It’s no secret that California has a lot to offer. From ski slopes to surf spots to scenic drives to restaurants made to make foodies rave, can we really be expected to keep our California favorites list concise?
We hope the answer is no, because our list of California favorites runs long. And yet we know anyone who has spent more than a week in the Golden State has a can’t-miss recommendation we haven’t featured. Here are just some of the Cabana team’s favorite places in California to get you started.
The California Cascades
- Mt Shasta: Known for its mystical energy and lots of free BLM camping land, Mt Shasta always has snow and is about 5 hours from SF.
- Lassen Peak: An active volcano in the Shasta Cascade region. Lassen Volcanic National Park has numerous hiking trails, and many connect to the Pacific Crest Trail.
Mammoth (Eastern Sierra)
- Mammoth Crest: Spectacular views in every direction. You’ll see Yosemite on one side and pass gorgeous lakes on the way.
- Crystal Lake: A relatively short hike will bring you to this beautiful alpine lake. Swim, walk along the shore, or continue hiking on the many hiking trails.
- Convict Lake: The mountains beyond Convict Lake create a stunning backdrop in every season. You can drive straight to this lake, making it an excellent choice for a day trip or an overnight stay.
More Eastern Sierra
- Lake Sabrina: Rent boats in the summer, or enjoy the several hiking trails.
- June Lake: A small town in the Eastern Sierra with a lot to offer. Try Ohana 395, the Hawaiian soul food truck, conveniently parked at June Lake Brewing.
- Lone Pine: This Western-style small town is a great stopping point on a California road trip. It’s a major change of scenery from the coast and is only an hour from both Mt. Whitney and Death Valley (the highest and lowest points in the continental US).
- Mt. Whitney: The best place for a view of the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states is from the town of Lone Pine. Keep in mind that hiking Mt. Whitney even for the day requires a permit.
- Bodie State Historic Park: A genuine gold mining ghost town. If you’re into history, Westerns, or are looking for something a little different, Bodie is a great stop.
- Alabama Hills: If you’re looking to get off the beaten path and find epic free campsites to stay the night, visit Alabama Hills. This BLM land is especially beautiful when the wildflowers bloom in the spring.
- Sequoia National Park: Seeing the biggest trees in the world up close never fails to amaze. This park is a perfect spot for photos or to simply marvel at nature.
- Kings Canyon National Park: This park is attached to Sequoia National Park, and the combination makes for the perfect adventure. Kings Canyon is often compared to Yosemite and offers amazing views and hiking trails.
- Kernville: On your way to Sequoia, spend the night in this quaint town. If you have an extra day, try whitewater rafting.
- You really can’t go wrong within California’s most visited national park!
- El Capitan: This famous climbing spot is worth seeing, and hard to miss. The Oscar award winning movie Free Solo follows Alex Honnold’s daring ascent without ropes. We’re happy just to take photos.
- Half Dome: If you want to train for a big day hike, Half Dome is a great goal to set.
- Yosemite Falls Trail: This strenuous trail leads to the top of North America’s tallest waterfall. If you’re not up for 7 miles round-trip, spectacular views can be found along the way, too.
- Tunnel View: Drive to this viewpoint to see a lot of what Yosemite has to offer. The view is great year-round.
- Glacier Point: You can cross-country ski to this viewpoint, or wait until the warmer months and drive there.
- Bridalveil Fall: Out of the big Yosemite staples, the Bridalveil Fall Trail is one of the easier ones to enjoy.
- Tuolumne Meadows: Besides being a beautiful landscape offering amazing day hikes, Tuolumne Meadows is a great place to camp in the summer.
- Ansel Adams Gallery: Many of the places listed above were made famous by landscape photographer Ansel Adams. Enjoy the art and the legacy of his conservation efforts at the gallery run by his family.
- Donner Lake: Lake Tahoe has all the fame, but Donner Lake offers the same summer lake activities, winter fun, amazing day hikes, and great nearby breweries
- Heavenly Village: This resort area has lots to offer year-round: shopping, restaurants and live music. If your lake trip or ski trip requires a return to civilization, this is the place.
- Fallen Leaf Lake: Here’s another option in the Tahoe area for water sports, hiking, and views that won’t disappoint.
The Cabana team members who have called SF home can’t reveal all of their local secrets at once! An in-depth insider guide to SF is on its way. (Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the know!) For now, here are their highlights.
- 49 Mile Scenic Drive: Look out for the seagull signs that lead to some of SF’s most iconic scenes.
- Lands End Hike: This historic point of Golden Gate National Recreation Area has gorgeous views of wildlife and SF staples.
- Mission Dolores Park: One of the best places to spend some time hanging out in the city (and the nearby Stable Cafe is an amazing spot to enjoy breakfast under the plum trees on a nice day).
- Fort Mason: Keep an eye out for unique arts and culture events at this center in the Marina District.
- China Beach: Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, here you can sunbathe, enjoy a picnic, and take in an amazing view of the Golden Gate.
- Ocean Beach: The Sunset District’s spot for surfing (and sunset, of course). Order a Snowy Plover at Andytown Coffee Roasters to enjoy on your beach walk
- The Page: A cash only dive bar in the Lower Haight.
- Painted Ladies: The Full House houses in Alamo Square are a must-see for a first SF visit.
- Golden Gate Park (and the pan handle): It’s larger than Central Park, and is more than just a park. It holds museums, gardens, running trails, polo fields, and even music festivals.
- The Wiggle: The SF bike route that gets you through the city with the least hills and the least traffic.
- Alemany Farmers Market and Flea Market: Score epic finds every weekend!
- Big Basin Redwoods: Just over an hour from SF, this state park feels much more removed from city life. Although currently closed due to fire damage, we are looking forward to its restoration!
- Napa: We know it’s obvious, but no California guide is complete without Napa. This famous valley is an hour and a half from San Francisco and no wine lover should miss it.
Marin County (just north of SF over the Golden Gate Bridge)
- Stinson Beach: A great place to spend the day swimming, hiking, or surfing (only partially dog friendly).
- Bolinas Beach: This is a great spot to bring dogs or to surf for beginners.
- Point Reyes: Check out the Point Reyes ship, shuck your own oysters at Tomales Bay, and stop at Bovine Bakery for a chocolate croissant or a slice of pizza.
- Bar Bocce: Add this Sausalito waterfront bar to your post-COVID to do list for great views and lots of games.
- Big Sur (Julia Pfeiffer Burns): Camp at Julia Pfeiffer State Park, visit McWay Falls, and don’t miss the Bixby Creek Bridge.
- Pescadero: Explore the coves and tide pools of Pescadero State Beach, and try the artichoke bread at Arcangeli Grocery.
- Jenner: This northern California coastal town has amazing sunset views and a great cafe, Cafe Aquatica. Salt Point State Park is a dog friendly beach and a great place to spend the night.
- Yuba River: Visit in the summer for tubing.
- Mendocino: The picturesque village and quiet beaches make Mendocino a relaxing place to get away.
- Redwoods: Driving through the Redwoods is an awe-inspiring experience. Don’t miss a chance to see the Avenue of the Giants.
- Sea Ranch: if you like to learn about the places you’re visiting, this SFMOMA exhibit will make you appreciate California’s coast in a new way.
- Santa Cruz: Bike along the boardwalk and take in the central California coast.
- Monterey: Monterey’s rugged coastline and delicious seafood are worth a stop for anyone, but if the city sounds familiar thanks to HBO’s series Big Little Lies, you can visit some of the show’s highlighted spots.
- Carmel by the Sea: Carmel is an incredibly charming city in Monterey County. Go for a wine tasting and to enjoy the city’s art scene.
- Morro Bay: This coastal city has gorgeous beaches. The extinct volcano, Morro Rock, sets it apart.
- San Luis Obispo: SLO is the ideal stop for any outdoor adventure. Biking, surfing, hiking, kayaking, and wine tasting will all feature stunning natural views.
- Santa Barbara: From whale watching to kayaking, Santa Barbara has everything you need for a beach vacation. From the Mediterranean-style architecture downtown to Mission Santa Barbara, the city’s heritage makes the experience unique.
- Los Padres National Forest: Stretching from LA up the central coast, Los Padres is an excellent option for camping and enjoying nature on a coastal trip.
- Nacimiento Road: This extremely windy road is the only road across the Santa Lucia Range in the Central Coast of California, connecting California State Route 1 and the Big Sur coast to U.S. Route 101.
- Malibu: Surf, hike, and camp right by the beach in Malibu. Zuma Beach is a great place to start.
- Mulholland Highway: Blast Free Fallin’ while you’re driving this iconic road, and take a turn on Kanan Dume Road for some of the coolest sunset views on your way to Zuma Beach.
- Santa Monica: From Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier to shopping downtown to the epitome of SoCal beach vibes, a day in Santa Monica is a day well spent. Visit Benny’s Tacos for a California burrito. (That’s a burrito with french fries stuffed inside.)
- Venice: From beach bums to bodybuilders, you’ll see it all in Venice. It’s a favorite for foodies, skaters, surfers, or anyone who wants to feel transported to Italy by visiting the Venice Canals. Head to Abbot Kinney Boulevard for the cutest shops and restaurants.
- The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens: Spending a quiet day in the acres of greenery, reading poetry, or viewing the vast art collection at The Huntington will leave you refreshed and enlightened.
- Griffith Park: A must-see for the abandoned zoo, the Griffith Observatory, and the Hollywood sign, of course.
- Crystal Cove State Park: Natural coast, caves to explore, and the offshore waters designated as an underwater park. Scuba, swim, hike, and then get a milkshake at Crystal Cove Shake Shack.
- Huntington Beach: A surfer’s city. Huntington City Beach and Huntington State Beach are both ideal surf spots.
- Salt Creek Beach Park: This Dana Point beach off of Highway 1 has a good swell for surfers.
- Laguna Beach: Start with beach volleyball at Main Beach then walk to the gardens of Heisler Park. For views of pristine beaches (and unbelievable beach houses) visit Thousand Steps Beach.
- Old Towne Orange: An adorable downtown area, walk through the plaza park, stop in the unique boutiques, and try antique shopping.
- The Anaheim Packing District: If a day on the road or a day of sightseeing has left you starving, head to this foodie’s paradise. The endless options from all over the world will make you want to keep coming back.
- San Clemente State Beach: Camping right next to the beach makes this a great spot to catch the sunset and enjoy the evening. In the morning, stop at Bear Coast Coffee, nestled in a cute strip of shops and cafes.
- Mount Soledad: The 360 view makes this a great place to drive for sunrise or sunset. It’s also a pretty good stargazing spot without getting too far from the city.
- Windansea: A smaller, usually quiet beach in La Jolla. It’s a little more local and a great place to swim or sunbathe.
- Pacific Beach: A great surf spot for beginners, and a bit of a party town.
- Blacks Beach: If beach hopping on the California coast is creating bothersome tan lines, this clothing-optional beach is the place for you.
- Torrey Pines: Hike to cliffside views and return along the beach.
- La Jolla Cove: Spot sea lions and tide pools on the cove and stay for a sunset picnic.
- Liberty Station: So many food options at the public market, plus really cute boutiques
- Balboa Park: There is so much to do in Balboa Park, from picnics, to one of the world’s best zoos the San Diego Zoo, to historic architecture, museums, and events.
- Gaslamp Quarter: A fun downtown for dining and nightlife. Basic Pizza is a great place to start.
- Sunset Cliffs: Aptly named, this Point Loma destination is ideal for sunset. You certainly won’t have the spot to yourself, but the expansive cliffs should leave you room to set down a blanket and enjoy the view.
- North Park: A trendy area full of hipster coffee shops, craft breweries, and unique boutiques. Too many breweries to choose from? Try Modern Times.
- San Onofre (State Beach): This state beach is an hour north of the city, offering a little more space to spread out. This is a great place to camp and has surfing for all levels.
More in SoCal
- Temecula: Southern California’s wine country! Wherever you stop for a wine tasting in Temecula, you’ll find delicious wines and great views. Chapin Family Vineyards is one of our favorites, with a lovely property and great hospitality.
- Death Valley: The largest national park in the continental US and the hottest place in the world. Visit in fall, winter, or spring to avoid the heat and enjoy the otherworldly landscape. Plus, see where Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was filmed!
- Palm Springs: Known for its resorts, Palm Springs is a great sunny getaway for pampering or golfing. It’s also an ideal place to spend the night on a southwest road trip. Check out our LA to Arizona itinerary.
- Joshua Tree: A unique desert national park and the closest national park to LA. It’s great for hiking, rock climbing, and nature photography. Check out our Joshua Tree itinerary.
- Big Bear: An escape in every season! Boat tours and water sports on Big Bear Lake, skiing and snowboarding in the winter.
- Lake Arrowhead: Only an hour and a half from LA, Lake Arrowhead can be a luxurious escape from city life. It’s a great place to enjoy nature while having amazing restaurants nearby.