25 Best Things to Do in California

California is known as the Golden State, a name that was given because it attracted tens of thousands of people in the gold rush in 1849. The state is not only one of the largest states in the US but also the most populous one. Located in the far west of the country, California is limited by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Oregon to the north, Arizona and Nevada to the east, and the Mexican State of Baja California to the south.

California’s economic importance is enormous. Proof of this is the fact that it is the largest industrial center in the US. In fact, if California were a country, it would be the seventh-largest economy in the world. And this is partially because Silicon Valley is located in the state. This is a region that houses a group of the largest companies in the world in the area of technology and information.

Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in California

Source: Map data @2022 Google

1. Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge
Source: Flickr / Steven Ramirez | Public Domain

Among the must-see programs in San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge, the most famous bridge in the world. The landmark is a 4,200-ft art deco suspension bridge and is open to cars, bikes, and pedestrians. Inaugurated in 1937, the bridge has a genius design and engineering that stood the test of time, practicality, and earthquakes.

Interestingly, the bridge is said to be both famous and temperamental since it is difficult to see it without fog around it. It offers a very nice walk across, great views of the Bay area, and the opportunity to watch big ships and planes passing by.

2. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Source: Unsplash / Cullen Jones

Located in the Sierra Nevada, the iconic Yosemite National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the US. The park offers an array of options such as hiking among redwoods and river rafting. Yosemite has numerous waterfalls, one more beautiful than the other, in addition to beautiful views. There are activities for all tastes, for the laziest, for the cautious, for the adventurous, and for those who like adrenaline.

Its highlights include the largest waterfall in North America (Yosemite Falls), the most famous vertical rock in the world (El Capitan), and the giant redwoods. Some other attractions within the park are Yosemite Upper and Lower Falls, Vernal Fall / Mist Trail, Nevada Fall, Half Dome, Glacier Point, Mirror Lake, Tunnel View, and Bridalveil Fall.

3. Disneyland Park

Disneyland Park
Source: Flickr / HarshLight | CC BY 2.0

Located in Anaheim, Disney California complex has two theme parks, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure. The complex also features three hotels, a convention center, and the lively Downtown Disney, an entertainment center with shops, bars, and restaurants.

Opened in 1955, Disneyland is the pride of Californians and the fulfillment of Walt Disney’s dream. This is a land full of fairytale princesses, exotic jungles, space galaxies, many incredible characters, and retro decor completely different from other Disneys. In fact, this was the first Disney park in the world. With 8 themed “lands”, the park’s highlights include the Main Street with the Sleeping Beauty Castle and Tomorrowland and its famous Space Mountain.

4. Hollywood Sign

Hollywood Sign
Source: Pexels / Paul Deetman

Erected in 1923, Hollywood Sign is a symbolic landmark on Mount Lee in Griffith Park in a private area that is prohibited and monitored 24 hours a day. That is, it is not possible to touch the Hollywood sign, but you can get very close, especially if you are willing to walk or take a horse ride. For the adventurous ones, there is still the option of hiking 5 miles from the Griffith Observatory.

Keep in mind that photographing the sign is not a simple task. The easiest and most comfortable way to photograph the sign is from inside the Hollywood Highland shopping mall. And for those who do not have the time or willingness to face a heavy trail uphill, there are some viewpoints accessible by car and with very special views of the most famous sign in LA.

5. San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo
Source: Unsplash / Victoria Landavazo

San Diego Zoo features giraffes, koalas, apes, and more, plus a safari park for tours and a conservation society. It is recommended to start your visit with a bus tour that takes around 30 minutes and covers about 70% of the zoo.

The tour is great for those who do not like to walk a lot, or for those who want to have an overview of the park before starting to wander. The ride is nice, and if you sit at the top you will have privileged views of some animals such as the Polar Bear and the Hippo. Another special tip to get the best views is to sit on the right side of the bus. After the tour, you can walk around the zoo on foot and visit exhibits such as the Australian Outback, Urban Jungle, Panda Canyon, Lost Forest, and many more.

6. Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood
Source: Flickr / vagueonthehow | CC BY 2.0

Unlike the Orlando park, Universal Studios Hollywood in LA is small and welcoming offering a unique opportunity to visitors: getting to know Universal’s movie and program recording locations. This is actually an incredible amusement park with a fully functioning movie studio. Breathtaking toys, unforgettable attractions, and thematic areas that resemble great films cause an incredible sensation and are an important part of the fun that the park provides. 

Cinema lovers cannot fail to take the Studio Tour, which shows the real places where several cinema classics were recorded, such as Jurassic Park and King Kong. And if you like special effects, you cannot miss the Special Effects Stage, a great theater where some special effects secrets that enchant us in the movies are revealed.

7. Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier
Source: Flickr / Tony Hisgett | CC BY 2.0

Located 40 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica Pier is one of LA’s most classic visitation spots. The pier is the endpoint of the famous Route 66, a highway that cuts the US from east to west. Also, it is the setting for several films, including the unforgettable Forest Gump. 

Inaugurated in 1909, the pier is a seaside destination boasting a range of shops and cafes, plus an amusement park and aquarium. At the pier, enjoy the lights of the old amusement park and end the day by strolling through the open-air shopping center next door. Children cannot miss the first roller coaster and the first carousel on the American West Coast. And check out the famous Bubba Gump Shrimp, perfect for those who are passionate about seafood.

8. Hollywood Walk of Fame

Hollywood Walk of Fame
Source: Flickr / Ken Lund | CC BY-SA 2.0

The Hollywood Walk of Fame is one mile long and is full of stars with the names of celebrities and people who worked behind the scenes in Los Angeles. The attraction was founded in 1960 and the first 8 stars can still be found at the corner of Highland Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard.

Since then, about 2600 people have been honored. What few people know is that the privilege of the star, in addition to passing through the votes of a special committee, costs the studio or individual honored about $ 30,000. While there, check out the Chinese Theater, the Oscar Theater (Dolby Theater), and the Hollywood Museum as you walk down the street.

9. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park
Source: Unsplash / Elliott Engelmann

The renowned desert Joshua Tree National Park draws campers and hikers with its geologic wonders and signature Joshua trees. These special trees belong to the cactus family and only grow in very dry places with an altitude above 650 ft. The park is just a few hours driving from some of the major cities in California. And it is great for those who enjoy trails, climbing, mountain biking, bird watching, and photography. 

The park has at least 10 light walking routes, which can be done by anyone with peace of mind. The most popular one is the Cholla Cactus Gardens, a beautiful garden of mini cactus. For more difficult trails, the Panorama Loop is recommended. Other good options are the Skull Rock trail, an easy walk to explore the desert landscapes, and the Hidden Valley, a route that takes about 1 hour and which was used by cattle thieves.

10. Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Source: Flickr / mLu.fotos | CC BY 2.0

The well-known Monterey Bay Aquarium sits on a rocky coastline with exhibits ranging from otter habitats to touch pools. Fast sardines, dancing jellyfish, and cute otters are some good reasons for you to visit the Monterey Aquarium. And as many aquariums around the world, Monterey also has a tank dedicated to Nemo and his friends.

Unless you arrive at the aquarium at the time of fish feeding (11 am), start the tour through the “Kelp Forest” on the first floor. If you arrive early you will find divers cleaning the aquarium and interacting with the little ones. Continue the walk along the floor, getting to know the octopus, morays, and animals of the region. Afterward, go up the stairs and get ready for a show of swimming sardines in the round aquarium.

11. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Source: Flickr / Allie Caulfield | CC BY 2.0

With a vintage feel and opened in 1907, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the classic example of an American amusement park that you see in the movies. The park has several toys: roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, a cute colored cable car, and much more. In addition to the toys, there is an arcade and all kinds of carnival food you can dream of, including corn dogs, pizzas, sandwiches, ice cream, and family size soft drinks.

The Boardwalk is in front of Main Beach, a mile-long stretch of sandy beach. In fact, this is Santa Cruz’s most popular beach, and many families combine the day at the beach with a toy or another to liven up the kids.

12. Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe
Source: Flickr / Eric Moreno | CC BY 2.0

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and the second deepest in the US. Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the lake sits on the border between California and Nevada and is mostly known for its beaches and ski resorts.

The water is crystal-clear with snow-capped peaks in the background offering some of the best scenic views in the area. The lake itself is huge, so you might have to choose between North and South Tahoe. Just keep in mind that the famous Emerald Bay with its Fannette Island and Vikingsholm can be found in the South Tahoe.

13. Six Flags Magic Mountain

Six Flags Magic Mountain
Source: Flickr / Jeremy Thompson | CC BY 2.0

Six Flags Magic Mountain was opened in 1971, in Valencia, in the north of Los Angeles, and today is one of the most visited amusement parks in California. The park is famous for having the most extreme roller coasters in the world, in addition to a series of other incredible attractions. In total, the park is home to 15 breathtaking roller coasters, which has earned it the title of the largest amusement park with so many roller coasters worldwide.

This is actually a theme park with characters from films, cartoons, and HQ’s, managed by one of the biggest and most famous movie studios, Warner Brothers in partnership with DC Comics. Each attraction there is dedicated to a character. So be sure to take some pictures with your favorite character. 

14. PIER 39

Source: Flickr / Mike McBey | CC BY 2.0

The bustling bayside Pier 39 features scenic views, sea-lion sightings, eateries, shops, and entertainment. This is one of the most touristic places in San Francisco, a lively complex of shops and restaurants, the starting point for several tours, and home to a lively group of sea lions.

In addition to seeing and photographing sea lions, Pier 39 has beautiful views of Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the San Francisco Mountains. Overall, the pier is very cute, a perfect wooden structure full of cute and well-decorated shops. Despite not being a cheap place, Pier 39 has a lot of cool things and lots of very different souvenirs.

15. Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks
Source: Flickr / Carol M. Highsmith | Public Domain

Redwood National Park, located near the northern region of San Francisco, is considered one of the largest visitation centers in all of California. There are countless redwoods of impressive heights that make any visitor delighted with the place, in addition to beautiful landscapes that make it even more special. Simply because the park has been named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, in itself, it is already very nice to include it in your travel itinerary.

Among the main things that you can see in this park are some of the tallest trees on the entire coast, as well as super ancient redwoods that reach the age of more than 2,000 years. There, it is also possible to do several hikes that can go from 30 minutes to 6 h.

16. Malibu Pier

Malibu Pier
Source: Flickr / Keith Yahl | CC BY 2.0

The 1905 Malibu Pier is one of the most famous attractions in the region and is nothing more than a cute pier on Surfrider Beach. At low tide, it is possible to access Carbon Beach by the waterfront and see up close some of the famous Malibu houses in California. The pier is one of the icons of the region and a good place to eat, stroll, watch surfers in action, and hopefully even spot some jumping dolphins. This is also where the trendy Malibu Farms restaurant is located, a sure choice for a fancy lunch or coffee.

Malibu itself has more than 300 days a year of sunshine, beautiful beaches for those who like to stretch out on the sand, and for those who surf. It has fresh air and nature around it, all less than an hour from Los Angeles.

17. Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory
Source: Unsplash / Sherman Yang

Focused on science and astronomy, Griffith Observatory is an art deco landmark from 1935 featuring a high-tech planetarium, public telescopes, and city views. The observatory is located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood, within the gigantic Griffith Park Los Angeles, which is the second-largest park in the state of California.

There are exhibitions on both sides and the planetarium is in the center. In the exhibition on the ground floor, on the right is the “Hall of the Sky”, with informative exhibitions about the sun, seasons, eclipses, elements of the periodic table, among others. On the left, in the “Hall of the Eye” area, there is an exhibition about telescopes, how to observe the stars, and a model of the Griffith Observatory. And be sure to take pictures on Foucault’s pendulum and to visit the Greek Theater, home to several outdoor shows.

18. Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park
Source: Unsplash / Roberto Nickson

Sequoia National Park is a vast, iconic mountain wilderness known for conserved giant sequoia tree groves, and trails. It is surreal to see the giant Sequoia trees in person. Pictures and words cannot really do them justice because most people have no real frame of reference to understand just how large these trees are.

The Giant Sequoia National Monument is located in the national forest. And one of the forest’s highlight is the Hart Tree Trail accessible through a 2-mile dirt road. You can also choose to camp out next to the Kern River where the water levels are not too high.

19. The Painted Ladies

The Painted Ladies
Source: Unsplash / Ross Joyner

The famous postcard of San Francisco, the Painted Ladies, is the kind nickname for the cute colorful Victorian-style houses built in the 1890s. The most famous houses are definitely the ones that are in the Alamo State Park. They have appeared in several films and series, including the Full House series.

You will definitely want to spend a lot of time taking pictures there. Try to go in the afternoon, because, besides enjoying the picnic in the park in front, you still have a very beautiful view of the sunset taking over the city. With any luck, you will also be presented with an exclusive soundtrack from the musicians who constantly pass by.

20. Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island
Source: Unsplash / Alex Andru

Known as the most feared maximum-security prison in the United States, Alcatraz Island is now part of a national park and is one of the most popular attractions in San Francisco. The tour, which begins with a quick boat ride, tells the whole story of the occupation of Alcatraz, a story that goes well beyond its times as a prison. 

Throughout the years, Alcatraz served as a military base, prison for the American army, and more recently was invaded by indigenous tribes claiming their rights. Also, the notorious prison was once home to Al Capone and the island served as a sanctuary for birds for many years.

21. 17-Mile Drive

17-Mile Drive
Source: Flickr / Alberto Cabello | CC BY 2.0

The 17-Mile Drive is a beautiful road that connects the cities of Monterey to Carmel. This is a path full of bucolic landscapes, deserted beaches, neat slopes cut by white waves, and the famous Lone Cypress. You can take the route in either direction: from Carmel to Monterey or from Monterey to Carmel. This route can be done by car or bicycle.

Some of the points of interest you will want to make sure you see are the Spanish Bay Beach, Restless Sea, and the 250-year-old Lone Cypress. However, the view itself is incredible from every point of the road. You can see cormorants and sea lions, roaring waves, and the famous cypress tree. The brochure given at the entrance of the drive is a good guide. 

22. Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks
Source: Unsplash / Robert Bye

From Twin Peaks, you can see different areas of San Francisco because it is located in a very central area of the city. The hills, located 980 ft meters high, are the highest point to observe San Francisco. It is a great way to start falling in love with the city, especially if you can witness the fog show coming up while you are up there.

Twin Peaks is close to the Golden Gate Park, a few blocks from its east end. You can climb up to the very top by car and then take a one-minute trail. In general, it is easy to park the car, but during times of greatest demand, you may have some difficulty. With a little patience, you will certainly find a spot though.

23. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Source: Unsplash / Ruben Gutierrez

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, better known as LACMA, is the largest art museum on the American West Coast, with 200,000 square meters divided into nine pavilions. There you can find works dating from 10,000 BC to contemporary artists of different nationalities. In addition to the exhibitions, the museum also offers cinema shows, alternative events, jazz concerts, and excellent restaurants. For this reason, it is very worthwhile to consult the museum’s cultural agenda and plan to attend any event during your visit.

A curiosity about the museum is that despite the incredible collection organized inside the pavilions, the most photographed part of LACMA is the one outside the building. It is the work Urban Light, by Cris Burden, which gives LACMA its identity.

24. Knott’s Berry Farm

Knotts Berry Farm
Source: Flickr / Jack Miller | CC BY-SA 2.0

The classic theme park of Knott’s Berry Farm boasts fast rides, old-fashioned charm, and famous fried chicken. The entertainment complex is located in the city of Buena Park, about 18 miles from Los Angeles. Opened in 1940, this is actually one of the oldest and most traditional parks in all of California.

There are about 40 attractions for different ages. One of the most famous rides is the Silver Bullet, which opened in 2004 and is considered the longest inverted roller coaster on the West Coast of the US. They also have less radical attractions, such as the Butterfield Stagecoach, a carriage ride that has been around since 1949. At this attraction, visitors are taken to explore the Fiesta Village, Camp Snoopy, and Indian Trails areas.

25. Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park
Source: Unsplash / Andrew Charney

The vast Death Valley National Park covers 3.4 million acres of desert and mountains for hiking, camping, and biking. The region is a unique place of ancient rock formation, with great depressions in the territory, which makes its surface one of the hottest places on the planet. It is a rock desert, which was once a lake and has large accumulations of salt on its surface.

There are towering mountains and depressions below sea level, so get ready for stunning scenery. The park has many sights and observation sites. Do not forget to register at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center upon arrival. And be sure to visit Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, Bad Water, and the colorful mountains of Artist’s Pallete.