The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in California

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Plan your trip to the Golden State with our list of the best places to visit in California.

Nowhere else in the US can you experience the breadth of activities and landscapes as in California, where a few hours in any direction will lead you to a place that feels entirely unlike the last. With nearly perfect weather, fantastic scenery, charming towns and cities, and an enviable laid-back attitude throughout the state, there’s something for everyone in this West Coast state.

California beckons visitors with sunshine, stunning landscapes, and urban sophistication. A place of dreams, this alluring state has it all: a spectacular coastline, snowcapped mountains, expansive deserts, idyllic farmlands, and ancient redwood groves, along with vibrant multicultural cities.

Plan your travels to “The Golden State” with our list of the best places to visit in California.

Napa Valley

The trend-setting Napa Valley is a mecca chock-full of world-class wineries, Michelin-starred restaurants, luxurious accommodations, the most beautiful landscapes, and the most welcoming people.

Napa is best known as a booming wine region, serving up some of the top vintages outside of France (and arguably, some of the best wines in the world). The rolling hills and sunny skies make the region a picturesque spot for a quick getaway. And while wine is the main draw, there’s plenty to the region worth exploring—all just a two-hour drive north of San Francisco.

With over 400 wineries in the region, Napa Valley is definitely a destination worth revisiting again and again. So whether you’re looking for a romantic retreat, a getaway with friends, or a trip for the family, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

TLW Tip: Napa Valley’s most renowned restaurant (and most difficult place to reserve a table) is The French Laundry in Yountville, just 10 miles from Napa, awarded three Michelin stars.

Big Sur

Breathtakingly beautiful, Big Sur is a 90-mile stretch of mountainous coastline in central California. The two-lane Highway One route through Big Sur winds along hairpin turns (reminiscent of those along the Amalfi Coast) overlooking the ocean. One of the best West Coast road trips, the route starts just south of Carmel and ends at San Simeon, and the entire stretch feels a world apart because of its remoteness.

At the southernmost point of Big Sur in San Simeon is Hearst Castle, which ranks high on the list of day trips from San Luis Obispo. Built in 1922 for newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, the castle is an architectural masterpiece perched on a hilltop high above the Pacific Ocean.

If redwood groves, endless stargazing, and the vast expanse of the Pacific factor into your idea of a California getaway, Big Sur is waiting. There’s nowhere better to appreciate California’s wild, dramatic coast, and road repairs completed in April have the town newly accessible by either route. For accommodations, The Post Ranch Inn sets the gold standard for understated-rustic luxury and pure escapism, perched 1200 feet above the ocean. Just across the road, Ventana Big Sur is similarly idyllic.

One of the most defining images of Big Sur is the iconic Bixby Bridge along the Highway One coastline. This stunning bridge that was built in 1932 leads into Carmel-by-the-Sea heading north and it is a popular attraction for roadtrippers and photographers. The optimal time for photos is at sunset when the lighting is ideal. On the north end of the bridge, there is a popular turnout area where you’ll likely find other visitors trying to capture their close-up shots as well.

Don’t expect much in the way of shopping or nightlife, but there’s really no need; you’re here for the stunning landscape of the Pacific coast.

San Francisco

When the afternoon sun shines on the hillsides or the fog rolls in from the Pacific Ocean over the Golden Gate Bridge, this breathtaking city has a mystical beauty. Visitors are awed by San Francisco’s picture-perfect scenery, from the curves of Lombard Street to the elegant Victorian houses and panoramic bay views.

San Francisco packs an incredible number of tourist attractions into just seven by seven square miles. It’s a small, walkable city (as long as you don’t mind steep streets or hopping on a cable car).

Whichever way you get around San Francisco, it’s fun to explore the historic neighbourhoods: Chinatown, a bustling area of shops and authentic Chinese restaurants; North Beach (Little Italy); and Fisherman’s Wharf, a popular waterfront tourist destination.

Today, San Francisco is California’s most sophisticated city, a place to enjoy world-class opera and ballet, a wide range of theater performances, and gourmet dining. The city has an impressive assortment of top restaurants offering local, as well as global cuisine and trendsetting menus. San Francisco is home to an eye-popping 34 Michelin-starred restaurants, so whether you’re looking to be wow-ed by technique or get cozy with some comfort food, there’s something for everyone in this eclectic city.

Palm Springs

With the towering San Jacinto Mountains and swaying palm trees as a backdrop, this desert oasis is synonymous with stylish poolside vacationing. In fact, Palm Springs has been a popular winter resort destination for Hollywood celebrities since the 1920s and continues to attract all kinds of tourists today.

The serene scenery and warm weather give the place a relaxing holiday ambience, while golf courses, gourmet restaurants, and interesting museums give visitors plenty to do. Just outside of Palm Springs are fabulous hiking trails at Mount San Jacinto and Indian Canyons.

Palm Springs hosts many cultural events throughout the year including film festivals and live music concerts. One of the most popular events is Modernism Week that celebrates mid-century modern architecture and design, which is well represented in buildings throughout Palm Springs.

Less than an hour away is Joshua Tree National Park. Home to Joshua trees and dramatic rock formations, this is a popular area for sightseeing, hiking, camping, and climbing.

Check in at Casa Cody—the oldest operating hotel in Palm Springs—recently revamped by new owners the Casetta Group, with 30 refreshed rooms and a prime downtown location. Here you’re just a short stroll from any number of stellar restaurants: sushi and cocktails at Sandfish, pizza at Birba, modern Vietnamese at Rooster and the Pig.

Andrew Taylor

For Andrew, travel is so much more than just learning history or taking photos. Rather, the value of travel is witnessing a lifestyle, bonding with locals, and gaining rich cultural experiences. That’s why he founded the Luxury Wanderer; a place to share itineraries, offer advice, swap stories, and foster a like-minded community of curious travellers.

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