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California Bucket List: 21 Amazing Places to See on the East Coast

As an international, I have been lucky enough to visit California 3 times in total. On each trip, I find more and more new and exciting places to visit. Today, I have decided to compile a list of some of my favourite things to do in California, and I have asked some of my fellow travel bloggers help me make the Ultimate California Bucket List.

So, what are you waiting, let’s get reading, it is time for you to tick these awesome destinations off your bucket list!

Joshua Tree National Park, California, United States
Joshua Tree National Park, California, United States © Purchased Stock Photography from YAY Images

1) Joshua Tree National Park

Contribution by Rhonda at Travel Yes Please

Joshua Tree National Park’s striking geological features, unique vegetation, and desert ecosystems make it a standout attraction that should not be missed when visiting California.

Outdoor adventurers and nature lovers will love exploring among the park’s iconic Joshua Trees and massive boulders. Hiking trails lead the way to scenic valleys, hidden palm oases, cactus gardens, and even ancient petroglyphs.

Climbers and boulderers will get their adrenaline rush from attempting to conquer one of the park’s 8,000+ climbing routes. There are challenges for all ability levels including crack, slab, and steep face climbing.

From September through May, visitors can spend the night at one of the park’s campsites and sleep under the stars. With some of the darkest nights in Southern California, it’s the perfect destination for stargazing and admiring the Milky Way. You can visit Joshua Tree National Park year-round, but it’s best to go in the spring and fall when temperatures are most comfortable. A park pass is required to visit and can be bought at the entrance stations and visitor centres.

California Bucket List Laguna Beach, California, United States
Laguna Beach, California, United States © Live Adventure Travel

2) Laguna Beach

Contribution by Laura the founder of Live Adventure Travel

Laguna Beach is a small coastal town located in the Orange County Region of California. This is honestly one of the prettiest beach areas in California, with small hidden coves, loosely populated beaches and stunning seaside views. Even the main beach is a lot less populated than the likes of Santa Monica or Malibu and features tide pools, boardwalks and parks.

Laguna is a nice place to gear off the beaten path and enjoy a simple day of relaxation and beautiful scenery. In the town, there are some trendy coffee shops that are nice for a quick bite to eat and a refreshing drink.

Disneyland, California, United States
Disneyland, California, United States © Live Adventure Travel

3) Disneyland California

Contribution by Laura the founder of Live Adventure Travel

There are 6  Disney parks scattered around the world, with Disneyland California being the first EVER park. Therefore, the addition of Disneyland is a must on any California Bucket List. The iconic park attracts over 18 million people each year and is home to some of the world’s most thrilling ride experiences, beloved live performances and of course the iconic Disney characters.

Disneyland is known for making all your dreams come true, a place for Adults to become big kids and for children to let their imagination run wild. 

On the Disneyland property lies two very different parks, the Disneyland park is where all the magic began with a startling view of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle as soon as you enter. The second park, California’s Adventure is a modern layout featuring a ‘Hollywood’ themed design and more thrill-seeking rides. The price for admission into both parks changes regularly so it is best to check prices online before planning a trip. If hanging out with Mickey and the gang sounds like the ideal experience for you, why not add it to your Bucket List in California.

Knotts Berry Farm, California, United States
Knotts Berry Farm, California, United States © Adam & Claudia Photography

4) Knott’s Berry Farm

Contribution by Marcie at Marice in Mommyland

One of the most under-rated places to visit in California is Knott’s Berry Farm. Located in Buena Park (just a few minutes from Disneyland), Knott’s Berry Farm is the oldest theme park in the United States. Entrance into the park comes at a fee, with day tickets or an annual passes on offer.

There are so many attractions to choose from, roller coasters, Wild West shows and water-based experiences. There is really something for everyone, adults, teens and kids alike. One of the best kids based activity at Knott’s Berry Farm includes an entire section of the park dedicated to Snoopy-themed rides and attractions. You can even meet Peanuts characters! Knott’s Berry Farm also offers several popular special events. Did you know that boysenberries were actually invented at Knott’s Berry Farm? Each Spring, they celebrate with their popular Boysenberry Festival. During the summer months, head across the street to play at Knott’s Soak City, a super fun water park. In the fall, they offer a family-friendly Knott’s Spooky Farm during the day. But the event they are most famous for is Knott’s Scary Farm. This nighttime Halloween event is not for youngsters or those easily scared.

Griffith Observatory, California, United States
Griffith Observatory, California, United States © Purchased Stock Photography from YAY Images

5) Griffith Observatory

Contribution by Laura the founder of Live Adventure Travel

The Griffith Observatory can be seen on the tip-top of the Hollywood Hills. Most of those planning on spending a few days exploring Los Angeles will pay a visit to the Griffith Observatory. Here, they will be presented with outstanding views of Downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and the Pacific Ocean. There is also a fantastic view of the iconic Hollywood Sign.  I’d highly recommend visiting during Sunset to see the sun go down over Los Angeles.

Entrance into the Observatory is FREE to the public, inside guests can watch live shows, explore exhibitions and have a glance through telescopes, possibly even get the chance to look through the 12-inch Zeiss Refractor.

Chinese Theatre, Hollywood,California, United States
Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California, United States © Live Adventure Travel

6) Hollywood

Contribution by Laura the founder of Live Adventure Travel

Hollywood is the place to go for those looking to catch a glimpse of the United States famous entertainment business. A place where celebrities meet along the red carpet, the rich shop at Beverly Hills and tourists take snaps with their favourite actors star on the Hollywood walk of fame.

Even if you are only in Hollywood for a day, it is totally worth a visit to see some of the world famous music venues, the Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Hills, the home of the Oscars, modern sleek bars, retro nightclubs and so much more.

The good news for those basing themselves near Hollywood, a large majority of places mentioned in this bucket list are of driving distance from the famous boulevard.

Venice Canals, California, United States
Venice Canals, California, United States © Live Adventure Travel

7) Venice Beach & Canals

Contribution by Laura the founder of Live Adventure Travel

No trip to Los Angeles is complete without venturing a little further afield to the surrounding beaches, with Venice Beach being one of them. Venice beach is possibly one of the most ‘hip and trendy’ beaches on all of the west coast. Featuring crafty market-style shops, live street performances and endless street art scattered around the place. 

Venice Beach is also home to the famous seaside skateparks and gyms, otherwise known as muscle beach. On a hot summer’s day, it is common to see bodybuilders and fitness fanatics working out on the sand. It is fun to watch some of their amazing talents, as they swing from handle to handle in the jungle gym. And if you’re brave enough you could even give it a go!

A lesser-known area in this popular California district is the Venice Canals. Located just a short walk from the beach. The canals are a massive inspiration for the naming of the district. The residential area is home to trendy upmarket houses that look out on the canal style Marina. If you get the chance, I’d highly suggest visiting at sunset, it’s a truly breathtaking experience.

Santa Monica, California, United States
Santa Monica, California, United States © Live Adventure Travel

8) Santa Monica 

Contribution by Laura the founder of Live Adventure Travel

Santa Monica is a famous beach town located near downtown Los Angeles. The popular spot is popular both among locals and tourists alike. It is a nice place to relax in the sand, go for a swim or enjoy a peaceful seaside walk. The Pacific Park is located on the pier and contributes greatly to Santa Monica’s iconic appearance. The park is home to a roller coaster, Ferris Wheel and many other attractions. 

The Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica is a popular spot to go shopping, enjoy some street performances and get a bite to eat. Santa Monica is a must on any Bucket List for California.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Hollywood, California, United States
Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Hollywood, California, United States. © Live Adventure Travel

9) Universal Studios Hollywood

Contribution by Laura the founder of Live Adventure Travel

Universal Studios Hollywood is home to some of the most thrilling roller coasters in California, it is a place where Adrenaline Junkies can visit to get their fix. Not only does universal have super fast rides, but it also features some fantastic performances and opportunities to meet some of TV’s most beloved characters.

Universal is the place to visit for all those Harry Potter fans out there. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is brought to light right in the middle of the theme park. Here, fans can explore Hogwarts Castle, cast magical spells with their purchased wizarding wands and ride on the extraordinarily themed Harry Potter rides.

If all that isn’t enough, Universal Studios Hollywood has something truly unique, something that is not offered in any other theme park in California. Those who purchase tickets for Universal Studios can jump aboard the park’s Studio Tour. The attraction drives visitors around the streets and movie sets of LA, visiting movie and TV sets featured on the likes of Desperate Housewives, Gilmore Girls, Back to the Future, Physco and many more. This is a truly unique experience and no ride is ever the same, so if you can afford to go on the attraction more than once, I’d highly recommend it. Besides, you never know who you may meet along the way.

F.R.I.E.N.D.S Set, Warner Brothers VIP Studio Tour, California, United States
F.R.I.E.N.D.S Set, Warner Brothers VIP Studio Tour, California, United States © Live Adventure Travel

10) The VIP Warner Brothers Studio Tour

Contribution by Laura the founder of Live Adventure Travel

The Warner Brothers VIP  Studio Tour is an experience not to be missed for those of you who have an interest behind the scenes of film and TV production. Attendees are brought onto the sets of one of Hollywood’s most famous studios located in Burbank California.

The tour lasts anywhere from 2 to 3 hours and allows guests to walk along with many famous sets such as the F.R.I.E.N.D.S set, the Ellen Degeneres Set, the Pretty Little Liars Set and many more. The tour also brings visitors inside sound stages, where they can see some behind the scenes action, movie props and even try on the sorting hat from Harry Potter.

If this sounds like the ideal tour for you, then buy your tickets now to avoid disappointment.

The Big Sur, California, United States
The Big Sur, California, the United States © Live Adventure Travel

11) The Big Sur

Contribution by Laura the founder of Live Adventure Travel

The Big Sur is the perfect place to stop off at while cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway on a US Road Trip. The Big Sur is a stunning section off the coast of California which features rugged mountain tops that jot out of the ocean. Beneath the mountains lies the crystal clear waters of the Pacific. In fact, the Big Sur has been named the longest and most scenic road in the United States.

There are limited things to do along the highway, with the pure purpose of visiting the Big Sur is to see the stunning coastal views from the car. There are, however, viewpoints in which you can pull over your car to take a quick snap of the scenery. Some points along the highway consist of McWay Falls, Bixby Creek Bridge, Pfeiffer Beach, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and finally Carmel by the sea (mentioned next).

Fairytale Style Cottage, Carmel by the Sea,  California, United States
Fairytale Style Cottage, Carmel by the Sea, California, United States © Purchased Stock Photography from Deposit Photos

12) Carmel by the Sea

Contribution by Priya Vin from Outside Suburbia

Carmel by the Sea deserves a place in your California bucket list. In fact, it makes for a great destination on any west coast road trip. The beautiful seaside town is home to stunning white sandy beaches, peaceful natural parklands and nice forest walks.

The charm does not end at the beach, the cute village is quaint with flower-filled courtyards, gardens and narrow streets. It is so photogenic, like something out of a fairytale. Two notable cottages that add to the charm of the town are Hanel & Gretel and Ocean’s End.

Carmel by the Sea is the perfect place to spend the weekend after driving along the Pacific Coast Highway and taking in the beautiful views of The Big Sur.

2 Days in San Fransisco The Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco, California, USA

13) San Francisco

Contribution by Laura the founder of Live Adventure Travel

San Francisco should be on the top of your US Bucket List never mind your California one! San Fran is possibly one of the most iconic cities in all of the United States, with its world-famous streets featuring in movies, TV shows and paintings.

Some of San Fran’s most notable landmarks that are a must on any San Fran itinerary include Lombard Street, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Painted Ladies. The cities hilly terrain adds extra charm to the endless list of things to do.

It is estimated that over 70,000 people visit San Fran every day, looking to get a taste of all of which the city has to offer. And by adding it to you California Bucket List, you could be one of them!

Channel Island, California, United States
Channel Island, California, United States © Purchased Stock Photography from Deposit Photos

14) The Channel Islands

Contribution by James Ian at Travel Collecting

The Channel Island should be without a doubt on the top of your California bucket list, especially for those of you who have an interest in diving. The area consists of an archipelago of eight islands, stretching from Santa Barbara to San Diego.

The five most northern islands make up the Channel Islands national park.  The only inhabited island is Santa Catalina. This is a popular destination for sailing and diving and there are ferries from three ports near Los Angeles.  It is also possible to dive sites around Santa Catalina and the more northern Anacapa Island as day trips from near Los Angeles, or around San Miguel and Santa Rosa from Santa Barbara.  The best time of year to dive here is July to January, from September to November having the best visibility of all.

The islands – made up of mostly bare rocky outcrops – dart dramatically out of the blue sea.  With boats sometimes being accompanied by playful dolphins. There is plenty of different fish and other marine life around the islands for divers or snorkelers to enjoy.  Highlights are bright orange Garibaldi damselfish, as well as fun-loving seals and sea lions. Many add diving in California’s Channel Islands onto their bucket lists due to the high volume of giant kelp in the surrounding waters. The cool waters around the islands are the perfect environment for giant kelp to grow and there are multiple sites throughout the entire archipelago.  Kelp diving requires you to swim through thick forests of kelp that stretch from the bottom of the sea up to the surface. It’s an incredible experience.

Catalina Island, California, United States
Catalina Island, California, United States © Ready Set PTO

15) A Day Trip to Catalina Island from LA

Contribution by Lauren from Ready Set PTO

If you can’t visit all of the Channel Islands at once don’t worry, it is easy to visit the most popular one, Catalina Island on a Day Trip from LA. The island is located 26 miles off the coast of Southern California, this island has a cute and colourful town, a fun beach, and some of the best snorkelling and diving in California.

The easiest way to get to Catalina Island is by ferry, from either Newport Beach or Long Beach area. The ferry ride lasts 1 hour and costs about $70 round trip.

Once you arrive, rent a golf cart in town so you can cruise around the island. Drive up and around the hills and soak in the views! Get lunch in town and head to Descanso Beach Club, the most popular beach on Catalina Island, where you can order drinks at the bar right on the sand. There is a great spot to go snorkelling right near here at the Casino building (not an actual casino) called Dive Park. You can rent a mask and snorkel for about $8 for 2 hours and check out all the colourful fish before heading back to the ferry dock for your return to the mainland! 

Silicon Valley, California, United States
Silicon Valley, California, United States © Purchased Stock from Deposit Photos

16) Silicon Valley

Contribution by Paula from Truly Expat

If you are anything like me, Silicon Valley is a must-see! Not only is it a dream for technology lovers, but it is also a great place to get some perspective on the nature of social media and tech companies, something we all use!

Silicon Valley is only a 40-minute drive from San Francisco, so it makes for the perfect day trip. Make sure your first stop is to the Computer History Museum at 1401 North Shoreline Blvd Mountain View, CA 94043, where you will find computers of the present and the past, a great start to your Silicon Valley experience. Entrance into this museum is $17.50 with lots of exhibitions on display

A further five minutes down the street is the Google Headquarters, when you arrive, you can wander around the campus (you can’t go inside the buildings though), and marvel at this cool rather unique place to work. You can, however, head over to the google merchandise store to buy some great google Products.

After admiring the Google headquarters it is time to drive to Facebook (unfortunately, Facebook headquarters isn’t much to look at), you can’t enter the premises like you can with Google. Still, you can take a photo in front of the iconic Facebook sign.

Although there are many b8ta stores in other parts of the United States, if you haven’t seen these concept stores before, then 377 Santana Row, San Jose, 95128, is a great place to start. Each item at B8ta sits next to a digital screen that explains how it works and how much it costs.

Mt. Whitney, California, United States
Mt. Whitney, California, United States © Campsite Vibes

17) Mt. Whitney

Contribution by Jenny from Campsite Vibes

Mt. Whitney is the highest point in the lower 48 states, standing proudly at 14,505 feet. This mountain is beautiful and is one of California’s 14er’s. 

Mt. Whitney is definitely one of the highlights of California, it is possible to visit on a day hike or over the course of a couple of days. However, the hikes in Mt. Whitney are not easy, with the shortest to the summit and back being a 22 miles roundtrip. As a result, the miles, elevation gain and altitude, proper experience and training is required to summit Mt. Whitney. Permits are also required for both day hiking and multi-day trips.

If hiking Mt. Whitney isn’t in the cards for you, you can also see it from Alabama Hills in Lone Pine. If you get up before sunrise, you can watch as the whole mountain lights up pink in the morning glow. Alabama Hills is also a great place for some hiking, off-roading, and catching the Milkyway at night.

Yosemite National Park, California, United States © Live Adventure Travel

18) Yosemite National Park

Contribution by Laura the founder of Live Adventure Travel

Yosemite is on nearly everyone’s bucket list, the famous National Park is known for its captivating wildlife, astonishing beauty and iconic landmarks. The park is capable of taking your breath away in a matter of minutes.

Yosemite is the ideal vacation spot for those who love to hike, explore and be away with nature. No trip to Yosemite is complete without first catching a glimpse of El Capitan, The Half Dome and Tunnel Vision, all of which are what makes the park so iconic.

So, if you love to explore the outdoors and are looking for somewhere beautiful to do so, consider adding Yosemite to your California Bucket List now!

Sonoma Valley, California, United States
Sonoma Valley, California, United States © Travel Mama

19) Sonoma Valley & Ziplining Through Redwood Tree’s

Contribution by Sierra at Free to Travel Mama

Sonoma Valley should be on everyone’s California bucket list and not just for its incredible wine tasting and gorgeous vineyard views. Sonoma also offers the experience of visiting California’s Coastal Redwoods as they fill numerous parks and forests throughout the valley. These Redwoods are the tallest living things on earth, often growing beyond 350 feet tall, and they live for an average of 500 to 700 years.

These beautiful, majestic trees can be experienced on the walking trails in Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. Colonel Armstrong is the oldest tree in the park at 1,400 years old. Trails range from easy and accessible to more challenging, but all offer stunning views and a serene picnic area at any time of the year. The park is open from 8 am to sunset daily and the entrance fee is $10 per car.

By far, the most unique way to enjoy the Redwoods is by zip-lining among their branches with Sonoma Canopy Tours. The exhilarating rides 250 feet above the forest floor gives a bird’s eye view of the forest and towering trees. Three different zip lines tours through the Redwoods are available consisting of several zip lines each as well as sky bridges and rappelling. Tours start at $119.  It is the perfect way to see the Redwoods, unlike any way you have before!

Lake Tahoe, California, United States
Lake Tahoe, California, United States © Purchased Stock Photography from YAY Images

20) Lake Tahoe

Contribution by Laura the founder of Live Adventure Travel

Lake Tahoe has it all, stunning crystal clear water, adrenaline-driven lakeside sports and a winter season to die for. No matter what time of year you are planning to visit California, Lake Tahoe is always a good place to add to your to-do list.

In the summer months, most days are spent down by the lake, paddle boarding, swimming, kayaking, boating, parasailing…the list of things to do are endless. The hot weather makes Tahoe the perfect destination to go camping and explore the surrounding mountains by foot.

In the Winter months, the Tahoe district turns into a winter wonderland and people travel from all over to take part in festive activities, skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. 

Regardless of when you plan to visit California, Tahoe needs to be on your Bucket List. As it is a vacation spot not to be missed.

Redwoods National Park, California, United States
Redwoods National Park, California, United States © Purchased Stock Photography from Deposit Photos

21) Redwood National and State Parks

Contribution by Gina from Evergreen and Salt

Redwood National and State Parks make up a region of Northern California that is home to the tallest trees on earth. The Redwood Trees are spectacular as they jut up high into the air, blocking out the sky in parts and providing gorgeous rays of sunlight that break through the treetop canopy. Much of the redwood forest of California was decimated in the late 19th century by the logging industry, but luckily enough is left that you can appreciate the wonder of these trees that can be hundreds of years old and up to 350 feet tall.

Humboldt State Park is a must-see in the Redwood area thanks to its Avenue of the Giants drive and proximity to drive-thru trees that are – you guessed it – wide enough to drive through. Whether you’re planning a trip to California that includes driving all along the California coastline or you’re just looking for a weekend getaway from San Francisco, the Redwood National and State Parks are a bucket list item of California you won’t want to miss seeing.

Santa Cruz, California, United States
Santa Cruz, California, United States © Brogan Abroad

22) Santa Cruz, California

Contribution by Teresa from Brogan Abroad

Located at the north end of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz is a traditional Californian beach town with a very chilled vibe. It’s only over an hour away from San Francisco, so if you are staying in the Golden City, a day trip to Santa Cruz is the perfect way to explore this charming town.

It is the birthplace of mainland surfing in the US, so if you are a fan of the sport, Santa Cruz should be in your bucket list of places to visit in California. Whether you enjoy watching surfers catch some waves in style, or you are experienced enough to join them, head to Pleasure Point, an iconic surfing spot and filming location of 2012 film Chasing Mavericks. Another famous spot is Steamer Lane, just off Lighthouse Point.

It was at Steamer Lane that local legend Jack O’Neill developed the modern surfing wetsuit.While you are in Lighthouse Point, why not visit the Surfing Museum, housed within the cute little Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse. It covers 100 years of surfing history in Santa Cruz.But there’s more to this lovely town than surfing.

Make sure you don’t miss a visit to the Beach Boardwalk, a classic seaside amusement park, and a walk down Santa Cruz Wharf to see the resident sea lions.

Map Locations of our Bucket List California

So, this brings us to the end of our list of some of the best places to visit in California. Below is a map with all the locations mentioned above. I tried to list place in the order of there position.

Thanks for Reading!

I want to take a moment to take those who helped me put together this Epic California Bucket List. I hope this will come in handy when planning your vacation. If you are planning a trip around the US be sure to check out some of my related posts down below.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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