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
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.
Family Theme and Amusement Parks
With 12 million visitors, this is the top attraction in California with rides for all ages.
Behind the scenes movie craft and TV studio, mixed with live shows and action-packed rides.
Universal Studios, Hollywood
Trained marine life – killer whales, dolphins and seals do shows amid more educational encounters and a "hand’s on" park.
Old West-themed amusement park with rides for all ages.
Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park (LA)
Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia
More than 100 rides, including 12 roller coasters, thrill rides of every type. Water park next door.
Right on the beach, this compact amusement park has 27 rides (including
a wooden roller coaster and a wooden carousel), arcades, shops and
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
A combination theme park for all ages with rides and a wildlife encounter park with shows, petting zoos and exhibits.
Six Flags Marine World, Vallejo
Amusement park with thrill rides and arcades.
Paramount’s Great America, Santa Clara (San Jose)
Imagine World landmarks made out of Legos – perfect for young children
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 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.
Yosemite Valley/El Capitan, Yosemite National Park
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
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.
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.
Hike a bit to a boardwalk over a steaming, odoriferous thermal
landscape of fumaroles, boiling springs, cavernous cracks and
Bumpass Hell, Lassen National Park
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
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
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
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
Media mogul William Randolph Hearst’s palatial estate perched on a huge
ranch overlooking the ocean is chock-full with European spoils and
Hearst Castle, San Simeon
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.
Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco
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
Spanning the opening to the Pacific Ocean, this orange icon of San Francisco is an Art Deco suspension bridge without peers.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
J. Paul Getty Museum art collection in a gorgeous hilltop setting with lovely grounds and its own tram.
Getty Center, Los Angeles
Start on the desert floor and ride in comfort up almost 6000’ to snow
capped peaks (in winter/spring) to view the Coachella Valley
Cute and quaint and walkable – a former artist colony in a stunning coastal location.
Victorian hamlet in lovely wooded setting.
Coastside village with New England-style clapboard buildings with 2-story water tank towers. Very romantic setting.
A mission, a museum, a few streets surrounding a real town square and lots of shops and restaurants.
The surrounding wineries and vineyards are the main attraction but Napa
has an Opera House, a food museum and some lovely restored Victorians.
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?
Gold Rush towns
Gold Rush town
Gold Rush town
Gold Rush town
Gold Rush town
Gold Rush Town
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.
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.