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Add these spots to your bucket list: Our favorite places to visit in California

road near ocean
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California has a spot for many when it comes to their travel bucket list. And for good reason! California offers some of the best attractions and natural wonders in the country. From big cities to national parks, there’s something for everyone in the Golden State. Here are some of our favorite places to visit in California:

1. San Francisco

golden gate bridge
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Golden Gate Bridge

Ah, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge – the ultimate San Francisco experience. Stroll or cycle across the bridge, or simply gaze at it from Crissy Field or Fort Point. Trust me, the views never get old.

Alcatraz Island

A quick ferry ride from Fisherman’s Wharf, and you’ll find yourself on the infamous Alcatraz Island, where you can get a fascinating look into the history of one of the world’s most infamous prisons. 

Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

Fisherman’s Wharf is a lively waterfront hub packed with restaurants, shops, and street performers. But the real stars are the playful sea lions basking at Pier 39. Prepare for some serious cuteness overload.

2. Los Angeles

red car on road with hollywood sign in background
Daniel Semenov / Pexels

Hollywood

Hollywood is the epicenter of the entertainment world. Stroll the iconic Walk of Fame, visit the TCL Chinese Theatre, and hike up to the Hollywood Sign for Instagram-worthy views.

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier is the quintessential California beach experience. Ride the rollercoaster, pet the sea lions at the aquarium, or just watch the sunset while munching on a hot dog.

Griffith Observatory

For panoramic views that will take your breath away, head to Griffith Observatory. Gaze at the city skyline and the Hollywood Sign, and even catch a glimpse of the stars – celestial and celebrity alike.

3. Yosemite National Park

mountain and waterfall near lake
Mick Haupt / Unsplash

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite is a natural wonderland, and Yosemite Valley is its crown jewel. Prepare to be awed by the towering granite cliffs, like El Capitan and Half Dome, and the thundering waterfalls.

Mariposa Grove

If you’ve ever dreamed of hugging a tree, Mariposa Grove is the place to do it. Home to over 500 giant sequoias, including the famous Grizzly Giant, it’s a humbling experience.

Glacier Point

For a view that will make your jaw drop, head to Glacier Point. From this vantage point, you’ll feast your eyes on Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra peaks. Heaven on Earth? You bet.

4. San Diego

boat in body of water
Daniel Guerra / Unsplash

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a must-see spot in the heart of San Diego. With its world-class museums, lush gardens, and the renowned San Diego Zoo, it’s the perfect place to spend a day exploring art, science, and nature.

La Jolla

La Jolla is a coastal gem with rugged cliffs, hidden coves, and crystal-clear waters. Kayak, snorkel, or simply soak up the sun – this place is pure bliss.

Gaslamp Quarter

For a taste of San Diego’s vibrant nightlife and dining scene, head to the historic Gaslamp Quarter. With its Victorian architecture and buzzing streets, it’s the perfect spot for a night out on the town.

5. Big Sur

white bridge over sea during daytime
Spencer Davis / Unsplash

Bixby Creek Bridge

The Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most photographed spots along the iconic Highway 1. And for good reason – the views of the rugged coastline and the Pacific Ocean are simply breathtaking.

McWay Falls

Prepare to be stunned by McWay Falls, an 80-foot wonder cascading straight into the ocean at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The hike’s a breeze, but the view is unforgettable.

Pfeiffer Beach

With its unique purple sand and dramatic rock formations, Pfeiffer Beach is a true hidden gem. It’s a little off the beaten path, but trust me, it’s worth the effort to find this secluded paradise.

6. Napa Valley

green and orange hot air balloon flying over mountains
Sebastien Gabriel / Unsplash

Wine tasting tours

Napa Valley is a dream come true for those who enjoy wine. With hundreds of world-class wineries, like Robert Mondavi and Beringer, you’ll have the chance to sample some of California’s finest vinos.

Hot air balloon rides

Want to make an unforgettable memory? Soar above the wineries in a hot air balloon! As you float over Napa’s rolling vineyards and hills, you’ll understand why this place is so special.

7. Lake Tahoe

lake surrounded by trees
Jeremy Doddridge / Unsplash

Ski resorts

During winter, Lake Tahoe transforms into a snowy playground for skiers and snowboarders. With world-class resorts like Palisades Tahoe and Heavenly, it’s the perfect spot for hitting the slopes.

Lake activities

Come summer, Tahoe is all about the lake. Boating, fishing, swimming – you name it, you can do it here. And with those crystal-clear waters and alpine scenery, it’s a little slice of heaven.

Hiking and biking

If you’re a nature lover, you’ll be spoiled for choice with Tahoe’s miles of hiking and biking trails. The Tahoe Rim Trail offers jaw-dropping views that will make you fall even more in love with the great outdoors.

8. Death Valley National Park

person in the middle of sand dunes
Yuval Levy / Unsplash

Badwater Basin

As the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin is a surreal landscape like no other. The vast salt flats stretch as far as the eye can see, creating an otherworldly scene.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are a photographer’s dream. These undulating dunes are especially stunning at sunrise and sunset when the colors are simply magical.

Dante’s View

For a panoramic view that will take your breath away, head to Dante’s View. From this vantage point, you can see both the highest and lowest points in the contiguous United States – talk about contrasts!

Kelly Baker
Kelly is a writer who loves good books, baking homemade bread, playing the piano, and spending time with her family.
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