26 Exciting Things To Do in Southern California

Southern California is a land of sunshine and sandy beaches. It’s also home to some of the best amusement parks in the world. So if you’re looking for fun things to do in southern California, you’re in luck. This blog post includes fun activities to keep you busy during your next visit. Whether you’re into nature hikes or shopping sprees, we have something for everyone. So start planning your SoCal bucket list today.

Joshua Tree National Park

If you want one of the most unique things to do in southern California, visit Joshua Tree National Park. This majestic park is famous for its unique Joshua trees, desert landscape, and the beautiful night sky. There are plenty of opportunities for camping and hiking at the park, with Black Rock and Cottonwood campgrounds being two of the best options.

Additionally, visitors can check out the popular Ryan Mountain or Arch Rock Trail to experience fantastic views and hiking opportunities. If you’re lucky, you may catch an incredible glimpse of the starry night sky overhead as Joshua Tree boasts some of North America’s clearest views of the stars. 

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve

If you are looking for a great hiking spot with amazing views and a chance to see some beautiful wildflowers, look no further than the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. Located just an hour and a half drive from the city of Los Angeles, this incredible reserve draws in visitors every spring when its vibrant fields of poppies start to bloom. Whether you explore the trails on foot or by bike, you will be surrounded by splashes of color as far as the eye can see.

San Diego Zoo

Visiting the San Diego Zoo is one of the best things to do in Southern California. This world-renowned zoo is home to various animals, from monkeys and gorillas to pandas and elephants. In addition, the park has well-maintained grounds and beautiful landscaping, making it a great place to experience nature and escape the busy life.

For the best experience at the San Diego Zoo, get there early so you can beat the crowds and enjoy quiet time exploring your favorite exhibits. Another good tip is to visit during spring or fall when the weather is cooler, and there are fewer tourists. Finally, be sure to set aside plenty of time for the zoo. There is so much to see.

Balboa Park

Located in the heart of San Diego, Balboa Park is one of the most popular destinations in Southern California. With its stunning architecture, beautiful gardens, museums, and performing arts centers, this world-class park is a must-see for anyone living in or visiting the region.

This sprawling park is home to various attractions, including the Natural History Museum, the Botanical Building, and the Fleet Science Center.

Visitors can stroll through the Japanese Friendship Garden, explore the San Diego Air & Space Museum, or simply relax among the gorgeous flowers at the Botanical Building. Make sure you wear a good pair of walking shoes and pack a lunch to enjoy in one of the park’s many picnic areas.

Death Valley National Park

Add Death Valley National Park to your bucket list if you want unique things to do in southern California. This site may be known for its intense heat and unforgiving climate, but it is so much more. Set within a uniquely beautiful landscape, Death Valley is home to a wide range of natural features, from expansive sand dunes to rugged mountain peaks. 

There is no shortage of incredible sights and experiences at this iconic national park, whether you hike through the desert or admire the incredible sunsets from Zabriskie Point. In addition, Death Valley is an ideal destination for nature lovers with its varied terrain and abundant wildlife. So if you are interested in an off-the-beaten-path southern California attraction, Death Valley is a great spot.

Big Bear Lake

Whether you’re looking for picturesque beaches or majestic desert vistas, the Golden State has something to suit every taste. But one scenic destination that is often overlooked is Big Bear Lake. 

Located in the mountains a short distance from Los Angeles, Big Bear is known for its cool pines, stunning landscape, and towering trees. This picturesque lake in southern California is a haven for anyone who loves nature and outdoor activities. 

In addition, the sprawling lake provides plenty of water sports and recreation opportunities. 

Whether you’re interested in fishing, hiking, boating, or just taking a relaxing stroll along the shoreline, Big Bear Lake offers everything you need for an unforgettable trip. No gear, no problem. You can rent paddle boards and kayaks onsite.

Big Bear is an excellent spot for a weekend getaway. Especially if you want to hike along scenic trails, swim, or boat on the lake. Or you can simply sit back and take in the tranquil scenery. Big Bear Lake offers plenty of opportunities to explore. 

Crystal Cove State Park

If you’re looking for a quiet escape from the city, look no further than Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County. Located just a short drive from downtown Los Angeles, this beautiful park offers miles of hiking trails that wind through various pristine ecosystems. 

But, of course, one of the biggest draws of this scenic park is its expansive stretch of beautiful beaches and secluded coves. Crystal Cove State Park is perfect for those who love being outdoors and want to get away without traveling far from the city. 

The park is $15 per vehicle for day use, and camping is extra. You need to book a reservation, and fees vary depending on the type of campsite you want.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

If you’re looking for a unique experience in southern California, visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) at night. While daytime is a fantastic time to explore this incredible museum, there’s something special about seeing its elaborate sculptures and vibrant lights under the night sky. 

To make the most of your visit, buy tickets in advance. And don’t forget to pose for a picture beneath one of the lamp posts on LACMA’s grounds – it’s a must-do activity for any Instagram-savvy traveler. Tickets are $25 for non-LA residents, so it’s a pretty affordable way to spend an afternoon or evening.

Channel Islands National Park

If you’re looking for a beautiful and serene natural escape, look no further than Channel Islands National Park. Located just off the coast in Santa Barbara County, this iconic park offers countless opportunities for outdoor recreation, including kayaking, hiking, camping, snorkeling, and whale watching. If that’s not enough to keep you busy, this area is famous for its rich marine ecology, including an abundance of dolphins and other wildlife. 

With its pristine waters and impressive mountainside vistas, it’s the perfect place to spend a day or an entire vacation. In addition, visitors will enjoy exploring the park’s beaches and sea caves by kayak or hiking its well-maintained trails to take in stunning coastline views. If you want to go kayaking through the sea caves or explore the secluded shores of the islands, there’s plenty of breathtaking scenery to discover.

Palm Spring Aerial Tramway

Visiting the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a fun and unique way to escape the summer heat. It can be as much as 40 degrees cooler on the San Jacinto summit compared to the valley below. The world’s largest rotating tram car travels over two and one-half miles through the wilderness, climbing more than 8500 feet from the desert floor to the top of Mount San Jacinto.

Once you arrive at the top, Mountain Station, there is an interpretive center, a sit-down restaurant, a cafeteria, gift shops, a food court, a bar, and bathrooms. Whew, that’s a lot to fit on top of a mountain!

If hiking is your jam, there are a few short hikes at the summit if you want to get out and explore the area. A quick note about the tram ride. If it’s windy, the tram will rock back and forth. It’s nothing to worry about. That’s how it’s designed to work. But still, some people get nervous when suspended in the air swaying back and forth.

Disneyland

There is no doubt that Disneyland is one of the top things to do in southern California. The combination of thrilling rides, charming parades, and delicious food can make any day at the park an unforgettable experience.

However, while Disneyland certainly has plenty to offer during the hot summer months when attendance is at its highest, it can also be hot and crowded. That’s why I recommend trying to visit Disneyland sometime in the spring or fall instead.

With fewer people around, you’ll be able to experience the park without feeling rushed or overwhelmed. And even though there are fewer festivities during this time of year, there are still plenty of activities to enjoy.

If you’re looking for fun, family-friendly tourist attractions in southern California, there’s no better place to visit than Disneyland.

Badwater Basin Salt Flats

If you are looking for an exciting hiking adventure, then be sure to visit Badwater Basin Salt Flats in Death Valley. Badwater Basin is 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America. It offers visitors unbelievable views and unique hiking opportunities.

Just 30 minutes south of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, Badwater Basin is easy to access by road. It is a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the fantastic landscape of Death Valley.

Be prepared with lots of water and sunscreen, and don’t forget to bring your camera.

Knott’s Berry Farm

Looking for a fun and unique experience? Knott’s Berry Farm is one of southern California’s best places to visit. This theme park is known for its wide variety of attractions and immersive themes.

Whether you’re visiting in the summer or during one of the theme park’s special holiday events, there’s always something new to see and do at Knott’s. And with its range of gentle rides like Grand Sierra Railroad or Camp Bus, and more intense rollercoasters like the Silver Bullet and Calico River Rapids, there’s something to please visitors of all ages and thrill levels.

If you’re visiting Knott’s Berry Farm, stop by one of the park’s many restaurants for a bite. From chicken-to-go to Mexican cuisine, there’s something for everyone at Knotts.

One of my favorite places to eat is the Cave Inn Snacks, which is excellent if you need a snack to tide you over. Another great option is the Cantina, which serves classic dishes like tacos, nachos, and burritos. And if you’re looking for something quick and easy, check out Chicken-To-Go, where you can get a delicious meal anytime.

Huntington Beach Pier

Huntington Beach Pier is one of the longest public piers on the west coast, stretching approximately 1850 feet out over the ocean. This tourist attraction is popular with locals and visitors, offering incredible ocean views and excellent fishing opportunities.

The pier is one of the few that allow fishing without a license. As a result, anglers can catch a variety of fish from the pier and maybe make new friends along the way.

One of my favorite things at Huntington Beach Pier is watching surfers ride the waves. The pier is also great for walking, people-watching, relaxing, and enjoying the fresh ocean air.

The pier is conveniently located at the intersection of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and Main Street, so it’s easy to find. So if you’re looking for a little slice of coastal paradise during your next visit to California, check out this iconic landmark.

Runyon Canyon Park

Runyon Canyon Park is one of my favorite spots for hiking on the Westside of LA. The park offers plenty of hiking trails to explore, with scenic views of the city and surrounding mountains.

One thing that can be a bit challenging is finding parking in this area. It tends to get busy on the weekends. However, if you can nab a spot, you will definitely be rewarded with a fantastic hiking experience.

The park is a family-friendly place to take the dog for a walk or just enjoy some time outdoors. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re looking for a great place to hike in Los Angeles.

Note: Avoid hiking during the heat of the day if possible, especially if you are not used to hiking in warm/hot weather.

Mission Santa Barbara

When you visit Mission Santa Barbara, you will find something magical about this place. Whether it’s the gorgeous gardens, the peaceful atmosphere, or the timeless architecture, take your time and enjoy every moment.

Mission Santa Barbara is easy to reach from the freeway, with ample on-site parking. Well-trained docents are also there to answer any questions you may have as you stroll through history.

The church is beautifully preserved, with soaring arches and towering walls decorated with intricate designs. This historic landmark captures the spirit of old California with lovely gardens and walking paths.

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

If you’re looking for a unique and engaging experience, I highly recommend visiting The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert. This animal sanctuary has many large open spaces that give you plenty of room to walk around and explore. In addition, the staff here is friendly and knowledgeable, and they go out of their way to engage with visitors and make them feel welcome.

Another thing that sets The Living Desert apart from other zoos is its commitment to keeping the grounds well-shaded. The walkways are neatly-tended pathways, providing a cool respite from the heat on even the warmest days.

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens are an excellent, family-friendly adventure. Make sure to get there early in the day when the animals are most active!

Santa Monica Pier

Visiting Santa Monica Pier is a southern California icon. The pier is a great place to soak up the local flavor with its bustling crowds and endless shops, restaurants, and entertainment options.

Of course, no trip to Santa Monica would be complete without sampling some delicious food. So whether you’re in the mood for fried seafood, savory Mexican specialties, or iconic west coast fare like California burritos, there’s something for every tastebud at Santa Monica Pier.

If shopping is more your thing, you’ll find plenty of great stores here too. If you’re looking for beach gear or boutique fashion finds, odds are there’s something in this iconic spot that will catch your eye.

But perhaps the best part about visiting Santa Monica Pier is its stunning ocean views, especially at sunset. The pier provides the perfect backdrop for watching the sunset over the horizon.

California Adventure Park

Southern California is full of entertainment options. If you’re looking for a fun and exciting family vacation, look no further than California Adventure Park. The amusement park sits right next to Disneyland. But even if you’re a seasoned Disney fan, there are plenty of things to see and do at California Adventure.

One of the most entertaining rides at California Adventure is Radiator Springs Racers. This ride has a huge following with its fast-paced action and twists and turns. And if you have an interest in art or history, be sure to stop by “Off the Page,” which features beautiful collectibles based on classic Disney stories.

Not only does California Adventure feature amazing rides and attractions, but it also boasts a different vibe from Disneyland. California Adventure is certainly worth visiting on your next trip to Anaheim. 

If you want to experience something new or take a break from the craziness of the Magic Kingdom, California Adventure is a great option. Just be prepared for long lines if you don’t purchase one of the fast passes.

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is a unique destination in southern California. The area is known for its beautiful scenery, sandy beaches, blue-green waters, and cliffs. It’s also a favorite spot for water sports enthusiasts, with plenty of kayaking, paddle boarding, and snorkeling opportunities. And if you’re interested in wildlife, La Jolla Cove is home to large sea lions and seals.

The surrounding area is just as wonderful as the cove itself. There are countless restaurants and bars where you can enjoy great food or sip a refreshing cocktail. You can also explore local museums or simply relax on the beach and catch some rays.

Hollywood

Hollywood tops many bucket lists when you think of visiting southern California. When you visit Hollywood, you are greeted by the iconic Hollywood sign perched high on the hillside. This famous landmark is an enduring symbol of Tinseltown and all it represents – glamour, glitz, and excitement.

In addition, the bustling streets of Hollywood Boulevard are where you will find the famous Walk of Fame. Here, glimmering stars immortalize some of Hollywood’s biggest names alongside stars honoring favorite films and musicians.

Griffith Observatory

Looking for amazing views in LA? Visit Griffith Observatory. The views on all sides are impressive, including the Hollywood Sign on Mt. Lee. There are also plenty of hiking trails nearby, so you can get your fill of exercise.

The observatory’s exhibits provide an in-depth look at our solar system and beyond. You can explore objects like comets, planets, moons, and constellations and learn about their formation, composition, and history. 

Best of all, parking is available near the observatory at just $10 per hour. So whether you’re a local or a visitor to Los Angeles, add Griffith Observatory to your list of must-see destinations.

Beverly Hills

There is no destination like Beverly Hills, and this iconic city never fails to impress. With its stunning architecture and vibrant culture, Beverly Hills is truly a feast for the senses.

The heart of the city lies along Rodeo Drive, one of the most famous shopping districts in the world. You will find countless high-end boutiques from luxury brands. Exploring the streets is an experience, with fantastic restaurants and beautiful public spaces around every corner.

Visiting Beverly Hills is an incredible experience for anyone who loves luxury, Hollywood glitz, and glamour. This city offers the finest shops and restaurants and some of the most exclusive real estate in the world.

There is always something new and exciting to discover in Beverly Hills.

Legoland

Legoland California in Carlsbad is a must-do if you are into Legos. Legoland is a fun destination that the whole family can enjoy. The theme park offers plenty of great rides, shows, and attractions like the SEA LIFE Aquarium, where you can learn more about marine animals.

But perhaps the best part of Legoland is its scale models of real cities made entirely from Legos! So you’ll get to see amazing recreations of cities like New York City, Paris, and Las Vegas.

There are plenty of rides, including COASTERSAURUS and BIONICLE BLASTER. Your kiddos can test their driving skills at the Driving School. If you want to beat the heat on hot southern California days, the waterpark rides are the way to go.

The park is generally packed during the usual summertime peak. However, we have had great luck in mid-October over the years when the crowds and weather and less intense.

Catalina Island

Catalina Island is the perfect destination in southern California if you’re looking for a fun and adventurous getaway. Plenty of outdoor activities will keep you busy, including swimming, snorkeling, or kayaking. You can rent all the equipment you need right on the island. The island is also home to a diverse array of wildlife.

The boat ride to the island is a fantastic experience all by itself. In addition to beautiful ocean scenery, you can watch dolphins playing in the wake of the ferry.

A great way to explore Catalina Island is by taking a golf cart around the island, which is perfect for checking out some of the more secluded areas. Visitors can also stroll down Crescent Avenue and check out the local shops and restaurants.

If camping is your jam, there are several campgrounds on the island for a fun weekend getaway.

Getty

If you’re an art enthusiast looking for a truly unique experience, then the Getty Villa and Getty Center in southern California should definitely be on your travel itinerary. These magnificent cultural attractions are home to an incredible array of beautiful works of art, from classic paintings and sculptures to photography.

Located just a few miles from downtown Los Angeles, the Getty Center offers an unparalleled selection of fine art and contemporary pieces. The Getty Villa is in Pacific Palisades, very close to Malibu.

Whether you browse through the treasured works at the museum or step outside to admire its sprawling gardens, you’ll find yourself immersed in a feast for your senses. 

Conclusion

These are just a few of the many amazing things to see and do in southern California. No matter your interests, there’s sure to be something on this list that will appeal to you. So get out there and start exploring all this great state offers.

Photo of author
About the author
Steve Morrow
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.