viewing point of san francisco golden gate bridge

Ultimate California Bucket List: 50 Best Things To Do In California

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If you’re looking for the best things to do in California, look no further! This California bucket list has something for everyone. From breathtaking beaches to world-famous theme parks and stunning natural wonders, California is packed with incredible attractions. Start planning your ultimate California bucket list adventure today!

While most people instantly think of Los Angeles or San Francisco when considering a trip to California, you will be amazed by just how diverse the Golden State really is!

Planning a California road trip? Check out the best deals on rental cars

palm trees at sunset in santa barbara

Must See In California – The Ultimate California Bucket List

When it comes to exploring California, there is no shortage of things to do. Packed with iconic landmarks, natural beauty, and endless opportunities for adventure.

No matter what your interests are, you’re sure to find something on this list that will make your heart race with wanderlust.

This ultimate guide will help you create your perfect California bucket list, with so many incredible things to do in California from North to South and everything in between!

But first, let’s plan your visit!

Planning Your Visit To California

If you’re planning a trip to California, the first thing you need to do is decide when to go.

The best time to visit California varies depending on what type of experience you’re hoping to have.

For example, if you want to enjoy the state’s world-famous beaches, you might feel that the best time to visit is during the summer months when the weather is warm and sunny.

Keep in mind though, that the crowds are at their peak so this means getting a park near the most popular beaches can be near impossible!

But if you’re looking to escape the crowds and enjoy some quieter time in nature, spring or fall is ideal. In fact, April or October are great times to visit.

No matter when you decide to visit, there’s always something special happening in California.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start planning your trip:

  • Check the weather in the areas you plan to visit in California before you go so you know what to pack – the temperatures vary significantly in different parts of the state.
  • If you’re visiting during peak season, make sure to book your accommodation and tickets well in advance.
  • Consider renting a car so you can explore all that California has to offer at your own pace.
  • A motorhome or RV road trip is another wonderful way to see California and can be a thrifty way to travel long term with transport and accommodation in one.

Best Way To Experience California Attractions & Scenery

While you can certainly get around by public transport, with buses, trains and rideshare options galore, we think the best way to experience all that California has to offer is by car or RV.

Especially if you are planning to travel beyond one of the main cities.

This way, you can explore at your own pace and make spontaneous stops along the way as you enjoy the ultimate California road trip adventure and the freedom to pull over and explore whenever the mood strikes you.

Find a great deal on a rental car:

If you’re planning on driving, check out our post on the best scenic drives in California for inspiration!

The Ultimate List Of Things To Do In California

With California being such a large state, it can be difficult to know where to start when planning your trip.

To make it easier, we have created our list of must-visit places in California broken down by region so you can easily plan your perfect California bucket list adventure:

Now let’s get into it, shall we? Here are 50 of the best things to do in California, no matter what kind of adventure you’re looking for.

Must-See Places In Northern California

Northern California is a nature lover’s paradise with towering redwoods, pristine lakes, national parks and rugged coastline as far as the eye can see.

In addition to its incredible natural scenery, this region is also home to some of California’s most iconic landmarks and attractions.

Here are a few of the best things to do in Northern California:

1. Mammoth Lakes

woman in hot springs at mammoth lakes

By Jess from Uprooted Traveler

Mammoth Lakes, a charming ski town nestled in the eastern Sierras, is one of the best spots in California for outdoor adventure.

If you’re visiting during the wintertime, there are several world-class ski resorts, like Mammoth Mountain, which are renowned for the incredible powder- and the breathtaking backdrop of the towering Sierras (including the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States!).

Regardless of what time of year you visit, Mammoth also has several incredible natural hot springs to explore, like Wild Willy’s Hot Spring, where you’re free to soak in the geothermally-warmed waters while taking in the breathtaking landscape.

Looking for something a bit higher impact? Consider checking out the neighbouring Inyo National Forest.

Offering almost 3,000 square miles of hiking trails and epic backpacking adventures through some of the country’s most stunning alpine landscapes. Regardless of what time of year you visit, Mammoth Lakes is California’s ultimate outdoor playground.

2. See The Lake Shasta Caverns

The Lake Shasta Caverns are a network of marble caves located deep within Mt Shasta, 900 feet above Shasta Lake. This national natural landmark can be explored over a few hours. Make sure you book tickets ahead of time as it is a popular California attraction!

3. Lake Tahoe

dog looking over at lake tahoe

By Meg from Fox In The Forest

One of the top things to do in California is a trip to the largest alpine lake in North America – Lake Tahoe. 

After all, this awesome alpine lake is nestled among the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, right along the border between California and Nevada. 

After going on a day trip to the luxurious Sierra Hot Springs, ride the Heavenly Gondola at Heavenly Mountain Resort and enjoy some of the best panoramic views of the lake in the region. 

Next, enjoy one of the best hikes in Lake Tahoe by trekking all the way to Cave Rock. If you can, time your visit for sunset so that you can take incredible photos. 

However, if you are more of a morning person, you can always head out to Emerald Bay instead and watch the sunrise from here. 

If you’re not into hiking, enjoy a sunset cruise aboard the Hyatt Regency’s fabulous catamaran or by luxury yacht before going swimming at Skunk Harbor. 

While you’re here you can also grab some delicious chicken and burritos from T’s Rotisserie in Incline Village (cash only) before grabbing a beer at South Lake Brewing.

4. Explore Caves At Pinnacles National Park

pinnacles national park lake

Pinnacles National Park is a great stop if you want to explore caves as the 2 caves in the park are easily accessed and perfect for anyone travelling with kids.

Pinnacles is also well known for its crazy rock formations and unusual volcanic landscape. Keep an eye out for condors as it’s one of the best places in the US to spot these critically endangered animals.

5. Road Trip Big Sur

bixby bridge big sur

By Mariana from Road Trip Euro Guide

Big Sur is one of the best road trip destinations in California. Whether you’re looking for stunning coastal views, hikes through redwood forests, or just a place to relax and appreciate nature, Big Sur has it all.

The best time to visit is from April to November when the weather is mild and there are fewer crowds.

Some of the must-see attractions in Big Sur include the Bixby Bridge, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and Pfeiffer Beach. Be sure to plan ahead and make reservations for lodging as it can get booked up months in advance.

With its breathtaking scenery and abundance of things to do, a road trip through Big Sur is an unforgettable experience. And if you fall in love with the California Coast, plan your next adventure to Northern Spain – you’ll see some of the same stunning rocky coastlines, but in Europe! 

6. See The Impressive Mcway Falls

aerial view of mcway falls big sur california

One of the most iconic sights in Big Sur, Mcway Falls is an 80-feet cascade dropping down into a stretch of untouched beach.

The waterfalls are tucked inside Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park but require only a short hike to get there, making it easy for any traveller who needs a break from the car during a Big Sur road trip.

7. Alcatraz Island

alcatraz island from a distance

By Catherine from Nomadicated

Just off the foggy bay of mainland San Francisco, Alcatraz Island protrudes ominously in the distance. Alcatraz Island’s long history is shrouded with darkness.

Its purpose has switched from a military prison to federal prison, to an occupation for Native American activists fighting for indigenous rights.

Today, Alcatraz Island is managed as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area for visitors to learn about its unique history through preservation, exhibits, video presentations, and an audio tour.

Watch the San Francisco skyline fade as you take the ferry across San Francisco Bay to the island’s perimeters. Then walk amongst the halls where famous criminals like Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly lived their lives and see remnants of the Native American Occupation. 

You can book your Alcatraz tickets online or save money by combining with other San Francisco attractions:

8. Visit The Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a world-renowned aquarium that sits on the edge of stunning Monterey Bay.

It’s not a cheap day out but it is well worth the admission price with the incredible exhibits and animal wildlife you will see, with over 35,000 animals.

9. Wine In Napa Valley

napa valley wineries

By Alisha from Travel Today Work Tomorrow

A visit to Napa Valley should be at the top of your California bucket list. Picture yourself on a relaxing vacation in Napa, sipping on delicious wine and surrounded by spectacular views of vineyards.

Located in northern California, Napa Valley is only an hour and a half from the city of San Francisco. Once you arrive in wine country, you are blown away by its natural beauty. You will fall in love with Napa’s cascading hills and breathtaking vineyards.

Napa Valley is one of the most sought-after wine destinations in the world. There are over 400 wineries in Napa Valley.

However, a winery that will surely impress is Piazza Del Dotto. Book a tour and experience their famous Del Dotto Cave & Barrel Tasting. Afterwards, enjoy housemade wood-fired pizza paired with your wine tasting in their beautiful gardens.

Napa Valley’s picturesque vineyards, world-renowned wine, and farm-to-table cuisine are some of the many reasons why it is one of the best locations to visit in California.

You can easily combine a visit to some of the best Napa Valley and Sonoma wineries on a day tour.

10. Muir Woods

muir woods california pathway through trees

By Melissa from My Beautiful Passport

Muir Woods is a National Monument in Marin County along the Pacific Coast, just north of San Francisco. Managed by the National Park Service, Muir Woods is home to some of the tallest old-growth redwood trees in all of California.

These tall stunning trees will take your breath away in awe, with the tallest trees in the park spanning 258 metres, making you feel small in a good way.

Things to do in Muir Woods include hiking and attending park ranger-led programs. With 6 miles of trails throughout the park, it is a great place to go for a short hike surrounded by tall redwood trees. Get outside and enjoy the cool coastal air.

When planning a trip to the Bay area, make sure you add Muir Woods to your San Francisco itinerary.

Take a Muir Woods National Monument guided tour or combine your visit to the stunning Muir Woods redwoods with a full day winery tour, stopping at Glen Ellen, Napa, Sonoma and Shellville.

11. Yosemite National Park

yosemite snow capped mountains

By Sarah & Matt of Two Outliers

With massive granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and snow-capped peaks, there are few places in California as iconic as Yosemite National Park

Yosemite’s most famous geological formation is Half Dome, a massive rock face that towers nearly 5,000 feet over the Yosemite Valley, and is the inspiration for the North Face logo.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can hike to the top of Half Dome for the best views in the park, a challenging endeavour requiring a 16-mile hike with 5,000 feet of elevation gain, and a harrowing final 400-foot climb using a set of wire cables. 

If scaling a seemingly vertical rock face isn’t your cup of tea, there are numerous hikes around Yosemite that offer stunning views of Half Dome, including Clouds Rest, Sentinel Dome, Upper Yosemite Falls, and Glacier Point.

Note that reservations are required to enter the park starting in May 2022. 

First time to Yosemite? Try one of these guided experiences:

Or try an all-inclusive Yosemite Valley 3-Day Camping Adventure. All the gear is supplied for you and most of your meals.

12. Golden Gate Bridge

viewing point of san francisco golden gate bridge

By Shandos from Travelnuity

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic sights in California.

This suspension bridge on the northern side of San Francisco was the tallest and longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its opening in 1937, and still remains a must-visit attraction in the state. 

For the best views of Golden Gate Bridge, head to the many lookout spots in Marin Headlands, on its northern side. Alternatively, visit the dog-friendly Baker Beach.

Some of the best views are on foggy days, the bridge’s orange hue contrasting with the mist.

As well as driving across the bridge, consider walking or bicycling across the Golden Gate Bridge, to really appreciate its grandeur. The walkway on the eastern side is open to pedestrians during the day, while cyclists are permitted on either the eastern or western walkways depending on the time and day of the week.

For a different perspective, take a Golden Gate Bay cruise under the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, past San Francisco waterfront scenery and around notorious Alcatraz Island, with award-winning audio commentary.

13. See Giant Sequoias At Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park

sequoia trees

By Cosette from KarsTravels

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are must-visits on a West Coast road trip. The parks are in Southeast California. Kings Canyon is North of Sequoia, and both contain the beautiful and awe-inspiring sequoia trees.

The giant trees are really larger than life and you’ll be in awe of them just by walking among them. The sequoia trees aren’t the only thing to see here, however. Kings Canyon has the deepest canyon in North America, the Kings Canyon. Morro Rock in Sequoia has perfect views of the Sierra Nevada and the canyons.

The General Sherman tree in Sequoia is the world’s largest tree. It’s 2100 years old, 275 feet tall and 100 feet wide at its trunk. The third-largest tree in the world is the General Grant tree at Kings Canyon. It serves as the Nation’s Christmas tree. 

Try a self-guided audio guide for your visit to both parks. It works without cell phone reception!

14. Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point in death valley

By Trijit from Budget Travel Buff

If you are looking for unique things to do in California, visit Zabriskie Point. There is a place on the east side of Death Valley named Zabriskie Point where you can see the panoramic view of badlands in Death Valley. This terrain is surrounded by canyons and gulches.

You can reach it by driving your car from Furnace Creek and the drive takes around 1 hour. The best time to visit Zabriskie Point is in the morning.

If you love photography and looking for the best places in California to snap some shots, then Zabriskie Point must be included in your Death Valley itinerary. In the morning you will get the perfect light for your lenses. 

If you have just one day to explore but want to visit nearby places in Death Valley beautiful places like Artist Plates, Dante View Point, Gower Gulch, and Red Cathedral are well worth making time for.

15. Relax At Glass Beach In Fort Bragg

fort bragg glass beach

Glass Beach in Fort Bragg is a unique place in California where you can enjoy the beauty of nature while walking among pieces of sea glass.

Although you’re not allowed to take any of the sea glass home with you, Glass Beach still makes for an interesting place to visit when exploring California’s beautiful North Coast region!

16. Wildlife Spotting At Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is a hidden treasure trove of wildlife, with expansive beaches and open grasslands as well as forested ridges up to the peak at Mount Wittenberg, with spectacular views.

Hiking and whale-watching are the main attractions at Point Reyes. Hiking gives you the chance to spot close wildlife encounters (keep an eye out for northern elephant seals and bobcats!).

Don’t miss the photo opportunity as you walk through the Cypress Tree Tunnel too!

17. Ride The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Giant Dipper

wooden roller coaster on boardwalk

The Giant Dipper, an incredible sight to behold, is one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the world. Go for a ride on your visit to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk Amusement Park.

The coaster, reaching speeds of 55mph has received recognition as a National Historic Landmark, making it an iconic California attraction.

18. Carmel-by-the-Sea

By Milijana of World Travel Connector 

Carmel-by-the-Sea on the Monterey Peninsula in California is one of the most prestigious destinations in the USA. 

This gorgeous beach town on the Pacific coast is featured regularly on the lists of the most beautiful places in the USA and among the top 10 destinations in the country. 

If you love romantic places and pristine nature, you will enjoy sandy Carmel beaches, superb ocean vistas, and lovely coastal trails of Carmel. 

Carmel lies on the Pacific coast next to celebrated Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and the famed 17-Mile Drive

Carmel is known for its romantic setting and arty vibes as a former art colony from the beginning of the 20th century. Today Carmel is a stunning town filled with art galleries, fine dining restaurants, wine tasting rooms, cozy inns, and fancy boutique hotels. 

If you are travelling with your four-legged friend, you should know that Carmel is the pet-friendliest town in the US.

Dogs are allowed unleashed on Carmel Beach and Mission Trails Park, while most places in the city offer water bowls and doggie menus. There are over 25 pet-friendly hotels and inns in Carmel. If you wish to have a memorable trip with your dog in the US, head to Carmel in California.

Carmel is about 2 hours away from San Francisco and 5 hours away from Los Angeles and a must-have stop on the scenic San Francisco to Los Angeles drive.

Want the guided experience? Take a day trip from San Francisco, along the 17-Mile Drive, through Monterey and Carmel with an optional choice to visit Monterey Bay Aquarium too.

19. Whale Watching In Monterey Bay

whales in monterey bay

By Dhara from Roadtripping California

If you are looking for bucket-list adventures in the Golden State, you have to visit the Monterey peninsula, which offers lots of outdoor recreation. One of the best things to do in Monterey is to go whale watching.

Monterey is considered a world-class whale-watching destination, with whales being spotted year-round. The submarine canyon here is deep and habitat for diverse marine life, providing plentiful food sources that attract the large mammals.

While gray whales and humpback whales are common, you may also see blue whales, minke, orca, or fin, depending on when you visit, as well as porpoises and dolphins and a variety of sea birds.

There are a number of operators that offer whale watching tours out of the city. Boats generally depart from Old Fishermen’s Wharf, and tours last anywhere from three to eight hours.

20. Marvel At Giant Redwoods In Redwood National Park

giant trees in redwood national park

By Chantelle from Flannels Or Flip Flops

Visiting Redwoods National Park is something everyone should do when exploring California! Seeing the giant Redwoods is something you truly have to see to believe, and photos do not do their size justice.  

The Redwood trees found in the park are typically 250-300 feet tall and have a circumference of over 90 feet! 

This national park has a bit of something for everyone and is easy to explore even for non-hikers! There are beautiful tree-lined drives, short nature walks, and extreme hikes. You may see elk, deer, bears as well as chipmunks, and all sorts of birds.  

There is no fee to visit Redwood National Park, and you should definitely plan on stopping at the Visitors Center to get orientated to the park.  

Visiting the Redwoods is an all-day plan. There are limited services in the park and smaller towns on either side of the boundaries. This means you’ll want to plan ahead in having a place to stay and having gas and food.  

The only place these magnificent trees grow naturally is the Northern California and Southern Oregon Coast, which is why adding Redwoods National Park to your California itinerary is so special. 

21. Go Tubing Down Russian River

One of the most popular summertime activities in Sonoma County is tubing down the Russian River. There are several options to start and finish, depending on how long you want to float. There are routes from 1 to 6 hours, so be prepared to chill!

Just make sure you go prepared with loads of sunscreen, drinks, snacks and maybe even a floating cooler.

If you can, go with friends so you can keep one car at the end to carpool everyone back after you finish your river float.

22. Bodie State Park

bodie state park building

By Zoe from Together In Transit 

If you are looking for something fun to do in California, take some time to visit Bodie State Park. Located 4 hours North of Death Valley National Park and 5 hours from San Francisco, it’s nice to stop on a road trip around California.

This historical mining town is a unique place to visit for many reasons, as it’s like going back in time to a ghostly location.

Begin your visit at the main street where there is the old church, abandoned shops and a museum. Here you can buy a map to fully explore the whole state parks on your own. It is definitely worth spending at least 3 hours here to get the full experience. 

At the high elevation, it’s good to be aware that it can get rather cold with low temperatures. So if you visit around Autumn, make sure to dress prepared for exploring.

It’s best to explore by foot, as this old mining town was not historically built for those with a wheelchair. So, keep in mind most pathways are on dirt tracks with stones.

23. See Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo State Park

At Año Nuevo State Park, you can hike to see up to thousands of elephant seals in their natural habitat, depending on the time of year your visit!

From December to March, you can join a guided tour to see these massive creatures up close as they come ashore to mate and give birth.

24. Explore Lassen Volcanic National Park

lassen volcanic state park lake

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the lesser-known national parks in California, making it a best-kept secret if you want an alternative to the huge crowds at Yosemite!

It is set around volcanoes within a seismically active area, creating bubbling mud pits and sulphur vents. You will feel like you just stepped onto a different planet!

It is also home to the world’s largest plug dome volcano, some beautiful coloured lakes, wildflower meadows and 150 miles of walking tracks.


Printable road trip meal planner.

Must-Do In Southern California

Southern California is world-renowned for its sunny weather, beautiful beaches, and celebrity culture.

This region of the state is also home to some of the most popular attractions in California, including Disneyland, Hollywood Boulevard, and San Diego Zoo.

Whether you’re looking for an action-packed vacation or a relaxing getaway, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for in Southern California.

Here are some of the best things to do in Southern California:

25. Camp Under The Stars In Joshua Tree National Park

joshua tree national park scenery

By Krisztina from She Wanders Abroad

One of the best things to do in Southern California is to visit Joshua Tree National Park. This national park is located in the Mojave Desert and is known for its amazing rock formations, cacti, and desert wildlife. The park is also home to some of the best hiking trails in the state.

One of the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park is to hike to the top of Ryan Mountain. This trail offers stunning views of the desert landscape and is a great workout. The hike is about 3 miles round trip and takes about 2-3 hours to complete.

Another great thing to do in Joshua Tree National Park is to camp under the stars. There are numerous camping sites throughout the park, and they offer a great way to experience the desert night sky.

Alternatively, you can find many unique Joshua Tree cabins around the park that offer a more comfortable camping experience.

If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, you can also go rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park. There are many different routes to choose from, and the scenery is simply stunning.

26. Palm Springs

palm springs palm trees and mountains

By Deanne from Scenic and Savvy

California is a favourite vacation destination with miles of coastline, warm weather, sunny skies, and a variety of things to see and do. If you’re looking for a mix of relaxation and adventure visit Palm Springs.

Located 110 miles east of Los Angeles and 135 northeast of San Diego, Palm Springs is set against a beautiful mountain backdrop in the Coachella Valley.

Palm Springs is known for its world-class golf courses, natural hot springs, boutique hotels, art, and architecture.

If hiking is your thing, you’re in luck. The best hikes in Palm Springs include something for everyone—adventurous slot canyons, challenging mountain peaks, and lush palm oases. The city’s proximity to Joshua Tree National Park makes Palm Springs a great home base for National Park adventure, too.

Got a few days to spend in Palm Springs? Check these out:

27. Visit The Happiest Place On Earth At Disneyland

parade at Disneyland with belle and cinderella

No trip to California would be complete without a visit to the happiest place on earth – Disneyland! This iconic theme park, and sister park Disneyland California Adventure Park, are perfect for kids and adults.

Whether visiting Disneyland for the first time or revisiting to discover more of the park’s secrets, there is an appeal for everyone in the family.

If planning to visit both theme parks, make sure you have at least 2 days because there is no way you will get through everything in a single day (or even in 3 days).

You can get a 2-day hopper pass that allows you to move between both parks as often as you like, or save more by getting a 2-day 1 park per day pass.

We had a 3-day single park per day ticket, doing the magic morning entry for the extra hour before the crowds really start and then deciding which park we wanted to spend our 3rd day. The kids chose California Adventure Park as it appealed most to them when they were little. Make use of all the fast pass options and other time-saving tips to make the most of your visit!

There is plenty to do in Anaheim between your park visits too!


Check out more tips for visiting Disneyland:

28. Hike To The Hollywood Sign

view from behind the hollywood sign

By Kim from Traveling Swansons

When in Southern California, one of the best things to do is the hike to the Hollywood Sign. Everyone has seen this sign in movies and on television. It’s one of the most iconic landmarks in the world. 

You can see the Hollywood sign in many spots throughout Los Angeles, but the best way to see it up close is by hiking.

There are a few different trails that will get you close. The most popular is the Brush Canyon Trail. This 6.5-mile moderately challenging trail takes you right behind the sign!  

Have your camera ready because this trail provides some of the most stunning and breathtaking views of the Hollywood Hills and the city of Los Angeles.

Want more ways to experience the iconic Hollywood sign?

29. Go On An Art Scavenger Hunt At Borrego Springs

Where else in the world can you go on a scavenger hunt searching for giant metal sea serpents, dinosaurs, giant insects and creatures that are out of this world?!

Borrego Springs is a small desert town located in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The only town in California completely surrounded by a state park! The town is home to over 100 cool art installations, which makes it the perfect place for an art scavenger hunt!

Even with some of the sculptures over 10 feet tall, spotting them in the desert can be a fun challenge making for a fun and budget-friendly activity for the whole family

30. Go Surfing At Huntington Beach

surfers off huntington beach

By Kaidon from Planes Trains And Karcz

If you are visiting California, it would be a real shame to skip Huntington Beach, an 8 and a half miles of yellow sand stretching along the water’s edge, giving the state the name of “Golden Coast”.

Yes, swimming, snorkelling, and other water-based activities are fun to do, but the crown jewel of Huntington Beach is the surfing.

Even if you have never surfed before, Huntington Beach offers warm waters and featureless terrain, making for a safe place to learn how to surf. Ample surf shops surround Huntington Beach where you can rent wetsuits, boards, and accessories.

You can even book a lesson with a private instructor if you want to streamline your learning curve. Either way, enjoy the thrill of surfing, whether it’s falling off your board again or catching that first wobbly wave until you find yourself flying across the swells!

31. Day Trip to Santa Catalina Island

catalina island avalon harbour

Off the coast of Los Angeles lies Santa Catalina Island, a beautiful island destination that makes for the perfect day trip from LA.

While you could easily spend a weekend or more exploring all that Santa Catalina has to offer if you’re short on time a day trip is a perfect way to get a taste of this special place.

There are many ways to get to Santa Catalina Island but the quickest and most popular is by taking a short boat ride from one of the mainland ports – Long Beach, Dana Point, San Pedro or Newport Beach.

Once on the island, you can explore the charming town of Avalon, visit Descanso Beach, take a glass-bottom boat tour, a Nautilus semi-submarine cruise, go on a scenic hike or just relax and enjoy the Mediterranean-like atmosphere.

32. Experience The Movie Magic At Universal Studios Hollywood

If you’re a movie fan, then a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood is a must!

This movie studio and theme park have something for everyone with thrilling rides based on some of your favourite movies and TV shows, behind-the-scenes tours, and interactive experiences. Don’t miss the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Planning to spend a few days in Los Angeles? A Los Angeles GO-City All-Inclusive Pass might save you money if you plan to see a few of the big attractions! You can even visit Universal with the 3+ day pass options. And attractions such as Legoland, Madame Tussauds, Magic Mountain, celebrity bus tours, San Diego Zoo & loads more!! Check out their website to compare the cost of all the attractions purchased individually compared to grabbing a Go-City Pass.

33. Balboa Park

balboa park

By Sam from Find Love & Travel

Balboa Park is one of the most iconic places in California and a must to visit during a weekend in San Diego! Located right near downtown San Diego, this urban park makes you feel like you are in another country with its beautiful Spanish influence and architecture. 

Back in 1868, the 1,400 acres were set aside by civil leaders to build Balboa Park. Today you will find 1,200 acres that include gardens, museums, shops, performing arts, restaurants, trails, and even the famous San Diego Zoo.

During a visit to Balboa Park, make sure to check out the botanical building and Lilly Pond, the Spanish Village Art Center, and one of the 17 museums.

This is just one of the best things to do in San Diego with kids!

34. Hang out in Los Alamos

los alamos old building

By Cecily from Groovy Mashed Potatoes

Take a road trip through the Santa Ynez Mountains to Los Alamos, a quirky Old West town known for its burgeoning culinary scene and unique atmosphere. The charming town may be small, but its creative vibe and passionate business owners make it one of the best places to visit in California.

There are many fun things to do in Los Alamos. Walk down the main strip, Bell Street, to find multiple wine tasting rooms, cute shops and gourmet restaurants.

Stop in at Casa Dumetz Wines to taste Grenache wines from their Feminist Party label, and don’t miss Lo-Fi Wines for their handcrafted natural wines and great tunes.

Eat French-inspired cuisine at Bell’s, an acclaimed restaurant by award-winning chef Daisy Ryan, or devour organic pizza from Full of Life Flatbread.

Cap the evening off with a pint at 1880 Union Motel, a former stagecoach stop that feels like you’ve travelled back in time to the Old West.

35. Griffith Observatory

By Alanna from Periodic Adventures

Los Angeles is full of iconic spots that often make lists of top attractions in California, but one of the absolute best is Griffith Observatory.

You probably recognize it from numerous movies like La La Land, Charlie’s Angels, and The Terminator. But, Griffith Observatory is so much more.

Filled with incredible exhibits focused on astronomy and our history of studying space, Griffith Observatory also has stunning views of downtown Los Angeles and the Hollywood Sign. Nestled in the rugged mountains, there are also tons of hiking trails.

While entry is free, be sure to pay the couple bucks for the planetarium show in the beautiful 360-degree theatre.

Don’t miss the Tesla coil demonstration and your chance to see how much you would weigh on each planet.

Lastly, if you can, visit at night to use the massive telescopes to view outer space!

You can easily make a full day of exploring Griffith Park, as there is also a zoo, botanical gardens, a theatre, a museum and sprawling parklands.

Get your Griffith Observatory tickets online

If you are only in Los Angeles for a short stay, the A Day In LA Tours or LA Grand Tour is a great way to see the highlights in a single day, including a view of the Hollywood sign!

36. Stroll along the picturesque Santa Monica Pier

Santa monica pier at sunset

Santa Monica Pier is an iconic place when sightseeing in California, situated at the end of historic Route 66.

The pier is home to a small amusement park with a Ferris wheel, an old-fashioned carousel, an aquarium, and much more. There are also plenty of places to grab a bite to eat or a drink.

During the day, people watch as street performers play music or do stunts while locals and tourists alike.

Explore Santa Monica and Venice Beach by electric bike with a guided bike tour.

37. Visit The Malibu Wineries

By Paula from Paula Pins the Planet

When you think about Malibu, you may think of laidback, upscale LA with surfers and celebrities. But here you can also find one of the best things to do in California – it is also an adventurous destination for wine lovers too.

Malibu is home to more than 50 wineries and 6 tasting rooms, located in the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, and producing some tasty (and affordable) wines. Some famous wineries are Cornell Winery & Tasting Room, Cielo Winery, and Rosenthal.

During your Los Angeles itinerary, make sure to add a visit to Rosenthal. It is the only wine bar and tasting room on the Pacific Coast Highway, located across the street from Topanga Beach. 

Behind the tasting room is a large, grassy mountainside patio that hosts live music on the weekends, occasional comedy shows and movie nights and great live music. Food trucks pull up in the car park on Saturdays and Sundays.

38. Get Outdoors At Malibu Creek State Park

Nature lovers will enjoy time outdoors at Malibu Creek State Park, just 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

Here you will get some of the best views of the city and of the Pacific Ocean due to their location in the Santa Monica Mountains.

This also makes it perfect for hiking and biking, horseriding, kayaking, mountain climbing and camping. Just keep an eye out for the local wildlife along the way, as the mountains are home to rattlesnakes, coyotes, and mountain lions!

39. Stroll Along The Hollywood Walk Of Fame

No visit to Los Angeles is complete without a stroll along Hollywood Boulevard to spot the famous names in the film and music industries. Spanning more than two kilometres, the Hollywood Walk of Fame features more than 2700 stars.

If you’re lucky, you might even be able to time your visit with a Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony and see some famous faces (rather than the many costumed performers lining the streets)!

There is plenty else to keep you entertained along the way with loads of attractions, such as Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Hollywood Museum and TCL Chinese Theatre.

40. Spot Animals At San Diego Zoo

The world-famous San Diego Zoo is one of the largest zoos in the world and is home to more than 3700 animals.

Set in Balboa Park, the zoo spans 100 hectares and is a must-visit for animal lovers of all ages.

You can easily spend a whole day here walking around and enjoying close encounters with some of the world’s most endangered animals. They have night tours for a unique nocturnal experience too.

If you have a second day to spare, check out San Diego Safari Park, around 40 minutes from downtown San Diego. Here you will feel like you have stepped into the African Savannah.

Book your San Diego Zoo tickets before you go.

41. Soak Up The Sun At Venice Beach

palm trees along venice beach

Venice Beach is one of the most iconic beaches in California and is famous for its canals, Muscle Beach outdoor gym, skatepark and boardwalk.

The beach is always buzzing with activity and is the perfect place to people watch, go for a swim, take a surfing lesson or try out one of the many sports on offer.

You can also enjoy some great food here with plenty of restaurants and cafes to choose from.

42. Island Hop The Channel Islands

channel islands national park view of islands

The Channel Islands National Park is a treasure trove for nature lovers with some of the most unique flora and fauna to discover.

The Channel Islands are a group of five islands you can access from Santa Barbara. Although part of the United States, you will feel like you have travelled far beyond.

The two main islands to visit are Anacapa Island, which is the closest to the mainland and perfect for day trips, and Santa Cruz Island – the largest of the Channel Islands.

Each of the islands offers camping options, hikes and nature experiences that are unique from one another.

43. Create Fun At California LEGOLAND

LEGOLAND California Resort is an interactive theme park specifically designed for families or anyone with a love of the world-famous LEGO bricks.

The park features more than 60 rides, shows and attractions, including a waterpark and LEGO inspired hotel. You will also find SEA LIFE Aquarium right next door.

Book your LEGOLAND California Resort tickets online

44. Visit The La Jolla Seals

la jolla cove with seals on beach

If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, take a trip to La Jolla Cove to see the breathtaking scenery, the sea caves, and of course, the seals.

These creatures lounge on the rocks at Children’s Pool Beach and are used to people, so you can get pretty close for some great photo opportunities!

There is also a ton of amazing seafood restaurants in La Jolla if you’re feeling hungry.

Check out some of the best tours and experiences to make your La Jolla Cove experience even more memorable:

45. Window Shop (Or Splurge) Along Rodeo Drive

Rodeo Drive is one of the most famous shopping streets in the world. This three-block stretch of upmarket stores in Beverly Hills is home to brands like Gucci, Valentino, Chanel, Tiffany & Co., Prada and many more.

Even if you can’t afford to shop here, it’s still fun to browse and marvel at the glitz!

46. Explore the Danish Town Of Solvang

solveg danish town in california

This small town located in the Santa Ynez Valley is like something out of a fairytale.

The streets are lined with Danish bakeries, windmills and charming stores selling everything from handcrafted wooden clogs to Viking horns.

Aside from the delicious eats, Solvang is also a popular wine tasting region with vineyards galore on the outskirts of town. Wander your way through a few different tasting rooms to enjoy the local drops!

Both Northern & Southern California Tourist Attractions

These experiences take you from North to South of California or in reverse, exploring more of the incredible Golden State by foot and by road.

47. Hike The Pacific Crest Trail

gator in sierra navada

By Staci from Gator And Nuthin

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650-mile tail that spans from Mexico to Canada – 1,690 miles of it are in California.

While it is not feasible to hike the state of California during your trip, there are multiple access points for day hikes or multi-day backpacking trips! California has various landscapes such as deserts, old-growth forests, and alpine mountains. 

In Southern California, the desert landscape takes on Lake Morena, San Jacinto, and Big Bear Lake. In Central California, there are countless beautiful hikes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains including the John Muir Trail, Forester Pass, Desolation Wilderness, and along the rim of Lake Tahoe.

In Northern California, some highlights include Sonora Pass, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and Mount Shasta. 

You can’t go wrong wherever you choose!

48. Attend A Summer Music Festival

While there are incredible music festivals all around the world, there’s something special about a summer music festival in the Golden State! While Coachella and Bottlerock might be the top of mind, there are over 30 different festivals across the state during the summer months!

49. Road Trip Route 66

route 66 sign on santa monica pier

Route 66 is one of the most iconic road trips in the USA and it runs right through California!

This legendary highway starts in Chicago and ends at the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles. Although the original highway does not exist in its original form, it is still possible to drive the full route or parts of it, taking around 40 hours and spanning multiple US states.

The California section of Historic Route 66 begins at the Arizona border taking you through Mojave Desert, over mountains and through valleys towards the beautiful Santa Monica beaches.

50. Drive Along The Pacific Coast Highway 

The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is one of the most scenic drives in the world. Also known as State Route 1, this winding road hugs the California coastline for over 650 miles from Orange County all the way up to Northern California, to Mendocino County at its most Northern point.

You will pass through seaside towns, Redwood forests and experience some of the best coastal views in the USA. Plus you can work your way through a large portion of your California bucket list while you’re at it!

Don’t forget your road trip playlist!

  • Flights – We use Skyscanner or WayAway to research, set price alerts and book flights.
  • Car hire – compare the best car rental prices.
  • Trains & Buses – We book with Omio
  • Accommodation – We use or Agoda to book most of our hotel accommodation when we travel.
  • Travel insurance – Protect yourself and your belongings with Hey Mondo.
  • Tours & attractions – Our preferred attraction and tour booking sites are Get Your Guide and Viator. Booking ahead will mean you don’t miss out on popular tours!

More California inspiration:

Need more help planning your next road trip? Grab our mammoth printable planner!!

Ultimate road trip planner.

There are so many amazing things to do in California that it can be hard to know where to start. We’ve highlighted some of the favourite spots and much-loved California attractions, but there is always something new to explore in the Golden State. So get out there and start checking items off your California bucket list!

What is top of the list on your California bucket list?

Travel Insurance: Make sure you don’t leave home without travel insurance. Trust us, it’s one of those things you don’t want to skip, especially when travelling with kids. Check out SafetyWing to make sure you’re covered!

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best things to do in california bucket list