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.
You can also just go straight to this list of the top attractions in California.
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
- Beverly Hills
- Catalina Island
- Hermosa Beach
- Laguna Beach
- Long Beach
- Los Angeles
- Newport Beach
- Redondo Beach
- Santa Monica
- Venice Beach
- West Hollywood
Places to Visit in and Around San Diego
More Places in Southern California
California Deserts: Mojave and Colorado
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.
- Calico Ghost Town
- Death Valley National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Mojave National Preserve
- Route 66 in California
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:
Eastern California and the Great Basin Desert
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
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
Central Corridor (I-5 and US Hwy 101)
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.
- Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley
- Mission San Miguel
- Paso Robles
- San Juan Bautista
- Valley of the Oaks
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.
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:
San Francisco Bay Area
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
Wine Country: Napa and Sonoma
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
Far North California
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.