As the most biodiverse state in the United States, California is a wonderland when it comes to wonderful things to do.
All along the Golden State, you’ll find just about every landscape you could wish for, be it never-ending deserts, bustling cities, towering peaks, rugged coastlines, enchanting forests, and plenty more.
If you’re in the planning stages of your visit to California, you’re probably wondering what the best things to see and do are. Even though there’s just too much to cover in California on a single trip, there are definitely a few activities you absolutely can’t miss out on!
#1 Road Trip Big Sur
Even though the highway itself is only 90 miles long, road-tripping Big Sur for several days is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in California.
Featuring the Pacific Coastline to one side and mountains to the other, driving Big Sur provides some of the most beautiful scenery in the entire world. The drive can easily be completed in less than two hours, but the real magic lies in the many state parks and destinations worth making a stop at.
Must-do stops along Big Sur include the alluring McWay Falls, the purple Pfeiffer Beach, Point Lobos State, Park, the dreamy Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, to name just a few!
#2 Explore the landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park
Also known as the heart of the California Desert, Joshua Tree National Park is located at the exact point where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet.
The landscape inside the park is as quirky as it gets, with expansive desert views all over, Joshua Trees lining the scenery, and peculiar-looking rock formations everywhere you turn. Some of the best things to do inside this California gem include hiking, scenic driving, biking, rock climbing, and horseback riding.
If you’ve got time, glamping around Joshua Tree is a true delight, with plenty of unique accommodation options all over and skies so clear you can easily spot the Milky Way.
#3 Walk among the tallest trees in the world
Unique to coastal California and Oregon, Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world. Even though seeing just one is fascinating enough, you’ll find cirques of them all over Redwood National Park.
Here, you can spend days hiking amid groves of enormous trees, scenic driving around unique landscapes, and going in search of the mighty Hyperion: the tallest tree in the world.
#4 Explore California’s wine country
California is king when it comes to wine, and there’s no better way to get close and personal with it than by exploring the state’s exciting wine country.
The North Coast, especially, encompasses most of the grape regions that have put California’s wine on the map. Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, Solano, and Marin counties are just a few of them!
#5 Take a day trip to Catalina Island
Catalina Island is the main island in Channel Islands National Park, a place that is often dubbed the “Galapagos of North America” due to its terrain and wildlife offerings.
Even though the Channel Islands are considered somewhat remote, Catalina Island is easy to reach on a day trip by taking a ferry from Los Angeles and several other ports in Orange Country.
During your day trip, you’ll get the chance to go hiking, gorge on fresh seafood, swim in blue waters, and spot plenty of wildlife.
#6 Get lost at Death Valley National Park
If interesting landscapes are what you’re after, Death Valley National Park is sure to please.
Despite the fact that its name may make it sound like a place where nothing ever grows, Death Valley actually boasts an incredibly vibrant terrain.
As you hike or drive through the park, you’ll stumble across diverting sand dunes, hills that come in bright colors, golden badlands, and just about everything in between.
#7 Experience Lake Tahoe
Mountain beauty is also a thing in California, and Lake Tahoe is probably the jewel when it comes to alpine lakes.
Lake Tahoe is one of the largest lakes in the USA. Thanks to its location deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains, this lake makes for a perfect year-round destination. The water on the lake is so blue and the sand so white that you could very well confuse Lake Tahoe for a tropical beach destination in photos!
During the winter months, skiing and various other winter sports become the stars of the show at Lake Tahoe, whereas summer brings in plenty of hiking, boating, and beach fun.
#8 Fall in love with Palm Springs
Palm Springs is the heart and soul of the California Desert and it sure knows how to do things right when it comes to creating the perfect base to explore further.
Even though many people visit Palm Springs in order to hop over to Joshua Tree, Palm Springs itself is a destination of its own.
All over town, you’ll find palm-fringed streets, quirky boutique shops, colorful buildings, and artsy cafés, making Palm Springs a dream come true for photographers and creatives!
#9 Learn all about cinema at Universal Studios Hollywood
Visiting Universal Studios Hollywood is one of the most popular things to do in California for all the right reasons.
If you’re a movie buff, visiting this exciting park will give you the chance to fully immerse yourself in the cinema capital of the world. You’ll get to tour real-life production spots where some of the world’s most famous TV shows and movies were filmed, not to mention you can also enjoy plenty of attractions at themed sections such as Jurassic World and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
#10 Wander around Santa Barbara
Known for its beautiful beaches and high-end beach vibes, Santa Barbara is a gorgeous coastal town where shopping, beach fun, luxury restaurants, and wine reign supreme.
Spanish Colonial Revival architecture is king here, and every single building in Santa Barbara is absolute eye candy. As if that weren’t enough reason to convince you to visit, Santa Barbara is also a gateway to the wine country, with plenty of vineyards and wine estates spread all over its outskirts.
#11 Get your marine biologist on in Monterey
Monterey is a gorgeous seaside locale with a pretty laid-back atmosphere that makes it ideal for family vacations and relaxed getaways.
Aside from that, Monterey is also known for pretty much being the capital of Californian marine life as it is home to one of the richest marine environments in the world.
As such, Monterey is a popular destination for those keen to learn more about marine animals. You can do various activities in order to get close and personal with the life that lives under the bay’s waves, including whale watching and cruising to observe seals, sea otters, and other animals. Of course, a visit to the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must.
#12 Drive the gorgeous Tioga Pass at Yosemite National Park
Highway 120, or the Tioga Pass, is a road that stretches along the length of Yosemite National Park, taking visitors all the way up to the highest pass in California and back down into the sierra.
As one of the most scenic drives in the entire United States, driving this gorgeous highway is definitely one of the most beautiful things to do in California. Along the way, you’ll get to see some of the most stunning scenery the state has to offer, including the iconic granite cliffs of Yosemite and the other-worldly-looking Mono Lake.
#13 Eat pastries in Solvang
Solvang is a small town in the Santa Ynez Valley that is often nicknamed “a little slice of Denmark” due to its Danish heritage.
All over the town, you’ll find quaint Danish-style houses, windmills, and bakeries that sell fresh treats from Denmark.
Some of the best bakeries include Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery, The Solvang Bakery, Mortensen’s Danish Bakery, and the Danish Mill Bakery. Danish rolls, cream puffs, Risalamande, and Danish kringles are just a few of the treats you have to try during your visit!
#14 Find all the creatures at Galleta Meadows
If you love all things weird and wonderful, Galleta Meadows in Borrego Springs is one of the quirkiest things to do in California.
What seems like an empty desert is actually a real-life museum where over a hundred life-size metal sculptures are found. Despite the fact that some of them are as high as 10 feet, it’s actually pretty hard to spot them to the naked eye!
You can rent an e-bike or drive around and see how many of them you can spot for the day. Dinosaurs, gigantic insects, dragons, and humongous sloths are just a few of the creatures you’ll be able to find!
#15 Find the world’s largest trees at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
Sequoia National Park is home to hundreds of sequoia trees, the largest trees in the entire world!
During your visit, you’ll get to hike amid groves of enormous trees, gaze at the snow-capped mountains in the background, and even get the chance to drive under a bridge carved out of a tree log.
Aside from the enchanting forest, you can get lost in for days, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is also home to the highest mountain in the continental United States as well as a canyon that is deeper than Arizona’s Grand Canyon!