Located in the southwestern region of the United States (the so-called SouthWest), the California represents in the collective imagination the land of beaches, natural parks, the sun and travel on the road. Overlooking the Pacific and bordering Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, the Golden State has always fascinated tourists and visitors from all corners of the world: the places of interest and attractions are innumerable and able to meet the most diverse needs, if anything, the problem is just how to organize yourself to see everything that this great state ( largest in Spain) has to offer.
If you are looking for some logistical tips on how to plan an itinerary I recommend my article on how to organize a tour in California, in this article I will limit myself to a much more difficult operation: draw up a Top 10 top things to see (or do) in California, a practically impossible undertaking both for the difficulty of reducing the incredible amount of attractions available to 10 and for the subjective tastes that always influence a selection of this kind.
In any case, for those who know little about this State and are not clear on what to see, a Top 10, however subjective, can represent a good starting point to delve into the thousand wonders of this legendary American state. We hope to succeed at least decently in the enterprise! 🙂
Do you want to have a quick and concise idea of the contents of this article? Check out this video!
- 1. Death Valley National Park
- 2 San Francisco
- 3. Universal Studios in Los Angeles
- 4. Highway 1 e Big Sur
- 5. Yosemite National Park
- 6. Bodie State Historic Park
- 7. Joshua Tree National Park
- 8. Disneyland Park
- 9. San Diego
- 10. Sequoia national park
- What else is there to know?
- Other useful California guides
1. Death Valley National Park
For those who love natural oddities and panoramas where the horizon extends as far as the eye can see, the Death Valley is the national park not to be missed. A park to cross all by car in full on the road style, with strategic stops along the way, real "hit and run" stops, just enough time to take some photos and get back in the car immediately so as not to suffer too much from the very high temperatures (we are in the hottest place in all the States!).
Fortunately, the notable points of the Death Valley are for the most part enjoyable not far from the parking areas, moreover a fascinating aspect of this park is the very act of crossing it by car, the impression is that of penetrating into the bowels earth or having suddenly landed on another planet.
Death Valley's climate is not to be taken lightly, so visiting the park requires some precautions; so as not to be unprepared, read our section dedicated to the park, where you will find advice on attractions to prefer, where to sleep and other strategic advice to tackle the fascinating crossing of the Death Valley.
Death Valley Guide
2 San Francisco
Like every US state, California also has its symbols and the famous red bridge of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, is certainly among the most distinctive. Overlooking the bay of the same name, Frisco, as its inhabitants affectionately call it, is undoubtedly the town that exerts the greatest charm on travelers and it is not only for its famous bridge: the various hills, the continuous ups and downs, the historic tram cable cars , the winding flowery street of Lombard Street, the quaint neighborhoods, each with a distinct and well-marked personality, the cultural vibrancy and refined Victorian architecture are just some of the many ingredients capable of creating a mix that makes the city on the bay an attraction not to be missed.
As if that weren't enough, San Francisco, thanks to a privileged location, is an excellent base for easy excursions in the surrounding area, just think of the forest of great redwoods by Muir Woods, immortalized among other things in the film The Planet of the Apes, or the elegant Sausalito, renamed Portofino of California, or to the wine area of Napa and Sonoma or to the coastal gems of the Monterey Peninsula; in short, not including San Francisco in your West Coast itinerary means giving up a lot and personally I don't recommend it.
Guide to San Francisco
3. Universal Studios in Los Angeles
This theme park was really a discovery for me and if you are a movie lover I am convinced that you cannot miss it. Here you will find rides, scenographic reconstructions, shows, 4D projections and various tours under the banner of the most famous Hollywood films, the surprise and the special effect are on the agenda so get ready to be amazed.
Unforgettable is the guided tour inside the movie sets, which will allow you to enter real scenes complete with scenic effects and surprise shots. It has recently also been added The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, with 2 attractions dedicated to the Hogwarts wizard saga, as well as themed shows, shops and restaurants.
Other films protagonists of this beautiful park are King Kong, Waterworld, Jurassic Park, Transformer, Despicable Me, Kung Fu Panda, the Simpsons etc ...
Universal Studios Hollywood GuideDo you want to fill up on Hollywood movies and atmospheres?
- Don't forget to visit Hollywood and all its major movie-themed attractions
4. Highway 1 e Big Sur
California is known as one of the most suitable states for a road trip, and indeed the variety of landscapes it allows to cross (desert moors, coastal itineraries, golden hills and mountain stretches) is truly a boon for those who love traveling in car. But among all the scenic roads in California there is one in particular that stands out above the others, it is the infamous Highway 1, the panoramic road overlooking the Pacific Ocean that offers breathtaking corners and views between cliffs and suspended bridges over the sea.
The road (also known as Pacific coast highway) runs along almost the entire coast of California (from San Diego to the north of San Francisco), but the most fascinating stretch is undoubtedly the one corresponding to the Big Sur area, where the famous bridge is located Bixby Bridge, immortalized in many photos and postcards. In the same area there is also one of the most scenic beaches in California, Pfeiffer Beach, famous for its violet sand and the typical stacks.
Guida al Big Sur
5. Yosemite National Park
Another practically obligatory stop among the things to see in California, the Yosemite park is one of the great natural wonders of the state, where towering rock monoliths, thundering waterfalls, giant sequoias, gleaming alpine lakes, lush valleys and scenic roads form a landscape that is hard to be numb. The entire natural area is very large and moving around the park takes time, moreover some roads and entrances close at specific times of the year, so the visit requires careful planning. This is why I recommend that you follow our advice, which you can find in our section dedicated to the park.
Guide to Yosemite National Park
6. Bodie State Historic Park
Did you grow up with Spaghetti Western movies? Or are you simply curious about what it means to stroll freely in a perfectly preserved authentic western town? If the old west is your thing then you won't find anything better than bodie, an ancient mining town in the Sierra Nevada mountains, at the time a particularly favorite destination for outlaw cowboys.
Today the ghost town of Bodie is a real open-air museum, with the possibility of entering some period buildings, observing the original furniture and accessories of the interiors. There is also a small museum where some relics and historical evidence of some interest for the town are kept. For more details and photos, I refer you to my article dedicated to this fascinating attraction.
Guida a Bodie Ghost Town
7. Joshua Tree National Park
The California desert is home to, in addition to Death Valley, another fascinating national park, Joshua Tree National Park, a wasteland where trees with twisted shapes similar to cacti (Yucca) and rock masses lying on the ground like gravestones offer a surreal and decidedly suggestive scenario. Getting through the park in a rental car is quite easy and there are also many interesting spots near the road or easy-to-reach rest areas.
Obviously, as in all deserts, you need to pay attention to the climatic conditions and the local fauna, to better prepare yourself and plan your stops, take a look at our guide dedicated to the park.
Guida al Joshua Tree National Park
8. Disneyland Park
As for amusement parks, California is second only to Florida (which with Orlando can boast the real capital of American entertainment); whether you are on vacation with or without children, a detour to Disneyland, the first Disney theme park ever created, is highly recommended. The park is divided into 2 parts: Disneyland Park, the most traditional part, designed by Walt Disney, as well as the most famous, e Disney’s California Adventure, dedicated to the natural beauty of California and with attractions with a higher rate of adrenaline.
You can decide to visit only a part or both, in any case be prepared to spend a lot of time in this park, because there are so many things to do. In our dedicated guide we give you some suggestions on how to enjoy this park and organize your travel and accommodation in the best possible way:
9. San Diego
There are many cities in California, but only one seems to compete with the charm of San Francisco, San Diego. Overlooking the coast, in a privileged geographical position that guarantees a wonderful climate (the best in the whole state), San Diego boasts numerous places of interest: from the family amusement parks of SeaWorld and Legoland to the famous city zoo and museums of Balboa Park, from bustling Downtown to beautiful hidden beaches and coves, from quaint neighborhoods to historic attractions.
Also in this case I advise you to carefully browse through our guide, with advice on what to see, where to sleep, and how to organize a stay.
Guide to San Diego
10. Sequoia national park
Here's another natural wonder that's a bit of a constant on so many West Coast tours. The Sequoia National Park it rises close to the Sierra Nevada mountain range, in the eastern area of California, south of the Yosemite park. As the name suggests, the main interest of this natural area are the giant sequoias, which dominate not only the park's forest but also those of the surrounding area (Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument).
Among these imposing trees you cannot help but notice the General Sherman Tree, the most famous specimen, which boasts a longevity of 2700 years, a height of 83 meters and a circumference of 31. But in this park, and in the adjacent Kings Canyon, there are also other points of interest besides the sequoias. To find out more, plan an itinerary and organize travel, you can refer to our dedicated guide.
Guide to Sequoia National Park
What else is there to know?
These, as mentioned at the beginning, are only the main attractions of the state, for a complete overview you can read our section dedicated to California itineraries. If you are not satisfied with exploring the Golden State in depth but also want to make a detour to Las Vegas, you can follow the itinerary of the post tour Las Vegas and California in 15 days.
If, on the other hand, you want to further expand your range of action to neighboring states, I recommend our collection of itineraries on the West Coast and in particular the SouthWest.
Other useful California guides
Here are 3 California guides that I recommend you check out:
- How to organize a tour in California
- When to go to California? Guide to the best time
- Flights to California: where is it convenient to land to start a tour?