10 of California’s Most Beautiful Places

Every year I ask myself the same questions: How can I see something more impressive and more beautiful on my travels than last year? How can I make this year’s excursions even better?

If these questions are running through your head, too, consider visiting California, one of the most beautiful states in the USA. The Golden State offers incredible diversity, an abundance of national and state parks, and of course, the Pacific Coast Highway. Whether you love mountains, deserts or beaches, you can find them all in California.

In a state so large it would take a minimum of 16 hours to drive from tip to tip, how do you decide where to go? As a California native and enthusiast, I’m here to help you out with my picks for 10 of the state’s most beautiful places.

La Jolla Shores

A bit north of sunny San Diego, check out the interesting rock formations and beach cliffs in La Jolla. These shores are perfect to visit any time of day, though they’re particularly stunning at sunset. Dine at one of the nearby farm-to-table restaurants, or join a yoga class. It’s perfect for families and solo travelers alike.

La Jolla Shores La Jolla Shores

 

Encinitas Meditation Gardens

Encinitas, a small and quiet coastal town that's also north of San Diego, serves up açai bowls and my personal favorite, the Self-Reflection Fellowship Hermitage. The meditation gardens are free to visit and provide beautiful views, surrounded by colorful plants and koi fish ponds. You’ll see people deep in meditation, practicing yoga and generally just enjoying the peace and quiet.

Encinitas Meditation Gardens Encinitas Meditation Gardens

 

Anza Borrego Desert State Park

For a non-coastal Southern California experience, check out the badlands of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. While you can enjoy the amazing rock formations any time of the year, the park is famous for its spring wildflowers. Consider also catching a sunrise at Font’s Point. In a state where sunsets rule, this is one of the few amazing places to watch the sunrise in California.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park Anza Borrego Desert State Park

 

Runyon Canyon Park

For a more picturesque and less touristy Los Angeles experience than the Hollywood Walk of Fame, check out Runyon Canyon for a gorgeous view of downtown with the ocean in the distance. The hike to the viewpoint takes only about 15 minutes, so this stop is suitable for kids, too. Find more beautiful spots around Los Angeles here.

Runyon Canyon Park Runyon Canyon Park

 

Santa Barbara

Two hours north of LA, Santa Barbara’s Spanish architecture and gorgeous coastline is a must-see! Head to State Street for shopping and some cool photo ops, such as the Old Mission. Be sure to visit Butterfly Beach for one of the most famous beaches in California, and don’t forget to pop by El Capitan just north of the city for one of the best campsites in the area if you’re toting a tent.

Santa Barbara Santa Barbara

 

Monterey

Another coastal gem along the Pacific Coast Highway is Carmel-By-The-Sea or Monterey, both with even more dazzling coastal views. In the summer, it’s easy to see whales breaching in the waves just by standing on the shore. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is also a fantastic option for families.

Monterey Monterey

 

Kings Canyon

Located about three and a half hours east of San Jose, Kings Canyon is less popular than Yosemite National Park, but it’s absolutely worth a visit, especially in the summer when Yosemite is busy. Kings Canyon is perfect for day hikes or multi-day backpacking trips. Choose your pleasure.

Kings Canyon Kings Canyon - By Crd637 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

 

Mono Lake

While you’re in the area, try to include Mono Lake into your trip, which is located just east of Yosemite. The landscape is much more like a desert, and the rock formations just might make you feel like you’re on the moon!

Mono Lake Mono Lake

 

Sonoma Valley 

We can’t talk about California without giving a nod to wine country. Whether you’re into wine or not, the vineyards are truly beautiful. Although Napa is a worthy stop, Sonoma Valley is less costly and offers more coastline. This stop is easy to add onto your San Francisco trip itinerary.

Sonoma Valley Sonoma Valley

 

Fort Bragg

Have you heard of the glass beach in Fort Bragg?  Over time, this Fort Bragg has become one of the most interesting and unique places along the northern coast. Instead of sand, the beach is covered by tiny polished pieces of glass. Watch the sun catch it around sunset for the best photo op. Begin your journey there from San Francisco International Airport.

Fort Bragg glass beach Fort Bragg glass beach
Vacation Stories

More Destination Guides

 

6 Must-See National and State Parks in California

6 Must-See National and State Parks in California
In a state as large as California, with hundreds of state parks and plenty of national parks as well, how can you pick which ones to visit during your stay? The good news is, you pretty much can’t go wrong.

Vacation San Diego: 4 Self-Driving Tour Itineraries

Vacation San Diego: 4 Self-Driving Tour Itineraries
With its endless scenic routes, there’s plenty of adventure to be found in San Diego. Roll down the windows and hit the road on one of our top four driving tours in “America’s Finest City.”

How to Visit Los Angeles’ Top Attractions

How to Visit Los Angeles’ Top Attractions
Planning an L.A. vacation? Our insider’s guide has valuable tips for you – from what to see and do, to how to keep the crowded hot spots from bringing your trip to a screeching halt.

About the Author

Kristin Addis

Kristin Addis is a solo female travel expert who inspires women to travel the world in an authentic and adventurous way. A former investment banker who sold all of her belongings and left California in 2012, Kristin has solo traveled the world for over five years, covering every continent (except for Antarctica, but it’s on her list). You can find more of her musings at Be My Travel Muse or on Instagram and Facebook.