September 28, 2020
As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Turquoise beaches, towering redwoods, impressive national parks—what’s not to like about the Golden State? Thanks to the plethora of scenic landscapes and historical landmarks, you'll never run out of fascinating places to visit. Besides the extensive coastline, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the Happiest Place on Earth, the top California attractions are more than just spectacular sights and photogenic panoramas. History, nature, art, and culture are the true essence of the Golden State’s magnetism. So, put on your shoes, grab your camera, and discover the top California attractions to visit right now.
Top Attractions In Southern California
1. Venice Canal Historic District
If you’re looking for free things to do in Los Angeles, strolling the Venice Canal Historic District is just what you need. A delight for the eyes, the canals are among the top attractions in Los Angeles where tranquility overpowers city noise. The district was built in 1905 by developer Abbot Kinney, who intended to recreate a piece of Venice in the U.S., and now consists of captivating architecture, round bridges, bobbing boats, lush yards, and charming decorations. Spend a lovely afternoon walking along the quirky canals lined with luxurious houses.
2. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
Going to Palm Springs and not visiting the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is pure blasphemy. The remarkable zoo and botanical paradise is one of the top California desert attractions, exhibiting atypical animals and plants from deserts found all over the world. The beautifully designed place specifically focuses on the preservation of the local desert ecosystem and ensures high standards of animal care.
Explore the wonderful gardens and trails as you come nose-to-nose with graceful giraffes. Spot over 150 species of free-flying birds, too, including roadrunners—one of the few that are fast enough to capture and kill a rattlesnake. With an amazing variety of African and North American wildlife to view here, you’ll lose track of time as you admire the beautiful flora and fauna.
3. Windansea Beach
Windansea Beach is often overlooked, but it's one of the best San Diego beaches you’ll ever visit. The beach's name is derived from “Wind-and-Sea,” a nearby hotel that burned down in the 1940s. Since this top California attraction is a hidden gem, the beach is yet to be discovered by tourists. Locals take advantage of this and frequently spend quiet days by the shore.
The uncrowded beach is perfect for those seeking more privacy. Due to rocks and strong currents, however, it’s dangerous to swim here. So, stick to sunbathing and surfing. The picturesque coast is perfect for relaxing while watching surfers and listening to the waves crash against the shore. Be sure to stick around to watch the sunset; it’s marvelous every time.
4. Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park
If you plan on visiting the American Riviera, one of the top things to do in Santa Barbara is to take a trip to the Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park. This spot preserves centuries-old artwork by the Barbareño Chumash, who once lived in the area. Now, only traces remain of their history; you'll discover their story on the walls of the cave.
Although the interpretation is still unclear, some say the preserved Native American paintings—which are estimated to be around 1,000 years old—represent celestial objects and entities. Explore the significant rock art of Chumash Indian history and learn about their invaluable legacy at this fascinating state park.
5. Korean Bell of Friendship
Presented by the South Korean government as a symbol of camaraderie, the Korean Bell of Friendship is located in San Pedro’s Angel’s Gate Park, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The massive bronze bell measures over 7 feet tall and weighs 17 tons. Given to the United States in 1976, it is modeled after the Bronze Bell of King Songdok. Four pairs of goddesses decorate the bell’s circumference—symbolizing freedom, independence, peace, and prosperity for both countries.
You can hear the bell ring every year on Independence Day, National Liberation Day of Korea, New Year’s Eve, Korean-American Day, and U.S. Constitution Day. The Korean Bell of Friendship is one of the top attractions in Los Angeles, drawing visitors from all over the world. Twelve beams—each representing a sign in the Korean zodiac—support the tremendous bell. Honor the solidarity of South Korea and the United States at this free, family-friendly historic site. The stunning views from this top California attraction will take your breath away, too.
6. Balboa Park
Magnificent and triumphant, Balboa Park is where culture, science, and nature collide. The urban cultural park hosts 17 museums, gardens galore, and the renowned San Diego Zoo. Undoubtedly, one of the best things to do in San Diego is to spend a day here, so make sure to stop by when visiting downtown San Diego.
Balboa Park is an urban gem with a rich history manifested through its remarkable architecture, intriguing exhibits, and cultural events. The Japanese Friendship Garden includes a bonsai display, a moon-viewing deck, and gorgeous black pine and cherry blossom trees. Walk along the brick paths and explore the charming ponds of Balboa Park as the wind caresses your cheeks.
Top Attractions In Northern California
1. The Palace of Fine Arts
One of the best things to do in San Francisco is to visit the Palace of Fine Arts. Originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, the landmark is the only one still standing at its original location.
Designed by Bernard Maybeck, the Neoclassical monumental structure is one of the most photographed treasures of the city. An idyllic pond surrounds the Greco-Roman rotunda, which features a beautiful dome and curved columns. Attracting both locals and tourists, the wonderful architecture is enhanced by magnificent artwork on different pillars. Pack a picnic, and spend a lovely afternoon watching swans swim in the tranquil pond and admiring the phenomenal landmark.
2. Humboldt Botanical Garden
A top California attraction that often flies under the radar is Humboldt Botanical Garden. Offering a network of beautiful trails through diverse gardens and a captivating butterfly house, the 44-acre garden is set on a gentle hillside in a mature forest. With occasional open views of the Pacific, it’s filled with native plants, including a wonderful collection of rhododendrons.
A must-see here is the Dedekam Ornamental Terrace Garden, which was designed to represent the colors of the rainbow. Humboldt Botanical Garden also features the All Happy Now sculpture—a combination of a ziggurat and a labyrinth. It's always a delight to spend a day here connecting with nature.
3. Municipal Rose Garden
San Jose’s historic rose garden is a must-see California garden. Featuring over 3,500 shrubs that represent 189 rose varieties, the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden was founded in 1927. Attracting thousands of visitors every year, the stunning garden is cost-free and open to everyone, so come by to enjoy the rolling green lawns and vivid blossoming roses.
An ideal place for a scenic picnic, the historic landmark was named “America’s Best Rose Garden.” So bring a book, a ball, and some snacks, and enjoy the lush grounds of the breathtaking garden.
4. Oakland Zoo
Established in 1922, the Oakland Zoo is one of the best zoos in California and is renowned for its state-of-the-art, 17,000-square-foot veterinary hospital. Home to over 750 native and exotic animals, this family-friendly attraction allows visitors to experience wildlife from a whole new perspective. Camels, grizzly bears, and chirping birds welcome you to the zoo as you learn about their features and habitats. Complete with gondola rides that take you to a unique exhibit focused on California wildlife, the Oakland Zoo is always a delight to visit.
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