California Bucket List: 27 Best Things to do in California (2023)

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California is the vacation destination on the west coast of the United States. What better way to explore it than by following a California bucket list?

With 840 miles of coastline, towering mountains, rich green forests, and ever-expanding cities, California provides an endless list of things to do while visiting. The Golden State also has innumerable historical, cultural, and entertainment options to explore as well.

I currently live in Nevada (I’ve lived on the west coast for a few years) and have frequently made trips over to the gorgeous state of California. Here’s a list of things to put on your California Bucket List to get the most out of your next trip.

California Bucket List

Spend a day in Sequoia National Park

Massive red tree in a forest

Be a witness to the world’s largest trees when you visit Sequoia National Park.

These massive trees, only found in California, create an otherworldly landscape of skyscraper-high canopies and lush green vegetation. It’s the forest right out of a fairytale. 

Sequoia National Park is located in the middle of the state, and for one vehicle, you can purchase a 7-day pass for $35,

Learn how to surf

Two surfers walking into the ocean

Ridin’ the West Coast waves should undoubtedly be on your California bucket list.

If you’re willing to get your hands dirty, or I guess I should say get your hair wet, you’ll have tons of fun and maybe come away with a new favorite hobby. You’ll at least have a couple of good wipeout stories to tell afterward.

There are plenty of surf schools all over the state where you can book a lesson or two at.

🏄 Book a surf lesson in Santa Monica here! 🏄


Where should you travel next?

Catch a Padres game at Petco Park

Californians love their baseball. The games are electrifying, and even more so when you are in one of the most famous baseball stadiums in the nation, located in San Diego.

Not only can you be a part of an exciting game here, you can also get a backstage pass and see the stadium outside of work hours. This is a great opportunity to learn about the history of the stadium and the Padres.

Love history? Book a tour of Petco Park here!

Hike to the Hollywood Sign

Mountainside with large white letters on it that say "Hollywood"

The iconic Hollywood Sign parades above LA in all our favorite movies. See it up close for yourself with a hike starting from Griffith Observatory.

This hike is about 6 miles round trip and can be quite challenging, so come prepared with water and the right shoes if you’re planning to make the trek.

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Relax on Coronado Beach

Palm trees in front of a small pier on the water with a city skyline behind it

San Diego beaches are in a league of their own, and Coronado Beach is one of the top contenders.

Who doesn’t want to lounge on miles of white sand that literally sparkles (due to the mineral “mica” in the sand)? 

Coronado Beach is frequented by families, surfers, swimmers, dog lovers, and those looking to find some ocean treasure in the tide pools that appear during low tide.

Enjoy the rides at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

ocean leading to a beach with an amusement park on it

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk literally has everything. Beautiful views to bowling, thrilling rides to delicious food. 

The boardwalk has been in operation since 1907 and even has a ride built in 1924, the Giant Dipper, that is still functioning!

This boardwalk has been recognized as the best seaside park in the world; you really can’t go wrong with that. Admission is also free.

Watch the sunrise in Death Valley National Park

Sand like dunes that are white, orange, and purple

Death Valley National Park is located on the eastern side of California and is the driest and lowest national park in the United States.

Death Valley is about as close to sea level as you can get, and its vastness can seem overwhelming. But if you look closely, you’ll see all kinds of life brewing in the sand and in the oases scattered throughout the desert.

Tackling Death Valley is one of the most adventurous things to do in California.

Try In-N-Out

I could probably write an entire article on In-N-Out itself, but I’ll try to keep it short. This fast food restaurant is a quintessential California experience that is a must for your California bucket list.

The ingenious three-option menu (with a few secret options if you know what to ask) provides customers with the best burger and fry experience in the state. It’s my go-to whenever I cross the California border.

Luckily, there are locations all over the state, so wherever you are, you’ll be able to find one.

Go skiing or snowboarding in Big Bear

Body of water leading the the foot of a ski slope

If you thought all you could do in California was going to the beach, then you were dead wrong, and I’m glad we could educate you with this bucket list for California.

Big Bear is a combination of two ski resorts in San Bernardino. These resorts are endearingly known as “less than a tank of gas away, round-trip” in relation to SoCal cities.

So if a surfboard isn’t your style, that’s okay! Grab your snowboard (or rent one) and hit the slopes at Big Bear.

Snap a photo at the Golden Gate Bridge

View of the Golden Gate Bride from an overlook right on the water

The Golden Gate Bridge is another California icon that is one of those bucket list places in California.

This beautiful rust-colored bridge proudly guards the San Francisco Bay, normally shrouded in fog, making for an awe-striking picture.

Visit Glass Beach in Fort Bragg

Multi colored glass pebble beach with rocks scattered throughout the water

Once a trash dump for glass bottles, Glass Beach is now one of California’s most visited beaches for its unique beauty.

Water-worn glass pebbles dominate the sand on the beach, making it a hotspot for photographers and nature lovers. It also has a multitude of rocks, caves, and tide pools to explore.

Taking the glass from the beach is forbidden, so snap all the pictures you can while you’re there!

Hike Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Large rock mountain cutting through the clouds

For those looking to conquer the truly adventurous things to do in California, hiking Yosemite’s Half Dome should be on your California bucket list.

In 1865, the 5,000-foot peak was deemed to be entirely inaccessible. Many hikers have proved that wrong over the years, and it is an incredible feat.

Be prepared for the hike of your life, but imagine how good it will feel when you reach the top.

Enjoy the view from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Now if you’re not wanting to climb thousands of miles to see the beautiful California scenery, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is an excellent substitute and one of the best things to do in California.

This is the world’s largest rotating tram car and spans a distance of over two miles above the cliffs in Chino Canyon below Los Angeles.

The ride takes about 10 minutes to reach the top, where you can eat at two restaurants, continue enjoying the view from observation decks, and learn a little more about the history in the area.

🌴 Book your Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ticket here! 🌴

Take the ferry to Catalina Island

Mountains leading to a rocky oceanside with a small beach

Just 22 miles off the coast of the mainland, Catalina Island sits just waiting to be checked off your California bucket list.

An hour-long ferry ride will bring you right into the Catalina Island Harbor. The ferries leave from San Pedro, Long Beach, and Dana Point and run all year long.

This beautiful island is filled with fun seaside activities, delicious restaurants, and shops perfect for souvenirs.

Go to a music festival

Especially in the summer, California is a music festival central.

Hit up the big-name festivals like Coachella, or find a smaller one to enjoy at pretty much any time of year. From jazz to country to pop, you’ll easily find a festival that is pleasing to your ears.

Drive on Lombard Street in San Francisco

Long curved road with plants on either side leading down a hill lined with houses

Known as the most crooked street in the world, driving Lombard Street should be on your bucket list for California. 

Although it may look unsafe, the eight hairpin turns were actually made to make the steep San Fran hill safer to drive. It’s an iconic spot featured in many movies and a must-see if you’re visiting the Bay Area.

Visit vineyards in Napa Valley

Calling all wine connoisseurs! Picture The Parent Trap (1998) and the gorgeous never-ending vineyards.

It may be hard to believe they actually exist, but come and see for yourself! And not only is it beautiful, you can also get some delicious, high-quality wine.

This is a great bucket list place in California for a romantic getaway.

🍷 Book a Napa Valley winery tour here! 🍷

Ride a San Francisco cable car

Red cable car driving down a city road

San Francisco’s cable cars have become a symbol of the city.

This ingenious mode of transportation was invented 150 years ago, and San Francisco was the first city to put it into effect. The cable cars have been recognized as a National Historic Landmark since 1964.

These cars are easy to access and give a great up close tour of the city.

Explore Lake Tahoe for a weekend

Rocky hillside with trees leading to a bright blue lake

Bordering Nevada and California, the crystal blue waters of Lake Tahoe create the ideal site for a weekend getaway.

This lake has 193 square miles that visitors utilize for various water activities, such as swimming, fishing, and boating. The outskirts of the lake also have a number of things to explore. If water sports aren’t your scene, head up to one of the 11 ski resorts surrounding the lake.

You can also eat at top-tier restaurants, go shopping, and experience some Lake Tahoe nightlife.

Walk (or shop) on Rodeo Drive

Shopping street with palm trees lining the middle of the road

Nestled in the heart of Downtown LA you can find California’s most prominent shopping street.

Rodeo Drive is the place to splurge on over 100 international brands while trying dishes from elegant restaurants.

If you’re more of a window shopper, Rodeo Drive should still be on your California Bucket list. The stores are encased in architectural beauties with unmistakable California charm

Explore Lassen Volcanic National Park

small pool in the middle of a white volcanic rock field

California is a land of many wonders, and one of these can be found in the northeast corner of the state. 

Lassen Volcanic National Park houses all four types of volcanoes: shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome. Over the years, this eruptive landscape has created a natural haven of rolling meadows, reaching peaks, and sparkling waters.

For those looking to add some adventurous things to do in California to their bucket list, Lassen Volcanic National Park is an option to consider.

Road trip the Pacific Coast Highway

A road that the base of a mountain curving along the ocean

You’ve heard about it in your favorite songs, seen it in every photographer’s portfolio, and seen Hollywood actors drive it in your favorite movies. The PCH is just as magical as all those depictions make it seem.

The highway lines the West Coast, reaching all the way up to Seattle, providing magnificent coastal and cliffside views along the way. If you drive this route, I suggest starting at the top, whether in California, Oregon, or Washington, to put you on the side of the road closest to the sea.

🚗 Book your California rental car here! 🚗

Drive through the Avenue of Giants

road leading through a forest as the sun shines through the trees

The Avenue of Giants is another scenic drive in California that feels absolutely alien in the most beautiful way.

On this road, you’ll drive through the famed redwoods, even driving through one at one point. This is one of those experiences that fills you with wonder, feeling so small in this extraordinary world.

Tour Alcatraz

You can’t go to San Francisco without taking a ferry out to tour one of the most famous prisons in the world.

Tour Alcatraz in the day, or brave the dark and take a night tour. Both are fascinating and provide you with everything you’ve ever wanted to know about this once-maximum security island and its occupants.

⛓️ Book a tour of Alcatraz here! ⛓️

Hop from donut shop to donut shop in LA

table covered in multi-colored donuts with various toppings on them

If you haven’t had a doughnut in LA, you’re going to be wanting to put donut shop hopping on your California bucket list.

LA donut shops have the most unique and colorful creations, every shop will be a little different, and yet so still so delicious.

🍩 Book your LA donut tour here! 🍩

Go whale watching

Twice a year, 20,000 gray whales trek the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Mexico. This makes the coast of California one of the best places in the world for whale watching.

These jaw-dropping creatures can be seen at various points throughout the year. Some of the best places to spot them are Mendocino, San Diego, San Francisco, and the Channel Islands.

🐋 Book a San Diego whale watching tour here! 🐋

Attend San Diego Comic-Con

The annual San Diego Comic-Con is a hub for all your favorite pop culture heroes, villains, and everything in between.

And it’s not just meeting them; you can become them if you like. Or you can get a signed book by your favorite author and watch a feature film in one of their specialty theaters. Comic-Con is where fiction comes to life.

Final Thoughts: Best Things to do in California

Now, this list is pretty robust, and you may not be able to fit this entire California bucket list in one trip.

Lucky for you, California should be around for a while, so pick your favorites this time, and next time you can continue making your way down the list.

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