The third-largest state in the U.S., California is full of fun things to do and see. From its beautiful beaches and relaxing countryside to its electric nightlife and trendy attractions, there’s something for everyone.
California’s diverse offerings makes it a must-see for any traveler, but it also presents a challenge. How do you narrow down the choices into a manageable and well-rounded trip?
To help you plan your next adventure, our Geeks compiled this list of 10 cities you can’t miss when visiting the Golden State:
Located on an island in the Bay Area, Alameda, or “The Island City,” is full of fun things to do and see. If you’re looking for a little time in the sun, Crown Memorial State Beach is the perfect destination. The 2.5-mile beach offers the chance to swim and kayak in the warm waters of the San Francisco Bay. It also gives you the chance to explore some of the history of the area.
The Crab Cove Visitors Center is situated on the north end of the beach, and contains displays focused on the plant and wildlife native to the San Francisco Bay. The Memory Lane trail is accessible from Crab Cove, too. The self-guided journey takes you from the area’s origins to the present, with insights into its Victorian era and military history.
Outside of the beach, some other interesting attractions include the USS Hornet Museum, the Pacific Pinball Museum, and the Altarena Playhouse.
2. Chula Vista
Chula Vista, meaning “beautiful view,” really lives up to its name. This Californian city is set between the San Diego Bay and the coastal mountain foothills.
Visitors will love the scenic views at the Chula Vista Marina and along the city’s many hiking trails, like the Rice Canyon Trail, which is doable for all skill levels. Both families and adventurers will enjoy the Aquatica water park, which is affiliated with SeaWorld, and the Living Coast Discovery Center, a nonprofit aquarium and zoo featuring more than 350 plant and animal species.
Additionally, Chula Vista’s downtown district offers an array of dining, shopping, and entertainment opportunities, like the Third Avenue Village and the Otay Ranch Town Center.
3. Culver City
Known as “the heart of screenland,” Culver City is a haven for movie aficionados. The Sony Pictures Studio Tour takes guests through one of the most well-known studios in the world. After getting a glimpse behind the scenes of iconic films like “The Wizard of Oz” as well as current productions, check out the Sony Pictures Museum for information on both the studio’s past and the techniques they employ today.
Spending the night? Stay at the Culver Hotel, a 1920s flatiron building and national historical landmark. It has appeared in shows like “Bones” and “7th Heaven” and has housed celebrities like Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and Ronald Reagan. It now boasts 46 elegantly designed rooms with views of the downtown area, dining options, and nightly live music.
If you’re looking for a more luxurious trip, look no further than Lincoln. First, try your luck at Thunder Valley Casino Resort. Gambling, fine dining, live entertainment, nightclubs, swimming—this venue has it all.
Afterward, you can relax and unwind at one of Lincoln’s beautiful and sophisticated wineries, the perfect place to experience the comforts of California’s countryside. Wise Villa Winery & Bistro’s 26 acres includes a full-service, Tuscan-style bistro, European architecture, and wines made from organic grapes. Tour the facility, or enjoy their parties, events, and candlelight dinners. Ciotti Cellar is a family-run winery that describes their wines as “a little sunshine in a bottle.” Savor a sip while admiring the amazing view.
If that’s not your taste, visit one of Lincoln’s many breweries. The Goathouse Brewing Company’s handcrafted ales are made on-site. Visitors can see the hop fields and orchards the ingredients come from before stopping by the tasting room. Dueling Dogs Brewing Co.’s farm-fresh beers, ciders, and meads are known for their unique flavors. Guests can also pick up the ingredients behind the brews at their farm stand.
5. Long Beach
The coastal city of Long Beach, California, offers a great opportunity to have some fun on the waterfront. Start by booking a room at The Queen Mary Hotel, which is actually a real ocean liner. The ship has been docked in the city for more than 40 years and gives travelers the unique opportunity to step back in time and experience ocean life as it used to be.
Then, return to the present to enjoy marine life as it is today. Rent jet skis, boats, kayaks, and more to spend some time in the surf, or rent bikes or walk to enjoy the views and check out the shops. You can also get up close and personal with more than 11,000 creatures at the Aquarium of the Pacific. The facility is a great way to unearth more information about the Pacific region.
6. Nevada City
Dating back to the Gold Rush, Nevada City’s Victorian-style homes and historic buildings give this area a cozy, small-town vibe. There’s always live music and entertainment at the bars and restaurants in the downtown area, and live productions at the Nevada Theatre. Additionally, movies and film festivals can be enjoyed at venues like Off Broadstreet and the Miners Foundry Culture Center.
One of the best times to visit, however, is around Christmas. Described as “a Christmas card come to life,” Nevada City really gets into the spirit of the season. This Victorian celebration includes horse-drawn carriage rides, minstrels, carolers, and street vendors offering traditional holiday foods and goods. Attendees are encouraged to come dressed in their Victorian best.
7. San Jose
Set in the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose is at the forefront of culture, technology, and innovation. A great way to experience all this bustling city has to offer is the South First Fridays Art Walk. As the name suggests, this event occurs on the first Friday of every month and allows a unique glimpse into San Jose’s creative soul. Businesses, galleries, and museums open their doors for the free, self-guided tour. Some participating venues include the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, Art Ark Gallery, and the Hammer Theater, among many others.
San Jose is also a great place to catch a game. The San Jose Sharks play in in the SAP Center during hockey season (September through April), and the San Jose Earthquakes play at the Avaya Stadium during the soccer season (March through October). The San Jose Giants, a minor-league baseball team affiliated with the San Francisco Giants, also play in the city.
8. Santa Clara
Santa Clara, only a short ride away from San Jose, has also felt the effects of the technological revolution. To learn about it and the people behind it, check out the Intel Museum. The 10,000-square-foot facility is interactive, informational, and great for the whole family.
Experience technology in action at California’s Great American Theme Park, which is constantly updated with the latest and greatest rides. Most recently, in 2018, the park added the RailBlazer, a coaster with a new, single-rail design.
This Southern-California gem is a food-lover’s paradise. With more than 400 eateries, there’s something to suit every palate. Got a sweet tooth? Torrance Bakery dates back to 1984 and is a favorite for locals and tourists alike. Creamistry specializes in ice cream prepared with liquid nitrogen, which makes it exceptionally creamy. Even better, each scoop is made fresh and is completely customizable.
Beer enthusiasts will revel in Torrance’s 11 breweries, each with their own spin on the popular beverage. Zymurgy Brew Works even offers customers the chance to make their own style and flavor. They provide the ingredients, recipes, and insight into the process.
10. Union City
Union City is another great spot for foodies. Niles Pie Company hosts classes ranging from pie baking to pasta making using all locally-sourced ingredients. Little Sheep Hot Pot offers a unique taste of Mongolian cuisine, and Chaplin’s Sports Bistro is the perfect spot to grab a bite while cheering on the Golden State Warriors. For more of a romantic vibe, Tomatina can’t be missed.
Head straight to Orange County Great Park to look down at the region’s distinctive landscapes from the comfort of a hot-air balloon, while the kids work on their creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork at the child-size interconnected city of Pretend City Children’s Museum. Gather the whole family to tackle hordes of the undead at Zombie Scavengers, a real-life, interactive game where you will be directed to find supplies and allies by an app, then laugh it all off over beer and the famous brisket at Left Coast Brewing Co.
Hipster heaven! Take a hike through Effie Yeaw Nature Center to see Maidu village, an outdoor showcase of local Native American culture, or head downtown to browse art, drink wine and eat snacks at a series of open galleries during Second Saturdays. Try the locals’ favorite IPA at Track 7, sip homegrown wine by the glass at Revolution Wines or browse for vintage bargains at Scout Living. The Handle District houses fair-trade shopping, house-roasted coffee, gluten-free brunch and even organic chocolate. But don’t leave without snapping a selfie in front of the nearly 500 murals at Wide Open Walls.
13. San Diego
Friends of the great outdoors will enjoy the zoo, museums, concert hall, cactus park and miles of green grass at Balboa Park, while those with a taste for arts and culture will love the local museums, which include exhibitions dedicated to photographic arts and natural history. Catch some rays, waves or both at Black’s, Coronado or Windansea Beach. Connect with your inner self at the meditation gardens in Encinitas, then socialise ‘till late over steak and bespoke cocktails at the art deco-inspired Born & Raised. Still awake? Head to Ocean Beach’s Mike’s Taco Club, which stays open until 2am.
Copper Canyon Park offers nine acres of pristine open land for sunbathers and picnickers, with a variety of playgrounds and trails for kids to enjoy. Teach the kids to feed, groom and ride the horses at Susie Q Ranch, or opt for something faster – the electric go-karts at Pole Position Raceway are always a hit. On rainy days, Mulligan Family Fun Center offers laser tag and indoor rock climbing, but if the sun is shining, the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve will take the whole family’s breath away: its 9,000 acres of woodlands and trails currently preserve 49 different species of endangered plants and animals.
15. Walnut Creek
Shop until you drop at Downtown Walnut Creek, and take your time to browse the unique collection of used, collectible and rare titles at Swan’s Fine Books. Local succulents and cacti abound at the eco-friendly Ruth Bancroft Garden, and Old Borges Ranch offers a window into early 20th-century cattle ranch living. Learn to paint at Canvas and Cabernet, take in a play at Lesher Center for the Arts, enjoy vintage decor and fresh croissants at A Sweet Affair Bakery – or leave the urban sprawl behind and savor a view of 200 miles out from the summit of Mt. Diablo.
Local volunteers lead a walking tour through the city’s historical hotspots, with stopovers at restaurants and specialty stores, and the Native American artifacts and antique items will give more insights at Clovis Big Dry Creek Museum – though the kids will beg to visit the water slides, wave pools and play areas at Wild Water Park. Go-kart race your friends at MB2 Racing, take ‘em bowling at AMF Rodeo or explore the underground interconnected passages, courtyards and hidden enclaves at The Underground Gardens.
17. San Luis Obispo
Order one of the famous frosted delicacies at Old West Cinnamon Rolls, and get a California Cold Brew at Scout Coffee Shop to go with it. Take a hike along the wide-open, dog-friendly trails at Madonna Mountain, or chill out in natural hot water at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, then try halibut and shrimp tacos at Papi’s Grill. End the day munching on popcorn, chili dogs and mounds of candy while taking in a movie from the comfort of your own car at Sunset Drive-In Theatre.
18. Rohnert Park
Green Music Center hosts well-known acts and artists at its state-of-the-art theater, concert hall and lawn performance space, and on the other end of the spectrum, Graton Resort & Casino is a gambler’s paradise: take your pick from 20 tables of poker and over 100 table games. Kids will enjoy racing around either the rollerblading rink at Cal Skate or the indoor track and high-performance karts at Driven Raceway. For a change of pace, go bowling at Double Decker Lanes or try the 18-hole miniature golf courses at Scandia Family Fun Center.