Whether you’re a first time visitor, or a long-time resident, California has many amazing things to do and explore. From epic surf, and beaches to incredible national parks, arid deserts and kid friendly activities to discover. Here are our top 35 things to do to add to your California Bucket List.
California is an amazing place to visit.
I’ve spent time camping down the Pacific Coast Highway, and Big Sur, visiting the Aquarium in Monterey, hiking the desert of Joshua Tree and climbing the narrow streets of San Fransisco to name just a few places I’ve visited.
California really is a place you can return to, again and again, and find something new each time.
Not to mention there’s Disneyland, experiencing the magic of Hollywood with a Warner Brother’s Tour, and whale watching off the coast of San Diego and Monterey.
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35 Epic Things to Do in California
1. Road Trip down the Pacific Coast Highway
Oh, the feel of wind in your hair, and sun on your face as you drive down the best of California’s scenic coastlines. Traveling the Pacific Coast Highway you’ll pass through rugged hills, quaint beach towns, and many gorgeous view points. There are so many fun places to stop along the way… San Francisco, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, San Diego among others.
Let this highway be the starting point for your California Bucket List journey.
2. Glamp in Big Sur
Spend a few days meandering, visiting sea lions, hiking and admiring the beautiful stretch of coastline of Big Sur, south of Monterey Bay.
Big Sur is a bucket list destination all on it’s own.
If you are heading out without the kids Alila Ventana Big Sur is the place glamp in style, with their gorgeous safari style experiences.
With kids, it’s a bit harder to find a glamping tent that fits everyone…. Big Sur Lodge is a more rustic experience with all the amenities of a lodge and family friendly.
3. Photograph Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic structures in the Golden State.
Presidio’s Crissy Field is a wonderful park to explore by foot, car or bike along the shoreline to the bridge.
During dalylight hours, you can bike, or walk across from San Francisco’s Presidio to the Marin headlands.
One of the best ways to see the bridge is from the San Francisco Bay aboard a Golden Gate Bay boat cruise. Sail around Alcatraz Island, past Angel Island State Park and more.
4. Experience the Magic of Hollywood
Take a Warner Brothers Tour in LA, to see where all your favorite movies & tv shows were made. While exploring their back-lot sets and sound stages.
Sit in the famous Central Perk cafe from “Friends.” DC superheros and villans, and Harry Potter recreated sets.
5. Visit the historic Pirate’s Tower of Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach in Southern California is the place to explore sea caves, natural tide pools, ocean side bluffs, and it’s many sandy beaches.
While there explore the swashbuckling history of Pirate’s Tower, Victoria Beach. Pirate’s Tower sits in an enchanting cove, amongst jagged cliffs and white sand beach. Be sure to pack all the essentials for a family beach vacation.
Main Beach and Treasure Island Beach are two of the most popular places to get up close to tidepools. They both have people available to answer any questions you may have.
Stay at the Surf & Sand Resort or Montage Laguna Beach for a luxurious retreat.
6. Visit the lowest point in North America – Death Valley
Not only does Death Valley National Park, CA have rock formations and sweeping landscapes for hiking and picnicking, and a gold rush ghost town, but it is also 282 feet (86 m) below sea level.
Ballarat was established in the late 1800’s, as a mining town, and by 1907, only a handful of residents were left, as precious metals dwindled. Now you can wander the sprawling ruins, looking for treasure and secrets.
Visit the Badwater Basin salt flats ….just not in the dead of summer, as some of the world’s hottest temps are recorded then. Don’t forget to take a family photo at the “Lowest Point” sign.
Hike the quarter-mile to Zabriskie Point’s summit to watch the most spectacular sunrises or sunsets over the sweeping badlands below. Or take a walk (suitable for even toddlers) along the rippling, waving Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Sandboarding and star gazing are other popular activities in the area.
For science loving families, a once in a life time event is seeing the super bloom in Death Valley. Once every decade or so when the conditions are just right, the valley and surrounding mountains explode with yellow, pink, and purple wildflowers.
⭐️ Stay at the Ranch at Death Valley, a little Oasis in the desert. With nice grounds and amenities, shops, restaurants, pool, and golf.
7. Look for Beach Glass in Northern California
Myth has it that every time a sailor is lost at sea, mermaids cry tears that wash ashore as colorful sea glass.
Beach comb for this rainbow-colored glass at the Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. Piled high, it can be found in the southern coves in and around MacKerricher State Park. Just be sure to leave the glass in place before you leave.
🏖️ Read Family beach vacation tips & trick for stress free beach holiday.
8. Kid Friendly California Bucket List – Hike in Yosemite
Visit California’s oldest National Park for nature, wildlife, and mountains. Hike the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail for an easy family friendly walk, and view of the iconic falls. Then visit nearby Mariposa Grove, to hug a giant sequoia tree.
Yosemite can be done as a day trip from San Fransisco, but it is better spend at least a couple of days, to make the most of the trails, hikes, falls and viewpoints.
Stay at the Yosemite Valley View for amazing views El Capitan and Half Dome right from the deck.
Check out our recommendations for 1-2 day Yosemite National Park itineraries and the or list of the top 10 kid-friendly things to do.
9. Whale Watching in Monterey Bay
Watch the magic unfold in front of you as Humpback whales surface and splash.
Keep an eye out for these majestic creaures as they migrate through the waters of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, as well as sea lions, birds, dolphins and other species of whales.
Book a whale watching tour the whole family will enjoy.
10. Hike to the Hollywood Sign in LA
When in LA, this fairly short and easy hike in the Hollywood Hills is a must. Grab an iconic photo beside the famous Hollywood sign. Your teens will love this most instagrammed spot.
Add in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and Universal Studios to complete your Hollywood Bucket List. Save money by grabbing a Go City Pass if you are planning on hitting up multiple tourist attractions in the city.
Stay at the Hilton Los Angeles and be within walking distance of Universal Studios.
11. Food Truck Tour in LA
While you are at it, take your senses on a culinary walk, in what may arguably be fusion food capital of the world. Due to the diverse population and easy access to fresh produce, food is where it is at. From Asian fusion to classic pub grub you’ll find something to satiate even the hangriest of travel mates.
For the foodies in your family, take your own food truck tour of the best in LA.
12. Visit the Happiest Place on Earth
Disneyland……Need I say more?
Every young child’s dream. Enjoy a trip down memory lane and share the magic of Disney with your kids. Visit between Halloween and New Year for an even more magical experience and holiday festivities.
13. Surf’s Up in Surf City
Surf City, aka Huntington Beach is the quintessential California beach town. So why not sign up for some surf lessons, and ride the waves.
If you go in July, thats’s usually when you can watch the pros compete for the US Surf Open.
After a long day in the water, curl up in a cozy blanket and roast some s’mores on a beach fire, in one of their metal fire pits.
Don’t forget to stock up on beach vacation essentials before you go.
14. See the tallest trees in the world
Driving along the spectacular Avenue of Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, will be sure to inspire even the most sceptical of outdoor enthusiasts.
These huge redwoods reach hundreds of feet in the air and are part of the largest remaining old-growth redwood forest in the world. On a hot summer day take a dip in one of the natural swimming holes in the area along the crystal clear Eel River.
No California Bucket List is complete without visiting these gentle giants.
Save time and money with our top Summer Travel Tips to stay on budget and maximize fun. Use them all year round.
15. Santa Monica Pier
Get your tourist thing on! Join the fun and crowds on roller coasters & ferris wheels that overlook the Pacific Ocean. Pacific Park is every kids favorite attraction.
Come for the hot dogs and funnel cakes, and enjoy a bit of history, as the concrete pier was the first of its kind on the West Coast.
Or do what the locals do, and try a bit of fishing off the end of the Santa Monica Pier.
Stay at the Shore Hotel, a family-friendly hotel only a 6 minute walk to Santa Monica State Beach (and the Pier).
Or this comfortable, quiet home, only 5 minutes from the beach (and more budget friendly).
16. See Seals at La Jolla
Visiting the Children’s Pool Beach, also known as Casa Beach is one of the top things to do in La Jolla. For good reason.
The main draw are watching the seals from the seawall, as they flop around the sand, swim, and bark at each other. There is something mesmerizing about hearing the ocean birds, as you watch the seals bask in the sun.
The seals are almost always there, especially during calving season.
17. Take a safari at the San Diego Zoo & Safari Park
If you can’t travel all the way to Africa, then visiting the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park is the next best thing….
Spend the day and see zebras, rhinos, elephants and more. More than 4,000 animals representing 800 species live here, so no matter if you have a reptile, cheetah or penguin lover, there is something for everyone.
Purchase tickets to the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park here.
18. Visit Pismo Beach Sand Dunes
Pismo Beach Sand Dunes also known as Oceano Sand Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area, in the Central Coast of California is a unique park experience like no other. It’s well known for being the last park in California to allow vehicles to drive on the beach and sand.
Take a dune buggy tour to explore the vehicular side of the park.
Due to the fragile ecosystem, the California Coastal Commission voted to phase out Off Highway Vehicle use of the dunes. Most car and off roading access to the beach and the dunes will be phased out by 2024.
Off roading is the main attraction here, but wandering by foot through the ever changing dunes is fun for kids and adults. Bring a saucer sled for some fun sand sliding adventures in the non-vehicular part of the park.
Looking for more ideas? There are many fun things to do in Pismo Beach in winter, and year round.
Where to stay: Pismo Beach is close by, and offers many types of accommodations. Stay at the Pismo Lighthouse Suites (also pet friendly) or the more upscale Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa.
19. Mammoth Lakes & Mountain
Mammoth Lakes is an adventure wonderland for kids and adults year round.
In winter, take a run or 5 down California’s premier resort Mammoth Mountain, or snowshoe the gentle beginner friendly slope to the Minaret Vista for iconic skyline views of…the Minarets.
In summer explore the many lakes in this Eastern Sierra area by bike, foot, kayak or horseback. Or looking to climb to new heights? Spend a half day with a climbing guide.
If you are camping, make sure to pack kid friendly camping gear & activities for less whining and more fun.
20. Monterey Bay Aquarium
35,000 sea creatures can’t be wrong. Enjoy the intriguing undersea world of Monterey Bay, one of the richest marine environments in the world. From glowing deep sea creatures, to spiny tentacles and splashing penguins and playful otters, your kids will love spending hours here.
Located at the end of Cannery Row, immortalized by John Steinbeck.
You’ll need to buy tickets in advance for the forseeable future.
21. Hike Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is a desert oasis, just waiting to ignite your imagination and be explored.
Hiking, rock climbing, sunsets against spiny twisted Joshua trees and boulders, plus wide skies perfect for star gazing at night.
Scampering over rocks will be a kid favourite along the easy Hidden Valley Trail.
Iconic accommodations range from old airstreams to off the grid cabins and luxurious cottages. Stay at the Little Tish – Star Gazers getaway or the Joshua Tree Forest Bungalow in Yucca Valley.
22. Explore a Train Lovers Museum
The California State Railroad Museum in Old Town Sacramento is one of the best, even for the not-so-die hard train lovers. Kids will learn about how railroads shaped the US while exploring 21 restored locomotives.
Their steam-powered beauty can be seen in every unique train car, and don’t miss the opportunity to take the excursion train on a relaxing 45-minute, 6-mile roundtrip ride along the levees of the Sacramento River.
23. Explore the Sierra Nevadas in Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park is home to some of the Earth’s largest and longest-living trees, including the General Sherman Tree.
An awe inspiring park, hiking is one of the best things to do here in the Land of the Giants. Get up close to these majestic trees, and the flora, and wildlife.
24. Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Traipse through Diagon Alley and live out your Harry Potter dreams of going to Hogwarts at the Wizarding World.
Plus all the other movie studio and theme park VIP experiences at Universal Studios.
Camping with kids? Check our 25+ genius camping with kids hacks for easier more enjoyable trip.
20 More Outdoor California Bucket List adventures:
- Swim in the gentle ocean waters in Santa Cruz
- Hike to Burney Falls in Northern California
- Wander the Jurassic forest in Fern Canyon in Northern California (where Jurassic Park, The Lost World was filmed)
- Boat to Channel Island, one of the leasted visited National Parks in the US. Hiking, kayaking and wildlife viewing.
- Walk the Cypress Tree Tunnel in Point Reyes, perfect place for a gorgeous family photo.
- Summer time visit with Elephant Seals in Ano Nuevo State Park
- Snowshoe in Lake Tahoe on the family friendly Fallen Leaf Lake Trail
- Canoe or Kayak in Lake Tahoe.
- Catch a ferry to Catalina Island, and snorkel, camp, hike, and spend the day at the beautiful beaches here.
- Watch the sunset from the Sunset Cliffs in San Diego
- Check out the tidepools and trails at Crystal Cove State Park.
- See the Boiling Springs Lake, walk on the boardwalk to the Big Boiler and learn about volcanoes at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
- Go SUP boarding at Lake Shasta and cruise around in a houseboat.
- Visit a waterfalls; Burney Falls, McWay Falls in Bug Sur, McCloud Falls near Mt. Shast
- Watch wild condors fly overhead at Pinnacles National Park.
- Paddle to the La Jolla Caves.
- Take a road trip to Carmel by the Sea.
- Walk the old-growth Redwood Forest at Muir Woods.
- Go horseback riding along the Half Moon Bay Coastside.
- Catch the annual monarch butterfly migration at Natural Bridges State Park (mid-October to mid-February).
20 More California Bucket List Attractions & Food
- Grab a donut at the iconic Randy’s Donuts in LA. Seen in many a movie, including Ironman 2.
- Tour A Jelly Bean Factory in Fairfield, CA (and of course do a little taste testing).
- Experience the Ghost Town of Bodie, one of California’s most well preserved ghost towns
- Be intrigued by the mystery and gravitational anomaly at the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz
- Go in a statue hunt for dragons, scorpions, the Galleta Meadows Sculptures in Anza Borrego State Park.
- Be enchanted by Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
- Eat the best burritos and tacos in San Fransisco’s Mission District at La Taqueria.
- Imagine what it was like in California hundreds of years ago at one of the 61 Spanish Missions along the coast.
- Lego lovers? Let your child’s imagination run wild at Legoland, California.
- Eat a Double Cheese Burger and Fries at the iconic In-and-Out
- Take the Aerial Tramway in Palm Springs, the world’s largest rotating tram car up 2.5 miles. Epic views of the desert awaits.
- Stop at Salvation Mountain in Salton Sea to gaze at Leonard Knight’s masterpiece. Colorful murals with inspiring messages, he took 25 years to complete.
- Slip and slide along 50 rides and attractions at Raging Waters waterpark. They have locations, one on LA or San Jose.
- Meet Snoopy, and jump on rides at Knott’s Berry Farm.
- Pack your kids a lunch and head to the Children’s Creativity Museum. Perfect for 2 – 12 yr olds to try out their art lab, community garden, paint studio, and music studio
- Visit the oldest Chinatown in the United States in San Fransisco.
- Wander the 1200 acres of Balboa Park, San Diego. Museums, park trails, Carousel, Mini Train, Art, History, and more.
- Discover the Discovery Cube Orange County, an interactive kids museum. Interesting exhibits, educational films, learning science in a fun way.
- Head to the Southern California for some apple picking at Oak Glen. There’s also a petting zoo
- Ride the Redwood Steam Train up Bear Mountain through the Redwoods. While hearing about the history of Roaring Camp.
I am going to be adding to this list, and flushing out these ideas, so be sure to check back.
60+ Best Things to Do in California: The Ultimate California Bucket List
From hiking in iconic, world famous National Parks to visiting the tallest trees, beaches, and theme parks, California is an adventure waiting to happen for you and your family.
These are my picks for the top 35 kid friendly things to do to add to your ultimate California Bucket List.
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