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20 Best Places in California That You Can’t Miss

Last updated on September 12, 2023

California, or the Golden State, is literally bursting at the seams with beautiful destinations and activities. From charming towns and cities to breathtaking wilderness escapes, here are twenty of the best places to visit on your grand tour of California.

But first… If you’re a lover of all things theater, be sure to check out Travis Preston at CalArts as you’re leaving in LA – the perfect culture fix before setting off on your grand tour.

1. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite, California

Lying 165 miles east of San Francisco, Yosemite is one of the most popular National Parks in the country. From daredevil pursuits to unmissable attractions like Vernal Fall and Glacier Point, Yosemite offers every adventure activity one can possibly think of.

2. Lake Tahoe

Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, this stunning body of clear water can be seen in all its glory from the plethora of hiking trails surrounding it. Of particular interest are Emerald Bay and Sand Harbor for a surreal beach experience.

3. Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway, California

For the ultimate California road trip, the Pacific Coast Highway takes you to some remarkable scenic spots like Star Memorial Highway and other great locations.

4. Napa Valley

Napa Valley Wine Country, California

Known for its wineries, Napa Valley has over 400 of them, where cultivation of vineyards began in the 18th century. Home to Patwin Native Americans, the region is also famous for its old architecture which can be best enjoyed on a hot air balloon ride.

5. Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks, California

This area is made up of a wide number of smaller parks along the North California coast. Visitors can opt to visit any of them, especially to see the tall Redwood trees, towering 300 feet in the sky. Remnants of the ancient Jurassic period can also be found here.

6. Alcatraz

Alcatraz, California

Experiencing California on a cruise is a great way to explore the state. Alcatraz island is a great start as Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz enjoy a 22 acre rocky location with the ruins of the notorious prison in the background. 

7. Death Valley

death valley california

Don’t be deterred by the name, because Death Valley is the most visited tourist attraction in California, despite being the hottest place in the country. Some interesting spots here are Zabriskie Point overlooking the Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the United States.

8. Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach California

It is not just beaches that are found here but Laguna beach is home to two popular parks namely, Crystal Cove State Park and Heisler Park known for its wildflowers and other flora. An unmissable attraction in California.

9. Glory Hole, Lake BerryessaGlory Hole, Lake Berryessa, California

This beautiful spot is a part of Lake Berryessa in Napa County. A part of the Monticello Dam, visitors can see the terrifying whirlpools as the waters drain down from the spillways 

10. Cypress Tree Tunnel

Cypress Tree Tunnel

Located in Point Reyes, this tunnel consists entirely of Cypress Trees, forming an ethereal arch, creating a spectacular shadowy walkway.

11. Ojai Valley

Ojai Valley

For a calm California vacation, Ojai Valley is unbeatable. Lined with quaint shops and vineyards, one can go hiking or enjoy a day on the beach with sun and surf.

12. Big Sur

Big Sur, California

One of the most favourite coastal spot among visitors, Big Sur stretches for 90 miles past top attractions like Bixby Creek Bridge and McWay Falls.

13. Lava Beds National Monument

Lava Beds National Monument

This incredible place has over 700 caves, out of which 25 are made up of lava. You will have to crawl through the place to enjoy a whimsical experience.

14. Golden Gate Bridge

This iconic bridge is a world famous landmark which was once touted as a structure which was impossible to build due to the harsh elements. Accessible all day, the sunsets here are not to be missed.

15. Universal Studios

Universal Studios California

Situated within the city limits, this incredible attraction is full of entertainment and horror too. Adventure rides and magical experiences are the hallmark of Universal Studios.

16. Balboa Park

Balboa Park, San Diego, California

Situated in San Diego, the park has exotic gardens and 16 museums and is home to aeronautical wonders. The Spreckels Organ Pavilion has the biggest outdoor organ.

17. Joshua Tree National Park

Located between two deserts, the park is known for its diverse flora and fauna. Apart from zig-zag Joshua trees, you can check out Black Rock Canyon and Cottonwood Spring.

More from Joshua Tree here

18. Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, California

This small city is an ideal romantic getaway and the best surfing spot in the country. The relaxed vibe and the laid back atmosphere has made it very popular with couples.

19. Oxnard Dunes

Oxnard Dunes, California

Tranquil beaches and solitude has made Oxnard Dunes another hit with couples. A walk around the dunes is said to be the ultimate romantic experience.

20. Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument, California

You will find the tallest Redwood trees and spectacular views of Mount Tamalpais and the Pacific Ocean from the top of the hill. The Cathedral and Bohemian Grove are the other sought after places.

What are your favourite places in California? Leave a comment to share!

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