From its celebrated coastline to its broad heartland and granite Sierra peaks, California offers a lifetime of vacations in one Golden State. In a place this big and diverse, there is truly something for everyone—and plenty left over to keep you coming back.
Sunny beaches and surfers in the waves, dazzling cities filled with culture and entertainment, jaw-dropping parklands and vistas worthy of any bucket list—California has incomparable star quality. Enjoy a kid’s wish list of iconic theme parks, or indulge in some of the best food and wine experiences in the world. Whether seen from a five-star hotel balcony or through tent flaps, California is truly golden.
Nearly 300 state and national parks show off California’s spectacular lands.
With its stunning coastline, dramatic deserts, and rugged mountains, California offers wide-open spaces for everything from scenic road trips to adrenaline-fueled adventures.
In parklands including World Heritage sites Yosemite National Park and Redwood State and National Parks, enjoy year-round activities. In spring, raft Gold Country rivers and take wildflower hikes in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, or swing a club at celebrated courses. In summer, surf “The O.C.” or Santa Cruz, or rent a houseboat on a sparkling lake. Come fall, photograph brilliant High Sierra foliage or join a wine country grape stomp. In winter, ski celebrated slopes, or take a whale-watching cruise off the North Coast.
Make California’s rich, anything-goes culture part of your vacation experience.
California’s arts and culture extend beyond the walls of its world-class museums. Communities like Carmel-by-the-Sea, Idyllwild, and Laguna Beach showcase rich artistic heritage. Spanish missions shed light on California’s roots.
Celebrate the state’s music scene at festivals like Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival near Palm Springs, Monterey Jazz Festival on the Central Coast, and San Francisco’s Outside Lands. Experience diverse cultures in San Francisco’s Chinatown, or Mexican-influenced Old Town San Diego.
Step into the state’s iconic surf culture at Huntington Beach, aka Surf City, USA. Be dazzled by California’s movie-star magic, with top stars living and working in and around Hollywood.
When it comes to big-city fun, California’s urban hot spots shine.
California is a land of great urban gateways, with exciting hubs, like San Francisco’s bustling Union Square, Los Angeles’ dynamic downtown and Sunset Strip, and San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter. Discover buzz-worthy chefs at innovative restaurants, or sample California’s booming (and delicious) food truck fare. After dark, enjoy a mixologist’s cocktail, catch a concert or play, or dance the night away.
Leave time to experience iconic urban attractions like Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort, SeaWorld San Diego, and Universal Studios Hollywood, as well as hidden gems ranging from tucked-away city gardens to expansive leafy retreats, like San Diego’s Balboa Park and world-famous zoo.
California offers an unparalleled range of unexpected “spoil yourself” experiences.
Escape into bliss at a luxurious spa or a serene wellness retreat. Sip top vintages at elegant wineries. Slip into haute couture styles at Beverly Hills’ boutiques, or at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. Take a VIP tour of movie back lots and top attractions. Savor meals created by Michelin-starred chefs, like Thomas Keller at Yountville’s The French Laundry and Wolfgang Puck at Spago, in Los Angeles.
Priceless indulgences abound. Catch one of the world’s best light shows—a California sunset—from the cliffs of Mendocino. Watch mystical fog swirl through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and gaze up at waterfall rainbows at Yosemite National Park.
Don’t leave without tasting…
Freshly baked sourdough at Acme Bread, ultra-rich artisan cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, emerald-green virgin oils from McEvoy Olive Oil—all on a walk through San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace.
Where locals go to relax
Californians dig their toes in the sand—whether it’s at Malibu Beach, along the windswept cliffs at Mendocino, framed by surfers at Huntington Beach, in sunny San Diego or at lapis-blue Lake Tahoe, surrounded by snow-capped peaks.
Put these events on your calendar
- Palm Springs International Film Festival (January)
- Mendocino Whale Festival (March)
- Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival; Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival (April)
- Amgen Tour of California (May)
- Gilroy Garlic Festival (July)
- Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach (July/August)
- Outside Lands in San Francisco; Nike U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach (August)
- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in Fontana (November).
Drive through the tunnel leading to Yosemite Valley—the entire vista opens up in front of you like a life-sized postcard: the slab-like faces of El Capitan and Half Dome, the ethereal cascade of Bridal Veil Fall. There’s nothing like it anywhere.
Top photo opportunities
- Moonrise above Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
- Face of a child the first time she sees Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland
- Tourists putting their hands in Marilyn Monroe’s handprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Kids craning their heads back to look at the top of coast redwoods or trying to hug a giant sequoia tree
Want to stay up late?
The Sunset Strip in L.A. is still one of the hottest places to catch great music acts (maybe even Johnny Depp or Jeff Bridges riffing on guitar), or check out San Diego’s Gaslamp District, known for its booming bar scene and craft cocktails.
Don’t overlook this…
Santa Catalina Island has mini-sub tours to see ocean life, elegant dining and lodging, and a historic waterfront ballroom—and it’s just 24 miles and a short ferry ride from the L.A. bustle. On the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, you can soar from the desert floor to the towering pines and dramatic vistas from the San Jacinto Range.
Famous people from our state
California is celeb-central, and there’s no place to see TV and film stars like L.A., where they live, work and play. Whether you’re browsing for an award-night outfit at Stella McCartney’s boutique in West Hollywood, buying a skinny no-foam latte at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Santa Monica or bodysurfing in Malibu, the stars really do come out in and around Tinseltown. Want a sure-fire way to star search? Attend a taping of a live show, like ‛The Ellen Show’ in Burbank or ‛Jimmy Kimmel Live’, taped in Hollywood.
Use Twitter and Facebook to track down food trucks like Korean tacos from Roy Choi’s Kogi truck in Venice Beach, the Crème Brûlée Cart in San Francisco, meatballs from Mangia Mangia in San Diego and crab burgers from the Mini-Burger Truck in Sacramento.
Try an ultimate wine-country escape in Napa: a morning balloon ride over the vineyards, a guided bike tour of gold-medal wineries, capped by dinner at Michelin-starred French Laundry in Yountville and a night at a luxurious B&B.