Your California Bucket List Planning Guide

Welcome to our things to do in California bucket list.

This is your hub for all the best places to visit in California, including top California attractions, theme park secrets, cool cities, unique outdoor adventures and beautiful beaches.

Laguna Beach in Orange County - one of the best places to visit in Southern California
Laguna Beach, Orange County

In this post, you’ll find links to our content on each region of California that includes things to do, best tips, recommended hotels, tours and deals.

We’re adding to this the more we explore California, so keep checking back!

All of our content is based upon personal travel experience, not desk research. We walk our talk so can give you the most relevant and personal recommendations and stories.

Be sure to check all of our USA travel tips, as we’ve been exploring the country in-depth for the past year on short breaks, getaways, road trips, and a year long RV trip of the American West.

Our Best Things to do in California Content

Here are our California highlights and recommendations so far! Be sure to read this list of 30 places to visit in California

San Francisco Videos

Watch our videos from our trip to San Francisco

Popular San Francisco Tours

Popular San Francisco Day Trips

Popular Los Angeles Tours

Popular Los Angeles Day Trips

Los Angeles Videos

Watch our playlist from our LA travels

Huntington Beach Pier, Orange County. One of the best places to visit in California

Southern California Travel Tips

Beach lovers will enjoy the coastal lifestyle of Southern California. It’s where you’ll find our favorite beach in California: Huntington Beach.

Jebediah State Forest Northern california

Northern California Travel Tips

Northern California is vastly different to the rest of the Golden State. Here it is a lush, wild and rugged land full of adventures.

Northern California Playlist

Watch our videos from our Northern California road trip.

zabriski point sunset death valley

California National Parks

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California National Park videos

Check out the beauty and diversity of California’s national parks

Sightseeing Pass: Save Money on California Travel

Cable Cars, San Francisco

Discount tourist cards are a great way to save money on popular attractions. With their skip-the-line tickets they can also save you a lot of time.

The Sightseeing Pass is our favorite discount attraction pass as it often includes quirky local attractions, walking tours, discounted food and shopping, and has a huge range of attractions and flexibility.

Check out these California Sightseeing Passes:

Car Rental for California

California is a fantastic road trip destination. If you have your own car, keep on reading.

If you don’t, is our most trusted source for car rental. (We’re affiliate partners with them as a result!)

Booking California Accommodation

Each of the posts below have accommodation recommendations specific to the destination and from our personal experiences + ones we have thoroughly reviewed.

We recommend the following two booking sites (it’s the ones we use the most)

G Adventures Tours

For those, who don’t want the hassle of organizing your own road trip of California, we highly recommend G Adventures guided tours.

What are your favorite things to do in California?

We still plan on doing all the touristy stuff in California, but it’s about going deeper and finding out what Americans love about America? What makes America the beautiful?

This is where you can share in our journey.

We want to know your local favorites and the hidden gems in your backyard? What are the backroads to take and the mom and pop stores to visit?

And how do we get the best out of the touristy California attractions? Leave your tips in the comments below.

We’re looking forward to reading about your insider tips on things to do in California!

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59 thoughts on “Your California Bucket List Planning Guide”

  1. My first overseas trip was when I was about 9 and was taken to California! I remember Disneyland and Universal Studios were definite highlights for someone my age at the time, and even now at 20 I would kill to go back! I also remember Legoland was something fun for kids in San Diego and even San Jose might be a good place to stop! Definitely a lot to see and do in California! I can’t wait to see your travels 🙂 I love watching your snapchats!

    1. Hi Sophie,

      Oh yes, besides Disneyland we’re hoping to take the kids to all the theme parks in California such as Universal Studios and Legoland. I’m sure even us big kids will love those – we love movies!

      Thanls for following along on SnapChat, having some fun with that platform 🙂

  2. While in California you have all the sports there to do a sporting event, baseball, you can see battle of the bay Oakland A’s vs San Francisco Giants, football (American), hockey, basketball the Bay Area has it all! I also loved as a kid going to Santa Cruz beach the boardwalk is fun, games, rides, yummy foods! I also suggest the Exploratorium in San Francisco for the kids, I went a few years ago after only going when I was about 9 and it was still fun!
    If you go during Christmas time, Christmas in the park in San Jose is cool to experience as well. Lights, hot cocoa, lots of picture opportunities.
    I’ll be moving back to California after being gone for almost 14 years and looking forward to taking my daughter to the places I loved growing up!

    1. Hey Emily,

      I’m a HUGE sports fan and my NFL team is the Niners so would love to see a game in San Francisco. And a Golden State Warriors game to see Steph Curry would be awesome too. Is StubHub still the best way to get tickets for sporting events?

      And thanks for the tips on Santa Cruz. Sounds like a fun town. Will put that on our list for the Highway 1 drive! Hope your move back to California goes great!

      1. Stub hub is the easiest way to get tix if they are harder to find tickets for bigger games. But otherwise, looking through the venue or team website will still provide you with plenty of options for most games.

  3. I live near San Francisco. One of my favorite places to go is Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley. Lots of beautiful hiking trails. On some trails you can get really beautiful views of SF. They also have a merry-go-round, little farm area, a lake and botanical gardens. Great place to visit with kids!

    Also, if you’re taking the Pacific Coast Highway from SF down south, definitely stop in Santa Cruz. The Beach Boardwalk amusement park there is super fun. They also have other nice beaches and some good hiking spots. Plenty of interesting shops and restaurants. If you pass through Monterey, I highly recommend stopping at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

    1. Hi Sylvia,

      Have never heard of Tilden Regional Park, sounds cool with the kids for sure, thanks for the tip!

      And will have to stop in Santa Cruz I’m sure the kids will love that boardwalk. I visited Monterey many years ago but never went inside the aquarium, we’ll have to check it out.

    2. I live in L.A. but my sister lives near Wildcat/Tilden. It’s a great area and I do enjoy a hike there when I’m visiting her. Good recommendation.

  4. Wow, there are so many things to mention. Looks like you’re hitting some of the big national parks and highlights, but here are a few other suggestions:

    -Death Valley National Park – Beautiful desert landscapes, lowest elevation in North America, highest temperatures in the world (tempting, I know).
    -Sequoia National Park – Easy hikes and beautiful scenery, home to the largest tree (by volume) in the world!

    -Santa Barbara for beautiful seaside locations and wine tasting nearby
    -Catalina Island for a short getaway
    -Santa Cruz for a scenic beach town surrounded by redwoods.
    -Big Sur for awesome cliff/seaside views

    -Other than the national parks, there are some really cool stairways in Hollywood near the Hollywood Bowl, and Angeleno Heights is a great place for a view of downtown and for a walk around beautiful Tudor architecture.
    -Northern California is absolutely crawling with gorgeous hikes. Mount Tamalpais is a great one just across the Golden Gate Bridge for iconic views of San Francisco.

    -You haven’t made a trip to Los Angeles if you haven’t gone to a Dodger game and had a Dodger Dog!

    Notable but not often mentioned scenic points along PCH from San Francisco to Los Angeles:
    -Pigeon Point Lighthouse
    -Davenport Cliffs
    -Carmel Highlands

    Other stuff:
    -Los Angeles has some great museums, including the Getty (worth visiting for the view alone!) and the Broad.

    As you may have guessed, I could go on about cool stuff in California all day! Enjoy your trip!

  5. California
    My five cents:
    I need about a week to just typewrite – ten fingers – all the things to do and see in California.
    Will try to be as brief as possible.
    One serious piece of advice concerning travel plans you have already made: I would skip California Disneyland in favor of the Florida one. Original Disneyland is outdated, extremely crowded and not so big compare to its east coast sibling. But that’s up to you.
    I always favor SF over LA (SF is my favorite city in USA), LA and SS is on pair. Museum life is much more interested in LA, than anywhere else on east coast, but you have to pay a huge price in commuting.
    As for a travel logistic: I would suggest to drive the state meridionally and do that twice – once along the coast via RT.1 and Rt.101 (use Rt.101 between Solvang and Pismo Beach, for example) all the way from San Diego to Oregon and then back along the Sierra Nevada range (or vise versa).
    Seasons: any. This is the only USA state that can be traveled and equally thorough enjoyed any time of year. Of course, the travel itinerary will be really different at different seasons, but the state offers something magnificent any time of year. Having said that, I would avoid, if possible, travelling the state in summer months – the settings are bleaker due to water restrictions and many parks are unnecessary crowded. However, city hopping (San Diego-LA-SF) in summer is perfectly OK.
    Orientation: I would highly recommend to purchase Delorme California Atlas and Gazetteer. Actually, I always use that type of atlases when travelling to any US states. It gives you much broader sense of surroundings that GPS, and is very helpful in planning, especially if you are nature-oriented traveler.
    Natural features: try to visit ALL California National Parks and National Monuments. No exceptions. All of them are REALLY good. Yosemite takes at least a week (summer is terribly crowded here, any other season is good, some winters may be snowy, but it rarely happens), Lassen Volcanic, Sequoya, Redwood (both north and south stretches), Joshua Tree require at least several days to a week each if you are interested in hiking, smaller parks like Pinnacles, Muir Woods, Kings Canyon, Mono Lake, Anza-Borrego or Mojave desert can be done via a day visit or with a short stay nearby.
    Death Valley NP is pretty specific place. It worth driving through at any season (allow about two days, three days if you want to go hiking toward bristlecone pines at western Death Valley or to ruins at the north of the park), however, try to get there in early March or so, when wildflowers may be in bloom, if rain cooperates. Choice of lodgings are limited here and Furnace Creek Inn is the only viable opportunity.

    Here are few of my favorite small places in California, north to south:
    Coastal area Oregon to SF:
    Smith River upstream of Crescent City (nice clean mountain stream);
    Jedediah Smith Redwood SP;
    Rt. 96 from Arkata to I-5;
    Trinidad (nice beach and tidal pools) at low tide, fantastic sunsets;
    Eureka marshes (in bird migration season only);
    Ferndale (Victorian houses);
    Humboldt Redwood SP + Eel river;
    Shelter Cove at low tide;
    Standish-Hickey SRA (summer only if you want to swim);
    McKericher SP at low tide (one of the best tidal pools in California);
    Fort Bragg Glass Beach;
    Jackson SF if you have a good 4WD;
    Mendocino NF has a lot of trails, your choice;
    Salt Point SP (good mushroom hunting in season);
    Fort Ross (must see, carefully check when they are open);
    Bodega Bay (eat at Tides Wharf, nice view to the harbor);
    Point Reyes Peninsula (bring binoculars to enjoy watching harbor seals and other marine life, lots of trails, prime mushroom picking area for sanfranciscians);
    Bolinas Bay waterfowl;
    Muir Woods NM (arrive early before tourist buses to have the place for yourself);
    Russian River, Napa, Sonoma and Alexander Valley (the last one is often overlooked, and vastly underestimated) are all worth to drive through and visit all (or some) of the breweries. Wine testing here is legendary/ If you are up for a sour beer, don’t miss Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa.
    Eastern California from Oregon to Sacramento River Valley:
    Mills Creek Falls in Modoc NF;
    Honn Creek in Lassen NF;
    Subway Cave (lava tube cave) in Lassen NF;
    Lassen NP and vicinity, really nice campground at Manzanita Lake, trails start just from the camping area, you can rent a boat to explore the small lake;
    Hike to Lassen Peak (crowdy, but nice), short hikes to any of alpine lakes in the park;
    Sacramento Valley is really interesting if you like to see all the varieties of agriculture methods;
    Lake Tahoe vicinity is very picturesque (most of the nice hikes, including Eagle Falls, are at the south end of the lake);
    Each road crossing Sierra Nevada from Lake Tahoe to SF is interesting to drive at (and hike from, options are unlimited), you gradually getting from alpine landscape to small hill vineries, then to super-fertile Sacramento valley. Some mountain roads may be closed in winter, the more you are to the south (toward Yosemite), the more chances are that the roads might not be opened (roughly from December to March);
    SF to San Diego along the coast:
    I would stay at least two weeks in SF, I love this city and its vicinity. The closer you stay to Market Place, the more interesting it is (this part of the town never get asleep). Choices of lodging are fantastic, but prices are outrageous;
    Follow Rt. 1 all the way (except at small suggested deviation near bleaky area of Santa Maria, where Rt.101 presents a little nicer options, like nearby wineries);
    Keep an eye on sea lions – they can be spotted anywhere (particularly good places are north of San Luis Obispo and near San Simeon SP);
    Monterrey aquarium is overestimated, in my opinion, but childrens may like it anyway;
    Carmel is one of the best small towns on the west coast, 17 miles drive is must to do, sea otter spotting is almost guaranteed;
    Point Lobos SNR is my favorite ocean-side area in California. Arrive early (or late), as parking is a huge problem on the entrance;
    Explore both west and east entrances to Pinnacles National Park. Don’t forget a flashlights, some passages are so narrow, that you literally walk through the cave;
    The stretch of Rt.1 from Carmel to Morro Bay is probably the best coastal drive in USA (well, some Oregonians will not agree with me);
    Don’t miss waterfall from a creek to the ocean at Julia Pfeiffer SP (famous place for those loving Henry Miller or John Stainbeck). Nice campground is nearby at Big Sur;
    You may book a tour at Hearst San Simeon palace (do that well in advance), it is a quintessential realization of an average XX century American’s dream of “what I will do if I get really rich”;
    Can drive your regular car at Pismo beach (4WD is advisable, though);
    Islay Creek campground is usually not full, good choice for a one-two nights stay in the area (tidal pools, good wineries near San Luis Obispo, surfing);
    Solvang is funny Dutch village, very touristy, but nice;
    Santa Barbara is overrated, in my opinion;
    If you have time to dive (or fish) somewhere near Channel Islands, don’t miss it, it is quite an experience (however, ocean fishing is better from San Diego, in my opinion);
    LA can be lightly explored in a week or two. Don’t miss Huntington Library, Norton Symon Museum, Getti Museum, Broad Museum, Marina del Rey, Beverly Hills + West Hollywood, and Santa Monica promenade – everything else may not be that pretty;
    La Jolla is my favorite place near San Diego. Try to stay as close to the cove, as possible (Pantai Inn is expensive but is absolutely the best lodging in the area). Snorkel, kayak to the coastal coves, or just stroll along the coast here;
    Torrey Pines SNR is very nice beach strolling area (keep in mind that part of the beach is a nude zone, it is pretty common in California). The park is one of the easiest places in USA where you may do paragliding (with instructor);
    San Diego Zoo is the best in USA (can tell that for sure, I checked everything). I can easily spend couple days there;
    San Diego Zoo safari park in Escondido is not that good as it was a decade ago. The train that circled the park is broken for years now, and they use the bus service on safari instead – it is much more crowded, not personalized and not very intriguing. However, if you are willing to walk few miles a day or pay for a personal guide, you can still see a lot here;
    Gaslamp district is fine, but not spectacular, ocean promenade (especially at Seaport village) is better in my view;
    Midway carrier is a must to see;
    Seaword (must visit) is on pair with the one in Orlando;
    Everyone used to eat at Old Town San Diego, maybe it is still OK, at least most of the restaurants are pretty “Mexican” there;
    SF to Mexico via Sierra Nevada:
    Yosemite NP. Spend as much time here, as you can. You can stay in campground (in hard-shell tents, yurts or cabins). Try to avoid getting here in summer, it is insanely crowded time. Shoulder seasons are the best, winter is not that bad too, unless you got into rare snow storm. Do hikes to any and all waterfalls, they are all different. Drive to old sequoia groves (two of them are nearby), do that in early morning to avoid crowds;
    Drive Rt. 120 to Mono lake. Calcite (?) formations on the lake looks eerie and are easy to access;
    Side trip to Mammoth Mountain is an interesting proposition just for a purpose of checking how they do business there. I am pretty active alpine skier myself, but had to admit that most of California ski resorts disappoint me. Not because of the scenery – they are pretty, open, well prepared (usually). But the hordes of skiers on the slopes, questionable infrastructure, unstable weather and somewhat outdated ski lifts can ruin even the best sceneries available. So, most times I am starting to plan my ski vacation in California, I am ending up skiing in Europe;
    Chose any of hundreds of hikes from Lake Shore. You can get to really high alpine places from here. Beware of black bears in a peak of tourist season (both here and in Yosemite), bears can easily leave you without your lunch (it is more an annoyance, than a danger);
    King Canyon and Sequoia NPs are both wonderful and must see, however choice of hotels and campgrounds are limited here. Plan you camping in advance;
    Joshua Tree NP is one of my favorite places in USA, however, it is at its best when the weather is not scorching hot (means, winter or spring). You can stay at Palm Springs, of course, it is a nice resort city with an easy gondola access to Mt. San Jacinto, however, most of the Joshua Tree campgrounds are really nice to stay at, especially for children (a lot of boulders to climb to);
    Santa Rosa and san Jacinto Mountains displays wonderful spring wildflower colors sometime in or around April (wild poppies are fantastic);
    Salton Lake is pretty interesting to drive around. Nice places to walk are on the southern end of the Sea, it is a wintering grounds for thousands of birds (near Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR);
    Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area not far from Brawley is really interesting to visit, the area is very rewarding for photo enthusiast at dusk and dawn;
    Anza-Borrego Desert SP offers surprisingly interesting wildlife and cactus life, better to have a good 4WD (or, better, ATV) if you plan to drive away from main roads;
    Drive from desert to San Diego via Cleveland National Forest may surprise everyone: on couple occasions we got from a snow at vicinity of Pine Valley to a swimmable ocean at San Diego in just 40 minutes.
    If you are interested in details, just E-mail me with questions.

    1. Love your “5 cents” worth of tips Ivan. Incredible. Looks like we’ll be in California for 6 months now, lol, so much to see and do, love the diversity of the state. You’ve certainly been around California and have given us lots to think about. Cheers!!

  6. These below locations are off beat locations with less crowd

    1. Glass Beach at Fort Bragg
    2. Hidden Staircases at Franceschi Park
    3. Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills
    4. Sea Cave at Avila Beach
    5. Coronado Shores Shipwreck
    6. College Cove at Trinidad State Beach
    7. Badwater in Death Valley
    8. Sunken City in San Pedro

    Enjoy and have fun exploring California

  7. Very excited for you. We are full-time travelers and before that residents of California for 16 years. Here are some of our faves as residents and as road warriors. (We travel around the western US in an Airstream trailer).

    San Diego is awesome – for camping Mission Bay is our favorite RV park for being super central, if you want old town beachy feel then San Elijo state beach in Encinitas is great. I’m not a fan of Orange County, but for a drop dead amazing campground try Crystal Cove State Beach – well worth a few days for killer SoCal views. State beaches can be tricky to get into – some need to be booked well in advance. LMK if you want some tips to score them.

    As some others said don’t rush through the Central California Coast – Pismo Beach North Beach campground is a great base to explore the area – highlights in this area are Avila Beach, Montano d’Oro State Park, Morro Bay, Paso Robles wine country, Hearst Castle, Cambria.

    Carmel, Monterey, Capitola and Santa Cruz are great too before you get to the SF Bay Area. Our favorite campsite is New Brighton State Beach. One in SF Bay Area good camping can be hard to come by, we stay in the East Bay near Berkeley at Anthony Chabot Regional Park. You can get BART (the light rail) into downtown SF from here.

    I agree with the person who said to explore the coast and then the inland rather than criss crossing the state. Avoid inland in the summer though – it gets super hot. There are lots of other inland places but I would definitely add Lake Tahoe. Awesome hiking, killer views, lots to do.

    I could go on all day, but those are my main picks. For great campgrounds I strongly recommend checking out Campendium. The reviews there are from all kinds of travelers and lots of families who travel with kids review there, so it should be right up your street.

    I’ll keep following along with your blog and who knows maybe we’ll bump into you on the road.

    1. Excellent tips Kate, thanks for sharing your local knowledge. Yeah hopefully we’ll bump into you on the road, that would be cool. Not sure when we’ll be in California yet but appreciate you following along and we’ll be sharing lots of content and providing updates on our movements. Happy travels 🙂

  8. Don’t miss Santa Barbara! Our beaches are often rated in the top 10 and we are home to the “Queen of the Missions.” We have a great Summer Solstice parade (Google it, it’s outrageous). After Santa Barbara head over to the Santa Ynez valley. Solvang is an cute little DANISH town that’s fun to see, but we love to get out in the country to taste wine, see mini horses, visit the lavender farm, pick apples or visit the ostrich farm. The kids will love it!

  9. We live in California and LOVE exploring our state. California has some amazing agriculture and I would highly suggest visitors check out Food Festivals in whatever area you are visiting:

    Yosemite is amazing and worth seeing… We love the north coast too, specifically Dillon Beach and Point Reyes area. The Giant Redwoods are fun to explore too.. The Oakland Zoo in the bay area is an amazing zoo and the town of Capitola near Santa Cruz is great.

  10. You have already recieved so many great travel tips, so I will just give you one that I recieved on my first trip to California. First of all you NEED to drive down the Highway 1/Pacific Coast Highway, AMAZING! Locacted on Highway 1 there is this truly unique restaurant with the best view I have ever had while eating my lunch. It´s called Nepenthe and is located near Big Sur. The food is average, but nothing can beat the view.

    Wish you a great trip, I´m sure you will love it.

    1. Cheers Rejser. Definitely doing Highway 1 and exploring everything around that drive as much as possible. Like the sound of that restaurant near Big Sur!!

  11. I was born and raised in San Francisco till 18, and although I live in the Black Forest in Germany now, I still consider myself a California Girl. There are so many great things to do there – on the MUST do list is Lake Tahoe – nestled north of Yosemite off Highway 80 and split by California and Nevada – you can conquer two states in one! It’s absolutely breathtaking – and go in the winter if you want to ski – there are SO many great resorts. Summer is all about hiking and water sports. There’s an endless amount of things to do for families.

    Just south of San Francisco is Santa Cruz and Boulder Creek. Here you have Big Basin – home of the giant redwoods, a steam engine train day excursion for the family through the redwoods (can’t miss) and in Santa Cruz a fun Boardwalk, beach and so much more.

    North of San Francisco, you have Muir Woods on your way out to Stinson Beach – you’ll all LOVE that. There are wildlife parks and tons to do here too.

    While in San Francisco, there are two beaches you’ll want to check out – Baker’s Beach – breathtaking views of the Golden Gate from here, and on the Western side – Ocean Beach. Ocean Beach stretches out from the Cliff House (seal rock)/at the most western part of Golden Gate Park – all the way to Pacifica – miles and miles. Along the way – hit the San Francisco Zoo! Golden Gate Park has more than you can imagine – Aquarium, Museums, gorgeous parks, lots for the kids, Planetarium, and don’t miss the Japanese Tea Garden! And the best authentic mexican restaurant is a tiny little place in West Portal called El Toreador.

    Definitely cross the GG bridge – you can bike or walk it too! All the touristy stuff is fun, the piers, Alcatraz,etc….but if there in warmer weather – there are great events in all the parks around the city – concerts and more than you can imagine.

    On the way to Yosemite, a few hours outside check out Columbia outside of Sonora for a real live throw back to the Gold Rush days. It’s a park set up just like it was back then – pan for gold, get a feel for the wild west – it’s a great day for the family. We did it a lot when I was a kid eons ago.

    You can also check out the O’Shaunnesy dam (Hetch Hetchy) outside of Yosemite. Known as Little Yosemite. Great hikes and waterfalls.

    Yosemite – spend some time there – breathtaking does not cover it. If you can, get a permit and not just hike to the top of Half Dome (depends on your fear of heights going up the ropes with the kids) on the side – but spend the night up there. Waking up on top of half dome is unbelievable. I’m deathly afraid of heights and I still did it – was unbelievable – I just kept looking at the granite under my feet. The hike will take you past Vernal Falls – just gorgeous.

    South of San Francisco (a few hours) is the coastal town of Monterey. Gorgeous beaches and of course the world renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium.

    Plus there are a lot of Cavern type adventures throughout California too. So much to do! Have fun!!

    1. Hey Ingrid,

      Wow, our friend Belinda from Australia has lived in the Black Forest in Germany and I believe is heading back there to live again soon. She’s behind the popular website “The Modern Mystic”, you should check her out:

      Love the look and sound of Lake Tahoe. We’ve only ever been skiing once before so looking forward to doing more of that in the US. But summer sounds incredible too!

      Fantastic tips on San Francisco and surrounds too. Much appreciated. Seems like California pretty much has it all. We’ll be busy!!

  12. George Vamvoudakis

    Add: 1. Lake Tahoe 2. Pebble Beach Food and Wine Fest. and Concourse d’elegance car event. 3. Gilroy Garlic Festival(my hometown) 4. Race your family car in the 1/4 mile at Sonoma Raceway. 5. Pinnacles National Monument Park hiking through caves and the country side. 6. Stroll through the Palace of Fine Arts in San Fran, and Golden Gate Park. 7. Geocaching in any city( or leave create a Geocache yourself)
    8. Muir Beach overlook of the Pacific Ocean.(He was a Preservationist of the Ca. wilderness) 9. Mammoth Lake 10. Beach volleyball tournament in Hermosa or Manhattan Beach. 11. Hearst Castle tour. 12. Hang gliding off the cliffs near LaJolla. The greatest thing about my home State is that there was always something to do. The list of the things I’ve done would turn into a very long bucket list. Perhaps I should be a tour guide? Living in Michigan is not the same. I must make it back. Sorry for the long response.

    1. Great tips George. Thanks for sharing. By the way, we have been to that beach volleyball tournament before in Manhattan Beach where everyone dresses up in fancy dress – what a blast! And yeah, why not become a tour guide?! 🙂

  13. One thing that I would really like to try is going on whale watching trip from San Diego. And NOT the ones in SeaWorld but the real deal. That is one of the things highest on my bucket list on my next trip to California.

  14. You will probably drive through these cities to get to Redwood National Park…but Ferndale, Eureka, Arcata, and Trinidad are definitely worth stopping in. They are all in Humboldt County, and along the 101. The entire city of Ferndale is from the victorian era, and a number of movies have been filmed there (like The Majestic and Outbreak). Old Town Eureka is full old victorian-era buildings, music, and artists. If you happen to be driving through on the first Saturday of the month, be sure to stop in Old Town for Arts Alive in the evening. Arcata has some of the areas best local restaurants, and has a victorian-era plaza. Check out the Jacoby Storehouse on the Plaza for a tour of a victorian era store. If you are there on a Saturday morning, check out the farmer’s market on the plaza. It has music and great, local food and goods. Trinidad is a gorgeous fishing village with beautiful beaches and great hikes.

  15. I feel like I owe you a few tips, we’ve gotten so much out of your blog. In fact, we’re in Sydney now and used your advice from your post about Pretty Beach/Pebbly Beach to plan a trip to check off one of my bucket list items – to see kangaroos in the wild.

    So, a lot has already been covered but I’ll add some of my “born and raised in CA” tips.

    1. DO walk the Golden Gate Bridge but don’t expect San Francisco to be warm, even in summer. In fact, it’s often colder in summer than any other time because the warm East Bay pulls the fog over the city like a blanket. The fog even has a name, it’s Karl. Just plan for any kind of weather, because you’ll probably get it (though I hope you get lucky). Layers, layers, layers.

    2. If you love wine, I suggest heading north to the Napa Valley for some wine-tasting. My favorite winery is Hess because there you can also see The Hess Collection – an amazing collection of art. The drive to Hess is utterly stunning, you’ll get the redwoods you’re looking for without having to go too much farther north. Also, do the Silverado Trail drive if you’re in the vicinity. If you had any wonder of how so much wine comes from the Napa Valley, you will no longer wonder where it comes from.

    3. If you are driving from Northern to Southern CA, I recommend taking a slight detour to San Simeon and visiting Hearst Castle. There’s really nothing quite like it. If you head back to Highway One near San Simeon, you’ll likely encounter hoards of elephant seals just lounging on the sun on the beach.

    4. I’d do Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk over Disneyland any day. It’s right on the beach, and has more of an authentic boardwalk feeling. Waaaaay cheaper too, and less crowded. Also, there’s a charming town next to Santa Cruz called Capitola that is worth a visit for the afternoon.

    1. Hey Teresa,

      So glad you found our Sydney tips useful. And we love “born and raised in CA” tips 🙂

      Ha, love that the fog has a name. I guess we’ll be meeting Karl at some stage, lol. Greatly appreciate all the tips. Getting more excited by the day!

  16. I’m a little behind the 8-ball on this, but as a native Californian, I wanted to add my 2 cents. If you want hiking, the Monterey bay area has some great trails- Pt. Lobos is beautiful, as is Garland Ranch Regional Park. Cannery Row in Monterey is historic, but also fairly touristy and pretty small. Kayaking on the bay in Monterey is great, and you can go with a group to get a guided tour and if you aren’t comfortable heading out on your own. I have to disagree with Ivan and say the Monterey Bay Aquarium is absolutely a must see. It’s regularly rated as the best Aquarium in the state, the country and sometimes the world by various guides and websites. It is a bit pricey…but I think it’s worth it. You can see animals there you won’t see in any other aquarium in the world. Carmel Valley Village- my hometown!- is small, but has some beautiful wine tasting spots and usually beautiful, sunny weather. When are you guys going to be coming through that part of the state?

  17. Definitely have to do the big sur drive between san fran and los angeles. Absolutely great scenic drive. Agree with other commenters about sports but that can be done across the whole country.

  18. Hi Craig,

    Since you’re going to San Diego, you may love traveling a little north and inland from there to see a growing hot spot in Southern California. The Temecula Valley is a burgeoning wine country, and it’s home to the state’s largest resort/casino where you can also learn about Native American history on specialized tours provided by the tribe that also runs the resort. It’s a slice of Las Vegas without the crowds, high prices and offer more understated panache.
    Please let me know if this is of interest. I am glad to set you all up for a stay and activities at Pechanga Resort & Casino.

    1. Ooh, we do love a wine region Ciara. Thanks for the recommendation of The Temecula Valley and the offer. And we definitely want to engage and learn about Native American history on our trip.

  19. Also, apart from that – As a native San Franciscan, you really should check out Lake Tahoe. Only about 2 hrs from Yosemite and lake is in both CA and NV. Lots of stuff for families & kids there, too.

  20. Hi, I don’t know if I’m too late, but in San Diego, I would go to Coronado Island. The beach there is really nice, and perfect for the kids. We love to go there and feel the island lifestyle!

    Having dinner at Seaport Village in San Diego is really nice.

    La Jolla worth the stop and there is a restaurant (also at Seaport Village) named Puesto (mexican modern style)… love it!!

    Also, Joshua Tree and Death Valley are a must to me. Just to name them, because we saw some other parks and everyone has something special.

    As you want to see it like a locals, talking about island lifestyle, you could go to Balboa Island, Newport Beach!

    You can do wine tasting tons of time! Napa of course, but also Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, Paso Robles, Temecula, and name it 🙂

    If you play golf, or just to relax (we do not play golf and love it there) you can do a little 1 or 2 nights in Palm Springs. The Aerial Tramway can be cool and you can relax in one of the resorts there.

    On my website, you can find some activities we did in California (we moved from Québec to South Cali) but it’s in French!! If you ever speak French, look at it!


  21. From NY and we did this trip last year.

    Los osos, nice little stop on the coastal highway. The elfin forest is there and morro rock. Frankie and Lola’s front street cafe had some great breakfast.

    Monterey bay aquarium on your way up to San Fran. Amazing place.

    Lands end park in San Fran. Muir Woods north of San Fran is beautiful.

    Little late cause the reservations go as soon as they are available but Alcatraz was awesome.

    We went inland for a day to California Gold Panning in Jamestown. It was a little operation but well worth the trip, a great guy runs it. We had a blast and found a little bit of gold.

    1. the San Francisco trolley is a nice ride and the bell ringers all come up with some pretty original ways to clang, clang, clang, goes the trolley. Some of the best live theater is also avalable. A walk on the boardwalk will lead to Gerradelies candy house, all kinds of eateries and Ripplies museums, Alcatraz , the marine museum, and Coit Tower, and that squiggly piece of road that says San Francisco all by it’s self. A little to the north is the Winchester house with guided tours, and all those 13 high stairways that go nowhere. The Botanical gardens are also nice and if you happen to catch a Tai Chi class join in . The Pan Handle has allways has something going on and usually free. A skip and a jump away is the San Francisco museum. Enjoy!

  22. If you’re in the Long Beach area the Queen Mary is a must see. Their Sunday brunch and tour is spectacular. For the heartier souls the haunted tour is fun as well. A great educational spot for kids and adults in the L. A. area is the La Brea tar pits. It’s an active archeological dig with plenty of hands on activities as well as a live lab where you can watch technicians recover artifacts. Who doesn’t like dinosaurs anyway.

  23. Being in Northern coastal California, there are plenty of places to see the Redwoods, but we liked driving the Avenue of the Giants best. Plenty of places to stop and hike around. If your stay in these parts is prolonged more than a few days, you could probably see it all but if just driving through, I think this offers the best experience.

    As far as Disneyland goes, Ivan mentioned that you could skip it and go to Disney World in stead. If you plan to do DW, you could probably heed this advise, but Disneyland still has much to offer. It is smaller, yes, but it is cheaper, better weather, and it is where Walt first made his vision…so there is nostalgia.

    Also, I know your kids are a little on the younger side for thrill rides, but also check out Six Flags and their many locations across the US. Thrill rides and roller coasters are a BIG part of what people love about America. Worth checking out.

    1. Can’t wait to explore the Redwoods Garrett. The Avenue of the Giants looks incredible. And don’t worry, we’ll be going to both Disneyland AND Disney World, our kids would never forgive us 🙂

      And yes, Six Flags looks like a blast!

  24. I’ll let another “5 cents” here too… 🙂

    – Bodie Ghost Town
    – Death Valley National Park
    – Mammoth Lakes
    – Lake Tahoe

    I have post about them on my blog, if you want you can check it out.

    Best wishes,

    Blog Pegadas na Estrada

  25. Hi Craig, Caz & Family,

    I just came across your blog and saw you’re going to be in California at the end of 2017. You’re going to love it!! I see that you’re planning on going to Universal Studios so I wanted to point out another fun activity to do about 5 min. from Universal. This new company called SunnyDay Scoot offers tours in really fun 3-wheel convertable-cars. You have to go to their website ( & check it out 🙂 it’s so much fun and it’s the hottest craze in LA right now! Kids can ride as passengers and they go through one of the largest parks in the US (Griffith Park). You also ride right up to Griffith Observatory, the Greek Theatre, see The Hollywood Sign and more on one of their tours. (It was too early for me, but they do have a sunrise tour which is probably really neat & pretty to watch the sun come up over the LA city skyline & Hollywood Sign.) We had so much fun on our scooter ride and the guides were amazing! It was our favorite thing to do on our entire trip to LA! I’m sure your kids would absolutely love it! Hope this tip helps, Safe travels, Danielle

  26. Hi guys,
    We just visited Joshua tree national park a few days ago. An absolutely amazing place to add to your bucket list. We are on a 3 month tour of western USA, follow us on Insta if you like sharonstb
    (Aussie family from Airlie beach with 2 boys 10 and 8)
    All the best

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