Top 15 California Attractions You Don't Want To Miss

Last Updated on January 18, 2024 by Nikki Jain

California is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States, and not just for its family-friendly theme parks that can keep you entertained for days on end. Like other states along the West Coast, California has gorgeous coastlines, national parks, waterfronts, and even deserts.

California comprises some of the most beautiful cities in the US: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego, etc. Among the greatest things to do in California includes visiting places like Lake Tahoe, Disneyland, Big Sur, and Napa Valley.

There are also iconic pieces of architecture worth viewing and the chance to see a celebrity in Hollywood. Whether you are looking for nature, mainstream entertainment, or cultural and educational activities, California has something to offer everyone.

So you don't have to try to pick which of the hundreds of places to visit because here we have listed the top 15 attractions in California to add to your bucket list.

Things To Do in California

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1: Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Flickr/Giuseppe Milo

Yosemite National Park is one of the top attractions in California. This gorgeous wilderness rests along the Sierra Nevada mountains. Its granite cliffs and waterfalls are the kind of beauty that only exists along America's West Coast: immense, majestic, and breathtaking.

The land was so stunning that John Muir, the famous naturalist, worked tirelessly to preserve the Yosemite Valley and the surrounding land as a national park before national parks even existed.

With one visit to any spot in the park, it's easy to see what was so worth preserving. Now every generation can experience this pristine and magnificent land just as Muir did a century ago.

We recommend spending a few days in Yosemite to admire its majestic beauty. This 3-day camping adventure in the Yosemite Valley is a good option to spend 2 nights camping outdoors with hiking and swimming in the Yosemite National Park.

But if you are short on time, it is possible to take one of these great day trips to Yosemite.

Accommodation: Where to stay near Yosemite National Park

Address: Yosemite National Park, CA 95389

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Also Read: Top 10 Things to Do in Yosemite National Park

2: Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge
Flickr/Tom Hilton

As one of the most iconic sights to grace the world of sitcom… the Golden Gate Bridge is one California attraction you just can’t miss! It is a massive, towering red suspension bridge that links the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean.

It is also a California landmark. Tourists come from far and wide to ride on its smooth streets and to look upon the bay from the bridge. As an actual, functional roadway, it may seem like there isn’t much to do here, but the bridge is just the beginning!

On either side of the Golden Gate Bridge lies two stops. Both are optimal picture and lookout vantage points to get great views of not just the bridge but the iconic, golden city as well.

There are typically several tourists and locals walking, biking, running, jogging, vlogging, and everything in between at these stops because of how great the view is from up there.

Be sure to make the most of your memories and stop at a landmark for some iconic shots in front of such an iconic stop.

If you want to make the most of Golden Gate Bridge, you may want to consider one of these tours.

Accommodation: Where to stay in San Francisco

Address: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA 94129

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Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in San Francisco

3: Disneyland Park

Disneyland Park
Flickr/Kirt Edblom

Discover the “happiest place on Earth” when you visit Disneyland Park in Anaheim. It’s one of the top vacation spots in California.

Whether you’re an adult looking to relive your childhood or a kid seeking fun, you’ll indeed create lasting memories in the famous park.

Disneyland Park is the original Disney theme park developed directly by Walt Disney. It opened in 1955 and is the second-most visited theme park in the world. It was the inspiration behind all of the other Disney parks globally.

You can easily spend one or more days enjoying everything Disneyland has to offer. It’s divided into themed park sections that bring the world of Disney to life.

Main Street, Mickey’s Toontown, and Adventureland are a few of the many areas. Each section has its own rides, attractions, games, restaurants, shops, and more.

Accommodation: Where to stay near Disneyland

Address: 1313 Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA 92802

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4: Big Sur Coastline

Big Sur Coastline
Adobe Stock/Maks_Ershov

The cliffs and ridges of Big Sur, draped with redwoods and rising right out of the ocean, are an unparalleled beauty to behold. The population here is sparse, but the hiking trails and vistas keep people moving through on a regular basis.

The construction of Highway 1, which weaves along the edge of the mountains, opened up the previously inaccessible region to arts and tourism, attracting the likes of Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson to its rustic locale.

The views from the highway are stunning, with many scenic viewpoints along the way for you to stop off and enjoy the twinkling blue ocean below.

Driving along the Big Sur is definitely one of the best things to do in California.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Big Sur

Address: Big Sur, CA 93920

5: Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood
Flickr/Prayitno

Spend the day in Universal Studios Hollywood for a chance to see behind the scenes of your favorite films.

The park is one of the most visited theme parks in the world, offering an immersive experience into an operational film studio.

Universal Studios Hollywood is located in Los Angeles. It’s set on the lot of the first Hollywood Studio. The original tours expanded over time to now host several theme park attractions like rides and other activities.

You’ll get to explore two sections of the park – Upper Lot and Lower Lot.

Upper Lot is a fun, family-friendly area where you'll enter the worlds of some of the studio's biggest films.

Explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or tour Springfield, USA, with your favorite Simpsons characters. It has a roller coaster, studio tours, interactive 3D experiences, and live shows.

Lower Lot features themed rides dedicated to Jurassic Park, The Mummy, Transformers, and a kid's play area.

Keep an eye out for your favorite characters walking around the park for photos and fun.

Address: 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608

Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Los Angeles

6: Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park
Flickr/Andrés Nieto Porras

Be sure to pack lots of water before venturing into the Death Valley National Park. It’s home to Death Valley, one of the hottest places on Earth.

The park covers more than three million acres across California and Nevada – it’s one of the largest national parks in the United States.

Death Valley National Park is a vast, remote wilderness area of the Mojave Desert. It welcomes millions of visitors every year to experience an otherworldly landscape of valleys, dunes, towering mountain peaks, and more.

Tour the park from your vehicle for sightseeing or hop out to explore on foot.

You'll see the prominent summit of Telescope Peak, the park's highest point, or walk the salt flats of Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America.

Visitors can go for a hike up to Dante's View for the best views of the desert landscape.

It really is one gorgeous spot and one of the best attractions in California.

Accommodation: Where to stay near Death Valley National Park

Address: Death Valley National Park, CA

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Also Read: Top 10 Things to Do in Death Valley National Park

7: San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

The world-famous San Diego Zoo is one of the top things to do in California.

With over four million visitors annually, it’s the most popular zoo in the country. You’ll get a chance to see thousands of animals representing more than 650 different species from around the world.

The San Diego Zoo is a large zoo space divided into various exhibitions. Each exhibition represents a unique geographic or climate region and showcases the animals native to the areas.

Exhibits include Africa, Australia, tropical regions, arctic regions, and more. Some of the favorite animals to see in the park are lions, gorillas, polar bears, giraffes, elephants, penguins, rhinos, and lots of birds. It also temporarily housed a giant panda from China.

Ride the gondola lift or the zoo tour bus for the best way to navigate the large park. It also includes a safari park for a cage-less encounter with your favorite animals.

Accommodation: Where to stay in San Diego

Address: 2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

Also Read: Top 26 Attractions & Things To Do in San Diego, California

8: Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe
Flickr/Giuseppe Milo

Lake Tahoe is one of the popular places to go in California to enjoy outdoor recreation all year round. Visit the largest alpine lake in North America to enjoy a wide range of activities suitable for everyone.

Situated on the California-Nevada border, Lake Tahoe is a large freshwater lake known for its stunning scenery.

It offers views of snowcapped mountains in the distance and is surrounded by a forested coastline.

You can visit Lake Tahoe at any time of the year and find fun things to do.

During the summer, it’s popular for boating, hiking, and biking. Take the Tahoe Rim Trail for a 170-mile loop trail around the lake or hike the Eagle Lake Trailhead to see sights in the El Dorado National Forest.

Skiing is common during the winter at one of the many ski resorts.

No matter how you choose to enjoy this mountain paradise, the vistas that surround you will make it a trip to remember.

We recommend opting for one of these tours to explore the most scenic spots around the lake.

Accommodation: Where to stay near Lake Tahoe

Address: Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

Also Read: Top 10 Things To Do In and Around Lake Tahoe

9: Santa Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island
Flickr/Mark Fischer

Hop on a ferry from Long Beach to reach the beautiful Santa Catalina Island. This small island is one of the unique vacation spots in California.

Although it has less than 5,000 permanent residents, it attracts over one million visitors every year.

Avalon is the main town on the island to begin the Catalina experience. One of the main attractions here is Avalon Beach, where you’ll get to enjoy the picturesque scenery of the Pacific Ocean and clear waters.

Snorkeling and diving are two of the favorite activities, thanks to the water’s high visibility.

You can explore the underwater marine life in the Avalon Underwater Dive Park or take a tour on a glass-bottom boat.

The island also has a rich cultural heritage. Check out the Catalina Island Museum exhibitions to discover artifacts from Natives dating over 8,000 years ago.

Address: Santa Catalina Island, CA 90704

10: Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks
Flickr/Kirt Edblom

The northern California coast is home to some of the oldest and tallest trees in the world.

The Redwood National and State Parks are comprised of multiple parks to preserve the old-growth forests. The region is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You’ll have a chance to walk amongst some of the tallest Redwood trees in the world. Views peering up the towering canopy are mind-boggling as you explore the forest grounds.

The parks are great for outdoor recreation – go on nature walks to see the diverse flora or take a guided ranger tour to learn more about the landscape and trees.

Highway 101 runs through a large portion of the park, close to the coast.

There are also many scenic drives, such as Avenue of the Giants or the Coastal Drive. Don’t miss the drive-through trees along the routes.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Crescent City

Address: 1111 2nd St, Crescent City, CA 95531

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Also Read: 25 Best State Parks in the US

11: Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

The iconic Joshua Tree is the centerpiece of the Joshua Tree National Park, one of the most popular parks in California. The park encompasses an area split between the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert, established in 1994 for the preservation of the natural landscape and the native trees.

Joshua Tree National Park is among the top places to visit in California, attracting millions of people every year to the park grounds. Visitors can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the park filled with forests of Joshua Trees, unique rock formations, and untouched wilderness landscape.

Some of the favorite things to do in the park include hiking, rock climbing, stargazing, and camping. There are lots of trails set up around the park ranging in length and hiking difficulty, leading to points of interest such as the Hidden Valley, Arch Rock, the Giant Marbles, and the Barker Dam.

Head up to Key View by either hiking or driving for the best viewpoint in the park. You’ll have views of the San Andreas Fault and Coachella Valley – perfect for watching the sunrise or sunset.

Joshua Tree National Park has several visitor facilities - nine campgrounds with plumbing or the option for backcountry camping.

Accommodation: Where to stay near Joshua Tree National Park

Address: 74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277

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Also Read: What to Pack When Going to a National Park

12: Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle
Flickr/R.A. Killmer

Heart Castle is an excellent example of the extravagant American lifestyle during the golden age of the early 20th-Century. The castle belonged to William Randolph Hearst, a media tycoon, and built by a famed woman architect, Julia Morgan.

The Hearst Corporation donated the house and all of its content to the State of California after his death. It was opened to the public in 1958 for a glimpse into his opulent lifestyle.

Hearst Castle was a home dwelling, developed to exhibit the vast art and furniture collections of Hearst, ultimately becoming a social venue for big parties. The castle includes original furnishing and art, seen throughout the main house, Casa Grande, and the cottages: Casa del Mar, Casa del Monte, and Casa del Sol.

Bus rides take visitors up the Enchanted Hill to the site of the castle for touring around the rooms and suites of the house or throughout the grounds. It features two large pools, a garden, and sits atop a hill for sights of the surrounding area. Visitors can take different tours for discovering the complex’s art, interiors, and more.

Hearst Castle is located near San Simeon, California, and visited by hundreds of thousands of people annually.

Accommodation: Where to stay in San Simeon

Address: 750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452

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13: Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park
Flickr/Connar L’Ecuyer

The Channel Islands is an archipelago located just off the coast of California in the Pacific Ocean. Five of the eight islands make up the Channel Islands National Park, established in 1980 to preserve the natural scenery of the undeveloped islands.

The central hub of the national park is Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the Channel Islands. The park includes land and sea area, also designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for the abundant marine life and flora.

Visitors must take a ferry from the mainland to arrive at the islands (and travel between islands) to regulate tourism and maintain the island ecosystem. The main visitor center showcases exhibitions with information about the island and cultural history.

The Channel Islands National Park is popular for recreational activities and sightseeing. Some of the top things to do include diving, kayaking to explore the unique sea caves, hiking trails to scenic viewpoints, or relaxing on one of the many beaches. The park allows overnight camping.

The national park is open all year round, with autumn being the best time to catch whale sightings during migration. Other exciting marine life to see include dolphins and sea lions.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Ventura

Address: Ventura, CA 93001

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Also Read: Best Things To Do in Santa Barbara

14: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

In 1943, two parks, the Sequoia National Park and the Kings Canyon National Park, merged to create one large park, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The parks are open all year round and make for a perfect attraction for day trips, or overnight stays in nature.

The diverse landscape of the parks includes a large area of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, among valleys, canyons, marble caves, and lots of glacial lakes. Some of the natural landmarks worth checking out include Mt. Whitney, one of the highest peaks in the US, San Joaquin Valley, Zumwalt Meadow, and the Roaring River Falls.

The park is well known for the giant sequoia trees located throughout the park.

Tourism is accessible for visitors coming to experience the scenic beauty of the park. Many people come for scenic drives through the mountains, the variety of hiking trails leading to the top destinations of the park, or camping at the designated campsites. The park also includes a visitor center.

The area included within the park was initially occupied by Native Americans. Tour around the park, and you may discover archaeological sites serving as evidence of early human habitation.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Three Rivers

Address: 47050 Generals Hwy, Three Rivers, CA 93271

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15: The Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood Sign

Whenever you’re in LA, be sure to look up – you might be able to see the iconic Hollywood Sign. Whether you’re viewing the sign from afar or take the hike up to see the letters up close in person, the Hollywood Sign is a must-see when visiting LA.

The Hollywood sign was created in 1923. Initially, the purpose of the sign was as an advertisement, but due to its popularity, the sign is now a mainstay landmark and pop culture icon for Hollywood. The Hollywood Sign Trust was established for the protection and maintenance of the letters.

The sign sits atop Mount Lee in the Hollywood Hills. The white letters measure 45-ft tall and 350-ft long for all the letters combined. Throughout the years, the letters have gone through lots of restoration efforts to maintain the current appearance.

Hiking up to the Hollywood sign is a frequent activity for visitors. Various hiking trails lead up to the top of the mountain – the most frequented route runs through Griffith Park, where you’ll have a great view overlooking LA.

These are two good hiking tours of the Hollywood Sign.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Los Angeles

Address: Los Angeles, CA 90068

Also Read: Most Unusual Things To Do in Los Angeles

Plan your trip to California soon!

California is one of the most popular states to visit in the US. It’s a destination for everyone to explore famous California attractions in every corner of the state. You’ll find incredible natural scenery, world-famous theme parks, iconic cultural landmarks, ghost towns, and some quirky attractions everywhere you look.

There are a lot of things to do in California for all ages. Kids can explore the fantasy world of Disney, and adults can enjoy the numerous wine regions dotting the state. It’s a destination for adventure travels, family visits, or a relaxing retreat. Visit some of these top tourist attractions in California to discover what makes it such a top bucket list destination.

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