• 12 Stunning Waterfalls In Yosemite That You Will Love

    Are you ready to see some of the most stunning waterfalls in Yosemite? There are some seriously beautiful waterfalls in Yosemite National Park. These falls range from 2,425 feet to 100 feet tall. Whether you’re looking for waterfalls that are easily accessible or waterfalls that you have to hike to, you can find them in Yosemite. You won’t want to let your trip to Yosemite end without checking out some of the falls in the park.

    Let’s get started!

    waterfall with steps in foreground

    Waterfalls In Yosemite Frequently Asked Questions

    How many waterfalls are in Yosemite?

    There are over twenty waterfalls in Yosemite National Park.

    Are Yosemite Falls and Bridal Veil Falls the same thing?

    No, they are not the same things. Bridal Veil Falls is basically the little sister to Yosemite Falls.

    Is Yosemite Falls the tallest waterfall in the United States?

    Yes, it is. Actually, Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in all of North America.

    How difficult is the hike to Yosemite Falls?

    It is fairly strenuous. Keep reading and we will go over the hike with you below!

    12 Stunning Waterfalls In Yosemite That You Will Love

    Yosemite Falls

    Yosemite Falls is usually flowing between the months of November and July with the peak flow occurring in the month of May. It is actually made up of three cascades, Upper Fall, middle cascades, and Lower Yosemite Fall. You can get views of Yosemite Falls in various locations around the park including Yosemite Village and the Yosemite Valley Lodge.

    To view the lower falls, you can take an easy one-mile loop trail that will take you to the base of the waterfall. If you take the eastern side of the loop from the shuttle stop, that part of the trail is wheelchair accessible.

    To view the upper falls you will need to take the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. This trail is heavily trafficked as it leads to the most popular waterfall in the national park. It’s 7.6 miles out and back near Yosemite Valley. The best time to take this trail is between April and October. This trail is ranked hard in difficulty and includes features like narrow rock cliff portions of the trail, overlooks, and approximately 3200 feet of elevation gain.

    This is a strenuous all-day hike. You need to be sure you are prepared for the 6-8 hours spent on the trail. it’s recommended that you have one liter of water for every two hours spent on the trail hiking.

    wooden boardwalk leading to waterfall in background

    Vernal Falls

    Vernal Falls is one of the most stunning and most visited waterfalls in Yosemite. One trail to reach this waterfall is called the Mist Trail. It’s an out and back trail ranked as hard. You will hike three miles round trip starting at the Happy Isles Nature Center, out to Vernal Falls, and back to the nature center.

    You can find the trail near Yosemite Valley and is best accessed from May until November. You should plan on spending 2-5 hours hiking and enjoying the waterfall on the Mist Trail. It is ranked as moderate in difficulty and it gains around 1,000 feet of elevation from the nature center to Vernal Falls, so keep this in mind when deciding if this trail is the right fit for you. Water and bathrooms are both available near the trail.

    With Vernal Falls being one of the most popular destinations in Yosemite National Park, you can expect the trail and waterfall viewing areas to be heavily trafficked. The stairs in front of the waterfall have become an iconic photo spot in the park, but keep in mind that the steps are very slippery from the mist from the waterfall.

    This Yosemite waterfall stands at 317 feet and is located on the Merced River. It is one of the most powerful waterfalls in Yosemite. Unlike other popular falls in the park, it can not be reached by car.

    steps leading up to view of waterfall

    Horsetail Fall

    Have you ever seen a firewall? Horsetail Fall falls over the eastern wall of El Capitan in the Yosemite Valley. If you are visiting the waterfall in mid to late February you may get the chance to see Horsetail Fall glow orange when it is lit by the sunset. The national park has put restrictions in place due to the popularity of this event, you will want to be sure to do your research to learn about what roads are closed, where to park, and other important information regarding the falls.

    Of course, the fire fall has always been around as long as Yosemite has been around, it was basically unknown until it was photographed by Galen Rowell in 1973 for the first color photo for National Geographic. Ansel Adams has previously captured the firewall but because it was in black and white the event remained relatively unknown.

    Horsetail Fall has a short season, flowing from December to April. You can view this waterfall by parking at the Yosemite Falls parking lot west of the Yosemite Valley Lodge and walking 1.5 miles to the El Capitan Picnic Area where you can get great views of the fall. Then, you will walk the 1.5 miles back to the parking lot.

    waterfall that looks like its on fire because of the sunset

    Nevada Falls

    If you are hiking to Vernal Falls, you need to only hike 1.3 miles further to reach Nevada Falls. The John Muir Trail also leads to the top of the falls while allowing you to bypass Vernal Falls. If you are taking the Mist Trail it will gain 1,000 feet in elevation from the nature center to Vernal Falls, then another 1,000 feet of elevation between Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls.

    Starting from the nature center, hiking to Nevada Falls, then back to the nature center is 5.8 miles. Going this far on the Mist Trail brings the ranking of the trail to strenuous. When hiking on Mist Trail to Nevada Falls you should plan on spending around 5-6 hours hiking and enjoying the waterfall.

    The area that the waterfall is in has a tragic history. The Mariposa Battalion was sent to the area around the falls to evict the Native Americans in the area to a reservation in the Central Valley so that white settlers could continue their search for gold in the west.

    Dr. Lafayette Bunnell was one of the members of the battalion to first see the falls and he names it Nevada, which was an adjective in Spanish that meant snowy.

    rocks cliffs and waterfall

    Ribbon Fall

    Ribbon Fall is a skinny waterfall on the west wall of Yosemite Valley’s west end, west of El Capitan. It is one of the tallest waterfalls in Yosemite at 1,612 feet tall. It is actually said that Ribbon Fall is the tallest single drop in North America.

    There is not an official trail that will take you to see this waterfall. However, if you are looking for a hiking opportunity, you can reach Ribbon Falls off of the 8.4-mile hike from the North Kaibab Trailhead, about 5.2 miles from the Phantom Ranch.

    Some years have seen an exceptional ice cone developed at the base of the waterfall in the winter months. This deposit of ice can reach 200 feet high! For reference, the ice cone for Yosemite Falls has been recorded at 322 feet in depth.

    water in foreground and waterfall in background

    Wildcat Falls

    Wildcat Falls in Yosemite National Park is a great waterfall to visit if you want to avoid crowds. This waterfall is a bit more unheard of when compared to the popular Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls. This multi-tiered waterfall is 650 feet tall and creates a private retreat for visitors. The path to the falls is just 0.15 miles round trip.

    If you are entering Yosemite National Park on Route 140, Wildcat Falls is the first fall you will come to. It’s located on the west side of Yosemite Valley. To reach the waterfall you will park at the turnout west of the Cascades Parking Area. Then, you will take the unmarked path from the turnout that heads north. You will cross a small meadow along the side of the road, continue along Wildcat Creek, and then will reach the tumbling waterfall.

    This is a super short and easy hiking trail that will take you to a private piece of paradise within the park. The only thing that might make this trail a bit difficult is that it is unmarked. This is by far one of Yosemite’s most overlooked waterfalls, so if you get the chance to visit, you should as it is unmarred by overcrowding.

    waterfall surrounded by trees and rock cliffs

    Waterwheel Falls

    Any travelers looking for long and difficult waterfall hikes in Yosemite? The trail to Waterwheel Falls is a strenuous 20.6-mile hike near Yosemite Valley. It is best hiked between March and October. If you are traveling with older kids who are experienced hikers, this could be such a fun thing to experience when in Yosemite National Park.

    You can power through and hike it all in one day or get an overnight permit to backcountry camp. You will pass several waterfalls on your way to Waterwheel Falls making this one of the best waterfalls in Yosemite to visit during your time spent in the park.

    For the first four miles on the trail, you will enjoy a relatively easy hike through flat meadows. Later you descend into the canyon, encounter switchbacks, come to Glen Aulin Camp, and from there you will reach Waterwheel Falls. The final few miles between the camp and falls is the steepest part of the trail and it can be quite brutal to hike.

    waterfall close up

    Bridal Veil Falls

    Bridal Veil Falls plunges 620 feet and is one of the best waterfalls in Yosemite. As one of the best, you can imagine how popular this waterfall is. The trail to the falls gains approximately 80 feet and is just 0.5 miles round trip. It’s one of the best easy trails in Yosemite and you only need to plan on spending around twenty minutes hiking to the waterfall.

    The trail is open year-round. However, the water is at peak flow in spring and early summer. In general, most of the waterfalls are at peak flow around the month of May. If you are traveling with kids, this is a great trail to hike with them since it is so short and easy. Plus, you will be happy to know that there are public restrooms in the parking area.

    This waterfall was created by glacier runoff that craved away at the rock. It is one of the most iconic waterfalls in Yosemite National Park. If you have been looking for hikes in Yosemite with waterfalls, this is one of the easiest and best that the park has to offer.

    waterfall far away in valley

    Wapama Falls

    The Wapama Falls Trail is 4.6 miles out and back. It’s best visited between May and October. This trail is heavily trafficked so you are unlikely to be alone during your visit. The trail is ranked moderate in difficulty and gains around 950 feet in elevation.

    The trail will take you around the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on the Tuolumne River which will give you views of Hetch Hetchy Dome as well as Kolana Rock. This is a really beautiful trail that has you walking near water the whole time and there are bridges and viewing areas around the falls. This is one of the prettiest waterfall hikes in Yosemite National Park!

    bridge in front of two waterfalls, among the most popular waterfalls in Yosemite

    Tueeulala Falls

    You will find Teeulala Falls on the north side of the Hetch Hetchy Valley. The waterfall stands at roughly 880 feet and spills down into the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on the Tuolumne River.

    Teeulala Falls is the sister falls to Wapama Falls as they both drop down into the same reservoir. You will find Teeulala Falls about 1.7 miles along the trail. On average, the waterfall is usually around 40 feet wide and has the best flow consistency between March and June. The name of the falls was given by the Native Americans and was used by them for thousands of years prior to the discovery of the waterfall by westerner Nathaniel Screech in 1850.

    two waterfalls falling into body of waterfall

    Illilouette Fall

    Of all of the waterfalls in Yosemite that aren’t uber-popular, you will want to make sure this one is on your bucket list. You will find the trailhead at Glacier Point Road, a sixteen-mile drive from the turnoff for Glacier Point. You will park at Glacier Point where you will have access to restrooms before or after your hike.

    The trail is four miles round trip, or five miles if you want to include the Panorama Point Vista. The trail encompasses a total of 1,400 feet of elevation change. The trail runs next to pretty cascades along the Illiouette Creek above the falls and the views are breathtaking. From the trail, you can see the eastern Yosemite Valley, including North Dome, Vernal and Nevada Falls, and other classic valley landmarks.

    The best time to hike to Illiouette Fall is in the spring and early summer. During this time the creek is full of water and you will find pretty wildflowers in the area. You should plan for around 2-4 hours spent hiking and enjoying the waterfall. The trail is of medium difficulty due to the elevation change. This trail is fairly popular so you are likely to pass many other hikers on the route.

    waterfall tumbling down steep fall

    Chinualna Falls

    This beautiful little waterfall can be found on a heavily trafficked 7.7 miles out and back trail near Fish Camp. The Chinualna falls Trail gains 2,200 feet in elevation and is best hiked from June to October. This is one of the lesser-known waterfalls in Yosemite National Park, but also one of the coolest.

    You will find many little pools and indents in the rock that were created from the water wearing away at the rock over time. Like most Yosemite waterfalls, you start the hike below the waterfall and must hike up to reach it.

    If this trail seems too long for you, you may be interested in hiking to Lower Chilnualna Falls. It’s only 0.6 miles on an out and back trail. It’s ranked as moderate in difficulty and gains 252 feet of elevation. You only need about thirty minutes of hiking to reach the falls.

    pool of water with waterfall behind, one of the prettiest waterfalls in Yosemite

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  • 15 Wonderful Things To Do In Central Coast California

    Are you ready to explore the best things to do in central coast California? You’re in the right place! The central coast is characterized by a beautiful rocky coastline, amazing scuba diving, and sea life viewing, fantastic hiking trails, fun cities, and more. For travelers planning a trip to the central coast, it can be tricky to know what exactly to include in your travels.

    Whether you’re looking for a foodie paradise, a camping retreat, a relaxing coastal getaway, or anything in between, you are sure to find it on the central coast. From San Francisco to Morro Bay, let’s explore what the central coast has to offer!

    ocean with rock feature sticking out of the water

    15 Wonderful Things To Do In Central Coast California

    Monterey Bay Aquarium

    When talking about the best things to do in central coast California, it would be a shame to not talk about the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This aquarium is known for its outstanding efforts in the area of conservation. They do great work making sure the public is educated on sustainable seafood, climate change, and how each individual affects the fate of the ocean. In fact, Betty White requested donations to the Monterey Bay Aquarium instead of flowers or other gifts upon her death.

    The aquarium is located on Cannery Row, the most popular street in Monterey. Outside of the aquarium, you will find historic buildings, some of the best Monterey restaurants, sweet shops, and more. In the aquarium, you will be greeted by some of the most stunning exhibits that you have ever seen. Giant grouper, sea otters, starfish, octopus, and other marine life now call the Monterey Bay Aquarium home. The Nature Center, touch pools, and Wharf exhibits are particularly popular!

    outside of the Monterey Bay Aquarium on waters edge, one of the best things to do in central coast california

    Elephant Seal Vista Point

    You will find the Elephant Seal Vista Point in San Luis Obispo County in San Simeon, California. If you are taking a Pacific Coast Highway road trip, the Elephant Seal Vista Point makes a great addition to your itinerary. Here at the vista point, you can see sea lions lounging about, making friends, and picking fights. The sea lions are seen mainly during birthing and breeding seasons. However, you can usually see seals at any time of year.

    January: females will arrive as they are ready to give birth and the peak pupping season occurs at the end of the month.
    February: the pups are being weaned while mating and fighting peaks around the middle of the month.
    March: it is mainly babies left on the beach.
    April: young seals and females arrive to molt and the youngest seals leave the beach around this time.
    May: the seals finish their molting season and return to the ocean during this month.
    June: young males arrive to molt.
    July: young males and older males molting on the beach.
    August: the month with the fewest seals at the vista point as molting is finished for all the seals.
    September: a young generation of seals arrive at the beach.
    October: population of seals on the beach is at an all-time high.
    November: more mature bull will come to the beach towards the end of the month.
    December: as bulls continue to arrive, competition arises over breeding and birthing areas, and the first pup is usually born sometime in the middle of the month.

    seal lions on sandy beach along pacific coast highway

    Visit The Carmel Mission Basilica 

    For history-driven travelers, visiting the Carmel Mission Basilica is one of the best things to do in Central Coast California. It was constructed in 1797 in Carmel-By-The-Sea and is an incredible, authentically restored Roman Catholic mission. This historical landmark in Carmel stands out as one of the most beautiful buildings in the area.

    The grounds are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but on the other days of the week, you are free to explore the beauty that the mission holds. There is a small admission cost to enter the mission grounds and children aged six and younger get in for free. During your visit, you can enjoy the gardens, beautiful courtyard, museum, and gift shop, as well as learn about the history and significance of the mission and the man who founded the mission.

    carmel mission basilica exterior

    Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

    Santa Cruz has a simply amazing boardwalk. It has rides, games, food stands, shops, music, and occasionally, events. The boardwalk is among the best things to do in Santa Cruz as it’s the only remaining major seaside amusement park on the west coast, making it a must for your list of things to do in central coast California. It holds more than forty rides and attractions, more than twenty-five games, two large video game arcades, an indoor mini-golf course, more than thirty restaurants, a bowling center, a laser tag arena, and of course, specialty shops as well.

    Walking around the boardwalk and enjoying the area is completely free. If you wish to ride the rides and play games, you can purchase tickets for each individual ride or you can buy passes for the day or seasons. The rides are open from Memorial Day through Labor Day and on weekends and holidays in spring and fall. However, if you are visiting during a time when the rides aren’t operating, you can still enjoy the arcades and the bowling alley as they are open every day, year-round.

    aerial photo of boardwalk

    See The Iconic Golden Gate Bridge

    Ask anyone what’s one of the most iconic things to do in central coast California, and nine times out of ten, they will say to visit the Gold Gate Bridge. Simply, take a drive or walk across the bridge, or you can view it from many locations in the San Francisco Bay area. While you are in the area, you will also be able to get views of Alcatraz Island as well.

    Some of The Best Bridge Viewpoints:
    Golden Gate Overlook: the overlook is above historic batteries in the area, this is a great place for bikers and runners to stop and view the bridge.
    The Battery East Vista: one of the closest views of the bridge, short of actually being on it.
    Fort Baker: this view is particularly stunning and is great for families as it is near The Bay Area Discovery Museum
    Fort Point National Historic Site: this site gives you views of the bridge from down below, next to a Civil-War era brick fortress.
    Baker Beach: arguably the prettiest and most iconic view of the bridge.
    Battery Rathbone: this is one of the most underrated viewpoints of the bridge, you also get a view of the Point Bonitas Lighthouse, and an expansive view of the bay.

    Golden Gate Bridge in background, beach with rocks on it in foreground, one of the best things to do in central coast california
    View from Baker Beach
    View from Battery Rathbone

    Eat at Lalla Grille

    Lalla Grille is one of the best restaurants in Monterey! It’s located on Cannery Row and is famous for its mouthwatering loaded lobster nachos. Well, the lobster nachos and the most outrageous ocean views in the city. The large window let light and salty ocean breezes roll into the dining room, adding to your experience at Lalla. You will find more fresh seafood dishes, great drinks, and yummy desserts on their menu as well.

    view from restaurants in central coast california

    Big Basin Redwoods State Park

    The Big Basin Redwoods State Park was established in 1902 and is the oldest of the California state parks. It’s located in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains and is home to the famous California redwoods. Some of these trees are more than fifty feet around! Many of them predate the Roman Empire and match the Statue of Liberty in height, making a visit to Big Basin Redwoods State Park to see them for yourselves one of the best things to do in central coast California.

    Hiking, biking, and camping are among the best things to do in the park. There are four standard campgrounds in the park with more than 140 campsites to choose from in these campgrounds, or you can camp at one f the backcountry trail camps. Hikers will love this state park as they have incredible trails with great views, waterfalls, and of course opportunities to get close to the giant redwoods. You can find trails at every difficulty level and length so you can be sure that you will find a trail that fits your needs.

    MESSAGE: The Big Basin Redwoods State Park was recently affected by a wildfire. The park is slowly opening back up to the public; you will want to be sure to check closures before visiting.

    trail through redwood trees, big basin redwoods state park, one of the best things to do in central coast california

    Hike Soberanes Canyon

    The Soberanes Canyon Trail is a 2.8 mile out and back trail along the Pacific Coast Highway, near Carmel, California. The trail gains around 500 feet of elevation and is rated as hard in difficulty. You will start your hike on a narrow sandy path and then you will continue your ascent, noticing a shift from a desert-like environment to a forest-like environment.

    You will cross primitive wooden bridges, climb stairs, meander by the creek, see mushrooms, wildflowers, and redwoods, and at the end, you will be greeted with amazing views of Monterey Bay! This trail isn’t actually that difficult, it’s the elevation gain that adds to the difficulty level. If you are in fairly decent shape, you can hike the uphill portions slowly, and make it to the top easy peasy. For those who aren’t afraid of a little adventure, you will want to be sure to do add this to your list of things to do in central coast California.

    trail leading into a canyon

    McWay Falls

    McWay Falls is at the top of the list of amazing waterfalls in California. (And definitely one of the most incredible things to do in central coast California!) McWay Falls is a must-stop for anyone traveling on the Pacific Coast Highway as it is one of only two waterfalls that fall directly to the ocean in the United States. You can see this lovely waterfall by visiting Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park or from Highway One directly. If you visit the falls vis the state park, you will need to pay an admission fee; if you’re visiting from Highway One, you can access the falls overlook for free.

    The trail is ranked as easy in difficulty and is only 1.2 miles. The trail is a loop and it’s very popular, so prepare for others to be on the trail while you’re there. A short trail like this is a great way to not only see the waterfall but to stop and stretch your legs on a road trip. On the trail, you will pass through a tunnel, climb stairs, see the beautiful blue water of the cove, and of course, see the beautiful McWay Falls.

    palm tree in foreground, cove and waterfall behind it, and sailboat in the ocean behind that

    Find the Salinas Shipwreck

    Without a doubt, the Salinas shipwreck is one of the most off-the-beaten-path things to do in California. If you’re looking for unique things to do in central coast California, you will want to check this out! The shipwreck is located in the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge. Once you arrive at the refuge, you will see a metal gate to go through. After you go through the gate, you will turn left and begin walking.

    You’ll walk on a gravel and grass path for less than a mile, and then you will reach a sandy path that runs alongside a salt marsh and wetland sanctuary, and leads to the beach. As you make your way out onto the beach, you will immediately notice the wide and wild nature of the beach. This isn’t a tourist destination and the beach is mostly unaltered. The strong sea breeze and secluded nature of the beach make for a unique CA experience. Once you reach the beach, you will need to walk approximately 0.65 miles before you reach the shipwreck.

    shipwreck on beach in Salinas

    Visit the Walton Lighthouse

    The Walton Lighthouse is one of the prettiest lighthouses in California. Located in Santa Cruz, this small breakwater lighthouse stands at just forty-two feet tall in the Small Craft Harbor. The original lightbox in this area was nicknamed the water heater and was used throughout the late nineties. The new harbor lighthouse was built in the old lightboxes’ place and it was dedicated in 2002. The lighthouse that stands today weighs more than 35,000 pounds and was designed to withstand a quarter-million pounds of wave energy!

    lighthouse on jetty and sailboats in the water

    Point Lobos State Natural Preserve

    Point Lobos State Natural Preserve is well known for being among the best things to do in central coast California. The hiking and coastal views in the park are out of this world! When visiting the park, you will want to be sure to visit during the week if you have the chance as it is extremely popular. No matter what day of the week you visit, be sure to arrive early. It is often that the parking lot will reach capacity before ten in the morning. If the parking lot is full when you arrive, you can park alongside the road outside of the park, but be prepared for a possibly long walk into the park.

    Some of the best easy trails in Point Lobos include the 1.6 mile South Plateau Trail and the 0.8 mile Cypress Grove Trail. If you simply wish to enjoy the views and maybe have a picnic overlooking the water, you will want to head to Whalers Cove. This area is stunning and also has access to another short and easy trail. Most of the trail in the park is fairly easy to hike, but for something a bit more challenging, you can hike the 6.7 Point Lobos Loop Trail.

    water and rock features on oceans edge

    Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

    It’s no secret that the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the best road trips in the United States. If you get the opportunity to drive along this picturesque highway while you are in California, don’t let the opportunity pass! The highway was created with the goal of connecting Canada to Mexico. It was a small-scale endeavor at local levels, then when all combined, it became one of the most gorgeous drives in the country.

    There are many stops to add to your Pacific Coast Highway itinerary to make your trip a success. However, the most iconic is the Bixby Creek Bridge. This recognizable bridge has stood on the central coast since August of 1931 and has become a symbol of California. You can see photos of this famous bridge in hotels, museums, and other public spaces all across the country.

    bridge and winding road next to the ocean

    Go Whalewatching

    Whale watching in Monterey Bay is incredible. The gray whales are in the bay from December to May, with the peak time for spotting them is in January through March. Whales migrate to California during winter to give birth. With that being said, humpback whales are spotted in the bay year-round. Seeing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat is an incredible experience, making it a great addition to your list of things to do in central coast California.

    You can find companies offering whale watching tours all around the bay. On the north end of the bay, you can take a whale watching tour out of Santa Cruz. In the middle of the bay, in Moss Landing, you have multiple companies to choose from. Then, on the southern end of the bay in Monterey, you will have several companies to choose from there as well. Whale-watching tours usually last for a couple of hours as they take you deep into Monterey Bay.

    whale jumping out of the water

    Davenport Crack

    This unique rock feature in Davenport, California is something you must see for yourself. The beaches in Davenport draw in photographers from all around the world, as well as visitors looking to enjoy the rock formations, green hills, blooming wildflowers, and overall natural beauty of the area. One of the coolest features in the area is the Davenport Crack. This is a cool place for taking pictures, walking around, and enjoying nature.

    large crack in rock leading to the ocean

    You won’t be at a loss for things to do in central coast California. From nature excursions and wildlife to city life and amazing food, you are sure to fall in love with this little section of California!

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  • 40 Thrilling Things To Do In Northern California

    Are you ready to visit and try some of the best things to do in Northern California? The top half of the Golden State is stunning and has so much for you to see, do, and explore. This beautiful part of the United States is known for its Redwoods and general natural beauty, foods such as artichokes, seafood, and fine wines, as well as being the home of San Fransisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.

    Adventure travelers, history lovers, and foodies all will find enjoyment in Northern California. Whether you plan on camping, road-tripping, or having an exciting city escape, you are sure to have a great time during your visit.

    Let’s get started!

    mountain behind water

    40 Thrilling Things To Do In Northern California

    Old Fishermans Wharf

    The Old Fishermans Wharf is located in the lovely seaside town of Monterey and is one of the best things to do in Northern California. The wharf has been around since the 1800’s and today it is one of the top things to do in Monterey. You will find restaurants, places to buy souvenirs, and sweet shops where you can buy fudge, candy, ice cream, and other snack foods like kettle corn.

    When on the wharf you have beautiful views of the surrounding waters and boats that are anchored nearby. It’s also common to see sea lions, harbor seals, sea birds, and sea otters swimming around the wharf. If you don’t see them, walk to the end and you will definitely hear them barking from the pier in the distance. When it comes time for dinner, consider Palace Trattoria. They have amazing Italian food and it’s one of the best restaurants in Monterey, so it’s for sure worth checking out.

    wharf with boats in water next to it

    Golden Gate Park

    Golden Gate Park is the third most visited park in the United States. Located in beautiful San Fransisco, the park is more than 1,000 acres and is full of fun attractions and points of interest. The park includes a small bison herd, the California Academy of Sciences, the Victorian-era Conservatory of Flowers, the de Young Museum, a Japanese Tea Garden, and more. You can rent bikes to drive through the park or just meander your way through the grounds and enjoy the surroundings.

    white building and flowers in park

    Drive The Pacific Coast Highway

    The U.S. is an incredible place for breathtaking and memorable road trips. Arguably the most iconic of U.S. road trips is driving the Pacific Coast Highway. The highway was created with the goal of connecting Mexico to Canada through the United States. On a small, local scale the road was put together piece by piece and today it’s a well-known and otherworldly sight to behold. Driving across the Bixby Creek Bridge, seeing the blue water and crashing waves below is something you must experience for yourself.

    CA coastline, pacific coast highway

    Santa Cruz Wharf

    The Santa Cruz Wharf extends a half of a mile into the Monterey Bay and is the best place to see sea lions in Northern California. Although you can see sea lions in many places in Northern California, you can always see them playing at the Santa Cruz Wharf. In fact, the sea lion population has tripled in the past forty years in Santa Cruz and they have built holes in the middle of the wharf as viewing stations for the sea lions that call the water beneath the wharf home.

    You will find restaurants, shops, and sweets on the wharf. If you want to grab a bite to eat while you are there, our favorite is Filefish Grill. They have amazing food and the view from the large floor-to-ceiling windows is unmatched. Plus, when you visit the wharf you will be close to many other popular Santa Cruz attractions like the Boardwalk, making it one of the best things to do in Northern California.

    wharf on coast
    source: Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com

    The Painted Ladies

    The Painted Ladies are a highly photographed row of houses in San Francisco located at Hayes and Steiner Streets. You may recognize the iconic row from Full House. If you are planning on driving through SanFran, be sure to swing by the Painted Ladies. Or you can stay a little longer and set up a picnic in the grass in front of the houses. You can lay out a blanket and enjoy lunch with a view of the ladies and the skyline in the background.

    painted houses in San Fran, skyline behind them

    Mission San Juan Bautista

    In San Juan Bautista, California, this Mission is a stunning landmark that has been around since 1797. The church as we know it today was completed in 1813. If you are big into history and the importance that sites like the Mission Jan Juan Bautista have had in the state of California, then visiting the grounds and taking a guided tour is the best way to connect with the history and learn about the role the mission played in forming the state into what it is today.

    outside of a mission church

    Yosemite National Park

    Yosemite is known for being one of the best things to do in Northern California, and for a good reason. The landscapes are out of this world and the national park offers amazing waterfalls, hikes, and sights. Some popular and short hikes in the national park include the 0.5 mile Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, the 1 mile Glacier Point Point Trail, and the 2.2 mile Lower Mariposa Grove Trail. If you get the opportunity to visit Yosemite, even if only for a day, be sure to check out some of the mind-boggling waterfalls in Yosemite.

    Yosemite Valley and waterfall at sunset

    Grab Lunch From Chubby Noodle

    When it’s time for lunch in the NorCal area, consider stopping at the Chubby Noodle. This is an Asian fusion restaurant on Columbus Avenue in San Francisco where you can find Korean pork tacos, spicy garlic noodles, papaya salad, steamed pork buns, and more. If you need vegetarian or gluten-free options, the Chubby Noodle is an option for you.

    bowl of asian food

    Sacramento Discovery Park

    If you are looking for a way to stay active on your travels, the Sacramento Discovery Park makes that possible for you. The park has 302 acres of land where you can enjoy the 32-mile bike trail, picnic sites, and fishing opportunities. For those travelers who like to step off the beaten path and away from the overcrowded tourist hot spots, the Sacramento Discovery Park is right up your alley.

    bridge over river


    The famous prison sits 1.25 miles offshore in the San Francisco Bay. It has played such an interesting role in the history of California and it is beyond fascinating. Did you know that the famous gangster Al Capone played banjo in the prison band at Alcatraz? Yup. Alcatraz originally was used for holding military prisoners, was once occupied by more than a hundred Native American activists and was the home to the first lighthouse on the Pacific Coast.

    Despite Alcatraz’s reputation as being a rough and tough place to be incarcerated, this wasn’t exactly so. In fact, prisoners often requested to be transferred to Alcatraz as they had a one prisoner per cell rule which cut down on fights amongst prisoners. Today, you can view Alcatraz Island from the Golden Gate Bridge and from various viewpoints around the bridge. However, if you want to get a closer look, you can hop on the ferry and take a tour of the historic prison.

    Alcatraz island in bay

    Emerald Bay State Park

    Emerald Bay is one of the best things to do in Northern California as it is a part of the stunning Lake Tahoe. The hiking enthusiasts will love Emerald Bay. There are a variety of hiking trails at different difficulty levels that give you views of the bay and the forests. If you need a short trail, you can stick to the Eagle Falls vista Point Loop which is ranked as easy and is only 0.6 miles. Or, the 1.7-mile Vikingsholm Trail and the 4.4 mile Emerald Point Trail may be more your speed as they are both longer, ranked as moderate in difficulty, and offer stunning views of the bay.

    bay surrounded by woods

    Point Arena Lighthouse

    In Point Arena, California, you will find the Point Arena Lighthouse. This lovely lighthouse stands at 115 feet tall, approximately 130 miles north of San Francisco. This light has been standing for more than 150 years and although visitors can no longer climb the lighthouse due to COVID, perhaps one day in the future that will be a possibility again. Even though climbing the lighthouse isn’t an option at the moment, you can still visit the museum, gift shop, and rocky coastline that the lighthouse sits on.

    lighthouse on coastline

    Mattole Beach in King Range National Conservation Area

    You will find Mattole beach in the town of Petrolia. It is a grayish/black sand beach at the mouth of the Mattole River. If crowded beaches near boardwalks, wharfs, and piers are not your thing, you will probably love Mattole Beach. Shining black rocks sticking up from the sands, driftwood laying on the surface, and small grassy mountains are all staples of this beach. Even better yet, this beach has campsites with picnic tables as well. There are so many great places to camp in Northern California and if you enjoy beach camping, it doesn’t get much better than the sites on Mattole Beach.

    bridge with driftwood

    Golden Gate Bridge

    The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the must-see attractions in Northern California. There are many places in San Francisco and surrounding areas where you can get views of the bridge. Baker Beach gives you views of the bridge, Marin Headlands, and the Golden Gate Strait. Some other bridge viewpoints include the Fort Point National Historic Site, Battery East Vista, Crissy Field, Golden Gate Overlook, and the Point Bonita Lighthouse area.

    Golden Gate Bridge over water

    Breakwater Lighthouse

    For budget travelers, be sure to check out the Breakwater Lighthouse as it is one of the best free things to do in Northern California. Also called the Walton Lighthouse, it sets at the end of a jetty in Santa Cruz, California. Santa Cruz is an amazing town known for its surfing history, boardwalk, and beautiful location on the northern central coast of the state. When visiting the lighthouse you will be nearby to Seabright Beach, Cliff drive Vista Point, and the Santa Cruz Museum of Natura History.

    lighthouse on end of jetty

    Lava Beds National Monument

    Visiting the Lava Beds National Monument is one of the top things to do in Northern California. This unique site shows a story of the past that is full of turmoil, both historically and geologically. This site is home to lava beds, Native American rock art sites, and historic battlefields. How many sites have all of this for visitors to learn about and see? You can learn about the area, go camping, go hiking, see bats, take a cave tour, and more during your visit.

    trail through lava bed

    Lassen Volcanic National Park

    Another volcanic site in Northern California is the Lassen Volcanic National Park. This national park has super pretty hikes and natural features for you to enjoy. The easy 1.9 mile Manzanita Lake Loop Trail is perfect for those traveling with young kids as it typically takes people less than an hour to hike. Then again, if you aren’t big on hiking or you are traveling with very young children, you may be looking for something even shorter. The Sulphur Works Trail is only 0.4 miles and is ranked as easy in difficulty. This trail gives you access to many active and beautiful natural sites. You can see the trail in the photo below.

    geological features in woods

    Monterey Bay Aquarium

    Whether you are traveling with kids or not, a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best things to do in Northern California. The aquarium is world-renowned and simply one of the most stunning aquariums in the world. Said to have inspired the “Jewel of Morro Bay, California” in the movie Finding Dory, this aquarium has two levels that include touch pools, a nature center, an outdoor tide pool area, a wharf exhibit, and so much more.

    The aquarium is one of the best things to do in Monterey. They do incredible work in championing sustainable seafood and the protection of the oceans. They have rallied support from many famous Americans, including the lovable Betty White who upon her death asked for donations to the aquarium. A trip to NoCal just wouldn’t be complete without checking out this iconic attraction.

    outside of Monterey aquarium on waters edge

    Eat Inventive Ice Cream at Milkbomb

    Milkbomb in San Francisco has some of the most imaginative and tasty ice cream and sweet treats that you can find in the United States. This small little shop on 17th Street will blow your mind! They are famous for their Milkbomb sandwiches which are donuts stuffed with ice cream. You can top your creations with things like torched marshmallows, popular cereals, spicy honey, and other interesting toppings.

    ice cream cone

    Redwoods National Park

    The iconic California Redwoods can be found and enjoyed in Redwoods National Park. Around half of the old-growth Redwoods that are remaining are in the Redwoods park system. This includes many giant trees that are taller than the Statue of Liberty. A couple of short and leisurely trails in the park that you may like are the Lady Bird Johnson Grover Trail and the Klamath Overlook Trail.

    trail through redwoods

    Tahoe National Forest

    Tahoe National Forest is a super beautiful part of California. You can enjoy overlooks, camping, hiking, and historic sites in the forest. Two of the most popular sites in the national forest include the Baca Historic townsite Interpretive Trail and the Donner Camp Picnic Site and Interpretive Trail. There are also large Sequoia trees as well as a wild and scenic river in the forest as well.

    water in woods

    California Museum

    Visiting the California Museum is one of the best things to do in Northern California with family. You’ll find this museum in the capital city of Sacramento. It is dedicated to the history and stories of the state of California. The museum is highly interactive, making it a good option for travelers of all ages and abilities.

    outside of California Museum
    source: Cassiohabib / Shutterstock.com

    Chow Down On Loaded Lobster Nachos At Lalla Grille Oceanside

    The lovely Lalla Grille in Monterey has one of the best coastal dishes in the state. Seafood is without a doubt one of the staple foods in California and trying the loaded lobster nachos at Lalla is a great way to experience the uber-fresh seafood for yourself. Other than the delicious food, you are also given breathtaking views of the Monterey Bay from the large windows in the dining room. The windows are frequently open allowing the warm ocean breeze to stroll into the restaurant.

    Fresno Flats Historical Village & Park

    Located in Oakhurst, the Fresno Flats Historical Village & Park is one of the best things to do in Northern California for those who like historical sites and educational experiences. Fresno Flats is a representation of what life was like in the Sierra Nevada foothills and mountains in the 19th century. You can tour the log house, barn, church, jail, and other buildings and sites during your visit.

    old log building in park

    Sonoma Coast State Park

    The picturesque Sonoma Coast is characterized by a rocky coast, long sandy beaches, natural rock arches, and hidden coves. Basically, Sonoma Coast State Park is the textbook image of what the California coastline looks like. If this unique coastline is something you are wanting to see for yourself, it doesn’t get much better than the Sonoma Coast State Park.

    california coasline

    Carmel Mission Basillica

    In the southernmost part of Northern California, you will find the most beautifully and carefully restored Roman Catholic Mission Church in Carmel-By-The-Sea. The mission was founded by Padre Junipero Serra in 1771, a year after he landed ship in Monterey, California. The mission has a small admittance fee and it is well worth the cost as the architecture, history, and importance of the mission is something worth experiencing.

    Mono Lake

    For bird watchers, hikers, and photographers, Mono Lake is a paradise. You can go kayaking, take interpretive trails, and generally enjoy the peace and serenity of Mono Lake while you are there. If you are primarily interested in bird watching or hiking, the South Tufa Area of Mono Lake is the place to be. The Boardwalk Trail and the South Tufa Loop are both short and easy trails that allow you and your little ones to enjoy the lake and natural beauty of the area.

    ale with unique rocks structures

    Black Chasm Cavern National Natural Landmark

    When it comes to fun things to do in Northern California, Black Chasm Cavern National Landmark is a must-do. This cavern is home to helictites. Most travelers are familiar with stalactites and stalagmites, but have you heard of helictites? Around 5% of caves on Earth have helictites and in the Black Chasm, you can see these rare natural features for yourself.

    Old Faithful Geyser of California

    If you’re looking for unique things to do in Northern California, head to the Old Faithful Geyser of California. Did you know there was an Olf Faithful Geyser in California? It’s true, traveling to Wyoming isn’t necessary. California’s version is located in Napa County in Calistoga and is a bit smaller than the Wyoming version. It has a pretty backdrop of palm trees and mountains and you are able to buy locally made products in the shop on site.

    tall geyser spraying into the air

    Gateway Science Museum

    For an educational experience, the Gateway Science Museum delivers. The museum is a kid-oriented attraction with hands-on science exhibits and activities. You will find this exciting museum in the town of Chico where your little ones will enjoy seeing fossils, dinosaur bones, and brightly colored displays. The Gateway Science Museum is one of the best things to do in Northern California with kids.

    Burney Falls

    By far amongst the coolest waterfalls in California, Burney Falls is located in Cassell and is super easy to get to in comparison to other California waterfalls. A short one-mile loop trail that is ranked as easy in difficulty and is appropriate for family travelers with young kids. This waterfall is super unique and looks like it is something out of a fantasy movie; it’s something that you will be glad you saw for yourself.

    large waterfall in woods

    Empire Mine State Park

    The Empire Mine State Park is located in Sierra Nevada Mountains in Grass Valley. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is a California Historical Landmark as well. If you are looking for cheap things to do in Northern California, Empire Mine State Park fits the bill. Adults are $5 and children five and under get free admittance. The mine is one of the oldest, richest, and deepest gold mines in the state. You can see the mine, enjoy the walking trails and picnic areas, as well as enjoy the beautiful grounds while you are there.

    rock building at mine state park

    Grab a Latte From Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters

    When in Sacramento, stopping by the Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters is a must. They roast their own coffee in small batches and have lovely outdoor and indoor cafe seating. Grab yourself an espresso or tea to accompany your cake or pastry and enjoy the Sacramento surroundings.

    coffee being poured

    Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

    This site is for all of you nature lovers out there. Whiskeytown National Recreation Area is home to waterfalls, camping, hiking, and opportunities for swimming, fishing, and paddling. You can take a ranger-led kayak or paddleboard tours of the water to learn about the history and ecosystem of Whiskeytown as well. For those who aren’t traveling with their own paddle watercraft, taking a tour allows you access to the water all while learning about the area at the same time.

    water and forest

    Sundial Bridge

    The Sundial Bridge is a super unique bridge located in Redding, California. It is a pedestrian-only bridge that crosses over the Sacramento River. Part of the bridge that you have to walk over is made of frosted glass creating a beautiful and memorable walk across the Sacramento. Right next to the bridge is the Turtle Bay Museum and Sundial Cafe which really adds to your experience in the area.

    large bridge over river

    Coast Guard Pier

    One of the most well-known animals in Northern California is the sealion. In Monterey, you can find hundreds of them swimming in the waters around the Coast Guard Pier as well as lounging on the rocks around the pier. Although you can see them any time of year, they are congregated in larger numbers in the summer as the warm rocks next to the pier are perfect locations for sunbathing.

    Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark

    When talking about the best things to do in Northern California, we must talk about Lake Shasta Caverns National Landmark. They offer cavern tours and a visit to this site will put you in a fantastic location to see the McCloud arm of the beautiful Shasta Lake. If you’re traveling with kids two years old or younger, they will receive free admission to the landmark.

    sign to lake Shasta caverns
    source: Sundry Photography / Shutterstock.com

    Bridge From “Stand By Me”

    Seeing film locations for our favorite movies is one of the coolest things to do while traveling. You can see the famous bridge from Stand By Me in Shasta County. If you are planning on visiting other sites like the Lake Shasta Caverns and Whiskeytown Recreation Area in the area, you should add the bridge from Stand By Me to your itinerary.

    wooden bridge over river

    Point Lobos State Park

    Without a doubt, Point Lobos State Park is one of the top must-see locations in all of California. It was the first marine reserve created in the United States and more than 47 movies have been filmed in the park! For scuba divers, it doesn’t get much better than Point Lobos. There are viewpoints and trails all throughout the park that showcase the stunning landscape.

    The Whalers Cove area is one of the most popular and beautiful areas in the park, so if you have limited time to spend at Point Lobos, make this area your first stop. You will want to keep in mind that the park is highly visited and as such the parking lot frequently fills to capacity in the morning hours. You’ll need to arrive at the park early to ensure you get a parking spot in the area that you wish to be in. Normally, after the parking lot fills up, you can park on the side of the road outside the park, but you may end up having to walk quite far to get into the park if you choose to park this way.

    rock stairs by ocean

    McCloud Falls

    The McCloud River has three waterfalls and if you take the McCloud river Trail you will pass all three of these stunning waterfalls. The trail is a total of four miles and gains around 500 feet in elevation. It’s open year-round and is ranked easy to moderate in difficulty. McCloud Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in California and definitely worth a stop during your time traveling through the Northern part of the state.

    waterfall in woods

    As you can see, you will not be at a loss for things to do in Northern California during your travels. From the prettiest lakes and natural water features to the cuisine, shopping, and family fun, you can find so much fun and create memories that will last a lifetime when traveling in this part of the Golden State. So, tell us, where will you go first?

    Things To Do In Southern California

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  • 40 Exciting Things To Do In Southern California

    Looking for the best things to do in Southern California? We’ve got you covered! SoCal is a super unique destination in the United States that has an abundance to offer visitors to the region. You can find amazing beaches, hiking trails, grade A museums, and some of the best cuisines in the country, all in Southern California.

    You’ll be able to explore historical locations, have educational experiences, wander through fantastic state and national parks, find weird and unique attractions, and more when you explore the region. Whether you are looking for a nature-focused experience, a foodie haven, or a city break, it’s all yours in Southern California.

    Let’s get started!

    beach with palm trees and home sin background

    What Makes Southern California Unique?

    Southern California has a unique and laid-back atmosphere. You can find a huge collection of pastry shops, coffee houses, restaurants, ice cream shops, boutiques, museums, and a variety of landscapes. This is something that you can’t get to many places. But, when you are in Southern California, you get all of this and more.

    40 Exciting Things To Do In Southern California

    Feel Like You Are In Paris At Le Parfait Paris

    Love macarons? You’ll feel like you are in Paris at Le Parfait Paris in San Diego. They are a French bakery that serves up classic cafe fare and pastries. The cakes, croissants, crepes, creme brûlée, and other small sweet treats are out of this world at Le Parfait Paris. Although they have wonderful indoor seating, sitting outside on the patio really adds to the experience.

    macarons on plate

    Joshua Tree National Park

    This national park is one of the best things to do in Southern California. If you’re traveling with kids, you will want to take the Discovery Trail as it was built with kids in mind. You can find trails in the park of varying lengths and difficulties. For those looking for a leisurely hike, choose from the Arch Rock or Barker Dam Nature Trails as they are both less than 1.5 miles and ranked as easy in difficulty.

    If you like to camp, you will love Joshua Tree! There are more than 300 campsites in the park and there’s simply nothing like camping in Joshua Tree. You can sleep under billions of stars, listen to coyotes howling in the distance, and wake up in the stunning California desert. The campsites in the park range from $15-$25/night.

    tree and rock formation in desert

    Bishop Peak

    Bishop peak offers some of the best Southern California hiking trails. This mountain peak is located in San Luis Obispo and is the tallest of the Nine Sisters. The Nine Sisters are picturesque volcanic Morros around the city. You can take the single-track trail to the summit where you will be 1,559 feet above sea level. You can also head to the top of Terrace Hill and get views from there as well.

    bench overlooking mountain peak
    View of Bishop Peak from Terrace Hill

    Eat at Alta

    Alta is a soul food joint in Los Angeles that is one of the very best restaurants in Southern California. You will find fine dining soul food at Alta; everything from deviled eggs, cornbread, fried fish, greens, mac and cheese, rice and beans, and more. After you eat at Alta, you can grab a coffee from Jackson’s Cafe or visit one of the nearby museums. You’ll be in a great location to visit The Wende Museum, The Museum of Jurassic Technology, The Museum of Tolerance, and The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

    deviled eggs on plate

    Morro Rock Beach

    If you are looking for free things to do in Southern California, consider visiting Morro Rock Beach. The rock at Morro Bay was formed from the plug of a volcano from long ago. For years the rock served as an important navigational aid. Today, we refer to it as Gibraltar of The Pacific and it is the last of the Nine Sisters of San Luis Obispo. Rock Beach is stunningly beautiful and as such draws in photographers, events, and your everyday beachgoers.

    wide beach with Morro rock in background

    See McWay Falls

    If you are looking for nature things to do in Southern California, McWay Falls should be on your radar. This waterfall in Big Sur is iconic. It drops 80 some feet onto an otherworldly beach in a cove below. The McWay Falls Overlook Trail can be accessed via Highway One or from Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Of course, the waterfalls in Yosemite are stunning, but McWay Falls has a special something that puts it in steady competition with the other waterfalls in California.

    photo from up above beach with waterfall

    Visit Lime Kiln State Park

    Lime Kiln State Park offers breathtaking views of Monterey Bay, the rugged coastline of Big Sur, and of course the California Red Woods. One of the coolest things about this park is the diversity of the landscape. Going from the Red Woods to the sea is super unique and it makes Lime Kiln one of the best state parks in California.

    tall tress

    See The Dinosaur Caves Park

    If you are looking for unique things to do in Southern California, Dinosaur Caves Park may be for you. The park is located in Pismo Beach, California, and has a long history as a tourist destination due to the sea caves. In the 1940s an ambitious entrepreneur started building a large Brontosaurus statue near the sea caves in an attempt to draw in visitors from Highway 101. At the time, those who lived nearby wouldn’t allow this. However, today, there is a dinosaur park near the sea caves location.

    Bubblegum Alley

    You will find Bubblegum Alley in the lovely city of San Luis Obispo. For those looking for weird things to do in Southern California, it doesn’t get much better than Bubblegum Alley. It has quickly become one of the most popular, yet unofficial landmarks in the city. Some travelers set their sights on locales that are going to make for the most unique, strange, or intriguing stories and photos. If this is you, add Bubblegum Alley to your Southern California itinerary.

    ally way covered in bubblegum

    Eat Amazing Tacos From Tacos La Guera

    Are tacos from Tacos La Guera the best tacos in Los Angeles? Well, that is for you to decide, but they have made quite a name for themselves, that’s for sure. These tacos are known for being cheap, mouthwatering/eye-rolling level good, and just overall legit. This is without a doubt one of LA’s best food stands. They specialize in fried tacos and they are perfect if you are traveling Southern California on a budget.

    tacos on wooden platter

    Stearns Wharf

    Visiting Stearn Wharf is one of the most fun things to do in Southern California. If you find yourself in Santa Barbara, walking on the old wooden wharf is a must. You can find great ice cream, tarot readings, restaurants, and shops on the wharf. There are regularly dolphins, sea lions, pelicans, and other fascinating wildlife in the waters off of the wharf. If you are planning on a trip to Santa Barbara, the wharf is an easy addition to your itinerary as it’s the most popular attraction in Santa Barbara.

    wharf pier with building on it

    Aquarium Of The Pacific

    If you are looking for things to do in Southern California with family, consider the Aquarium Of The Pacific. This aquarium is located in Long Beach, California, and comes complete with a shark lagoon and sea otter habitat. The Aquarium Of The Pacific is big on promoting sustainable seafood, teaching children about the environment and wildlife through interactive STEM activities, and connecting people to the ocean to achieve a more environmentally stable future.

    Devils Postpile National Monument

    If you find yourself in the uppermost part of Southern California, head to Devils Postpile National Monument. This monument is a geological wonder that was established in 1911 via a presidential proclamation. This is a great place for hiking and enjoying the great outdoors. One of the most popular trails is the Rainbow Falls. It’s a 4.9-mile trail that is ranked as easy and has the amazing payoff of a stunning waterfall.

    If you need a shorter hiking trail at Devils Postpile, take the easy 1.3 mile Devils Postpile Loop Trail. This is best hiked from June to October and will have you climbing natural stairs, crossing bridges, getting creek views, and will take you to the monument’s namesake, the Devils Postpile.

    Visit Sand Dollar Beach

    You will find Sand Dollar Beach in Monterey County, California. This beach is right off of the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s one of the less-visited beaches as it is mostly undeveloped. However, it does have bathrooms and a parking lot as well as an epic landscape. Craggy rock formations lift up out of the sea and create a unique and enticing environment on the beach. Visiting Sand Dollar Beach is one of the most fun things to do in Southern California!

    photo of beach and ocean

    Universal Studios

    Maybe the most well-known of the Southern California attractions is Universal Studios. This theme park in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles is home to the Jurassic World Ride, The Secret Life of Pets Ride, and a thrilling adventure called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey where you will come face to face with magical creatures. Universal is known for being one of the most expensive things to do in Southern California. However, you can truly spend the entire day on site. If you are really interested in visiting this theme park, a whole day full of fun may be worth the high price of admission.

    universal studios signs and globe
    source: Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

    Balboa Park

    Balboa Park in San Diego should be at the top of your list of things to do in Southern California. It’s a stunning 1,200-acre park that has tons of open space, gardens, walking paths, museums, theatres, and the San Diego Zoo. This park encompasses fifteen museums and has many international culture associations. If you are a fan of insta-worthy photo spots, Balboa Park is the place to be.

    water and palm trees in front of beautiful building

    Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center

    Located in Riverside, California, Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center is one of the best free things to do in Southern California. This nature-focused attraction includes an earth science museum and opportunities for children to have hands-on experiences with fossils and rocks. The center is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays.

    Kings Canyon National Park

    Kings Canyon National Park has similar terrain as the Yosemite Valley. It is home to the largest grove of sequoia trees in the world and was referred to as a rival of Yosemite by John Muir. If you enjoy national parks, Kings Canyon won’t disappoint as it has light peaks, waterfalls, and everything you have come to expect from this area of California.

    wooden boardwalk leading to mountain base

    Museum of Natural History

    The Natural History Museum in Morro Bay is one of the best things to do in Southern California. Your little ones are sure to love the interactive exhibits, games, and activities that the museum has set up for them. The views from the museum are beyond spectacular as well. You can see otters swimming below and the famous Morro Rock in the distance.

    Yosemite National Park

    If you are in the upper part of Southern California you may want to consider wandering north to central CA for a day trip to Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is home to some of the most daring hiking trails in the country like the Half Dome hike. While you’re exploring the area, be sure to check out some of the best waterfalls in Yosemite as well.

    landscape of mountains and waterfall

    Stop By Laguna Coffee Company

    You can find the Laguna Coffee Company in Laguna Beach, California. They serve paninis, espresso drinks, gourmet baked goods like muffins, cinnamon rolls, cookies, and more. You can see the ocean from this coffee shop and the vibes are where groovy meets relaxation.

    coffee being poured

    Western Science Center

    The Western Science Center is loads of fun! Located in Hemet, California, you will find archaeology and paleontology themes in the museum. Visitors can check out fossils, dinosaur bones, learn about history, and see live animals as well.

    Mono Lake

    Mono Lake is near Yosemite National Park and is such a unique natural wonder. Closest to the Tioga Pass Entrance of Yosemite near Lee Vining. The lake is a part of the Inyo National Forest. and is basically the gateway to Yosemite. You can find amazing trails in the South Tufa Area of Mono Lake, most of which are ranked as easy in difficulty. For an easy hike, take the 0.8 miles South Tufa Loop Trail. For something more difficult, take the moderate 2.7 miles Mono Lake Viewpoint Trail.

    photos of tall formations rising from lake

    Channel Islands

    If you’re looking for day trips in Southern California, consider visiting the Channel Islands. There are eight islands in an archipelago and none of them allow transportation. There are no bikes, care, or other forms of transportation on the islands. You can catch a ferry to the islands year round, booking through Island Packers. Prices vary by age and children under three are free of charge.

    While Santa Cruz Island is the most popular, Santa Barbara Island is the best for camping and hiking. If you love to be in nature, look for wildlife, and go further than others are willing, add the Channel Islands to your California bucket list.

    aerial photo of the Channel Islands

    Los Angeles County Arboretum

    When it comes to things to do in SoCal, the Los Angeles County Arboretum is one of the best. It’s a beautiful attraction in Los Angeles County where you can find peacocks roaming the grounds, have a picnic or grab lunch from their cafe, enjoy the walking paths, and learn about the history of the site and surrounding area.

    paths through cactus and other southern plants

    Grab Something Sweet From Arely French Bakery Cafe

    If you find yourself in San Diego, be sure to swing by Arely French Bakery Cafe. This cute little French bakery serves soups, salads, sandwiches, and of course delicate pastries like croissants, chocolate cake, tarts, carrot cake, pain au chocolat, tiramisu, and more.

    petite carrot cakes

    Providence Mountain State Recreation Area

    The Providence Mountain State Recreation Area is a unique part of California that is home to the super cool Mitchell Caverns. This recreation area is near the Mojave Desert and has a unique landscape that you will want to see for yourself. The caves can only be seen with a tour guide, so make sure to book your tour ahead of your visit to the recreational area.

    mountains and desert at sunset

    La Brea Tar Pits And Museum

    The La Brea Tar Pits are in the heart of Los Angeles. Thought you could never experience the Ice Age? Think again. You can learn about Mastodons and Mammoths, see a fossil lab, and learn about the excavation of the Tar Pits at this Southern California attraction.

    front of museum in Los Angeles
    source: MSPhotographic / Shutterstock.com

    Hike Soberanes Canyon

    If you are looking for non touristy things to do in Southern California, check out Soberanes Canyon. Although this trail is right off of the famous Pacific Coast Highway, it has never been crowded when we were there. It is a 2.8-mile trail that is ranked as hard in difficulty. You will gain around 490 feet of elevation on the trail and you will be greeted with seriously immaculate views of the ocean.

    See Pfeiffer Falls

    The trail to Pfeiffer Falls is ranked as easy and is only 1.3 miles long. The trail will have you walking over bridges and on wooden boardwalks before ascending a long set of stairs to access the waterfall. The scenery on this hike is really lovely and worth the walk for the surroundings alone.

    hiking trail with wooden fence on sides

    Death Valley National Park

    Death Valley National Park is one of the best things to do in Southern California and it’s also one of the most interesting. The park is the lowest-lying part of North America at 282 feet below sea level. It’s also the driest and hottest; basically, it’s the land of extremes. Even the rocks in the park are fascinating as they have been known to move hundreds of feet.. on their own! Some of the best trails in the park include the short and easy Zabriskie Point Trail, the moderate Mosaic Canyon Trail, and the easy Darwin Falls Trail.

    large flat piece of land in Death Valley national park

    Drive The Pacific Coast Highway

    Driving the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most iconic U.S. road trips and definitely one of the most iconic things to do in Southern California. The road spans 139 miles from Monterey Bay to Morro Bay and has insanely breathtaking views that will leave you awestruck. You can find sea lions basking in the sun on the beaches, hiking trails, viewpoints, and more along this stretch of road. Major U.S. bucket list item!

    curvy road along ocean

    El Matador Beach

    Located in Malibu, El Matador Beach is one of the coolest beaches in California. The beach is characterized by rock cliffs and caves on the beautiful sandy beach. It’s a popular place, especially in the summer months amongst travelers and people looking for the perfect photo location. If you are visiting in the summer, be sure to arrive early to avoid any crowds that may be there later in the day.

    rock cave on beach

    Buena Vista Museum Of Natural History

    The Buena Vista Museum Of Natural History is in Bakersfield, California, and is a great place to visit if you are traveling with kids. Your little ones can learn about North American and African animals, rocks and minerals, dig for fossils, and explore the paleontology collections.

    Angeles National Forest

    You can find amazing hiking opportunities in the Angeles National Forest. For outdoor enthusiasts, try the difficult 11 miles Mount San Antonio and Mount Baldy Notch Trail. For casual hikers, the easy 1.4 miles San Antonio Falls Trail may be more your speed.

    lake in mountains

    Salton Sea

    The Salton Sea is one of the most unique parts of California. The Salton Sea is the largest lake in California and the water in it is two times saltier than the ocean. If you want to truly experience this unique landscape, take the three-mile Bat Caves Buttes Trail. This trail is ranked as moderate in difficulty and shows off the beauty of the area.

    large sea and coastline, mountains in distance

    Be Blown Away At Nite Creamery

    This unique sweet shop in San Luis Obispo is the place to be for one-of-a-kind ice creams. You’ll find Nite Creamery just down the road from Bubblegum Alley. You can order bubble waffle cones, s’mores ice cream with toasted marshmallows, interesting toppings, traditional flavors, or even cereal ice creams if you’d like. They have appealing outdoor seating as well if you want to hang out and join the city for a bit.

    three ice cream cups with bubble cones

    Sequoia National Park

    Sequoia National Park is one of the best things to do in Southern California as it is home to the tallest mountain in the lower forty-eight, the beautiful sequoias which are among the largest and oldest trees in the world, and it is one of the most visually stunning places in California. For an easy hike in the park, try the General Sherman Tree Trail which is ranked as easy and is only 1.2 miles. For the hiking pro, try the Heather Lake via Watchtower Trail which is ranked as hard in difficulty and is just over eight miles in length.

    tall trees in national park

    Watch The Sunset From TV Tower Road In San Luis Obispo

    Without a doubt, watching the sunset from TV Tower Road in San Luis Obispo is one of the most underrated things to do in Southern California. The road up to the viewpoint is dirt, rocky, and uneven. We made it up fine in a van, but you have to go slowly and be careful. Once you reach the top, you will turn left and see a small open area where vehicles can park and view the sunset. This area is also a free dispersed camping location. If you have been looking for places to camp for free off of the Pacific Coast Highway, consider the TV Tower Road camping spot; the views are out of this world!

    Los Padres National Forest

    You will find the Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara, California. After a morning spent in Sant Barabara, grab lunch and head to the Los Padres National Forest for some fun in the sun. You can camp, hike, and picnic in the park. If you are interested in a nature getaway, consider camping in the forest; it’s gorgeous!

    valley view

    Southern California is full of fun and adventure. From mountains and coastline to deserts and valleys, you can find a wide array of activities, towns, parks, and restaurants to check out on your travels. Which of these things to do in Southern California will you do first?

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