Best Things to do in California: Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

The 25 Best Things to do in California

From sandy beaches to snow-capped mountains, California is a sprawling state boasting endless things to do.

While California is best known for its excellent surf and star-studded City of Los Angeles, the state is also home to world-class ski resorts, stunning national parks, and quaint desert towns. From sipping wine in Napa Valley to hiking to the iconic Hollywood sign in LA to kayaking on Lake Tahoe, the options are plentiful.

Whether you’re planning a family trip to Disneyland, a camping excursion to Big Sur, or a surfing trip to Santa Cruz, there’s no doubt you’ll be endlessly entertained with everything this incredible state has to offer. 

Because the Golden State is so big, it’s also the perfect place for an epic road trip. Begin your journey in the vibrant city of San Francisco and make your way south down scenic Highway 1 to sunny San Diego!

With so many things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in California for you. Stick to these fun and unique California bucket list recommendations and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring this gorgeous corner of the world! 

25 Cool and Unique Things To Do in California

1. Get Tipsy on the Napa Valley Wine Train

Cool Things to do in California: Napa Valley Wine Train

If you love wine then there’s no doubt that a trip to Napa Valley is on your California bucket list. And if this is your first trip to Napa Valley, taking a ride on the iconic Napa Valley Wine Train is a must! Although there are multiple tours to choose from, the Ambassador Winery Tour is a great option for newbies. It’s the perfect introduction to the area’s most famous wineries and it’s undoubtedly one of the best things to do in California.

You’ll board an adorable vintage train at McKinstry Street Station. The 100-year-old railcars have been fully remodeled to maintain their elegant and historic aesthetic. 

As you chug along the 36-mile round-trip loop through the heart of Wine Country you’ll be served a gourmet 3-course lunch. The train’s executive chef designs the seasonal menu and everything is prepared in the four designated kitchen cars. The wine list offers an extensive selection of 40 different wines… this is Napa after all! You can also bring your own bottles of wine onboard for a corkage fee.

You’ll make stops along the way and take two 1-hour tours of a few of Napa’s most famous wineries. The first stop is at the historic Beringer Winery and the second stop is at the stunning Whitehall Lane estate. At the end of the wine-filled tour, hop back on board the train and head back to McKinstry Street Station.

Book Tickets for the Napa Valley Wine Train


2. Enjoy a Scenic Picnic with Views of the Golden Gate Bridge

Must Do Things in California: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

There are tons of places in San Francisco to admire the Golden Gate Bridge. But what better way to enjoy the view than with a picnic lunch at Crissy Field? 

The suspension bridge stretches 4,200 feet across the Golden Gate Strait, connecting San Francisco to Marin County. Built in 1937, it was once hailed as the longest suspension bridge in the world. To this day, it remains one of the most iconic features of San Francisco.  

Crissy Field is a popular spot for locals to gather with their families, friends, and pets during sunny California days. This massive grass field is set on a sandy beach and offers panoramic views of the bridge.  

Head over to the West Bluffs where you’ll find a designated picnic area with tables, barbeque pits, and sweeping views of the bridge. It’s the perfect spot for a romantic picnic or a birthday party with family and friends. 

If you want to enjoy your sandwiches and sodas on the beach, you’ll love East Beach – famous for its kitesurfing. It can get windy so visitors often pitch beach shelters. And if things get too windy, there are plenty of picnic tables around.

Another incredible option if you don’t mind splashing out some cash is to take a helicopter flight over the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s an experience you’ll never forget!

Book a Helicopter Flight over San Francisco Bay


3. Take a Creepy Tour of Alcatraz Island

Best Things to do in California: Alcatraz Prison, San Francisco

Alcatraz Island is home to an eerie abandoned prison and is easily one of the best things to do in California. The rugged little island was the site of a federal prison from 1934 until 1963. It might sound a bit sinister, but touring the infamous island is fascinating. 

During your tour, you’ll get an idea of who the prisoners were, what life was like, go into their cells, and learn all about Alcatraz’s storied history. Alcatraz Island is located 1.25 miles off the shore of San Francisco and is easily reached via a 15-minute ferry ride from Pier 33. 

Most of its inmates were notorious gangsters, bank robbers, and murderers. Some of its most notable inmates included Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis.

In 29 years, only 36 prisoners attempted to escape the island due to the frigid waters and vicious currents. Those who made the attempt were captured, shot, or drowned in the waters. 

Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin, and John Anglin are the only three to successfully escape Alcatraz on a raft in 1962. However, no one knows whether or not they survived the perilous journey!

Note: Tickets for Alcatraz often sell out several days in advance so make sure to reserve yours early. If you’re too late to get tickets then your next best option is the Escape from The Rock Bay Cruise.

Buy Tickets for the Escape from The Rock Bay Cruise


4. Hit the Slopes at Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Ski Resort

Cool Things to do in California: Skiing in Lake Tahoe

California is best known for its countless beaches, but it’s also home to dozens of world-class ski resorts. If you want to experience one of the most unique mountain resorts in California, Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Ski Resort is the place! 

Heavenly actually spans the California-Nevada border, so it’s possible to ski or snowboard in two states in one day. Plus it’s set right on Lake Tahoe so the mountain boasts incredible lake views. 

With bunny slopes, double-black-diamond canyons, and tree-studded trails, there are options for every experience level. If you really want to go big, Heavenly features an excellent terrain park, where you can slide down the rails, get major air on the jumps, and do tricks in the half-pipes.

And if you’re not into winter sports, there’s plenty at Heavenly to keep you entertained. After a leisurely breakfast at the iconic Red Hut Café, ride up the gondola for sweeping views of Lake Tahoe, go shopping in the quaint Heavenly Village, or take a gamble at one of the nearby casinos. The options are endless!

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5. Take a Hike in Yosemite National Park

Best Things to do in California: Yosemite National Park

California is blessed with some of the best national parks in the country and Yosemite is one of its most famous. If you have the chance to visit this World Heritage Site during your trip to the Golden State, do it!

Yosemite National Park encompasses over 1,000 square miles and boasts over 800 miles of trails. Luckily, there are hikes to suit all levels, from short strolls along well-marked trails to challenging multi-day treks. 

It’s no surprise that one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite is the Half Dome Hike. If you’re up for the challenge, this 17-mile hike will take you up 4,800 feet to the summit. At a point, you even have to use cables to scale the granite dome! Note that permits are required to hike Half Dome when the cables are up and they are distributed by lottery system.

But if you’re looking for something less rigorous, there are plenty of more mellow trails that lead to popular natural attractions like the picturesque Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, and Mirror Lake. If you want to glimpse the tallest waterfall in North America, lace up your hiking boots and get your heart pumping on the 7.2-mile trail to the stunning Yosemite Falls.

If you’re unsure of where to hike, stop by the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and pick up some maps and brochures. 

No trip to California is complete without a trip to Yosemite!

Book a Tour from San Francisco to Yosemite


6. Sleep in a Floating Treehouse in Santa Cruz

Cool Things to do in California: Pinecone Treehouse in Santa Cruz
Pinecone Treehouse images courtesy of Airbnb

Santa Cruz is famous for its beautiful beaches, epic surf, and spectacular redwood forests. But if you really want to be at one with nature, Santa Cruz offers the chance to stay in one of the most unique treehouses in the US. 

Designed by 02 Treehouse’s Dustin Feider, this architectural masterpiece is dubbed the “Pinecone Treehouse” for its shape. The geodesic treehouse dangles 35 feet above the ground on one side and 60 feet on the other. You’ll feel like you’re floating among the towering redwood trees! 

One of the many things that makes this architectural gem especially unique is its translucent floor and cathedral ceiling. You’ll wake up each morning with 360-degree views of the surrounding forest. Simply climb up the stepladder (with a safety harness!), go through the trap door, climb onto the comfy mattress, and enjoy the view. 

Aside from the mattress, a light, and a separate bathroom on the ground floor, there’s not much more to it so be ready to immerse yourself in this one-of-a-kind experience. The Pinecone Treehouse is definitely one of the best things to do in California if you’re up for an adventure!

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7. Sample Truly Unique Food at the Gilroy Garlic Festival

What to do in California: Gilroy Garlic Festival

Drive toward the Central Coastal town of Gilroy and you’ll quickly understand why it’s known as the “Garlic Capital of the World.” You can literally smell garlic in the air thanks to the city’s seemingly endless garlic fields! 

Each year, during the final weekend of July, the city hosts its annual Garlic Festival. It may sound odd, but this is actually one of the most famous food festivals in the US. Every year hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the US flock to this small agricultural city to attend the 3-day event.

This unique festival features live music, entertainment options, arts and crafts merchants, and even a Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival Queen Pageant! And of course, there are always tons of food vendors and live cooking demonstrations along “Gourmet Alley.” 

Some of the most popular festival foods include garlic-infused calamari, garlicky Italian sausage sandwiches, and crab garlic fries. But be sure to sample some of the weirder offerings like garlic ice cream, garlic jelly, and garlic pineapple upside-down cake!


8. Chow Down on Clam Chowder at Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf

Must Do Things in California: Eat Clam Chowder at Monterey Fisherman's Warf

If you’re craving a piping hot bowl of clam chowder, then Monterey is the place for you. Located in the Bay Area, this seaside city is known for its massive aquarium, epic whale watching tours, and historic Cannery Row. But no trip to Monterey is complete without sampling its famous “Monterey-style” clam chowder. 

Simply walk along Old Fisherman’s Wharf and you’ll be spoiled with options. The competition is so fierce that restaurants will offer you free samples of chowder to entice you to sit downs. 

If you can’t decide where to go, you can’t go wrong with Old Fisherman’s Grotto. Founded by the Shake family in 1950, this restaurant has been perfecting its rich and creamy recipe for over 70 years! The dish includes clams, potatoes, garlic, and onions, but the exact recipe is so secret that only four living people actually know how to make it!

We suggest ordering up a bowl of their award-winning Original “Monterey Style” Clam Chowder, which is served in a sourdough bread bowl. You won’t regret it!

Monetery is also one of the best places to see whales so make sure you book a whale watching tour while you’re in town.

Book a Whale Watching Tour in Monterey


9. Go Art Gallery Hopping in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Fun Things to do in California: Carmel-by-the-Sea

If art is your thing, then a visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea is a must during your trip to the Bay Area. This tiny beachside city is located on the Monterey Bay Peninsula. It’s famous for its vine-covered cottages, quaint village, and excellent art galleries.

The city was actually founded by a group of artists and writers in the early 1900s, which explains why Carmel remains a mecca for all types of artists to this day. The city center might only be only one square mile but it boasts roughly 100 art galleries! You’ll find work from world-famous artists and original pieces by northern California’s artists. 

You can easily spend a day wandering around the picture-perfect town and popping into random galleries. You can also download a variety of self-guided walking tours to learn about some of the city’s best galleries, restaurants, and wineries. No matter what, be sure to visit the Carmel Art Association gallery – the oldest gallery in Carmel!

Book a Tour of Carmel from San Francisco


10. Marvel at McWay Falls in Big Sur

Best Things to do in California: McWay Falls, Big Sur

No trip to Big Sur is complete without stopping off at the picturesque McWay Falls. Located just off Highway 1 in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, this 80-foot-tall waterfall plunges directly onto the beach of a scenic cove. If you visit during high tide, you’ll get the rare chance to see the waterfall cascade right into the emerald bay!

Because McWay Falls empties directly into the ocean, it is considered to be a tidefall, and they are fairly rare. Make sure to bring your camera because this is definitely one of the most Instagrammable places in Big Sur.

The cove is surrounded by towering cliffs, so you won’t be able to access the beach or waterfall. To see McWay Falls, you’ll follow a short dirt path to an outlook. The overlook is perched high on a bluff so you’ll have unobstructed views of this natural phenomenon. 

Be sure to walk around the entire viewing area for endless views of the stunning Big Sur coastline and the glimmering Pacific Ocean. Marveling at McWay Falls is definitely one of the best things to do in California.


11. Spend a Day on Big Bear Lake

Fun Things to do in California: Big Bear Lake

Big Bear might be famous for its world-class ski resorts, but it’s also home to a pristine lake that’s perfect for all sorts of water activities. You can even rent luxurious lakeside cabins with private docks so the lake is literally your backyard! While it’s too cold to jump in the water in the winter months, the lake’s marinas are usually open from the spring until autumn when the weather is mild.

There are water activities to suit all tastes. You can hop on a boat and go on a fishing excursion, paddle around and explore hidden coves in a kayak, glide across the calm waters on a paddleboard, or take a boozy pontoon ride with friends. If you’re looking for something to really get your adrenaline pumping, you can rent jet skis or even take a wakeboarding lesson!

If you don’t have your own gear, there are tons of agencies around town that rent everything you’ll need for a fun-filled day on Big Bear Lake. Don’t miss this adventure that’s sure to be a highlight of your trip to California! 


12. Live Like a Celebrity On Malibu’s “Billionaire’s Beach”

Best Things to do in California: Malibu's Billionaire's Beach

Located just 45 minutes north of Los Angeles, Malibu has long been home to Hollywood celebrities and Silicon Valley’s elite entrepreneurs. Although Malibu boasts 27-miles of beaches, Carbon Beach is the most exclusive place in town. 

Known as Billionaire’s Beach, this 1.5-mile stretch of sand is lined with roughly 70 multi-million dollar homes, many of which are owned by the rich and famous. Over the years, residents have included Leonardo DiCaprio, John Travolta, Courteney Cox, Dr. Dre, and Oracle founder and billionaire Larry Ellison.

It’s a bit corny, but one way to find out what homes belong to who is to join a Homes of the Stars Tour of Malibu.

Homes here go for $25-110 million but if you don’t happen to be a millionaire you can always rent one of these lavish estates for a special celebration. You’ll literally be living like a celebrity (at least for a day or two)! There are quite a few stunning vacation rentals right on Billionaire’s Beach.

Billionaire’s Beach used to be closed off to the public by its posh residents. But because it’s technically a public beach, the courts forced homeowners to open the beach up to the public in 2015. So if you’re just passing through Malibu, make sure to take a walk along Carbon Beach – basically the backyard of celebrities!

Book a Malibu Homes of the Stars Tour

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13. Hike to the Iconic Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles

Fun Things to do in California: Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles

No trip to LA is complete without glimpsing its famous Hollywood sign. While it’s possible to see the sign from countless places around town, you can also hike to it! It’s definitely a quintessential LA experience and one of the coolest things to do during your trip to California.

If you want to hike to the actual sign on Mount Lee, the Wonder View Trail is your best bet. This 3-mile hike will take you roughly two hours. 

Cool Things to do in California: Hike to the Hollywood Sign

Note: The Wonder View Trail takes you behind the sign so you won’t get a perfectly Instagrammable photo of the actual sign. But it’s as close as you can get and the views of Los Angeles are amazing!

To reach this trail, you’ll have to park on Lake Hollywood Drive and go on foot from there. As you ascend the steep hill, you can stop off at the picturesque Wisdom Tree. Visitors pile up stacks of rocks (cairns) and even leave notes under them!

From there you’ll walk along the ridge until you reach Hugh Hefner Overlook and a paved road that leads you directly behind the world-famous sign. There is a fence, so you can’t actually touch the sign or climb on it. But it’s pretty cool to be able to say you’ve actually visited the Hollywood sign!

And if you don’t want to try to find the trail yourself you can also hike to the Hollywood sign with a guide.

Book a Guided Hike to the Hollywood Sign


14. Catch a Dodgers Game

What to do in California: Dodgers Baseball Game in Los Angeles

If you’re a sports fan visiting Los Angeles, going to a Dodgers game is definitely one of the most fun things to do in California! Even if you’re not a huge baseball enthusiast, Dodgers fans are rabid so you’re bound to get caught up in the excitement.  

Dodgers Stadium is nestled in Chavez Ravine, in between the downtown Los Angeles skyline and the San Gabriel Mountains. Built in 1962, it is the third-oldest stadium in the MLB. Since that time, the Dodgers have won a whopping seven World Series championships – including one in 2020 – making them one of the most successful franchises in the MLB.

Fun Things to do in California: LA Dodgers Baseball Game

The Dodgers are typically a top contender in the National League, so chances are you’re going to see a good game. If you really want to see some action, schedule your visit during a Dodgers-Giants game. The two teams have one of the most contentious and longest-standing rivalries in the MLB so this matchup is always exciting. 

Buy your tickets, don your blue and white, grab an iconic Dodger Dog or two, and enjoy the show!


15. Feast on a Double-Double at In-N-Out Burger

California Bucket List: In-N-Out Burger

You can’t visit the Golden State without stopping off at this California institution. Harry and Esther Snyder founded this drive-through hamburger joint in 1948 and it didn’t take long before it became a California classic. You can even visit a replica of its original So-Cal location in Baldwin Park!

To this day, the ultra-cheap no-frills menu consists of three burgers: a hamburger, a cheeseburger, and a Double-Double with two patties and two slices of cheese. You can also order fries, fountain sodas, and strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla milkshakes. It’s as simple as that.

That being said, there is a “secret menu” consisting of items like a vegetarian grilled cheese, a bunless protein-style burger, and “animal-style” fries smothered with melted cheese and a secret sauce. 

It might sound basic but part of the reason In-N-Out has gained such a cult following is because the owners long refused to expand outside of Los Angeles in an effort to maintain the quality of their food. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the chain slowly began expanding outside of southern California.

Although there are now a handful of In-N-Out Burgers outside of the state, you’ll be hard-pressed to sample these delicious burgers unless you’re in California. So don’t miss out!


16. Spend a Day Exploring the Santa Monica Pier

Best Things to do in California: Santa Monica Pier

You can easily spend a day wandering around Santa Monica’s iconic pier and it’s one of the things you must do during a trip to California. There are so many activities that will keep you and your family entertained!

Pacific Park is the only amusement park on the West Coast that’s located on a pier. The whole family will love riding the roller coaster, chowing down on fair food, playing carnival games, and admiring the view from the top of the Ferris wheel. 

Heal the Bay Aquarium (formerly Santa Monica Pier Aquarium) is located below the pier. From sharks to stingrays to octopi, you can check out all sorts of fascinating marine creatures. The entire aquarium is dedicated to educating visitors about marine conservation and environmental protection so you can participate in fun educational events and activities.

If that’s not enough, you can go fishing from the pier’s top deck, play tons of games at Playland Arcade, or rent bikes and ride around The Strand. End the day with a fresh seafood dinner at the popular restaurant, Seaside on the Pier. The views are spectacular and so is the food!

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17. Stroll Along Venice Beach’s Quirky Italian-Inspired Canals

Unique Things to do in California: Venice Beach Canals, Los Angeles

If you’re headed to the bohemian Venice Beach, be sure to take a stroll along its famous Venetian-style canals. These historic canals were created in 1905 by millionaire Abbot Kinney who wanted to create “the Venice of America.” Kinney’s dream didn’t exactly pan out, and the canals quickly fell into disrepair and many were eventually filled in.

But the good news is the city reopened a handful of Kinney’s canals in the 1990s and they are now one of the most popular and peaceful spots in the city. The canals are located a block away from Venice’s beautiful beach, the famed Muscle Beach, and the iconic boardwalk, so visiting them is a cinch.

Take a relaxing stroll or bike ride along the canals and enjoy the picturesque arched pedestrian bridges, the duck-filled ponds, and a variety of bird species. You’ll also spot some of the city’s most beautiful homes from vintage beach bungalows to million-dollar mansions.

Book an E-Bike Tour of the Venice Canals


18. Camp Under the Stars at Joshua Tree National Park

Best Things to do in California: Joshua Tree National Park Sunset

Joshua Tree National Park is arguably one of the most scenic areas in California. Located two hours from Los Angeles and just one hour from Palm Springs, this enormous park is well worth visiting. Plus, it’s the perfect place to go camping!

Joshua Tree is famous for its funky, twisted Joshua trees, giant rock formations, otherworldly landscapes, and excellent hiking trails. The best time to visit is in the temperate spring and fall months, though we highly suggest visiting in the spring to witness fields of blooming wildflowers. 

Joshua Tree spans over 1,200 square miles, so spending at least two or three days camping there is the best way to make the most of your trip. The park boasts roughly 500 campsites so it might be hard to choose the perfect spot but you really can’t go wrong.

One of the most popular camping spots is the coveted Hidden Valley Campground. Nestled at the base of giant boulders and surrounded by Joshua trees, the site is close to a number of main attractions and popular hikes. Jumbo Rocks is also an excellent option if Hidden Valley Campground is full.

If camping isn’t your jam then you can opt for a Jeep or SUV tour of Joshua Tree instead.

Book a Jeep Tour of Joshua Tree National Park


19. Snap a Selfie With the Cabazon Dinosaurs

If you’re headed to Palm Springs, make sure to stop off at this quirky California attraction. You’ll find the famous Cabazon Dinosaurs on the side of the road just 20 minutes west of Palm Springs. 

Dinny the Dinosaur is a 150-foot-long Brontosaurus and Mr. Rex is a 65-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex. Claude Bell – a Knott’s Berry Farm theme park artist and restaurateur – was the mastermind behind these giant sculptures. 

He started the project in 1964 with the intent to drum up business for his local restaurant, the Wheel Inn. But he didn’t finish creating Dinny the Dinosaur and Mr. Rex until 1975 and 1986! 

The property was eventually sold and now houses a rather bizarre Creationist museum and gift shop, but the dinosaurs are well worth checking out. You can even climb inside Mr. Rex! If you stroll around the property, you’ll spot over 50 dinosaurs scattered around the area. It’s certainly one of the more unique things to do in California.

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20. Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride Above Palm Desert

Must Do Things in California: Coachella Valley in Palm Desert

Get a bird’s-eye view of Coachella Valley’s rolling hills on a thrilling hot air balloon ride. This is an ultra-popular activity in Palm Desert, so there are plenty of tour operators that can suit your needs and budget. 

It’s the perfect way to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries or even make a romantic proposal during your trip to California! The best time to go on a hot air balloon ride in Palm Desert is during the high season from October to April when the weather is at its best. 

Most tour operators offer 1-hour hot air balloon rides during sunrise and sunset when the surrounding mountains take on magical hues. Depending on where the breeze takes you, you’ll have the chance to glimpse the city’s grand polo fields, posh country clubs and golf resorts, date palm groves, and beautiful mountain ranges while floating through the desert sky.

Once your hot air balloon adventure is over, most tour operators will offer a Champagne toast and a complimentary cheese platter to cap off your unforgettable journey. It’s one of the most unique things to do in California!


21. Take a Magical Trip to the Happiest Place on Earth

Fun Things to do in California: Disneyland in Anaheim

Disneyland might just be Southern California’s number one attraction and is at the top of everyone’s California bucket list. Located in Anaheim, just 30 minutes from Los Angeles, the world-famous amusement park first opened its doors in 1955. The Anaheim location now consists of two theme parks, three whimsical hotels, and a sprawling Downtown Disney District with tons of restaurants and entertainment venues. 

With so much to offer, Disneyland is a popular destination for people of all ages. But kids will absolutely love it! If you opt for Disneyland Park, you can hit up classic rides like the Mad Tea Party’s spinning cups, Splash Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean. If you have an in, you can even dine at the exclusive Club 33, located right above the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction!

Or head over to Disney California Adventure Park where you can ride the themed Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind, Jessie’s Critter Carousel, and the Pixar Pal-A-Round Ferris Wheel. You can also indulge in themed treats from Angry Dogs to Senior Buzz Churros to Clarabelle’s Hand-Scooped Ice Cream.

Between the original Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park, you can easily spend days exploring the happiest place on earth. And it’s easily the number one thing to do while visiting California!

Buy Your Disneyland Tickets Now!

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22. Spend a Night Aboard the Queen Mary 

Unique Things to do in California: Queen Mary Ocean Liner in Long Beach

The luxurious Queen Mary ocean liner was once hailed as one of the largest and most opulent ocean liners in the world. Since its maiden voyage in 1936, the ship made more than 1,001 transatlantic journeys between England and New York. Its final destination was Long Beach in 1967, where it has been docked ever since.

The Queen Mary is now a popular tourist destination for anyone visiting Los Angeles. You can learn about its fascinating history on a guided tour, dine in one of its three award-winning restaurants, or sip a sunset cocktail at the 1930s Observation Bar.

If you want a truly memorable California experience, spend a night on board the Queen Mary in one of its original first-class staterooms! Each room is totally unique and features original artwork, art deco decor, and porthole windows. Icons like Winston Churchill, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Bob Hope were all guests on the ship back in its heyday.

If you’re not easily spooked, you can even book the Haunted Encounters tour. Rumor has it that Stateroom B340 is the most haunted room on the ship. There’s a reason Time Magazine listed the Queen Mary as one of the “Top 10 Most Haunted Places in America!”


23. Go Surfing at Huntington Beach (aka “Surf City USA”)

California Bucket List: Surfing in Huntington Beach

If you’re a surfer, you simply can’t visit Southern California without stopping off at Huntington Beach. Located in the heart of Orange County, this mellow coastal city is a mecca for surfers. There’s a reason it’s known as “Surf City USA!”

Numerous surf competitions are held in Huntington Beach each year, including the US Open of Surfing and the wacky Surf City Surf Dog Competition. Yes, in this quintessential So-Cal beach town, it’s common to see dogs riding small waves! If you’re planning to visit in September, make sure to check out this adorable annual competition.

Whether you’re a pro or just starting out, Huntington Beach boasts waves for all levels. More experienced surfers tend to flock here in the winter when the swells are larger and the summer crowds have dissipated. You’re likely to see a cluster of surfers around the pier, which often has the best waves.

If you’re a beginner you can take lessons at surf legend Corky Carroll’s Surf School. This is actually Huntington’s first surf school! After a day on the water, make sure to stop off at the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum to learn all about the city’s legendary surf culture. 


24. Indulge in San Diego’s Most Famous Mexican-Inspired Dish

Cool Things to do in California: San Diego Taco Shops

As a city that borders Mexico, San Diego boasts countless taco shops and burrito joints. It’s no surprise that over the years San Diego has created its own iconic Mexican-influenced staples from the fish taco to the California burrito. 

It might be called a California burrito, but legend has it that this Mexican spin-off was first created in one of San Diego’s hole-in-the-wall taco shops in the 1990s. However, it has long been debated where and when this creative concoction was actually invented.

What to do in California: Try a California Burrito

So what exactly is a California burrito? It’s basically carne asada (marinated grilled beef), French fries, a blend of Mexican cheese, and sour cream, all wrapped up neatly in a flour tortilla. Pile on the spicy salsa and you’re in for a treat!

The California burrito is super popular among surfers as a filling meal after a long day out on the water. So you’ll find taco shops that serve up this famous burrito lining San Diego’s beaches. If you’re looking for the best California burrito in town, many argue that Nico’s Mexican Food, Roberto’s Taco Shop, and Lolita’s Mexican Food serve up the most authentic and delicious versions!


25. Spot Exotic Animals at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Best Things to do in California: San Diego Zoo

If you’re visiting San Diego with your kids, a trip to the San Diego Zoo is one of the most popular things to do. But what most people don’t realize is that the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is even better!

The sprawling 1,800-acre safari park houses 300 species and more than 3,000 animals. Plus, the zoo is a nonprofit organization and all proceeds go toward maintaining the zoo and conservation efforts!

One of the coolest features of the Safari Park is the Africa tram. Hop on the tram, coast through the massive open-range enclosures, and marvel at the giraffes, rhinos, buffalo, and antelopes. Head over to the 60-acre Asian Savanna where you’ll spot Indian rhinoceros, Bactrian camels, Asian deer, and a variety of antelopes. 

For a completely unique experience, you can even book a Caravan Safari tour for close encounters with these majestic African and Asian animals! 

Don’t miss out on Tiger Trail where you can watch the tigers play and splash in the water. The Petting Kraal is also a favorite among kids because they get to brush the cute goats! There’s just so much to do at the safari park, so make sure to get there early, grab a map at the entrance, a plan out your day!

Buy Tickets for the San Diego Zoo

There you have it! 25 of the best things to do in California. What’s your favorite thing to do in the Golden State?


Planning a trip to California? Check out our favorite books and travel guides.


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