Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in California
Across the bay from downtown San Diego, Coronado is a pleasant escape from the jumble of the city and the buzz of the beaches. Follow the tree-lined, manicured median strip of Orange Avenue toward the commercial center, Coronado Village, around the landmark Hotel del Coronado. Then park your car; you won’t need it again until you leave.
Locals call Coronado an island, but it's connected to the mainland by the spectacular, 2.1 mile (3.4 kilometer) Coronado Bay Bridge, as well as by a long, narrow spit of sand known as the Silver Strand. The visitor center doubles as the Coronado Museum of History and Art. And then there’s the fabulous, easily recognizable Hotel del Coronado, the interior of which is filled with warm, polished wood, giving the hotel an old-fashioned feel of Panama hats and linen suits. Guests have included 10 presidents and world royalty. For a taste of the Del without the stay, have breakfast or lunch at the beach-view Sheerwater restaurant.
Cinema buffs believe Alfred Hitchcock had it right: seen from below at Fort Point, the bridge induces a thrilling case of Vertigo. Fog aficionados prefer the lookout at Vista Point in Marin, on the north side of the bridge, to watch gusts rush through the bridge cables. Crissy Field is a key spot to appreciate the whole span, with windsurfers and kite-fliers to add action to your snapshots. Unlike the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge provides access to cyclists and pedestrians.
From the Golden Gate Bridge itself, you can see stunning vistas of San Francisco and Marin County, as well as Alcatraz, Angel Island, and oceangoing liners passing through the bridge’s tall red towers. Golden Gate Bridge connects the city of San Francisco with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Sausalito and the Muir Woods National Monument.
Both a seaside community and a top San Diego attraction, there’s a lot to be said for this little slip of a peninsula. Most easily recognized for its hilly views and the picturesque Old Point Loma Lighthouse, Point Loma is also famous for its historical significance (the first European settlers in California landed here, thus earning it the title “where California began”). People come to Point Loma to view these attractions, as well as to visit its naval base, the Cabrillo National Monument, and walk the hiking trails and take in the stunning views of the bay. With plenty to do and see, it’s no wonder Point Loma is one of San Diego’s most photographed spots.
On the southern tip of Point Loma, at the top of hill, you'll find Cabrillo National Monument. The spot is San Diego’s finest locale for history and fine views across the bay to San Diego's downtown. It's also the best place in San Diego to see the gray whale migration (January to March) from land. After a few minutes here, you may forget you’re in a major metropolitan area.
The visitors center at Cabrillo National Monument has an excellent presentation on Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s 1542 voyage up the California coast, plus good exhibits on the native inhabitants and the area’s natural history. Also here is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which is appointed with late-19th century pieces, including lamps and picture frames hand-covered with hundreds of shells. On the ocean side, you can drive or walk down to the tide pools (at low tide) to look for anemones, starfish, crabs, and limpets.
For almost 150 years, Alcatraz has given the innocent chills and the guilty cold sweats. Over the years it's been the nation's first military prison, then a forbidding maximum-security penitentiary, now a National Park. No wonder that first step you take off the ferry and onto 'The Rock' seems to cue ominous music: dunh-dunh-dunnnnh!
The trip to Alcatraz is popular and space is extremely limited. Purchase Alcatraz tickets as far in advance as possible, up to 90 days. The roster of Alcatraz inmates read like an America's Most Wanted list. A-list criminals doing time on Alcatraz included Chicago crime boss Al "Scarface" Capone, dapper kidnapper George "Machine Gun" Kelly, and hot-headed Harlem mafioso and sometime poet "Bumpy" Johnson. Though Alcatraz was considered escape-proof, in 1962 the Anglin brothers and Frank Morris floated away on a makeshift raft and were never seen again. A visit to Alcatraz is more than just seeing the inside of an old prison.
Few waterways carry the prestige and iconographic status of the beautiful San Francisco Bay. From the first years of its European discovery the Golden Gate became known as a pivotal access point to the American West.
Trade and military strategy aside, The Bay is California’s most important ecological treasure. A natural nursery for crab, halibut, waterfowl, seals and sea lions, as well as endangered species, the San Francisco Bay provides a great ecological treasure to residents and visitors alike. Whale watching, ferrying out to Alcatraz and Marin, or simple sunset tours with the glistening Golden Gate Bridge are favorite pastimes, while residents simply feel assured looking out of their windows and knowing that its calm waters are there.
Marilyn Monroe? 6774 Hollywood Blvd. James Dean? 1719 Vine St. Elvis Presley? 6777 Hollywood Blvd. No, not last known addresses, just the exact spot for the brass star honoring these celebrities on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
These stars and many others are sought out, worshiped, photographed, and stepped on day after day long this stretch of sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard. Since 1960 more than 2,000 performers - from legends to long-forgotten bit-part players - have been honored with a pink-marble, five-pointed sidewalk star.
Follow this celestial sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard between La Brea Avenue and Gower Street, and along Vine Street between Yucca Street and Sunset Boulevard.
Just like its San Francisco counterpart, Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf is crammed full of souvenir shops, candy stores, street performers and seafood restaurants all vying for tourist dollars.
Though it is most definitely a crowded tourist scene, Fisherman’s Wharf is more than worth a visit for the bay views, sea lion and pelican-spotting, and eating clam chowder from a sourdough bowl. Many restaurants offer free samples of chowder to passersby, so you can compare before settling on a place to eat. Several restaurants also offer more incentives such as free calamari appetizers.
The neighboring Wharf II is the heart of Monterey’s fishing industry and you can watch the trawlers unloading the day’s catch. Charter boat companies offer deep-sea fishing cruises, and other activities on offer include glass bottom boat tours and whale watching tours.
All aboard for the best train in the West! The beautiful and romantic Napa Valley Wine Train takes the most stunning parts of the Napa and Sonoma valleys and sandwiches them together in a spectacular glide through the rolling countryside. Watch the sun set from elegantly restored vintage Pullman cars as you sweep through the wandering valleys of Napa and Sonoma wine country sipping some of the world’s best wine and nibbling exotic cheeses. Little could be more breathtaking or romantic than this train ride through some of the world’s most famous wineries and some of the most beautiful land in California.
Perfect for those that don’t have much time to spend in this little slice of heaven, the Napa Valley Wine Trail gives you a sweeping view of the Napa and Sonoma valleys while regaling you in luxury, history, and of course, superb wines.
More Things to Do in California
One of LA's most distinguishing icons, the famous HOLLYWOOD sign proudly stands on the hillside of the Hollywood Hills, overlooking its namesake city and the movie industry it has come to symbolize.
LA's most famous landmark first appeared on its hillside perch in 1923, as a advertising gimmick for a real-estate development called Hollywoodland. Each letter stands 50 feet (15 m) tall and is made of sheet metal painted white.
Once aglow with 4,000 light bulbs, the sign even had its own caretaker, who lived behind the letter L until 1939. The last four letters were lopped off in the 1940s as the sign started to crumble along with the rest of Hollywood. In the late 1970s, Alice Cooper and Hugh Hefner joined forces with fans and other celebrities to save the famous symbol.
For over 60 years, the Maritime Museum of San Diego has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for being one of the most engaging and imagination-inspiring attractions in San Diego. A history lesson and an adventure in one, the Maritime Museum of San Diego has been repeatedly voted one of the best attractions in San Diego, and visitors from the world over come here to see the excellent collections of historic tall ships, including the world’s oldest active merchant ship, the Star of India, an 1863 iron hulled, triple-mast behemoth. Known the world over for excellence in restoring, maintaining, and operating these historic vessels, a trip to the Maritime Museum will have you exploring (and, on some occasions, even sailing) four different tall ships (the ones with the big masts and sails), two submarines, and several yachts and harbor boats. As you explore these amazing vessels, you’ll discover a sense of what it was like to work and live on these amazing ships.
Stand in the footprints of your favorite silver-screen legends in the courtyard of this grand movie palace. The exotic pagoda theater - complete with temple bells and stone Heaven Dogs from China - has shown movies since 1927. In fact, it's still a studio favorite for star-studded premieres, captivating crowds of all ages.
It's somewhat of a tourist rite of passage to compare your hands and feet with the famous prints set in cement at the entrance court. There are some 160 celebrity squares to discover including R2D2's wheels, Jimmy Durante's nose, Betty Grable's legs, or Whoopi Goldberg's braids. Rumor has it that the tradition was started when silent film star Norma Talmadge accidentally stepped in wet cement the night of the theater's premier of Cecil B. DeMille's King of Kings.
Find an island escape right off the urban shore of Southern California by taking a quick ride aboard a Catalina Express ferry. The passenger ferry service offers crossings to the towns of Two Harbors and Avalon on Catalina Island from the ports of San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point on the mainland. Trips take about an hour, and most visitors head to Avalon, which can be reached from all three mainland ports. Only the San Pedro departures arrive in Two Harbors. Once on Catalina Island, you can spend a day or more relaxing in the Mediterranean-like atmosphere. Avalon is a popular spot for watersports like scuba diving, kayaking and fishing, while Two Harbors is a great choice for those who want to explore the inland areas of the island to spot local wildlife like Catalina fox and buffalo while hiking or mountain biking.
Seaport Village is San Diego’s preeminent shopping and dining complex. A slice of independence in busy San Diego, the Seaport Village is beautiful and relaxing escape in an otherwise busy world. Come here to window shop the boutiques, sit on a park bench and stare into the ocean, grab a bite to eat, or to simply have a glass of wine and catch some outdoor entertainment. Just a short walk from the Gaslamp Quarter and plenty of boutique and big name shopping, Seaport Village is a popular hang-out for tourists and locals alike.
One of the most popular attractions in San Francisco, Pier 39 is a fun-filled multilevel waterfront complex, complete with shops, restaurants, lively street performers, a video arcade, and stellar attractions. An added bonus is its setting on San Francisco Bay, where you can take in panoramic bay views, fresh sea air, and watch hundreds of sunbathing sea lions lounging along its neighboring docks. From here you can see Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Families will have plenty of fun here. At the Aquarium of the Bay, watch sharks circle overhead and manta rays skate by, as conveyor belts guide you through glass tubes. A chariot awaits you on the two-story San Francisco Carousel, then whisks you past the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, other hand-painted city landmarks. Also - don’t forget to watch the sea lions. The slips on the bay can hold as many as 1,300 of the marine mammals, mostly between January and July.
Packed into 40 hectares, the San Diego Zoo presents a stunning variety of nature's largest, smallest, noblest, oddest, and most endangered creatures. This famous zoo has more than 3,000 animals representing over 800 species.
Stop first at the San Diego Zoo visitor center to pick up a map. Highlights of the zoo include the Tiger River bioclimatic exhibit, which realistically recreates an Asian rainforest environment, and Gorilla Tropics, which does the same with an African rainforest. The koalas and the rare giant pandas are also popular.
The gardens at the San Diego Zoo are renowned and some of the plants are used for the specialized food requirements of particular animals. Especially for kids, the Children’s Zoo allows young ones to pet small critters; they will also enjoy the animal nursery, which shows off the zoo’s newest arrivals. For an aerial perspective on the park, take a ride on the Skyfari.
One of the first waterfalls that you'll see as you enter Yosemite, Bridalveil Fall is 620 feet (188 meters) in height and flows year-round, with peak water flow occurring in May. On windy days, it looks almost like the waterfall is falling sideways.
Bridalveil Fall became one of the most photographed waterfalls in the park after Ansel Adams published his Gates of the Valley photograph, featuring Bridalveil Fall welcoming visitors to the magnificence of nature that can be found in the park. Take the short (about 20 minutes round trip), but steep, hike up to the base to see the falls close-up, but be sure to dress appropriately: you’ll encounter spray in the spring and possibly icy conditions in the winter.
Perhaps one of the most famous hikes in Yosemite National Park, Half Dome was, like El Capitan, once considered impossible to climb. Now, thousands of park visitors reach the summit, but it still remains a challenge that requires knowledge and preparation. Half Dome rises 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) above the valley floor and 8,800 feet (2,682 meters) above sea level.
The hike, which takes between 10 and 12 hours round-trip, is strenuous, but the vistas are more than worth it. Hikers are treated to views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap and panoramic expanses of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra. In order to get those views, though, you’ll have to ascend the cables. These two metal cables will allow you to climb the last 400 feet to the summit without rock climbing equipment; if the views don’t take your breath away, the cable ascent just might.
This legendary 1.5-mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood extends east-west from Beverly Hills to Hollywood, laid end to end with music venues, comedy clubs, boutiques, restaurants and hotels that attract music, TV, film and fashion celebrities. An assault to the senses in terms of both traffic and visuals, the Sunset Strip is studded with a trademark array of huge, colorful advertising billboards.
First developed as a haven for Prohibition-flouting bars and casinos in the 1920s, rising to prominence in the 1930s and '40s for its glamorous nightclubs full of Hollywood glitterati, and eventually becoming a magnet for the hippie counterculture in the 1960s, the Strip hit its most lasting stride in the 1970s and early '80s, when the drug and fashion excesses of disco, glam metal, rock'n'roll and stand-up comedy made the area both famous and infamous.
Yes, it's a big rock, but what makes El Capitan a must-witness sight in Yosemite is the fact that it's the largest exposed-granite monolith in the world. Oh, and people climb it. Rising 3,593 feet (1095 meters)—more than 350 stories—above the Valley, El Capitan was once considered impossible to climb. However, since Warren Harding first conquered the "nose" in 1958, El Capitan has become the standard for big-wall climbing.
Take binoculars to spot the little bits of color that pinpoint adventurous climbers tackling the smooth and nearly vertical cliff.
Things to do near California
- Things to do in Santa Barbara
- Things to do in Los Angeles
- Things to do in Long Beach
- Things to do in Anaheim & Buena Park
- Things to do in San Francisco
- Things to do in Palm Springs
- Things to do in Paso Robles
- Things to do in San Luis Obispo
- Things to do in Santa Monica
- Things to do in San Jose
- Things to do in Newport Beach
- Things to do in Catalina Island
- Things to do in Nevada
- Things to do in Baja California
- Things to do in Arizona