Things to Do in California

  • 01 of 07

    Top Things to Do in California: Most Popular Places

    The Hollywood sign
    The Hollywood sign. PS Photography / Getty Images

    We've been there and done it, our readers have given their opinions in polls, and we looked at what's most popular. It takes all of that to create a really useful list of the best things to do in California. Take a look at these lists of the top things to do in the state's most popular destinations.

  • 02 of 07

    Readers' Top-Rated Things to Do in California

    Evening on the Sunset Strip
    Evening on the Sunset Strip. ©2015 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Don't take our word for it. Thousands of readers have voted in our polls, rating these things to do in California for you, on a scale from "Just say no" to "Awesome." Every place on this list gets over two-thirds of its votes as "good" or "awesome." They're listed from the highest-rated down, with tying entries in alphabetical order.

    San Francisco

    Los Angeles


  • 03 of 07

    Things to Do in the Rest of California

    Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View. ©2005 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Maybe you've been to California before or live here. Maybe you're a contrarian vacationer who'd rather see things others miss. Or maybe you're looking for a particular place to see or thing to do in California. No matter what your motivation, there are plenty of things to see and do, no matter where you go. Check out these indexes to find some places besides the most popular ones listed above.

    Bakersfield: It may not be the place that first comes to mind when you think about things to do in California, but Bakersfield is a well-known destination for country music. And Basque food.

    Catalina Island: Hour for hour, a Catalina Island vacation delivers one of the most relaxing getaways anywhere. And it's just twenty-some miles west of super-crowded Los Angeles.

    Lake Tahoe: A deep, clear-water alpine lake almost a mile high, sitting in a bowl of granite mountain peaks, Lake Tahoe is one of the prettiest places in California and Nevada.

    Monterey: Monterey's waterfront has...MORE a rough-and-tumble feel, with the nicest waterfront views of all the towns in the area.

    Carmel: Carmel-by-the-Sea is among the most charming small towns in California.

    Big Sur: At the edge of the continent, mountains plunge into the sea with little regard for the tiny ribbon of highway that clings tenuously to the slopes.

    Palm Springs: Once known as the "Playground of the Stars," Palm Springs retains much of the charm of the era.

    Napa Valley Wine Country: Napa Valley is popular with anyone who likes food, and wine. People around the world have heard so much about it that they want to see it even if they're not connoisseurs.

    Santa Barbara: One of California's oldest, most historic and most beautiful towns.

    Santa Cruz: The most important thing to know about Santa Cruz: It probably isn't what you think it is (no matter what you think).

    Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: When famed naturalist John Muir wrote about Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in 1891 - long before they were established - he said: "In the vast Sierra wilderness far to the southward of the famous Yosemite Valley, there is a yet grander valley of the same kind." 

    Sonoma County Wine Country: The Sonoma countryside doesn't have the well-defined "valley" feel you'll get in the county next door, but that doesn't mean it lacks beautiful scenery.

    Yosemite National Park: Yosemite is centered on a glacier-carved valley, soaring granite monoliths, cliffs, and waterfalls surround you - and a river runs through the middle of it all.

  • 04 of 07

    Best Beaches

    Playing on Ocean Beach
    Playing on Ocean Beach. © Betsy Malloy Photography

    California is famous for its beaches, but they're not all like the ones you see on television. Use these guides to find the best places to surf, stroll, play and stay, no matter where you go.

    The Cream of the Crop: Best Beaches in the Rest of California for people watching, places to take the kids or go surfing, start up a volleyball game, light a bonfire or take a romantic stroll.

    California's Most Unusual Beaches: This bunch of beaches all offer something unusual for you to see. That might be purple sand, bowling ball-size boulders, sea glass, kooky people or elephant seals - or something else. 

    Los Angeles Beaches: Los Angeles beaches may almost be as much of an icon as Disneyland or the Hollywood sign. 

    Mendocino Beaches: In Mendocino, you won't find people in skimpy swimwear playing volleyball on the sand. What you will find is some beautiful, natural beaches with stunning scenery - and very few people.

    Orange County Beaches: Surf City USA and places where the Real...MORE Housewives of Orange County take their kids.

    San Diego Beaches: San Diego beaches are great in any season. Their appeal in summer is obvious, but that's not all. 

    San Francisco BeachesA few San Francisco beaches are noteworthy and good for a visit when the weather is sunny or for a sunset stroll any day.

    Santa Barbara Beaches: In Santa Barbara County, beaches generally face south, following the temporary curve of the coastline that gives the city its "banana belt" climate.

    Santa Cruz Beaches: To make finding the perfect place for your day at a Santa Cruz beach easier, I put together this list of the best Santa Cruz beaches by type and interest.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Free Things to Do in California

    Watching the Rose Parade in Pasadena
    Watching the Rose Parade. Adapted from Prayitno / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    We don't know about you, but we think free is a pretty great price. Did you know you can watch the Rose Parade for free? Or that San Francisco has free things to do among its top sights than any other California city?

    Find out all the things you can do in California that won't cost you a single penny. See the guide to Free Things to Do in San FranciscoFree Things to Do in HollywoodFree Things to Do in San Diego, and Free Things to Do in Los Angeles.

  • 06 of 07

    Things for the Whole Family to Do in California

    Couple Playing With the Kids at Monterey State Beach
    Playing With the Kids at Monterey State Beach. ©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    If your trip includes children (or if you never grew up yourself), these are some of the enjoyable things you can do in California. Our family travel guides include the places where we've seen families having the most fun, and places our readers vote tops for family travel.

    Here's how to have fun in  Los Angeles with KidsNapa with KidsSan Diego with KidsSan Francisco with Kids.

  • 07 of 07

    California Activities by Month

    Napa Vineyard in Spring
    Napa Vineyard in Spring. ©2012 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.