerald Bay.

Boating

Lake Tahoe has a wide array of boat launches, slips, and boat tours, along with gas docks and mooring balls. Tahoe Keys Marina is the largest on the lake, and Timber Cove Marina has jet ski, boat, and kayak rentals as well as parasailing, boat moorings, and fuel docks.

Places to Stay in Lake Tahoe

Eagle Point Campground, in Emerald Bay State Park, makes a fun place to pitch a tent if

you’re the outdoor type.

Black Bear Lodge is a charmingly rustic mountain cabin located near the Gondola at

Heavenly Ski Resort.

2. Yosemite National Park

Crystal Clear Pond in Yosemite National Park

Known for stunning waterfalls and giant sequoias, Yosemite National Park is the best vacation spot in California for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Its Sierra Nevada Mountain location is filled with stunning forests, granite boulders, and sweeping views of El Capitan and Half Dome. The area offers 1,200 square miles of valleys, wilderness, and wildflower meadows for camping, hiking, and sightseeing.

Things to do in Yosemite National Park

The Yosemite Museum 

The Yosemite Museum, founded in 1926 and open year-round, is in Yosemite Valley. Visit displays on the heritage of the Ahwahnechee people of the valley and artifacts like Native American baskets and more.

Ansel Adams Gallery

Explore original works of art or purchase photography at the Ansel Adams Gallery.

Places to Stay near Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley Lodge is near Yosemite Falls in the national park. Floor-to-ceiling windows let in as much panoramic scenery as you can manage. We’re pretty sure you can see a Joshua tree from here.

The Upper Pines Campground, near the Merced River in Yosemite Valley, is within hiking and biking distance to trails. It’s one of the best places to vacation in California for RV and tent campers.

See Related: 12 Best Things to Do in Calabasas, California

3. Bowling Ball Beach

Bowling Ball Beach

Named for the unique spherical “concretions” that lie about on the beach, Bowling Ball Beach is part of Schooner Gulch State Beach.

The “bowling balls” were created from the weathering of the rocks around them. Located in Mendocino in northern California, the area is perfect for picnicking, surfing, fishing, and sunset watching along the Pacific Coast Highway. Just don’t try to pick up those bowling balls rock formations!

Things to do near Bowling Ball Beach

Mendocino Headlands State Park

Mendocino Headlands State Park is a stunning place to visit in California. It has 347 acres of bluffs, beaches, and islets to explore. Hike along trails, coastline, and the town of Mendocino, or take a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway.

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse

Point Cabrillo Light Station is a scenic and historic nautical beacon in a stunning natural setting. There’s also a museum and restored buildings on site.

Glass Beach

Glass Beach is about 20 minutes north of Mendocino. It’s one of those fun tourist attractions you can visit in California.

Temple of Kwan Tai

The Temple of Kwan Tai is an ornate Chinese temple constructed from local redwood trees in the mid-19th century. Originally home to a population of Chinese lumber workers, it’s now used as a house of worship and an education center.

Places to Stay near Bowling Ball Beach

Agate Cove Inn, located near the Mendocino Art Center, the Temple of Kwan Tai, and other tourist attractions, offers elegantly understated rooms and beautiful views of the coast.

Chanticleer is an open and inviting rustic cabin setting with an outdoor deck and floor-to-ceiling windows for unobstructed views.

See Related: 20 Best Things to do in Guerneville, California

4. Capitola Beach

If you’re dreaming of visiting a quaint Italian village without leaving the mainland, Capitola Beach is one of those hidden gems that will make you feel like you’re stepping into a snapshot of the Italian coastline.

The stunning beach is located at the north end of Monterey Bay and offers trendy shops, art galleries, and cafés as well as outdoor adventures such as stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and, of course, swimming.

Things to do near Capitola Beach

Monterey Bay Aquarium

For fun places to visit, take a road trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, located at Cannery Row. It’s well-known for its marine wildlife and conservation work. Visit habitats with African penguins, sea otters, sharks, sea lions, and more.

Old Fisherman’s Wharf

For shopping and dining, pay a visit to the popular Old Fisherman’s Wharf.

Natural Bridges State Park

The 65-acre Natural Bridges State Park is a fun California park when it comes to places to visit. It has a unique natural rock formation (a bridge, if you will) across part of the beach.

Places to Stay near Capitola Beach

Portola Hotel and Spa, near Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row, has an on-site restaurant, swimming pool, and inviting public spaces in a convenient location.

Find affordable rental cars at Kayak to enjoy a scenic drive across California.

See Related: 11 Fun & Best Things to Do in Blythe, California 

5. Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore Bridge and Sunset

Point Reyes National Seashore, in Marin County in Northern California, is about 60 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It’s a protected coastline of stunning landscapes filled with crashing ocean waves, wide sandy beaches, grasslands, and forests. Go fishing, hike the jagged cliffs of Chimney Rock, or check out the local plants, tide pools, and wildlife such as elephant seals, salmon, and elk.

Things to do in Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Built in 1870, Point Reyes Lighthouse is a popular California vacation spot to watch migrating whales. The lighthouse protected ships traveling between San Francisco Bay and the north.

Phillip Burton Wilderness

Explore hiking trails through grasslands, pines, and fir forests or traverse Mount Wittenberg

Places to Stay near Point Reyes National Seashore

If you’re of the outdoorsy type, you can give camping a try at Point Reyes. Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore, in nearby Inverness, have grilling facilities, an outdoor pool, and a garden. Some rooms have a kitchenette, which makes meal prep convenient after a day of exploring.

For a vacation home that feels like your own, Highland House Inverness is located within Point Reyes National Park. It has three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a patio with views of the lake. Bring along the whole crew.

See Related: Best Things to do in San Jose, California

6. Big Sur

Flowers and Ocean view in Big Sur
“Big Sur-22” by stuartlchambers is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Bermuda’s pink sand and Hawaii’s black and green sand are all well and nice. But if you want to get really exotic, it’s all about the purple sand in California.

Big Sur, one of the top destinations in California, is home to the purple sand of Pfeiffer Beach. The unique color comes from the erosion of manganese garnet in the hills that is washed down to the beach. Don’t miss Keyhole Rock, a rock formation with a unique, well, “keyhole,” cutout.

Big Sur is located between the towns of Carmel and San Simeon and the natural formations of the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The rugged coastline features winding curves, cliffs, and seaside views of the Pacific Coast Highway. And, of course, that amazing purple sand.

Things to do in Big Sur

Andrew Molera State Park

Andrew Molera State Park offers redwood groves, hiking trails, and views of coastal wildlife along the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Pacific Coast.

Bixby Creek Bridge

Leave your fear of heights at home as you take a road trip across the 280-foot-tall Bixby Creek Bridge. Seen in the opening credits of the television series Big Little Lies (starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, and many more), the bridge towers over the California coast and the Pacific Ocean.

Places to Stay in Big Sur

Big Sur River Inn sits along the Big Sur River and has an on-site restaurant and a swimming pool in a scenic and secluded natural setting.

See Related: Best Waterfalls in California

7. Pismo Beach

House by the Cliff Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach, between San Francisco and Los Angeles (and south of San Simeon and Hearst Castle), is a classic small coastal city beach town. Channel your inner surfer among the waves and sand dunes of this central coastal location. It’s known as the Clam Capital of the World, so be sure to pack your clam-digging duds with your board shorts.

Things to do in Pismo Beach

Monarch Butterfly Grove

Tens of thousands of monarch butterflies migrate annually. From October to February, they can be seen in the eucalyptus and cypress trees all around the area.

Pismo State Beach

Pismo State Beach has 17 miles of dunes and beaches for surfing, swimming, fishing, bird watching, and of course, clam digging.

Places to Stay in Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach Hotel is conveniently located in downtown Pismo Beach about a block from the Pismo Beach Pier, making it one of the most convenient places to visit.

See more great hotels close to Pismo Beach with Booking.com and get the best deals.

See Related: 12 Fun & Best Things to Do in Santa Ana, California

8. Joshua Tree National Park

Exotic Trees in Joshua Tree National Park

With 800,000 acres, Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most famous places in California for nature lovers. Not just an exotic location, it’s almost otherworldly with its uniquely shaped twisted-limb Joshua trees, as well as cactus plants and tropical palm trees.

This Southern California park is situated between the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert near the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs (and about an hour or so from Death Valley National Park).

Things to do in Joshua Tree National Park

Lost Horse Mine

Visit Lost Horse Mine to learn about gold mining history and the California Gold Rush of 1849. 

Ryan Mountain

Ryan Mountain, at 5,461 feet, is the tallest in Joshua Tree National Park and the place to go for the most amazing views and golden hour sunsets.

Fan Palm Oases

After you’ve gawked at the Joshua trees a while, go tropical in the middle of the desert at Fan Palm Oases, a grove of shady desert fan palm trees (they can get up to 75 feet tall).

Skull Rock

Explore skull-like rock formations at the appropriately named Skull Rock.

Places to Stay in Joshua Tree National Park

Visitors at Joshua Tree National Park can go camping by reservation at Black Rock, Cottonwood, and Jumbo Rocks as well as on a first-come-first-served basis at campsites at Hidden Valley, Belle Campgrounds, or White Tank.

Nearby Palm Springs, in the Sonoran Desert, offers a variety of accommodations, some with the added benefits of hot mineral springs and spas.

Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, backed by dusky desert hues, has a restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining, eight natural mineral water pools, and a full-service European spa.

Travel safely and get travel insurance at World Nomads.

See Related: Best Beaches in Minnesota to Visit

9. Avalon on Santa Catalina Island

Channel your inner Grace Kelly among Avalon’s palm trees and Mediterranean-inspired ambiance. Part of an eight-island archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, Santa Catalina Island offers California fun in a secluded island location.

It’s only accessible by boat, which really ups the exotic factor and makes it one of our favorite places to visit. At 75 square miles in size, Santa Catalina Island is known for diving, wildlife, and Mt. Orizaba.

Things to do in Avalon

Zip Line Eco Tour

Fly high over Descanso Canyon and 600 feet over Descanso Beach Club on a Zip Line Eco Tour. You’ll soar over eucalyptus trees and learn about flowers and wildlife only found on Catalina Island. The zip line ends at the Descanso Beach Club. Descanso Beach Club has cabanas, a casino, a private beach, and a restaurant.

Places to Stay in Avalon

The 1920s Hotel Atwater, near the Descanso Beach Club (to which guests get free access), has contemporary rooms in a historic setting.

10. Solvang

The Solvang Danish village is in the Santa Ynez Valley between the San Rafael Mountains and the Santa Ynez Mountains and is about 40 minutes from Santa Barbara. Founded in 1911 by Dutch teachers, the town honors Danish culture and literary author Hans Christian Andersen.

Known as the “Danish Capital of America” (it’s sometimes called Little Denmark), there are windmills, Danish bakeries, a Little Mermaid fountain, a Hans Christian Andersen statue, art galleries, and decorative storks on rooftops (meant for good luck).

For the diverse culture alone, this is a wonderful place to visit in California.

Things to do in Solvang

Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum

The Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum has classic American, European, and Japanese motorcycles.

Hans Christian Andersen Museum

Though quite small, the Hans Christian Andersen Museum is a must for literary fans. It holds highlights of his life and work.

Old Mission Santa Ines Church

Enjoy historic architecture and views of the Santa Ynez River Valley and mountain ranges at the Old Mission Santa Ines Church.

Places to Stay in Solvang

King Frederik Inn is within close proximity to everything in the area, including golf courses and boating and fishing at Lake Cachuma. Hotel Corque is a boutique hotel with a restaurant, a pool, and a hot tub. It’s near Santa Barbara wine country and Chumash Casino.

Related Resources

Lock In Your Travel Now
Looking for Extra Travel Perks?
My favorite travel companion is The Platinum Card® from American Express, which gives me lounge access, Uber credits, upgrades, and plenty of other travel perks. If you want to find out the best travel rewards credit card for you, consider using CardMatch to instantly get matched to a travel rewards credit card that meets your travel needs.
Booking Flights

Use Skyscanner to book the cheapest flight possible. Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine as you can find flights around the globe and from every airline possible. You'll be in great shape to get the best price possible.

You must grab a free trial or join Scott's Cheap Flights Premium to get cheap flight alerts directly to your email inbox. My favorite cheap flight alert was 25,000 Delta SkyMiles to London non-stop.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It's a low cost way to ensure your travel plans go smooth no matter what's thrown at it. Use World Nomads to find the best policy for your travel schedule.
Book Your Accommodation
In order to capture the widest selection of properties and the best price, use Booking.com as they have the cheapest rates for guesthouses, hotels, luxury condos, B&Bs and so much more.
Want More Destination Ideas Direct to Your Inbox?
Be sure to join the ViaTravelers Newsletter for expert tips, tricks and inspiration for your next travel journey!