Best Places to Visit in California

The Golden State gets its name for a reason. California's diverse cultural and geographical offerings, vibrant cities and critically acclaimed culinary scenes are truly the gold standard for travelers. Whether you're hiking the trails of one of the state's many scenic parks, sampling some bubbly in the northern valleys, kicking back on sunny, southern shorelines or walking where stars once stood, California is truly a sight to behold. U.S. News took into account expert opinion and traveler sentiment to determine California's best vacation destinations. Got a favorite? Vote below to help influence next year's list.  

  • San Francisco
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    San Francisco

    #1 in Best Places to Visit in California

    San Francisco brims with life everywhere you go. Whether it's zipping around on a cable car, exploring one of the city's many culturally eclectic neighborhoods, admiring towering redwoods near the Golden Gate Bridge or diving fork first into its world-renowned foodie scene, the city's energy is downright electric, no matter what time of year you visit.

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  • San Diego
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    San Diego

    #2 in Best Places to Visit in California

    San Diego is Southern California at its finest. Think warm weather year-round, endless stretches of surf-friendly shorelines and some of the best Mexican food in the USA. Recent visitors also thoroughly enjoyed attractions such as Balboa Park, the USS Midway Museum, housed in an aircraft carrier, and the San Diego Zoo, widely considered to be one of the best zoos in the country.

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  • Yosemite
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    #3 in Best Places to Visit in California

    One of the country's most popular national parks can be found about 160 miles east of San Francisco. Yosemite offers every adventure activity you can possibly think of, from low-impact fishing to daredevil pursuits such as rock climbing. Whatever you choose to do, don't leave without exploring can't-miss sites like Glacier Point, Half Dome and Vernal Fall.

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  • Lake Tahoe
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    Lake Tahoe

    #4 in Best Places to Visit in California

    Lake Tahoe is one of those destinations where you can enjoy the outdoors no matter what season you visit. During the winter, Tahoe becomes a popular ski spot, and when summer hits, locals rent boats in droves as a way to unwind on the lake. Even if your motivation is to simply relax, don't leave without a light stroll around the beautiful Emerald Bay State Park or D.L. Bliss State Park.

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  • Big Sur
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    Big Sur

    #5 in Best Places to Visit in California

    Big Sur's dramatic position at the edge of the ocean is so spellbindingly beautiful, it has the habit of putting travelers into a trance. This 90-mile stretch of rugged coastline offers plenty of hiking trails that weave in and out of surrounding mountains and valleys, as well as pathways leading to wild, seemingly untouched beaches. Don't know where to start? Turn to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, a go-to for many first-time travelers.

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  • Santa Monica
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    Santa Monica

    #6 in Best Places to Visit in California

    Situated 15 miles west of downtown LA, Santa Monica Beach easily stands alone as its own destination. This beachfront neighborhood is equipped with ample hotels, dining and shopping options in addition to its star attraction: the Pacific Park Pier and beach. After a day of fun in the sand or at the popular Third Street Promenade, visit Palisades Park for an unforgettable southern Californian sunset. 

  • Anaheim-Disneyland
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    #7 in Best Places to Visit in California

    This ranking would not be complete without mentioning Anaheim, home to "The Happiest Place on Earth." Disneyland is the star attraction and the main reason travelers make the 30-mile trek here from Los Angeles. Other amusement parks here include Knott's Berry Farm, a local favorite, and Adventure City, a much more budget-friendly option. Outside the theme parks, you can enjoy some grub at the Anaheim Packing District food court.

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  • Los Angeles
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    Los Angeles

    #8 in Best Places to Visit in California

    La La Land is really as dreamy as they say. While you'll no doubt contend with the city's infamous bumper-to-bumper traffic during your stay, knowing you have world-renowned hot spots such as Hollywood and Venice Beach at your fingertips will leave you exhilarated. Also, plan to visit the lesser-known, locally loved gems too, including Grand Central Market and Malibu's Zuma Beach.

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  • Sequoia National Park
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    Sequoia National Park

    #9 in Best Places to Visit in California

    If you want an eyeful of the iconic towering redwoods during your California vacation, there’s no better place than Sequoia National Park. The Giant Forest, the park's main attraction, features 8,000 redwoods, which average the height of a 26-story building. You’ll also stumble upon the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world by volume.

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  • Laguna Beach
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    Laguna Beach

    #10 in Best Places to Visit in California

    Laguna Beach is the perfect destination if you’re looking for a small town, southern California experience. Situated between LA and San Diego, Laguna Beach offers an array of scenic beaches both big and small, remote and central that’ll keep visitors occupied for days. Main Beach and Crescent Bay are a couple local favorites, while visitors highly recommend a trip to the wild shores of Crystal Cove State Park.

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