You may think you know all the best things to do in California, but there is so much more than you could imagine.
One day, you can be savouring wines in peaceful tranquillity; the next, exploring magnificent national parks. After that, there is nothing to stop you immersing yourself in the buzz of the cities or getting star-struck at working movie sets. There are many hidden gems and stories waiting to be uncovered as you explore this must-see state.
Beyond the Golden Gate
When you envision San Francisco, no doubt the first thing that comes to mind is the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. However, if you venture beyond the confines of the city, you will discover that San Francisco has just as much natural beauty as it does urban delights.
Just over the Golden Gate Bridge, you will find the beautiful Marin Headlands. The views here are simply splendid, whether you are looking back over the city slumbering under a blanket of fog or out across the rugged Pacific coastline. Once home to the Miwok Indians, there are a variety of trails for you to walk and admire the array of wildlife that now resides here. In spring, witness the eruption of wildflowers that appear across the grass, while in September, you can see the hundreds of hawks that migrate across the channel – head to the top of Hawk Hill for the best views at the military Battery 129.
Muir Woods is also a must-see when in San Francisco and stands out as one of the best places in California for nature-lovers. Here, you will find a trove of towering redwoods, some as old as 800 years, which have almost mythical status in California’s history. You can also stop at the beautiful Muir Beach. Sheltered by a rocky cove, you can wander the boardwalk, breathe in the fresh sea air and take in panoramic views.
While out of town, you should also make the journey up to Point Reyes National Seashore to taste the oysters caught fresh from the crisp waters. Away from the more obvious California tourist attractions, this is one of the best things to do in California for those seeking a more peaceful spot. Along with plenty of trails through the firs and pines, you can head to Point Reyes Lighthouse, a favourite viewpoint for spotting migrating Grey Whales.
A visit to the wine counties is one of the most highly recommended things to do in northern California. Today, there are over 800 wineries across the esteemed Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, though a quick look into the background of the viniculture of California reveals that the regions were seen as second rate to the prestigious labels in France for many years. In fact, it wasn’t until 1976, when a publicised blind tasting saw California’s wines score higher than their French competitors, that the eyes of the wine world turned to the United States.
Like much of California, the wine regions are a beautiful sight to behold. The manicured vineyards are like the lifeblood of the region, laden with glistening grapes maturing to perfection. For an idyllic afternoon, take a peaceful bike ride around the quiet backroads of Calistoga in Napa Valley, known for its world-famous hot springs. As you pedal the country lanes, stop off to taste the many varieties of world-famous wines and enjoy a private gourmet picnic under the sun. If you visit Sonoma in June, you will be treated to the region’s beautiful annual display of lavender. Starting in May, you will find a number of celebrations for these pretty meadows of flowers alongside vineyards, bee farms and an array of lavender scented products.
Find out more about epicurean experiences in California.
California is known for being an outdoor adventurer’s wonderland. Yosemite National Park may be known as one of the top places to visit in California, but there are plenty of other memorable natural displays to discover.
Joshua Tree National Park, located approximately a two-hour drive outside of Los Angeles, is easily one of the most unique things to see in California. After being awestruck by the sheer size of the redwood trees of the north, the name-sake trees of Joshua Tree National Park will intrigue you with their unusual appearance. In fact, they were given their name by a group of Mormon settlers who saw their shape and were reminded of the Biblical story of Joshua reaching up to the sky in prayer.
While it may be something of the hipster of California’s national parks, Joshua Tree has plenty of substance. The nature trails reveal unique rock formations, crafted from millennia of scathing winds and gushing waters, along with diverse wildlife, including the Bighorn Sheep and Desert Tortoise. If your windowsills bear an ever-growing array of cacti, this is the place for you to admire them in their glory; here, you will find of the world’s densest concentrations of the cholla cactus. You can also visit Pioneertown – built in 1946 by Hollywood investors, this filmset-come-real-life-town is very much alive with food, music and personality.
Not many people know that stargazing is also one of the best things to do in California. The infamous San Andreas Fault Line was responsible for some of California’s most destructive earthquakes, including the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, which destroyed over 80% of the city. Just outside of Palm Springs, you can head into the desert to see it for yourself. As the sun sets, the sinking sun casts stunning shadows across the land, and the clear night skies are perfect for stargazing.
Find out more about outdoor adventures in California.
Theme Parks Thrills
The array of theme parks on offer make up some of the best things to do in California with kids, and adults, alike. The state has perfected the art of crafting some of the world’s best theme park experiences, from movie-themed adventures, to sky-scraping rollercoasters. No surprise from the home of ‘Tinsel town’, Los Angeles is where you will find the sprawling Universal Studios Hollywood, packed to the brim with cinematic thrills and behind-the-scenes spectaculars.
One of the best things to do in California is to make the most of the park during a Universal Studios Hollywood VIP Experience. This gives you exclusive access to backlot areas, not open to the general public, where you can visit working sound-stages and see thousands of set pieces that make up the backdrop of many film and television programmes. Of course, you also get express access to all the rides, too, plus a VIP lounge to enjoy breakfast and lunch.
Find out more about California’s fun-filled attractions.
San Diego Secrets
San Diego is full of fun things to do in California with kids, boasting LEGOLAND California, San Diego Zoo and the attractions of Balboa Park within its midst. However, there are just as many fun things to do for couples and those who want to stay young at heart.
Off the coast of San Diego, you will find La Jolla Ecological Reserve. Covering 6,000 acres of the ocean floor, divers here will find two artificial reefs, which attract an abundance of marine life. With a strict look-but-don’t-touch policy, snorkelling these shores is one of the best things to do in California if you want to see the hidden delights of the state. You could also spend an afternoon kayaking around the reserve area – guided tours offer a respectful way to explore this ecological haven.
While California is celebrated world-wide for its wine, it also becoming less of a secret that it has one of the most exciting craft beer scenes. Proclaiming itself as the ‘Capital of Craft Beer’, this hip-and-happening city is the perfect place for sipping a cold one in the sun, and has nurtured over 150 breweries, brew pubs and tasting rooms across the county. With so much choice on offer, it can be hard to know where to start, so why not join an expert for a guided tour around the local hotspots? You’ll be a beer connoisseur in no time.
The Santa Barbara Highlife
Once you’ve hit the streets of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, you might want to just relax and enjoy the beautiful beaches of the ‘Golden State’ – after all, kicking back on golden sands is one of the simplest, yet most treasured, things to do in California!
Known as the ‘American Riviera’, Santa Barbara is one of the best places to do this. Located about a 90-minute drive outside of Los Angeles, the terracotta roofs and palm trees are the epitome of classic California sophistication, with an almost Mediterranean feel owed to the area’s Spanish founders. There are plenty of cafés, bistros and pizza parlours to take it easy at, plus fantastic shops and studios at the Funkzone selling designer, independent and artisan wares to fill your suitcase with. Golfers will also love Santa Barbara, thanks to its two championship golf courses boasting stunning ocean views.
One of the most effortlessly glamorous things to do in California is to cruise the glittering coastline aboard a private Catalina yacht. On board, you can sip on the exquisite locally made sparkling wine as you enjoy a delectable gourmet lunch and admire the scenery along the picturesque shore.
For more information on things to do in California, or to arrange your luxury holiday to California, please call our expert Travel Consultants on 01244 897 578 or visit elegantresorts.co.uk.