17 Best Places to Visit in California

Written by Lisa Alexander
Aug 2, 2019

California beckons visitors with sunshine, stunning landscapes, and urban sophistication. A place of dreams, this alluring state has it all: a spectacular coastline, snow-capped mountains, expansive deserts, idyllic farmlands, and ancient redwood groves, along with vibrant multicultural cities. Tourists flock to San Francisco for sightseeing, shopping, museum hopping, and gourmet dining. Los Angeles dazzles visitors with quintessential Southern California scenery and Hollywood glamour. San Diego and Santa Barbara have perfect balmy weather and golden-sand beaches.

For nature lovers, California is a place to explore the great outdoors. At Yosemite National Park, visitors marvel at the magnificent granite cliffs draped with dramatic waterfalls. In the stunning alpine environment of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at Lake Tahoe, the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, and Mammoth Lakes are well-groomed trails and endless opportunities for outdoor sports. Closer to the Pacific Ocean in the lush Redwood National and State Parks, ravishing hiking trails are shaded by the world's tallest trees.

Plan your travels to "The Golden State" with our list of the best places to visit in California.

1. The San Francisco Bay Area

Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline

When the afternoon sun shines on the hillsides or the fog rolls in from the Pacific Ocean over the Golden Gate Bridge, this eclectic city has a mystical beauty. Visitors are awed by San Francisco's picture-perfect scenery, from the curves of Lombard Street to the elegant Victorian houses. The city also delights tourists with its walkable (albeit steep) streets, thrilling cable car rides, marvelous bay views, and historic neighborhoods: Chinatown, a bustling area of shops and authentic Chinese restaurants; North Beach (Little Italy); and Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco's most touristy area.

Today, San Francisco is California's most sophisticated city, a place to enjoy world-class opera and ballet, a wide range of theater performances, and gourmet dining. The city has an impressive assortment of top-rated restaurants offering local, as well as global cuisine and trendsetting menus. The hip and edgy Mission district is the place to try up-and-coming restaurants or sample ethnic cuisine, relax in a coffee shop, and browse unique shops. The stylish Hayes Valley neighborhood is renowned for its restaurants, as well as fancy retail boutiques.

Across the San Francisco Bay (just a 30-minute Bart train ride away) are the university town of Berkeley, with its high-caliber cultural attractions and acclaimed gourmet restaurants, and the multicultural city of Oakland with many interesting museums, historic theaters, lively neighborhood events, and summer festivals.

Nature lovers can drive 30 miles south of San Francisco (via the scenic Highway One) to Half Moon Bay. Tucked away behind rolling hills, this oceanfront town fronts a stretch of wild, rugged Pacific coastline. It's a great place for walking along the beach, hiking, golfing, fishing and bird-watching, or to enjoy a seafood meal by the harbor. About 17 miles farther south is Pescadero, a rural community with many small farms, a bird sanctuary at the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, and a goat dairy (Harley Farms) that hosts candlelit dinners in a restored Victorian hayloft.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in San Francisco: Best Areas & Hotels

2. Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Pasadena

Santa Monica Beach

Los Angeles epitomizes the seductive image of sunny Southern California with its wide, palm-fringed boulevards; exclusive designer boutiques; and see-and-be-seen beaches. This sprawling urban center was founded in 1781 and built up during the film industry boom of the 1920s and 30s. The city is still synonymous with the glamour of Hollywood, the famous neighborhood that is full of iconic sights and tinged with Tinseltown glitz. Hollywood is also a go-to spot for people-watching and celebrity sightings.

Those intrigued by the idea of spotting Hollywood stars should head to their stomping grounds on Rodeo Drive, lined with haute couture boutiques; the exclusive Beverly Hills and Bel Air neighborhoods; the Chateau Marmont hotel on Sunset Boulevard; and Franklin Village in Hollywood. An absolute must-see attraction in Hollywood is the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, lined with star plaques honoring prominent movie directors, actors, and musicians.

Favorite beaches are the eclectic Venice Beach, a fun-loving scene of rollerbladers, cyclists, joggers, and street performers, and the 3.5-mile Santa Monica State Beach (15 miles from Los Angeles, accessible by the Expo Metro line), which has an iconic pier with a Ferric wheel and a beachfront path for walking and cycling. The chic seaside city of Santa Monica is brimming with unique locally owned stores and upscale boutiques, as well as trendy restaurants. Many of Santa Monica's restaurants near the pier and on Ocean Avenue offer fantastic beach views.

For culture, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Walt Disney Concert Hall (classical music performances), and the Hollywood Bowl (pop music concerts) are top attractions. Near the pleasant small town of Pasadena (11 miles from Los Angeles) is the Huntington Botanical Gardens, filled with 16 different themed gardens, including a Desert Garden, an authentic Japanese Garden, and a Shakespeare Garden featuring plants cultivated in Renaissance England. This exceptional site includes the Huntington Library that boasts a collection of rare books, including a manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and a 13th-century copy of the Magna Carta.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Los Angeles: Best Areas & Hotels

3. San Diego: Sunshine, Beaches, and Spanish Architecture

View of downtown San Diego from Coronado Island

With its balmy year-round climate, San Diego is the place to experience California's laid-back lifestyle of sun-drenched days at the beach and fun-loving outdoor adventures. Besides the expansive shoreline of beautiful sandy beaches, the main tourist attractions in San Diego proper are Balboa Park, a lovely green space with distinctive gardens and several museums; the historic Gaslamp Quarter, which is full of boutiques, art galleries, and good restaurants; and the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, where museums, retail shops, and restaurants occupy the old adobe buildings.

Families with young children will enjoy the city's kid-friendly attractions, as well as the family-friendly resorts that are perfectly designed for a relaxing vacation. The top things to do in San Diego with kids include visiting San Diego Zoo, home to panda bears and other exotic animals; watching the dolphin and whale shows at SeaWorld theme park; exploring the playgrounds at Balboa Park; admiring colorful sea life at Birch Aquarium in La Jolla; and spending time at the New Children's Museum.

As the oldest city in California, San Diego has the original Spanish mission. Founded in 1769, the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá was the birthplace of Christianity in California. Registered as a National Historic Landmark, the mission buildings were crafted from adobe in a quadrangle formation with a striking white-painted facade. Distinguishing features are the campanario (bell wall) on the left side of the Mission Church and the meditation garden blooming with flowers. Tours are offered Monday through Friday, and Mass is celebrated daily at the Mission Church.

Several nearby destinations are good day trips from San Diego. For sunbathing and shopping, La Jolla (14 miles north of San Diego's downtown) is prized for its sandy beaches, as well as its quaint downtown full of gourmet restaurants, art museums, performing arts, and antiques shops. Another worthwhile excursion from San Diego is the Mission San Juan Capistrano, in a tranquil setting 66 miles north. For the taste of a different culture, travelers can visit Tijuana in Mexico, just 20 miles south of San Diego.

Slightly farther away (within two hours of San Diego) are many wonderful weekend getaway destinations such as the dreamy Catalina Island and the mountain resort of Idyllwild.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in San Diego: Best Areas & Hotels

4. Yosemite National Park: A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Yosemite National Park: A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Mother Nature's most striking creation, the breathtaking Yosemite Valley is surrounded by sheer granite cliffs and domes that were carved by glaciers millions of years ago. When John Muir discovered Yosemite in the 1860s, he described it as the "grandest of all special temples of Nature" and helped to establish the area as a protected national park. Today around four million visitors annually come to admire Yosemite National Park's jaw-dropping natural splendor.

This vast wilderness of 1,200 square miles was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 and boasts 800 miles of hiking trails. One of the most inspiring hikes of the legendary Pacific Crest Trail is found along the gushing Tuolumne River. Every area of the park is spectacular, from its expansive meadows, free-flowing waterfalls, and crystal-clear streams to the giant sequoia tree groves. The park has incredible biological diversity, with more than 400 different animal species, including 262 species of birds.

The most emblematic sights of Yosemite are Yosemite Falls, an amazing 2,425-foot waterfall, and Half Dome, the sheer-faced granite mountain. The trail to the top of Yosemite Falls and the all-day trek up to Half Dome are among the most challenging hikes in Yosemite, suitable for those in good physical fitness. Easier trails include the hike to Vernal Falls footbridge and the loop around Mirror Lake, a pleasant spot sheltered by granite walls.

Yosemite National Park has two historic lodges (The Majestic Yosemite Hotel and the Big Trees Lodge) and the modern Yosemite Valley Lodge. More hotel accommodations are found outside of the park. For those who prefer camping, there are rustic cabins and campgrounds throughout the park. It's recommended to make reservations for all types of overnight accommodations, including cabins and campsites, well in advance.

5. Lake Tahoe: Hiking, Mountain Biking, and Skiing

Lake Tahoe

Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, this mesmerizing lake is a place of sublime beauty and serenity. The lake has brilliant turquoise waters with a translucent quality, and the scenery is so pristine that it has a meditative effect. During summertime, Lake Tahoe is a popular destination for outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, fishing, water sports, and lakeside sunbathing. To admire the alpine landscape, visitors can choose from many wonderful hiking trails in the South Lake Tahoe area. Some of the best campgrounds are also found in South Lake Tahoe.

The awe-inspiring Emerald Bay State Park, the peaceful D. L. Bliss State Park, and the densely-wooded Ed Z'berg Sugar Pine Point State Park provide enchanting lakeside scenery, well-groomed nature trails, and lovely spots for picnicking. Kings Beach on the sunny North Shore of Lake Tahoe is a favorite place for swimming and boating, including kayaking and paddle-boarding. Kings Beach is also a bustling town with many restaurants, casual eateries, shops, and street vendors.

During the winter, usually from December until April (depending on seasonal snowfall), Lake Tahoe boasts excellent downhill skiing in powder-snow conditions, as well as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding. Squaw Valley and Heavenly are world-class ski resorts that draw the most visitors for alpine skiing, but several other Lake Tahoe ski resorts also have top-notch facilities and superb alpine terrain.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe: Best Areas & Hotels

6. Seaside Towns and Nature Sites of Marin County


Just north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County is one of the popular day trips from San Francisco. However, travelers should note that a car is required to get to most spots in Marin, except for Sausalito, which is accessible by ferry from San Francisco. The utterly picturesque (and very touristy) waterfront town of Sausalito has a quaint historic downtown, beautiful marinas, and sensational views of San Francisco.

For those sightseeing by car, it's a short drive from Sausalito to gorgeous nature sites: Tennessee Valley, appreciated for its springtime wildflowers and gentle walking trail to the beach, and Muir Woods, a dense forest of giant 1,000-year-old coastal redwood trees. Because Muir Woods is such a popular destination, many tour companies offer organized day trips from San Francisco. For all other visitors, reservations are required for the paid parking at Muir Woods, as well as for the shuttle service from Sausalito (ideal for those traveling without a car).

A spectacularly scenic but difficult winding coastal drive along Highway One (about 30 to 45 minutes from Muir Beach) leads to Stinson Beach, appreciated for its 3.5-mile-long sandy shoreline. The town owes its Bohemian ambience and touch of flower-child flair to the locally owned shops and organic restaurants. Stinson Beach also has excellent facilities, including picnic areas and barbecue pits.

To experience the wild, natural beauty of Marin County's coastline, travelers can continue driving six miles north of Stinson Beach to the Point Reyes National Seashore on Tomales Bay. This splendid coastal environment includes peaceful hidden coves, sandy beaches, nature trails with sweeping ocean views, and protected estuaries that are ideal for kayaking. A paradise for bird-watchers, Point Reyes is home to a remarkable variety of avian species, including the snowy plover, northern spotted owl, peregrine falcon, and brown pelican.

Continuing farther north is Bodega Bay, a fishing village and laid-back resort area (27 miles north of Point Reyes Station in the Point Reyes National Seashore) where Marin County borders Sonoma County. Beach lovers and outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the invigorating natural environment. Bodega Bay is a top destination for taking nature walks, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, and surfing. Despite being a quiet coastal community, Bodega Bay has an extensive choice of hotels, lodges, and vacation rental options.

7. Gold Country in the Sierra Nevada Foothills

"Cottage" of Empire Mine owner in Grass Valley

In 1948, when John Sutter and James Marshal were building a sawmill at Coloma along the American River, they discovered small nuggets of gold on the site. A pivotal moment in California's history, this event led to the mass migration in 1849 to the West Coast known as the Gold Rush. Thousands of gold seekers headed to this location in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in hopes of finding their fortunes.

Tourists can see where gold was discovered at the old sawmill in Coloma, which is part of the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. At this unique historic park, visitors have a chance to pan for gold in the American River just as the gold miners did in 1849. After touring the site, it's possible to explore the park's hiking trails or have a picnic under the oak trees.

About 40 miles north of Coloma are the atmospheric Gold Rush towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City. Empire Mine State Park is the top attraction in Grass Valley, where visitors may tour the old mining area and the property's Victorian "cottage." Grass Valley's downtown has many mid-19th-century buildings that are filled with art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Bursting with Gold Rush charm, Nevada City appeals to tourists because of its local culture (art galleries, theater, music concerts and festivals), delightful historic inns, and wide assortment of restaurants.

Beautiful nature sites are found throughout the Sierra Nevada foothills. Nestled in a canyon, the South Yuba River State Park is a good place for bird-watching, swimming, and hiking, In the Coloma-Lotus Valley, the South Fork of the American River attracts adventure seekers in search of thrilling white-water rafting experiences.

For summertime recreation, the American River attracts many visitors to its riverfront parks. Dave Moore Nature Area (two miles from Coloma) has hiking trails and picnic areas. The Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park (six miles from Coloma) has 12 miles of hiking/biking trails plus fishing areas.

8. Rural Sonoma County, Napa Valley, and Calistoga

Hiking trail in Sonoma County

Sonoma County is one of the best places to visit in California for scenic hikes in the rolling hills and along the coast. Trione-Annadel State Park is a great place for hiking, mountain biking, spotting springtime wildflowers, and fishing at the park's Lake Ilsanjo. The Foothill Regional Park offers seven miles of trails through a serene landscape of oak woodlands, flowering meadows, and gently rolling hillsides, plus three ponds for fishing. The Sonoma Coast State Park inspires nature lovers who appreciate the craggy coastline and secluded beaches.

Sonoma County and neighboring Napa Valley boast plenty of cultural attractions. The historic town of Sonoma, centering around a shady plaza and old Spanish Mission, invites leisurely strolls, window-shopping, and picnics in the square.

The trend-setting Napa Valley is a mecca for luxury resorts, boutique hotels, and gourmet restaurants. Napa Valley's most renowned restaurant (and most difficult place to reserve a table) is The French Laundry in Yountville (10 miles from Napa), awarded three Michelin stars. Calistoga (30 miles from Napa) has a charming downtown and spas with mineral hots springs.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in the Napa Valley: Best Areas & Hotels

9. Mendocino Coastline

Point Arena Lighthouse, Mendocino

For spectacular scenery, few places compare to Mendocino's dramatic coastline, where the deep blue waters of the Pacific crash up against sheer cliffs and lap into quiet, sheltered coves. Visitors are rejuvenated by the fresh air and inspired by the panoramic ocean views. Typical of Northern California, the weather is often cool and foggy, better suited to hiking than sunbathing. Nature lovers enjoy walks along the ocean bluffs and secluded beaches, as well as through shady redwood groves at Mendocino County's many state parks.

Set on an ocean bluff overlooking the Mendocino Bay, the historic village of Mendocino is a destination in itself. This well-preserved Victorian-era logging town has plenty of tourist attractions, including art galleries, locally owned boutiques, and fine-dining restaurants. The town also hosts a wide variety of festivals throughout the year, from a whale-watching festival in March to an organic farm event in August.

10. Big Sur and Hearst Castle

Blooms along the Big Sur coast

Big Sur is a breathtaking 90-mile stretch of mountainous coastline, which feels a world apart because of its remoteness. One of the best West Coast road trips, the two-lane Highway One route through Big Sur winds along daunting hairpin turns overlooking the ocean. The route starts just south of Carmel and ends at San Simeon. Visitors are awestruck by the scenery of rugged ocean bluffs, shady redwood forests, and precipitous cliffs that drop off into the Pacific's crashing waves. Hiking is a good way to admire the splendid landscape. There are also many viewpoints at luxury hotels and restaurants throughout Big Sur.

At the southernmost point of Big Sur in San Simeon is Hearst Castle, a truly incomparable place. One of California's more off-the-beaten-path destinations, Hearst Castle was built in 1922 for newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. This architectural masterpiece resembles a 16th-century Spanish cathedral and is perched on a hilltop high above the Pacific Ocean. Hearst called this magical place "La Cuesta Encantada" ("The Enchanted Hill"). The enormous property is now open to the public as a museum. Visitors may take guided tours of the exceptional estate.

11. Santa Barbara: Sandy Beaches and a Charming Downtown

The Santa Barbara County Courthouse and red tile roofs of the city

Santa Barbara is a dreamy seaside city in Southern California, a place for relaxation and pampering. Visitors enjoy strolls along the waterfront, indulging in luxurious spa treatments, and savoring gourmet meals on outdoor patios. Often called "The American Riviera," this upscale resort destination is a beach lover's paradise with balmy weather, an expansive coastline of golden-sand shoreline, and spectacular sunsets.

Santa Barbara has a charming downtown, characterized by its traditional Spanish-style buildings, tile-adorned walkways, and palm-fringed streets. Visitors could spend hours exploring the downtown's art galleries, open-air markets, and locally owned retail boutiques, only to stop for a snack at a sidewalk cafe or a delicious meal at one of the top-notch restaurants.

The Old Mission Santa Barbara is known as the "Queen of the Missions" because of its graceful architecture and gorgeous flowering gardens, with the Santa Ynez Mountains as a backdrop. Adorned with noteworthy paintings and precious Native American artifacts, the Mission Church is open to the public for self-guided visits or docent-led tours. Today the Old Mission Santa Barbara is home to a community of Franciscan friars and has an active parish church. Mass is held on Saturdays and Sundays at the main Mission Church and on weekdays at the mission's Serra Chapel.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Santa Barbara: Best Areas & Hotels

12. Palm Springs

Palm Springs

With the towering San Jacinto Mountains and swaying palm trees as a backdrop, this desert oasis is synonymous with stylish poolside vacationing. In fact, Palm Springs has been a popular winter resort destination for Hollywood celebrities since the 1920s and continues to attract all kinds of tourists today. The serene scenery and warm weather give the place a relaxing holiday ambience, while golf courses, gourmet restaurants, and interesting museums give visitors plenty to do. Just outside of Palm Springs are fabulous hiking trails at Mount San Jacinto and Indian Canyons.

Palm Springs hosts many cultural events throughout the year including film festivals and live music concerts. One of the most popular events is Modernism Week that celebrates mid-century modern architecture and design, which is well represented in buildings throughout Palm Springs. The famous Coachella music festival takes place just 23 miles from Palm Springs in April (purchase tickets well ahead of time before they sell out).

Less than an hour away is Joshua Tree National Park. Home to Joshua trees and dramatic rock formations, this is a popular area for sightseeing, hiking, camping, and climbing.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in the Palm Springs Area

13. Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Carmel

Santa Cruz, California

This little pocket of Northern California coastline rivals Southern California in its seaside charm and vacation vibes. For those seeking a classic California beach town complete with a boardwalk amusement park and surfing scene, sunny Santa Cruz is the place to go. Surprisingly, it's only about a 90-minute drive south of foggy and frigid San Francisco. The hillsides above the Santa Cruz coastline are covered with lush redwood forests, which can be explored on a steam train ride.

A historic seaport and fish packing town, Monterey (about 40 miles south of Santa Cruz) provided inspiration for the vibrant stories in John Steinbeck's Cannery Row novel. Today Monterey's waterfront attracts many tourists to its world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium and lively Fisherman's Wharf, which has many excellent seafood restaurants.

For a romantic getaway, Carmel allows visitors to escape into the charms of an adorable seaside village. This perfectly manicured town features fairy-tale cottages, hidden passageways, and enticing one-of-a-kind boutiques. Carmel has all the draws of a top resort destination: fancy fine-dining restaurants, luxurious hotels, and a picturesque sandy beach.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Santa Cruz: Best Areas & Hotels

14. San Luis Obispo and the Central Coast

Avila Beach on the Central Coast

Known as the "Happiest City in America," San Luis Obispo delights visitors with its friendly atmosphere and interesting attractions. Tucked away in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains just 10 miles from the beach, this fun-loving college town boasts year-round sunshine, a historic Spanish mission and a weekly farmers' market with live entertainment

Two popular beaches on the Central Coast are within a 30-minute drive from San Luis Obispo: the surfer's favorite Pismo Beach and the more secluded and the resort-like Avila Beach which is a top destination for sunbathing, paddle-boarding, kayaking and fishing.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in San Luis Obispo: Best Areas & Hotels

15. Anaheim

Ferris wheel in Anaheim

Although the Disneyland Resort draws most visitors to Anaheim, this sunny Southern California city (about 30 miles from Los Angeles) offers plenty of other attractions. In addition to the Disney-theme amusement park, families with kids will also enjoy the Knott's Berry Farm theme park and the playground at Yorba Regional Park, a landscaped 140-acre green space with picnic areas and walking/biking paths.

Anaheim has several noteworthy destinations for dining, including the Anaheim GardenWalk near Disneyland, the Food Hall at the Anaheim Packing House, and the palm tree-lined Center Street Promenade. For those who want to get some fresh air, the 58-acre Oak Canyon Nature Center in eastern Anaheim has scenic hiking trails.

16. The Redwood Forests of Humboldt County

The redwood forests of Humboldt County

Humboldt County is an escape to the great outdoors, a remote area of redwood groves, secluded beaches, and rushing rivers. The combination of fragrant forests and salty ocean breezes gives the air an invigorating quality. While the wide open spaces and towering trees may make visitors feel small, the incredible scenery instills a respect for nature. This rugged and unspoiled environment is an inspiring place for hiking, hunting, fishing, and outdoor adventures.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as an International Biosphere Reserve, the Redwood National and State Parks (which comprise four separate parks: Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park) contain the world's oldest and tallest redwood trees, some reaching over 375 feet in height.

Many of the best hikes in the Redwood National and State Parks are found at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This lush old-growth redwoods park features a scenic 10-mile drive, 75 miles of trails for hiking, picnic areas, plus a pristine beach, but it is most famous for Fern Canyon. This fern-covered canyon traversed by a fresh-water creek was the filming location for some scenes in the The Lost World: Jurassic Park movie.

A little over an hour south of Redwood National and State Parks is Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California's biggest redwood state park (covering 53,000 acres), which includes the world's largest old-growth redwood forest (17,000 acres). Visitors can drive through the park's 32-mile Avenue of the Giants to admire the lofty redwood trees while getting a sense of the forest's enormity. The park also has 100 miles of hiking trails with plenty of variety for all fitness levels.

Amid the magnificent redwood forests along the Humboldt Bay is the historic seaport of Eureka, Humboldt County's main urban center. Eureka's Old Town boasts hundreds of ornate Victorian buildings. The most notable is the Carson Mansion built in the 1880s for lumber baron William Carson. Several of the old Victorians have been converted into bed & breakfasts, such as the luxurious Carter House Inns. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the English Tudor-style Eureka Inn was built in 1922 for nature-loving vacationers.

For those who don't care much about high thread-count sheets and prefer to sleep under the redwood trees and stars, Humboldt County is the ideal destination. The area has expansive camping sites in pristine locations. Among the best campgrounds in the Redwood National and State Parks are Mill Creek Campground in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, the Elk Prairie Campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and the Jedediah Smith Campgrounds at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

17. Mammoth Lakes: Hiking, Fishing, and Skiing

Mammoth Lakes

One of California's top off-the-beaten-path destinations, Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra Mountains draws many visitors for outdoor adventures. The sunny weather and crisp mountain air invigorates the body and soul, while the incredible scenery provides an amazing setting for hiking and mountain biking.

Mammoth Lakes has more than 300 miles of hiking trails in diverse wilderness areas such as Devils Postpile National Monument and the backpacking routes along the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail. The landscape varies from peaceful valleys, meadows, crystal-clear lakes, and pine forests to high-mountain desert and granite crags, including a summit that soars to 11,053 feet.

With nearly a hundred lakes, as well as streams and creeks, Mammoth Lakes is an incredible place for fishing during the season, which runs from the end of April through early November. An exception is made for catch-and-release fishing, which is allowed year-round at the Upper Owens River and East Walker River.

In the winter, Mammoth Lakes is popular for cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, and snowboarding, as well as ice-skating and sledding. The alpine ski terrain at the extensive Mammoth Mountain Resort covers 3,500 acres with 150 trails. Because of the abundant snowfall at this high-alpine location, the downhill ski season extends as late as August. Any time of year, Mammoth Lakes is ready to welcome visitors to its gourmet restaurants, rustic lodges, and upscale mountain resorts.

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Best Beaches in California: Searching for the right beach to plan your vacation around? Have a read through our list of Best Beaches in California. To find the right places to stay, see our article on the Top Beach Resorts in California.

Outdoor Adventures in California: Highlights for outdoor lovers include hiking and camping beneath the giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park or embarking on some of the best hiking trails in California. In winter, hit the slopes with our guide to the best ski resorts in California. There are more ski resorts here than you might think.

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