As one of the largest states in the United States, there are so many things to do in California. From big cities and cute towns to beautiful beaches, deserts and mountains, here are the best places to visit and top things to do in the Golden State which are perfect for any California Travel Bucket List.
California Bucket List
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I have family in California so I try to visit at least once a year. Some of these must see places I have already visited and recommend and the rest are places that look so beautiful or sound so interesting that I have added them to my personal California travel bucket list. So read on if you are looking for inspiration and ideas for your own California travel bucket list.
- Explore San Francisco. Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge and visiting Alcatraz are at the top of my Northern California bucket list. Read: 2 Days in San Francisco: The Perfect Itinerary (As Written By a Local!)
- See the majestic Redwood forest at Muir Woods, home to some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world. While you can drive there you can also book a full day or half day tour from San Francisco.
- Explore Yosemite National Park.
- Visit Los Angeles. There are a lot of bucket list things to do in and around LA including hiking to the Hollywood sign, shopping on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Sunset Boulevard, Griffith Observatory, Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Read: 3 Days in Los Angeles: The Perfect Itinerary
- Visit Sausalito, an old ship-building town in San Francisco’s North Bay packed to the brim with art galleries, fancy restaurants, boutique fashion and homewares stores, and some expensive places to live.
- Go wine tasting at Napa Valley and Sonoma County in Northern California, as easy day trip from San Francisco.
- Have fun at Disneyland.
- Visit Palm Springs.
- Enjoy sunny San Diego.
- Visit La Jolla, a beach town just outside San Diego, which is a playground for surfers, beach bums, volleyball players, and others who enjoy the endless Southern California sun.
- Explore Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest state park, which is full of acres of desert terrain, including dramatic badlands, cool palm oases, twisting slot canyons, and cactus-studded slopes. In the spring, the park blossoms with one of the country’s most dazzling wildflower blooms. It is also a great spot for stargazing and has been designated an International Dark Sky Park.
- Visit Joshua Tree National Park and adjacent town of Joshua Tree. Explore the arid desert landscape, incredible rock formations, and groves of the unique Joshua trees that give the areas its name.
- Explore Big Sur. Highlights include Bixby Bridge (famous for being the tallest concrete bridge in the world and is one of the most photographed in the western United States), McWay Falls, Pfeiffer Beach, and Ragged Point.
- Explore Death Valley National Park.
- Visit Solvang, a charming historic Danish village.
- Visit the seaside town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a beautiful seaside city famous for its fairy tale buildings.
- Drive the 17-Mile Drive, a short but scenic drive through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula which passes famous golf courses, mansions and scenic attractions.
- Visit Lake Tahoe. Read: Summer in Lake Tahoe Itinerary
- Santa Catalina Island, a rocky island off the coast of Southern California.
- Visit Monterey. Highlights include Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Old Fisherman’s Wharf for a meal and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
- Visit Lake Arrowhead, a mountain retreat surrounded by cozy cabins and quaint hotels. Whether you’re visiting in summer or winter, there is always something to do in Lake Arrowhead, ranging from biking and fishing to skiing.
- Visit the beautiful city of Santa Barbara known for its great vineyards and delicious wine, as well as its great combination of classic Southern California architecture, nature, and charming museums.
- Visit Slab City, a lawless community of squatters, artists and snowbirds located in the desert that is referred to as “the last free place” in the US.
- Take photos at the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch where nearly fifty acres of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers are in bloom from early March through early May every year.
- Visit Laguna Beach, a small coastal town in Orange County and one of the prettiest beach areas in California. (I used to watch the popular reality show set here which makes me more motivated to visit.)
- Visit Malibu, a beach city near LA and home to many Hollywood movie stars and other famous celebrities. In addition to the trendy stores and upscale restaurants, enjoy the city’s natural attractions including Malibu Creek State Park, Paradise Cove, Point Dume State Beach and Preserve, and Malibu Lagoon State Beach.
- Visit Santa Cruz, a city in Northern California known for its moderate climate, natural environment, coastline, redwood forests, alternative community lifestyles, and socially liberal leanings. The main attraction is the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, where you’ll find an amusement park right on the beach.
- Visit Sacramento, the underrated capital city of California. Attractions not to miss include the California State Capitol and the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.
- Explore the Point Reyes National Seashore. In addition to picturesque cliffs and beaches, highlights include seeing elephant seals, visiting a historic lighthouse and driving down the canopy of Cypress trees.
- Visit Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, famous for its sand-like colorful glass stones.
- Visit The Sequoia & Kings Canyon national parks. These adjacent parks are home to the world’s largest trees.
- See giant California redwoods at Redwood National Park.
- Visit the 129-foot Burney Falls at McArthur-Burney Memorial Falls State Park. The falls are spring-fed so they are always full of water year round. While it is not the highest or largest waterfall in California, many people consider it the most beautiful (Teddy Roosevelt called Burney Falls the “eighth wonder of the world”).
- Explore Lassen Volcanic National Park. This lesser known national park in Northern California is full of beautiful mountains, lakes and volcanic areas with few crowds.
- Drive through the Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile scenic drive among the redwoods running through Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
- See the beautiful flower fields of Antelope Valley in the spring.
- See Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states.
- Drive the California portion of Historic Route 66 from Santa Monica through the Mojave Desert to Needles at the Arizona state line.
- Take a Pacific Coast Highway road trip along the coast of California which is without a doubt one of the best road trips in the USA. Many of the places mentioned on this California bucket list are along the Pacific Coast Highway so this is a great way to check a few destinations off your California bucket list.
Need more travel bucket list inspiration? You might enjoy our other travel bucket lists:
- USA Travel Bucket List: 100+ Best Places to Visit
- The Best Road Trips in the USA
- Bucket List Places to Visit On the West Coast
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