A top destination for many travelers, there are so many incredible things to do in California. Spot a celebrity in Hollywood, hike to the top of the highest mountain in the contiguous U.S., and catch some of the best waves of your life in the golden state.
I’ve devised this ultimate list of the best things to do in California from my years of experience living in the Golden State.
From Los Angeles activities to nature adventures, these are my favorite things to do and I’m confident they will be yours too.
Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support us by purchasing via the affiliate links on this page, which may earn us commissions. Thank you!
51 Best Things to Do in California
📺 Prefer a video? In the below video Jericha, also a California local, covers her 91 favorite things to do in California 👇:
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Find your favorite celebrity’s dedication star on the Walk of Fame
Most tourists visit Southern California with hopes of seeing a celebrity. To maximize this possibility, take a trip to Hollywood, the movie capital of the world.
Almost every movie star has been to Hollywood, either to film a movie or to accept the honor of having a Hollywood Star on the Walk of Fame dedicated to them.
You have to pass these iconic commemorative placards on the way to many Hollywood Boulevard attractions. While finding celebrity names at random can be a fun pastime, check out the Walk of Fame Directory for a quicker way to find your favorite stars.
Ride nostalgic rides and watch Disney characters dance in the parade at the “Happiest Place on Earth”
The most recognizable theme park in California, Disneyland receives millions of visitors each year. Take a trip down memory lane as you see childhood characters come to life throughout the amusement park.
Individuals of all ages enjoy the rides, food, and entertainment of the Disneyland theme parks. Watch peak-season fireworks light up the night sky or find your favorite Disney character dancing in the daily Disney parade down Mainstreet.
You will never run out of things to do at Disneyland, so be prepared to spend all day at the amusement park. Before going, be sure to read my 75 best Disneyland tips.
👉 Pro Tip: These are my favorite shoes to wear when I visit the California theme parks. My feet stay comfortable despite walking all day.
San Francisco Bay
Enjoy views of the Golden Gate Bridge from a San Francisco Bay cove
Located in Northern California, the San Francisco Bay coastline is one of the best places to visit in California and is lined with elegant waterfront homes. Visit two of the most famous California islands on the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz and Angel Islands.
Residents and San Francisco visitors love to swim in the Bay coves during the warm Northern California summers. No boats are allowed in the cove, permitting you to swim and float worry-free.
Get planning with my guide to the best things to do in San Francisco.
Coachella Music Festival
Sing along with your favorite performers at California’s most popular music festival
Coachella is one of the biggest music festivals in the country. Although its popularity grew exponentially in the last few years, this festival has been around since 1999.
Today, the festival hosts some of the world’s biggest music performers like Madonna, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beyonce, and AC/DC. In recent years, the festival has become a social media fashion show-off, giving online attention to the best and craziest festival outfits.
Coachella is perhaps the best display of local Los Angeles culture. If you are in Southern California in April, check to see if your favorite artist is performing at the iconic festival.
Santa Monica Pier
Ride the Ferris wheel at this beach boardwalk amusement park
The pier has many fun-filled attractions that overlook the pacific ocean surfers below. Engage with street performers on the pier or try a deliciously sugared funnel cake from the pier snack stand to have a true Santa Monica experience.
Hold onto your hat as you take a ride on the pier roller coaster and soar high above the water on the Ferris wheel. It may be a good idea to go on the rides before the funnel cake.
The Santa Monica pier is within walking distance of the wildly entertaining Venice Beach and the luxurious Third Street Promenade shopping area.
Relax at the peaceful river and forget all your troubles
The Owens River is definitely a hidden California gem. Many people go to Mammoth Lakes to explore popular Mammoth Lakes activities including hiking, skiing, or soaking in the hot springs. But few take a side trip to the beautiful Owens River!
The best spot to enjoy the calm river waters is at the end of the hot springs road just past the Brown Campground. This is a hotspot for fishers but the river snakes through a large area of land and you are always guaranteed a remote experience.
Bring a camping chair, a bathing suit, and a good book to spend your whole day completely disconnected and surrounded by some of the greatest scenery the U.S. has to offer. The Owens River will be your new favorite place in California and you will make sure to visit it again on every trip.
Hike the 38.5-mile Trans-Catalina Trail to see the whole island
Catalina Island is off of the Southern California coast and offers visitors a relaxing getaway from Los Angeles. The island is crawling with activities to do like scuba diving, parasailing, kayaking, snorkeling, gambling at the Catalina Island Casino, and so much more.
This charming island is the perfect mini vacation for everyone visiting Southern California. Visit the downtown harbor town, Avalon, to lounge on the beach or day drink at the oceanfront restaurants.
This small island also hosts some great backcountry mountain biking and hiking trails. The Trans-Catalina Trail takes backpackers 38.5-miles around the perimeter of the whole island. Watch out for wild buffalo on the back side of the island if you’re hiking alone.
Get an up-close-and-personal photo with the famous Hollywood sign
The Hollywood sign sits proudly on a Los Angeles hilltop and equates to fame. It is the international symbol for Los Angeles and the postcard trademark of the city.
If it’s your first time staying in Los Angeles, you must take a side trip to the Hollywood sign. Take the easy Mt. Hollywood Trail from Griffith Park through the rolling hills of the Santa Monica Mountains.
The actual sign is off-limits to visitors and you can’t touch it but you can get pretty close for a selfie with the Los Angeles legend.
Walk among old inmate cells of an island off the San Francisco coast
Alcatraz Island is one of the most popular things to do in California. This small island in the San Francisco Bay was established in the mid-19th century to serve as a federal prison 1.5-miles off of the mainland. It is also the site of the first lighthouse in California.
Few inmates made historical escapes from the sea-locked island before its demise in 1963. The island is now open to tourists, but I recommend booking an Alcatraz tour if you want to visit. It’s the best way to learn more about the prison’s history through interpretive tours throughout the cells.
Paddle board in the middle of the biggest alpine lake in North America
Escape busy city life with a trip to the quaint Lake Tahoe mountain town. Bordering both Northern California on the South Lake Tahoe side and Nevada on the eastern side, Lake Tahoe is one of the deepest lakes in the U.S.
This is one of the most popular places in California for a family vacation because there are a multitude of things to do. Rent a boat and try your luck at water skiing or wakeboarding. If you prefer a more relaxed trip, you can also rent a paddleboard and sunbathe in the middle of the lake.
Adventurous visitors hike either the full Tahoe Rim Trail or a part of its 171 miles. Mount Tallac is a great option for a day hike if you are limited on time.
Santa Barbara Beaches
Surf incredible California waves in this coastal beach town
Santa Barbara is one of the best California cities for beaches. Santa Barbara is a college town with a seaside Spanish-style aesthetic.
You will find most of the Santa Barbara locals on East Beach, the prime spot for beach volleyball games and surfing. Only a short walk from downtown Santa Barbara, spend your afternoon catching the perfect wave under the California sun then head into town for a fresh seafood dinner overlooking the pacific ocean.
🛎️ Need a Hotel? Harbor House Inn is only 450 feet from the beach, allowing you to roll out of bed and find yourself practically on the sand. Skip the hassle of finding a parking spot with this beachfront hotel.
Huntington Beach U.S. Open
Watch professional surfers battle head-to-head for the U.S. Open championship
When you think of gorgeous California beaches with year-round sunshine, you are probably thinking about Huntington Beach. Lounging on the beach in “Surf City USA” and going surfing in the pacific ocean are among the top things to do in California.
Each summer around late July and early August, Huntington hosts the famous U.S. Open of Surfing at the Huntington pier. Locals and tourists flock to the competition to watch professionals compete for the prestigious champion title and to browse around the pop-up game booths on the sand.
When planning your next trip to the beach, keep in mind that Huntington is the most crowded during this time. The U.S. Open of Surfing is a great way to experience Southern California beach culture.
Golf on the edge of pacific ocean cliffs
Pebble Beach is a popular California beach destination with beach resorts, golf courses, and spas. Golf fanatics choose Pebble Beach as their ultimate golfing getaway.
Close to Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pebble Beach is a picturesque California seaside town with dramatic coastal cliffs and pocket coves to escape busy beach crowds. Pebble Beach is one of the top golf destinations in the U.S. so make sure to bring your golf clubs if you are passing through.
Walk the funky Venice boardwalk for street performers, art vendors, and other entertainment mayhem
Experience California like a true local with a trip to Venice Beach. This bohemian beach town is bustling with life through its street vendors, Muscle Beach gym goers, street performers, and thousands of tourists a day.
Although Venice can get crowded, the liveliness of the area is worth the visit. Venice resembles Los Angeles but with a beachy feel. Lay on the beach, be a part of the sunset drum circle, or pay to see the Venice Beach Freakshow, the possibilities are endless at this free-spirited beach.
You will find most of the Venice entertainment while walking the boardwalk but there are also accredited cafes and restaurants nearby that are worth the visit.
Catch incredible waves on cliff-laden beaches
Everyone knows that California has some of the best pacific coast waves in the United States. Big Sur is no exception and it is one of the best surf spots in the golden state.
Enjoy the uncrowded surf breaks in Andrew Molera State Park and the postcard bay of Sand Dollar Beach. There are plenty of surfboard rental shops as well if traveling with your own board is too troublesome.
Big Sur is right on the Pacific Coast Highway so if you’re doing a west coast scenic drive on your vacation, Big Sur should be on your itinerary.
Sites & Attractions
San Diego Zoo
Visit your favorite animals at the open-air San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo not only houses hundreds of plant and animal species, but it is also a leading organization in wildlife conservation around the world. Its open-air exhibits create more humane habitats for the zoo wildlife and allow guests to view animals from a unique perspective.
The San Diego Zoo hosts its annual Nighttime Zoo event every summer so guests can beat the heat and experience the nocturnal atmosphere of the zoo. Enjoy live music and “whimsical wildlife performers” at this event like acrobats and animal puppets for an unforgettable San Diego Zoo experience.
🛎️ Need a Hotel? The Pet-Friendly San Diego Retreat is only an 11-minute walk from the zoo. Pets aren’t allowed in the zoo so if you are traveling with your four-legged friend, this is the perfect hotel to book.
Sierra Nevada Mountains
Camp in the backcountry to catch a sunrise over the highest mountain range in California
The Sierra Nevadas are the most dominant mountain range in California. Their jagged peaks exceed 14,000 feet and define the central California environment.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of California hikes in the Eastern Sierras located in the Lone Pine/Bishop CA area. The most popular Eastern Sierra hike is Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States.
You will experience some of the best sights nature has to offer while hiking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From crystal blue alpine lakes to abundant wildlife, wildflower super blooms, and high-altitude glaciers, the Sierra Nevadas are the hallmark mountain range of California.
Downtown Los Angeles
Entertain yourself with a plethora of things to do in famous Downtown LA
It’s no secret that most tourists visit California to be a part of the action of Downtown Los Angeles. It’s hard to choose between the thousands of things to do in Downtown Los Angeles and you won’t want to leave the “City of Angels” without doing them all.
Top attractions in Downtown Los Angeles include:
- Grand Central Market
- Union Station
- Little Tokyo
- Olvera Street
- The Broad Museum
- Fashion District
- LA Live/ Crypto.com Arena
There’s so much more to do in downtown Los Angeles including desirable rooftop dining and browsing through some of California’s best museum collections.
🚗 How to Get There: Downtown Los Angeles is only 20-30 minutes from the internal LAX airport, depending on traffic. Here are the best options to rent a car at the LAX airport for smoother transportation while in Los Angeles. Take your new rental down the I-105 E and the I-110N to arrive downtown.
Golden Gate Bridge
Bike over the golden arches of this iconic San Francisco Bridge
San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is the most iconic image of this Northern California city. When it opened to the public in 1937, the red bridge was the longest in the world at that time.
200,000 San Francisco enthusiasts walked the bridge to Oakland during the grand opening. There are still special events and marathons held over the bridge every year.
Rent a bike in San Francisco and test your physical fitness on the hilly streets of the major city. The best way to experience the Golden Gate Bridge is by riding a bike or taking a walk over it.
Take a side trip to Golden Gate Park to view the celebrated red overpass from a distance. This is also an ideal spot to pose for a picture with the Golden Gate Bridge photobombing in the background.
Downtown San Diego
Have a fun night at the Gaslamp Quarter bars and nightclubs
A trip to Downtown San Diego is one of the most popular things to do in California. If you love the excitement of a busy nightlife scene, then this is the vacation spot for you.
Visit the historic Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown San Diego for modern restaurants, bars, clubs, and a thrilling night out on the town. The Gaslamp Quarter was the second established neighborhood in San Diego and has come a long way since the first days of development.
Another fun day activity in Downtown San Diego is cruising through the bustling city via a trolley car tour. Hop on and off of the trolley to visit everything on your San Diego itinerary at your own pace.
Drive the scenic June Lake Loop to explore the area in all its glory
Located near Mammoth Lakes, CA, June Lake is a sleepy mountain getaway. It is far away from most major California cities and bears no resemblance whatsoever to any metropolitan city.
June Lake allows visitors to forget about their hectic city life and focus on the peace of the great outdoors. This is a prime location for fishing and kayaking in the summers and if you don’t want to travel with your equipment, you can rent it right on the lake.
Take the June Lake Loop scenic drive around 4 alpine lakes in the area and the snow-crested Eastern Sierra Mountains. The 16-mile route can also be cycled so don’t forget to bring your bike!
Reawaken your artistic side by browsing through hundreds of art pieces at this LA museum
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (323) 857-6000 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 6 pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, 11 am-8 pm Friday, 10 am-7 pm Saturday & Sunday, Closed Wednesdays | Entrance: Tickets start at $25 | 👉 Browse Hotels on Booking
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA for short, sits on the famous Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. It is the largest museum on the west coast with over 147,000 artifacts and objects of importance in its possession.
LACMA highlights artist expression around the globe through its display of interpretive artwork that instigates critical thinking and reflection. The museum’s artwork is as diverse as the city of Los Angeles itself and engages its audience in every exhibit hall.
LACMA is a part of downtown LA’s museum row and a hotspot for photos. Visit the museum in your best dress because your new profile picture may be birthed from the sculpture gardens at LACMA.
Pacific Coast Highway Scenic Route
Take a drive down one of the most scenic highways in California
Cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway is the ultimate California road trip. Visitors and locals alike have this relished drive on their things-to-do list in California.
The Pacific Coast is a huge, open stretch of California that follows the ocean from north to south (or vice versa). After the Northern California coastline town of Leggett, the PCH turns from Highway 1 to Highway 101 all the way to Washington.
The most popular portion of this unmatched road trip is the California portion down Highway 1. Drive through densely green redwood forests without ever leaving the oceanside. You will see that a lot of the California coast remains wild, free, and beautifully untamed on your Pacific Coast Highway trip.
Wander through fairytale cottages in California’s central coast
This quaint seaside village is an up-and-coming town in California. You won’t want to leave the fairytale-like cottages and village of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Live your true storybook fantasy in this hidden gem coastal town. The Carmel Mission Basilica offers a quiet Spanish-style patio and garden, which is the perfect place to escape with a good book.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is less than 3 hours from the San Francisco Bay Area so visit this sleepy town and treat yourself to a spa day and wine tasting before you settle down for the night in your fairytale cottage rental.
Winchester Mystery House
Visit a real haunted mansion in Central California
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (408) 247-2000 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 5 pm Monday-Friday, 10 am-7 pm Saturday & Sunday | Entrance: $41.99, adults, $19.99 under 13, $34.99 seniors | 👉 Browse Hotels on Booking
The Winchester Mystery House is one of the best things to do in California with kids. Enjoy wholesome family fun as you get lost in a maze of doors that lead to nowhere and rooms in the middle of nothing.
The bizarre estate belonged to Sarah Winchester who coped with the loss of her husband by never stopping the development of her home. As a result, the Winchester House holds the Guinness World Record for the longest continuous house construction at 38 years.
Today, guests can take a tour inside of this extraordinary home and walk among luxurious furniture, a multitude of rooms, and among possible spirits. Thrill-seeking guests can opt for the Haunted Walk with Spirits Tour for a good spook.
Long Beach Whale Watching
Watch whales breach the surface of the water right in front of you
Nothing beats seeing a humpback whale breach through the top of the sea foam waves up-close-and-personal while on the open ocean. This is one of the most fun things to do in Long Beach, California.
Although spotting a whale isn’t guaranteed on your whale watching tour, many guests luck out. Whale watching tours are a sustainable way to see whales because you only view the majestic beasts from a distance and don’t disturb their habitat.
The best time to go on a whale watching tour in Long Beach is from December to April when gray, orca, and humpback whales are migrating through California to Baja, Mexico. Blue and Finback whales migrate through the golden state between May and September.
Wine Tasting in Napa Valley
Taste local wines from hundreds of different Napa Valley vineyards
Welcome to wine country, USA. Most people visit Napa Valley for the vineyards and many wine tasting opportunities in the area. North of San Francisco, explore the hundreds of vineyards in Napa and bring home your favorite wines.
Take a break from wine tasting to unwind at one of many local Napa spas. You deserve a deep tissue massage or an exfoliating facial. After your spa day, visit one of Napa’s many fine dining restaurants.
Although there are plenty of things for kids to do in Napa, you will have the best experience in the valley if it’s an adults-only trip.
Claremont Farmers Market
Buy fresh produce at one of the most adorable farmers markets in Southern California
Claremont is a less-traveled small college town on the outskirts of Los Angeles. There are 5 prestigious private colleges in downtown Claremont, next to the Sunday Farmers Market.
Claremont resembles a cozy European village laden with trees and flower bushes. The Sunday farmers market is a classy family affair where you can find some of the freshest produce in Southern California.
Find locally sourced fruits and veggies, honey, organic cheese, meats, and handicrafts at the Claremont Farmers Market. The nearby Claremont Village also has grassy areas for picnics and upscale restaurants for Sunday brunch, making it the perfect Sunday excursion.
Stagecoach Music Festival
Dance to your favorite country tunes
Visit California during the last week in April to attend the outdoor Stagecoach country music festival. The biggest names in country music gather in Indio, California each year to perform at this one-of-a-kind event.
Stagecoach also hosts folk, bluegrass, rock, and alternative music but the majority of their performers are pop country. This is one of the best things to do in California for music lovers because the event is three days of straight music performances.
Festival goers can tent camp on the festival grounds and there are even RV spots available with hookups.
Mount Shasta Town
Admire one of California’s highest mountains from anywhere in the mountain town
A spiritual oasis, Mount Shasta is a Northern California mountain town with one of the tallest mountains in California. Technically a stratovolcano, the 14,161-foot looming Mount Shasta can be seen from everywhere in town.
Downtown Shasta is crawling with hip mountaineering stores, trendy cafes, a grocery Co-Op, and vintage clothing stores. It’s one of the most happening small towns in the whole state with an unmatched aesthetic anywhere else.
Experienced mountaineers flock to Shasta’s trailheads each year in effort to scale the huge snow-crested mountain. Less-experienced hikers can enjoy smaller hikes around the base of Mt. Shasta or go for a swim in the nearby, glacial drainage of Lake Shasta.
Visit a miniature version of Mexico at this downtown LA attraction
Olvera Street is a favorite local spot and one of the first establishments in Los Angeles. Today, the area resembles a miniature version of Mexico with delicious authentic Mexican food restaurants, colorful handicraft stalls, and festive annual events.
Visit Olvera Street during Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) for a local celebration of the deceased in Mexican tradition. Bring a photo of your late loved ones to place on an Olvera Street altar and watch traditional Aztec dancers perform throughout the ceremony.
Olvera Street also hosts an annual Christmas “Las Posadas” event every December 16-24 to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Follow a priest around Olvera Street while reciting prayers and songs, followed by free sweet bread and traditional Mexican corn drinks.
Travel the streets of this culturally diverse LA suburb
Little Tokyo is a famous Japanese American district in Los Angeles. Founded in 1884, this ethnic neighborhood is one of the most popular things to do in California.
This historic cultural community in Los Angeles is a hotspot for shopping and dining. Visit Little Tokyo in the summer to be a part of the Nisei Week Japanese Festival. Enjoy cultural food and Japanese entertainment for the whole family around this time.
Explore a small coastal town in California with nesting sea otters and peaceful harbors
The small coastal town of Morro Bay is just outside of the central California farmlands. Take a walk down the boardwalk to see sea otters napping in the harbor.
The small downtown Morro Bay bars have pool tables and locally crafted beers so you can experience the local Morro Bay culture. Buy a unique clothing item from a thrift store or find your favorite record at the downtown music store.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Go on thrill-seeking rides in the entertainment capital of Hollywood
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (800) 864-8377 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 7 pm Monday-Thursday, 9 am-7 pm Friday, 8 am-10 pm Saturday, 9 am-10 pm Sunday | Entrance: Tickets start at $109 | 👉 Browse Hotels on Booking
If you love Hollywood movies, you must visit the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. Go face-to-face with terrifying dinosaurs on the Jurassic Park boat ride or try your first mouth-watering butterbeer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
A local favorite is the World Famous Studio Tour. Board a tram and view real behind-the-scenes sets of your favorite movies and tv shows like Jaws, Desperate Housewives, and Fast and Furious.
Foodies rejoice at this Hollywood theme park at the sight of the huge Simpsons Donut and the Costa Rican delicacies of the Jurassic Park Cafe. Universal Studios Hollywood appeals to the whole family.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Ride one of 40 rides on this historic, coastal theme park
Santa Cruz is a unique Northern California city where the dense forest meets the coastal seaside village. This outdoorsy college town is en route on the Pacific Coast Highway and is one of the top attractions in Northern California.
The oceanfront boardwalk amusement park is a fun pastime with the family or for date night. Established in 1907, it’s California’s oldest theme park and features over 40 thrill-seeking rides.
Win a carnival game prize, go bowling, or show off your skills at a game of mini-golf on the beach boardwalk. With free admission, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk will entertain you for hours.
Disney’s California Adventure Park
Enjoy fast rides and adult beverages in this theme park across from Disneyland Park
Disney’s California Adventure Park is a must-visit amusement park while you are in Southern California. Enjoy fast rides and adult beverages in this theme park across the way from Disneyland.
Soar over the different continents of the world or go for a thrilling, upside-down coaster adventure on some of the park’s rides. Guests over 21 years old can even order an adult beverage at Lamplight Lounge, Alfresco Dining, Pym Tasting Lab, and other alcohol-friendly locations in the park.
California Adventure may have slightly fewer crowds than its neighbor Disneyland, but it still gets pretty crowded on the weekends. Many locals go to California Adventure when the wait times are too long at Disneyland.
Warner Brothers Studios
Learn some secrets behind Hollywood movie-magic with a studio tour
Warner Brothers Studios is a Harry Potter fan’s dream come true. Unleash your inner child as you explore backstage sets and props of famous Warner Brothers movies like the Wizard series.
The Warner Brothers Studio Tour is one of the best ways to see how Hollywood is made. Guests will learn the secrets of movie-making magic on this tour and go behind the scenes of some of the busiest Hollywood sets in Los Angeles.
See the real fountain and Central Perk set from the Friends tv series and discuss physics on the real couch used in the Big Bang Theory tv series.
Balboa Island Arcade
Play arcade games at the beach to win awesome prizes
Newport Beach’s Balboa Island is a fun attraction for the whole family. Visit the Balboa Island Arcade to win fun prizes and practice your pinball skills.
Right outside of the arcade you can also ride the Balboa Ferris wheel and children can go on a mini bungee jumping trampoline. There are nearby ice cream shops to complete your ideal arcade/carnival beach day.
👉 Pro Tip: Catch the ferry to Balboa Island just north of the Balboa Island Arcade to visit the island’s boutiques and delicious eateries.
Things to Do Outdoors
Yosemite National Park
Hike to iconic landmarks in California’s top national park
Yosemite National Park is perhaps the most popular thing to do in California. It is the quintessential national park in the golden state and receives millions of visitors each year.
There’s a reason why tourists flock to Yosemite when they visit California. There are almost 300 hiking trails in the park among giant sequoia trees, to the base of one of North America’s tallest waterfalls, and to the top of beautiful granite Sierra mountains.
You don’t want to miss Yosemite National Park hikes during your stay in California and the iconic landmarks the park has to offer.
Sequoia National Park
Visit the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world
Sequoia National Park is one of California’s best national parks and a must-see while in California. The national park houses the world’s largest sequoia trees and famous Sierra Nevada mountain peaks.
Visit the largest tree in the world, the General Sherman Tree located in Sequoia National Park. You can hike 0.5 miles along a paved, informational trail to get to this historic landmark.
Sequoia National Park is a 5-hour drive from Yosemite and should be added to your road trip itinerary if you have spare time.
Death Valley National Park
Explore the trails of the hottest place in California
Death Valley National Park holds the world record for the hottest air temperature recorded. Only 4 hours from Los Angeles, it’s hard to imagine that California can reach air temperatures higher than the Sahara Desert.
Death Valley is a unique national park. You can experience both the lowest point and the highest point in the United States on the same day.
Death Valley’s Badwater Basin is 282 feet below sea level and only 1 hour from Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States.
A favorite hiking trail in Death Valley National Park is the 11,043-foot Telescope Peak. Because summers in the park can be brutal, this mountain is best climbed in the fall or winter.
Joshua Tree National Park
Rock climb or hike in the most popular desert national park in California
Take a trip to Joshua Tree National Park and experience timeless desert sunsets over a horizon of Joshua trees and Cholla cacti. Watch the desert come to life in the early morning while you hike up Ryan Mountain, one of the highest points in the park.
Staying in Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect California experience for rock climbers, backpackers, and nature lovers alike. Camp in one of the 8 major campgrounds in the park to watch a starry night sky light up after sunset.
Joshua Tree has a million things to do, and is a top California destination that should not be missed.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Learn about the different kinds of volcanoes in the park at the Lassen Volcanic Visitor Center
One of the lesser-known California national parks, Lassen Volcanic National Park offers distinctive scenery and has four different types of volcanoes within its boundaries.
Lassen Volcanic is less crowded than other national parks in California, so you can enjoy the peace and tranquility of the park without the crowds.
You can swim in one of many blue-tinted alpine lakes or camp under the luminous sky in a remote area of the park. There is one lodge in the park and several tent campgrounds for accommodation options.
🚤 Read Next: 13 Best Lakes in California
Channel Islands National Park
Enjoy camping in primitive island nature away from city crowds
Channel Islands National Park is a west coast jewel. It is less visited than other California national parks, leaving its stunning beauty somewhat primitive and preserved.
Channel Islands National Park presents its visitors with a self-sufficient trip. There are no food services or accommodation options on the island so guests must pack in everything they will need for the duration of their trip. Don’t forget to bring a tent and fresh drinking water.
Camping at this national park is a part of the remote coastal experience of the islands. Go to sleep with the sound of waves crashing overhead and wake up to the song of local seagulls at one of the best campsites in California.
Pinnacles National Park
Bird watch in this quiet national park
Pinnacles National Park is one of the least crowded national parks in California. Less than 2 hours from San Jose, the park boasts beautiful chaparral terrain.
The park is a bird-watching oasis and lucky onlookers can spot California condors, bald eagles, and falcons on a good day. Bring your hiking boots and other hiking supplies because there are plenty of hiking trails in the national park among the watering holes and rocky canyons.
Anza-Borrego State Park
Camp under thousands of stars in this desert dreamland
Anza-Borrego State Park is the epitome of California deserts. Overshadowed by the more popular Joshua Tree National Park, Anza-Borrego has the same exquisite natural beauty without the crowds.
This Southern California state park showcases untouched desert-scapes that are alive with flora and fauna. Watch for bobcats, coyotes, jackrabbits, and rattlesnakes among the ocotillo plants and cholla cacti.
There are a few free campsites in Anza-Borrego State Park with fire rings and completely open views of the star-filled sky above.
Deep Creek Natural Hot Springs
Relax as you soak in natural hot springs in the middle of the national forest
Soaking in natural hot springs is one of the best things to do in California. Deep Creek Hot Springs offers a muscle-soothing, peaceful retreat into the San Bernardino National Forest.
There are three different ways to get to the hot springs, which all require hiking. Because you have to work for it, soaking in the hot springs feels like an even sweeter reward than you imagined.
There are only a few hot spring pools that can fill up during peak hours on the weekends. For a private experience, get to the Deep Creek Hot Springs early during the weekday.
San Gabriel Mountains
Hike and camp on some of California’s most scenic mountains just outside of LA
Climb to the roof of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Mountains. The San Gabriels offers hundreds of hiking, backpacking, and mountain biking trails throughout the forest with excellent wildlife spotting opportunities.
Visit one of many water spots in this mountain range during the dry California summers. Lytle Creek is a great place to take a dip while your barbeque is cooking up mouth-watering picnic food. The San Gabriel River is also a refreshing getaway to escape the heat.
The views from the highest mountain in the San Gabriel Mountains, the 10,064-foot Mt. Baldy, are the best in all of Los Angeles. On a clear day, you can see downtown Los Angeles, Catalina Island, the whole Inland Empire, and sometimes even the Eastern Sierra Mountains.
Mountain High Resort, Wrightwood
Hit the slopes and show off your moves at this California ski resort
A Southern California winter means that it’s time to find your skis and head to Mountain High Resort in Wrightwood. Besides Big Bear and Mammoth, Wrightwood is one of the top ski destinations in California.
Located in the San Gabriel Mountains of San Bernardino National Forest, Mountain High offers ski lessons to beginners and has affordable season passes.
The resort boasts a restaurant with hot chocolate on cold days and ice-cold beers after a long day of hitting the slopes. If you visit California in the wintertime, Mountain High Ski Resort is a must.
Hiking in Bishop
Explore one of the Eastern Sierra gateway towns and enjoy the many high-altitude hiking trails
5 hours from Los Angeles, Bishop is a small mountain town with surrounding 12 14,000-foot peaks. It’s impossible to visit this Eastern Sierra town without hitting the hiking trails.
Blue Lake is a beautiful glossy alpine lake easily accessed from Bishop. You can drive to Lake Sabrina (a local favorite) and start the day hike from there or camp overnight at the Lake Sabrina campground.
The Bishop Pass Trail is a harder and higher hike outside of Bishop but perfect for adventure enthusiasts. At 10 miles round trip, Bishop Pass is a less crowded trail that takes you past pristine alpine lakes and up to an elevation of almost 12,000 feet.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Visit the towering redwood trees in one of the largest state parks in CA
With ample campgrounds available, locals love to disappear for a few days in the dense forest of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. On the way to Redwoods National Park, you must take a detour to this state park to get your fill of redwood scenery.
This is California’s third largest state park and should not be missed while you are visiting the state. It is one of the best things to do in California and has over 53,000 acres of redwood forest and huge sequoia trees.
Get lost in this slice of wooded heaven among the original California giants.
FAQs About What to Do in California
Is there anything fun to do in California?
There are thousands of fun things to do in California. You can go surfing in the Southern California pacific ocean, hike in Yosemite National Park, and explore major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
What is the number 1 tourist attraction in California?
What is the most famous thing in California?
What do people go to California for?
People go to California for the beaches and year-round sunshine. There are so many more things to do in California but the beaches are the most popular attraction.
Is California worth visiting?
California is 100% worth visiting. There are thousands of things to do in California and you will never get bored.
As you can see, you will never run out of things to do in California! If you’re looking for some of the top places to visit in California, check out my guide on the best places to visit in California.
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