17 Must-Visit Places For Your California Bucket List

There’s so much to see and do here that it’s hard to believe that California is just one state.

From the metropolitan hubs of Los Angeles and San Francisco, to the natural beauties of Yosemite National Park and Big Sur, it’s impossible not to find something amazing for your California bucket list.

To help organize your road trip better we have broken down this list into northern and southern California.

Let’s get started!

Here are some of the best places to add to your California bucket list.

Northern California Bucket List

1. Take a Scenic Drive

The beginning of any California road trip begins down the Pacific Coast Highway.

Don’t forget your drop-top; there’s nothing like cruising along the coast with the sea breeze in your hair under the California sun.

The best time to drive here is in the summer months where you’re almost guaranteed perfect weather conditions.

Pacific Coast Highway
pacific coast highway

2. Explore California’s Great Outdoors

The first item on your road trip itinerary needs to be Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Humboldt County.

Here you can disconnect from the world in a canvas of towering redwood trees.

Take your time here and bask in the tranquil surroundings.

The park features hiking trails galore, diverse wildlife, and some of the best camping spots in the world.

Take a stroll down Gold Bluffs Beach and take in the fresh sea breeze while listening to the soothing sounds of crashing waves.

If you’re an avid hiker, try the Fern Canyon hike; if you think the scenery looks familiar…you’re correct!

This trail was the backdrop for The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

3. Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge

There’s a reason we have a song called “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

This city is the place to be.

Whether you love food, art, photography, nature, history, or hiking, San Francisco’s got it.

One of the most famous San Francisco landmarks is the Golden Gate Bridge.

Take a walk and enjoy the view from this bridge or rent a bike if that’s more your style.

The best way to experience the Golden Gate Bridge is to take a boat cruise that takes you under the bridge, allowing you to get up close and personal with this iconic landmark.

That's not all, this cruise also takes you by Alcatraz Island, a former maximum-security prison turned tourist attraction.

tip

4. Visit Wine Country

California’s most famous wine regions are Napa Valley and Sonoma County.

Whether you like wine or not, Napa Valley is simply a gorgeous place to visit with its hills blanketed with grapes.

You can enjoy the elegance of the parks and the architecture of the wineries.

Tip: Skip the hassle and book a full-day wine tour.

With five towns making up Napa Valley, each offers its own attractions, such as hot springs, mud baths, hiking, shopping, and fine dining.

You can even take a hot air balloon ride!

Sonoma also offers great restaurants, wine tasting, and beautiful views.

With practically a winery on every corner and beautiful gardens, you will have plenty to do.

Sonoma Wine Country
sonoma wine country

5. Hug the Biggest Trees in the World

Of course, redwoods are on this list! These trees stand over 350 ft and can live over 2000 years.

There are many places in northern California to see the largest trees in the world, but the Redwood National and State Parks is one of the best spots to experience these ancient giants.

This park has plenty of opportunities for hiking and camping.

If you like hiking, be sure to check out the Tall Trees Trail.

This 4-mile roundtrip hike leads to the Tall Trees Grove, home to some of the largest trees in the park.

Another fun way to see these magnificent trees is to take the Avenue of the Giants.

This 31 mile stretch of road cuts through redwood groves, offering a spectacular view on all sides of these massive trees.

6. Visit the Largest Chinatown

San Francisco is one of the most diverse cities in the world and is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia!

The streets are lined with cobblestone pathways, colorful stores, and some of the best restaurants in town.

A visit to San Francisco isn’t complete without a trip to this vibrant and colorful part of the city.

7. Go Camping in Yosemite National Park

California is home to several national parks, but Yosemite is the most well-known and one of California’s most popular places to visit.

Located in central California, Yosemite has a myriad of hiking trails.

You could spend days exploring the vast landscapes and still have so much more to see.

Take in the views of the tall granite walls in Yosemite Valley and hike famous trails like Upper Yosemite Falls Trail, Clouds Rest, and the Mist Trail, which leads to the Half Dome.

With impressive waterfalls, valleys, and summits, Yosemite is a treasure for adventures.

Lake Tahoe
lake tahoe

8. Lake Tahoe

Located east of Sacramento and stretching into Nevada lies the legendary Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe is a beautiful destination with many activities year-round and fun adventures for the whole family.

As the season changes to winter, it becomes a skier’s paradise.

There’s a reason why it draws almost 3 million visitors a year!

Either way, if you decide to visit Lake Tahoe, it will be a trip you’ll never forget.

9. Take a Thrill-Ride on a Wooden Roller Coaster

Located just off the Pacific Coast Highway is Santa Cruz, home of the Giant Dipper.

This legendary wooden roller coaster sits in a prime location on the boardwalk of the beautiful Santa Cruz Beach.

Take in the stunning view at the top before plummeting 70 feet in a thrilling drop that will leave you breathless.

If you’re looking for cheap things to do in California, it doesn’t get better than this as it’s only $7 a ride.

10. Outdoor Adventures at Pinnacles National Park

If you’re looking for adventurous things to do in California, look no further.

Located about 80 miles south of San Jose, Pinnacles National Park is the perfect stop to stretch your legs between here and Southern California.

Here you’ll find signature dome-shaped rocks and one of the most unique hikes in the world.

Yes, it’s the Bear Gulch Cave Trail which takes you through two caves.

Don’t forget your flashlight!

Death Valley Painted Hills
painted hills dealth valley

Southern California Bucket List

11. Walk on the Wild Side at Death Valley National Park

Located Northeast of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara is Death Valley, a land of unmatched beauty and extremes.

Be prepared for scorching daytime temperatures in the summer that average a sizzling 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius).

Some highlights include Badwater, the lowest point in the park sitting almost 90 meters below sea level.

What makes this spot even more incredible is the collection of salt crystals, making this one of the most Instagrammable spots on this list.

If you thought that was incredible, wait till you see the Artist’s Drive.

Take the 10-mile scenic journey, and you’ll see how it got its name.

Marvel at the amazing hues of gold, green, red, and purple on the rocks in the afternoon.

When day turns to night, lay your blanket down and go stargazing – Death Valley is one of the best spots in the world to do it.

12. Hike Up to The Hollywood Sign

Los Angeles, otherwise known as “The City of Angels”, is another popular destination in California.

Take a stroll down Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and explore the retro theaters.

If you don’t mind a bit of a hike, you can get a view of the entire city from the top of the Hollywood sign. It’s about a 6-mile hike and moderately difficult.

Los Angeles is also home to some beautiful beaches.

Check out Santa Monica Pier for boardwalk rides and games.

The Venice Canals Walkway is also a unique site, purposely dug to invoke a vibe reminiscent of the Italian city.

13. Visit Disneyland

When mentioning a bucket list for California, how can we neglect Disneyland?

Located in the gorgeous Orange County, it is a dream destination for kids and many adults as well.

Filled with fun rides and childhood cartoon characters, Disneyland offers a magical experience for the whole family.

Meet your favorite Disney character, eat unique treats, and jump on a thrilling ride.

You’ll probably want to plan at least a whole day, if not two, for this stop.

From shows to parades, you want to make sure to plan in enough time to enjoy the sights.

Joshua Tree National Park
joshua tree national park

14. Visit Joshua Tree National Park

Located east of Palm Springs is Joshua Tree National Park, an incredible natural desert park that looks like a scene out of the old west.

It’s one of the best parks for family adventures in California, featuring a wide range of activities such as hiking, rock climbing, and even camping.

Stargazing is also quite popular at this park as they’re almost always dazzling during the night.

15. Go to America’s Largest Urban Cultural Park

If San Diego is on your list of places to go, and especially if you have kids, you should check out Balboa Park.

America’s largest urban cultural park has something for everyone, including museums, educational and interactive playgrounds, botanical gardens, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

Wander around the park and enjoy the architecture of the Spanish Renaissance and the beautiful gardens.

This is a place the whole family will enjoy.

16. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

While you’re in San Diego, take a trip to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

California is known for its beautiful sunsets over the Pacific Ocean, and Sunset Cliffs show it better than anywhere.

This 68-acre park extends a mile and a half along the western shoreline of the Point Loma Peninsula.

Enjoy the gorgeous ocean views and cliff formations, and see what southern California adventures and sunsets are all about.

17. Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve

Located between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the Mojave Trails National Monument covers 1.6 million acres!

The Mojave National Preserve is also enormous and home to cinder cone volcanoes, sand dunes, and a large Joshua tree forest.

It is also home to coyotes, bats, bighorn sheep, and black-tailed jackrabbits.

Hiking along the sand dunes can be tiring, but the sweeping view from the top is worth it.

You can even slide down once you’re done!

Go during the cooler parts of the day and savor the sunrise and sunset views.

Final Thoughts

They say the “West Coast is the Best Coast” and it’s not hard to see why.

When you think of California, most immediately think of Los Angeles and the surrounding area, but there are so many more hidden gems to uncover.

The natural beauty you find here is so diverse, with so many unforgettable sights.

We hope this article has helped you create your bucket list for California!

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