California Bucket List: 30 Things to Do in California 

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California is one of the coolest and liveliest states in the US. The Golden State has unspoiled beaches, diverse cultures, beautiful towns, and hip cities.  

The state’s fun activities, adventures, mouthwatering foods, vineyards, and nightlife await you. This bucket list contains the best things you must experience in the West Coast state.

You may also like our guide to California in the fall.

California Coast Map

California Bucket List By Area 


1. The Sausalito Ferry

A visit to Sausalito is not complete without a ferryboat ride.

It is one of the world’s most famous and exciting ferryboat rides.

The ride is always fun, thrilling, and memorable.

The good news is that the ride is less expensive than tour boat rides.

2. Caledonia Street

A great place to shop in Sausalito, Caledonia Street, has a calm atmosphere. It is not so crowded so that you can shop here at your own pace.

If you get hungry at any point during your shopping spree, the low-key local eateries will satisfy your taste buds. 

3. Sausalito Art & Music Festival

Have fun at the Sausalito Art & Music Festival, the largest outdoor festival in Sausalito.

It is held every year during Labor Day weekend.

The festival attracts more than 50,000 people and features art, artists, live performances, music, and food. 

San Francisco

4. Golden Gate Bridge

A walk across the Golden Gate Bridge is awe-inspiring.

It is the most photographed bridge in the world.

The iconic tall orange towers are wonders in themselves.

The stunning views of the cityscapes and landscapes from the bridge will never disappoint you. 

5. Alcatraz Island

If you are interested in history, head to Alcatraz Island, a historic full-security prison in the middle of San Francisco Bay.

It was a lighthouse station before transforming into a military prison in the 1870s. Once home to notorious criminals, it is now a famous tourist landmark.

Alcatraz on island San Francisco

6. Chinatown

Historic buildings, unique shops, and pocket parks…

Welcome to China Town.

This town is home to the largest Chinese community outside Asia.

If you are here, don’t forget to feast on the famous Chinese foods like chop suey and fortune cookies.

Foodies can get the best of Chinese foods at Hunan Home’s Restaurant and Good Mong Kok Bakery. 

7. TreasureFest

If you want a dog-friendly outdoor festival in San Francisco, go to TreasureFest. It is held on the last weekend of each month.

Packed with more than 400 vendors and dozens of food trucks and bars, besides live music jamming, this festival is fun.

San Francisco is the starting point for the Pacific Coast Highway road trip. 

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco - red bridge over water on blue sky day

San Jose

8. Birthplaces of Apple and HP

Visit the small suburban garages in Silicon Valley, where huge tech companies like Apple and HP were founded.

These garages are where Apple and HP computers were first developed.

While these companies saw unprecedented growth and moved to larger office spaces, their birthplaces are a significant part of the history of San Jose.

These places are now registered as National Historic Landmarks. 

9. Tech Museums

Since San Jose has made our lives easier with an array of amazing technological developments, visiting the city’s tech museums is a must for those interested in the history of computers, hardware, and software. 

Visit the Computer History Museum to acquaint yourself with the innovations and developments that changed the world over time.

Or go to the Intel Museum and Headquarters and Apple Park Visitor Center to get detailed insights into the history of technology. 

10. Almaden Quicksilver County Park

If you are an outdoor person and nature lover, the Almaden Quicksilver County Park is an excellent place.

Go hiking among the tunnels and tracks or engage in other outdoor activities. Once a mercury mine, this park is now a famous tourist landmark.   

Yosemite National Park

11. Yosemite

One of the most popular national parks in the USA, Yosemite is scenic and has a waterfall and a variety of hikes for all levels.

Bridalveil Fall and the El Capitan and Half Dome’s granite cliffs make this one of California’s most visited spots.

You can find tips for backpacking Yosemite here or how to plan a romantic national park trip to this lush destination.

Yosemite National Park California

San Jacinto Mountains

12. Idyllwild

Explore Mount San Jacinto State Park, which has 14,000 acres and is home to over 50 miles of hiking trails, or the 202 miles of Idyllwild Regional Park.

Taste award-winning wines at Middle Ridge Winery or watch a Rustic Theater show!

Check out our things to do in Idllywild guide for more.

Snow Covered Mount San Jacinto

13. Palm Springs

Palm Springs was the destination to holiday at in years gone by.

This arid location is home to golf courses and natural palm fans at Indian Canyons, once home to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

From Palm Springs, you can do a day trip to Pioneertown, created in the 1940s as a “Living Breathing Movie Set,” or this day tour to Joshua Tree National Park.

Palm Springs also makes a warm destination in California in December.

Saguaro Colorful Hotel Palm Springs California.

Monterey Peninsula

14. Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea, or Carmel as the locals call it, is a city on the Monterey Peninsula. Once known as an artist haven, visitors enjoy Carmel Beach, dining out and shopping on Ocean Ave.

Look out for the crooked storybook-style houses created by Hugh Comstock dotted around.

Take the popular drive to Pebble Beach to see the lone cypress tree on the cliff (image).

15. Bixby Creek Bridge and Big Sur

Drive over the ‘Big Little Lies’ bridge, Bixby Creek Bridge.

Play the theme song, Cold Little Heart, by Michael Kiwanuka, for Kidman and Kravitz vibes. Admire the rustic coast and McWay Falls, and take a Point Sur Light Station tour.

Bixby Creek Bridge Big Sur. California


16. Solvang

Solvang is a beautiful Danish farm-style village in Santa Ynez Valley.

The windmills and unique architecture of the buildings give this village a mesmerizing vibe.

Don’t forget to try the authentic Danish pastries here.  

It’s a great spot to visit in summer for this lavender farm estate.

17. Santa Ynez Valley Wineries

Santa Ynez Valley is home to some of the best wineries in the USA. It is one of the most recommended places for wine tours.

More than 120 wineries in this valley produce popular varieties like Viognier, Chardonnay, and Pinot Grigio. 

18. Nojoqui Falls Park 

Located just off Highway 101, Nojoqui Falls Park is excellent for picnics and outdoor activities.

The park has many picnic tables, BBQ grills, hiking trails, restrooms, and playing fields.

A short hike will take you to the beautiful California waterfall, where you can take Instagram pictures and enjoy the serene atmosphere. 

19. Feast on Local Foods 

Santa Ynez Valley is known for its diversity, with people from different backgrounds living here.

This has led to diversity in food as well.

The restaurants here serve different varieties of foods, such as authentic Danish, Chinese, and American cuisines, and everything in between.

If you are a foodie, I recommend you try this place. 

Wine vineyard, grapes on vine

Los Angeles

20. Griffith Observatory 

One of the most lovely and unique things to do in California is to visit the Griffith Observatory.

This place offers the best views of Los Angeles and the Hollywood Hills.

To get picturesque views, visit the observatory during the night. Also, visit the interesting exhibits to see how the solar system works and explore the different telescopes and other scientific equipment. 

 La La Land fans will recognize the Observatory. Dreamy. 

Los Angeles Skyline, Griffith Observatory, Night view with lights

21. Hollywood 

From a visit to the Walk of Fame to watching a movie in a renowned theater, you have a lot of fun activities to enjoy in Hollywood.

Visit famous movie studios like Warner Bros, Sony Pictures, and Universal Studios to see what happens behind the scenes.  

22. Walk of Fame

Do you know whose star is the only star located on a wall?

Muhammed Ali!

Walk of Fame Star Los Angeles California

23. The Original Farmers Market

Located at 3rd and Fairfax, the historic Original Farmers Market is a great place to dine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is a hot spot for the locals as well as visitors. 

24. Santa Monica Pier

Strolling along Santa Monica’s signature pier at sunset is a surreal experience.

I highly recommend a visit to the amusement park here.

The roller coasters and carnie rides will amuse you and your family.

Santa Monica also features in our guide to spring break in California.

Santa Monica Pier at night

San Diego

25. Belmont Park

If you want a thrilling experience in San Diego, head to Belmont Park.

The famous and historic Giant Dipper in the old amusement park will fulfill your thirst for a thrill. It has a maximum speed of 48 mph. You will also get beautiful views of the nearby Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean from the Giant Dipper.

26. Oscars

Are you looking for the finest fish taco in San Diego?

I highly recommend Oscars.

It is a traditional Mexican seafood chain in San Diego that serves the best fish taco. It has five outlets around the city. The long queue at each location signifies the popularity of Oscars.

Don’t forget to try the famous ‘taco especial.’ Mouthwatering. 

27. Swami’s Reef

Swami’s Reef is surfing heaven. The most famous surfing spot here is in Encinitas. This place became famous after the Beach Boys’ classic 1963 hit “Surfin’ USA.”

However, do not try surfing alone unless you are an experienced surfer.

Encinitas is also featured in our guide to San Diego in December.

28. Mission Bay

Marvel at 4,600 acres of water and shore along this man-made bay in the Pacific Beach community of San Diego. 

Try kayaking or paddleboarding at Mission Bay Aquatic Park, play volleyball at Crown Point, or scuba diving at Quivera Basin.  

Mission Bay & Beaches in San Diego, California

29. Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market

Explore the Little Mercato Farmers’ Market to sample a range of local produce and seafood.

This market takes place seven days a week.

Little Italy is also a great destination for those seeking free things to do in San Diego.

30. Wine Tasting

Wineries in San Diego are everywhere: up in the mountains, along the seashore, in the farmlands…you name it.

The good news is that these wineries produce the finest craft wines.

Have fun tasting wine at the small, family-owned wineries while watching how the proprieties produce fantastic wine, one of the best things to do in California for oenophiles.

San Diego made it to our cheapest cities you’ll want to visit. Read the guide here.

aerial view of Mission Bay

Pin to your California planning board

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Final Words

How many of these places to visit in California have you done so far? Tell us in the comments below. 

About the Author

Anne is a big fan of the USA with its vast landscapes, captivating culture, diverse cuisine, and thousands of activities. Read more of Anne’s travel guides here.  

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