35 Best Things to Do in California & Places to Visit

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Downtown San Francisco Skyline, one of the best things to do in California

Whether you’re a nature lover, adventurer, or foodie, you can surely find your place in the Golden State. You will never run out of places to go because of the wide range of things to do in California. This includes fun beach escapades, adrenaline-inducing trips to amusement parks, relaxing nature trails, diverse food explorations, and more.

Most places in California will take your breath away with their mesmerizing road views and fantastic beaches. California also has remarkable landmarks, like the Hollywood Sign and the Golden Gate Bridge. If you’re lucky enough, you can even meet Hollywood superstars while wandering the state! 

California is one of the best, if not the best, travel destinations for tourists from various cities and countries, so it isn’t surprising that millions of tourists visit the state yearly. If you haven’t been to California, this guide will tell you why you should add it to your travel bucket list. 

This 400,000-square-kilometer state is largely accessible by car, train, bike, and walking. Because California is a known tourist destination, it won’t be challenging for local and international tourists to find accommodations that suit their lifestyle, preferences, and budget.

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Things to Do in California & Places to Visit

1. Do some California Sightseeing along the Golden Gate Bridge

Famous Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco at night, USA
ventdusud / Shutterstock

Address: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA, United States

Prepare to have a mind-blowing adventure at the Golden Gate Bridge! This engineering masterpiece is California’s most significant landmark. It has been declared one of the wonders of the modern world by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The Golden Gate Bridge hangs above the strait that connects the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Tagged as the most photographed bridge in the world, this structure draws many visitors yearly.

There are plenty of things to do in California, and specifically, several activities are available for tourists at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. But my personal favorites are cruising around the bay and exploring the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

If you’re looking for a place to stay near the Golden Gate Bridge, check out Cavallo Point. This lodging resort offers a top-notch service from rooms to amenities.

PRO TIP: You can book paid tours in advance if you want a hassle-free trip!

See Related: Attractions in Fresno

2. Indulge in some unique artistry at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Address: 5905 Wilshire Blvd, LA, CA 90036, United States

One of the top things to do in California is indulge in unique artistry at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an art person or not. At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it’s hard not to fancy art.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, known as LACMA, is an art museum on Wilshire Boulevard. It is the largest in the western United States, holding over 150,000 art displays. Nearly one million people visit the place yearly for its exclusive collections. 

LACMA has five buildings, each housing a separate collection of unconventional artwork. There is so much to see and do that you could easily spend a half-day here and not feel contented!

Of course, no visit to this museum is complete without a stop at its most well-known exhibit. A collection of antique streetlights you’ve probably seen on Instagram is displayed at Urban Light. Join the fun and have your picture taken at this lovely installation and more.

It’s also next door to the fascinating (and slightly) stinky La Brea Tar Pits and museum! Check out these other fun things to do in Los Angeles while you are in town.

See Related: Things to Do in Calabasas

3. Relive your favorite films at the Universal Studios

Universal Studios Hollywood

Address: 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608, United States

Did you go to California if you didn’t visit Universal Studios? This Hollywood-themed park is on everyone’s bucket list of things to see in California!

Universal Studios Hollywood began as a touring attraction in the 1910s before transforming into a full-fledged theme park destination. This amusement center offers behind-the-scenes films produced by Universal Pictures. Thus, you can relive your favorite blockbusters here!

But that’s not all. Apart from film set tours, this theme park also offers shows and rides. What a treat! If you’re going to ask me for a show worth seeing, I would recommend WaterWorld. Secure a seat at the “Soak Zones” for the full experience!

The ride attractions at Universal Studios have different themes. My favorites are The Simpsons, Jurassic Park, and Back To The Future. For the Hogwarts fans, muster the courage and check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

This attraction will whisk you to a world of magic, thrills, and butter beer! For a guaranteed hassle-free tour, skip the lines and book your ticket in advance!

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4. Ride the Ferris Wheel at Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica

Address: 200 Sta. Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401, United States

The Ferris wheel at Santa Monica Pier is a familiar sight for visitors and residents alike. Who wouldn’t be fascinated by its bright red and yellow color? Plus, the view from the top will leave you breathless! It is included in the list of best things to do in California.

It is one of the most famous places in California. Its promise of endless entertainment activities has successfully attracted both locals and tourists. But things weren’t like that from the beginning. The pier was initially launched to pump cleansed sewage out to sea.

Today, this area is unrivaled for daytime trips and nighttime thrills. True to its promise, you’ll never run out of things to do here! It houses the Pacific Park, Heal the Bay Aquarium, and Santa Monica Beach.

You don’t have to pay anything to stroll down the pier. However, you may buy a wristband for unlimited access to the rides and games at the amusement park. And if you happen to be visiting during summertime, don’t leave without taking a quick dip in the ocean!

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5. Grab a sourdough at the Boudin Bakery

Boudin Bakery

Address: 2890 Taylor St, San Francisco, CA

The Boudin Bakery in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood in San Francisco is renowned for its sourdough bread, making it a local delicacy. Since 1849, Boudin bakers in San Francisco have used the same recipe to create their bread.

Jefferson Street is the major thoroughfare in this San Francisco neighborhood, and you’ll find this enormous bakery there. It’s roughly midway between Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square.

A large retail shop (Baker Hall) is next to the kitchen, making the dough from scratch. Pick up some local delicacies like bread and cheese at this stand. You can grab a sandwich from the counter and sit at one of the available outdoor tables for lunch. You can also purchase a cup of Peet’s Coffee here to start your day (or afternoon) right.

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6. Take a selfie with the Hollywood Sign

Hollywood sign in Los Angeles

Address: LA, Southern California 90068, United States

What’s the most popular thing in California other than a collection of celebrities in one place? To say this sign is iconic is an understatement. What started as an advertisement is now among the most recognizable landmarks in the world.

The Hollywood Sign is an instantly recognizable cultural symbol and a beloved American monument atop Mount Lee on the Hollywood hills. It was initially created as short-term advertising for a real estate development. However, as the sign gained more and more recognition, it was never taken down.

This gigantic icon has been featured in several movies, music videos, and advertising. For this reason, imitations of it can be seen in many different parts of the world.

The surveillance around the emblem is tight for its maintenance and protection. Thus, you won’t be able to get up close and personal with these magnificent letters. But there are plenty of ways to look at them from a distance! 

You can catch the Hollywood sign clearly along Mulholland Highway and pass it during your California road trip. If you’re feeling athletic, you can hike the West Trail in Griffith Park to get a better view of it. And lastly, you can join a guided walking tour up to the sign for a more efficient experience.

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7. Get lost in the beauty of Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley - Yosemite National Park

Address: Tioga Rd Hwy 120 & Hwy 140 Yosemite National Park, CA 95389

Nature lover? Park enthusiast? Adventure seeker? You can never go wrong with visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of your priorities in things to do in California. 

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular national parks in California. It has an area of 1,187 sq. mi. and is spread over four counties–Tuolomne, Mariposa, Mono, and Madera County.

The park features an incredible mix of outdoor activities, regardless of age and camping ability. More than four million people visit the park annually to experience its beauty, with the bulk of these people setting up camp in Yosemite Valley.

Driving the Valley Floor Loop is a great way to enjoy Yosemite’s incredible sites. You may stop at Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Bridge, Valley View, and other pull-offs. You may also explore the Valley on foot or by bike to avoid traffic.

Tioga Road also offers a breathtaking view of the park’s highland. This scenic drive allows tourists to travel to both sides of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Also, many vantage points along Tioga Road are worth stopping at. Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake Scenic Overlook, and Tuolomne Meadow are on the list.

Sounds fun, right? But that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Because there is so much to see and do in Yosemite, it is strongly advised that you take part in a guided tour.

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8. Immerse yourself in the eerie landscapes of Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park Sign, California

Address: 328 Greenland Blvd, Death Valley, CA 92328, California, United States

With a name like that and a reputation for being dry and barren, you wouldn’t think this place is worth visiting. And I am here to tell you why it is!

Extremes are the name of the game of Death Valley National Park. It is known for having the hottest temperature ever recorded anywhere globally (a scorching 134 degrees in July 1936) and for being the driest area in North America.

But the park draws people with its strange and unearthly scenery. Contrary to its name, it is a vibrant place full of colorful flowers during spring. The park’s unique landscape includes a fascinating crater, a devil’s golf course, moving rocks, and the galaxy!

In addition, the place is home to a variety of wildlife and activities. You can race down the Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells, take a scenic drive, or bike along the many mountain biking routes in the area.

The heat at the park can be dangerous. Thus, it’s essential to check the weather forecast, bring water, and take a guided tour to help you get the best out of your visit.

See Related: Visiting Tahquitz Canyon

9. Witness Mother Nature’s Talent at Sequoia National Park

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Address: Sierra Nevada, East-Central California, U.S

Sequoia National Park is one of California’s most amazing national parks, yet it isn’t very well known for some reason. Often overshadowed by the one in Yosemite, this park is breathtaking and should not be missed if you ever find yourself in the area.

From the towering sequoias, the world’s largest trees, to hiking trails (the Big Trees Trail and the Tokopah Falls Trail are great options) and the abundance of wildlife.

If you only have one day to spend in the park, wandering around the Giant Forest is the way to go. It houses the park’s most popular attractions, such as General Sherman, Moro Rock, and the Crescent Meadow.

Additionally, Sequoia connects to Kings Canyon. Thus, because of their proximity, you can visit both parks on the same day. To do this, you’ll have to start your adventure early and end your day late.

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10. Climb up the trails in Joshua Tree National Park

Hiking Barkers Dam Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: California, USA

If you’re looking for an oasis in the middle of nowhere, Joshua Tree National Park is the place for you! Everyone, from photographers to thrill-seekers, flocks to this fascinating park.

Joshua Tree National Park is situated at the convergence of the Mojave and Colorado deserts. It is mainly recognized for its namesake trees, often found in the Mojave Desert. In protected settings, Joshua Trees may live for over 150 years.

However, the Joshua trees aren’t the only thing to see in the park. Large, lava-formed boulders have piled up several feet above the ground. These rocks may be found in the area where the trees are packed closely together. Climbers from all over the globe take advantage of these unique granite formations.

Joshua Tree offers a weekly and annual park pass, which costs $30 and $55, respectively. But if you’re a huge fan of national parks, I suggest you opt for the America the Beautiful annual pass.

This pass will get you into every protected park and historical site in America. Unfortunately, though, it’s currently unavailable. Here’s where to stay in Joshua Tree to make the most of your visit.

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11. Be humbled by the elegance of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Skyline
image by Dougtone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Address: 17119 Avenue of the Giants, Weott, CA 95571, United States

It’s no secret that California is home to all things parks. National parks, cultural parks, neighborhood parks–you name it, California has it. But when it comes to size and old-growth treasures, no other park can compete with Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park is home to some of the world’s oldest and tallest trees. As a matter of fact, a number of these natural creatures have been there for more than 3,000 years and are more than 300 feet tall.

People visit Humboldt Redwoods State Park to witness the beauty of the world’s longest stretch of old-growth redwoods. The Avenue of the Giants is perfect for a clear view of the towering trees.

Plus, most of the trailheads that lead to the most enjoyable walks in the park are in this area, too! Hence, this is easily one of the most famous drives in the park. The park is open all year round and does not charge an entrance fee! So, when in California, this state park is a must-see attraction.

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12. Pretend to be a Volcanologist in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Address: Northern California, United States

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the few places holding all types of volcanoes in the same area. So, this park in Northern California is for you if you’re into volcanoes. In addition, the park is home to stunning lakes, waterfalls, and cliffs.

The summit of Lassen Peak is one of the highlights of the park. It measures about 10,457 feet above the ground, making it the world’s tallest plug dome volcano. Climbing to the top of the peak is safe but undeniably challenging. Thus, it’s not recommended for first-time hikers.

There are many other lovely sites to visit at the park. The Bumpass Hell is one of its popular trails and also my favorite. In this park, you’ll also find a plethora of stunning alpine lakes. The ones that took my breath away were Lake Helen, Emerald Lake, and Reflection Lake.

Just an FYI: during winter, many routes that run through the park are closed because of the snow. Hence, it’s essential to check its website for up-to-date information on road conditions at the time of your visit to Northern California.

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13. Have a fun family day at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Address: 400 Beach St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, United States

For families, one of the best things to do in California is to visit Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This is one of California’s oldest amusement parks! Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is home to a plethora of traditional California attractions.

To name a few, there are bumper cars, a log flume, a swinging pirate ship, and a sky glider. The sky glider is a personal favorite! It carries passengers up and above the scene to witness the breathtaking views.

There is also a bowling alley, a mini-golf course with a pirate motif called Buccaneer’s Bay, and a casino arcade with more than 300 games.

The Giant Dipper roller coaster and the Looff Carousel are the can’t-be-missed rides at the amusement park. The Dipper is the country’s fourth-oldest roller coaster and treats visitors to stunning views of the surrounding region.

The Looff Carousel is a hand-carved merry-go-round that was constructed in 1911. It has 73 one-of-a-kind horses as well as three vintage band organs.

While you’re at it, you can also make some time for the beach. The beach is situated near the San Lorenzo River and Monterey Bay. Due to the limited availability of changing facilities, I would advise you to have your bathing suits worn underneath your clothing.

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14. Pose with your favorite celebrity’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Michael Jackson's star on Hollywood Walk of Fame
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Hollywood Boulevard, Vine St, LA, CA 90028, United States

On a California vacation, visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame is like a rite of passage for every tourist. It’s also a great free attraction in California, so you cannot miss it! Thus, include this in your itinerary on your first days in the state.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame is a popular tourist attraction along Hollywood Boulevard, covering a distance of 1.3 miles. It is home to more than 2,700 stars bearing the names of some legendary figures in the entertainment industry.

Take a walk or a picture down this well-known stretch and spot your favorite artists! Some legends you’ll catch here are the late King of Pop–Michael Jackson, Jennifer Aniston, Marilyn Monroe, Lady Gaga, Walt Disney, Ozzy Osbourne, Bruce Lee, Britney Spears, Snoop Dogg, and over 2,500 more!

See Related: Most Exotic Places in California to Visit

15. Experience Magic at Disneyland

Disneyland Park

Address: 1313 Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA 92802, United States

Of course, we are not leaving out Disneyland as one of the best things to do in California. Where else can you experience magic other than the happiest place on earth? If you’re traveling with kids, bring them to Disneyland; they will love you forever!

At Disneyland, there’s plenty to do, from heart-pounding roller coaster rides like the Space Mountain to family-friendly attractions like the classic ‘It’s a Small World.’ There’s also a meet-and-greet opportunity with several Disney characters!

A tip on things to do in California with kids is to visit Fantasyland and Tomorrowland to start your day on the right foot. Then, embark on wild west experiences in Frontierland and Adventureland.

Also, don’t forget to stop at Disneyland’s two major streets, Main Street USA and Buena Vista Street, where you may shop, dine, buy souvenirs, and have a great time!

Lastly, you can’t leave this magical place without catching the Fantasmic fireworks show at night! This show is a visual extravaganza that captures the essence of the wonder and enchantment that Disney is all about.

See Related:  Things to Do in Irvine

16. Meet some of the rarest species at the San Diego Zoo

Panda in San Diego Zoo

Address: 2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, Southern California 92101, United States

Traveling with kids? Or just fond of extraordinary critters? The San Diego Zoo is easily one of the fun things to do in California!  Commonly seen animals in zoos, such as lions, gorillas, and elephants, are available in San Diego.

In addition, it is also home to a number of rare and unusual species, like the pancake tortoise and the clouded leopard. The San Diego Zoo is the only place in the world where you can catch these species, so this is an extremely unique chance to see and photograph them in their natural habitat.

Another fun thing about the San Diego Zoo is that when going from one enclosure to another, guests can use the train or the gondola skylift! 

On the weekends, the zoo hosts special activities for families and couples. They have the “sunrise tours” before the zoo opens and “wild evenings out, ” including alcoholic beverages, live music, and the opportunity to touch various animals. Book a ticket in advance and make friends with your favorite animal!

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17. Befriend a sea creature at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Address: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940, United States

Monterey Bay is California’s second-largest bay. It is home to many marine species, many of which may be seen here at this magnificent aquarium! Visiting this gigantic aquarium is one of my favorite things in California, and I’ll show you why.

Monterey Bay Aquarium holds more than 35,000 creatures of marine life, representing more than 550 species, including jellyfish, octopi, sea otters, and more. It has successfully drawn tourists with its Open Sea exhibit (which houses hammerhead sharks!) and the Splash Zone (a penguin paradise!).

Personally, my favorite exhibit at the aquarium is the Rocky Shore. There are a lot of chances to get your hands dirty here with sea stars, hermit crabs, and other marine critters.

Also, don’t miss out on seeing the strength of 600 gallons of water slamming against the glass every 30 seconds at the Wave Crash. You can take photos with it and pretend to be cool.

Just a note for when you visit the aquarium: the peak season is during summer. This means that there will be a significant amount of foot traffic at the aquarium. If this is the only time you can visit, the ideal days are Tuesday and Wednesday!

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18. Check out Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island and Skyline

Address: San Francisco, CA 94133, United States

Alcatraz Island is one of the unique places to visit in California and one of its most popular tourist destinations, and it’s easy to see why. In its heyday, the island was home to notorious inmates such as Al Capone and a number of other infamous criminals.

An island in the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz tells the story of humanity and justice in the United States through its isolation. Alcatraz Island has a long and eventful history. The United States government initially purchased the properties here in the middle of the 1800s as part of a military fortification program.

Consequently, the well-known federal prison on the island opened after it had been remodeled from its previous use as a military barracks.

More than 1.3 million people visit the facility yearly to see what it was like to be incarcerated in a federal facility from the 1930s to the 1960s. Thanks to high-tech audio tours and well-maintained cell blocks, the facility can provide this rare experience to visitors today.

19. Learn about California’s railroad history at the California State Railroad Museum

California State Railroad Museum Exhibit
image by Corvair Owner is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Address: 125 I St, Sacramento, CA 95814, United States

Not yet done crafting your itinerary? I have another one here for the rail fans out there. California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento is a California state park system museum. It highlights one of the most significant aspects of America’s rise in the West, the railway, and its crucial role in connecting California to the rest of America.

But there’s more to this museum than its fancy display of railroads and trains! California State Railroad Museum holds an event called the “Excursion Train Rides” every April to September.

This is an opportunity for visitors to hop on board and take a “relaxing 45-minute, 6-mile round trip ride along the levees of the Sacramento River.” FYI, a vintage diesel engine from the museum’s collection is used to haul the trains. What a great way to experience railroad life!

The California State Railroad Museum is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Tickets cost $6 only for teens, $12 for adults, and free for children under five. One of the cool things to do in California is to bring your family here and have fun at the exhibits.

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20. Soak up some sun in Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe, California and Skyline

Address: northern Sierra Nevada, California, United States

Lake Tahoe is a popular vacation spot for Californians and tourists, especially during summer. If you’re looking for exciting things to do in California, this place will give you that and more!

Over 2.7 million people visit Lake Tahoe yearly because of its pristine waters, stunning beaches, and world-class ski resorts. It has been named one of the five best places to visit in California and “America’s best lake” by USA Today. It is undoubtedly the place to be during the hot season.

Apart from bodies of water, there are also great hiking and biking trails around Lake Tahoe. A beginner-friendly hike I can recommend is the Tahoe Rim Trail to Picnic Rock Viewpoint. The trek runs for approximately 45 minutes and offers picturesque views at the summit.

Looking for a place to stay is not a difficult thing to do in Lake Tahoe. The area has tons of lodging and accommodation available. I like to stay at Carnelian Bay on the north shore. It’s a beautiful region, and I like having access to the lake and excellent dining options!

It’s impossible to cover everything about Lake Tahoe under one heading. So I’m just going to leave you with this advice: if you’re visiting California, you MUST go to Lake Tahoe. You’ll miss out on one of the fun things to do in California.

See Related: Things to Do in Pasadena, California 

21. Unlock the secrets of San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House and Garden

Address: 525 S Winchester Blvd, San Jose, CA 95128, United States

Undeniably, there are so many fun things to do in California. The state is home to several beaches, parks, and museums. But besides the fun, you’ll also find some of the strangest things here. Are you a fan of all things bizarre? This one is for you.

Winchester Mystery House is a residence in San Jose, California. Sarah Winchester, the widow of weapons mogul William Wirt Winchester, previously inhabited it. The Queen Anne-style Victorian home is notable for its architectural peculiarities and absence of a master plan.

The mansion holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for the longest home construction. This is thanks to Sarah Winchester, who worked on it nonstop for 38 years.

A tour inside the mansion will reveal why she did this and many other mysteries surrounding Sarah. So book a ticket to the mansion and prepare to be thrilled!

Two tours are available at the Winchester Mystery House: the Self-Guided Mansion Tour and the Sarah Winchester Garden Tour. I would recommend the former.

It is a one-way tour trail that promotes social distancing. With adequate time in each area, you may go around the mansion at your own speed. Guided tours are also available if you want to be free from the hassle.

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22. Join the fun chaos at Venice Beach Boardwalk

Venice Beach Boardwalk

Address: Ocean Front Walk, LA, California, United States

A trip to California is not complete without visiting the neighborhood of Venice, especially as it is one of the top things for couples to do in California. It’s the tourism epicenter of California, holding hundreds of street vendors, performers, and shops.

The Boardwalk is the highlight of Venice Beach. And this is the only spot in the world like it! You’ll discover a wide range of unusual activities and lifestyles here. For instance, shows involving saws, snakes, and broken glass are ubiquitous here.

You’ll also see people dancing, acting, singing, and giving out kisses for a dollar. Performers on the Boardwalk deserve appreciation for their hard work, so don’t forget to tip them!

The Venice Beach Skate Park is a new addition to the neighborhood. So, apart from shopping and people-watching, you can also share this set of concrete bowls with other skateboarders.

You can book a segway tour to make the most of your trip. This is like hitting two birds with one stone! You’ll be able to experience two must-visit California beaches hassle-free.

See Related: Iconic Lakes in California to Visit

23. Wander around the Getty Center

Getty Center Building

Address: 1200 Getty Center Dr, LA, CA 90049, United States

Ever wondered why the Getty Center was built at a $1.3 billion cost? A visit to the place will make you stop wondering. If you want more things to do in California, check out the Getty. Everything about the place is amusing. Plus, the entrance fee is free!

The Center is home to one of the two Getty Museums. Paintings, manuscripts, sculptures, and photographs from the pre-20th century are what you’ll catch here. But I swear the Getty is not as boring as it sounds.

Just wandering around this area in Los Angeles is one of the most exciting things to do in California. Most of Getty’s art collection dates from the early 1900s in Europe, but there are also displays from other eras. In all, four pavilions house the main collection. There are also rotating special exhibits that are well worth seeing.

The highlight of the center is the Central Gardens. Couples and families can picnic in the area while admiring the maze of flowers surrounding it. The Center is open every Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Two hours would be enough time for you to tour around the center. So, don’t skip this attraction on your visit to California!

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24. Take in some Asian culture in Chinatown

Street in San Francisco's Chinatown
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Chinatown, San Francisco, California, United States

One of the top things to do in California is to visit Chinatown. It is a tiny enclave consisting of only 15 city blocks. This makes it an ideal location for a walk.

For more than a century, Chinatown has served as the heart of the Chinese-American community in California, and its alleyways and buildings are full of stories. There are no extraordinary activities to do in the area. You can wander about and take in the atmosphere of the neighborhood.

Grant, Stockton, and the side streets provide an excellent cultural experience outside Asia to learn about Chinese culture. There are several Chinese tourist bazaar shops in the area, a Chinese butcher, spice and herb shops, and restaurants.

There are many attractions within Chinatown that you shouldn’t miss on a walking tour. The Dragon’s Gate, the Fortune Cookie Factory, Taoist Temples, and the California Ave Cable Car are included in the list. Before leaving the place, purchase a Chinese ‘trinket’ as your travel memento!

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25. Watch the sea lions dance at Pier 39

People walking around pier 39's carousel in San Francisco
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

Address: The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94133, United States

At the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 is a 45-acre waterfront marketplace and pier. It provides various attractions and activities that will keep you entertained. Street performances, seafood restaurants, souvenir stores, and boat tours–Pier 39 has it!

If you’re a fan of adventure and thrills, try Pier 39’s 7D Experience as one of the things to do in California once you visit! This interactive activity offers a movie, roller coaster ride, 7D dark ride, and video game in one. Meanwhile, if you’re traveling with kids, challenge them to find their way through Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze. 

Also, don’t miss the herds of sea lions who lounge about on the decks of the San Francisco pier. These mammals are affectionately dubbed the “Sea Lebrities” of Pier 39. Their number grows by as many as 900 during the winter season. Visit during this time to catch these “sea lebrities!”

26. Explore the Lands End & Sutro Baths

Lands End & Sutro Baths

Address: 1004 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121, USA

Lands End, a coastal sanctuary in San Francisco’s northern extremity, awaits enthusiastic visitors and hikers alike. The Golden Gate Bridge, the Pacific Ocean, and the Marin Headlands are visible as soon as you leave your car.

You’ll also see the USS San Francisco Memorial, the Sutro Baths, the Cliff House, and many more historic sites and themes! You can spend time alone seeing the Sutro Baths ruins or add a short hike along this stunning section of the Coastal Trail on a walking tour.

You can visit the Lands End Trail and the Sutro Baths anytime because they are open year-round. The heaviest traffic is expected to occur during the summer months. Beyond that, it’s all about personal taste and taste preferences.

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27. Enjoy the Stunning views at the Angel Island

Angel Island

Address: Belvedere Tiburon, San Francisco Bay, CA, United States

Angel Island occupies the middle of San Francisco Bay and is the second-largest island in terms of land area. On a clear day, Sonoma and Napa may be seen from the island’s north side, while San Jose can be viewed from the south.

Angel Island is commonly referred to as the “least renowned” Alcatraz. However, this means it is less busy and expensive than its Bay Island counterpart. It’s also a one-stop shop for day trips from San Francisco.

History, nature, and a beautiful café by the sea are all available here. It’s possible to do most of the island’s activities in one day. Bring your bike or rent one to get around this San Francisco island.

28. Tour the Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards

Address: 334 Ingalls St, Suite A, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, United States

It’s a little-known fact that the Santa Cruz Mountains are home to an abundance of world-class vineyards. Wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains is an excellent alternative to Napa or Sonoma, so I’ve put up this complete guide to wine tasting in the area.

In addition to its beautiful vineyards, Santa Cruz is generally less congested than other “wine country” destinations. Tuscan architecture, hiking trails, and magnificent vistas of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pacific Ocean may be found at some of these wineries.

See Related: Best Breweries in Northern California

29. Catch a wave at the Malibu Surfrider Beach

Malibu Surfrider Beach

Address: 23050 & 23200 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265

One of the most enjoyable activities that can be enjoyed in California is surfing, so grab your board and get into your wetsuit as soon as you can.

The advent of surfing as an all-weather, all-season outdoor sport in the 1950s and 1960s caused the once-famous point break to become a well-known destination for surfers.

Although Malibu is most known for its wealthy and famous people, the city is also becoming increasingly popular among surfers. Where Malibu Creek drains into the Pacific Ocean is where you’ll find Surfrider Beach. This beach is 30 miles west of Los Angeles in the Malibu Lagoon.

Stay in Calabasas for easy access to both Malibu and Los Angeles. The star-studded town is less than an hour from both hotspots.

30. Take time to relax at the Beverly Hot Springs Spa

Beverly Hot Springs Spa

Address: 308 N Oxford Ave, LA, CA 90004, USA

Nothing is more enjoyable than relaxing in a natural hot spring with your friends in California while taking in the breathtaking scenery that surrounds you, especially if the spring is in a scenic location.

Beverly Hot Springs is the only location in Los Angeles where visitors can soak in hot springs made entirely of natural materials. The spa provides a variety of services, including a dip in the natural springs, and is only a 10-minute drive from downtown.

When a local bought the land in 1910, he discovered the springs on the property for the first time. The spa concept was born after discovering this unique water’s medicinal powers.

Even though a handful can be found in Southern California, most of the state’s most impressive hot springs are located in the state’s Northern California and Eastern regions, particularly in and around the Eastern Sierra region.

See Related: Free California Travel Guide

31. Stroll around the USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Museum

Address: 910 N Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101, USA

The USS Midway Museum is a popular destination in San Diego for anyone interested in nautical history and offers visitors the chance to walk aboard the Midway aircraft carrier itself.

With the help of the self-guided audio tour, you can independently investigate the Midway in San Diego and the other exhibits.

In any other case, you can go on the Island Tour with one of the knowledgeable tour guides this museum in San Diego provides, which is included in the entry price.

See Related: Activities to do in Palm Desert

32. Take a road trip at the 17-mile Drive

17-mile Drive

Address: 17-mile Dr, California, USA

The 17-mile Drive, which runs from Monterey to Carmel-by-the-Sea via the exclusive gated town of Pebble Beach, provides a wonderful introduction to the breathtaking scenery of Central California.

The Lone Cypress Tree, Bird Rock, and Del Monte Forest are just a few of the must-sees along the way. This an excellent introduction to the iconic Central California landscape through a road trip.

See Related: Epic Waterfalls in California

33. Visit The Hess Collection Winery and Art Museum

Hess Collection Winery and Art Museum

Address: 4511 Redwood Drive Napa, California 94458 (707) 251-2438

The Hess Collection Winery and Art Museum’s sustainability ethos is well-known throughout California. This winery and Napa Valley museum sit at Mount Veeder’s summit.

The Hess family’s private art collection is a must-see, as is a ride on high-performance ATVs through the stunning vineyards. You can visit and taste anything on their list of wines while looking at the displayed art within, as well as the scenic views of the valley.

34. Marvel at the colors of the Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain and Skyline

Address: Beal Rd, Calipatria, CA 92233, United States

It’s hard to believe that there’s a place called Salvation Mountain in the middle of a baking desert. You’ll have to head 84 miles south of Palm Springs to see it in person. Slab City, a transitory and retiree commune in Southern California, is home to Salvation Mountain, which is known as the last free spot in the United States.

If you are familiar with Niland in the Colorado Desert, it is right outside of that area, located in Imperial County, California. It is also only a few miles east of the Salton Sea in the Colorado Desert.

On the mountain, there are several reminders of the love of God, with the most prominent one being “God is Love.” All over the mountain are biblical and religious passages and verses, but the Sinner’s Prayer is the one that stands out the most. This place is a Mecca for hippies, hobos, folks who live off the grid, and shutterbugs!

See Related: Best Restaurants in Palm Springs

35. Enjoy outdoor activities at Mono Lake in Southern California

Mono Lake and Skyline

Address: Highway 395, 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, near the town of Lee Vining, California

The ancient saline lake of Mono is nestled on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Mono Lake is a dream destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, offering a unique environment that promises to awe and inspire tourists from every corner of the globe.

For those passionate about nature and photography, Mono Lake is a haven. It boasts hiking and walking paths, kayaking opportunities, and an abundance of locations for bird-watching and picture-taking.

Moreover, the Mono Lake Committee offers diverse guided programs throughout the year, from one-hour walking tours to multiple-day field lectures.

Tours in California

1. San Diego Whale Watching Cruise Top Recommendation

Take a trip out to sea on a San Diego sailing cruise. The America is a replica of the first US sailing yacht to win the America's Cup. You’ll enjoy listening to your expert guide as they share stories, facts and folklore about gray whales, dolphins, and other marine animals. Learn interesting details about the US Navy sites you pass as you head out on the Pacific Ocean.

2. San Francisco: California Sunset/Twilight Boat Cruise

There is a unique way to see San Francisco and San Francisco Bay from a boat. The day begins with spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower and Alcatraz, followed by an exciting sail past Angel Island and Tiburon, under the bridge and around Sausalito.

3. Los Angeles: Hollywood & Celebrity Homes Open-Air Bus Tour

See and be seen on a Hollywood Stars Homes Tour open-top bus tour. This 2.5 hour tour allows you to get up close and personal with the glittering homes of Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Malibu as your professional guide tells you about all the famous homeowners that live in these opulent mansions.

Related Resources

Kyle Kroeger
WRITTEN BY

Kyle Kroeger

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. Read more about his portfolio of work.

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