California. Love her or hate her, she’s powerful and gigantic and beautiful and opinionated.
But there is so much to her, you can’t help but be drawn right in.
Gorgeous cities with marvellous bridges, mountain peaks higher than all the other 48, ocean cliffs that fall gracefully into the sea, it’s like another country representing every ecosystem and habitat available on Earth.
It’s difficult to whittle down, but I’ve managed to round up my picks for the top 11 most interesting and beautiful places in California.
So, read on to see what this unique and intriguing state has to offer.
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San Francisco has history, culture and aesthetically pleasing views that never stop. I can’t think of a better introduction to what represents California so perfectly than San Francisco.
Coastal towns, bridges, multicultural neighborhoods and even thousand year old trees briefly describe what is impossible to fit in a few paragraphs. When you visit this city, you just know you’ll have to come back for more.
With the top of the list containing a bridge, Golden Gate Bridge is every bit as fabulous in person as you may think. It definitely deserves an afternoon devoted to its visit. Walk across the bridge and feel the spiraling wind in your hair. There’s nothing like looking down to the torrential water 300 feet below you.
Then drive over the bridge, pull over and picnic with the Pacific and the bridge as your guest. I guarantee that your sandwich will taste better with that view.
And don’t miss hanging out in the city! Chinatown, Haight-Ashbury, Fisherman’s Wharf and Nob Hill are just a few of the personalities that San Francisco has up her sleeve.
Golden Gate Park is also a great place to take in some nature without leaving the city.
With so many possibilities to offer, it’s little wonder why I consider SF to be one of the best places to visit in California.
Among the most interesting and beautiful places to visit in California, one of my top picks is San Diego. I call this city my “home away from home” as I have spent so much time there the past seven years while I’ve traveled the country with my family.
And what a fantastic place to call home it is! Sea lions, crystal clear ocean views, an eclectic downtown and weather that couldn’t be better, make this city a top destination.
My favorite place, bar none to visit is La Jolla. You will feel like you’ve been transported to an Italian riviera in this sparkling jewel on the cliffs of San Diego. Don’t miss seeing the sea lions as they birth and nurture their calves on the beach. You can get so close you feel as if you can touch them. But, please don’t for both your sakes!
Carlsbad is another sea side village neighborhood that exemplifies what it is to live in a quintessential California beach town. With its perfect little beach homes and its walkable neighborhood restaurants, this is a town worth visiting in San Diego that you won’t want to part with.
PS: Don’t leave without going downtown to the Gaslamp Quarter District. Here, you can experience the soul of San Diego by picking one of their many fantastic restaurants to dine at and then finishing the night off with a club or live music performance. This is just another of the most exciting places to see in California that I highly recommend.
Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park is a California icon that brings visitors from all over the world to see the tallest trees on the planet – an honor that makes it more than deserving of a spot on my list of interesting and beautiful places to visit in California.
After 90% of the forest’s redwoods were harvested for building in San Francisco and other neighboring cities, people recognized the need to preserve these trees and the National Park was born in 1968.
In addition to endangered species such as the Northern Spotted Owl, Redwood National Park is home to other rare flora and fauna due to the deforestation of the area over time.
But, you can come and support the effort by educating yourself about these amazing trees and their habitat. Come hike the forest and visit the amazing coast of this fabulous national park and an American treasure.
A little known place hidden away among the peaks and valleys of the Eastern Sierra Mountains, Alabama Hills is a place born of uplifting that occurred 100 million years ago. Truly, it is a surreal place in California you must see to be believe.
Bulbous and eroding sandstone doesn’t sound romantic and intriguing until you stand in the middle of these decaying enigmas, wondering what it was like for the ancients that lived among them so long ago.
Come camp in its wonderment and awaken to snow-capped Mount Whitney as she beckons you to climb her. Explore the wind carved arches and secret passageways that make an adult a kid again. This is definitely something to make sure you see if you are on your way up Highway 395 towards Yosemite, as there is not another place like it.
Los Angeles is what put California on the world’s map. You can’t speak of California without images of movie stars and palm trees swirling around your cranium.
And while not all of Los Angeles is as glamorous as the movies, it isn’t hard to get a glimpse at the fabulous LA lifestyle made famous by popular culture.
All you need to do is walk down Rodeo Drive or drive through Beverly Hills for a taste of the excess and decadence that reign supreme in the “City of Angels”. Lavish and grand are the homes and the people that live in them made famous by the pictures we see on the screens.
While you visit, don’t miss the raw beauty in the form of Malibu or the fun to be had in Santa Monica. L.A. has something for everyone whether you’re looking for starlets and heroes or you want a fun time on the ocean.
Equal parts of excitement and amusement can be found in one of the most fun places to see in California.
Joshua Tree National Park
Easy to get to from L.A. and a great get-away if you are looking to get lost in nature, Joshua Tree National Park is a fantastic quick jaunt for the city loving dweller who needs a break from it all.
The topography is similar in a sense to Alabama Hills with its sandstone formations, but the arid climate and all things spiky make it different from its Eastern Sierra cousin. In addition, you have its namesake, the Joshua Tree that steals the show. Famous for its propensity to survive all odds, this tree is both picturesque and resilient, living on average 500 years.
Come to the park and hike the Cholla Cactus garden, but don’t get too close. My son got too curious and left with a few spiky cholla balls in his leg. The first aid kit at the trailhead tells the story of how often one is needed to remove said unwanted friends.
You can’t leave the park without seeing the famous Skull Rock and other amazing sandstone formations that make this park one for the books and a great California tourist attraction.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is up there with my favorite top three national parks in the U.S. Diverse and gorgeous, it beckons you to keep exploring as you move through its various domains that so perfectly represent the many faceted faces of California.
There’s the mountains and fields of flowers. Waterfalls and the overlooks that engage your senses. Yosemite Valley truly makes you feel like an ant in a terrarium and the sequoias of Mariposa Grove make you feel even smaller.
There’s also the forest friends that inhabit the park that aren’t afraid to come say hello, whether it’s a deer or a bear.
Yosemite has it all for the camp loving, photograph taking, trail seeking adventurer in everyone. This is why Yosemite National Park is one of the best places to travel in California.
Sequoyah National Park
On the other side of the Eastern Sierras, opposite of Yosemite and to the west, lies Sequoia National Park. Another grand site of epic proportions can be found in this park of over 8,000 trees that are among the largest and longest living trees on earth.
To walk among them is to feel the ages of time pass before you. One of the oldest and tallest trees in the world, “General Sherman” at 2,100 years old and 275 feet tall, stands in the park and has become world famous for being one of the most interesting things to see in California.
Come stay in the park at one of the five lodges, cabins or camping locations and wake up under the towering trees. This is just another one of the most beautiful places in California I’d highly recommend any visitor to go see.
Among other California places to visit is the great Lake Tahoe. Pristine and clean, this lake is a must see if you want to get away into the forest and relax on a gorgeous beach.
If you need to get a workout, you won’t find a better place to paddle board than the clear blue waters of Lake Tahoe. Images of Instagram may flash through your head as you remember the pictures of tourists seemingly hovering over the lake. It is indeed that gorgeous.
Come in the summer and get in some hiking, or ski Lake Tahoe in the winter at one of America’s finest resorts. Lake Tahoe is one of the best places to visit in California in any season.
Between Carmel and San Simeon lies a stretch of the California coast so majestic and untouched that it has been called “the greatest meeting between land and sea”. With the Santa Lucia Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, “it is the longest and most scenic stretch of coastline in the contiguous 48”, and hands down one of the best places to visit in California.
It’s difficult to put the scenery in words the first time you see it. The road twists and turns and is as tumultuous to navigate with a car as the waters are hundreds of feet below you.
Notable stops along the route include Calla Lilly Valley where you can see amazing naturally growing lilies against the backdrop of the ocean. Garrapata Beach is one of the only swimming beaches on the Big Sur Coast and is great for a dip. The Bixby Bridge, one of the most iconic fixtures of the west coast, is one of the most photographed stops of the area. And don’t miss Pfeiffer State Park and McWay Falls, which is famous for the waterfall that glides into the ocean.
There are many more stops to mention, but you’ll just have to see for yourself!
The last one the list is certainly not the least, but one of my favorite places in California for taking my hair down and really relaxing. I mean, how can you not with 75 degrees, a slight breeze and a hint of a wine buzz?
Napa Valley is world famous for it’s ability to craft the perfect grape that in turn produces the finest Cabernet Sauvignon in the world. Take a tour of some of the over 400 wineries in the region and find out why so many flock to spend time in such a gorgeous place.
You can drive around the region, or you can take a train. The Napa Valley Wine Train is a favorite among tourists and you can get a glimpse of the wine country in a unique way. Have lunch and wine taste on your trip as you watch the countryside pass you. This is one of those California places to visit that is a must see at least once in your lifetime.
Did we miss any of your favorite places in California?
Let us know in the comments if there are anymore places in California you’d like to see on our list!