California has no shortage of beautiful places to see, that’s for sure! We’ve visited California numerous times over the years, and have traveled extensively from north to south and east to west. And still, we haven’t even been able to see and experience all of the beauty that California has to offer! So we reached out to some of our fellow “travel nuts” and bloggers to get their input on what they believe is the most beautiful of places to see in California.
Beautiful Spots in California: Divided Into North and South
We received so many awesome submissions about gorgeous places to visit in California, that we decided to break this long blog post up into Northern California and Southern California. While there are some stunning National Parks in the north, there are also some amazing beaches in the south…and so much to do in between! Take a peek below at what some of the top travel bloggers think are the most beautiful places to see in California.
Most Beautiful Places to See in Northern California
Northern California has some amazing cities and funky towns to explore like San Francisco or Santa Cruz. It has some of the most popular National Parks in the country such as Yosemite National Park & the Redwoods. Then there is the iconic wine region of Napa Valley as well as Lake Tahoe! If you are looking for all-season activities like skiing, biking, and hiking then Northern California might be the place for you.
1. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is one of America’s most beautiful spots. With 1,200 square miles of outstanding California natural beauty, it’s one of the most visited national parks in the world. It’s easy to see why.
Set within California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, I found Yosemite to be awe-inspiring. From surging waterfalls, towering sequoia trees and wildlife to the epic granite giants of El Capitan and Half Dome. I found myself constantly overwhelmed at vista after incredible vista. Yosemite is a place that needs to be explored first-hand to be truly appreciated. A place to immerse yourself and soak up nature’s splendor.
If you only have a day then take one of the Ranger Tours where you’ll see the Yosemite highlights. You can book online or on the day and these cost $38 for adults and $28 for children. The Yosemite Valley Floor Tour takes in sights including Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan, Tunnel View, and Bridal Veil Falls. Summer is the peak season when Yosemite will be busy with visitors. Try and avoid from late May to early September and visit in the shoulder season when it’s a bit quieter. In winter roads may be impassable due to snow.
Cars are allowed in Yosemite National Park and visitors pay an entrance fee of $30 in summer and $25 in winter. Parking is free once you’re at Yosemite but it is limited. Arrive early to get a parking spot. Once inside the park use the shuttle buses or walk to get around.
– Suzanne from The Travel Bunny
2. Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park
The Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful places in California. Yosemite National Park is a spectacular place in the USA. Most visitors come to see the giant granite cliffs and iconic domes in Yosemite Valley, yet if you drive a little further south you will enter a world of wooden giants. The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is home to some of the biggest trees in North America. Whilst they may not be as tall as the redwoods, there are bigger in terms of volume. Handy boardwalks are taking you to these living giants and plenty of hiking trails if you wish to spend the day exploring the Mariposa Grove.
Park up at the Mariposa Visitor Center and hop on the handy shuttle bus to enter the woodland grove. Once you are there decide how long you want to spend exploring. If you only have an hour or so, go on the Giant Grizzly loop which will take you past the California tunnel tree, the fallen monarch, the bachelor as well as the humongous giant grizzly tree.
If you have longer there are more hikes to choose from. Make sure you read some of the signs to learn more about these wonderful trees and the unique Mariposa Grove in Yosemite. In winter, the shuttle bus stops but you can still reach the huge trees by snowshoeing or cross-country skiing!
These beautiful giant trees are hard to appreciate unless you see them for yourself which makes it one of the most beautiful places in California.
– Anna from My Travel Scrapbook
3. Lake Tahoe in the Summer
The region around Lake Tahoe is one of our preferred destinations in California. The Sierra Nevada range is stunning, and the colors of the lake offer such a beautiful contrast with the surrounding mountains. Whatever the season, Lake Tahoe provides fantastic outdoor opportunities for the adventurous spirits. Exactly why we loved the area and spent many weekends and even weeks there.
In summer, pack a bag and head to the great outdoors! Kayak the turquoise Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe. Climb a Via Ferrata by Squaw Valley Resort. Go horseback riding in one of the national forests. Those looking for a thrill can even try parasailing! Free activities include hiking the challenging trail to Mt Tallac or the famous Rubicon Trail. Or plan camping under the sky in one of the several wilderness areas like the Desolation Wilderness.
4. Lake Tahoe in the Winter
Come winter, ski or snowboard one of the dozen ski resorts around Lake Tahoe. But for non-skiers, the area still has plenty of things to do. Ice skate at Heavenly Village. Try dog sledding around Kirkwood. For the more adventurous adventures, learn to snowkite when winds permit or build your igloo for a night to remember. Snowshoe on one of the numerous hiking trails, as well as tubing, can be done without any fees.
In both seasons, join a helicopter ride, jump to experience the thrills of skydiving, or board the gondola ride up to the Heavenly Mountains for incredible views of the lake and mountain range. Whatever you do, you are in for a treat.
Lake Tahoe stands over the California-Nevada state lines. Most of the activities are located at either the North Shore, where the city of Truckee is, or in the South Shore by the town of the same name. Both areas are within a 3-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area. Snowstorms combined with weekend traffic might turn the ride into a 7-hour feat, so watch winter conditions before heading out.
– Patricia from Ze Wandering Frogs
5 & 6. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Think of Sequoia National Park and trees will likely spring to mind. Most people visit because it’s the home of the General Sherman tree. At 2,100 years old and weighing 2.7 million pounds it’s the world’s largest. And undoubtedly impressive. But the park has much more to offer than just that.
Getting to the park is easy if you have your transport. And driving into the park on a road lined with magnificent giant sequoia’s and coastal redwoods is all part of the experience.
Wandering down to The Giants Forest you’ll come across half of the world’s oldest and largest trees. A phenomenal sight to see. And difficult to appreciate the size until you get up close. Don’t stop there though, combine a visit with hiking the trails around Crescent Meadow, where you’ll leave most of the other tourists behind and can take in the sheer size of these giants with the odd deer or muskrat to keep you company.
Kings Canyon National Park is a stone’s throw from Sequoia NP. But despite its proximity, it’s a different experience. Deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Kings Canyon is an under-visited gem that deserves a bigger audience. But then again, the relatively crowd-free atmosphere just adds to its attraction.
Things to do here include a range of walks along the valley floor and up into the backcountry. Roaring River Falls and Zumwalt Meadows are great places to start. And for a spectacular view across to a rock formation called The Sphinx (for reasons that become obvious) take the trail to Mist Falls. It’s a 12-mile round trip from Zumwalt Meadow but so worth it!
A vehicle pass that covers both parks and everyone traveling in the vehicle costs $35. An individual entry pass is $20. So don’t forget your camera. And be prepared for some serious natural beauty!
– Nicky from Above Us Only Skies
7 & 8. Lassen Volcanic National Park and Kings Creek Falls
Kings Creek Falls
– Nina from Where in the World is Nina
9. Muir Woods National Monument
California is a state with so many different beautiful places to see. Some of these can be more remote and harder to access during a trip but visiting Muir Woods is luckily quite easy. The stunning national monument is located an easy 40 minutes north of San Francisco so it’s super accessible during a visit to the city.
Adult entrance tickets are $15 and children under the age of 15 are free. If you’re driving your car (or a rental) please note that there’s a fee of $8.50 to park a regular or accessible car. To park an electronic car costs $11.50. The easiest way to get there is definitely by renting a car and driving yourself. If you opt for this then make sure you that book your parking spot ahead of time.
If you don’t want to drive then the park shuttle is the other easy option of getting there. The shuttle departs from Pohono Park & Ride (on weekends only), from Sausalito and Marin City Hub. The round trip is $3.25 per adult and free for kids. Both parking and shuttle reservations can be made online.
If you don’t have a lot of time to explore one of the national parks in the state then Muir Woods National Monument is a great alternative. You’ll still get to see redwoods so massive you pale in comparison, hike beautiful trails surrounded by nature and explore more about the area at the visitor center. You will love hiking up along the one side of the river and come back down on the other side of the river. It is a great way to explore the majority of the area on a time crunch.
– Liliane from My Toronto, My World
10. San Francisco Headlands
11. Golden Gate Park
San Francisco is, of course, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And within the city is Golden Gate Park, perhaps the most beautiful public park in the world. Bigger than Central Park in NYC, after which it was patterned, it begins beside the ocean and stretches inland. Unfortunately, the park isn’t easy to reach from downtown via public transportation, though entry is free except for a few attractions. If you drive a car, some free parking exists if you are willing to do some walking.
My favorite spots are the Buffalo Paddock, where a small herd of bison has lived since the 1880s, and the antique carousel (fee). I have been to the well maintained Japanese Tea Garden (fee) in every season, where I especially enjoy sitting in the Teahouse overlooking a koi pond while sipping green tea and munching Japanese cookies.
I have visited the de Young Museum (fee), which is next door to the tea garden, to view countless outstanding art exhibits (it is good to know that if you’d just like to see an overview of the park, you can enter the museum tower at no cost, and you can also visit the lobby, the gift shop, the restrooms, and a nice cafe that adjoins an outdoor sculpture garden).
Two more don’t-misses: Stow Lake, where you can view ducks or indulge in renting a rowboat and ply the lake; and the Victorian Conservatory of Flowers, where a 35-foot-tall imperial philodendron from southeastern Brazil has grown under the dome since 1901.
– Carole from Berkeley and Beyond
12. Sutro Baths
Its strategic location on the edge of the Pacific Ocean meant that the pools can fill up with water in a heartbeat. However, as time went on, Sutro Baths weren’t doing so well financially. Eventually, it was sold to a man that wanted to build a high-rise residential building. A fire then destroyed the remains of the Sutro Baths and it became a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area since 1973.
The reason why I love it so much is for its aesthetics. It is a place where the United States meets the Pacific Ocean. Remains of the original bath can still be seen today and its glorious ruins combined with the mesmerizing beauty of a sunset on the west coast will take your breath away. The area around Sutro Baths is also a protected recreation area with trails where visitors can relax on the dramatic cliffs and watch the magic of a sunset unfold in front of their eyes.
It is completely free to visit the Sutro Baths and it is easily accessible via public transportation.
13. Napa Valley
14 & 15. Monterey & Pacific Grove
One of the most beautiful and interesting areas on the California coast is anchored by the quaint towns of Monterey and Pacific Grove. The towns occupy a peninsula on scenic Route 1 at the northern end of California’s Big Sur.
Monterey California has changed dramatically since John Steinbeck immortalized the town in his novel Cannery Row. The sardine factory buildings are still there, but now they house upscale restaurants and tourist shops. A diverse range of hotels and inns offer easy access to the quaint town and rugged coast.
The historic downtown is home to the acclaimed Monterey Aquarium, which highlights the diversity of coastal California. Check out the aquarium’s giant tanks featuring the bay’s rich kelp beds, then head to the outdoor areas to see wild otters at play just offshore.
There are plenty of places to eat along Lighthouse Avenue and on the Fisherman’s Wharf pier. Avoid the touristy chain restaurants and head to local spots like Sandbar & Grill or Gianni’s Pizza.
The neighboring town of Pacific Grove is the site of even more natural beauty. Start your day with breakfast on the porch at First Awakenings, then take a stroll near Lover’s Point and the Point Pinos Lighthouse.
You’ll find more spectacular views and a sandy beach on the 1-mile Asilomar Beach Trail. Magnificent inns face the sea where waves crash on the rocky shore and wildflowers line the trail. Nearby is the start of 17-Mile Drive, a famously scenic road past mansions, ocean views, and golf courses. Note there is a $10.50 admission fee per vehicle.
16. Monterey Bay
There is no shortage of beautiful places in California but one of our favorites is Monterey. Located on the rugged central coast, the county of Monterey is filled with characterful towns and villages and miles of sand and surf. It originally made a name for itself as the center of the sardine-packing industry but these days it’s better known for its wineries, whale-watching, its network of tidal pools and its famous golf courses. Monterey is also popular for its aquarium and was one of our favorite places to visit in town.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is home to more than 35,000 marine species, located in the old sardine cannery right on the ocean. Another reason that visitors flock to the area is to visit nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea, a storybook village with cobblestone streets and no road names. To appreciate how beautiful this corner of California is, however, you need a car.
The most famous coastal path is the iconic Highway 1 but if you want to explore more then try the 17-Mile-Drive, which takes in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach (there’s a small entrance fee). For something a bit longer, try the Carmel Valley Road, a 35-mile drive that winds its way through the picturesque wine country.
– Katja from Globetotting
17. Northern California Wine Country
Napa Valley in Northern California Wine Country is a must-visit for any wine lovers. With over 400 wineries and magnificent vineyards, Napa Valley is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in California. Napa is a short car ride from San Francisco and can be explored as a day trip from the city, but we recommend spending at least a weekend in Napa to soak in all that the region has to offer.
Many people visit Napa for wine tasting and high-end culinary experiences. There are many wineries in Napa worth a stop but some of the most gorgeous grounds include Chateau Montelena (a hillside gothic castle covered in ivy) and Castello di Amorosa both located in Calistoga. The best way to explore the region and go wine tasting is to ride the Napa Valley Wine Train or take a private wine tour.
Aside from wine tasting, there are many more things to do in Napa Valley. Take a hot-air balloon ride over the Valley and marvel at the view. Embark on a food tour across St Helena and taste incredible dishes from world-famous chefs. Relax and recharge in the Calistoga Hot Springs and indulge in a luxury spa treatment. Finally, end your days watching a gorgeous sunset with the Mayacamas and Vaca Mountains in the background.
– Julie with Wandering Sunsets
18. Big Sur
No scenic Pacific Coast Highway road trip is complete without visiting iconic Big Sur and Bixby Bridge. The Big Sur is home to 9 state parks, several hiking trails, and a spectacular 80-foot waterfall. This one never dries up and located just a short walk from the Pacific Coast Highway at the Julia Pfeiffer State Park.
Stretching on the central coast between Carmel River and San Carpoforo Creek, Big Sur is a 2-lane winding road on a seaside cliff on Highway 1. While tourist-related services are limited, there are plenty of beautiful places along this route where you can stop and park your car if you want to spend some time just to embrace the views.
To get to Big Sur you’ll travel over the 714-feet-long Bixby Bridge. It’s one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the United States and one of the most spectacular bridges on the West Coast.
There are many beautiful sights along the Big Sur – Pfeiffer Beach, McWay Falls, Point Sur State Historic Park, Ragged Point – lap them up by stopping often.
Depending on how much time you have, spend a few days relaxing along the route, soaking up some of the scenery and just chilling out. Remember, a journey is as important as the destination!
The Big Sur is a rural mountain community with an arty, hippy focus that offers a lot of relatively unspoiled coastline, beaches, forests, and wilderness areas. If you have time, the natural hot spring baths at the Esalen Institute offers guests experiences from yoga retreats to writing workshops. They’re well known for their healing qualities for both body and mind in natural swimming pools over the stormy surf below.
– Ivan from Mind the Travel
19. Santa Cruz
Boasting both sandy beaches and redwood forests, Santa Cruz is easily one of the most beautiful destinations in California. This laid back beachside town is home to the University of California, Santa Cruz, which is nestled into a dense redwood forest atop a hill. Visitors can tour the campus and witness the lush foliage that surrounds the college as well as finding stunning views of the Pacific Ocean from one of its many lookout points. At the base of the campus, you’ll find an incredible arboretum that hosts South African, New Zealand, and Australian gardens, all of which are filled with plants native to those regions.
After visiting the college, you can make your way down to the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk, which is an amusement park right along the ocean. This unique location has been featured in numerous movies over the years, most notably in the 1987 Vampire film Lost Boys. You’ll have the opportunity to ride roller coasters and relax on the beach in the same general area. However, if you’re looking for quieter and more pristine beaches, I would recommend heading east towards the Seabright State Beach or west towards Panther Beach.
Depending on where you’re coming from, you’ll likely take either highway 1 or highway 17 to reach Santa Cruz. The roads can be a bit windy, especially on highway 17, but once you arrive you’ll find that the journey was more than worth it to spend time in this unique California destination.
– Michael from Passport Explored
Located in Santa Cruz County sits the beautiful coastal town of Capitola. We first discovered the quaint town on one of our California road trips and it is one of the most random, amazing spots we’ve come across and It’s a perfect destination for a day trip from Santa Cruz.
This small town boasts some of the most picturesque settings we’ve seen. The brightly colored condos, known as the Capitola Venetians, line the sandy beach in Capitola and they are a definite must-see when visiting. You’ll also have to make your way to the old wooden wharf, where you’ll get amazing views of Monterey Bay.
As far as activities go, it depends on what you’re feeling. For all the shopping and dining, the Capitola Village is the place to be. For adventure on the water, book a surfing lesson with a local shop, as Capitola is known for its waves. And if you’re not sure, the nice thing about Capitola is that it’s also a perfect town to walk around and explore.
We love Capitola because of its laid-back vibe matched with its incredible coastal views and small-town charm. It’s one of those places that’s hard to explain how truly amazing it is, so we highly recommend checking it out next time you’re in California!
– Hannah & Adam Lukaszewicz from Getting Stamped
21 & 22. Mammoth Lakes and Mammoth Mountain
If you’re looking for the ultimate stunning mountain scenery in California, add Mammoth Lakes, to your Golden State bucket list. No matter which season you choose to visit (many mountain travelers are decided “winter people” or “summer people”), this little four-square-mile town in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains (along scenic Hwy. 395) is a gateway to the best of outdoor recreation with a gorgeous mountain backdrop.
In winter months, Mammoth Lakes is the ultimate winter wonderland. Of course “winter wonderland” might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of California. Many people don’t even associate the state with snow. Surprise! There IS snow (a lot of snow, actually!) With an average annual snowfall of more than 33 ft. (10 m), Mammoth Lakes is made for all things winter.
Think: skiing or snowboarding at Mammoth Mountain (California’s highest chairlift-accessible ski resort), scenic gondola rides with views of snowy peaks and snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in a winter wonderland on Mammoth Lakes’ miles of winter trails.
During the short but sweet Sierra summers, Mammoth Lakes is a hub for all things summer recreation! Whether you use Mammoth Lakes as your jumping-off point for an epic backpacking trip through some of the most breathtaking mountains in the world (the PCT and JMT both pass by Mammoth Lakes) or a visit to the iconic Yosemite National Park (the east entrance to the park is just 45 minutes from town) your options for outdoor adventures in picturesque mountains are seemingly endless.
Of course, if your ideal mountain trip involves more R&R and taking in the views than active adventuring, there’s plenty of that to go around too. Spend the day catching trout in a crystal-clear alpine lake or hunker down in a hammock strung between two pines while soaking in the views of towering Sierra peaks.
– Meghan from Meg Moves Mountains
23. Pebble Beach
Golf fan or not, Pebble Beach is one of the most well-known, and exclusive places on the California coast. Yes, a national golf tournament is held each February on three of the eight golf courses in Pebble Beach. At any other time of the year, however, the natural beauty of the area is what shines through. Well, that and the jaw-dropping real estate.
Access to Pebble Beach (an unincorporated community on the Monterey Peninsula) is via “17-Mile Drive.” For a fee of $10.50 per vehicle, 17-Mile Drive is open to the public from sunrise to sunset.
As you meander around the narrow roadway (that hugs the coast in many sections), be ready to stop at various landmarks. There are sometimes small parking lots and many times a variety of parallel parking spaces. Our favorite sites include Pescadero Point, which is a conservation area for marine life and vegetation. Paved pathways lead to picturesque rocky cliffs, trees, flowers, and the Pacific Ocean. Lone Cypress® (yes, it’s a registered trademark) is probably the most well-known piece of nature on 17-Mile Drive.
Just for kicks, it’s also fun to check Redfin as you’re driving through Pebble Beach. Real estate of all sizes goes for a pretty penny in this exclusive enclave.
The draw is a natural beauty that Pebble Beach offers. Forest canopy, ocean air, and views for miles can’t be beaten!
– Nicolette from Semi-Budget Travel
24 & 25. Fort Bragg and Mendocino
Fort Bragg and Mendocino are two of the most beautiful places along the Northern California coast. The coastal towns are only located approximately 15 minutes and 10 miles from each other off of the Pacific Coast Highway, but both have amazingly beautiful coastlines and places to see.
Glass Beach is one of the most famous places to visit in Fort Bragg. Here, at the turn of the century, residents used to throw their trash into the ocean. The ocean would wash up the discarded glass bottles, eventually turning them into sea glass of various sizes and colors. You’ll find an entire beach of sea glass washed onto the shore. Best of all, Glass Beach is free to visit!
Mendocino is known for its iconic seaside cliffs and is the perfect place to take a hike when visiting the area. Mendocino Headlands State Park is the best and easiest place to hike, not to mention the fact that it is free! Walk along the Point Mendocino Trail for approximately 2 miles one way and you’ll be hugging the shore and taking in beautiful views. If you enjoy kayaking, you’ll also be able to explore the sea caves hidden just underneath these cliffs.
After your hike, explore the quaint and cutesy downtown Mendocino Main Street. There are a few bed and breakfasts as well as museums and shops located all along this street. It’s the perfect spot to grab a souvenir to bring home. Take a road trip to Fort Bragg and Mendocino for the best way to see the Northern California coast!
– Constance from The Adventures of Panda Bear
26 & 27. Eastern Sierra and Mono Lake
Over on the eastern side of California, the Eastern Sierra makes for a fabulous road trip. With a spectacular landscape that features tall mountains, beautiful lakes, and emerald forests, the Eastern Sierra will captivate you if you love nature and the outdoors. And the fall colors in the Eastern Sierra are probably the best this side of the Mississippi.
California State Route 395 runs north to south in this part of the state and is the route to follow if you plan to explore the region. You can start in South Lake Tahoe and work your way down, or begin in the south at Lone Pine and drive north. While fall is undoubtedly a fabulous time of year to do this trip, late spring and summer are wonderful as well.
On this route, you will pass several beautiful lakes. The June Lake Loop, near Mammoth Lakes, features five lakes, many of them ideal for boating. Near Lee Vining, Mono Lake is a unique saltwater lake that functions as a habitat for millions of migratory birds. Also near Lee Vining, the ghost town of Bodie is well worth the stop: it is a former gold rush boomtown whose inhabitants fled in the bust, leaving much of their possessions behind. Conway Summit, the highest point on the drive, features panoramic views. Near Mammoth Lakes, you must not miss the Devils Postpile National Monument. And the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is a fascinating stop as well.
We loved the diversity of sights in the region, and can’t wait to return, to explore further. If you are planning a trip to California, but the Eastern Sierra on your itinerary: you will not be disappointed!
– Dhara with Not About The Miles
Most Beautiful Places to See in Southern California
When most think of California the first thoughts that might come to mind are the California beaches. Southern California hosts some of the most amazing beaches in the US and some of the liveliest towns as well. Check out some of these beautiful places in Southern California.
28. San Diego
- San Diego Zoo: Known as one of the best in the world
- Balboa Park: A stunning park that is home to beautiful gardens, 17 museums, and the San Diego Zoo.
- USS Midway: A huge aircraft carrier right in Downtown San Diego
- Coronado Island: One of my favorite places to catch great views of the San Diego Skyline and home to the famous Hotel Del Coronado
- La Jolla: An upscale Beach Town with a lot of flair and stunning coastal views, excellent restaurants, and top-notch hotels.
- Brewery Tours: San Diego is known as a Craft Beer Mecca! Try some delicious craft beers and mingle with locals.
- Tacos: Tacos are so important to San Diego, they should have their spot on your itinerary.
- San Diego Beaches: The San Diego coastline is stunning, so that makes for some pretty epic beaches and places to sunbathe, surf, and even play in the sand with your dog.
29. Joshua Tree National Park
One look at Joshua Tree National Park, and it’s easy to understand why some people think it’s the most beautiful place in California. This national park spans two different deserts: the Mojave and the Sonoran. So you can find the flora and fauna of both deserts in this amazing area.
But the most famous feature of Joshua Tree National Park is the Joshua tree. The word tree is a misnomer since the Joshua tree is a member of the agave family. No one knows exactly how the Joshua tree got its name, although some say that the Mormon settlers called it the Joshua tree after the Biblical figure Joshua. The plant does look a bit like a gnarled hand stretched up towards heaven. Just don’t high five the Joshua trees because they are prickly!
The Joshua tree is certainly not the only thing to see in Joshua Tree National Park. You can go hiking on the Hidden Valley Nature Trail, bike riding, or birdwatching, depending on your interests. You can also see the famous San Andreas Fault, which runs through Joshua Tree National Park. Finally, head to Keys View for amazing views of the Coachella Valley.
There are several ways to see Joshua Tree National Park. Many travelers drive through the park as part of a road trip itinerary. It’s a perfect stop between Las Vegas and Los Angeles or the Grand Canyon and San Diego, just to give a few examples. But if you don’t have a car, you can still visit Joshua Tree National Park. Spend a few days in Palm Springs, California and use one of the local tour companies to visit Joshua Tree. It’s an easy and fairly affordable way to see one of the most special places in California.
– Stella Jane from Around The World In 24 Hours
30. Big Bear Lake
High up in the snow-covered mountains is a dreamy winter wonderland known as Big Bear, California. “Snow-covered mountains” and California don’t seem to run in the same sentence much, but this hidden gem is where you want to go when you are looking for the most beautiful places in Southern California.
Not only is Big Bear home to the popular ski resort Californias flock to in the Winters, but Big Bear is also home to Big Bear Lake, which is a fabulous destination for a Spring, Summer or Fall getaway as well.
This National Forest is full of beautiful sights wherever you go. From mountain-top views to lakefront houses, forests full of animals to hiking trails you won’t want to miss. If you want amazing views, you have to hike up to Castle Rock, where you’ll see a breathtaking view of the lake below the mountains. Ride in a pontoon boat for some of the most beautiful views from the water, and enjoy your weekend in a cozy cabin in the woods.
You would never guess this beautiful town was just shy of 100 miles from Los Angeles. It’s the perfect hidden gem for a weekend getaway no matter what the season.
– Sara with Our Kind of Crazy
The state of California is just beyond gorgeous in general; however, you may not have heard of the beautiful town Carlsbad, located in North County San Diego. This quaint little beach town is about 30 minutes North of downtown San Diego. It is a city located right along the water.
Carlsbad, California has so much to offer! There a ton of cute and beachy shops to peruse through in downtown Carlsbad. If you are looking to be a little more active then I highly recommend walking along the boardwalk of Carlsbad. A super popular walk or run is to do the Carlsbad Sea Wall trail which goes all along the ocean. You can either walk down below closer to the ocean or you can walk up to higher along the street.
In the spring and fall, Carlsbad holds a huge street fair with tons of vendors. I also highly recommend visiting the Carlsbad flower fields during the springtime. These flower fields make for some beautiful pictures. If you are visiting Carlsbad in the summer, then I recommend going out for a surfing session and then grabbing a classic California burrito from Cessy’s Taco shop located right in downtown Carlsbad.
You can always end your night by watching a beautiful sunset from Carlsbad Beach. Grab a beach chair, pick up some food or pack a picnic and sit and enjoy watching the sunset.
– Chelsey from My Explore With Me
32 & 33. Newport Beach and Corona Beach
Though the west coast is filled with beaches along its coastline, the Newport Beach area stands out as one of the most beautiful places to see in California. With light sand, rich blue water that is warm enough for a swim, and mostly clear, sunny days, this stretch of sand and upscale shops and restaurants is a perfect place to visit any time of the year.
Newport Beach is made up of 10 miles of coastline with many perfect beaches to enjoy down the Pacific Coast Highway with easy access to the 55 freeway. The Balboa Peninsula has its old school boardwalk charm, Ferris wheel, and sea lion harbor cruise. You can park for free and conveniently take the trolley to the pier. The Wedge is a hot spot for surfers or just for watching the waves with a picnic. Corona del Mar State Beach is perfect for families, sunset watching, and evening bonfires in the provided fire rings (parking is $4.50 per hour).
Just south is Little Corona Beach which is a personal favorite and truly a hidden gem. Parking is available in the residential area around the beach only, so be sure to arrive early on a hot summer day especially. A paved hill provides easy access down to the gorgeous cove with gentle waves and sweet tide pools. Rustic Crystal Cove State Park also offers camping opportunities, but be sure to book early if this is on your agenda!
Pleasant summer evenings allow visitors to browse the unique art galleries or rent beach cruisers and ride the beachfront path. Bandera is the perfect place for a tasty southwestern meal and Sprinkles is a must-stop spot for ice cream. No matter whether you visit Newport Beach to swim, surf, or drive the coastal highway, you are sure to enjoy this beautiful California treasure.
– Sierra from Free to Travel Mama
34. Palm Springs
Palm Springs California is a phenomenal oasis in the middle of the Colorado Desert and one of the world’s most desired vacation destinations. If you have visited Coachella Valley and wonder why the Palm Springs area is so green and lush, it is because it sits on top of a massive aquifer.
The town became super popular in the 1940s and 1950s because it is within two hours of Hollywood and movie stars flocked there to relax and play. Make sure to stay in or at least visit some of the wonderful mid-century modern architecture inns, like Amin Casa (formerly Gloria Swanson’s home).
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a must-do and the pine forest at the top can be 30 degrees cooler (or more) than the base of the mountain. A magnificent and transformational experience is visiting the San Andreas earthquake fault line on a Desert Adventure Red Jeep Tour. It is fascinating to witness this shifting landscape terrain and hike in the slot canyons.
When looking for something to do besides golfing, pool lounging, and eating remarkable food, explore nearby Joshua Tree National Park, Salton Sea, Anza-Borrego State Park (largest in California), and various other wilderness areas. Palm Springs has their small airport (with many seasonal and some year-round flights from various US airports) but also consider flying into other Southern California airports (like LAX or Long Beach) and renting a car.
– Charles from McCool Travel
35. Catalina Island
When you think of the most beautiful places to see in California you have to think of Catalina Island. The island is officially known as Santa Catalina Island and is one of California’s Channel Islands, located just off the coast of Los Angeles in the Pacific Ocean. Removed from the hustle and bustle of the mainland, Catalina Island is the quintessential tropical paradise that successfully beckons travelers away from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
Picture this: crystal blue waters stocked full of tropical fish and sea life; palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze; waves gently lapping against the boardwalk; sparse crowds even during the busiest times of the year…it’s simply paradise. Catalina Island is an outdoor lover’s haven: submarine and glass-bottomed boat tours to check out the local underwater wildlife, parasailing through Avalon Cove, playing 9 holes at the oldest golf course west of the Mississippi, or my personal favorite: renting a bicycle and pedaling down the boardwalk along the water.
Catalina Island is a perfect weekend getaway that won’t break your bank. The best way to reach Catalina Island is by ferry boat. Tickets should be purchased online a few days before your trip. Ferries leave from Newport Beach and Long Beach. My recommendation is to take the Catalina Flyer out of Newport Beach – it’s a shorter trip, usually has better deals, and you’re almost guaranteed to be accompanied by some playful dolphins along the way!
– Rachelle from Adventure Is Never Far Away
36. Mount Jacinto State Park
37 & 38. The Salton Sea and Bombay Beach
The Salton Sea is a surreal place. This “Sea” is the largest lake in California and created by accident in the early 1900s when irrigation from the Colorado River flooded a salt flat. The Salton Sea is located in the southeast part of California, about an hour south of Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park.
In the mid-1900s, the lake was a playground of the rich and famous, but over the years, the lake has become polluted as agricultural run-off is the only new water being added to the shrinking lake. Most of the fish have died, which is evident by the beaches covered with fish bones. Despite the toxicity, the lake is an incredibly beautiful spot to explore.
The best highlights of the Salton Sea can be found on the east side of the lake. From north to south, you can stop at the International Banana Museum for a homemade Banana Shake. Further south, you can visit the Salton Sea state recreation area. For a small fee, you can visit for the day or spend a little more on camp. At mid-lake, you can stop in the dusty town of Bombay Beach, one of the quirkiest towns in America. Once a town of mostly rotting mobile homes, it’s now being rejuvenated by artists. There’s art around town and at the old town pier above the levee. In the spring, they have a pop-up art festival.
39 & 40. Slab City and Salvation Mountain
What makes Slab City so special?
First of all, there are no gas stations. So whether you are driving 1.5 hours from Palm Springs, 2.5 hours from San Diego, or 3 hours from Los Angeles, be sure to fill up your tank. There are no tour buses that frequent Slab City regularly, so the most convenient way to visit is by renting a car. There are also no restaurants. So bring snacks. And lots of water.
Slab City itself is an off-grid living community at the bottom of Coachella Valley. During the winter, the community booms with snowbirds, free-spirited individuals who want to escape the cold of their hometowns. But in the summer, as temperatures soar to the triple digits before 10 am, there are only a few permanent residents left. There are numerous tents, RVs, and makeshift houses that create the “town,” and even more colorful residents.
The main draw to Slab City for tourists is the art installations. The biggest, and most well known, is Salvation Mountain. It was built by one man, who over a few decades, created a mountain out of garbage. One man’s trash is another man’s monument to love and acceptance. But that’s just the way Slab City works. Everything is repurposed, and the residents take care of their space and expect tourists to do the same. Another popular art installation is East Jesus, which is a collection of smaller works made out of everyday items.
While Slab City is an easy day trip, if you want to hang out with locals, you will have to wait until the sun sets and the moon rises. A few Slab City residents even have some of their spaces available on Airbnb! You don’t mind sharing, do you?
– Kay from The Awkward Traveller
41. Imperial Sand Dunes
Although a lot of California is a desert, it is usually a surprise when visitors learn of California’s dunes! Arguably, the best dunes are right near the border of Mexico – the Imperial Sand Dunes. If you care about surviving your trip, you should visit anytime that ISN’T summer, as summer temperatures quickly soar above 110 degrees Fahrenheit before the sun has even finished rising.
The Imperial Sand Dunes are 2.5 hours from San Diego, 2 hours from Palm Springs, and 3 hours from Los Angeles. So, if you are already in the Southern California area, the dunes are an easy day trip. However, there are also RV and camping options at the state park!
Permits/day passes are required during late fall to early spring, October-April. You can purchase permits in advance for $35/week, vs $50/week if purchased onsite. If you have America the Beautiful National Park Pass, you are completely covered! The most popular activity to do at the dunes is ATV and off-road driving! Though it is equally acceptable to go just to look at the dunes and enjoy the scenery! Camping in the Imperial Sand Dunes offers some of the clearest night skies in Southern California, void of the light pollution from the bigger cities.
– Kay from The Awkward Traveller
42 & 43. Santa Barbara and Lizard’s Mouth
Santa Barbara is a charming city that sits along the Pacific Coastline. Unlike the bustle and hustle of San Francisco and LA, it is laid back and relaxing, and thus, is one of my favorite places in California.
The waters in Santa Barbara are crystal clear with lush palm trees that are most representative of the characteristics that define the West Coast. Not only is it a great destination for beach hopping, but Santa Barbara also offers lots of trekking and hiking opportunities.
One of the best hikes in the city is the Lizard’s Mouth, a trek along the rolling hills that overlooks the ocean. Like many other free things to do in Santa Barbara, Lizard’s Mouth is a reminder that not all nice things have to cost a pretty buck. Sometimes, a pair of decent hiking shoes and an urge for adventure will do wonders.
Lizard’s Mouth in Santa Barbera
Tucked away in the middle of undulating mountain ranges, Lizard’s Mouth is a gigantic rock formation that tilts 45-degrees toward the forest underneath. There are no railings or fencing along the cliff, which is just meters away, but that makes it all the more exciting.
It is best to visit this gem during sunset. The colors in the sky will provide a breathtaking backdrop for the scene underneath. To the east, you will spot the city sitting quietly against the Pacific. To the west, the ocean stretches out endlessly. It is a place like no other.
– Daisy from Beyond My Broder
44. Red Rock Canyon State Park
One of the hidden treasures amongst California’s State Parks is Red Rock Canyon. Filled with dreamy red rock cliffs and Joshua trees, it’s a wonder that this place is not more well known – though it has been used as a backdrop for many a Hollywood production! If you’re driving up from LA on Highway 14, Red Rock Canyon State Park is the perfect stop along the way on your Death Valley road trip.
Some of the best parts of the park you can find right on the side of the highway on the way in, like Turk’s Turban and the Red Cliffs Natural Area. Both are prime photo spots, and before the park entrance so they don’t require a fee to see them. Past the entrance, day-use parking is $6 per vehicle, or you can camp on a first-come-first-serve basis for $25 per night per site. If you like to hike, you can spend the afternoon doing a short hike through Hagen Canyon. Whether you come by for a quick photo spot or end up spending the night here, Red Rock Canyon State Park is worth a stop.
– Haley from Ready Set Jet Set
45. Hollywood Sign Hike in Los Angles
It is easy for me to say that one of the most beautiful places in California is Los Angeles. And ever since I was a little, I have always wanted to visit LA. Los Angeles, a city of dreams, is a very great place to explore, and there are many things you can do. However, my absolute favorite thing to do is a hike to the Hollywood sign. It is a wonderful hike where you can get a great view of Los Angeles. And if you combine it with a sunset, then you will be rewarded with gorgeous pinky colors overlooking LA.
There are many hikes you can choose from, but we did an easy hike starting at Lake Hollywood Park. Here you can park for free, and it is easy to find. This is a 1-hour hike, about 2.2 miles, and we will get you behind the Hollywood sign. So make sure to allow enough time to get to the top. Every hike is a little bit tricky, especially to find a way to get to the sign, but at our post from the Hollywood sunset hike, we are describing the right way how to get to the top of the sign. There is no entrance fee, and you can go for a hike with your dog. I am sure you will enjoy the views on LA as much as we did.
– Gigi from Beach Addicted
46. Anza Borrego
47 & 48. Death Valley and Badwater Basin
One of the most gorgeous national parks in California is Death Valley. It’s the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the country, and it’s is something you simply have to see in person. I was fascinated by the landscapes as well as the amazing stargazing once the sun went down.
Death Valley is about 5 hours from Los Angeles and 2.5 hours from Las Vegas. Make sure you have a full gas tank as you get closer to the park boundary because it’s rather desolate out there. You’ll find a couple of gas stations in the park (the one at Stovepipe Wells was the cheapest when we visited), but you don’t want to risk getting stuck somewhere. The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle, but if you have a national park pass, you won’t have to pay anything extra.
It’s highly recommended that you explore early in the morning and late in the afternoon to avoid the harsh midday sun, and make sure you have plenty of water. I also recommend having some food with you, or even packing a lunch, because there aren’t a ton of food options in the park.
The easiest sights to reach include Badwater Basin (the lowest point), Artist’s Palette, and Mesquite Dunes. They’re not too far from each other, but they have drastically different landscapes. We saw people walking rather far out at the dunes and Badwater Basin, but remember the heat can sap your energy quickly, so don’t take any unnecessary risks.
If you’re camping, check out the Panamint Springs campground. It’s privately run and just on the western edge of the park. This means it’s a farther drive (about 45 minutes to an hour) to the visitors center, but it’s also at a higher elevation, so it’s not as hot as the campgrounds within the park.
– Ali from Sleep in the Woods
49. Oak Glen
50. El Matador Beach
El Matador Beach is one of the most iconic beaches in California, known for its dramatic cliff formations and beautiful scenery with just a short driving distance from Malibu and Los Angeles. It is one of the beaches that is included within the Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach.
El Matador State Beach is especially popular in the summertime and there are several picnic tables with ocean views and plenty of spots on the beach for sunbathing and for those who want to take a dip into the Pacific Ocean. To get down to the beach and cliff formations, one has to walk down a trail that descends through stairs that take you all the way to the beach, crossing the eroding formations that make up the spectacular scenery of El Matador State Beach.
The sea stacks have become popular among photographers from all over the United States and worldwide as well. It’s a perfect place to shoot swimsuit campaigns and capture stunning sunsets with scenic backdrops. The northern part of the beach also features several caves that are facing the ocean where visitors can explore.
It is free to enter and there is a parking lot above El Matador State Beach. The best time is to come here in the early morning for sunset or before the crowds come at mid-day. Additionally, before sunset is amazing too, although you’ll have to share the beach and iconic sea stacks with other visitors and photographers who’ve come here to enjoy the beautiful sunsets.
The best way to get to the beach is by car and it is well-signed, especially once you reach Malibu.
– Alexander from Gourmand Trotter