We all know that there is no shortage of things to do in sunny California. From exciting theme parks to beautiful beaches, visiting California is sure to be a jam-packed adventure. But, how do you make sure that you have made the most of your trip? That’s where we come in: here is our list of ten must-see attractions that you will want to be sure to add to your itinerary.
All Things Hollywood and L.A.
Movie Stars. Palm Trees. That Famous Sign. The wonders of Hollywood never cease to amaze. What’s cooler than strolling the Hollywood Walk of Fame and putting your hands in the prints of your favorite actor or actress (or puppet; I’m looking at you, Big Bird)? Hop on a bus or tram and check out homes of the stars or get a history of how Hollywood magic is made. There are also plenty of fun museums to explore, such as the Guinness World Records Museum and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Kids will get a kick out of taking in a show at the Hollywood Dome. A side excursion to the Griffith Park Observatory is also one to put on the list. Head on down to Rodeo Drive if you plan on doing some serious shopping (or people watching).
There is no end to the things you can experience in Los Angeles proper, either. The L.A. Central Public Library is a sight to behold with its homage to Egyptian-style architecture. The La Brea Tar Pits are a step WAY back in time, as far back as the Ice Age. Beaches are also in abundance in the Los Angeles area. Will Rogers State Beach, Santa Monica State Beach, and Venice Beach are a stone’s throw from Los Angeles. Make sure you stay and play a bit on the Santa Monica Pier, too.
We could write an entire book about L.A., but California is more than just flashy cars and expensive homes.
Yosemite National Park
If we are going to talk about California, we are going to talk about Yosemite National Park. Located in eastern California, not far from the Nevada border, Yosemite National Park is one of the gems of our country. It has it all for nature lovers: stunning waterfalls, breathtaking views, massive rock formations, and hiking trails for every level of adventurer. And if you really want to immerse yourself in nature, lodging and campgrounds are available at various locations throughout the Park. Also, your kiddos can participate in the Junior Ranger program and earn a patch for their efforts. If you can make a day trip to Yosemite during your travels, don’t pass up the opportunity. You won’t be disappointed! For even more info on what to see and do while at Yosemite National Park, check out our blog post ‘Visit Yosemite National Park’.
San Diego Zoo and Zoo Safari Park
Who doesn’t love a good zoo? And when you are in California, there is no better zoo than the San Diego Zoo. With eight different zones, each featuring animals native to that zone, you will need at least half of a day (if not a whole day!) to experience it all! Unique attractions help fill out your zoo visit, with animal shows, an aerial tram, 4D theater, and play areas. Plenty of dining options will keep you going throughout the day and don’t forget to pick up some souvenirs at one of the specialty shops. This is a great option for the family and will definitely provide memories for years to come.
Golden Gate Bridge
One of the most iconic California landmarks and the jewel of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is on many a traveller’s bucket list. This red-orange structure (no, it’s not ACTUALLY golden) is the linking bridge between San Francisco and Marin County, California. So, why is it so famous, you ask? The Bridge is one of the longest and tallest suspension bridges in the world (plus, how many other bridges look like a fiery homing beacon?). It really is a sight to behold and the perfect backdrop for family photos. Be sure to take advantage of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and experience a little of the natural California. The Recreation Area is full of great trails and historic structures and landmarks. Stay for a couple of hours or the whole day.
USS Midway Museum
If you (or your little one) are a military or history buff, this is one to put on your must-do list. Located in downtown San Diego, the USS Midway Museum is a retired aircraft carrier. Board the carrier and see what it was like for the over 200,000 sailors who served on her. You will also see various restored aircraft and take a chance with a flight simulator. Afterwards, check out Tuna Wharf Park across the way and grab some awesome pictures of the bay. This is an excellent catalyst to discuss history and the sacrifices that have been made for our country.
Lake Tahoe is divided into two distinct recreation areas: North Lake Tahoe and Tahoe South. What isn’t different is the numerous activities and experiences you can have in either area. With endless lodging and dining options, your entire trip could be dedicated just to the Lake Tahoe region. Spring and summer are the perfect time for getting on the water and splashing around, especially if you have taken advantage of one of the dozens of hiking trails. Fall is also a great time to get out on the lake and just relax on the water. Winter brings with it a snow covered wonderland, full of chilly activities and beautiful mountain views. If you happen to get away on your own, try to squeeze in some time at one of the spa retreats or press your luck at the casino. Adults and kids alike will find something to do around every bend at Lake Tahoe.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
Giant Sequoias are the largest trees in the world. They are also some of the oldest, reaching thousands of years old. And Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is your chance to get up close to these giants of the forest. Sitting and meditating on the wonders of nature and its beauty among these massive trees really can bring things into perspective. It will definitely impress the kids as they look up AND up AND up AND…..well, you get the point. There are also Visitor’s Centers and museums to get even more information as to how the grove came to exist. Take a picnic along and grab a spot near the canyon for some unique dining. Don’t forget to take a short hike or drive to one of the many viewing points and get some views of powerful waterfalls and glacial formations.
Sacramento, California’s Capital
Sacramento is the capital of California. Being as such, it is the go-to spot for learning about California as a state. Born of the California Gold Rush, Sacramento is a mix of both Western history and modern culture. The California State Railroad Museum harkens back to the days of new frontiers and inventions. There are even live steam locomotives to hop aboard! The Sacramento History Museum also offers a look into the pre-Gold Rush Sacramento region. My how times have changed! Nowadays, however, Sacramento has become a thriving arts and cultural center. The Crocker Art Museum is the Western U.S.’s oldest public art museum. Sacramento is also the original home of the former Tower Records. Also known as “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital”, Sacramento is at the forefront of encouraging restaurants to source their food from the surrounding farmlands and keeping the economy local. Sacramento is the perfect trip for those families that like to inject a little learning into their vacations. It is never boring to learn something new, especially if you don’t know you are really learning.
Fun in the Sun
It’s California! What would a California trip be without the sand between your toes and the sun on your back? There are miles and miles of coastline to be had in California. When it comes to beaches, though, those in the know, know. Some of the best beaches, as suggested by residents of California, include: La Jolla Shores (San Diego area), Coronado Beach (San Diego area), Carmel By The Sea/Carmel City Beach (Carmel), and Pebble Beach of Crescent City (Crescent City/Northern California). The beaches all along the coast of California each have their own unique features dependent on their locations. Some have white sandy beaches, while some beaches have a darker, coarser sand. Some beaches are flat, while some are rocky and great for climbing and exploring. No matter where you choose, you won’t be disappointed in your experience. Just be sure to bring back some seashells!
So, I saved the big one for last. California has theme parks galore. Obviously, kids are going to want to do something that makes them smile and makes their parents cringe. It’s what they do. And nothing makes parents cringe more than riding any number of amusement rides. But, we do it because we love our kids. Luckily, many of California’s theme parks have something for everyone. Two of the biggest theme parks in California are Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood. Disneyland is not as large as Walt Disney World in Florida, but it is just the right amount of Disney magic to bring out the kid in anyone. Universal Studios Hollywood caters more to the thrill chasers in the group, but the kiddie area and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter can keep the little ones happy, while the older ones zip and zoom. If you are looking for something possibly a little less chaotic, there are choices for that too. SeaWorld San Diego is great for those who wonder what lives ‘under the water’. And Knotts Berry Farm is a classic California vacation destination. Also, don’t forget about the numerous piers and boardwalks that dot the coast and will scratch that entertainment itch after a day at the beach.
California has so much to offer that it was hard to pick only 10 things! No matter what your interests are, there is something for you in California. From mountains and nature on the eastern border to surf and sand to the west, California is the most fascinating destination to consider for your next vacation.