Best Places to Visit in California: Top 25 Locations
Here are the 25 best places to visit in California including the top locations both inland and on the coast. I’ve explored this state for several years, continue to do so and the list in this post is the most updated one.
Here are my 25 best places to visit in California (the summarized list):
This awesome lookout on the Coast Highway Lookout.
Redwoods State Park.
Sunset Cliffs Cave.
Monterey Beach California.
Shark Fin Cove Beach.
San Francisco Bay.
Channel Islands National Park.
Joshua Tree National Park.
Pinnacles National Park.
Yosemite National Park.
Sequoia National Park.
Angeles National Forest.
Death Valley National Park.
Kings Canyon National Park.
Pacheco State Park.
Natural Bridge near Chanchelulla Peak.
Castello Di Amorosa (castle and winery area).
I’ll be mentioning where each location can be found, but I have organized this list in the following order:
The first 12 are more on the California Coast (it used to be 10, hence that picture).
The next 13 are more inland California.
I’m someone who looks for the most beautiful nature areas, so whether I explore them and add them personally or you know of any beautiful spots in the California (coast or otherwise), let me know below!
The first 12 places on this list are in my opinion the best places to see on the California Coast:
It’s what I originally started exploring California for and there are 800+ miles of many different places to see, but here are my top choices so far:
1) Big Sur:
California Coast, south of San Jose.
Big Sur is about 40 miles long and has many areas within it worth seeing. For nature, we have these top things to see in Big Sur as well as other activities you can do. One of my main goals in visiting the California coast the first time I went there was to see Big Sur because some say it has the best nature areas all fit into one region, in all of California.
I will say that is a strong argument after seeing it for myself (twice). In any case, I recommend exploring at least the 5 areas in Big Sur that I believe have the most beautiful areas in it and you can see them all in a day. Additionally, Big Sur has one of 5 best scenic drives in southern California I recommend taking.
2) The famous Glass Beach in California:
Fort Bragg, 3 hours north of San Francisco on the California Coast.
The main attraction of Fort Bragg isn’t really it’s nature, but the Glass Beach it holds that drives a lot of tourists there. I’ve visited the Glass Beach in California three times and while I liked the actual glass beach, I learned that there was a ton more things to see and do there (which I included in a specific post above on Glass Beach).
Additionally, if you travel a little bit north of Fort Bragg, you’ll cross a place called the Pudding Creek Bridge, which is beautiful to explore as it has a large bridge over it called Pudding Creek Trestle. During sunsets, this place is very photogenic and I will personally be making plans to photograph this iconic spot on my next trip through Fort Bragg!
3) This amazing lookout California Coast overlook called Coast Highway lookout:
About 10 miles north of Fort Bragg.
One of the main benefits of being on route 1 on the California Coast is all the stops available and some of them aren’t even well know, such as this one I found.
Details on where to find it: I couldn’t even find the name of it on Google maps, but it’s located right near Coast Highway Lookout (1 kilometer south of it) and it is a one of the best scenic drives in northern California that I have seen. It’s also located about 20 minutes north of Fort Bragg if you need more references. But anyway, not only does it have a beautiful lookout to see the sunset with, but there’s also hikes to the beach and other beautiful scenery to explore.
4) Redwoods State and National Park (the giant trees):
This specific area is close to the Southern Oregon Coast border (about 1 hour south of it).
Until I entered California State for the first time in 2017, I had no idea this was the same state that had the famous giant trees, which aren’t just Redwoods, but also Sequoias (there are big differences between Redwoods vs Sequoia trees by the way) , but when I discovered that it was, I had to go and visit it! And as it just so happens, it is located right on the California coastline.
In fact, you’ll find tons of Redwoods north (and south) of Fort Bragg as you travel further and further north of it (see a list of the best places to see Redwoods here), and the epicenter of where most of these trees can be found is in the Redwoods State (and National) park.
I highly recommend going there during a weekday and during off season, because you just might be the only one there to enjoy the beauty, views, and air and more. There is something truly breathtaking about being in the Redwoods and being able to enjoy them yourself. It felt surreal for me when I did it the first time.
5) Sunset Cliffs Cave:
Near San Diego (California Coast).
If you love sea caves and being able to enter them, then Sunset Cliff’s Cave should be on your list. This area is on a beach right by San Diego and it really looks a lot like the Devils Punchbowl area in Oregon I explored.
But it’s easier to walk in through Sunset Cliff’s Cave than it is to Devils Punchbowl in Oregon. Anyway, this spot, as you can see on the picture to the right is very iconic, and it is highly recommended to time your visit here when the sun is about to set (for obvious reasons).
6) Russian Gulch State Park:
30 minutes south of Fort Bragg.
Russian Gulch State Park is a beautiful park with a beautiful beach, giant bridge, sea caves, Redwoods and much more that should absolutely be explored if you get the chance. It’s a small park, but it has a lot to see.
When I was looking for places to see in California’s Coast, an image of this spot came up, but I didn’t discover where it was until the next time I would travel through California. Fortunately, I was able to see this awesome spot recently and I couldn’t be happier.
In many ways, this area looks so similar to the type of stuff you see on the Oregon Coast, and there is a ton to explore there, including sea caves, a beautiful beach, and even a Devil’s Punchbowl. If you have the chance, check out Russian Gulch State Park. It has an awesome scenic drive too around it which I ranked as one of the top best scenic drives in northern California.
7) Monterey Bay on the California Coast:
About 15 minutes north of Big Sur.
Monterey Bay is a popular spot to check out near the Monterey area. But the coastal area there itself is very scenic and has cliffs you can hike near. There’s also a lot of other tourist attractions in the Monterey area worth exploring aside from the coast itself, but for me, it’s a place I have yet to explore personally.
When I first saw a picture of this place, I thought it was in Big Sur, but sadly, I was wrong (it was south of it) but I do recommend you plan your visit to this area too if you plan to explore the California Coast. In short, I recommend you explore this and other areas within Monterey Bay.
8) Shark Fin Cove Beach:
About 15-20 minutes north of Monterey Bay.
I think you can tell why this place is called Shark Fin Cove Beach. In any case, I think it’s gorgeous and has to be on this list! Sadly, it too is another spot I missed on the 3 trips I’ve taken across the California Coast.
Most of my adventures so far on this coastline have been north of Big Sur, and Shark Fin, like Monterey Bay are south of it, so I highly recommend that if you really want to plan a trip across this coastline, to start in San Diego, and map out all of the locations I am giving you here, so you don’t miss any of them like I did. I’m definitely planning to make a future stop here too!
9) San Francisco Bay:
Right under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
San Francisco itself is a very beautiful city and while it has had a lot of troubles, you can’t deny it’s nature is still there and is still beautiful and probably worth visiting and since we’re talking about the coastal areas, San Francisco Bay has to be on the list.
There’s tons of attractions and scenic spots there to see, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and activities to try such as mountain biking and hiking.
One of the most scenic hikes you can do in this region that will give you a great overview of the coastline is passing the Golden Gate Bridge, and going up the mountain right after it, which has scenic drives, and viewing areas to check out.
10) Muir Woods (More Redwoods):
Right by San Francisco.
Muir Woods is one of the most popular parks in California and quite honestly one of the best places to see Redwoods in California overall (there’s also many other great options I included in that link). Muir Woods in this case has many trails for just simple walks, hikes and even trail running.
There are also plenty of other attractions throughout this park and obviously the most notable thing is the Redwood trees there. But overall, if you are visiting San Francisco but want to see some amazing nature spots, I would say the Muir Woods are likely the best and closest option to it.
11) Fern Canyon:
Fern Canyon is close to the Redwoods National and State Park (near Gold Bluffs Beach) I mentioned above and is a beautiful hike in a canyon that has plenty of greenery, a beautiful stream and an overall memorable hike that many people enjoy doing.
It’s a very short hike through a watery trail and it’s absolutely beautiful. In my case, I actually missed seeing this place twice due to GPS issues as there are 2 Fern Canyons and the one you want here is near Gold Bluff’s Beach.
Note: If you want to know of places that look like Fern Canyon, I’d recommend Oneonta Gorge in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge area. It is still likely closed, but in case it ever opens, I say it’s better there than it is in Fern Canyon.
12) Channel Islands National Park (one of the top California Coast areas to see):
This is an island with an national park. The closest area to it (California Coast) is Santa Barbara.
This is one of the most popular NP’s in California but it requires boating to reach. There are private boat tours and companies which can take you there. But aside from exploring these islands and hikes there, you can also find a lot of sea caves. many exotic fish and other outdoor activities (including underwater) to check out. Views wise, this place looks a lot like Hawaii and some mixes of things you see on the Oregon Coast too.
13) Mount Shasta:
It’s located about 1 hour south of the mid southern Oregon border.
Mount Shasta is one of the most popular mountains in the entire California area and one of the best places to visit for hiking, tourism, and other things. There are alpine lakes and tons of things to do. The good news about this area is that it’s right by Interstate 5 and there is a large town near the mountain to stay at.
14) Joshua Tree National Park:
2-3 hours west of Los Angeles.
I have only been to this park once and explored a hike called the Chasm of Doom at Joshua Tree. I was very impressed with this park because it has a lot of cactus’s, boulder exploration, awesome hikes and amazing sunsets all combined. I plan to return to Joshua Tree but if you’re staying in LA or headed towards Las Vegas from LA, then this is one of the best places to visit in California in either case.
15) Pinnacles National Park:
The closest area to it is Monterey (2 hours from it).
If you like parks and caves, I recommend you visit Pinnacles National Park at least once. That’s what I did and I enjoyed hiking through it’s main areas, which involves nice trails, 2 awesome cave explorations (one wild and another more simple and good for tourists). The park also has great overlooks, trails, camping and more.
16) Yosemite National Park:
In eastern California’s Sierra Mountains.
I honestly believe Yosemite National Park is one of my favorite places to visit in California when it comes to the eastern part of the state (I’ve been there two times). Aside from having many amazing hikes, the best place to check out for first timers is the Yosemite Valley area which you can drive into, and from there find many awesome hikes, trails, tourist spots and tons of photogenic spots as well.
17) Lake Tahoe:
North Eastern part of California (north of Yosemite NP).
This is one of my favorite lakes and it divides Nevada with California. You can literally drive around the whole lake on one road and see different scenery and attractions in each state that’s connected to it.
On the California side, I personally noticed way more attractions with skiing involved and more beautiful towns to stay at and eat while on the Nevada side, you can find a lot of awesome nature spots to kayak and swim in.
18) Sequoia National Park:
Sierra Nevada Mountains too (southern area near Fresno).
After trying for many years to visit this place, I finally got to spend one day in Sequoia National Park in 2022 and it was amazing. This park’s most notable feature are giant Sequoia trees which are even wider and often taller than the Redwoods I have seen.
I saw some of the top spots in this park during my one day trip and share what to see there too. It’s got a very scenic drive, many hikes along that same drive and many Sequoia trees to see everywhere.
19) Angeles National Forest:
Very close to LA.
This is a very large mountain and forest area near LA which has tons of hikes, waterfalls and many amazing destinations (Mormon Rocks, awesome scenic drives and more).
I explored some of this area in 2017 and then in 2021 and have to say that it deserves many more visits because of how much beauty there is, and on top of that many adventures I am looking forward to exploring. It’s right near LA and is arguably the best and closest spot to visit near that city if you’re looking for nature.
20) Death Valley National Park:
South eastern side of California.
In early 2023 I visited Death Valley National Park for the first time with the main intent to just drive through it. It’s gigantic and there are many beautiful views on just the road alone to see, which will take you at least 2 hours to do.
But aside from the drive, there are many hikes, natural bridges and slot canyon trails to see. On top of that, you also have many amazing hiking trails to take you to beautiful overlooks (which you can also see while driving on the main road, whether from the bottom of the park to the highest points there). I would recommend only going to this park during winter because it is known to be extremely hot there.
21) Kings Canyon National Park:
Right by Sequoia National Park.
Kings Canyon National Park is right next to Sequoia and I explored it too. To me, it blends together stuff you see in Sequoia with the beauty you see in Yosemite and it’s one of the many reasons why I loved visiting this park. It is also less crowded than both of them, but at the same time offers a ton of beauty, sights, scenic drives, water hikes and much more to see.
22) Pyramid Lake:
About 2 hours from LA, and right near Interstate 5.
Pyramid Lake is an amazing place that I accidentally spotted while driving from LA to Sequoia National Park. It is basically a reservoir where you can fish, boat, hike, camp and have a great day exploration at.
A buddy of mine and I visited this place (2nd time for me) in 2022, rented a boat for $35 for 2 hours and took it across the whole lake while stopping at popular hikes and other attractions there and it’s an awesome activity to do if you go here (one of many).
23) Pacheco State Park:
Between Monterey and Modesto California.
This is another one of those amazing places in California I accidentally found and in this case, I was just driving through it and decided to stop around sunset time. The key to really enjoying this park is to come here during winter through early spring time and the reason why is because that’s when the green in this place is really noticeable. Mixed together with the fact that this park is beautiful and has amazing hikes and overall stunning scenery, it makes for an awesome spot to see in California.
24) Natural Bridge:
Near Chanchelulla Peak.
There are many natural bridges that I have explored and this one came up on my Google maps while I was driving to Eureka California from Lake Tahoe. There is some driving in remote areas to reach this place but once you do, it’s worth it.
Basically this is a giant natural bridge with a huge cave and river in it that you can walk into and through if you want. The hike from any parking area near it to the natural bridge is only a few 100 feet too. Here is the Natural Bridge area and how to get there. I would recommend an AWD car to get through the last road area that is not on concrete.
25) Castello Di Amorosa:
Very close to Santa Rosa.
There are many wineries in California and Castello Di Amorosa is one of the most popular ones and a top attraction in California overall. Not only is it a winery, but there is also a giant castle there.
You can get a lot of diverse adventures from coming here and while I am personally a nature fan, this specific spot blends together a lot of museum and castle type attractions perfectly with nature to make me want to visit this place.
Popular questions about visiting California:
What cities are in the coastal region of California?
The main cities on the California Coast are San Jose, San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
What is the California Coast known for?
The California Coast has tons of attractions, beautiful coastal drives and beaches as well as historic locations all throughout.
What is the prettiest place in California?
Big Sur in my experience is one of the most beautiful places to see in California.
What is the number 1 tourist attraction in California?
There are many popular tourist attractions in California, and the top ones are Big Sur, Yosemite National Park, Monterey and San Diego.
The good news about these 25 spots (besides their beauty):
I’ve arranged the order of them so the first 12 are the best places to see on the California Coast, while the other 13 are further east so if you’re planning a road trip on the coast, you can try to see all the best places I listed above that are there, whereas if you plan to explore California further east, there are also a lot of spots you can cover.
If you need help planning a road trip to California, let me know which area you want to visit and I’d be happy to share advice on how to plan an itinerary there.