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Places in California You Have to Visit At Least Once

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California is a state located on the west coast of the United States known for its beautiful beaches, diverse landscape, and vibrant culture. From the bustling city of Los Angeles to the towering redwoods of the north, California has something to offer everyone. If you’re planning a trip to the Golden State of California, here are a few places that you definitely have to visit at least once!

California places to visit
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McWay Falls in Big Sur

Easily one of the most iconic sights in California, McWay Falls is an 80-foot waterfall dropping down into a stretch of untouched beach in an uninhabited cove.  The waterfalls are tucked inside the iconic Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, but getting to them requires a relatively easy and short hike, making it a perfect stop to make and stretch your legs out during a road trip.

The area around the falls is home to a variety of plants and animals, including coastal chaparral, redwoods, and sea otters. Parking can be a challenge in this area and there is a $10 small parking lot nearby. As of this writing, there is no pathway down to the beach so visitors can only view the falls from above.

South Lake Tahoe

A dreamy alpine lake towered by snow-capped peaks? Yes, please! Surrounded by the gorgeous Sierras, Lake Tahoe is one of the largest lakes in the United States, creating a picture-perfect playground for summer and winter adventures alike.

During the colder months, Lake Tahoe is a prime destination for winter sports, with 14 different ski resorts to choose from. If skiing or snowboarding isn’t what you want to do, though, there’s a wide array of other fun activities like ice skating, tubing, and even hiking in search of hidden winter wonderlands (the Emerald Lake hike is an absolute dream!) Summer brings in beach activities, with crystal-clear waters ranging from sapphire blues to emerald hues and sand so soft you could easily confuse it for a tropical island if it weren’t for the snow-capped peaks decorating the background.​​

Our favorite place to stay in South Lake Tahoe is the Edgewood Tahoe!

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

When we talk about places to visit in California we have to include the majestic trees! Sequoia National Park is home to most of the largest sequoia trees in the world, creating mesmerizing views of natural canopies lined by snow-capped peaks.

California places to visit sequoia national park
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Fun fact: Did you know sequoias are the biggest trees on earth? Redwoods can grow taller, but sequoias beat them in overall size. The world’s largest tree, the General Sherman Tree, resides in Sequoia.

While the magic of seeing the groves of sequoias is reason enough to visit, Sequoia National Park also boasts the highest peak in the continental USA, one of the deepest canyons on the continent, and the most spectacular vistas of the Great Western Divide.

Joshua Tree National Park

Keen to uncover California’s desert magic? Joshua Tree National Park sits exactly where the Mojave and the Colorado deserts meet, creating a combination of two different ecosystems that, put together, create a bizarre landscape that looks straight out of this world.

What’s best? Joshua Tree is a mecca for adventurers, with hiking, biking, camping, horseback riding, and rock climbing being just a few of the activities on the menu. Moreover, the park is considered a prime destination for stargazing, so make sure you stay at least a night to try and catch a glimpse of the Milky Way.

Napa Valley

It’s no secret that California is a wine-lovers paradise, and Napa Valley is king when it comes to a grape-filled getaway. In the Napa Valley, you will find quaint vineyards rolling over golden hills, boutique resorts, relaxing spas offering wine lists bigger than their food menus, and farm-to-table restaurants.

California places to visit napa valley

As for what to do here, well, wine is definitely the star! Beringer is a great choice for newbies, Castello di Amorosa is a must if you don’t mind splurging a bit, and Chateau Montelena is a lovely pick if a picture-perfect estate is what you’re after. If you prefer sparking wine, we have an entire article dedicated to sparkling wine locations in Napa and Sonoma

Our favorite place to stay in the area is the Napa Vineyard House which is a smaller boutique hotel that serves Bouchon pastries!

Channel Islands National Park

Often dubbed the Galapagos of North America, Channel Islands National Park is made up of five remote islands whose landscapes remain pretty much untouched. Think jutting rock cliffs, isolated ocean views, and wildlife you won’t find anywhere else in the world, all of which you can enjoy in silence because Channel Islands still remains a pretty unexplored place in the national park system.

To get there, you’ll have to take a boat or plane to Anacapa Island or Santa Cruz, which you can access at any time of the year. The remaining three islands can be a bit trickier to get to, but it’s possible to find trips on a seasonal basis. There are no hotels or amenities in Channel Islands, so make sure you come prepared! The trip can be treated as a day adventure, but if you wish to spend the night, there are several rustic on-site campsites that, while basic, provide a fantastic opportunity to spend a night making this a unique experience!

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