Annie has written about pretty much everything at this point, but her favorite topics are traveling, food, or basically anything that can become a future bucket list. She loves reading sci-fi novels,…See full bio
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There are millions of ways to describe Southern California—opulent, charismatic, captivating, electrifying—but no amount of words can do it justice. Its beaches are inviting, its state parks are compelling, and everywhere else is simply spellbinding. Once you visit, you never want to leave.
While we never get enough of SoCal’s tourist attractions and picturesque spots, the region has a lot more to offer than you might think. With plenty of destinations to discover, here are the most beautiful places in Southern California that stand out.
Location: Cold Spring Road, Montecito
Don’t look too hard for beautiful places in SoCal; Ganna Walska Lotusland is where you should be. The nonprofit botanical garden is one of the prettiest gardens in the state—it’s home to over 3,000 local and non-native plants. Featuring a fantastic selection of palms, bromeliads, and cacti, Lotusland features many themed gardens, each more unique than the other.
Stroll through the serene Japanese Garden, explore the different types of succulents at the Aloe Garden, and feast your eyes on the imaginative bushes of the Topiary Garden. There’s no doubt that Lotusland is possibly the most scenic place in Southern California.
Location: Beal Road, Calipatria
Salvation Mountain is one of the most beautiful places in Southern California. The folk-art site was Leonard Knight’s creation—he unified religion, art, and love to create a hillside visionary environment. More than 100,000 gallons of paint were spilled to design the national treasure. Bible scriptures, flowers, bluebirds, and plenty of other vibrant objects are painted on Salvation Mountain.
While some people consider the religious monument a weird place in California, there’s no denying that the colorful testament of faith makes it unique from many other Golden State attractions.
Location: 905 Loma Vista Drive, Beverly Hills
Also known as the Doheny Mansion, the Greystone Mansion is a Tudor Revival-style manor designed by architect Gordon Kaufmann. The imposing estate was given to Edward “Ned” Doheny, Jr. by his father. Situated on 16 acres of land, the luxurious residence boasts 55 rooms—it was regarded as the most expensive home built in the Golden State, costing more than $4 million to complete.
As one of the prettiest places in Southern California, the Greystone Mansion is regularly used as a film location. The L.A. treasure is also a public park and open to everyone wanting to explore its stunning terraced gardens and admire its grandeur.
Location: 1160 Coast Boulevard, La Jolla
San Diego is home to many of the most beautiful beaches in California, with La Jolla Cove taking the lead. The small and picturesque cove is not only a popular swimming spot, but it’s also one of the most desirable places for snorkeling, diving, and kayaking.
La Jolla Cove’s waters are usually rich in local marine life; the orange Garibaldi, sea lions, and seals are commonly seen here. Whether you want to take advantage of the calm waters to practice your swimming or simply spend the day lounging by the coast, one thing’s for sure—La Jolla Cove will take your breath away.
Location: 32200 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu
If you’re going to watch the sunset in Southern California, head over to El Matador State Beach for unparalleled views of the sun falling below the horizon. As one of the three beaches located within Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach, El Matador is abundant with geological features that enhance its beauty.
You’ll see many people sunbathing, snorkeling, swimming, birdwatching, and taking pictures of the stunning scenery. The long stretch of sand along with its sea caves and colossal rocks make it a must-see when spending a weekend in Malibu. Pay a visit to the most beautiful beach in Southern California, and you won’t regret a single minute of it.
The coastal city of Newport Beach is an Orange County paradise with a charming small-town feel. Home to the best beaches in the county—Corona del Mar State Beach, Pirate’s Cove Beach, China Cove, and Balboa Peninsula Beach—Newport Beach is the ultimate destination for surfing and sunbathing. The city is recognized for its luxury shopping and fine dining, too.
What makes Newport Beach so special is the fact that it manages to transport you back to the 1950s surf-rock era while providing modern amenities to make your stay as comfortable as possible. Regarded as one of the most scenic and beautiful cities in Southern California, Newport Beach immediately captures your heart and soul.
Some might think that Solvang doesn’t really belong to California—the extraordinary village looks like it belongs in a fairytale. Dotted with Danish-style architecture, Solvang was founded by Danes who came to the West Coast to establish a community away from Midwestern winters. Now, the quaint town continues to carry the legacy of the Danish immigrants who created the charming destination.
Just like in storybooks, Solvang offers a number of bakeries, restaurants, and merchants that provide a taste of Europe in the Golden State. It’s no surprise that you’ll come across a statue of the illustrious Little Mermaid and the bust of Hans Christian Andersen here. If anyone ever asks where the prettiest place in Southern California is, the answer is always Solvang.
Location: 8471 North Coast Highway, Laguna Beach
Over three miles of beach and more than 2,000 acres of wilderness comprise Crystal Cove State Park, one of the most beautiful parks in Southern California. The stretch of coastal cliffs and beachfront cove is mainly visited by mountain bikers, swimmers, hikers, scuba divers, and surfers. Crystal Cove State Park is truly paradisiacal—whether it’s the wooded canyons complementing the sandy beaches, everything here is in harmony.
When exploring the state park, you’ll come across the Crystal Cove Historic District, featuring 12.3 acres of beachfront cottages overlooking the ocean. With over 180 different species of birds and plenty of natural wonders, this underrated state park is definitely worth visiting.
Location: 12600 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of the wildest stretches of land on the SoCal coast with the most breathtaking views you’ll ever behold. The 2,000-acre coastal park is home to the critically endangered Torrey pine, which only grows here, north of San Diego County, and on Santa Rosa Island.
As one of the most beautiful places in Southern California for hiking, Torrey Pines offers eight trails that differ in terms of length, difficulty, and scenery. Admire the park’s high broken cliffs and deep ravines on headlands that overlook the deep Pacific. Trust us, you’ll want to add this stop to your La Jolla weekend itinerary.
Location: 2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara
Mission Santa Barbara, also known as the “Queen of the Missions,” is recognized for its iconic double bell towers and verdant gardens. The remarkably beautiful Spanish mission was established in 1786 and is still an active parish church. With the imposing Santa Ynez Mountains serving as the backdrop, Mission Santa Barbara transports you back in time as you explore the church. Fascinating 17th-century relics and artwork keep the mission’s history alive.
Whether it’s the delicate architecture or the colorful gardens of Mission Santa Barbara captivating you, one cannot deny that the church is one of the nicest places in Southern California—this is one California mission you shouldn’t miss.
Location: Sonoran Desert, Imperial County
Sandy beaches, fantastic state parks, and wonderful mid-century modern architecture define SoCal, but places like the Algodones Dunes are the ones that truly blow your mind. The expansive sand field stretches 40 miles north from the U.S.-Mexico border and creates the nation’s largest dune system.
If the vast pile of pure golden sand seems familiar, it’s because the dunes were featured in Flight of the Phoenix, Resident Evil: Extinction, and Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi. The Algodones Dunes are mesmerizing, magnetizing, bewitching—the great, uncharted erg is the most beautiful place in Southern California.
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