California’s sunny days, fun-loving culture, and countless outdoor activities appeal to many. Enjoy life in California, whether dining on outdoor patios or strolling along the shore.
Enjoy outdoor experiences such as trekking in the state’s northernmost county, rock climbing in the desert, alpine skiing, or sunbathing on expansive sandy beaches along the Mexican border. There’s something for everyone in California.
Cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles have world-class cultural attractions, while small villages have a laid-back attitude.
There is something for everyone in California, from museums and rock concerts to beach vacations and mountain skiing.
California has 1,000 miles of beaches. Much of the coastline has beautiful sandy beaches. The list of best beaches is extensive and diverse.
Zuma Beach in Malibu (a popular day excursion from Los Angeles), East Beach in Santa Barbara, and Pacific Beach in San Diego. Visitors can sunbathe, play beach volleyball, and watch the surf crashing.
A few of the top surfing beaches in California are Big Sur’s Sand Dollar Beach and Santa Cruz’s Main Beach (legendary for its surfing culture).
Consider visiting Malibu’s Paradise Beach. This hidden treasure of a beach has been featured in movies. This calm beach has a beachside café with a deck.
Big Sur, Mendocino, and Stinson Beach in Marin County are not to be missed. Sand Dollar Beach in Big Sur is a stretch of beautiful white sand backed by an ocean bluff.
Santa Monica State Beach and Main Beach in Santa Cruz are ideal locations for sunbathing. Both of these well-equipped sandy beaches have vintage amusement parks.
Hiking the Yosemite Falls Trail is a must-do in Yosemite National Park. The walk leads to one of Yosemite’s most spectacular vistas. Yosemite Falls is North America’s tallest. The 7.2-mile round-trip climb gains 2,700 feet, but you may hike up 1,000 feet to Columbia Rock for spectacular views of Yosemite Falls.
Mount Shasta, a 14,163-foot snow-capped summit, offers breathtaking alpine vistas. The five-mile round-trip path to the summit of Black Butte (1,800-foot height increase) gives stunning vistas of the Trinity Alps, as does the Gray Butte Trail, a 3.5-mile round-trip climb with a 750-foot elevation rise.
The McWay Waterfall Trail in Big Sur is an easy yet spectacular hike along the coast. The 80-foot McWay Waterfall, which cascades down a steep cliff into a little sandy cove, is the most photographed location in Big Sur. Partington Cove is another popular Big Sur walk.
Marin County, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, is a hiking paradise. There are routes that run through the lush, covered canopy of gigantic trees in Muir Woods National Monument.
The Dipsea Trail, which runs from Muir Woods through redwood forest and coastal undulating hills to the picture-perfect Stinson Beach, is another gem of Marin County. Hiking paths around Muir Beach provide breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the shoreline.
This northern California county is known for its calm coves, beautiful rivers, babbling streams, secret sandy beaches, and lush woodlands. The Fern Canyon Scenic Trail in Van Damme State Park and the Headlands Trail in Russian Gulch State Park are two of the top hiking paths in Mendocino.
Santa Barbara’s magnificent seashore is bordered by rocky mountains and verdant gorges with scenic hiking routes. The Romero Canyon Loop offers views of the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands from 2,000 feet above sea level.
The walk to Inspiration Point offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, the Santa Ynez Mountains, and the city of Santa Barbara.
Humboldt County’s natural beauty is unmatched in California. The county’s ancient redwood trees fascinate visitors. James Irvine Trail is a great trek in California’s Redwood State and National Parks.
The state’s Redwood National Parks also include many additional great hiking paths.
Some of the top art museums are in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Los Angeles, in particular, has galleries that match New York’s museums.
There is no better place in Los Angeles to see an extraordinary collection of European paintings, sculptures and decorative arts than the Getty Center.
A collection of over 100,000 works of art spanning from antiquity to the present is housed in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Latin American, Islamic, and Asian art are notable at LACMA.
San Francisco’s two world-class museums are nestled in stunning natural surroundings. The Legion of Honor Museum is atop a forested slope overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge. The museum boasts an outstanding collection of European fine arts.
The de Young Museum is located in Golden Gate Park and is accessible with the same ticket as the Legion of Honor.
California offers a wide range of activities for thrill seekers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Joshua Tree National Park is a popular destination for camping, hiking, and rock climbing. With 8,000 routes, Joshua Tree is a world-class climbing destination. There are obstacles for all abilities in the park’s high-desert monzo-granite rock faces.
The Yosemite Valley is renowned for its spectacular vistas and outdoor activities. Yosemite National Park provides world-class rock climbing, hiking, camping, and fly-fishing.
Hiking, camping, rock climbing, and mountain biking are popular activities at Mammoth Lakes. It is a terrific area to boat on the clean lakes and fly fish in the pure rivers in the summer. Mammoth is a popular ski destination in the winter.
Outdoor experiences abound in San Diego, with its stunning coastline landscape and year-round mild temperatures. Hiking on ocean-view pathways, cycling along bayside roads, and kayaking in sea caves are all options for sports aficionados.
The High Sierras’ Lake Tahoe is a year-round outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Summer activities include lakeside walks, hiking, cycling, and water sports. Skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing are popular winter activities.
California is a must-see for foodies. The Golden State is a gourmet eating mecca.
California’s farms, dairies, and orchards produce fruits, vegetables, nuts, cheese, and other foods that are sold nationwide. Local chefs get the freshest ingredients, while farmers markets provide the greatest products from local sellers.
California restaurants range from organic farm-to-table cuisine to Michelin-starred establishments. California has 90 Michelin-starred restaurants.
California’s top gastronomic attractions include San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Napa Valley, Sonoma, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara.
Tourists appreciate the delicious seafood at Pier 39 eateries in San Francisco. Also, these eateries provide a bustling atmosphere and spectacular waterfront views.
Atelier Crenn, overseen by a renowned female chef, and Benu, a modern Asian restaurant, are among San Francisco’s greatest fine-dining places with three Michelin stars. Gary Danko, Sons & Daughters, Acquerello, Lazy Bear, and Campton Place also have Michelin stars.
Slanted Door is an elegant Vietnamese restaurant; and a Mano serves handmade Italian pasta and other authentic Italian specialities. There are several vegetarian and vegan eateries in the city.
A culinary town over the water from San Francisco. The Chez Panisse café opened in Berkeley almost 50 years ago, launching the farm-to-table California culinary trend. This charming, quiet eatery still serves delicious French food.
The Gourmet Ghetto neighbourhood surrounds Chez Panisse has many superb eateries, including Lo Coco’s Sicilian restaurant & pizza and Vanne Bistro inside the Sens Hotel.
Short drive from Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto lies Oakland’s fashionable Temescal area, home to eateries including Burma Superstar, an authentic Burmese restaurant, and Pizzaiolo, an Italian restaurant serving wood-fired pizzas made with local ingredients.
The Napa Valley’s culinary eateries entice gourmands. The French Laundry, a three-Michelin-star attraction, needs advanced reservations. Other notable eateries include Bouchon, a typical French bistro, and The Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, with its outdoor dining terrace overlooking the Napa Valley.
Los Angeles also boasts a notable food culture, ranging from small ethnic cafes to Michelin-starred restaurants. RED O, an award-winning Mexican restaurant with a trendy vibe; Osteria Mozza, a rustic Italian restaurant with handmade pasta and dishes cooked with local ingredients; and Wolfgang Puck’s famed Beverly Hills Spago.
Santa Barbara’s elegant beach town reputation is reflected in its exquisite eating offerings. There are hundreds of eateries, many of which are excellent. Even upmarket restaurants have a casual vibe, so no need to dress up.
Among the best restaurants in Santa Barbara are bouchon, which provides farm-to-table California food and classic French dishes; The Palace Grill, which serves authentic New Orleans cuisine; and Los Agaves, a family-owned Mexican restaurant.
Winter in California is one of the greatest times to go downhill skiing or snowboarding. Palisades Tahoe and Alpine Meadows on Lake Tahoe are among the top ski resorts in the country.
There’s also Heavenly Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in the Eastern Sierras, about a five-hour trip from Los Angeles. Heavenly and Mammoth Mountain both feature great terrain parks and huge alpine ski runs.
Many of California’s most prominent music events draw visitors from all over. Great music and a friendly social environment make these events worth a visit.
The Coachella Valley Music & Art Festival is one of the most popular and thrilling events, featuring sold-out shows. The roster includes contemporary rock, pop, hip hop, and electronic music superstars. Some of the biggest names in music have played at Coachella include Beyoncé and Amy Winehouse.
The Coachella Valley Music & Art Festival, held over two weekends in April, sells out months in advance. The event is known for its parties as much as its music. Restaurants from across the world serve outdoor eating alternatives. Ample car and tent camping is provided near the music venue.
Lightning in a Bottle is a five-day festival held in May at Buena Vista Lake in Central California. The event has food kiosks, lockers, and showers, as well as a general store. Lightning in a Bottle has a world-class musical roster ranging from pop and folk to hip hop and techno.
The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco is not to be missed. This free festival takes place over three days at Golden Gate Park. Outside Lands, hosted in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, features music from country, pop, folk, and alternative genres. Over 85 local eateries have food stalls at the festival.
Every year in late May, the Napa Valley’s BottleRock event starts off the summer with great music. La fête de l’art et de l’artisanat comprend gourmet food stalls, cookery demonstrations, art
San Bernardino (Southern California) hosts the HARD Summer Music Festival over two days in late July or early August. Alternative dance, hip hop and dance punk music dominate the festival’s roster.
The Desert Daze festival takes place in a magical mountain-enclosed desert in Southern California. This indie rock event takes place over several days in November or December. Campgrounds and lockers are available at the event site on Moreno Beach. Festival-goers can tent and bring their own meals.
The majestic magnificence of California’s old redwood forests (stately natural splendor.) These ancient woodlands are home to the world’s tallest trees, old-growth coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). Some of the tallest coastal redwoods are 375 feet tall (the equivalent of a 35-story building).
Just the North Coast of California has ancient redwood forests, however only a fraction of the original old-growth forests survive (destroyed by logging since 1849). The redwoods flourish in the chilly, moist coastal air and rich, diverse soils that just a few hundred miles of the state’s isolated coastline.
Redwoods have been here for 160 million years, long before dinosaurs roamed the quiet groves. Some of the oldest trees in woods now are 2,000 years old (from the Roman Empire era), while several are 600 years old.
The Redwood National and State Parks are located in northern California’s rough and unspoilt Humboldt County (about a 45-minute drive from Eureka). The parks run from Crescent City to Trinidad.
Redwood State Parks include Jedediah Smith, Prairie Creek, and Del Norte Coast Redwoods. Orick has a Redwood National Park. These four parks encompass 16,442 hectares of old-growth redwood trees, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.
Other parts of northern California have old-growth redwood forests. For those who don’t want to drive up to Humboldt.
Muir Woods National Monument is California’s most accessible old redwood forest. This renowned tourist attraction is a great day trip from San Francisco, although it gets crowded. Pre-book parking or shuttle bus reservations. Tours are advised.
Prepare to be awestruck by the natural magnificence of any old-growth forest. Wander through the deep shaded canopies, with the towering redwoods letting in the light. Beautiful ferns, moss-covered river sides, and wild mushrooms are found here. Trails go beside babbling brooks and crystal-clear freshwater streams, adding to the tranquil atmosphere.
Yoga was brought to California in 1937, when the Indian yogi Swami Paramahansa Yogananda founded a monastery at Encinitas (San Diego County) in Southern California. Later the hippie movement of the 1960s expanded the public interest in practising yoga.
Today, yoga is part of California’s mainstream culture. Classes and retreats are aimed to deliver physical, as well as health and spiritual advantages. Tourists who opt to join a yoga or meditation retreat will be awarded with a revitalising experience. Most of California’s yoga and meditation retreat institutes are set in scenic environs.
Green Gulch Farm Zen Center is established on 115 acres in Marin County (approximately an hour’s drive north of San Francisco), tucked in a picturesque valley just a short walk from the Pacific Ocean. A short route runs from the centre, through a leafy grove to the magnificent Muir Beach. Green Gulch offers a traditional Japanese guesthouse, a retreat centre, and an eight-acre organic farm.
Also in Marin County, the Spirit Rock Meditation Center is sheltered by oak-studded rolling hills in the bright San Geronimo Valley. The centre provides classes on Buddhism and meditation, as well as weeklong meditation retreats.
With its awe-inspiring coastline landscape, Big Sur has drawn spiritual seekers for decades. The Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is nestled in the isolated Los Padres National Forest just outside Big Sur. The facility accepts guests for day visits and overnight stays throughout the spring and summer.
Set on a hillside near the Big Sur coastline, the Esalen holistic educational facility provides magnificent ocean vistas and engaging programmes.
In the Ojai Valley (90 miles north of Los Angeles and 35 miles from Santa Barbara), Meditation Mount is attractively placed on a secluded slope with amazing views.
The facility features a Meditation Room, Chi Room, and The International Garden of Peace for strolling meditation. The center’s natural location gives a sense of holiness and tranquillity, to stimulate meditation practise. Visitors must preregister for a visitation time; there are no overnight stays.
California is on the forefront of organic farming and produces almost half the organic food products in the country (including nearly 70 percent of the nation’s organic vegetables). Organic farming has a mission of enhancing biodiversity and restoring ecological harmony, along with supplying consumers with pesticide-free fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other food commodities.
An awareness about organic food products is part of California culture. The majority (90 percent) of California households regularly purchase organic food products, and many people frequently shop at local farmers markets.
Tourists enjoy visiting Sonoma County in Northern California, a picturesque rural area with many small organic farms. With its rolling hills, dense oak groves, and freshwater streams, Sonoma is one of the most beautiful places to visit in California.
Sonoma County Farm Trails lists farms that are open to the public. Happy Apples Farm has a picnic area and a farm stand that offers seasonal orchard apples. Lavender Bee Farm grows fields of organic lavender plants and sells soap, bouquets, and lavender oil at its farm boutique.
McEvoy Ranch, a family-owned organic olive-tree estate, produces extra-virgin olive oil made in the Tuscan style and also has workshops and tours available by reservation. Bivalve Dairy in Petaluma is an organic farm that welcomes the public for guided tours.
Visitors could also sample the local bounty by taking a food tour. The Small-Group Sonoma Walking Food Tour allow participants to taste locally made artisanal cheeses, olive oil, and chocolates. The tour also includes a progressive lunch at various food shops on the historic plaza in downtown Sonoma, as well as a visit to the Mission San Francisco Solano.
About 40 miles (an hour drive) south of San Francisco, Hidden Villa in the Los Altos Hills is an organic farm that is open to the public for visits. Nestled in the beautiful rolling hills of the south peninsula region, Hidden Villa also has eight miles of hiking trails and picnic areas and hosts special events.
The Paso Robles region of Central California is also home to small organic farms. Focused on sustainable farming, Windrose Farm in Paso Robles supplies local farm-to-table restaurants and farmers’ markets and also hosts farm stays, tours, and seasonal dinners.
In Paso Robles, travellers can spend the night in a tranquil setting surrounded by rolling hills and olive orchards. The Rêves de Moutons in Paso Robles offers farm stays in a lovely setting of vine-covered rolling hills. The farm produces traditional French-style sheep and goat milk cheese