California is a big place—so big, in fact, it can be hard to narrow down where in the state you would like to visit. From top to bottom, there are famous towns and exciting attractions that everyone should see at least once. Check out ten places in California you should add to your bucket list below!
Yosemite National Park
Famously pristine, this national park contains giant sequoias, breathtaking waterfalls, gorgeous landscapes, immense valleys, and robust fauna that leaves virtually all visitors in awe of mother nature. It’s no wonder why this 1,700-square mile national park has been protected since Abraham Lincoln signed its protection into law in 1864; Yosemite National Park is a natural treasure. Four to five million people visit this state park annually, but most stay within the stretch of Little Yosemite Valley.
Kayak in some of the 3,200 lakes, 1,700 miles of streams, or two large reservoirs that grace the park. Plan a camping trip to enjoy the nature of the park, but if you’re short on time, a drive up to Glacier Point will unveil the vast glory of Yosemite. Looking out from Glacier Point, you’ll be able to see a few of the parks greatest features, which include Tenaya Canyon, Liberty Cap, Yosemite Valley (including Half Dome), Clouds Rest, Vernal Falls, Yosemite Falls, and Nevada Falls.
Los Angeles Area Theme Parks
Most of the visitors who come to California are here for the theme-parks in and around the bustling city of Los Angeles. Although they are separate entities with wildly different rides and themes, they will all give you the time of your life no matter what age you are!
Disneyland is at the top of the list of any kids dream vacation! Experience life as a movie character with rides that incorporate special effects unlike any other theme park you will visit. As of 2017, there are 54 attractions that fill the park, which includes rides, exhibits, and shows. In the connected Disney California Adventure park, you can fly over the world in an exhilarating 4D flight monitor simulator, Soarin’ Around the World. If you really want a taste of California, Disney California Adventure Park is themed after the history and culture of the state of California.
For an adrenaline rush, take on the rides featured at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Just north of LA in Valencia, Six Flags Magic Mountain has some of the fasted and freakiest rides around. You won’t have time to be bored chasing the thrills in this park that holds 19 roller coasters and three water rides.
Take a trip to Universal Studios, the most famous movie studio on earth that is still used today. High five Woody the Woodpecker (their mascot) on your way to see the newly built Wizarding World of Harry Potter that features several of its own rides and attractions—sort of like a theme park within a theme park.
Knott’s Berry Farm, LEGOLAND California, Pacific Park, and dozens of other theme parks make Los Angeles a great place to go for thrill seekers and families!
Death Valley National Park
This national park on the Nevada border is otherworldly and full of extremes, from the lowest point on Earth to the hottest recorded temperatures. It’s amazing to see how so many of Earth’s finest works of art were created within such close a proximity to each other. Gaze out over salt flats for miles while the sun’s rays seemingly melt the air in front of your eyes. The intricately shaped and painted rock formations are really a sight to see—just make sure to pull over and enjoy the view safely.
Golden Gate Bridge
If you visit northern California and don’t see the Golden Gate Bridge, you might as well have stayed home. Bridging the Golden Gate Straight, this iconic landmark was opened on May 27th, 1927. To this day, the bridge is considered one of the seven engineering wonders of the world and is certainly the most well-known suspension bridge to mankind. Archive this landmark painted in International Orange with a photograph of your own as the fog dissipates to uncover the bridge and city of San Francisco behind it.
Redwood National and State Parks
Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods make up the Redwood National and State Park system. Gaze up at the tallest trees in existence in this costal northern California forest. These towering trees that inhabit the Redwood Forest are also some of the oldest, living up to 2,000 years. They gaze out from verdant forest cliffs that border the coast for 40 miles. Engage in your favorite outdoor activities from camping to kayaking; spending time among these ancient redwoods will be an unforgettable nature experience.
1.2 miles into the San Francisco bay lies Alcatraz Island, which holds a lighthouse, military fortifications, and one of the most infamous prisons in US history, Alcatraz. Before Alcatraz became a prison, however, it was a military fort, and then a military prison. From 1934 until 1963, Alcatraz was used as a federal prison, housing some of the nation’s most notorious criminals. Alcatraz is now a popular tourist attraction that is accessible by ferry. There are several tours of the island and it’s best to reserve your ticket ahead of time, as they do sell out often.
Paul Getty Museum
For a cultural experience unlike any other, visit the J. Paul Getty Museum, colloquially known as The Getty. Holding some of the world’s finest western art collections, the J. Paul Getty Museum is broken up into two campuses: The Getty Center and The Getty Villa. The Getty Villa itself is a replica of a traditional Italian villa a located in Pacific Palisades, CA and holds art collections from Ancient Roman, Etruscan, and Greek societies. There is an estimated 44,000 pieces of art within The Getty Villa.
The Getty Center is the newer campus of the J. Paul Getty Museum built in 1997. The center is located within the city limits of Los Angeles atop a hill in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking the city of LA. This campus holds western art from the middle ages to modern times and has a special focus on manuscript art. The lofty campus holds The Getty Research Institute, The Getty Trust administration offices, and The Getty Museum, with thousands upon thousands of stunning works of art.
Hollywood Sign / Griffith Observatory
Since 1923, the large white letters “H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D” have sat atop Mount Lee, demarcating the glamorous city where the rich and famous work. Hollywood is known for being the home of the U.S. film industry that has made America the global leader of mass media. Going to see the Hollywood sign is a must for anyone on vacation in the Los Angeles area. To be clear, you cannot actually get to the sign, as it is illegal to get very close and is guarded by 24/7 surveillance. There are hiking trails around the sign located within Griffith Park.
Griffith Observatory is located on Mount Hollywood just below the Hollywood sign, and it offers the best views of the sign on its west Hollywood Sign terrace. There are coin telescopes to see the sign up close, as well as several other terraces around the building offering great views of the city of Los Angeles. The Griffith Observatory is also a fun attraction by itself, offering space and science exhibits, making for the ultimate LA sightseeing stop.
The beauty of Lake Tahoe speaks for itself. This freshwater alpine lake is the largest of its kind in the United States and is among the world deepest lakes as well. Cut by the California-Nevada border, Lake Tahoe is found in the Sierra Nevada mountain range northeast of Sacramento, California and just west of Carson City, Nevada. Several gorgeous state parks surround the lake, and there is plenty to do in and around the area, like skiing, cruises, rock climbing, kayaking, fishing, backpacking, and a lot more depending on the type of trip you are planning when visiting the area. Lake Tahoe is a stunning lake and there are a large number of renowned ski resorts all around it. You’re bound to have a great time at Lake Tahoe regardless of which season you visit!
Sequoia and Kings Canyon
Home to the largest tree by volume, this park is full of beautiful, hulking trees, many of which have been around longer than the ancient city of Rome. Sequoia and Kings Canyon are two adjacent national parks located in the southern Sierra Nevada. Over 1,300 square miles of rich sequoia forests make up these parks, with the General Grant Tree being one of the biggest attractions as the largest tree in the world. Other amazing features include the 200 discovered marble caves and Mt. Whitney, which is the highest summit in the contiguous United States at 14,505 ft. Any nature lover would be at home in the breathtaking wilderness of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
BIO: Jacob Levine is an online blogger and content manager for Big Bear Cabins, the leading provider of luxurious vacation rentals & cabins in Big Bear Lake, California. Visit our site for more information!