Your vacation in California is just around the corner, and you may be considering an exciting adventure beyond the captivating city of Los Angeles. Get ready to be captivated by these legendary cities and breathtaking national parks that await you.
Be sure to pack your camera and embark on an unforgettable journey under the sunny skies of California! Here are the top 12 vacation spots in California for 2023:
Table of Contents
1. San Francisco
One thing is certain: impossible to make a road trip in California without spending a few days in San Francisco. Nicknamed “everyone’s favorite city” by Americans , you might fall in love with it.Among the essential things to discover, there is of course the Golden Gate Bridge.
Alcatraz prison is the most famous penitentiary center in the world and a real must-see. If you are still wondering what to do in San Francisco , there is also:
- Fisherman’s Wharf and the famous Pier 39 sea lions
- Alamo Square with its view of the “Painted Ladies” pastel houses
- Chinatown, one of San Francisco’s most historic
- Lombard Street and its eight hairpin bends
- Haight Ashbury, for a dive into the hippie San Francisco of the 60s and 70s
Yosemite National Park is a real highlight of a California road trip. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, this park offers spectacular landscapes . Take to the many hiking trails to discover towering granite cliffs, mighty waterfalls and giant sequoias. No wonder the site is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site !
In the Yosemite Valley area, do not miss under any circumstances:
- Tunnel View, one of the best photo spots in the valley
- The Yosemite Falls, these three falls that form the largest waterfall in North America
- The Glacier Point belvedere, to be discovered especially at sunset
Do not leave without having taken the superb Tioga Road of Yosemite National Park. This scenic route that crosses forests, meadows, lakes and granite domes offers breathtaking views . Stop at Olmsted Point and Tuolumne Meadows to enjoy these incredible landscapes.
3. Mammoth Lakes
Less known to visitors, Mammoth Lakes is nevertheless a destination of choice during a circuit in California. If you want to stretch your legs between Yosemite and Death Valley, this is the place to take a break. You will certainly fall in love with its impressive mountains, dense forests and wild lakes.
Depending on the season, outdoor enthusiasts can go hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and downhill skiing.
Don’t miss a detour to the Devils Postpile National Monument . This cliff composed of basalt columns is one of a kind.
4. Death Valley
Despite the chilling name, Death Valley is, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating places in California. Few places in the world can boast of such great diversity . Death Valley is not only a desert where the temperature exceeds 50° Celsius in summer, it is also mountains, canyons, salt marshes, the dunes of Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and the Ubehebe crater.
Here are some of the highlights of Death Valley National Park :
- Zabriskie Point and its spectacular view of the Golden Canyon cliffs
- Dantes View, the ideal panoramic viewpoint to admire the immensity of the park
- Artist’s Drive, this small road makes you discover the incredible colors of Artists Palette, one of Death Valley’s must-see photo spots
- Devils Golf Course, to marvel at this large expanse of crystallized salt
- Badwater Basin, to discover the lowest point in North America and its salt flats
5. Los Angeles
Symbol of the American dream, the City of Angels is a sprawling city that has no real downtown. LA is made up of multiple neighborhoods, each with their own atmosphere and a common point: 320 days of sunshine a year .
The reputation of Venice Beach is second to none. So, discover its canals and its beach without forgetting its always very lively boardwalk. Continue your walk by the Santa Monica Pier, this mythical pier with a carnival atmosphere which is one of the best neighborhoods in Los Angeles .
Continue your visit to Los Angeles with Hollywood, the emblem of cinema and Beverly Hills which inspired the famous television series. Don’t skip Downtown LA either for its museums and its many restaurants whose eclectic gastronomy will take you around the world.
6. San Diego
For a dose of culture and city vibes during your vacation in California, go to San Diego . Here, Mexico is very close and you will quickly realize it. Between the historic district of Old Town, the museums of Balboa Park and the energy of the Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego reveals its most beautiful finery to you.
This pretty Californian town is also an excellent spot for observing marine mammals , so bring binoculars and a camera. To see the city from another angle, leave the center and explore La Jolla, Sunset Cliffs, Coronado Island and Point Loma.
7. The California coast
A real gem of California, this wild coast is characterized by its steep cliffs throwing themselves into the Pacific Ocean . It’s time to re-read Kerouac and Steinbeck and listen to the Beach Boys thoroughly as you hurtle down the miles of asphalt on the California Coast.
Take Highway 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles and take your time to discover this fabulous section. Santa Cruz, Monterey , Point Lobos State Reserve, Big Sur, Santa Barbara , Malibu, not to mention Pfeiffer beach, considered one of the most beautiful beaches in California .
There are plenty of opportunities to stop along the California coast, so take the opportunity to immortalize these magical moments in photos.
8. Sequoia National Park
Welcome to the land of giant sequoias! This must-see national park, considered one of California’s most beautiful parks , stands out for its oversized trees that will make you feel small in comparison. During the hiking trails, especially along the Congress Trail, discover the General Sherman Tree which is to date the largest living organism on Earth.
The Big Trees Trail is a trail you should also enjoy. Located next to the Giant Forest Museum, this path has many interpretive panels that will teach you lots of exciting things about the ecosystem of Sequoia National Park .
Moro Rock, Tunnel Log, Crescent Meadow, and Crystal Cave spots are also among the top 10 spots in Sequoia .
9. Kings Canyon
You may never have heard of Kings Canyon in California . And yet, if it is not the most famous of the parks of the American West, the cousin of Sequoia National Park is just as fascinating. Don’t miss it on your California vacation !
Among the essential places to see in Kings Canyon, I particularly recommend:
- Buena Vista Peak Trail
- General Grant Tree Trail
- Kings Canyon Panoramic Point
- Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
- Zumwalt Meadow
Words quickly fail to describe so much beauty, so make up your own mind by adding this destination to your itinerary.
10. Lake Tahoe
If you want to recharge your batteries at the edge of pure, crystalline water during your vacation in California, head for Lake Tahoe! At 6,000 feet is the largest alpine lake in the United States and one of the most beautiful lakes in the American West . Prefer the north shore of the lake during a family trip. Kings Beach is ideal for a picnic while Tahoe City has a rich historical heritage and many tourist attractions.
To visit Lake Tahoe in the southern sector, go to Emerald Bay to take your best photos then take the Heavenly Mountain Gondola to enjoy a spectacular panorama.
11. Joshua Tree
Visiting Joshua Tree is an incredible experience! Although it is not very large, this national park has a magical and bewitching aspect that gives it incredible charm. Spend a day there, starting in Pioneertown, which has been the location for many Old West-themed movies and TV shows.
Once inside the park, absolutely do the Hidden Valley Trail, Barker Dam Trail, Skull Rock Trail hikes, not forgetting the Cholla Cactus Garden Trail which will allow you to discover all the beauty of the Joshua Tree desert. Thousands of Joshua trees stretch out before you.
Also head to Keys View, the highest vantage point in the park, for views of the Coachella Valley and the Salton Sea .
12. Channel Islands
The Channel Islands are located west of Los Angeles. Less known than other star national parks in California, these islands are absolutely splendid. Nicknamed the “Galapagos of North America” , they have a wild nature made up of endemic plants and abundant fauna.
Here are must see places in The Channel Islands:
- Anacapa with its sea caves, volcanic rocks and natural bridges
- Santa Cruz, the largest island in the Channel Islands and California
- Santa Barbara and its colony of elephant seals
- Santa Rosa with its many beaches and steep cliffs