Top 35 things to do in California: your ultimate bucket list of unmissable adventures to help you create the perfect itinerary for your trip!
California is the third largest and most diverse state in the US. From stunning beaches to majestic mountains, California has something for everyone – and that’s just the outdoors. Throw in some world-class museums, theme parks, and other attractions, and you’ve got more to do than you could ever fit in a single trip!
Don’t be deterred by the large size of your destination. If you plan ahead, you can see a lot in California.
Here are the top 35 fun things to do in California!
Top 35 Things To Do In California
This list of 35 iconic attractions will help you create the perfect itinerary for your trip.
Admire Tunnel View In Yosemite National Park
Tunnel View is a popular scenic viewpoint in Yosemite National Park that offers a beautiful vista of Yosemite Valley. The view is quite spectacular at sunset and sunrise when the sun’s rays light up El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall.
Ride The Cable Cars In San Francisco
The cable cars in San Francisco are an iconic part of the city, and they’re also a National Historic Landmark. They’re a fun way to get around town and see some sights. You can catch the cable cars going in three separate directions: Powell-Mason, Powell-Hyde, or California Street.
Photograph Skull Rock In Joshua Tree National Park
When you’re driving on Park Boulevard in Joshua Tree National Park, your eyes will be instantly drawn to a large rock with two large holes that look almost exactly like eye sockets. This is Skull Rock, an impressive rock formation that looks like a human skull! It’s an incredible photo spot and looks even more incredible during sunset or when you’re also stargazing at night.
Explore Bear Gulch Cave In Pinnacles National Park
Hike through a bat cave in Pinnacles National Park. The Bear Gulch Cave is a talus cave—a type of cave formed by falling boulders, which tend to create narrow passages. It is a popular hiking destination and is home to Townsend’s big-eared bat, which thrives in this cool, wet environment.
Visit North America’s Lowest Point
Located in Death Valley National Park, Badwater Basin is at the lowest point in North America, 282 feet below sea level. At this point, you’ll see 200 miles of Death Valley’s biggest salt flats. Walk on these polygon-shaped salt flats.
Look Up At The Golden Gate Bridge
A must-see in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is seen on many movies and TV shows when they’re featuring San Francisco or even California. Now see it in person either by foot, bike, or car. Take a scenic drive from San Francisco and to the Marin Headlands.
Tour The Winchester Mystery House
Book your tour at Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. This house was once the residence of Sarah Winchester. She was an heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune and believed that her family was cursed by the spirits of those that had been killed by guns made by her late husband’s company. The mansion is built in such a way that it makes no sense at all. There are staircases that lead up to ceilings, windows looking into other rooms, doors opening out onto blank walls, and more.
View The Hollywood Sign
Whether you want to hike to the Hollywood sign or just snap a selfie with it in the background, this classic landmark is a must-see! There are a couple of places to see the sign but we recommend the Griffith Observatory so you can also see the city of Los Angeles. If you’re up for a more strenuous adventure, you can hike up to the sign at Griffith Park.
Walk Around Fairytale Cottages At Carmel By The Sea
Located on the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel By the Sea is a small adorable town. Known for its white-sand beaches, art galleries, and golf courses, the town has also become renowned for its fairytale cottages. The cottages which make up much of Carmel’s architecture are often painted in bright colors and incorporate other playful touches that give the town a fairy tale feel.
Go Wine Tasting In Napa Valley
When it comes to wine tasting, Napa Valley is the place to be. You’ll have a chance to tour vineyards, see where grapes are grown, and talk with winemakers about the wine-making process. The region also contains plenty of beautiful landscapes for you to enjoy during your visit. It’s an ideal place for anyone who wants to kick back and relax in style!
Drive On Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway is a stunning, scenic route along California’s coast, and one of the most beautiful drives in America. With breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and sun-kissed beaches, this highway is 656 miles long. While you can certainly drive it in its entirety if you want to, you could also pick out any section and still enjoy an epic California road trip.
Tour A Castle On California’s Central Coast
Explore Hearst Castle in San Simeon, that’s only 4 hours away from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Tour this 20th-century castle through its Grand Rooms Tour, Upstairs Suites Tour, or the Cottages & Kitchen Tour. These tours take you through the main house which contains bedrooms, living rooms, and dining rooms.
Hike And Swim At Emerald Bay In Lake Tahoe
Visit Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe; a stunning area surrounded by towering mountains and forests, with a cozy little island, Fannette Island. If you’re a fan of water sports, you can swim, kayak, and snorkel here. If you’d prefer to stay dry and hang out on land, there’s plenty to do here too – check out Vikingsholm Castle, which is a nice part of history made from stone and built in 1929.
Surf In Santa Cruz
Surf at one of the popular surfing spots in the county: Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz. Known as the surf capital of California, the town is filled with surfers wearing wetsuits, and anything related to surfing. The waves at the beaches in Santa Cruz are suitable for beginners, intermediate and advanced surfers. And if you love swimming, especially in the winter months, Santa Cruz is a great place to go to.
Take A Day Trip To The Channel Islands National Park
The Channel Islands National Park is a hidden gem in Southern California and can only be reached by boat. This park consists of five islands, and one of the best parts about visiting this national park is getting to experience its serene natural beauty. The park has some of the most pristine habitats not found anywhere else.
Hike Through A Canyon Filled With Ferns
Filled with ferns, the Fern Canyon is a natural canyon in Northern California. It is a popular tourist destination and was also used as a filming location for The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Hikers might encounter Roosevelt Elk grazing on grassy sections of the trail to Fern Canyon.
Go Snowboarding At Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort
As one of the largest ski resorts in California, Mammoth Mountain has a great variety of terrain, so it’s perfect for all levels. If you’re staying for more than one day, there are plenty of places to stay in Mammoth Lakes.
Immerse Yourself In The Redwoods
The redwoods in California are some of the tallest trees in the world and sit at over 2000 years old. The amount of ancient history in these trees is astounding, and it can be hard to fathom just how old they are. There are tons of places to see the redwoods in California but one of our favorites is Redwoods National and State Parks.
Soak Up The Sun On Venice Beach
Venice Beach is one of California’s most well-known beaches and you can rent a bike, play volleyball, or just soak up the sun. Shop at boutiques and eat locally inspired cuisine at Abbot Kinney Boulevard. For dinner, Gjelina is a favorite of locals and visitors.
Observe Elephant Seals At San Simeon
Head to San Simeon, and you’ll find a small colony of elephant seals basking on the beach! There are mothers nursing their young pups, or “weaners,” who have lost their baby fat and have mastered swimming in the ocean. The large adult males, with their massive bodies, long trunks, and impressive manes.
Look Up At Morro Rock
Morro Rock is a volcanic plug that peaks out from the city of Morro Bay. The rock itself stands 581 feet above sea level. You can take a short walk along the beach that will give you an excellent look at this wonder of nature.
Stay A Night At Madonna Inn
The Madonna Inn has themed rooms ranging from “Jungle Rock” to “Bridal Falls”. Guests love laying down their heads in one of these uniquely designed rooms, but there’s more to this place than just its decor – there are also rock waterfall showers, a bakery, a restaurant, and a pool.
Dive At La Jolla Cove
Perched at the northern tip of the La Jolla area, this beach is famed for its clear waters and sea caves. With gentle waves, it’s a popular diving and swimming spot and its proximity to coastal hiking trails makes it an ideal place to spend your day.
Spend A Day At San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo is one of the largest and most diverse zoos in the world. With over 12,000 animals, including giant pandas, koalas, monkeys, and more, you can explore beautiful habitats that mirror the natural environment of each animal. Located in Balboa Park, this 100-acre zoo offers a variety of activities throughout the day.
Tour The Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood
For a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most iconic locations from television and film, embark on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood in Burbank. You will be able to explore backlot sets, soundstages, and craft shops during this two-hour walking tour that takes you through movie-making magic.
Hike Up A Cinder Cone Volcano
Located in Lassen Volcanic National Park, the Cinder Cone was created by volcanic ash and lava. It rises 846 feet over nearby Butte Lake. You can climb it on a 4-mile round-trip trail and enjoy the view of Painted Dunes on the way up.
Hug a Tree At The General Grant Grove
If you’re looking to hug something truly special, head to General Grant Grove in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. At 267 feet tall, the General Grant Tree is the 3rd largest tree on Earth.
Tour The Alcatraz Island
The famous Alcatraz Island is in the bay of San Francisco and your visit to this island will give you an extensive history of the island, which includes it being a former military installation and prison.
Visit Monterey Bay Aquarium
Awesome ocean animals await you at Monterey Bay Aquarium. This world-class aquarium is home to creatures big and small, from sea otters to jellyfish. Plus, exhibits are always changing – so every time, your visit will be a new adventure at the aquarium.
Attend Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival
Experience the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Southern California. Each year over the course of two weekends, hundreds of musicians perform in front of thousands of people. Also, there’s art involved! Many notable pieces by artists will be displayed at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Ride The World’s Only Solar-Powered Wheel
Ride the energy-efficient Pacific Wheel that begins its slow rise into the air, lifting you above the crowds of Santa Monica State Beach. Once at its peak, you’re able to see all of Santa Monica State Beach below: people splashing through waves, the Coast Highway, Muscle Beach Gym, and more.
Visit The Original Disneyland
The Disney California Adventure Park is the original Disneyland, and it remains one of the most popular destinations in the Golden State. It’s huge with themed areas like Main Street, U.S.A., Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and Mickey’s Toontown. You’ll encounter beloved characters galore as well as plenty of other fun activities that are both kid-friendly and simply fun for anyone who wants to experience the magic of Disney.
Whale Watch In Monterey
One of the best places to see these magnificent creatures up close is Monterey. Whales can be seen in this region throughout the year on their annual migration from Alaska.
Go Back In Time At Pioneertown
Pioneertown is a small town in the high desert of Southern California. It was built for Hollywood in the 1940s as a set for Western movies, with many of its original buildings still intact. Today, it’s a unique place to visit in California if you want to get away from the bustle and congestion of city life.
Check Out The Hollywood Walk Of Fame
The Hollywood Walk of Fame is a paved sidewalk on 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard in California. On the sidewalks, you can find more than 2,700 stars. These stars are labeled with famous names from film, radio broadcasting, music, and live theater.
Conclusion: Top 35 Things To Do In California
California is full of fun things to do. Regardless of what type of vacation you’re planning, you’ll find a great activity for each family member in this sunny state. It’s best to spend a long vacation to experience all that California has to offer! If you’re going to do a month-long vacation here, plan to spend a week in each California region (North, Central, South) before moving on to the next one. Start planning your California adventures with this guide!
About The Author Of Top 35 Things To Do In California
Rasika is the owner of the travel blog Bae Area and Beyond. She is from the Bay Area and her blog covers California destinations. She hopes that her readers will fall in love with California, just like she did.
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