Things to do in California

Things to do in  California

West coast, best coast

From southern California’s beachy San Diego and star-studded Los Angeles to history-steeped San Francisco and quieter towns in the north, the Golden State serves up an endless array of destinations and activities. Cruise out to Alcatraz, the famed former prison in the San Francisco Bay, or visit Catalina Island on a boat trip from Long Beach or Dana Point. Outdoor adventures in Yosemite National Park, skiing in Lake Tahoe, or a stroll down the Santa Monica Pier give a glimpse of the state’s majestic natural features. Visit LA to stroll on the Walk of Fame, hit the theme parks in Anaheim, or hike up to snap a photo in front of the Hollywood sign. Monterey and Carmel are home to miles of coastline, a wealth of marine life, and world-class golf facilities. Both the San Diego Zoo and the Monterey Bay Aquarium are considered the top wildlife facilities in their categories, home to an incredible array of animals and opportunities to learn about our non-human neighbors. California’s miles of farm country mean dining opportunities include farm-fresh, high-quality meat and produce. Foodies can dig into fish tacos in SoCal, munch sourdough bread in San Francisco, or hit the wine trail in Napa and Sonoma.

Top 15 attractions in California


A former federal prison that held notorious criminals Al “Scarface” Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Alcatraz is now a national historic landmark and one of the most sought-out (and sold-out) attractions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Highlights include touring what’s left of the maximum-security facility, hearing stories from former inmates, and sailing past the Golden Gate Bridge to reach the craggy isle.More

USS Midway Museum

Formerly the US Navy’s longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century (1945 to 1991), the USS Midway is now a floating museum docked off the coast of California. Aboard the hulking vessel, visitors can now explore more than 60 exhibits as well as peek inside the museum’s impressive aircraft collection.More

Golden Gate Bridge

The red-orange Golden Gate Bridge is a San Francisco icon, which spans 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) across and connects the city’s northernmost point to Marin County. While the suspension bridge is a major route for Bay Area commuters, the famous landmark also attracts visitors from around the world with its panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, the Marin headlands, Alcatraz, and San Francisco.More

Hollywood Sign

One of LA's most distinguishing icons, the famous Hollywood Sign proudly stands on Mt. Lee (Mount Lee) in the Hollywood Hills, overlooking Los Angeles and the California movie industry it has come to symbolize. This LA landmark first appeared on its hillside perch in 1923 as an advertising gimmick for a real-estate development called Hollywoodland. Each letter stands 50 feet (15 meters) tall and is made of sheet metal painted white.More

Universal Studios Hollywood

One of the world's oldest continuously operating movie studios, Universal® Studios Hollywood presents an entertaining mix of thrill rides and live action shows, plus a tram ride. The large California theme park cleverly integrates the shows and rides with behind-the-scenes presentations on movie-making.More

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Only in Los Angeles are stars so common that they can even be found on the sidewalk. Studded with more than 2,600 brass stars across 18 city blocks, the Hollywood Walk of Fame features names of celebrities in mini monuments. See if you can spot the stars of your favorite motion pictures, TV shows, live theater, and more.More

San Francisco Bay

A natural harbor spanned by the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the picturesque San Francisco Bay is the defining feature of California’s Bay Area. Get out on the chilly, choppy water—or just savor the views from the shoreline as the fog rolls in.More

Griffith Park

Griffith Park is one of the largest city parks in North America, covering a vast 4,310 acres (1,744 hectares). An oasis in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, this green space caters to visitors of all ages and interests with attractions such as the Los Angeles City Zoo, the Griffith Observatory, and the iconic Hollywood sign.More

Balboa Park

Home to world-class museums, manicured gardens, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park tops the list of San Diego city sights. Its 1,200 lush acres (486 hectares) comprise the largest urban park in the United States. Apart from its many attractions, Balboa Park also features lengthy walking and hiking trails, distinctive landscaping, Golden Age Spanish buildings, and one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs.More

Jackson Square

In the heart of the French Quarter lies Jackson Square, one of New Orleans’ most famous locations. A National Historic Landmark, it is home to St. Louis Cathedral and is often filled with locals and tourists who come to stroll the paths, catch the buskers and street performers in action, or just sit in the shade and watch the world go by.More

Yosemite Falls

The highest measured waterfall in North America and the sixth-highest in the world, Yosemite Falls is the superstar attraction in Yosemite National Park. With a cumulative drop of 2,425 feet (739 meters), Yosemite Falls comprises three falls and is especially stunning in late spring when the snow melts and water flow is at its peak.More

Golden Gate Park

The 1,000-plus acres (412 hectares) of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park are home to museums, picnic sites, lakes, golf, hiking and biking paths, concerts, and more. From the attraction-laden east end to the wilder west side where bison roam, the park offers plenty of ways to relax, get a culture fix, exercise, or gather with friends.More

17-Mile Drive

California’s 17-Mile Drive, said to be one of the world’s most scenic, is an essential Central Coast experience. Looping around the Monterey Peninsula, the private toll road offers stellar views of Monterey Bay and passes attractions such as the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock, the Del Monte Forest, and the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course.More


Across the bay from downtown San Diego, the small resort town of Coronado is an idyllic escape from the city with a wide, sandy coastline and a tree-lined main drag that’s home to shops and restaurants. Visitors go to hang out on the beach, tour historical sites, and watch the sunset.More

Sunset Strip

The legendary 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) stretch of Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood known as the Sunset Strip extends east–west from Beverly Hills to Hollywood, laid end to end with celebrity-studded music venues dating back to the heyday of rock and roll, comedy clubs, boutiques, restaurants, hotels, and cocktail bars with stellar views of the surrounding city.More

Trip ideas

Top activities in California

Napa and Sonoma Wine Country Full-Day Tour from San Francisco
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Muir Woods & Sausalito Half-Day Tour (Return by Bus or Ferry from Sausalito)
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San Diego Harbor Dinner Cruise

San Diego Harbor Dinner Cruise

Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood
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Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood

Wine Country Hot-Air Balloon Ride from Yountville
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Wine Country Join-in Flight

Wine Country Join-in Flight

San Diego Hop On Hop Off Trolley Tour

San Diego Hop On Hop Off Trolley Tour

San Diego Whale Watching Tour
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San Diego Whale Watching Tour

Painted Ladies San Francisco City Tour
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All about California

When to visit

You may hear it often, but in California, it’s true: There’s never a bad time to visit. There are, however, general guidelines to follow. Spring is ideal for getting outside—think desert wildflower season and Coachella, one of the largest music festivals on the planet. Summer brings the tourist crush, more festivals, and the best beach weather in the US. Ski season typically runs from November to March but often starts early and stays late.

Getting around

The California road trip is alive and well. Highways 1, 5, and 101 cover large swathes of the state: Interstate 5 along the interior, while state and US routes 1 and 101 follow the scenic coast. If you have time, road-tripping is an essential California experience. The California Amtrak train system can get you around, but it is slow and not particularly affordable. To travel quickly between metro areas, flying is your best bet.

Traveler tips

Think of California, and you’ll likely picture postcard-worthy beaches up and down the rugged coast. While beautiful beaches are everywhere in the Golden State, those north of the Central Coast have chilly Pacific waters that may feel too cold for swimming. To take a dip without a wetsuit, make southern California your destination where the water will be warmer—places like Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Drake’s Beach.

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People Also Ask

What is California known for?

Natural beauty. California is home to rugged coastlines hugging the Pacific Ocean, age-old redwood and sequoia trees, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Yosemite and Death Valley are must-see national parks. Hollywood is the seat of the American entertainment industry, while Silicon Valley is the center of global technology.

What is the number 1 tourist attraction in California?

By the numbers, Disneyland is the top attraction. The Los Angeles amusement park draws about 18 millions visitors annually. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, perhaps the state’s most recognizable attraction, falls second with about 10 million visitors annually. Yosemite National Park rounds out the top three.

What is something unique you might see in California?

Among its wonders are Death Valley with its salt flats and the lowest point in North America. In San Francisco, there’s the world’s last manually operated cable car system. General Sherman in Sequoia National Park is thought to be the largest giant sequoia. Don't miss Lassen National Park’s volcanic, Mars-like landscapes.

What kind of activities can you do in California?

There's plenty to do in California. Outdoorsy types can surf, kayak, hike, scuba, ski and sun-worship year-round. Culture mavens can visit world-class museums—from the Getty Center to the deYoung museum and SFMOMA. Wine tasting is a year-round affair; high-end shopping is a favorite Los Angeles diversion.

What is the prettiest place in California?

Carmel-by-the-Sea has an immaculate downtown, European-style courtyards and alleyways, and a bevy of art galleries. Point Lobos nearby is a California postcard, with Monterey cypress trees framing the shimmering Pacific Ocean. The Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo is peace on earth.

What can you do in California right now?

Year-round activities in California include wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma counties; driving down 600 coast-hugging miles (900 kilometers) on the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, also known as California State Route 1; surfing rugged, pristine shorelines; and checking out Disneyland for family fun.

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