If you’re visiting California and wondering what the best things to do are then you must see this California bucket list! We have listed the top 50 things to do across the Golden State including Southern California, the Central and Northern California Coast, the high Sierra’s and the Southern California desert area’s.
Whether you are a sun worshipper, an outdoor enthusiast, into exhilarating sports, a foodie, or just love road tripping to see quirky attractions - California has it all! From towering mountains to idyllic palm-treed beaches and deserts that are perfect for finding solitude, there is something here for everyone!
CALIFORNIA BUCKET LIST —>
Top 50 Things To Do & Experiences You Must Have!
1. Road Trip Big Sur
The Big Sur coastline is California's biggest draw card and people from all over the world come to drive this magnificent stretch of road where rugged mountains plunge into the wild Pacific ocean.
Related: Best Campgrounds on the Big Sur Coast
2. Hike the Hollywood Sign
Hollywood is where dreams are made. You can't visit the City of Angels without hiking to this Los Angeles icon. You can hike to the sign on your own from several different trail heads or join a group led Hollywood Hills hike where everything will be organized for you and pick up from your hotel can be arranged.
3. See incredible views from Vista Point in San Francisco
Located on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, Vista Point is truly worth the effort to get to as you will be rewarded by awe-inspiring views over this iconic engineering achievement and San Francisco Bay. Vista Point is accessible via car on northbound US 101 or by foot over the Golden Gate Bridge and a short hike up a hillside.
4. Visit the lowest point in the USA at Badwater Basin
At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park is the lowest point in North America. This is a surreal landscape of vast salt flats which you can walk as far out onto as you please. Interestingly, you can also see the highest point in the lower 48 states from here, Mt Whitney.
5. Be inspired at Salvation Mountain
Be inspired by the bright murals and messages of love at Salvation Mountain. Salvation Mountain in the Southern California desert is artist Leonard Knight's tribute to God and his gift to the world with its simple yet powerful message, God is Love.
6. Wonder at Mono Lake’s astonishing tufa’s
Mono Lake is an ancient saline lake nestled at the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Along the lake shore, scenic limestone formations known as tufa towers rise from the water's surface. The reflection of the enormous mountain’s on a still Mono Lake is incredible and the color of the sky seen here at sunset must be seen to be believed.
7. See where trash has turned to treasure at Glass Beach
Glass Beach is famous for its dazzling sea glass rounded by the rolling waves. Created from years of dumping garbage onto the beach, mother nature responded to this abuse with a nice surprise in the form of smooth, colored sea glass treasure in a rainbow of colors.
8. Visit the General Sherman in Sequoia National Park
You will not find a tree larger than a giant Sequoia anywhere else in the world! The General Sherman Tree is the world's largest tree standing at 275 ft and is 36 ft in diameter. You can visit the General Sherman at Sequoia National Park. Sequoia tree’s are only found in California so be sure to tick them off your California bucket list!
9. Explore desert art work in the Anza Borego Desert
Go and see amazing life-size metal sculptures in Southern California’s Anza Borego Desert. Artist Ricardo Breceda was inspired by the creatures that once roamed this same desert millions of years ago. There are 130 of them for you to find including dinosaurs, saber tooth tigers and serpents.
10. Be amazed by thousands of wintering Butterflies at Pismo Beach
Every year thousands of Monarch Butterfly's migrate to this butterfly grove at Pismo Beach for the winter and cluster in the limbs of Eucalyptus tree's. To behold this natural wonder, plan your visit to the Central California coast between October and February.
11. Bicycle from Venice Beach to Santa Monica
Enjoy the California sunshine as you bicycle from Venice Beach to Santa Monica. Be sure to end the day watching a west coast sunset.
Related: L.A. in 2 Days
12. Spend a weekend in wine country
California accounts for nearly 90 percent of American wine production so take a winery tour of Napa or Sonoma and sample some of the local product. You don't need to go up north to Napa or Sonoma either, there are many other winery's in the Santa Barbara region and further south close to San Diego in Temecula Valley too.
13. Camp out under the stars at Joshua Tree National Park
Spend a weekend visiting the Joshua tree’s and exploring the unusual rock formations in Joshua Tree National Park. These unique trees were given their names by Mormon settlers who thought their branches resembled the biblical Joshua with his arms reaching out to the skies. Camping in this national park is a very special experience because all of the campsites are nestled among the huge, oddly-shaped boulders.
14. Paddle board on Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a major year round tourist destination in California. Stunning mountain scenery and loads of outdoor activities such as boating, fishing, canoeing, hiking and skiing are this alpine destinations biggest attractions. See these gorgeous lake-side homes and mountain cabins for idea’s on where to stay.
15. See the oldest tree’s in the world at the Bristlecone Pine Forest
The Bristlecone Pine Forest is home to some of the world's oldest living tree's. Some of these gnarled and twisted tree's are over 4,700 years old. They can only be found at a few locations in California and Nevada and only at high elevations. Getting to them is half the fun!
16. Try a date shake in Palm Springs
Southern California is a date mecca. Visit the 'Date Capital of the World' in the Coachella Valley and taste the many varieties of dates and date shakes. Sweet goodness! You will not be disappointed.
Related: Find the best date shakes on this road trip to Palm Springs.
17. Ski or snowboard at a premier California ski resort
California boasts many ski resorts with a wide variety of terrain spread out across the state. The San Bernadino Mountains provide easy access from L.A. to resorts like Big Bear, Snow Summit and Mountain High while further north the Sierra Nevada range is home to Mammoth Mountain, Kirkwood, Heavenly, Northstar and a few others. Learn more about California’s ski resorts.
18. See spring bloom in Antelope Valley
Time your visit to California's beautiful desert regions in the spring to see them in all of their colorful glory. One of the most popular places to see spring bloom in California is Antelope Valley where visitor’s turn up in droves to see the state’s native Poppy flowers burst into bright orange colors splashed across the mountain-side’s.
19. See the tallest tree’s in the world along Avenue of the Giants in Northern California
The redwoods found in Humboldt Redwoods State Park has the largest remaining virgin stand of redwoods left in the world. These trees are so old they were around in the age of dinosaurs. Take a drive down Avenue of the Giants and be completely wowed. Look, marvel and be humbled by their giant, silent stature.
20. Hang out with Elephant Seals in Central California
No California road trip is complete without stopping to see the resident Elephant seals along the Big Sur Coast. They can be a noisy lot; grunting, snorting, squeking and fighting with each other. Peak months for viewing are from October through March.
Related: Stop to see the Elephant Seals on this Central California Coast Driving Itinerary.
21. Ride an old wooden rollercoaster in Santa Cruz
The Giant Dipper is a historic wooden roller coaster located at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz. The classic wooden roller coaster can be seen in several movies including the classic 80’s vampire film 'The Lost Boys'.
Related: A Weekend in Santa Cruz - How To Spend Two Days.
22. Hike Yosemite’s iconic Mist Trail to Half Dome
The best way to see and experience Yosemite National Park is by taking a hike and seeing all that mother nature has to offer up close. And what better trail to hike other than the trail that leads to Yosemite’s most iconic attraction! Reaching the top of Half Dome is no small feat and getting to the summit is an accomplishment you can brag about for years to come.
23. Soak in hot springs that come with majestic views
The Eastern Sierra has some of California’s most spectacular scenery and what could be a better way to enjoy the majestic vista’s than by soaking in the views from a natural hot spring? This area literally has hundreds of secret spots to take a dip in and searching for them is a good way to become familiar with the area.
24. Visit the danish town of Solvang
Tour wineries, sample chocolate and enjoy authentic danish pastries in the quaint town of Solvang in the Santa Ynez Valley.
25. Palm Springs Aerial Tram
Take a ride from the dry desert floor of Palm Springs 5,873 feet up into the cool climate of the San Jacinto Mountains on the world's largest rotating tramcar. Ascend into a pristine wilderness aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tram which has the steepest vertical cable rise in the United States. and is the second steepest in the world!
26. Attend a Summer music festival
California has many music festivals throughout summer including Coachella, Outside Lands and Bottlerock to name a few. Many people come from all over the world to attend some of these festivals. If you happen to be a music lover then don’t miss your chance to attend and see some of the industry’s hottest acts.
Related: California’s Top Music Festivals To Plan Your Travels Around.
27. Eat fresh seafood in Santa Barbara
The best way to spend your time in Santa Barbara is eating fresh seafood on the pier. We recommend Santa Barbara Shellfish Company but there is a selection of seafood restaurants on the pier to choose from. Afterwards, take a stroll along the pier or beach and finish your night with a glass of wine at a restaurant downtown.
28. Visit the Carson Mansion in Eureka
The Carson Mansion is regarded as one of the highest executions of American Queen Anne Style architecture and considered the most grand Victorian home in America. It is located in Eureka which is a great place to base yourself if you want to explore the Northern California coast.
29. Visit a brewery at altitude
The scenic mountain village of June Lake is a destination of breathtaking glacial lakes and high jagged mountain peaks with a hidden gem, the June Lake Brewery. This brewery has a great selection of ales, porters and stouts they brew to perfection. Make sure you try the infamous "Hute". Another good brewery in the area is Mammoth Lakes Brewing which is located nearby in the town of Mammoth Lakes.
30. Take A Cruise from Los Angeles to Mexico or Hawaii
If you love cruising, Los Angeles is a great departure point for a quick and inexpensive cruise getaway. Cruise ships depart every day from Los Angeles and Long Beach for Mexico and Hawaii year round. Length of trips are anywhere between 3 to 14 nights. You can look up departure dates and cruise destinations on Cruise Direct.
31. Take a day trip to Catalina Island
Catalina Island is full of history, charm, and where some of Hollywood's biggest stars like Marilyn Monroe and Ronald Reagan vacationed. This beautiful island is somewhat reminiscent of a European destination and is perfect for snorkeling and other fun water activities. You can get to Catalina Island on a two hour boat ride from Long Beach or San Diego.
32. Slide Oue Skyspace in L.A.
See incredible views of Los Angeles from high above on the 69th floor observation deck at the U.S. Bank Tower building. If you’re feeling brave enough, take yourself to new heights and slide down the Oue Sky Space.
33. Chow down on clam chowder
If you haven't tried clam chowder already (canned doesn't count) then you should treat your tastebuds to this delicious experience. There are many tasty seafood restaurants along the California coast for you to sample the many different variations. Some of our favorite destinations for eating clam chowder are Pismo Beach, Santa Cruz and San Francisco.
34. Learn to surf at Surfrider Beach in Malibu
Want to learn how to surf? What better place to learn then in California where surf culture was first made popular! Surfrider Beach is our top pick for the best beach to learn how to surf. You will find a surf shop across the road that can supply you with surfboard rentals and gear. If you would prefer surfing lessons you can organize a one on one surfing lesson with a local instructor.
35. Eat a double double at In N Out
To get the complete California experience you really need to stop by an In & Out and order a double double burger. We promise you will not be disappointed. Make sure you order a serve of fries on the side and ask for it to be ‘animal style’ which is not shown on the menu.
36. Get your thrills at Six Flags
With 19 roller coasters, Six Flags holds the world record for the most roller coasters at any amusement park. Thrill seekers can ride roller coaster’s that ride upside down, standing up and even one’s that have you lying down backwards. To save money you should purchase your Six Flags tickets online and in advance.
37. Watch a taping of a live TV show
Many of your favorite TV shows are filmed in Los Angeles so if you are looking for a unique way to spend the day why not watch a live taping? Being in the audience of a live show is lots of fun and is a great learning experience on what it takes just to record one episode. The best part is that it won’t cost you a cent!
38. See a film at the Hollywood Forever Cemetary
Get the full Hollywood experience by watching a screening of a classic film at the Hollywood Forever cemetery. They encourage all who attend to dress in costume for the theme of the movie that is playing that night.
39. Drive Route 66 from L.A. to Las Vegas
Route 66 or the 'Mother Road' was one of the original highways in the United States highway systems originating in Chicago and ending in Santa Monica. You can take a drive along this iconic stretch of road in California if you have a road trip planned between L.A. and Las Vegas. There are plenty of quirky roadside stops along the way to keep you entertained such as Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch.
40. Run down sand dunes at Mugu State Park
The Point Mugu sand dunes are located north of Malibu on the Pacific Coast Highway just before you reach Ventura. Many people like to walk up the sand dunes and then run down them really fast. From the top you can sometimes see dolphins and seals out in the ocean. There are also many beautiful beaches nearby that you could spend the day at.
41. Visit Burney Falls
Burney Falls located in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park is one of California’s most spectacular waterfalls. You can see this gorgeous 129 foot fern-draped cascading waterfall in Northern California sixty miles north of Redding.
42. Take a walk around a crater
Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley is a large volcanic crater 600 feet deep and half a mile across. It is known as a maar volcano and was created by steam and gas explosions when hot magma rising up from the depths reached ground water. You can take a hike around the entire rim of the crater and if you’re feeling adventurous you can even hike down into it’s center.
43. Take a scenic drive on Highway 120
Tioga Pass is a mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains and is the highest highway pass in California at an elevation of 9,945 feet. The road makes its way through stunning alpine scenery and there are several trail heads into the Yosemite back-country if you feel like stretching your legs. The pass is subject to winter closure due to high snowfall so plan your road trip accordingly.
44. Marvel geologic wonders at Devils Postpile Monument
Devil's Postpile National Monument features thousands of hexagonal basalt columns formed 100,000 years ago when lava flow slowed and then cooled. Visitors can hike 8 miles of trails at Devils Postpile National Monument and can also choose to venture outside the landmark’s boundaries to the Ansel Adams Wilderness. This unique landmark is typically open from June through October.
45. Walk around an old ghost town in Bodie
Bodie was a bustling mining town in the late 1800’s filled with families, robbers, miners, store owners, gunfighters and prostitutes. It is now maintained by the California State Parks System who took over in 1962 to make it a State Historic Park. This is one of the best preserved ghost towns in the United States. It’s a little out of the way but worth the effort to get there for sure! You can visit Lee Vining and Mono Lake on the way.
46. Visit Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch
Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch literally is a forest of bottle tree’s! It is the creation of one man’s passion to recycle waste into art which led to a very unique roadside attraction. Don’t be surprised to see visitors from all over the world here as word has spread about how cool this place is to come and see!
47. Explore the Channel Islands
The Channel Islands are known as the ‘Galapagos Islands of North America’. This national park is so close to the mainland yet world’s apart, with over 100 species of flora and fauna unique to these volcanic isles. It can be a little difficult to organize getting there but it is certainly worth the effort and makes an enjoyable break from the chaos and traffic jams of Southern California.
48. Hike to the highest peak in the lower 48 states!
At 14,508ft, Mt Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. The only other mountain in the USA that is higher is Mt Denali in Alaska. If you love challenges you can hike to Mt Whitney’s peak which we assure you will never forget. The trail itself is 21 miles (33km) with 6000 feet elevation gain and is not to be taken lightly.
49. Tour the elaborate Hearst Castle
Once the residence of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, this opulent mansion is now run by California State Parks which means you can tour the 127 acres of gardens, terraces, rooms and pools which are full of Spanish and Italian antiques. The Hearst Castle is located between Santa Barbara and San Francisco so be sure to stop for a guided tour on your Central California road trip.
Okay, I suppose Disneyland deserves a mention on this California bucket list seeing as though parents from around the world make it their life long mission to bring their children here to experience the magic and extravagance that is this theme park. Just be sure to bring loads of money!
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