There are so many unique places to visit in California. The state is one of the most recognisable in the US and we all know it from the movies. It’s also one of the most popular places for tourists to visit outside of New York.
It’s such a diverse state with all sorts of different natural landscapes and some incredible cities. When visiting a state this big, it can be difficult to know where to start.
Before any trip, you should always manage your expectations and accept the fact that you will never be able to experience everything that California has to offer because it’s just so big and there are so many amazing things to do and see.
But don’t see that as a bad thing, see it as an excuse for another trip in the future.
If you have never been to California before and you are thinking about a trip, this guide will tell you all of the best places you can go.
10 Unique Places to Visit in California
1. San Francisco
OK, not quite an unknown place to visit in Cali, but I couldn’t miss this amazing city out of this list.
You can’t take your first trip to California without going to San Francisco. There’s a reason why it’s always listed as one of the best cities in the world to visit and if you haven’t been to California before, it’s the best place to start your trip.
On future trips, you might feel that you’ve seen enough of San Francisco and you want to spend more time in other places, but make sure you don’t miss it the first time around.
Flying into San Francisco is the easiest way to get to California anyway, so you’ll be passing through the city on any trip you take. Before you leave, make sure that you sort out your ESTA, which is the alternative to a visa for travellers from the UK and other selected countries.
Visit esta-america.com for more information about how to apply. Getting this sorted online before you arrive at the airport will save you a lot of trouble, so you can start exploring San Francisco right away.
If you want to hit the main tourist attractions, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge should be top of your list. If you want a change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the city, head down to Marshall’s Beach, where you can relax next to the water. There is a great food scene in San Francisco too, so make sure to take advantage of that as much as possible.
2. Death Valley
Death Valley doesn’t sound particularly enticing and you’re probably thinking that it’s not the kind of place that you want to go.
But even though it is one of the harshest environments in the world (hence the name) it’s also one of the most beautiful landscapes in California or anywhere in the world. This valley in the northern Mojave desert is one of the hottest places on Earth and if you’re going to travel there, you need to be careful.
The rangers in the national park will check to see whether you have enough water etc. before letting you continue because it can get very dangerous if you are unprepared.
But even though it sounds quite scary, you will be rewarded with some of the most spectacular views that you won’t see anywhere else in the world. In the Death Valley National Park, you will find Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the whole of North America.
If you want to experience some of the incredible natural landscapes that California has to offer, Death Valley should definitely be on your itinerary.
3. Queen Califia Magical Circle
Queen Califia’s Magical Circle is a sculpture garden located in Kit Carson Park, Escondido, California. Opened posthumously, it is one of the last works of Franco-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle.
The garden is named after Califia, the fictional warrior queen of the mythical Island of California, and is inspired by California’s rich history and culture. It includes a circular enclosure, a maze entryway paved with mosaic tiles, ten large sculptures, and native trees and shrubs planted both inside the plaza and around the outer wall.
There are also three long benches faced with travertine marble and river rocks, designed by Pierre Marie LeJeune.
4. Disneyland, Anaheim
This is a bit of a change of pace from Death Valley and it’s not for everybody, but you might decide to visit the Disneyland park in Anaheim. This isn’t just any ordinary theme park, it’s the very first Disneyland, completed by Walt Disney himself.
There are Disney parks all over the USA and the world these days, and if you’ve already been to some of the big ones in Orlando, for example, you will find much of the same.
However, it’s a must if you are a Disney fan or if you just want to add a bit of magic to your trip. It’s not just a theme park, it’s a piece of history too, so you should find time in your itinerary for it if you can.
5. Belmont Park
Belmont Park is a historic amusement park located on the Ocean Front at Surfrider Square in the Mission Bay area of San Diego, California. The park was developed by sugar magnate John D. Spreckels and opened on July 4, 1925, as the Mission Beach Amusement Center. And if you are on a family holiday, there are so many things to do in San Diego with kids!
The park’s most iconic attraction is the historic Giant Dipper roller coaster, which is considered a local landmark. And many of the attractions and rides remain from the original 1925 park. There is the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Another historic facility is The Plunge, an indoor swimming pool, originally a saltwater pool called the Natatorium and was the largest salt-water pool in the world; it now contains freshwater.
6. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is one of the best spots in California because it has a little bit of everything. In the summer, it’s the perfect place to relax by the water on the beautiful beaches. There are also some incredible hiking trails around the area if you like to be a bit more active.
You might assume that with all of the lakes and beaches, this is a summer spot and you won’t find much to do here in the winter, but that isn’t the case. When the cold weather sets in, the area around Lake Tahoe turns into a skiing paradise.
There are lots of different slopes, all ranging in difficulty, so even if you have never been skiing before, it’s still worth visiting if you are in California during the winter.
7. Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain is a hillside visionary environment created by local resident Leonard Knight (1931–2014) in the California Desert area of Imperial County. The project was one man’s journey to make a way to show the love of God to the world turned into an impressive painted mountain.
The artwork is made of adobe bricks, discarded tires and windows, automobile parts and thousands of gallons of paint. It encompasses numerous murals and areas painted with Christian sayings and Bible verses, though its philosophy was built around the Sinner’s Prayer.
8. Yosemite National Park
The USA has so many great national parks but Yosemite is one of the most famous and one of the best.
Set in the Sierra Nevada mountains, this national park has all sorts of great hiking routes that really give you the chance to appreciate the landscape. Glacier Point and Yosemite Valley are both popular hikes but if you are willing to take on a bit of a challenge, the hike up to Bridalveil Falls is definitely worth it.
While you’re there, don’t miss out on El Capitan, one of the most famous summits in the world.
9. LA Observation Deck
If you are looking for amazing views of Los Angeles then make sure you check out the Observation Deck at the top of LA’s City Hall. This deck provides a 360-degree view of the city and gives you amazing views of downtown Los Angeles from an angle you haven’t seen before.
The deck is free to access and is open Monday – Friday 8-5, and then is closed on the weekends. To get in you must check-in and get a visitors badge.
10. California’s Pacific Coast Highway
State Route 1 is a major north-south state highway that runs along most of the Pacific coastline of the U.S. state of California. At a total of just over 656 miles, it is the longest state route in California and a Pacific Coast Road Trip is one of the most beautiful drives there is.
The route is a designated Blue Star Memorial Highway as a way of recognition to those that serve in the U.S. armed forces and it runs via Dana Point in Orange County, Leggett in Mendocino and most notably through a 54-mile stretch in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and across the Golden Gate Bridge.
When people picture California, they usually think of San Francisco. But even though San Fran is a wonderful city with so much to see and do, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. These amazing destinations all deserve a place on your itinerary when you are planning a trip to California, especially if you’ve never been before.
Heading to Europe? Check out my guides to France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and United Kingdom.
My Travel Tips and Recommendations
To book flights, I always use flight search engine Skyscanner, I regularly use the Everywhere tool to find the cheapest places to travel. It’s how I get to travel so much all around the world. I find it the easiest way to compare flight prices across airlines and get the best deals.
For accommodation, I usually book most of my hotels or hostels through Booking.com. I love using this platform as it provides me with some amazing deals for accommodation all around the world. Or if you prefer, I also recommend using Airbnb. If you haven’t signed up with Airbnb already, you can use this link to get £25 off your first visit!
Picking travel insurance that covers you in all eventualities is an essential part of planning a trip for every single person. If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel. You never know what’s around the corner.
You can also find me on social media: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.
Did you know I also vlog my trips? Make sure you subscribe to my YouTube channel so you get alerted when all my travel videos go live… CHECK THEM OUT HERE
Thank you for reading and as always happy adventuring! If you have any questions about the destination please leave these in the comments below.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it for me with all your friends and family!