As the third-largest state in the U.S. and spanning several biomes, California has so many places to explore that it can be overwhelming to choose a travel destination. From the sublime scenery stemming from its stunning landscapes to the refined urban sophistication found in its many vibrant cultural centers, the Golden State offers so much to see and experience. You could spend a lifetime touring the state, and there would still be new and exciting places to discover. Whether you’re interested in hiking, sightseeing, or a night out on the town, here are some essential travel destinations to visit on your next California vacation.
Home to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and known for its rolling hillsides, the sun-shiny city of San Francisco is one of California’s most beautiful cities. Packed into a relatively small area of 50 square miles, San Francisco has a near-infinite amount of tourist attractions. From its historic neighborhoods like Chinatown to the infamous Alcatraz Island, there is so much to see and do here.
The most famous attraction, the Golden Gate Bridge, sees over 100,000 cars cross each day, making it exceptionally busy. If you want to avoid the traffic and have more time to take in the views, the best way to explore the bridge is on foot in the morning. Cross the bridge on foot or take a bike and make the short trek to Golden Gate Park for the perfect picnic spot.
Sequoia National Park
Named after the giant sequoia trees found inside the park, Sequoia National Park is known worldwide for its natural beauty, rugged terrain, and immense trees. It is considered one of the finest, most wild places in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, as the park is home to hundreds of wildlife species and some of the oldest, largest trees in the world.
The General Sherman tree, for example, is currently the largest living single-stem tree by volume. Seeded over 2,000 years ago and sitting at around 36ft wide and 275ft tall, General Sherman towers over you with the full magnitude of nature’s magnificence. Whether you opt for a hike, drive, or short walk through this beautifully imposing landscape, you are sure to enjoy the natural views Sequoia National Park has to offer.
Known for its near-perfect weather year-round, golden beaches, and laid-back vibe, San Diego is one of California’s most fun-loving cities. The third-largest city in California, San Diego is composed of a series of neighborhoods, each with its own character. For example, these three neighborhoods couldn’t be more different from each other: La Mesa, North Park, and Ocean Beach.
When you’re visiting, Balboa Park is an expansive green space filled with historical museums, intricate architecture, and gorgeous gardens. The Gaslamp Quarter is a historic district full of attractive boutiques and art galleries. In the evening, the Gaslamp Quarter becomes the exciting epicenter of San Diego’s nightlife. And East County takes you to more natural beauty, along with concert venues and resorts where you can enjoy a little casino bingo.
Perhaps the most well-known city in California, Los Angeles is the quintessential image of Southern California with its sunny weather, rich culture, and palm-fringed boulevards. Stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, see a show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, or take a hike to the Hollywood sign. If the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown aren’t your thing, you can try a visit to Griffith Park, home to the famous Griffith Observatory.
The Griffith Observatory is an excellent place to take the whole family, and the best part is it’s all free to the public. Explore the exhibits on display and peer through its many telescopes. On evenings when it’s open, you can even look through the Zeiss telescope for up-close viewings of planets and the moon.
Yosemite National Park
Found within the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park is home to some of the most breathtaking views this planet has to offer. From the iconic Tunnel View to the sheer immensity of the granite Half Dome, there is no shortage of stunning views. Trails vary by difficulty, but there are plenty of areas to explore, some without even leaving your car.
As you exit the Wawona Tunnel, the park emerges in all its grandeur. You’ll definitely want to park at the viewing overlook to get your first glimpse of the famous landmarks such as the Bridalveil Falls and El Capitan. For those who enjoy camping, there are plenty of campgrounds and rustic cabins located throughout the park, though it is recommended to reserve your spots well in advance.