23 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in California
From the mountaintops to the lowest point in North America, these are the best places to visit in California.
California has a reputation for being a surfer's paradise. And sure, its sandy beaches are something to marvel at and indeed a must-see on any visit. But as the third largest state in the nation, it’s so much more. From mountains to deserts to wine towns and the Mouse House, here are 23 most beautiful places to visit in California.
Those seeking a chic, mid-century modern getaway should consider Palm Springs. The average high never falls below 69 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning no matter when you visit, you’ll get to enjoy some fun in the sun. Book a few nights at The Good House, a bungalow-style hotel that sits on its own natural hot springs, which will leave you feeling renewed.
Not far from Palm Springs, Joshua Tree offers more desert fun. However, you’ll want to trade in your poolside outfit for hiking gear. Explore the massive Joshua Tree National Park, then check out the plentiful vintage shops in downtown Joshua Tree to hunt for treasures. Stay a few nights at AutoCamp Joshua Tree for a glamping stay unlike any other.
It’s time to head to California’s wine country. And no, we aren’t talking about Napa. Head to the southern part of the state’s wine region, Temecula. Located in southwestern Riverside County, this destination is home to gorgeous vineyards growing some 50 varietals of wine, from cabernet sauvignon to chardonnay. Enjoy a boutique stay at The New Inn, which comes with just five stunning villas for ultimate privacy.
Santa Monica Pier
The entire city of Santa Monica is worth a visit, but don't miss the iconic Santa Monica Pier while there. The 1,600-foot pier comes with a little amusement park featuring a roller coaster so you can get a bird’s-eye view of the beach below before taking a short, belly-flipping drop back down. Then, rest your head at the Shore Hotel, which provides views of the pier, too.
For a dose of Southern California cool, head to Long Beach. As the name implies, the seaside community comes with plenty of beach frontage, but it also boasts its fair share of culture. That includes the RMS Queen Mary, docked at Queensway Bay; colorful pieces at the Museum of Latin American Art; and more than a few fish swimming at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Stay at The Cove Hotel, which is within walking distance of all the city’s best attractions.
You'll want to trade your surfboard for a snowboard with a visit to Mammoth. The beloved ski resort is home to some of the best powder in the world, as well as one of the longest ski seasons in the nation. Don’t feel intimidated if you’re a newbie, as the mountain has a robust ski school available. Stay at the Sierra Nevada Resort, a revamped classic that’s equal parts rustic and charming, making for an ideal mountain getaway.
Gulp in a breath of fresh air during a visit to Lake Tahoe. This lake destination, tucked in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, straddles the neighboring state of Nevada as well. It’s an all-season delight, with skiing in the winter, wildflowers in spring, warm days by the shore in summer, and fall foliage to round it out. Book a room at Edgewood for a luxurious stay with lakeside views to boot.
Santa Barbara deserves a spot high on any must-see list of California. Its gorgeous beaches, quaint shops, stunning street art, and plenty of delicious seafood restaurants make it a place worth experiencing for more than a long weekend. Book a stay at the divine San Ysidro Ranch, a 500-acre private enclave tailor-made for total relaxation.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Take in the endless vistas at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Visitors here may find super blooms in the spring, but don’t skip over this destination in the summer, fall, or winter, either. The state park is a stellar place for hiking, admiring avant-garde art at Galleta Meadows, and even pitching a tent just about anywhere with a bit of backcountry camping.
Looking for awe-inspiring views? Take a drive up Highway 1 to Big Sur. The cliffside community overlooks some of the most jaw-dropping coastline in the state, and it's home to some hiking trails worth exploring, too. Sleep at the Post Ranch Inn, which provides those epic ocean views out of every window.
Sneak in a little magic by paying a visit to the Happiest Place on Earth: Disneyland. Choose between visiting either one of its two parks, or snag a Park Hopper pass to see both in one go. Then, spend your nights at the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, where you can view the park right out your window.
Yosemite National Park
Feel inspired by Mother Nature at every turn with a visit to Yosemite National Park. Here, you can gaze upon the breathtaking views of Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, and Half Dome while hiking to lookout points or taking a slow drive with the windows rolled down. Stay inside the park and camp at Curry Village, home to 14 tented cabins that sit under centuries-old trees.
Hop a boat to the Channel Islands, an archipelago that remains wild and free. Explore the eight islands, which are home to more than 2,000 species of plants and animals, by hopping from one to another or scuba diving off the coast. Again, it’s another perfect spot to pitch a tent, so you never have to leave the great outdoors.
Looking to paddle out with the best surfers in California? Then, it’s time to head to San Diego, the place to be for a surf lesson (or two) and lounge session on the warm, sandy shore. But the city also has plenty more to explore, from fantastic breweries to the world-class San Diego Zoo. Book a stay at Pendry San Diego, which features a rooftop pool so you can take a dip and enjoy the city skyline all in one.
For more wine-centric fun, head to the small town of Healdsburg, where you’ll find plenty of wineries happy to pour you their best glass. Guests here can also live like a local by shopping, dining, and strolling through the Plaza, exploring the downtown area, or taking a hike through the pristine landscapes. Book a night or more at the Montage Healdsburg, which comes with so many luxuries, you may never want to leave.
Get an urban escape in San Francisco. The NorCal city is home to plenty of delicious dining venues and shopping galore on Haight Street. While here, take some time to explore the outdoor spaces too, like The Presidio and Golden Gate Park, both of which offer fantastic views. Stay at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, beloved by Travel + Leisure readers, as it was voted the best hotel in the city in our 2022 World’s Best Awards.
Don’t let the name Death Valley fool you. Death Valley National Park is a place teeming with life — if you know where to look. Visit Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, and check out the endless salt flats, which happen to be home to an endemic snail only found here. It's also worth exploring Salt Creek, home to another endemic species — the pupfish, which have evolved to live in the salinated waters. Then, snag a room at the historic Inn at Death Valley, a recently revamped desert oasis that will cater to your every whim.
Big Bear Lake
Find smaller mountain magic at Big Bear Lake. In the winters, the community becomes a snow-filled heaven, much to the delight of skiers and snowboarders in Los Angeles, who can get there in under a three-hour drive. Come summer, Big Bear transforms into lakeside bliss, so no need to pick one or the other, as every season here is perfect. Book a stay at Noble + Proper, a gorgeous, high-design hotel.
Santa Catalina Island
Grab a boat to Santa Catalina Island, where you can hop on a bike (we recommend an e-bike to help battle the massive hills) and pedal for as far as your legs will take you around the jagged coast. Stop in for a bite, a drink, or an ice cream in the city of Avalon, or head inland for a tour of the island’s wild buffalo herd. Lay your head at the Hotel Atwater, a more than 100-year-old gem in Avalon.
Redwood National Park
Located in the northern part of the state, Redwood National Park is home to some of the tallest trees in the world — some so large, you have to drive through them to get by. Again, it’s best to stay in the park, which is entirely possible, thanks to the delightfully charming little abodes at Elk Meadow Cabins.
Even though Hollywood is actually a relatively small neighborhood in Los Angeles, its larger-than-life reputation makes it a star. Come see the famed Hollywood sign, honor your favorite celebrities on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and tour icons like the TCL Chinese Theatre. Stay at The West Hollywood Edition, a sleek property located in the center of the action.
See one more surf mecca by visiting the Southern California gem of Laguna Beach. This coastal town is bursting with artistic talent, which you can check out in its numerous galleries or by taking a self-guided tour to admire its impressive outdoor public art. Like San Diego, it, too, is a great place for a surf lesson. Or, you can always just hang on your board long enough to watch a pod of dolphins swim by. Spend the night at the Surf & Sand Resort and leave the windows open all night to snooze to the sound of the crashing waves outside.
The charming community of Solvang is well-known for its Danish-style architecture that will make you feel like you've been transported to Europe. Here, visitors can indulge in more of California’s wine culture, too. Book a stay right in town at the Mirabelle Inn, home to First & Oak, a Michelin Plate-designated restaurant.
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