It’ no secret: I’m a massive fan of my home state of California! Some of the best places in California depend on proximity to the beach, but the fun doesn’t end there. Take a hike, stroll through the mountains and explore alpine lakes. Stay in the city, learn about art and listen to live music. No matter which way you choose to go, you’re sure to have a memorable experience filled with gorgeous scenery.
Read on to find out what are, hands down, the best places in California for all of your favorite adventures.
Family-Friendly Adventures: San Diego
If you’re looking for a multi-generational trip with the whole gang, San Diego is a must. In addition to the San Diego Zoo, the nearby safari park, SeaWorld and the seaside Belmont Park, there are endless thrills. But, on top of the theme parks, San Diego is filled with museums—from the USS Midway Museum and The New Children’s Museum to all of those littering Balboa Park. On top of that, the water itself is a playground. Take advantage of everything from whale watching and riding Jet Skis to paddleboarding, kayaking or snorkeling.
Sipping Wine: Napa Valley
California is known for its wine regions. We have Temecula, Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Sonoma County—but none compare to Napa Valley. When it comes to the best places in California to drink wine, it’s the obvious choice. But it’s also the right one. The green vineyards offer a fresh and beautiful landscape that makes visitors feel as if they’ve stumbled into a dreamland, even before they’ve started sipping. On top of the many wine adventures to be had, tour an authentic Italian castle, eat some outstanding fare or take to the skies in a hot air balloon for unbeatable views.
Exploring the Mountains: Big Bear
Many think the southern part of California is all about its beaches. But there are other settings to explore, and those that enjoy fresh mountain air will love Big Bear. Only a couple of hours from Los Angeles, this quaint area is great whether your group wants a laid-back vacation or an adrenaline-fueled adventure. Relax in a wood cabin before skiing in the winter or relaxing on a boat in the summer. For something more thrilling, head out for a zip line experience, an off-road Jeep tour or a sunset ride via horseback.
Taking a Drive: Big Sur
Pacific Coast Highway is a road known around the world, and with good reason. The coastline is beautiful in the north and the south, but it’s the Central Coast that really shines. This part of California is less traveled than some others, meaning less crowds and even less residents to take away from the natural beauty. As you drive the winding, cliff top roads of Big Sur, the deep blue water sparkles in the sunlight. Towering trees come right up to the coast here, merging two beautiful worlds into one for a trip that you will remember purely for the sights.
Surviving the Desert: Joshua Tree
Head east and you’re sure to find a desert landscape. The barren land, filled with rolling clouds and green cacti, doesn’t have too much else. But Joshua Tree is a rare exception, with some beautiful spots to keep visitors entertained. The Joshua tree is a distinct feature of the area in and of itself, but this spot is also stellar for rock climbing and stargazing. Plus, a hidden desert oasis makes for a wonderful trek over hills, past boulders and into the heart of the palm-surrounded spring.
Enjoying the Arts: San Francisco
There are many things to love about the City by the Bay. Alcatraz, the cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge are all iconic, and the city is filled with hip bars and eateries. But the true highlight of any trip to San Francisco is exploring the arts. There are plenty of museums showcasing fine and casual artwork as well as spots detailing the history of the city, its hippie movement and more. The stunning Palace of Fine Arts Theatre is a stunning venue for show and you can find street art all around the city.
Feeling Small: Humboldt County
Looking for redwoods? Then the best places in California for you are in Humboldt County. A few hours north of the Bay Area, this region is definitely the best. You’ll find a lot fewer people here, and more natural trails through the towering trees. Adventure along the coastline, where rolling fog will make you forget you’re even in sunny California. But don’t count out the magical experience of feeling small as you wander the redwood forests throughout the area.
Going to the Beach: Huntington Beach
Southern California is known for its beaches. From Santa Monica to La Jolla, there are plenty of sandy spots to lounge on and cool Pacific waters to surf or swim in. But easily the best is Huntington Beach. Known as Surf City U.S.A., it’s obviously a great surf spot, whether you’re partaking or simply watching. But it’s also the site of a variety of beachside festivals, concerts and special events. Plus, the downtown area is ripe with beach bars offering happy hour deals while the sun sets.
From verdant meadows and stone cliffs to mountain trails and shimmering waterfalls, Yosemite’s beauty is breathtaking. It’s the kind of place you simply won’t be able to get enough of. Luckily, a trip to this national park means spending plenty of time outdoors. Soak up the sunshine and explore all of the land that you can; no matter how much you see, there is always more, and you will be left feeling like you can’t get enough. This is the perfect place for groups because the hikes range in difficulty and there are so many different types of settings.
Listening to Live Music: Los Angeles
Sure, celebrity hunting can be fun, but movie stars aren’t the only thing to rave about in Los Angeles. The blossoming music scene makes it just as easy to spot famous singers, songwriters and bands all over town. From the Hollywood Bowl to the Hotel Café, you can tailor your experience to suit your interests. Large shows filled with atmosphere often feature surprise guests, thanks to the number of artists that call L.A. home, while intimate shows offer unique experiences with up-and-coming musicians.
Visiting Alpine Lakes: Lake Tahoe
You’ll find lakes in Big Bear and Yosemite, but it’s Lake Tahoe where the water really shines. When seeking the best places in California to adventure, this is definitely one of them. The whole group can get out on the water, take advantage of beautiful scenery, go hiking or attend a number of small-town events. This is also a great spot to seek out an array of wildlife, from beavers and fish to foxes, coyotes and bears.
Eating Delicious Cuisine: Newport Beach
The best places in California for food are pretty much all in Newport Beach. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but the number of stellar restaurants within the city limits is crazy. On top of that, Restaurant Week allows guests and locals alike to sample many local menus every January. But on top of that, two special festivals also provide bites and sips: the Pacific Wine and Food Classic, held on the beaches of Newport Back Bay, and Newport Beach Wine & Food festival.