If you’re planning your first or even your third trip to California, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when putting together your itinerary. There’s just so much to see, to visit, to do, and to experience! The Golden State is massive, stretching for nearly 900 miles along the Pacific. It’s home to sweeping mountain ranges, deserts, national parks, vineyards, theme parks, hiking trails, and more. It boasts a collection of vibrant cities almost as famous as the state itself, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.
It truly is the gold standard for travelers. Whether you’re there to explore the great American outdoors, sample some outstanding food and wine, go on a cultural sojourn, or simply take in the sun and surf, you’re going to have an incredible experience.
To help you get the most out of your trip, we’ve put together a list of six awesome ways for you to experience this state, depending on the kind of traveler you are.
1. The Luxury Lover
California is the mecca of celebrity culture in the U.S. It has more billionaires than any other state in the country and is dotted with destinations that will give you the dream getaway you deserve. Beverly Hills and the surrounding areas in Los Angeles are perhaps the ultimate symbol of luxury in the U.S., with the hills above Sunset Boulevard boasting some of the priciest real estate. Choose to stay in any one of the lavish hotels in the area and sample cultural exhibitions at places like the Getty Center and the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.
You can also spend some time in Orange County with its spas, luxury resorts, elegant dining, and endless ocean views. If you’re looking for next-level luxury, you won’t do better than Palm Springs with establishments like the Hard Rock Hotel and Saguaro Palm Springs that elevate indulgence to new heights. Incidentally, the Greater Palm Springs area is also a bit of a golf hub. It has a number of world-class golf courses designed by legendary players such as Tom Fazio and Jack Nicklaus.
2. The Tourist
Looking for something more down-to-earth where you can take in the sights and drink in the natural and man-made beauty of the place? Try some of its outstanding cities, each offering a different vibe and experience. San Francisco is one of the most livable cities in the U.S. and is brimming with energy wherever you go. You can explore some of its eclectic neighbors, zip around in a cable car, and drive along the iconic Golden Gate Bridge near the equally iconic redwood forests.
San Diego, on the other hand, is Southern California at its finest, with year-round warm weather, endless stretches of beach, and attractions like Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo.
Other places not-to-miss are Disneyland in Anaheim, Sequoia National Park in Kern County, the central coast (namely Monterey and Big Sur), and more.
3. The Foodie
California has arguably the best food scene in the U.S. and can certainly be considered the most diverse one. San Diego, as well as the greater Los Angeles area, is home to some of the best Mexican food outside of Mexico. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles are known for their world-class dining establishments that really bring you the world on a platter, whether it’s Vietnamese, Filipino, or Thai cuisine. The San Francisco Bay Area, in particular, boasts an incredible 125 Michelin-starred restaurants.
For the oenophiles among you, you won’t do better than Napa Valley. It’s one of the best wine destinations in the world with a number of Michelin-starred restaurants of its own and also a major luxury hotspot. For wine-lovers who may want to go a little off the beaten track, consider Napa’s neighbors Sonoma and the Anderson Valley, or drive south to try wines in the Paso Robles area after exploring California’s central coast.
4. The Adventurer
California is a nature lover’s paradise. One of the most popular national parks in the United States — Yosemite — is located just 160 miles east of San Francisco. It offers practically every adventure activity you can think of, from rock climbing to hiking, rappelling, kayaking, skiing, and more.
Big Sur is another spot you can’t miss, with its numerous hiking trails, surfing, and pathways that lead to wild, seemingly untouched beaches.
Want to disconnect completely? Try Joshua National Park, an 800,000-acre large desert oasis. It’s perfect for biking, horseback riding, and desert rock climbing. There’s also very little pollution out there, making it an ideal spot to stargaze, particularly in the Anza Borrego desert region.
5. The Art Lover
If you’re an art connoisseur who loves a good day of gallery hopping, be sure to visit Laguna Beach with its thriving artistic community, galleries, gorgeous public sculptures, and annual summer art festivals. Carmel-by-the-Sea, just south of Monterey Bay is another spot you can’t miss. This spectacular seaside town has long been popular among artists, poets, and writers.
Of course, no California art trip is complete without a visit to the Lake Tahoe area, home to a number of excellent art galleries. Ashley Mattila, owner of a South Lake Tahoe art gallery concurs, “South Lake Tahoe has so much to offer its visitors. Artists and landscape painters from all over the country, particularly, the Bay Area, call it home. The vistas around the lake are an idyllic backdrop for their creations, many of which are showcased in galleries locally. It’s also a great spot for nature lovers and doing outdoorsy stuff like skiing, cycling, horse-back riding and kayaking.”
Once you’ve explored the gallery offerings, consider a visit to larger museums in San Francisco such as the Legion of Honor, the De Young, or San Francisco Museum of Modern Art before heading home.
6. The Shopaholic
Inspired by its urban centers, Hollywood influence, and dramatic landscapes, Californian designers and trendsetters are on the cutting edge of global fashion. From fashion weeks to design districts and couture brands, this state has it all.
“If you’re into the high street lifestyle, California is the place to be. Beverly Hills is still an iconic shopping destination today, as it was 20 years ago,” says Susie Lee, Marketing Director at minimalist fashion brand Crescent. “ LA Fashion Week is one of the top fashion weeks in the world. West Hollywood, Newport Beach, and the San Francisco Design District are just some of the places to find both established and up-and-coming Californian designers.”
There’s a reason California is so often romanticized in films and pop culture. The possibilities are endless in California. It has great weather all year round and an unrivaled vibe that’s a heady mix of So-Cal and international influences. If you’re any kind of a traveler at all, the Golden State has to be on your bucket list.