Places You Must Visit In California (Besides Los Angeles)

Los Angeles can be wonderful, exciting and full of possibilities, but California is a hugely diverse place full of wonder and breathtaking beauty just waiting to be discovered.

What’s the first thing you think of when you see or hear the word ‘California?’ Lots of sunshine? Palm trees? Gorgeous girls in short shorts? You probably picture all of these things in LA, right?

Don’t get me wrong: Los Angeles is great—I had a lot of fun there—but after three weeks on the golden coast, I can safely say that it is not the best place you will experience in Cali.

California is a big state so I haven’t experienced it all (yet), but, out of the places I did see, these were my favourite and I highly recommend visiting them if you ever get the chance.

San Diego

Downtown City of San Diego

This one was a pleasant surprise. I’d never really thought of San Diego as a place I desperately wanted to see, but it has everything you would expect of California—the sun, the sandy beaches, the palm trees, the chilled out vibe—and it just feels far more relaxed than LA.

I highly recommend Coronado Island, which is basically an island with a huge hotel. The hotel is extremely impressive and has a lovely terrace where you can have some drinks and watch the sunset. The bridge to the island also has some stunning views.

I also recommend sampling the nightlife in the Gaslamp Quarter as it has everything you could ever want, from a piano bar to a Coyote Ugly bar! I would have loved to experience La Jolla while I was there, but, sadly, I didn’t have enough time.

Santa Barbara

At night, the town is lovely—full of restaurants, bars and atmosphere. Although I wasn’t overly impressed with the town itself during the day, I fell in love with the beach; if you feel like spending a day or two doing nothing but lounging about on a beach, then this is the place for you.

I think the reason I liked it so much was because of the sea; you could float with ease and there are almost no waves (which is obviously not great for surfers but, hey, I’m no surfer!).

San Luis Obispo


I think that what this town is most famous for has to be bubblegum alley- a quirky, disgusting alleyway with walls covered in used gum. It’s definitely a must-see!

Aside from the alley, this place has the feeling of a quaint little European village complete with boutique shops and rope lights adorning the trees that line the edge of the sidewalks. It doesn’t have much of an American feel to it at all. What’s more is that the people are all so friendly and welcoming—and not just because it’s their job!


solvang california

Solvang is a cute little Danish village on the outskirts of LA, and it’s an absolutely wonderful place to stumble upon! It has everything you could possibly want from a little Nordic village in California: a Danish bakery, a cute little courtyard housing entrances to cute little cafes and stores, a windmill, Segway rides and more. It’s not a place to stop for a night/short trip, but if you’re driving towards/away from LA then it’s definitely worth checking out.

San Francisco

For most of my life, I’ve longed to visit San Francisco and, admittedly, when I finally did it wasn’t everything I expected it to be, but Pier 39 was right up my street!

The pier was full of candy shops, souvenir shops, a carousel and gorgeous views across the sea, and strolling along it reminded me a little of seaside towns I used to visit growing up in England—except Pier 39 is in much better condition!

Pier 39 is home to the famous sea lions, which just kept appearing one day and have never left. Obviously they are a must-see in their own right, but make sure you take time to explore the pier—and don’t miss the musical stairs. I could have had hours of fun on those!

If you have a whole day to spare, why not take a catamaran trip from Pier 39 around the bay. It takes you past all the main attractions like the zig zag streets, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Big Sur/McWay Canyon

McWay Falls

This is hands down the most beautiful place I have ever had the pleasure of visiting! There’s not really much to say about Big Sur except that it is breathtakingly beautiful, and I believe that everyone should see it at least once in their life.

While my friends and I were driving along the coast, we stopped off at McWay Canyon: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. There, you can do a lovely little trek along a cliff top that overlooks a prohibited beach (prohibited presumably to preserve its beauty) where the turquoise ocean rolls out to meet the deeper blue ocean; there’s also a waterfall cascading down the rocks.

We were lucky when we visited as we were told that it would be dried up during August, but there it was a bit of a trickle—compared with what it would usually be. There’s not a lot to do there but the beauty of it is enough to make you want to spend all day taking it in. There’s also a beach full of elephant seals and a spot where you can see whales out at sea just a bit further down the road.


Far from the hustle and bustle of the big cities, Yosemite National Park is a beautiful and peaceful escape, so it’s no wonder that so many people flock to this place every year.

It’s so easy to spend all day hiking into the valley, past waterfalls, enormous trees, Half Dome, flowing streams and cascading waterfalls. There’s even a waterfall decorated with a permanent rainbow! Pack a picnic, pick a hike (one that matches your fitness abilities) and enjoy the views.

Are there any places on this list that you really love? Perhaps there’s a place on this list that you didn’t enjoy? Are there any amazing places that we’ve missed out? Let us know in the comments!

About the author

Emily W

I’m a soon-to-be psychology graduate who’s trying to avoid adulthood at all costs. I spent a summer working and travelling around America, and came home to the UK with a serious case of wanderlust and a bagel addiction. When I’m not writing articles I can be found blogging, planning my next adventure, or reading delicious vegetarian recipes.

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