Destinations to Visit in California

In case you feel the call for adventure and want to see something great outside of the Los Angeles ,I encourage you to go further and go on the trip to see the real and unforgettable wonders of California.

In this article, you will find a complete list of top destinations to see in California. So use all the information and the tips and plan your stay in sunny California in the best possible way.

California is absolutely one of the most interesting states in the USA. 

Worth seeing in California!

From the scorching sun of Death Valley, through the desert areas of the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree, the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains hiding the majestic Sequoias , to the magical coast of Big Sur and the beautiful beaches of Orange County. 

Top 20 Destinations to Visit in California:

Table of Contents

1. McWay Falls, Big Sur

McWay Falls Big Sur Destinations to Visit in California
Azure waterfall McWay Falls off California Highway 1 (Big Sur)

Everyone has probably heard of Big Sur. The beautiful coast in the northern part of the famous California “one” ( Pacific Coast Highway ). McWay Falls is most mesmerizing viewpoint on this beautiful route

The pictures taken here look really great!

The trail is so short that if you leave your car in a nearby parking lot, you can reach the viewpoint within 10 minutes via a wide, comfortable path. Unfortunately, there is no access to the beach itself or to the waterfall. However, this magical view of a 25-meter-high, azure waterfall is enough.

2. Glacier Point, Yosemite

Destinations to Visit in California Glacier Point Yosemite
View from Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley

It’s 369 miles or 594 km from Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park, which takes about 6 hours, 7 minutes to drive, but it is entirely worth it. No photo and no description can convey the beauty of this place. Yosemite National Park itself is beautiful, but Glacier Point is the classic essence of what Yosemite has to offer. From this place you can see practically the entire valley.

The majestic, curved profile of the Half Dome monolith, the shimmering ribbons of waterfalls somewhere below, the legendary Tenaya Canyon, which still hides many dangers, the mighty granite Cloud’s Rest and the famous El Capitan. These are Californian symbols recognizable all over the world, which you can easily see from this height.
You can reach Glacier Point (American style) by car or take a four-hour hike straight from Yosemite Valley.

3. The Tunnel View, Yosemite

The Tunnel View Yosemite Destinations to Visit in California
Yosemite Valley greets everyone entering with this view

The Yosemite Valley has become a permanent part of the Californian symbolism. The Glacier Point mentioned above will allow you to look at Yosemite Valley from above. However, it is enough to drive less than 45 minutes by car towards the valley and you will reach a place like from a postcard.

The Tunnel View – it’s a view you can stare at for hours. A majestic valley carved by glaciers, surrounded by granite formations and cut by the Merced River flowing through its middle, it is every photographer’s dream place.

There is another location in the Yosemite Valley – which is worth visiting. The place is called Valley View and is located on the north bank of the Merced River. Here you will be able to use the lazy water surface as a natural mirror in which the El Capitan and Cathedral Rock formations will be beautifully reflected.

4. Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

Emerald Bay Lake Tahoe Destinations to Visit in California
Crystal clear “Emerald Bay” on Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe and all things related to this location could easily be included in this list of the most beautiful places to see in California.
If you love azure, crystal-clear lakes surrounded by evergreen trees with mountain peaks (most of the year snowy peaks) in the background, then you must visit the location of Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe.

Emerald Bay is located in the western part of the lake. You will get there by picturesque winding mountain roads.

It is worth knowing that Emerald Bay is part of a state park and the most photographed location on Lake Tahoe. Once you get to this place, I recommend setting off on the 9-mile Rubicon Trail that will allow you to look at the blue-green Emerald Bay from various perspectives.

For all those who like to discover local gems, it is really worth finding and visiting a place called Vikingsholm Castle.

5. Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe

 Sand Harbor Lake Tahoe Destinations to Visit in California
Lake Tahoe

Another California gem is also located at Lake Tahoe. This is a charming and still little known location among Sunday tourists called Sand Harbor. Crystal clear water and unusual boulders, give this place a specific character.

San Harbor is also a sandy beach where you can relax ,and it is also one of the best photo spots. Massive boulders often serve as natural springboards for daredevils who find the cold waters of Lake Tahoe the perfect place to swim.

Diving, snorkelling, kayaking or Paddle Boarding, very popular in California – these are water sports that perfectly fit into the atmosphere of Sand Harbor.

6. Point Lobos, Monterey

Point Lobos Monterey Destinations to Visit in California
Point Lobos

Hidden a bit off the beaten track of the “California’s only one” (Pacific Coast Highway), the Point Lobos State Reserve is a place for nature enthusiasts. Seals, Sea Lions, countless species of birds, Otters and other sea creatures have taken a liking to this location.

As usual, the rocks fantastically nicked by the ocean, crystal clear water and a whole lot of trails (short or longer) are definitely another place that must be on the list under the title: WORTH SEEING IN CALIFORNIA.

Even if you encounter cloudy weather (which is quite common in this part of the Californian coast) – you will be delighted with this place.

7. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park Destinations to Visit in California
Joshua Tree National Park

A visit to Joshua Tree is a unique experience of the desert areas of Southern CaliforniaJoshua Tree Park is undoubtedly the most popular (even iconic) for camping enthusiasts. There are over 500 places where you can legally pitch a tent, park your motorhome and admire the unique landscapes.

Also, don’t forget about the night attractions! The park is far from civilization (the nearest big city is 480 km away) at an altitude of 1500 m and the sky is so beautiful that stargazing festivals are organized.
Personally, to observe the sky, I recommend the area around the place called Arch Rock.

8. Mono Lake, Sierra Nevada Mountains

 Mono Lake Sierra Nevada Mountains Destinations to Visit in California
Mono Lake in California

A trip to Mono Lake is a trip to the oldest lake in North America and is undoubtedly one of the most exotic attractions that California offers. The place has a lunar landscape and the tuff formations, which are over 750,000 years old.

The most visited place on Mono Lake is the South Tufa location.
Here are the largest tufa formations – the perfect place for an original photo shoot. I also recommend going to Navy Beach – a truly remarkable place!

9. Zabriskie Point, Death Valley

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley Destinations to Visit in California
The fantastic formations in Death Valley are a view straight from Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point is a must see on any trip to Death Valley . Beautiful, colorful rock formations with a brilliant background of mountains illuminated by the rising sun – this is every photographer’s dream.

A short asphalt path leads from the nearby car park to the viewpoint located on a small hill. The point itself allows for a very comfortable observation of the surrounding golden brown formations called Badlands and the reddish cliffs of the Red Cathedral hills above them.

10. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley Destinations to Visit in California
Real dunes reaching over 30 meters in Death Valley

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is another unusual location in Death Valley. Huge expanses of shifting sand created over 30-meter dunes in the northern part of Death Valley. 

Photography enthusiasts should come here at sunrise or sunset. Then you will preserve the subtle play of lights and shadows on the golden-red giant expanses of sand stretching to the horizon.

Attention! The dunes are one of the hottest locations in Death Valley!
When going on the trail in the period from May to June, it is necessary to have a hat, glasses, sunscreen and at least 2 liters of water.

11. Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park Destinations to Visit in California
Sequoia Park

Giant sequoias growing majestically among the Sierra Nevada mountains are one of those places whose beauty cannot be captured in any pictures. You just have to be there and walk among trees that are over 3,000 years old .

The largest tree in Sequoia Park is over 83 meters high and 11 meters in circumference. 

Sequoia is not only trees, it is also an unusual smell that accompanies us throughout the visit, a beautiful play of lights (especially in the morning, when the sun shines through the trees covered with a light mist) and endless views.

Morro Rock – this is one of those viewpoints that lies in the Sequoia Park – and which should also be on your list.

12. Muir Woods National Forest

Redwoods trees in California Destinations to Visit in California
Muir Woods – soaring RedWoods grow here , trees taller than Sequoias

You will definitely be surprised if I write that only a 40-minute drive north from San Francisco separates you from another must-see place in California. This is Muir National Forest.

A place so unusual that it’s hard to believe that it practically exists on the outskirts of San Francisco. Muir Woods are soaring giant Red Woods trees. It is true that they are smaller in volume than Sequoia, but they are taller than them.

The main trails in the park are relatively crowded, so I recommend taking Canopy Trail , which will allow you to break away from the crowd of tourists for 45 minutes.

When visiting Muir Woods, it is recommended to include a visit to the most famous (and unfortunately, the most crowded) Redwood Trail.

13. Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park Destinations to Visit in California
Lassen Volcanic National Park

Did you know that while visiting California, you can also move for a moment to the atmosphere of Yellowstone Park. All you have to do is head north California (about 4 hours drive from San Francisco) and you will reach Lassen Volacanic National Park.

This park is a real gem! Located in the geothermal areas of the Sierra Nevada mountains, it surprises with its beauty at every turn.

Most of the still active geysers, fumaroles and bubbling mudflats that give off a specific smell of hydrogen sulfide are located near Mount Tehama. The pearl of this park is a place called Bumpass Hell. The trail leading through Bumpass Hell is about 5 km. There are no shortage of tourists here and you will have beautiful photos.

It is also worth dropping by and visiting Boiling Springs Lake , where the average water temperature is 125 C.

14. Beach Sand Dunes

Pismo Beach Destinations to Visit in California
Pismo Beach

If you are wondering where in California you can find the most unusual beach, you can go to Oceano town (right next to Pismo Beach). Here you will not only be able to sunbathe as much as you want, but also …. drive a car.
Yes – this is the only beach in California where you can drive all vehicles .

Head to Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation AreaHere you can do recreational activities such as swimming, surfing, surf fishing, camping and hiking.

One thing is for sure – this six-mile stretch of beach is not a quiet place. You will find relief from the noise of mechanical vehicles only in cozy cafes and local pubs located in the town of Pismo Beach.
If you want to spend the night somewhere among the dunes or on the beach by the ocean – you are in the right place!

15. Alabama Hills

Rock formations in the Alabama Hills Destinations to Visit in California
Rock formations in the Alabama Hills

The eastern part of California, beyond the Sierra Nevada mountains, remains home to numerous hidden gems that tourists should explore. Among the many attractions worth visiting are the stunning Alabama Hills.

The Alabama Hills itself is a beautiful area with thousands of boulders forming various shapes and formations. Some of these giants are more than eight meters tall .

It is an ideal place for walking along trails hidden among the rocks.

Alabama Hills would be great place for outdoor enthusiasts, especially those who enjoy climbing, off-road riding, cycling, and camping! Accommodation in such amazing surroundings is unique.

Alabama Hills formations lie against the backdrop of the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains with Mt. Whitney. It is the highest peak in all of California and the highest peak in the continental United States (4,421 m).

16. Tioga Pass Road

Tioga Pass Destinations to Visit in California
The beautiful Tioga Pass

California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway stretching along the ocean is not the only scenic route that you can admire in California. Two hundred miles east of the ocean, the mighty Sierra Nevada mountains are crossed by an equally beautiful road popularly known as the Tioga Pass.

Tioga Road (this is the official name of part of this route number 120) is almost 60 miles of beautiful views that can be observed by driving this road at an altitude of 3030 m. It is the only route through Yosemite Park that allows you to move through the Sierra Nevada mountains from east to west.
Unfortunately, due to its location and heavy snowfall in these areas, the route is usually closed from November until mid-May.

When planning a ride on this route, it is worth including the following viewpoints in the plan: Olmsted Point and Tenaya Lake.
It’s also worth staying a bit longer at the Tuolumne Meadows Visitors Center. This is one of the iconic places on the Pacific Coast Trail that runs right next to it , which was also featured in the movie Wild.
From Tuolumne Meadows, you can also hike to the stunning granite peak of Lembert Dome.

17. Napa and Sonoma Valley

 Napa and Sonoma Valley Destinations to Visit in California
Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley

For wine lovers, Napa and Sonoma Valley  are must-see spots on the map of California. Napa is a land of exquisite vineyards whose products are admired all over the world.  .

A day trip to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys is a pleasant escape from big cities and the bustle of streets and highways. Relaxation here is guaranteed. 

My favorite list of Napa and Sonoma Valley wineries: Beringer Vineyards , Castello Di Amorosa Sterling , and by far the number one Francis Ford Coppola Winery . Yes, this is the vineyard of a famous Hollywood director.

18. Heisler Park, Laguna Beach

Heisler Park, Laguna Beach Destinations to Visit in California
Heisler Park in Southern California

This is one of the wealthiest towns in the Orange County region and has a particularly beautiful oceanfront location to offer. One of them is Heisler Park . A place located on high cliffs covered with beautiful palm trees and exotic vegetation.
Here you can walk along the boardwalk along the ocean and even listen to guitar concerts of local musicians.
This is one of those locations where you will be able to admire the beautiful sunsets in California style.

Practical advice: on weekends it’s hard to find parking along the streets of Heisler Park – so I recommend getting here at least two hours before the sun goes down.

19. La Jolla

 La Jolla Destinations to Visit in California
La Jolla in southern California

Since I am writing about Californian towns that are worth visiting, it is necessary to mention La Jolla. It is real the jewel of Southern California.

The beautiful coastline, wonderful people, friendly seals, caves, kayaks, amazing views and walks on the ocean floor (only at low tide) are attractions that attract crowds of tourists.

The best way to visit this place is a lazy walk along the promenade along the ocean. You can take advantage of small beaches (called coves) that are hidden between steep cliffs and cool off in crystal clear natural “pools” called tide-pools.

However, the whole atmosphere of La Jolla begins just after sunset. Small streets in the city light up with delicate neon lights, romantic music comes from cafes, and those who are lucky and managed to make a reservation ,delight in Californian climates while gently sipping wine in local Rooftop Bars .Best restaurants with rooftop observation decks are: Duke’s La Jolla and Cantania.

20. Hawk Hill, San Francisco

 Hawk Hill, San Francisco Destinations to Visit in California
View of the Golden Gate Bridge

Don’t forget about civilization on your dream trip to California. California’s nature is stunning, but you’ll find equally unforgettable views in the most controversial of cities.

San Francisco. You can love or hate this place.

But we won’t dwell on that now. I suggest that you go a bit outside the center of SF (choosing the Golden Gate Bridge of course) and reach the viewpoint called Hawk Hill

Also, don’t forget to look away from civilization and look back at the endless ocean. Although it is always windy here, Hawk Hill is a truly unique location.