Best Places to Visit in California in 2024

Los Angeles skyline at sunset – Best plans and things to do in California

Are you looking for the best places to visit in California?

From the best vacation spots in California to the top destinations in the Golden State for a getaway, we have you covered with this list that will have you dreaming of your next vacation on the west coast. 

We included the best places to go in California, ranging from the coastal redwood forests on the north coast to the sunny beaches of San Diego.

This is the perfect list to jumpstart your California vacation plans.

Best Places to Visit in California

California is a wildly diverse place when it comes to not only the cultures that make up the state but the landscapes that vary greatly from the snowy mountains to massive, sprawling cities. 

There is something for every taste, whether it’s hiking trails in the redwoods to the famous surf breaks in Santa Cruz.

The best part is you don’t have to choose just one destination, and you can select several options for an epic California road trip.

San Francisco

From top tourist attractions like the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to lively neighborhoods like North Beach, San Francisco is easily the top destination for travel in California.

San Francisco is nestled on a peninsula that butts up with the Pacific Ocean on one side and is partially surrounded on the other by the bay.

This unique location means the city offers comfortable conditions for exploring San Francisco’s many attractions year around, including Golden Gate Park and the Ferry Building.

San Francisco is also a top culinary destination, with a diverse selection of delicious restaurants offering cuisines from around the globe. 

The city is also home to opulent dining at Michelin three-star restaurants, including Atelier Crenn and Benu, which are considered to be some of the best in the world.

If it’s you’re first time traveling to this city, Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square are good areas to base yourself for seeing the top sights.

If you’re visiting with your family, Nob Hill is a good area to stay as there are many family-friendly suite hotels to choose from. 

Whether you want to check out tourist attractions like Pier 39 and Fishermans Wharf or you just want to live like a local for a few days, San Francisco should be at the top of your California travel list.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley is the best wine region in the country. It is also considered one of the premier culinary destinations, with stunning restaurants ranging from oyster bars to world-class fine dining at Michelin-starred restaurants like the French Laundry.

This destination-worthy wine region is a perfect day trip from San Francisco, but if you decide to stay for a few days, you will not run out of things to do even if you don’t drink wine.

When visiting Napa Valley, you can get adventurous and take a hot air balloon ride, or you can head north to Calistoga and go for a soak in the hot springs.

For the gourmands, a stop at the Oxbow Market is a must to taste your way through all the delicacies that range from wood-fired pizzas to artisan charcuterie.

No trip is complete for those visiting Napa Valley without visiting a few of the amazing wineries.

You can visit Castello di Amorosa for a castle tour and tasting or ride the aerial tram to Sterling Vineyards. For a truly memorable experience, don’t miss a visit to V Sattui winery, where you can explore one of the most celebrated wineries in the valley.

Napa Valley is at the top of the list of places to visit in California for those who want to be spoiled by stunning accommodations and incredible hospitality, which is the heart and soul of this region. 

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is a picturesque alpine lake located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which draws in millions of visitors annually for a chance to explore this outdoor recreation paradise.

During the winter months, Lake Tahoe is home to 15 ski resorts famous for getting an average of 400 inches of snow and 300 days of sunshine per year.

When things warm up, Lake Tahoe becomes a top destination for hiking and mountain biking on the countless trails surrounding the lake and neighboring mountain peaks.

During the summer, boating and waterskiing are among the most popular draws to the lake, but for most, the sandy shores and crystal clear water are enough for beach enthusiasts. 

Lake Tahoe is also a popular destination for nightlife, with its great breweries, bars, and casinos.

This mountain lake is also super popular for family vacations with amazing rental options that range from log cabins in the woods to lakefront properties with resort-style amenities.

Lake Tahoe is the perfect destination to connect with nature if you are a fan of the outdoors.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a natural wonder that is the top destination in California for exploring nature and spending time in the great outdoors.

From the park’s majestic granite peaks that jet 5000 feet above the valley floor to waterfalls that send mist across the park, Yosemite is a must-visit for anyone that wants to see the best of California.

If you are lucky, you might even get to watch rock climbers scale the El Capitan suspended only by ropes. 

One of the top draws to this National Park is the giant sequoia trees at the Mariposa and Tuolumne Groves, which are some of the largest trees in the world.

There are many great places to stay when visiting the park, like the historic Ahwahnee hotel and countless other accommodation options in the towns close to Yosemite

If you love to hike, there are amazing trails to explore, ranging from relatively flat options on the valley floor to traverses that climb to breathtaking viewpoints.

If you plan a trip to California, do not miss out on booking a few nights in Yosemite, so you don’t miss out on the breathtaking vistas at Tunnel View or a chance to climb up to Glacier Point.  

Big Sur

Big Sur is best known for being a part of the great California road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway, with its windy turns and stunning viewpoints.

Along the jagged cliffs sandwiched up with the Pacific Ocean, this coastal area offers a perfect combination of the rugged coast with a backdrop of redwood forests.

Any trip to Big Sur comes with an opportunity to explore the photogenic Highway 1 bridges and for stops to take in the turbulent baby blue waters that smash against the rocky shore.

Big Sur is also well known for its hiking trails in Pfeiffer Big Sur and Andrew Molera State Parks, which are perfect for a serious leg stretch on a road trip down the coast. 

This coastal area is also a popular place to stay on the Pacific Coast Highway for those looking for a retreat to get away from the stresses of life at one of the amazing resorts designed to exude relaxation.

If you plan on visiting the California coast, make sure to add a road trip through Big Sur to your itinerary.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is one of California’s most famous beach destinations because of its historic beach boardwalk and stunning coastline.

Located just over one hour south of San Francisco, this world-famous surf destination is home to 29 miles of shoreline and 14 state parks and beaches.

Santa Cruz is also an amazing place for those who prefer to stay out of the water and off the sand, as there are countless things to do. 

This includes exploring the Pacific Avenue shopping district, visiting the surf museum, and tasting wine in the Santa Cruz mountains.

For a family outing, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk offers all the fun you can handle with amazing rides, carnival games, and lots of fried treats on a stick.

Santa Cruz is one of the most popular beach vacation destinations in the state for a reason, and you will have no problem finding an empty stretch of sand to build a sand castle.

Redwood National and State Parks

Redwoods National and State Parks is a hidden gem in California located five and a half hours north of San Francisco along the coast.

As the name implies, these parks are home to the tallest trees in the world that tower over this old-growth forest, which is covered with fern and clover. 

In fact, the tallest tree in the national park stands at 377 feet and is estimated to be 700 to 800 years old. 

During a trip to Redwood National and State Parks, you can visit the Stout or Larry Bird Johnson Redwood groves or catch some mesmerizing photos in Fern Canyon.

As the park is situated next to the ocean, you can also visit Gold Bluffs Beach, where you can relax on the pebble sand and watch the herds of elk graze on the coastal vegetation.

A trip to these gorgeous parks is a perfect way to experience one of California’s best destinations without the crowds.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are neighbors connected not only by hiking trails but are both home to the largest trees in the world.

In these national parks, groves of the majestic giant sequoia trees tower over the parks and provide a canopy that shelters flora and fauna in the forest.

The largest tree in the two parks is General Sherman which stands 274.9 feet tall and has a diameter of 36 feet at its base.

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park are located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and are a four-hour drive from Southern California cities, including Los Angeles.

When you get to these two parks, you will be overwhelmed with how much there is to do and explore, ranging from the jaw-dropping view at Panoramic point to hiking the Zumwalt Meadow Loop.

Or you can just relax and take in the sights and roar of the raging water at the Mist Falls.

Whether you are heading north or south on a trip through California, set aside a few days to explore the special protected national parks.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is located in southern California’s Mojave Desert. It is named after the iconic Joshua tree, which is a type of yucca that grows in the park.

The park is famous for its hiking trails and is a popular spot for rock climbing. The park also offers a range of educational programs and activities, including ranger-led tours and evening stargazing sessions.

Joshua Tree’s top attraction is the Keys View, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding desert and mountains, the Barker Dam, and the Cholla Cactus Garden.

With its unique desert landscape, rich history, and abundant recreational opportunities, Joshua Tree National Park is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the beauty and serenity of southern California’s Mojave Desert.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park draws in visitors that want to experience the stark desert landscapes, diverse geology, and scorching temperatures.

Visitors can hike through the park’s many trails, go camping, or simply take in the stunning vistas and scenic drives. 

The park also offers a range of educational programs, activities, and tours led by park rangers. Visitors can also explore the park’s many canyons and valleys or hit the trails to get off the beaten path. 

With its extreme beauty, rich history, and diverse landscape, Death Valley National Park is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the stark beauty and serenity of California’s desert wilderness.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a bustling multicultural metropolis located in Southern California and is the largest city in California. 

The city is also home to some of the world’s best museums, theaters, and cultural institutions, making it an excellent place for entertainment and education.

Los Angeles draws in tourists who flock to see top attractions, including the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Beverly Hills shopping district, the Santa Monica Pier, and Universal Studios Hollywood. 

The city is also home to thriving arts and theater communities and is one of the culinary capitals of the United States. 

With its unique blend of entertainment, culture, and natural beauty, Los Angeles is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience what California offers.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica is a vibrant coastal city in Los Angeles County, California. It is well known for its beautiful beaches, thriving cultural scene, and relaxed coastal lifestyle.

Santa Monica is a great place to visit for its sunny weather, scenic beauty, and wide range of attractions. Visitors can enjoy the famous Santa Monica Pier, Muscle Beach, and the world-renowned Santa Monica Beach and Promenade. 

The city is also home to several excellent museums, including the Santa Monica Museum of Art, and many popular restaurants and cafes, making it a wonderful place for foodies.

With its perfect climate, stunning scenery, and lively atmosphere, Santa Monica is a must-visit destination for beach lovers.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs is a popular destination for a luxury escape to the sunny California Desert.

This oasis is situated at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains. You can even ride an aerial tramway to the top, where you will be treated to spectacular views of the desert landscape.

Palm Springs is famous for its luxury accommodations that range from private villas to opulent resorts with endless amenities.

This desert town is a place to relax and let the worries of the world disappear while you get pampered at the spa or while relaxing by the pool.

For many visitors, Palm Springs is a top golf destination where players will most certainly be rewarded with clear skies while out on the course.

Visit this southern California town for a chance to cut loose and enjoy an extravagant stay in the desert.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a favorite among Southern California residents as a perfect getaway with its pristine beaches and Mediterranean-style resort hotels.

This popular beach town is located where the Santa Ynez Mountains meet the Pacific Ocean, just one and a half hours north of Los Angeles.

Outside of catching some sun at Butterfly Beach or surfing at Campus Point, the highlight for most visitors is exploring the shops and restaurants along State Street.

Santa Barbara is also home to its wine region, famous for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. You can either make a day trip to visit the vineyards or you can stop at one of the downtown tasting rooms.

This picturesque beach town is a must-stop for anyone that wants a perfect balance of coastal luxury and beaches.

San Diego

San Diego is a popular destination for its year around gorgeous weather and sun-drenched beaches. 

This popular beach town is the southernmost major city in California, which is deeply connected to the culture and cuisine of Mexico, which is just across the border. 

San Diego is not only a popular surfing destination, but it is all the craft beer capital of America, with countless taprooms and breweries to taste. 

Other top attractions in San Diego include La Jolla Cove, Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter, and Barrio Logan’s famous murals. 

It is also famous for its world-class zoo, which is a leader in animal rescue and preservation of animal species from around the globe.

This town in southern California is fairly sprawled out with many different neighborhoods that range from La Jolla, with its rugged coastline to Coronado Island with its luxury hotels.

San Diego is one of the top destinations on the west coast for those that want to ensure they get all the sunny warm days needed for a trip to California.

Wrap-Up: Best Vacation Spots in California

Now that you had a chance to pick out the best places to visit in California for your trip to the Golden State, all you have to do is book your trip.

Now pack your bags, and get ready for some fun in the sun.