California, or shall I say The Golden State, is renowned for being home to some of the most stunning places in the whole of the USA. With jaw-dropping coastlines, incredible national parks and unique landscapes, you will never be short of something to see or do in this state.
Everyone has their own idea of what it will be like to visit the USA’s most famous state, and from my experience, this will be a trip of a lifetime with so spectacular sights that will leave you utterly starstruck… and that’s before you even come across one of the many celebrities residing in the area.
With so many places to visit, it can be hard to know where to start. If you are planning a trip to this incredible part of the United States, be sure to refer to this list of the 9 Most Beautiful Places in California.
Getting its name from ‘el sure grande’, a Spanish term meaning ‘the big south’, the beautiful Big Sur coastline stretches over 90 miles and is bursting with amazing things to see. Make sure you stop by the iconic McWay Falls; a remarkable 90-foot waterfall that flows straight into the Pacific Ocean in what is a truly magical sight.
Another unmissable pit stop along Big Sur is Pfeiffer Beach; a magnificent shoreline with plum-hued sand that will leave you speechless. The unique colour of the sand can be traced to the erosion of garnet crystals which turns the sand purple and makes it appear marbled with black and white grains.
I also recommend checking out the iconic Bixby Bridge along Highway 1 which, standing at 714-feet-long, is one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the United States and one of the most outstanding bridges on the West Coast. With lots of the top sights able to be enjoyed from the comfort of a car, a road trip is a perfect way of exploring the Big Sur.
Yosemite National Park
One of the most popular places to visit in the whole of North America, Yosemite National Park lies in the Sierra Nevada mountains and offers some spectacular natural sights. A magical landscape filled with huge sequoia trees and tall, cascading waterfalls, it’s no surprise that millions travel to this famous park every year.
There are lots of lakes and streams hidden away behind colossal peaks along with sweeping canyons and rich plant life, making the area a wonderful place to explore. The Yosemite Falls is a particularly beautiful sight to see, standing at a height of 2,425 feet that makes it the fifth highest waterfall in the world.
Be sure not to miss out on a trek to Glacier Point; a viewpoint that offers incredible views of the Half Dome, High Sierra, Tenaya Canyon and even the Vernal and Nevada Falls. The Valley View is also worth a visit, being home to the Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan, Merced River plus more.
Located in northern California, Napa Valley is famed for its gorgeous rolling hills, classic architecture and incredible wineries. With over 400 wineries in the area, the vineyards spread as far as the eye can see and you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to wine tours and chances to taste the award-winning drinks of the valley.
Some say that the vastness of the vineyards is best taken in from a sky-high view, so why not indulge in a hot air balloon ride over the gorgeous landscapes in the region? If you don’t have a head for heights, you can explore the beautiful scenery on foot by embarking on an adventure along one of the area’s many hiking trails.
You can also hop into the saddle for a horse riding adventure, treat yourself to a magnificent fine-dining experience in a Michelin-starred restaurant or indulge in spa treatments at one of the many lush facilities. As the perfect place to relax and recharge, there are plenty of places to stay in Napa Valley, from boutique hotels to lavish resorts.
As well as being the biggest Alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe is one of the clearest bodies of water in the world. Sitting on the border between California and Nevada, the dazzling blue water of the lake is encircled by breath-taking mountains and verdant forests – a stunning sight to see!
Along with being a great place to chill out and unwind amongst beautiful natural surroundings, you will never be short of something to get up to in Lake Tahoe. In summer, you are free to explore the hundreds of hiking trails and take to the clear waters in a kayak, paddleboard or just for a swim.
There are even lots of activities to get involved in during the winter such as skiing, snowboarding and ice skating. When it comes to sleeping arrangements, you’ll have the option to bed down under the stars or stay at one of the beautiful hotels nestled along Tahoe’s stunning shores.
Joshua Tree National Park
Lying in the southern regions of California where the Colorado and Mojave Deserts meet is Joshua Tree National Park. It comes as no surprise that this park has become one of the most popular tourist spots in the state of California, with the surreal sight of the copious yucca trees being nothing short of spectacular.
Legend has it that the yuccas were given their biblical name by Mormon settlers passing through the area many years ago. The park is a fascinating place to explore, comprising two distinct deserts with separate ecosystems, each offering a diverse array of plants, animals and landscapes to discover.
Whilst the challenging terrain makes the area very popular amongst rock climbers, there are also lots of more relaxing things to get up to such as birdwatching, stargazing, bike riding, hiking and nature walks. In fact, one of the most spectacular viewpoints is also the most accessible, with the panoramic views from the 5,185-foot-high Keys View being particularly amazing.
Death Valley National Park
Despite its name, Death Valley National Park is known for being one of the most sought-after tourist attractions in California. Famous for being home to the lowest point of elevation in North America and one of the hottest places in the world, the harsh environment of this landscape is truly awe-inspiring.
A very unique place, you’ll see towering snow-capped mountains along with colourful sand dunes, steep gorges and amazing oases all the while visiting the driest place in North America. Imagine ghost towns and searing heat in an environment of sharp extremities.
There are plenty of exciting things to get up to in the park. On top of being a fantastic spot for stargazing, there are lots of hiking trails and mountain bike paths to explore. However, make sure you come prepared and are carrying enough water when you visit, as otherwise you may be denied entry by a park ranger.
A Mediterranean-esque coastal city, Santa Barbara occupies a stunning spot between the slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. With a remarkable mountainous backdrop, flawless sand beaches and a sunny climate, the city is often referred to as the ‘American Riviera’.
Along with stunning turquoise waters, the city is home to acres of beautiful countryside, award-winning wineries and beautiful European-style architecture. A favourite among celebs, there are plenty of lush hotels for you to unwind in while keeping an eye out for some of your favourite stars.
Along with enjoying the coastline, you can explore some of the hiking trails in the area. If you fancy a trek, I highly recommend the Lizard’s Mouth which will take you on an adventure across rolling hills with incredible views over the ocean – definitely not one to be missed.
Santa Catalina Island
A Californian Channel Island just off of the coast of Los Angeles in the Pacific Ocean, a visit to Santa Catalina makes the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. A real tropical paradise, you should expect palm trees, cobalt waters flourishing with tropical fish and gentle waves lapping against the boardwalk.
Easily accessed by a ferry ride from four mainland ports, the island comes straight out of an outdoor lover’s dream, with lots of water sports to dive into, a thriving array of sea life to investigate and many hiking trails to explore. You will have the opportunity to take to the flawless waters by kayak or parasail and of course, swim in the ocean if you wish.
Santa Catalina is also a great place to tour on two wheels, as cycling along the boardwalk is a great way to see as much of the scenery as possible. Make sure you pay a visit to the gorgeous island town of Avalon, whose stunning architecture and delicious eateries should make it worthy of its own on this list.
The Cypress Tree Tunnel
Perched neatly between the Pacific Ocean and Tomales Bay is the charming road known as the Cypress Tree Tunnel. A favourite amongst visitors of the area, the road is renowned for the stunning interlocking Monterey cypress branches that arch over it.
The sight of this tree-lined road is absolutely magical and looks as if it has come straight out of a fairytale. Forming a natural tunnel, this spot is a brilliant place to catch the sunset as the lighting creates the most whimsical setting for a photograph.
Alternatively, if you want to beat the traffic you could always visit at sunrise. My final piece of advice would be to make sure you park in the designated area and definitely not anywhere near the trees, as otherwise you will not only ruin your own photo but be very unpopular amongst other visitors!
The Golden State is a wonderful place to explore, offering some of the most famous picturesque and photogenic scenes on the planet. Whether you are looking for idyllic beaches, majestic mountains, incredible deserts or amazing national parks, there is something for everyone to enjoy in California.
I hope you enjoyed reading this guide on the 9 Most Beautiful Places in California. You can check out more of my recommendations for this state in my California Travel Guide here.