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Most likely, the first places that pop to mind when you think of California are Los Angeles, San Francisco, and maybe a few beaches here and there, but there is a lot more the Golden State has to offer visitors!
With stunning coastal roads, towering mountain ridges, crystal-clear lakes, wonderful forests, ancient deserts, and wine valleys, California has a little bit of everything to please even the fussiest of travelers.
In fact, the Golden State is considered the most varied in terms of landscapes and terrain in the United States!
If you’re wondering where to go on your next trip to Cali, here’s a list of all the activities and places that need to be on your bucket list!
Taste Wine in Napa and Sonoma
With over 800 wineries in the region, a visit to Sonoma and Napa Valley is a dream come true for wine lovers and foodies alike.
Aside from getting to taste high-quality California wines and incredible food, the beautiful setting that will surround you every mile of the way just makes things even better.
All along your trip, you’ll be treated to lush vineyards, charming small towns, rivers, and, believe it or not, even a few castles where you can sip wine!
Amid all the wineries in the area, you’ll find the Buena Vista Winery, the oldest, continuously running winery in the state of California. Located in Sonoma County, its old stone building has been around for more than 150 years and makes for the perfect location to combine wine tasting with a bit of history.
Road Trip in Big Sur
If you want to add a scenic drive to your California itinerary, a road trip through Big Sur along Highway 1 is guaranteed to please.
The drive from San Simeon to Monterrey along the mountainous coastline is filled with one stunning stop after another. Although the distance is only 90 miles from start to end, make sure you set up at least a couple of days to explore everything that you’ll find along the way.
Carmel-by-the-Sea, Bixby Creek Bridge, Point Sur Lighthouse, Pfeiffer Beach, McWay Falls, and Limekiln State Park are just a few of the recommended stops on this inspiring drive.
Stargaze at Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is one of the most famous national parks in the United States and the first one to be designated as a national protected area.
With almost 748,000 acres of stunning landscapes, you’re sure to be awed and entertained during your visit.
Think humongous monoliths, sharp rock cliffs, majestic lakes, roaring waterfalls, and giant sequoia trees to get a picture of the scenery you can expect to see here!
The cherry on the cake is to camp and gaze at the stars from Glacier Point. This is one of the darkest places in the region, making it an excellent spot for sky viewing at night!
Cross the Golden Gate Bridge and Climb the Mosaic Stairway in San Francisco
San Francisco is a bustling metropolis that attracts millions of visitors eager to experience all of its historical and contemporary attractions.
Amid the busy city, there are two unique eye-candy attractions you can cross by foot. The first one is the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge which will take you 1.7 miles over the ocean.
When you’re done, head over to climb the colorful 163-tiled staircase located on 16th Avenue!
If you want to experience an authentic Gold Rush town, head to Bodie.
This once-prosperous town boomed back in the 1860s when gold was discovered nearby. Later on, it petered out when resources dwindled out just like it happened with many other towns in the American West.
Today, Bodie’s old glory can be seen through over two hundred abandoned wooden buildings that are still preserved. Peek in the windows of the various saloons, a schoolhouse, barbershops, and a church to take a trip back in time to when Bodie was alive and thriving!
Relish the magic of Joshua Tree National Park
Sitting at the spot where Colorado and the Mojave deserts come together, Joshua Tree is one of the most unique national parks in California.
The odd ecosystem that results from the combination of both deserts has created a bizarre and beautiful landscape that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else in the world.
Known mostly for the prickly trees seemingly raising their arms that inspired its name, Joshua Tree is also the home to massive rock formations, cholla cacti, and other natural wonders that make this spot a dream for photographers, hikers, and wildlife lovers.
Eat a Pastry in Solvang
Step into the town of Solvang to feel as though you somehow traveled to Europe without boarding a plane.
This fairytale village was founded by Danish teachers who resettled from the American midwest to escape the cold. The architecture and businesses were built to resemble a small town in Denmark so they could feel just like home.
Don’t miss out on eating a freshly-baked aebleskiver or “bear-claw” in one of the many bakeries in town.
Visit the original Disneyland
Disneyland Anaheim is the original park created by Walt Disney. Even though it is smaller than the more recent parks, this one has a special feeling to it.
It definitely is a California bucket list item, especially if you love thrilling rides and Disney characters.
This is where the first Cinderella castle was built, the first spot where Mickey Mouse began roaming around to salute happy visitors, the impressive Pirates of the Caribbean ride was born, and the first thrilling yells were heard at a Space Mountain.
Learn History at Sacramento
The state capital is often overlooked by travelers who often dive directly into San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Still, Sacramento sits at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, which creates a perfect natural setting for this gorgeous city rich in history and colorful flowers.
The Old Sacramento Waterfront District has horse-drawn carriages, cobblestoned streets, and lots of historic buildings. Not to be missed are the old State Capitol, the Sacramento History Museum, and the California State Railroad Museum.
On a more modern tone, you can take a look at the Golden 1 Center, the indoor arena where the Sacramento Kings play. You might even catch a game if you time it right!
Discover a Purple Sand Beach
Located along the Big Sur highway, Pfeiffer Beach is a fantastic unspoiled beach worth visiting any day of the year, but if you go right after it rains, you’ll be delighted with the purple sand that falls from the mountains that backdrop it!
As a plus, Pfeiffer Beach also boasts a natural rock arch that sits just off the shore. Even though it looks stunning any time of the year, come sunset, the views here become out of this world!
See the Alpine Side of California at Lake Tahoe
Nestled amidst the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range on the California and Nevada border, majestic Lake Tahoe delights visitors all year round.
During the summer, you can relax and frolic in its crystalline waters and sandy shore. Once winter sets in, you can ski, snowshoe, and slide down the mountain.
Whatever time of the year you decide to visit, you’ll have to pinch yourself to make sure a place so beautiful really exists – if it weren’t for the mountains around it, you could easily confuse Lake Tahoe’s beaches with a place somewhere in the Caribbean!
I hope this list of the California bucket list helped you craft your perfect itinerary. Even though there’s a ton more to see, these activities and places are ideal to start exploring California’s magic.
Have you ever been to California? What are some other incredible places to check out? Let me know your favorites in the comment section below!