California is such an exciting place to be as there is always something to do or see. Whether you’re interested in beaches, family fun, the outdoors, or like some adventure, or even museums, the Golden State has something for everyone! So don’t forget to add these top attractions to your list of places to visit in California.
Best Time to Visit California
One of the best things about planning a trip to California is that it’s a great destination at any time of year. But if you have a specific choice like swimming, going to the beach, or getting a tan then it is better to avoid planning a vacation from November through to April. Northern California is at its best from late April to early November.
Though the weather in Southern California can still be warm and sunny during winter, the water remains cold. If going to the beach is part of your vacation plans then from May through to October is the best time to visit California.
For snowboarding, skiing, and cross-country skiing December, January, and February are the best months to plan your vacation
Top Tourist Attractions in California
Yosemite National Park
#1 in Best Places to Visit in California
Yosemite National Park is one of the top places to visit in California because of its picturesque beauty and the various attractions it offers. The rivers, the mountains, the valleys, and the spectacular waterfalls have drawn artists, tourists, and athletes from around the world for decades. The Yosemite Valley is the busiest place at the Yosemite National Park as it has most of the key sights and attractions.
The huge waterfalls and granite walls that were carved by glaciers during the last ice age are the most amazing features in the park. Here you will also find famous attractions like Half Dome, El Capitan, and the well known Yosemite Falls. These incredible views can also be enjoyed by visitors from the tunnel view, which is an overlook. The park spreads across an area of 1200 square miles, the incredible views, plants, and animals the park offers makes it one of the top tourist attractions in California.
Joshua Tree National Park
#2 in Best Places to Visit in California
Amidst the Mojave and the Colorado Deserts, one of the most visited places in Southern California is the Joshua Tree National Park. The park is truly a jewel in the desert because of the surreal geological aspects and plethora of plants and animals it has to offer. The major attractions here are the Indian Cove, Black Rock Canyon, Skull Rock, Covington Flats, and Cottonwood Spring.
The park covers 800,000 acres and has much more to offer than just Joshua trees, like the Cholla Cactus Garden, which has the chollas (a cactus with a cylindrical stem) stretch out endlessly along the hillside to beyond the mountains, the giant palms of the Lost Palms Oasis and the ruins of the historic Keys Ranch are just some of the other major highlights at the Joshua Tree National Park.
If you’re planning to spend the night here you must consider spending it under the trees and stars at any of the amazing campgrounds the Park has to offer. It is one of the best places to visit in California for a night exploration because of its famous dark nights.
#3 in Best Places to Visit in California
Another crowd-puller or a major tourist attraction in California is SeaWorld. Situated in sunny San Diego along the waterfront in Mission Bay is a classic family destination, it is famous for its theme of marine mammals, live shows, and daring rides. Orca and dolphin show, gives visitors a chance to get a close-up encounter with some of their favorite marine creatures like polar bears, penguins, dolphins, and killer whales which gives them a better understanding of the oceanic world and the creatures that inhabit them.
Some of the other major attractions at Sea World are a simulated helicopter ride, a flume roller coaster, and rafting through the Shipwreck Rapids. But one the standouts is definitely the Shamu Show, which has performances by killer whales! And dancing fountains.
#4 in Best Places to Visit in California
Another park which is among the top places to visit in California is the Balboa Park, situated in San Diego this is a place where nature, culture, and science come together in a 1,200-acre space! It has about 16 museums, exotic species of birds, gardens, walking paths, attractions for kids, live shows, day tours, and 17 theaters to explore and discover, which run continuously all year long. It has other famous attractions like the Spreckels Organ Pavilion which has the biggest outdoor pipe organ. The park also has many amazing aeronautical wonders present at the space museums which will leave you in awe! Balboa Park is even home to the San Diego Zoo.
#5 in Best Places to Visit in California
Big Sur is regarded as one of the most remarkable stretches of the California coast. Stretching about 90 miles along the Central Coast of California it has numerous places to picnic, hike, and camp. Big Sur is regarded as one of the most scenic driving routes in the world, covering an area between the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains and Carmel. Drivers traveling the popular Highway 1 get to experience and photograph some of the country’s most dramatic sceneries, Big Sur should definitely be on your list of best tourist attractions in California if you love driving in general!
There are many attractions along the route which include the Bixby Bridge which is one of the world’s tallest single-span bridges, the breath-taking 80-foot McWay Falls, and the historic 40-foot Point Sur Lighthouse. To the east lies true wilderness in the Ventana Forests and the Santa Lucia Mountains, with more than 220 miles of trails.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
#6 in Best Places to Visit in California
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a great place for those looking for a nature escape, sunbathing, and hiking. For those who’d like to spend their night under the stars camping facilities are available at the park, the Big Sur Lodge offers a peaceful retreat for anyone looking for a little more comfort. The Valley View Trail takes you to the Pfeiffer Falls which is one of the highlights in the park. There are Valley Overlooks which offer views that extend to the ocean and the Big Sur River Valley.
Garrapata State Park
#7 in Best Places to Visit in California
Another popular area of Big Sur is the Garrapata State Park. The main attraction at the park is the Garrapata Beach, a crescent-shaped, wide and long stretch of golden sand. The beach may not be the best for swimming as the waves are rough and big! But, they’re great for soaking up the sun or for taking a stroll. For those who’d like to burn a few calories, there are also day hiking trails in the park providing fabulous views of the redwoods, coastline, and the mountains
The Golden Gate Bridge
#8 in Best Places to Visit in California
One of the most visited tourist attractions in California and a place that should be on everyone’s list of places to visit in California is The Golden Gate Bridge. Constructed in 1933 this is one the world’s most photographed bridges and spans over the San Francisco Bay for more than a mile. To make the bridge more easily visible through the thick fog that frequently covers the bridge, it was painted in the famous red-orange color. You can click pictures with the bridge to make memories or if you’d like to make the most of your time at the bridge, then you must try cycling, walking, or even taking part in walking tours to learn about the amazing history of the bridge. The orange frame rising out of the fog covering the area is an unforgettable sight
#9 in Best Places to Visit in California
Located in Anaheim, Disneyland has been a premier family destination and also the most visited tourist attraction in California for decades. It tops the list of the most visited places in California! This is the place where Walt Disney characters and movies all come to life in a make-believe magical kingdom. Featuring dazzling shows, thrilling roller coaster rides, and huge colorful spaces packed with restaurants and shops.
Disney land has amazing themed neighborhoods like Tarzan’s Treehouse in Adventureland, or step back into the early 1900s in Main Street, USA or meet Disney characters like Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and many more in Mickey’s Toontown.
Long wait times and line ups have been reduced by the introduction of passes, which give you a “return time” to various attractions. The park is expected to be very busy when kids are out of school, either for Christmas, summer, spring break, or any other holiday. This is not all; The Park offers a lot more! The entire Disneyland resort experience is a must-try, featuring dining, hotels, and shopping at the Downtown Disney District.
Universal Studios Hollywood
#10 in Best Places to Visit in California
One of the oldest and most famous Hollywood film studios that should definitely be on your list of places to visit in California is the Universal Studios Hollywood! Almost 70% of the studio lies within Universal City which is an unincorporated county island. Many known Hollywood movies have been shot here, but that’s not all it’s an amusement park too! With a lot of Roller coasters, live shows, ride simulators, real studio tours, and an impressive amount of options for dining.
Death Valley National Park
#11 in Best Places to Visit in California
Death Valley National Park consists of California’s most inhospitable terrain and extremely high temperatures that have made the desert area dry, yet strangely beautiful. Sand dunes, salt fields, a lake that lies below sea level, and mountains here create a unique landscape in this isolated valley. Visitors are allowed to drive through the park, hike short trails, and also stop at lookouts. If you’re lucky and find water at the shallow Badwater Lake at the time, then you could even paddle.
#12 in Best Places to Visit in California
Lake Tahoe lies high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and is popular as one of the most beautiful tourist attractions in California all year round! During summer the blue lake, surrounding mountains, and with its turquoise coves make it a playground for nature lovers, campers, boaters, and beachgoers. Most of the summertime is focused around the town of South Lake Tahoe. You can find amazing hiking trails in the mountains and along the shoreline. If you’re planning to camp here, excellent campgrounds are available in the area with many in beachfront locations.
During the winters Lake Tahoe becomes California’s premier skiing destination, with many well-known ski resorts that attract skiers from across the United States to make the most of the great snow conditions and incredible terrain. These features make Lake Tahoe one of the top places to visit in California throughout the year
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
#13 in Best Places to Visit in California
Another major attraction on the list of places to visit in California is the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, home to the largest trees on earth. The sequoias here are more than 2,000 years old with some even over 3,000 years old, also considered as the largest living things in the world. Both these parks are different from each other! If you’re planning on exploring both of them, then you may need a couple of days at least.
Although both parks have the giant sequoias, Sequoia National Park is regarded as a better place to visit to enjoy these ancient wonders. This park has easy walking trails that provide easy access to other major sites. Mt. Whitney which is the highest mountain in the US at 14,495 feet, also can be found in the park. Here you can find many beautiful campgrounds, which are positioned well near other attractions, like the famous Giant sequoia known as General Sherman Tree and the Moro Rock.
On the other hand, Kings Canyon National Park is more wild and rugged with roaring rivers, jagged peaks, but you can also find some remote sections where you can escape the crowds and enjoy nature. This park is popular for hiking and some incredible campgrounds can be found in the Cedar Grove area and the Grant Grove area.
#14 in Best Places to Visit in California
Another very famous attraction in Los Angeles is the Hollywood Sign, which is almost on every tourists’ list of places to visit in California. The sign originally read “Hollywoodland”, but when the Great Depression hit, the maintenance was initially reduced and later stopped, eventually the “land” part was taken down. “HOLLYWOOD” is spelled out in 45 ft tall white capital letters and is 350 feet long.
Although there are no direct hikes to the Hollywood Sign, there is a legal trial that helps you look out over the sign. The sign has been a frequent target of vandalism and pranks for years! But since it has been last restored a security system has been set up to deter vandalism
#15 in Best Places to Visit in California
If you are a fitness enthusiast then one of the places you must visit in California is Venice Beach. It is one of the most popular beaches in Los Angeles. The beach is only one of the major attractions here, during summer or even during weekends, the Ocean Front Walk is filled up with a lot of street performers or just people doing their thing: sunbathing, rollerskating, biking, and swimming. There are also public shows by fanatic bodybuilders pumping iron to show off their strength at the Muscle Beach.
Don’t forget to check out Mexico and New York which are another top tourist destinations in North America. Let me know in the comments if this list helped you pick your favorite tourist attractions in California for your next trip!