California is full of diversity, including its seemingly endless list of recreational activities, and it’s one of my family’s favorite destinations.
With a rich mix of cultures, cuisine and tourist destinations, there’s no shortage of activities to keep you entertained! Be sure to include these top 9 things to do in California on your next trip to the “golden state.”
TIP: If flying into Los Angeles, which can be a CRAZY airport, book an airport shuttle service to LAX in advance to take you to your hotel or destination. We once stood for more than 30 minutes awaiting our hotel shuttle :).
9 Fabulously “Golden” Things to Do in California
1. Go for a “Ride”
It’s virtually impossible to go to southern California without stopping at one of its world-renowned theme parks. Southern California alone is home to several within a few hours from each other.
Heavy hitters such as Disneyland (don’t miss Disneyland at Halloween; it’s our favorite time of year to visit!) attracts crowds by the droves, while smaller counterparts such as LEGOLAND, Knott’s Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain certainly have no trouble holding their own.
Check out the Southern California CityPASS to save on tickets to Disneyland, SeaWorld San Diego and LEGOLAND all in one price.
From animal encounters to sensational shows and gravity-defying rollercoasters, California’s won’t leave you wanting when it comes to theme parks.
2. Make Some Movie Magic
Soak in the art of the silver screen and check out the world of the rich and famous by taking a day or two to see what the Hollywood area has to offer.
Even if bus tours through multi-million-dollar celebrity homes in Calabasas aren’t your style, you can still enjoy the hustle and bustle of strolling down the busy Hollywood Boulevard or seeing movie magic happen before your eyes on a behind-the-scenes tour at Universal or Warner Brothers Studios.
Plus, downtown Los Angeles is quite up and coming and has many of the old “golden days of Hollywood” theaters still open where you can tour where movie star glam once called home.
3. Enjoy the Finer Things
California is known for its exceptional cuisine, including its selection of fine wines from its famous vineyards like those Jordan Vineyard & Winery.
As you make your way north, be sure to stop and enjoy the breathtaking vintage backdrops, food pairings and, of course, samplings of the local varietals.
Stay awhile and delight your senses, and on the way out, don’t forget to take home a bottle of some of the best cabernet sauvignon so you can enjoy the Bordeaux-style wine (my favorite!) of the Alexander Valley all over again.
4. Play in the Sand and Surf
California is practically synonymous with the sand and the surf along its coast. Fully immerse yourself in the Pacific Ocean as you enjoy watersports such as parasailing, surfing, kayaking or snorkeling.
Choose from other water-based activities like fishing, whale-watching and sunset cruises for those who prefer to enjoy the water from the comfort of a boat, as well as alternate activities for beachgoers who prefer to stay closer to shore.
Enjoy a game of beach volleyball with locals at Huntington Beach, browse the endless shops and displays along the Santa Monica boardwalk or simply bask in the sun with a frosty drink and breathe in the ocean air.
Some of my family’s favorite beaches include:
- La Jolla (north of San Diego)
- San Clemente (south of LA in Orange County)
- Newport Beach
- Santa Barbara
- Coronado Island (San Diego)
- Pacific Beach (San Diego)
- Venice Beach
- Santa Monica
5. Hit the Desert
Contrary to California stereotypes, it isn’t all just about the beach and the glitz and glam of Hollywood.
As you travel inland, you can also enjoy the desert life. Start your day with a hike amongst rare succulents and blooms, amp up your afternoon off-roading in an ATV, and then round out your evening stargazing into the clear desert sky.
Don’t miss Anza-Borrego Desert State Park outside San Diego or Joshua Tree National Park not far from Palm Springs.
6. Visit National Parks
Whether you’ve got a family in tow or are an adventurous outdoorsman traveling with friends, California has its fair share of national parks to enjoy.
Be one with nature camping at Yosemite among the bison and bears or take a day trip to check out the mighty sequoias and majestic redwoods at Kings Canyon National Park.
Regardless, California’s national parks are worth the trek!
7. See the Beauty of the Bridge
It doesn’t get much more picturesque than when the fog clears, and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge comes into view.
Drive across the famed landmark either in your own car or on a Big Bus tour like we did or you can take a dinner cruise and sail right under it!
While you’re in the city, stay awhile to zig and zag down crooked Lombard street, satisfy your sweet tooth at the original Ghirardelli’s ice cream shop, take a tour of the wharf and listen to the noisy sea lions and even transport yourself to a different world by taking a walking tour through Chinatown.
For longer stays, consider touring the infamous Alcatraz.
8. Explore Sunny San Diego
If you venture all the way down to sunny San Diego (always tops on our list!), you can enjoy the city’s cultural mecca resulting from its constant shifting of military personnel, as well as its proximity to the border.
Stroll through the grand museums clustered together at Balboa Park, spend a day at the world-famous San Diego Zoo or make a splash at Sea World.
As you do these activities, enjoy the influences of other cultures, most notably the Mexican and Native American influences on the city’s architecture and cuisine.
Enjoy a quick satisfying meal at one of the many taquerias or venture closer to the San Ysidro border for authentic shopping and cuisine without even having to cross. We also never miss a chance to dine in San Diego’s Little Italy district – so yummy!
9. Discover a State Park
California offers many fantastic state parks, like one of our all-time favorites, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, an absolutely gorgeous coastal park full of wildlife and unbelievable views.
Another great one is Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in San Diego. Hike along the coast for some of the most jaw-dropping coastal views you can imagine! If you’re daring, you can even learn how to hang-glide there!
With everything that California has to offer, it’s no wonder that it’s one of the most sought-after destinations. Whether you’re stopping by a quick weekend getaway or staying a while longer to hit every landmark up and down the coast, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Now, when are we going to California again? It’s already been too long…
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