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About California ·  Attractions

California's Top Attractions

California is loaded with natural, cultural and historical attractions...and then there are the places that are just for fun! A great way to plan a California trip is to pick a few attractions and build your itinerary around them. Exploring California is easier if the trip is centered on a limited geographic area.
The five categories for attractions are theme parks, natural wonders, critters, "only in California" and unique towns. The map shows you the locations of the most popular sights to help you organize your trip. For more information, you can find detailed maps and contact information under California Maps and Top Destinations. These are a good starting point for trip planning but it is good to remember there are hundreds of fascinating places to visit in California – adventures waiting to happen.

Top Attractions in California

Los Angeles Los Angeles Los Angeles San Diego Central Valley Sequoia-Kings Canyon Area Central Valley Sequoia-Kings Canyon Area Central Coast Central Coast Sacramento San Francisco Pacific Coast Highway Redwood Highway Redwood Highway Napa - Sonoma Wine Country Lassen Area Shasta Lake Area Lake Tahoe Area Yosemite - Mono Lake Area Historic Gold Country Historic Gold Country Monterey Carmel by-the-Sea Santa Cruz Palm Springs Hollywood Santa Barbara San Jose San Francisco San Diego Los Angeles

Family Theme and Amusement Parks

  •  Disneyland, Anaheim (LA)
With 12 million visitors, this is the top attraction in California with rides for all ages.

  •  Universal Studios, Hollywood
Behind the scenes movie craft and TV studio, mixed with live shows and action-packed rides.

  •  Sea World, San Diego
Trained marine life – killer whales, dolphins and seals do shows amid more educational encounters and a "hand’s on" park.

  • Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park (LA)
Old West-themed amusement park with rides for all ages.

  • Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia
More than 100 rides, including 12 roller coasters, thrill rides of every type. Water park next door.
  • Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Right on the beach, this compact amusement park has 27 rides (including a wooden roller coaster and a wooden carousel), arcades, shops and restaurants.

  • Six Flags Marine World, Vallejo
A combination theme park for all ages with rides and a wildlife encounter park with shows, petting zoos and exhibits.

  • Paramount’s Great America, Santa Clara (San Jose)
Amusement park with thrill rides and arcades.

  • LEGOLAND, Carlsbad
Imagine World landmarks made out of Legos – perfect for young children

Natural Wonders

  • Lake Tahoe
The second deepest lake in the U.S. is super clear and cold, even in the summer. Sierra Nevada peaks ring the lake on both the Nevada and California sides. Known for fabulous winter skiing and snowboarding as well as summer hiking and water sports. South Lake Tahoe (Nevada) has the nightlife and gambling.
  • Yosemite Valley/El Capitan, Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Valley is spectacular, offering a clear view of the world’s largest unbroken cliff face, El Capitan, a magnet for serious climbers. Granite peaks enclose the 7 miles long valley with open meadows edging the Merced River banks. Waterfalls add a misty roar in spring. A visit to the valley will tempt you to spend more time exploring the lesser known (and less crowded) areas of the park.
  • Big Sur Coastline
Steep cliffs ending in surf, fog shrouded peaks and a narrow ribbon of highway snaking from one stunning view to the next. Tiny coves and numerous overlooks will tempt you to stop along the way – or stay awhile and hike into the redwood forests, canyons and waterfalls near Julia Pfeiffer Burns Big Sur State Park. Watch for the much-photographed Bixby Creek Bridge.  Plan ahead – limited services.
  • Avenue of the Giants/Redwood Highway
These giant redwoods have to be seen to understand the difference between a redwood forest and any other – they stand peacefully silent and immobile, almost too big to be seen as trees. Located in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, coastal redwoods can reach 360’ tall. Take a detour from 101 to experience these groves along the 32 miles of parkway. Don’t miss the Founder’s Grove.
  • Mt. Shasta
Visible for hundreds of miles, this isolated peak dominates the region in all seasons but especially in winter when it is snow-covered. At 14,162’, it is smaller than Mt. Whitney but the surrounding countryside is much more approachable for casual visitors.
  • Bumpass Hell, Lassen National Park
Hike a bit to a boardwalk over a steaming, odoriferous thermal landscape of fumaroles, boiling springs, cavernous cracks and mudpots. 

  • Mt. Whitney
At 14,495’, this granite peak is the highest in the U.S. outside of Alaska. Located at the western border of Sequoia National Park, the views are great but leave the peak for those who are trained and properly outfitted.
  • Mono Lake
Set in the arid High Sierras, this inland sea serves as an important resting point/nesting area for millions of migratory birds. The otherworldly landscape includes tufa outcrops (lumpy towers of limestone).


  • San Diego Zoo/Balboa Park, San Diego
World famous collection of more than 4000 animals covering 100 acres in a well-landscaped setting. Balboa Park also offers numerous museums, architectural landmarks, theatres and other attractions.
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey
If you can’t dive Monterey Bay, see it in comfort through the 100 galleries here. Giant shark tanks, otters, bat rays and rotating special exhibits.
  • San Diego Wild Animal Park, Escondido
The arid rolling hills north of San Diego are a natural setting for more than 3200 animals – roaming "freely" while you watch. Many special exhibits, guided tours and shows.
Only in California

  • Hearst Castle, San Simeon
Media mogul William Randolph Hearst’s palatial estate perched on a huge ranch overlooking the ocean is chock-full with European spoils and Hollywood gossip.

  • Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco
Epicenter of Bay tours, historic ships, bicycle rentals, a wax museum, a chocolate factory and tons of shops and restaurants – with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

  • Queen Mary, Long Beach
Sometimes it was a luxury liner, sometimes a troop transport but now we can all see what life was like on the high seas before airplanes dominated travel.

  • Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Spanning the opening to the Pacific Ocean, this orange icon of San Francisco is an Art Deco suspension bridge without peers.

  • Getty Center, Los Angeles
J. Paul Getty Museum art collection in a gorgeous hilltop setting with lovely grounds and its own tram.

  • Palm Springs Aerial Tram
Start on the desert floor and ride in comfort up almost 6000’ to snow capped peaks (in winter/spring) to view the Coachella Valley 
Unique Towns

  • Carmel-by-the-Sea
Cute and quaint and walkable – a former artist colony in a stunning coastal location.

  • Ferndale
Victorian hamlet in lovely wooded setting.

  • Mendocino
Coastside village with New England-style clapboard buildings with 2-story water tank towers. Very romantic setting.
  • Sonoma
A mission, a museum, a few streets surrounding a real town square and lots of shops and restaurants.

  • Napa
The surrounding wineries and vineyards are the main attraction but Napa has an Opera House, a food museum and some lovely restored Victorians.

  • Hollywood
Hollywood Blvd.’s "Walk of Fame", Sunset Blvd., Mann’s Chinese Theatre, the sign, Hollywood Bowl, numerous museums and a cemetery to the stars – get the theme?

  • Sutter Creek
Gold Rush towns

  • Nevada City
Gold Rush town

  • Sonora
Gold Rush town

  • Murphys
Gold Rush town

  • Jamestown
Gold Rush town

  • Columbia
Gold Rush Town

  • Julian
Apples are the theme here – a nice rural respite at an altitude that guarantees cooler temperatures than San Diego. Explore nearby wineries. Fire damage from recent wildfires.
  • Avalon, Catalina Island
You need a ferry or a helicopter or your own boat but it is worth the effort. The island was once privately owned by the Wrigleys (gum) but now the town of Avalon is a great day trip.


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Old-fashioned thrills

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