California is a stunning state with a wide range of landscapes and activities to offer. Cities, breathtaking vineyards, steep mountains, sweeping coasts, and deserts so vast you’ll wonder how everything can fit into one place are only a few of the fascinating attractions.
Seriously, you could spend a whole lifetime in California and yet not see it all. The Golden State is the world’s most beautiful travel destination, and its sheer size makes it difficult to limit one’s exploration destinations to just one trip.
While it’s tough to choose every single location in California that’s worth seeing, I’ve chosen the most stunning spots. You know, the ones everyone has to see with their own eyes before they can comprehend how beautiful they are. These are the places.
11 Places in California You’ve Got To Visit At Least Once
Calistoga is a town located in Napa Valley, California. It is the northernmost town in Napa and is known for its wineries, restaurants, and spas. Visitors come to Calistoga to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
The natural geothermal activity in Calistoga has led to a proliferation of spas in the area. The hot springs and mineral-rich water have drawn people to this town for centuries, and the spas continue to offer a variety of treatments that are beneficial for both mind and body. Whether you’re looking to relax or want to try something new, Calistoga is definitely worth a visit during winter.
In addition to its natural hot springs and spas, there are attractions like the Petrified Forest and a mini Old Faithful Geyser. So if you’re looking for something different to do during your winter California getaway, be sure to add Calistoga to your list!
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
Sequoia National Park is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and it’s home to the majority of the world’s largest sequoias. The park’s spectacular vistas provide stunning views of natural canopies lined by snow-capped mountains.
Did you know that sequoias are the world’s most giant trees? Redwoods can grow to a greater height, but not in terms of overall size. The General Sherman Tree is the world’s biggest tree and grows in Sequoia National Park.
Sequoias are one of the world’s wonders, yet there’s much more to see and do in this National Park. Sequoia National Park also includes:
- The continent’s highest peak.
- One of the deepest canyons on the continent.
- Some of the most spectacular vistas along the Great Western Divide.
Mcway Falls, easily one of the most recognizable features in Big Sur, is an 80-foot waterfall cascading into a sandy cove nestled among towering redwoods.
The waterfalls are located within the alluring Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, but a simple and short walk is necessary to get there, making it an ideal pit-stop on your way.
A breathtaking alpine lake nestled among snow-capped mountains? Yes, please! Lake Tahoe is one of the United States’ major lakes, providing a spectacular backdrop to both summer and winter activities.
Lake Tahoe is a popular destination for winter sports during the winter, with 14 different ski slopes to select from. However, if skiing or snowboarding isn’t your thing, there are numerous other enjoyable activities to choose from, including skating, snowshoeing, and even hiking in search of hidden winter paradises (the Emerald Lake trek is an absolute dream)
Summer is a time for beach fun, with crystal-clear seas ranging from sapphire blues to emerald greens and sand that is so soft you may mistake it for a tropical island if it weren’t for the snow-capped mountains behind.
Joshua Tree National Park
Are you up for discovering California’s desert magic? Joshua Tree National Park is located where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet, producing a unique landscape that looks like it belongs on another planet.
What should you do? Joshua Tree is a Mecca for explorers, with hiking, cycling, camping, horseback riding, and rock climbing among the options. Furthermore, the park is regarded as an excellent site for stargazing, so stay at least one night to attempt and catch a glimpse of the Milky Way.
But, here’s a word of caution: You may wind up spending the entire journey daydreaming about leaving town to pursue a nomad lifestyle!
Huntington Beach is located in Orange County and enjoys a mild climate year-round. This makes it a great place to visit any time of the year.
Huntington Beach is a great place to visit year-round, but it offers visitors even more activities to enjoy during the winter. Visitors can bike along the scenic beaches, fish at Bolsa Chica State Park, or take a stroll through Downtown’s historic Main Street district. There is always something to do in Huntington Beach!
In addition, Huntington Beach is home to many shops, and restaurants open all year round, including The District at Huntington Beach, which features over 85 stores and restaurants. Visitors can also visit the famous Saturday Surf Market on Main Street, featuring over 150 vendors selling handmade jewelry to surfboards.
Huntington Beach is an excellent place for visitors to enjoy the California sun all year round.
Mammoth Lakes and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is a world-famous ski destination that gets the most snow in California during the winter. It is located in Mammoth Lakes, a town that offers plenty of activities in the winter.
Some of these activities include skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and ice skating.
The mountain also has tubing and sledding for those who don’t enjoy adrenaline sports such as skiing and boarding.
There’s no doubt that California is a wine lover’s heaven, and Napa Valley is the king of grape-rich vacations.
To capture the essence of this lovely valley, I’ll paint a picture of quaint vineyards rolling down golden hills, boutique resorts, peaceful spas with wine lists larger than their dinner menus, and farm-to-table eateries in every nook.
As for what to do here, wine is without a doubt the show-stopper! If you’re on a budget, Inglenook (a Francis Ford Coppola estate) is an excellent choice, and Chateau Montelena is a lovely option if you want your getaway to be picture-perfect.
Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park is a small chain of islands located in California’s Santa Barbara Channel and the Pacific Ocean basin. The park is known as the Galapagos of North America since it preserves environments found only on these islands.
Because the Channel Islands has yet to be heavily visited, you can enjoy solitude because it is still an under-explored area in the national park system.
To reach it, you’ll need to go by boat or plane to Anacapa Island or Santa Cruz, which you can do at any time of year. The remaining three islands might be a bit more challenging to access, but seasonal excursions are available.
There are no hotels or services on the Channel Islands, so make sure you bring everything you’ll need! The trip can be done in a day and is suitable for an afternoon adventure.
Still, if you want to stay overnight, several rustic on-site campsites offer something more unique than anything else you’ve ever experienced.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is a desert located in California and is one of the top places to visit during winter. Death Valley can be a great place to explore during the colder months despite its name.
The park offers visitors plenty of activities and attractions, including hiking, camping, and sightseeing.
The summertime temperatures in Death Valley National Park can reach up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, making it challenging to explore the park during that season. However, the cooler winter temperatures make it the perfect time to visit this fantastic location.
The Death Valley National Park is located in California near the Nevada border. The scenic road to the park is a popular destination for tourists and offers stunning views of the desert landscape.
Palm Springs is a desert resort city in California. It is located about 100 miles east of Los Angeles and is known for its many recreational opportunities, including golf, tennis, hiking, and swimming. It is a popular winter getaway for Californians.
Palm Springs is known for its hot weather, but it’s a great place to visit in the winter months too. The city has plenty of shopping, spas, and relaxation options for visitors.
Palm Springs is also close to several other interesting places, such as Joshua Tree National Park and the Salton Sea.
Get Out and Explore California in the Winter
I hope this list of the best places in California to visit at least once helped you develop the perfect bucket list! Even though there’s plenty more on the menu, these destinations are an excellent way to get a little taste of each of the landscapes found in the state.
Have you been to California before? What other must-see destinations didn’t make it to this list? Let me know your favorites in the comment section below!