29 Exciting Things To Do In California For An Unforgettable Adventure

If you’re looking for things to do in California, you are in luck. California has something for everyone. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the miles of hiking and biking trails, while theme park fans can enjoy world-famous attractions like Disneyland and Six Flags Magic Mountain.

There are also plenty of beautiful beaches and gorgeous mountains to explore. Whether you are a nature lover or thrill seeker, California has something to offer everyone. Pack your bags and get ready for an adventure.

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks. The bridge spans the Golden Gate strait between San Francisco and Marin County. Although it is best known for its distinctive orange coloring, the Golden Gate Bridge color is called “international orange.”

The bridge is also one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, with a main span of 4,200 feet. The Golden Gate Bridge is a popular destination for tourists and locals, offering gorgeous views of the Bay Area.

Every year, millions of people come to walk or bike across the bridge, admire the view, or just take a selfie. 

San Diego Zoo

What’s a California road trip without hitting the ever-popular San Diego Zoo? Situated in Balboa Park, the zoo is home to thousands of animals.

You can see everything from elephants and tigers to gorillas and pandas. The zoo also offers a variety of educational programs and exhibitions, making the zoo a popular spot for families and school groups.

What makes the San Diego Zoo so special? First, the zoo is known for its conservation efforts and recovery of endangered species through its breeding programs.

The San Diego Zoo features beautiful gardens and an extensive collection of animals, making it a truly unique experience. A self-guided tour is a great way to experience the magnificent gardens.

The San Diego Zoo is a fantastic way to spend a day or two with the family.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a California bucket list item for many people, and for good reason. The gorgeous granite cliffs, rushing waterfalls, and beautiful meadows draw visitors from all over the world. In addition, the iconic Half Dome is a spectacular draw.

There are plenty of things to do in Yosemite National Park, from hiking and camping to rock climbing and horseback riding. There is also a variety of ranger-led programs offered throughout the year.

Tuolumne Meadows is a beautiful and popular spot to enjoy the park. If you have the chance to visit early in the season, you can experience the meadow coming to life.

While Yosemite can be crowded during the summer, it is still a fantastic place to visit. Fall is a beautiful time when the leaves change color, and the air begins to cool. 

The park is open year-round, and there is no bad time to visit, but if you want more seclusion, November-April is the time to go.

Lake Tahoe

No matter when you visit, Lake Tahoe will take your breath away. The crystal clear water is so blue it looks like something from a postcard, and the snow-capped mountains provide a gorgeous backdrop.

Lake Tahoe is located in the Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains and straddles California and Nevada. Depending on where you are headed, Lake Tahoe is about 200 miles northeast of San Francisco.

With over 15 million visitors each year, Lake Tahoe is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. While the summer months are ideal for swimming and hiking, the winter offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding around.

If you want to get up close and personal with Lake Tahoe, some popular summertime activities include:

If you partake in water activities, you should know that the water is very cold (brrr), even during the hot summer months.

If winter sports are your jam, you will enjoy tearing up the slopes at one of the local Lake Tahoe ski resorts, including:

  • Heavenly Ski Resort
  • Kirkwood Ski Resort
  • Sugar Bowl Ski Resort

Lake Tahoe has much to offer, no matter what season you visit.

La Brea Tar Pits

The La Brea Tar Pits are one of the more unique attractions in California. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, the tar pits give you a vision of the past.

The tar pits, which are actually asphalt, can be seen bubbling as you walk around the area. The pits have preserved the remains of plants and animals for many years.

Today, the La Brea Tar Pits are home to a museum with interactive exhibits. Visitors can also see excavations in progress and learn about the ongoing research at the tar pits.

Walking through the five-acre Hancock Park, pits are bubbling; many are small and marked with orange cones. The large pit (Lake Pit) is conveniently located in front of the museum.

The La Brea Tar Pits are a unique and fascinating place to visit. If you are in the area, make a pit stop, and you won’t be disappointed.

Sequoia National Park

Add Sequoia National Park to your list if you are road trippin’ through California. Located about 4 hours from LAX, the park is home to some of the tallest trees in the world, including General Sherman, the largest tree in the world by volume (it’s a massive beast).

In addition to its towering sequoias, the park also features a variety of landscapes, including alpine meadows, rivers, and caverns. Visitors can also enjoy various activities in the park, including hiking, camping, and fishing. 

Sequoia National Park is open year-round, and the nicest time to visit is during the summer, but it can be very crowded. Summertime temps are very nice, lows in the 50s, highs in the 70s. Spring is also a great time to visit, there might still be snow on the ground, but the wildflowers also start to pop.

If you are a nature lover, Sequoia National Park is a great place to visit for outdoor activities.

Santa Monica Pier

Up next, Santa Monica pier. Traveling south from the mountains and through the desert, you will eventually reach the coast and the beautiful city of Santa Monica.

If you are up for a day in the sun, the pier is one of Santa Monica’s most popular attractions and offers a variety of things to do. It is located about 20 minutes (depending on traffic) from downtown Los Angeles and is a popular spot for locals and tourists.

The Santa Monica Pier has unique shops, restaurants, and an aquarium, making it the perfect place to spend a day or evening. Visitors can enjoy ocean views from the pier, ride on the historic Ferris wheel, or stroll along the boardwalk.

There are also many excellent restaurants on the pier, including seafood joints, burger bars, and ice cream parlors. Personal favorites include The Albright and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

In addition, Santa Monica Pier is home to many distinctive shops selling everything from souvenirs to beachwear. The pier gets extremely busy in the summer, so get there early and plan accordingly.

Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood is an excellent choice if you’re looking for things to do in California that the whole family will enjoy. There’s literally something for everyone with exciting rides, shows, and attractions based on some of your favorite movies and TV shows.

Harry Potter World is a must-see for any wizarding world fan, and you must see it at night. The light show is simply amazing. Also, if you’re a fan of dinosaurs, you won’t want to miss Jurassic World.

The Studio Tour is a personal favorite. The bus ride takes you on a park tour and hits some cool rides and attractions.

You can get through the park in a day, but if you plan two days, you can take your time and hit some of your favorite attractions more than once.

Disneyland

Many would consider Disneyland the Golden States’ crown jewel. Located in Anaheim, Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth and a must-see for any California visitor. A road trip to California isn’t complete without a visit to Disneyland.

Disneyland is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Every year, millions of Disney-lovers flock to the park to experience its magic firsthand. While some come for the rides, others come to meet their favorite characters or see the spectacular shows.

Disneyland is also home to some of the most iconic characters in pop culture, including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. The park has something for everyone, no matter your age. Be prepared to spend at least two days at Disneyland to experience everything the park offers.

Summer is one of the busiest times to visit Disneyland, but spring and fall are great if you can make it.

Legoland California

Have you ever wanted to see the Las Vegas Strip made of Legos? What about New York’s Central Park or SoFi Stadium? If you’re a fan of Legos, then you’ll love Legoland California in Carlsbad.

You can also take your pick of several different rides, including the Driving School, where kids can test their skills behind the wheel. If that’s not your jam, maybe your kiddos will prefer the COASTERSAURUS or one of the other fantastic adventures in the park.

You can also enjoy a variety of themed restaurants and shops. Plus, there’s even a water park where you can cool off on those hot California days (not so great in late December, been there, done that).

Legoland is a great place to spend a day, especially if you have young kids. The park is geared towards kids ages two to twelve, but even adults will find things to enjoy.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is one of the hottest places on earth. In fact, it is so hot that it holds the record for the highest temperature ever recorded on earth. But Death Valley is more than just a hot, dry place.

It is also home to some of the world’s most beautiful and unique landscapes. From towering mountains to eerie canyons, this barren and seemingly inhospitable place is home to a diverse array of plant and animal life.

Bighorn sheep, coyotes, and jackrabbits can be found here. Death Valley is also a popular destination for hikers and backpackers who come to experience its dramatic landscapes.

The park has a wild side with towering peaks and winding canyons. But it also has a history that is rich and fascinating.

La Jolla Cove

For good reason, La Jolla Cove is one of the most popular spots in San Diego – it’s absolutely gorgeous. The water is crystal clear, calm, and perfect for kayaking or paddle boarding.

You will also see sea lions and seals sun themselves on the rocks. In addition, tourists can explore tide pools full of colorful sea life.

The area surrounding La Jolla Cove has plenty of great restaurants, bars, and cafes. You can find anything from fresh seafood to Mexican food.

In addition, Ellen Browning Scripps Park is a vast grassy area that is great for flying kites, napping, or enjoying the beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.

If you’re looking for a place to relax and soak up the California sun, La Jolla Cove is the perfect spot.

Venice Beach Boardwalk

It’s hard to find a more iconic California destination than Venice Beach Boardwalk. This bustling boardwalk is always full of visitors, thanks to its many souvenir stand, art galleries, and of course, the sandy beach.

The boardwalk is a California landmark, and it’s easy to see why – it’s always lively, and there’s always something new to see. So whether you’re in the mood for some souvenir shopping or want to people-watch, Venice Beach Boardwalk is the perfect place to spend an afternoon.

People-watching is by far one of the best things to do at Venice Beach; you never know who or what you’ll see next.

San Diego Bay

Southern California is filled with exciting things to do, and San Diego Bay is no exception. This huge body of water is perfect for various activities, including kayaking, fishing, sailing, and paddle boarding, to name a few.

In addition, two of my favorite things to do are visit Seaport Village and the USS Midway Museum. Seaport Village is a quaint little shopping area with tons of unique stores and restaurants. The USS Midway is an aircraft carrier turned museum – it’s enormous and full of exciting exhibits.

Another great activity in San Diego Bay is to take a harbor cruise and get a unique perspective of the San Diego skyline. Also, my wife and I enjoy checking out all the sailboats and other luxury watercraft parked in the marina.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the world’s largest and most popular aquariums. Located on Cannery Row in Monterey, California, it is home to a wide variety of marine life, from sharks and stingrays to sea otters and penguins.

The Aquarium also features a giant kelp forest exhibit and an impressive collection of jellyfish. Visitors can explore the Aquarium’s exhibitions at their own pace or participate in one of the many tours and educational programs offered.

You must buy tickets online as they are not available in person. Buying tickets as early as possible is an excellent idea because they fill up quickly. There is so much fantastic sea life to experience at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, be sure to add this to your list if you are looking for cool things to do in California.

USS Midway Museum

The previously mentioned USS Midway Museum is a must-see if you want things to do in Southern California. Located on the historic Midway aircraft carrier, the museum offers a variety of interactive exhibits and experiences.

This unique museum is housed on an actual aircraft carrier, the USS Midway, and offers people the chance to explore the ship and learn about its history.

Visitors can take an audio or guided tour of the ship, try their hand at flying a virtual fighter jet, and explore the many aircraft on display. The museum is also great for families, with kid-friendly activities and tours available.

One of the really cool things to do was chatting with the many volunteers aboard the ship. My kids loved the entire experience, and that’s not easy to say with teenagers.

California State Railroad Museum

The California State Railroad Museum is perfect for anyone who loves trains or American history. The museum houses an extensive collection of locomotives, many displayed in their original pristine condition.

In addition to the historic locomotives, the museum also features low-scale models of famous American railway lines. These models are incredibly detailed and offer visitors a unique perspective on the development of the American rail system.

Perhaps most impressively, the museum also contains a railroad stake made entirely from pure gold. This stake was used to mark the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. It is a testament to the importance of the railways in American history.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

If you are looking for things to do in the California desert east of Los Angeles, check out the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The rotating tram gives you a great view of the mountains, desert, and cityscape. 

The tram takes you to an elevation of 8,516 feet, a good 6,000-foot climb above the floor below. Also of note is the temperature change, about 30-40 degrees cooler than Palm Springs. So on a hot summer day, it’s a great way to break from the scorching temperatures.

If you are in the Palm Springs area, the tram is a great experience, and the views are simply incredible. I highly recommend adding it to your list of things to do in California.

San Francisco Cable Car System

The San Francisco Cable Car System is iconic and world-famous, as it’s the last manually operated cable car system. A ride on one of these cars is a must-do for any visitor to the city, as it offers a unique and thrilling experience.

The cars are pulled by a cable that runs beneath the street. They rattle along as they make their way up and down the hills of San Francisco. The views from the cars are stunning, and you’ll get to see some of the city’s most iconic landmarks while enjoying a thrilling ride.

The system consists of three separate lines, and it runs about 4.5 miles (down from 75 at its peak). Millions of people ride these cable cars each year. The San Francisco Cable Car System is an essential part of the city’s history and culture and a vital part of its transportation network.

Chinatown San Francisco

Chinatown is one of the most popular tourist destinations in San Francisco. It is also the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest Chinatown in North America.

Visitors can explore Chinatown’s unique shops and restaurants or tour its historic temples and street markets. Various cultural events and festivals are also held throughout the year, making Chinatown an exciting and vibrant place to visit.

Chinatown is the place to be if you are looking for good food. Countless restaurants and food stalls are serving up delicious Chinese cuisine. So spend some time exploring all that Chinatown offers, and you will have a great time.

Pacific Coast Highway

A road trip on the west coast through the Golden State would not be complete without driving on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). This legendary highway (aka California State Route 1) runs for about 655 miles along the coast of California and is one of the most beautiful drives in the world.

The highway winds its way along pristine beaches and past rocky cliffs. There are also countless pull-offs where you can stop to enjoy beaches, hiking trails, and excellent surfing spots. The scenery is unreal, but keep your eyes on the road.

You can drive from San Francisco to Santa Monica, hitting areas like Bug Sur along the way while enjoying the beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Monica State Beach

Santa Monica State Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Southern California. Visitors enjoy its wide, sandy beach, famous pier, and close proximity to Los Angeles. The beach is also a great place to surf, paddleboard, and bodyboard. When you’re ready for a break from the sand, there’s plenty to do nearby, on Santa Monica’s famous Third Street Promenade.

Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of San Francisco’s most popular (and busiest) tourist destinations. The area is home to various souvenir shops, seafood restaurants, and bakeries.

The sourdough bread bowl is perhaps Fisherman’s Wharf’s most famous food item. These bread bowls are filled with various soups and stews and make for a hearty meal.

Visitors to Fisherman’s Wharf can also enjoy views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. A great way to explore the wharf is by bicycle. There are many rental shops in the area.

Griffith Observatory

Los Angeles is filled with things to do, and one of the best things to do is visit the Griffith Observatory. This iconic building is located in Griffith Park on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood.

The Observatory is a popular destination for locals and visitors, as it offers magnificent views of Los Angeles and the surrounding area. Visitors can also enjoy a variety of educational exhibits, including a planetarium show that highlights the stars visible from Los Angeles on any given night.

In addition, the Observatory is home to several historic telescopes, which are fantastic for viewing the stars on clear nights. Even if you’re not into astronomy, the planetarium show is worth the price of admission.

The Getty

If you want unique things to do in California, add The Getty to your list. There are two venues, the Getty Center (Los Angeles) and the Getty Villa Museum (Palisades).

The Getty Villa houses Greek and Roman art and includes beautiful gardens. Visitors can take a themed audio tour of the museum and grounds. Outside the villa are a large pool and gorgeous gardens. Another great thing about the villa is the view of the Pacific Ocean.

Admission is free, but you must make an online reservation for your preferred time slot.

The Getty Center is a whole different ballgame, it’s massive, and it’s an architectural masterpiece. The museum features European art from the Middle Ages to the present day.

There is also an outdoor sculpture garden and a beautiful rose garden. The views of Los Angeles are incredible, and you can see for miles (air quality permitting). 

If you are looking for things to do in California that are a little out of the ordinary, add The Getty to your list.

Glass Beach

The Glass Beach in Fort Bragg is a unique experience in California. The beach is covered in smooth, colorful glass created by years of waves crashing against the shore.

This beach is littered with smooth, colorful glass fragments – the result of years of trash being dumped in an area close by, then the glass washed ashore. While this may not sound appealing initially, the waves have worn the glass into beautiful, jewel-like pieces. It’s a truly unique sight that you won’t find anywhere else.

Taking pieces of glass is illegal, but that hasn’t stopped people from doing so. As a result, there isn’t as much glass as there used to be.

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz is located in the San Francisco Bay and was once home to a notorious federal prison. Today, the island is a historic landmark open to the public for tours.

Visitors can learn about the island’s history, explore the abandoned prison buildings, and enjoy stunning views of the Bay. On the trip to and from the island, you see beautiful views of San Francisco, which is part of the fun.

The Alcatraz gardens are magnificent and incredibly lush after a good rainstorm. The prison housed some infamous prisoners back in the day. It’s a very cool experience to walk the same halls they did.

Visit Hollywood

Many people dream of visiting Hollywood, and when you’re on a road trip through California, it’s the perfect opportunity to check it out. But, of course, one of the best things to do is walk down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where you can see the stars of your favorite celebrities.

In addition, the Hollywood Sign is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world. You can get a great view of it from Griffith Observatory (mentioned earlier). Fun and unique things to do in California must include a visit to Hollywood.

Napa and Sonoma Wine Country

Napa Valley is a wine lover’s paradise, offering everything from world-renowned wineries to quaint tasting rooms. But there’s more to this region than just wine. Napa Valley is also home to incredible restaurants, including Angèle and TORC.

Napa Valley is a fantastic place to hike, with miles and miles of trails to explore. One of the best things about hiking in Napa is enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Of course, a tour of Napa and Sonoma wine country is the perfect way to sample the best these regions offer. From world-famous cabernets to lesser-known varietals, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. And with so many wineries to choose from, you’re sure to find the perfect bottle (or two) to take home with you. 

Napa’s best hikes include the Skyline Wilderness Park and Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a very unique place to visit in California. Towering Joshua Trees, extraordinary rock formations, and spectacular desert landscapes make the park an excellent spot for anyone visiting California.

Although it can be hot during the day, the night skies are clear and filled with stars. Visitors to Joshua Tree can hike, climb, stargaze and camp under the stars. 

Joshua Tree is an out-of-the-way spot in the Mojave Desert in eastern California. It takes some planning to get here, but it’s worth going if you are headed to Palm Springs.

Conclusion

There are so many things to do in California that it’s hard to know where to start. From theme parks and outdoor activities to wine tasting and sightseeing, there is something for everyone. We’ve listed just a few of our favorite things to do in this amazing state – be sure to add them all to your list.

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About the author
Steve
Steve is the owner of Paddle About, a blog that's all about helping people get out and enjoy nature. He loves to kayak, camp, hike and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not out exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.