A Map of the Best California Regions

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California Places by Area

California Regions Map
Betsy Malloy

The map above shows California divided into eight areas. There's no standard definition of these areas, and you may see the state divided up differently elsewhere. This map was created for California visitors and California residents who want to explore more of their state, grouping things that are easy to visit in one trip or as part of a road trip.

Use the California regions map above to identify areas you're interested in visiting, then consult the lists on the following pages to get visitor guides for places in that area.

If you'd rather find places to go in California in a different way, you can use this list of California places A to Z. If you're a person who understands that one itinerary doesn't fit all travelers and are looking for places to go that you will like, you can get some ideas in this guide to California sights by Interest.

02 of 10

Southern California

Cyclists at Santa Monica, California, USA
Cultura Travel/Mark Webster / Getty Images

Californians call it SoCal. Everyone else says Southern California. From a tourist's perspective, this is the area with gorgeous beaches, big cities and lots of theme parks. Vacationers of almost every type can find something to do in this area. 

Place to Visit in Los Angeles and Orange County

Places to Visit in and Around San Diego

More Places in Southern California

03 of 10

California Deserts: Mojave and Colorado

Joshua Tree National Park, California, US
Corey Jenkins / Getty Images

California's desert area covers the southeast part of the state. It includes three desert regions. Two are summarized here and the third one is on the next page.

Places to Visit in the Mojave Desert

The Mojave Desert is characterized by the Joshua Trees that grow there. It's also where you'll find the last remnants of historic US Route 66 and Death Valley, which is both the lowest spot in North American and the hottest place on earth.

Places to Visit in the Colorado Desert

The Colorado Desert includes Palm Springs, the Salton Sea, and Anza-Borrego State Park. Its low elevation makes it California's warmest desert region. Find out more about those places:

04 of 10

Eastern California and the Great Basin Desert

Eastern Slopes of Sierra Nevada Mountains
Mardis Coers / Getty Images

Eastern California is in the Great Basin Desert, a so-called cold desert, where most of the precipitation falls as snow. It's the only one of its kind in the U.S. It's dry because the Sierra Nevada Mountains create a rain shadow effect. And its high elevation makes it cold. Only a small part of the desert extends into California and every map seems to have a different boundary.

For travel purposes in California, it includes the Scenic Highway 395 corridor along the eastern side of the Sierras.

Places to Visit in Eastern California

Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10

California Mountains

Almost Heaven-5
Ken Babione / Getty Images

California has lots of mountains. It also has lots of tall hills that people call mountains. For this guide, we're talking about the Sierra Nevada Mountains that lie between the central valley and the high desert to the east.

The mountains are where you'll find two of California's best-known national parks and scenic Lake Tahoe. On its western slopes, you'll find some charming old Gold Rush towns to visit.

Places to Go in the California Mountains

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Central Corridor (I-5 and US Hwy 101)

Crops grow on fertile farm land
Pgiam / Getty Images

Between the big mountains in the east and the coastal range in the west, you'll find central California. U.S. Hwy 101 and Interstate Hwy 5 run through it, going north/south. Sights along the coast on Hwy 101 between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo are included in the Central Coast Region

Places to Go Along Hwy 101

Traveling inland on Hwy 101, you'll find some charming and historic places that are worth a stop or a side trip.

Places to Go Along I-5

The state capitol is worth a quick look and the river delta is one of those little secrets that Californians want to keep to themselves.

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Central Coast

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, California, USA
Pgiam / Getty Images

From your perspective as a visitor, California's central coast covers pretty much anything with a view of the ocean between Los Angeles and Monterey.

Places to Visit on the Central Coast

Listed in geographic order from south to north:

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San Francisco Bay Area

San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge
franckreporter / Getty Images

San Francisco is the main place to go in this region, but the Bay Area extends south to Santa Cruz, east past Berkeley and north into Marin County.

If you just want to visit the city of San Francisco, all you need is this ​​guide to Visiting San Francisco.

Places to Go North of San Francisco

Places to Go South of San Francisco

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

Wine Country: Napa and Sonoma

Napa Valley Wine Country Vineyard
Michael Marquand / Getty Images

California has lots of wine-growing areas, but when we say Wine Country we mean Napa and Sonoma.

Places to Go in Napa

Places to Go in Sonoma

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Far North California

Avenue of giant redwood California
Noppawat Tom Charoensinphon / Getty Images

This area covers almost one-third of the state, but it gets less than one-tenth of its visitors. The sights below are divided into ones on the coast and ones inland. Coastal Marin County is included in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Places to Go on the Northern California Coast

Places to Go in Inland Northern California

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