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California is known for its sights. Its diverse landscape is truly something to behold; they, along with the countless manmade California landmarks, are a testament to that. From the Golden Gate Bridge to the Hollywood Sign, these landmarks attract tourists worldwide. Here are the most famous landmarks in California.
There are many things to do and see in California. Some of the most popular attractions are the Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood Sign, and Disneyland. Other popular attractions include the wine country in Northern California and the beaches in Southern California.
These landmarks are all located in different parts of California, so it’s not easy to visit them all in one trip. Guess that means you should start planning a few vacations to California to see the state’s most well-known landmarks.
- Most Famous California Landmarks to Visit
- 1. Alcatraz Island
- 2. Golden Gate Bridge
- 3. John Muir National Historic Site
- 4. Big Four Building
- 5. Disneyland Park
- 6. Hollywood Walk of Fame
- 7. La Brea Tar Pits
- 8. Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark
- 9. Hearst Castle
- 10. Harada House
- 11. Hollywood Sign
- 12. Cesar E. Chavez National Monument
- 13. California State Capitol
- 14. Carrizo Plain National Monument
- 15. Forestiere Underground Gardens
- 16. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
- 17. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
- 18. Presidio of San Francisco
- 19. Santa Monica Pier
- 20. Redwood National and State Parks
- 21. Death Valley National Park
- 22. Lake Tahoe
- 23. Yosemite National Park
- 24. Walt Disney Concert Hall
- 25. San Diego Zoo
- 26. TCL Chinese Theatre
- 28. Griffith Observatory
- 29. The Getty, Los Angeles
- What are the most famous landmarks in California?
- What are some other popular tourist destinations in California?
- Can I visit all of the landmarks on a road trip?
- What is the best time of year to visit California?
Most Famous California Landmarks to Visit
1. Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island is a small, rocky island in San Francisco Bay. The island was developed in the mid-19th Century and featured facilities for a lighthouse, military fortification, and military prison, colloquially known as The Rock (also the title of a 1996 Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage action movie featuring the island and the prison).
The prison on Alcatraz Island was closed in 1963, and the island has since been used as a tourist attraction. Many famous inmates, such as Al Capone, served time at the prison on Alcatraz Island.
The island is open to visitors every day of the year, though hours of operation vary seasonally. Visitors can explore the island independently or take a guided tour. Different tours are available, including audio, self-guided multimedia, and guided tours.
The “The Rock” tour is the most popular, including visiting the prison cell house and other island areas. There are several exciting landmarks to see on Alcatraz Island. The Main Cellhouse was the most famous and was held by most inmates.
The Dining Hall is also worth a visit, as is the Lighthouse. The Warden’s House and Social Hall are in ruins but offer an exciting glimpse into the past. The Parade Grounds are also worth a visit, as is Building 64. The Water Tower is an iconic landmark on the island, and the New Industries Building is enjoyable.
Finally, the Recreation Yard is a great place to get a sense of what life was like for the inmates on Alcatraz Island. Check out the island’s calendar – they frequently hold concerts and live entertainment events here.
See Related: Things to Do in Santa Maria, California
2. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the Golden Gate Strait, the one-mile-wide (1.6 km), one-point-seven-mile-long (2.7 km) channel between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
The Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937 and is one of the most recognizable symbols of San Francisco and California.
The bridge is open to pedestrians and cyclists, and several shuttle services operate between the bridge and various locations in San Francisco. The bridge is also famous for fishing, with bass, perch, and sturgeon being the most common catches.
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3. John Muir National Historic Site
John Muir National Historic Site is a 14-room Italianate Victorian mansion home of naturalist and writer John Muir. It also includes a nearby 325-acre tract of oak woodlands and grasslands historically owned by the Muir family.
The leading site is in the shadow of State Route 4 in Martinez, California. John Muir was an important figure in the early conservation movement in the United States.
He was a naturalist and writer who promoted the idea of wilderness preservation and significantly impacted the West Coast, including many influences on the National Park Service and National Park system in America.
He went on to found the Sierra Club, now the country’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization. For a side adventure, you can take a Muir Woods & Sausalito Half-Day Tour.
See Related: Best National Parks in the USA
4. Big Four Building
The Big Four building in downtown Sacramento is a beautiful example of Art Deco architecture. Unbelievably, the 2-story structure was once the tallest building in the city. Sadly, it no longer holds this title but is now a National Historic Landmark.
The lobby is stunning and features an exquisite ceiling with beautiful murals. The building is open to the public for free tours, and it’s worth a visit.
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5. Disneyland Park
The park opened in 1955 and is the only one designed and built under the direct supervision of Walt Disney. Walt Disney came up with the concept of Disneyland after visiting various amusement parks with his daughters in the 1930s and 1940s.
The park is open every day of the year, and admission is more expensive during peak season. The best time to visit Disneyland is during the off-season when the crowds are smaller, and the weather is milder.
Although the park is nearly 70 years old, she’s still in her prime. Disney announced “Project Stardust” in 2019, which included significant structural renovations to the park to account for higher attendance numbers.
Some changes include a new Star Wars land, a Marvel superhero land, and a redesigned Fantasyland.
See Related: Northern California vs. Southern California
6. Hollywood Walk of Fame
Walking the Hollywood Walk of Fame is the best way to enjoy America’s flattest landmark. The Walk of Fame is a series of sidewalks in Hollywood, California, with stars representing celebrities who have contributed to American popular culture.
The first-ever star was dedicated in 1960 to the Academy Award-winning actress Joanne Woodward. Today, there are more than 2,600 stars on the Walk of Fame! The stars can be found on both sides of Hollywood Boulevard. The best way to see the Walk of Fame is on foot, and it’s free to visit.
Plus, it’s the best way to explore the zany neighborhood that is Hollywood. Check out attractions like the TCL Chinese Theatre and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium.
You can also schmooze with celebrities and influential figures (okay, not real ones) at Madame Tussauds Hollywood and the Hollywood Wax Museum – the oldest wax museum in the country. And if walking the walk sounds too much effort, you can always take the bus.
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7. La Brea Tar Pits
The La Brea Tar Pits are a series of tar pits in Los Angeles, California. The pits are famous for their fossils, which include saber-toothed cats, mammoths, and dire wolves – as well as the smell!
The La Brea Tar Pits are a National Natural Landmark and are open for free tours to the public. The tar pits were formed when natural underground petroleum seepage was mixed with water and asphalt.
The pits are still being excavated, and more than 100,000 fossils have been discovered, including several reassembled skeletons. You can check them out in the La Brea Tar Pits Museum and skip the massive line by booking in advance!
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8. Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark
The Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark is a system of caves located near the McCloud arm of Shasta Lake in California.
The caverns were formerly named Chalk Cave and Baird Cave after Spencer Fullerton Baird, a naturalist and scientist who played a prominent role in the history of the United States Fish Commission.
The cave system comprises two primary levels: Upper and Lower Cave. The Upper Cave is a series of rooms and passageways totaling about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers). In comparison, the Lower Cave is a single large chamber measuring approximately 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers).
The caves are open for tours from April through September. Visitors can take a boat ride to the caverns and then tour the caves with a guide. The tour includes a walk through the Upper Cave and a visit to the Lower Cave, where there is an underground lake, making it one of the best lakes in California.
See Related: Things to Do in Los Alamos, California
9. Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle is a National Historic Landmark and a California Historic Landmark located on the Central Coast of California. Architect Julia Morgan designed it between 1919 and 1947 for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who died in 1951. In 1957, the Hearst Corporation donated the property to California.
The castle is open for tours from April through October. Visitors can tour the main house, which features 165 rooms, gardens, and pools. There is also a museum on-site that includes art and artifacts from Hearst’s collection.
See related: Best San Francisco Walking Tours [Free & Guided]
10. Harada House
The Harada House is an important historic landmark in Riverside, California. The house was the focus of a critical application of the California Alien Land Law of 1913, which prevented foreigners who were ineligible for citizenship from owning property.
However, the Haradas ultimately won the case and retained ownership of the house. The house, created in 1884 and built by the Harada family, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1990 and is currently overseen by the Museum of Riverside.
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11. Hollywood Sign
The Hollywood Sign is an American landmark and cultural icon overlooking Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Los Angeles, California. It is on Mount Lee, in the Hollywood Hills area of the Santa Monica Mountains. “HOLLYWOOD” is spelled out in 45-foot (14 m) tall white letters and is 350 feet (110 m) long.
The sign was initially created in 1923 to advertise local real estate development, but it soon became a worldwide symbol of the entertainment industry. In 1978, the sign was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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12. Cesar E. Chavez National Monument
Cesar Chavez National Monument is a 116-acre site that was the former headquarters of the United Farm Workers and home to Cesar Chavez from the early 1970s until he died in 1993.
The property includes Chavez’s gravesite and gardens home to his wife’s gravesite. The site served as a tuberculosis sanitarium in the early 1900s before being acquired by the UFW in the early 1970s.
Cesar Chavez was an American labor leader and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (later the United Farm Workers). He spent his entire life fighting for the rights of farmworkers.
His efforts led to several critical agricultural reforms, including farmworkers’ first significant union contract. Chavez died in 1993, but his legacy inspires people worldwide to fight for justice. The Cesar E. Chavez National Monument is a great place to learn more about the life and work of this important figure in American history.
The site offers several ranger-led programs, as well as self-guided tours. Visitors can also explore the gardens, home to several sculptures and art installations at this national monument.
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13. California State Capitol
The California State Capitol is the state capitol building of California, located in the state capital, Sacramento. The building houses the bicameral state legislature and the office of the governor.
The neoclassical capitol building consists of a central dome with statuary and portraits of distinguished Californians, flanking wings containing the legislative chambers, and a lower level with offices for the governor and other officials.
The California State Capitol is one of the most prominent landmarks in Sacramento. Visitors can explore the building and its grounds and learn more about the history and workings of state government.
There is also a museum inside the capitol that contains exhibits on California’s history and culture. The capitol building is open to visitors from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on weekends from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
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14. Carrizo Plain National Monument
The Carrizo Plain National Monument is a large enclosed grassland plain in San Luis Obispo County, California. It contains the 246,812-acre Carrizo Plain National Monument, the largest single native grassland remaining in California.
It includes Painted Rock in the Carrizo Plain Rock Art Discontiguous District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2012 it was further designated a National Historic Landmark due to its archeological value.
The Carrizo Plain is home to one of California’s most significant remaining herds of pronghorn antelope. Pronghorn males can reach up to five feet in length and three feet at the shoulder, while females are slightly smaller.
These animals can run up to 55 miles per hour, making them the second-fastest land animal in North America (after the cheetah). They are also known for their unique mating rituals, which include prancing and chasing displays meant to impress potential mates.
Several rare and endangered species call the Carrizo Plain home, including the San Joaquin kit fox, giant kangaroo rat, and Tule elk. The Carrizo Plain is one of the last remaining habitats for the critically endangered California condor. These massive birds have a wingspan of up to 9.5 feet, making them the largest land birds in North America.
The Carrizo Plain is also an important geological site. The San Andreas Fault, one of the world’s most famous and well-studied fault lines, runs through the Carrizo Plain.
This fault line is responsible for some of the biggest earthquakes in California history, including the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
15. Forestiere Underground Gardens
The Forestiere Underground Gardens are a labyrinth of subterranean structures constructed by Baldassare Forestiere, an Italian immigrant who lived in New York for 40 years, from 1906 until he died in 1946.
Members of the Forestiere family operate the gardens through the Forestiere Historical Center and can be considered a spectacular and unconventional example of vernacular architecture. The gardens are essentially underground rooms and courtyards connected by tunnels and passageways.
The temperature underground is 10-15 degrees cooler than the surface, making it a perfect refuge from the hot Fresno summers. The main chambers are decorated with frescoes and sculptures, and many rooms have skylights that provide natural light.
The Gardens are open to the public and offer visitors a unique and exciting experience. They are worth a visit if you are in the Fresno area.
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16. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a classic seaside amusement park in Santa Cruz, California. It is one of the few remaining amusement parks from the classic era of American amusement parks, and it is a significant tourist attraction in the Santa Cruz region.
The Boardwalk dates back to 1907 and opened as a bathing beach and amusement park. It has been rebuilt and expanded multiple times and is now a popular destination for visitors of all ages. The Boardwalk has stalls, carnival rides and games, restaurants, souvenir shops, and an arcade.
The Boardwalk, open year-round, is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon or evening. It’s also one of the state’s most affordable amusement parks.
17. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a unique transportation system that takes passengers from the desert floor to the summit of Mount San Jacinto, with an elevation of 10,834 feet.
The tramway is the world’s largest rotating aerial tramway and offers spectacular views of the Coachella Valley and the surrounding mountains.
The Tramway was built in 1963 to provide access to the San Jacinto Mountains for recreation and research. It is now a popular tourist attraction, carrying over half a million passengers annually.
This scenic tramway operates year-round, and weather conditions at the top of the mountain can differ significantly from those at the bottom, so dress appropriately.
See Related: Things to Do in Palm Springs, California
18. Presidio of San Francisco
The Presidio of San Francisco is a park and former U.S. Army post on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula in San Francisco, California. It is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The park was established in 1846 and was initially known as El Presidio Real de San Francisco or The Royal Fortress of Saint Francis. The Presidio served as an army post for over 200 years and is now a popular tourist destination.
The Presidio has many historic buildings and landmarks, including the Palace of Fine Arts, Crissy Field, and the Fort Point National Historic Site. There are also several museums on the grounds, such as the Presidio Officers’ Club Museum and the Walt Disney Family Museum.
See Related: Things to Do in Point Loma
19. Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier is a great place to visit if you’re looking for a fun day out. This famous landmark features many different things to do and is a great place to see the ocean.
Some highlights include the Ferris wheel, the roller coaster, and the arcade. If you’re visiting California, this is a place you should check out.
You can take the bus or drive to get to Santa Monica Pier. The pier is located next to the beach, so it’s easy to find. If you’re taking the bus, several routes will take you there. Just make sure you get off at the right stop.
20. Redwood National and State Parks
California features some of the best national parks in America, from Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park, and Yosemite National Park. But, one area in Northern California is so iconic in this state that it features a national monument, the Redwoods.
If you want an awe-inspiring nature experience, check out California’s Redwood National Park and State Parks. These parks are home to some of the tallest trees in the world and offer plenty of opportunities for hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing.
Whether you’re a nature lover or just looking for a unique vacation spot, the Redwood National and State Parks are worth a visit. If you want to visit California’s Redwood National Park and State Parks, you’ll need to know how to get there. The parks are in the state’s far north, near the Oregon border.
To get to the parks, take Highway 101 north of San Francisco or south of Eugene, Oregon. The gardens are about a four-hour drive from either city, and there’s plenty to see.
See Related: Best National Parks in the USA
21. Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is located in California and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. The park is known for its extreme temperatures and diverse landscape.
Some features found in Death Valley National Park include dunes, salt flats, badlands, and canyons. Visitors can also participate in hiking, camping, and bird-watching activities.
Take Highway 190 west from Las Vegas to Death Valley National Park. The park is about a three-hour drive from the city and has plenty to see.
Once you arrive, explore all that Death Valley National Park offers. There are miles of hiking trails, camping spots, and scenic viewpoints to discover.
22. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a large freshwater lake located in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is one of California’s most popular tourist destinations known for its clear blue waters and stunning scenery.
Visitors to Lake Tahoe can enjoy swimming, boating, fishing, and hiking. From San Francisco, visitors can take I-80 East to reach Lake Tahoe. The drive will take around four hours. From Sacramento, visitors can take Highway 50 East to reach Lake Tahoe. The drive will take about three hours.
23. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is a world-famous park in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, this incredible park is known for its stunning scenery, including waterfalls, valleys, and granite cliffs.
The park is known for its stunning scenery, including waterfalls, valleys, and granite cliffs. Yosemite Valley is one of Yosemite National Park’s most popular tourist destinations. The valley is known for its stunning scenery, including waterfalls, granite cliffs, and meadows.
Visitors to Yosemite Valley can enjoy various activities, including hiking, biking, fishing, and horseback riding. If you’re looking to explore one of California’s most famous natural landmarks, then go to Yosemite National Park.
24. Walt Disney Concert Hall
The Walt Disney Concert Hall is a world-renowned music venue in downtown Los Angeles. Designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, the concert hall was built to tribute Walt Disney’s passion for the arts and his love for Los Angeles.
The venue officially opened its doors in October 2002 and has since hosted performances by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Master Chorale of Los Angeles.
25. San Diego Zoo
The zoo began to increase, and by 1919, it had moved to its current location in Balboa Park and had become the world’s largest private zoo.
Today, the San Diego Zoo is one of California’s most popular tourist attractions, hosting over 4 million visitors annually. It is home to some of Earth’s rarest and most endangered animals, including giant pandas, Sumatran tigers, and California condors. If you want an exciting and educational day with the kids, visit the San Diego Zoo.
26. TCL Chinese Theatre
The TCL Chinese Theatre is a world-famous movie theatre in Hollywood, California. Originally known as the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, it was built in 1927 and is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state.
The theatre is famous for its impressive exterior facade, decorated with Chinese-style roof tiles, dragons, and pagodas. The theatre’s interior is just as remarkable, with its elegant velvet seatings, opulent ceilings, and chandeliers. If you’re a fan of movies or Hollywood history, visiting the TCL Chinese Theatre is a must-do while in California.
See Related: Things to Do in San Diego, CA
28. Griffith Observatory
The Griffith Observatory is one of the most popular tourist attractions in California. The observatory is open every day of the year and offers free admission to the public.
There are a variety of exhibits at the observatory that focus on science and astronomy, including live presentations from scientists and experts. The observatory is also home to an array of telescopes that allow visitors to view the stars and planets.
Visitors can also enjoy the Hollywood sign and Los Angeles skyline from the Griffith Observatory. The Griffith Observatory is in Griffith Park, a large hillside park above Hollywood.
Griffith Park is a popular location for hiking, biking, and picnicking. The park also offers views of the city and has various other attractions, including the Hollywood Bowl and the Los Angeles Zoo.
See Related: Best Breweries in San Diego, California
29. The Getty, Los Angeles
The Getty Museum is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Los Angeles. It is famed for its classic and avant-garde art collection and excellent city views. The Getty was first opened to the public in November 1997.
The Getty is the perfect place to visit if you want to see some of the best art in the world. The museum’s permanent collection includes works from Rembrandt, Cézanne, Van Gogh, and many other famous artists.
The Getty also hosts rotating exhibitions that are sure to impress. If you’re looking for a great place to spend a day in Los Angeles, the Getty Museum merits a stopover. The garden isn’t bad either.
Are you looking for an epic road trip destination? California is a haven for some of the most notable points of interest in the United States. From the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, there’s plenty to see and do in The Golden State.
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What are the most famous landmarks in California?
The most famous landmarks in California include the Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood Boulevard, and Yosemite National Park.
What are some other popular tourist destinations in California?
Other popular tourist destinations in California include San Diego, Lake Tahoe, and Napa Valley.
Can I visit all of the landmarks on a road trip?
Many of the landmarks in California can be seen on a road trip. However, some of them, such as Yosemite National Park, are in rural areas that may require additional travel time.
What is the best time of year to visit California?
The best time of year to visit California depends on what you’re interested in doing. The state has beautiful beaches and weather year-round, so it’s a great destination at any time. However, if you want to see the mountains or go skiing, December through March is the best time.
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- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.