Sparkling as enchantingly as it does on the big screen, California holidays promise to entertain, thrill and surprise. Spreading across the west coast of America and towards the Mojave Desert, the Golden State is filled with appealing destinations, from stylish beachside retreats, to chic urban hubs and striking natural wonders.
Whether you seek thrills and spills from movie-led theme parks, winter sport action in the Sierras, or to stay in the lap of luxury in Hollywood, holidays to California will treat you to some unforgettable experiences.
California has long been seen as the holiday destination for dreamers, whether it’s escaping to Hollywood in the hunt for fame and fortune, or retreating to a beachside hotel to kick back and relax in the Californian sun - with so many varied destinations and attractions, the state offers something for everyone, from romantic trips for two, to action-packed family holidays.
Beautiful California is not only visited by international travellers each year, its residents also love to explore its winding coast, fertile valleys, and stunning mountains. On top of all that gorgeous scenery, the third largest state in America is home to a myriad of captivating cities and charming towns brimming with the many cultures that have made California famous. From the Hollywood Hills to San Francisco, you can never run out of amazing sights and things to do in California.
At a glance
- Currency: United States Dollar
- Language: English
- Time Zone: GMT +-8
- Average flight time: 11h 20m
When to go
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Once a part of Mexico, California has a rich past, one that is best discovered in its multicultural neighbourhoods and the more niche California attractions. Head to San Francisco for one of the largest Chinatowns in America, home to a colourful section of the city brimming with spices and alluring aromas of fantastic meals. Nearby is the oldest Japantown in the States and the coolest jazz neighbourhood of Fillmore. Los Angeles is also full of cultural towns like Little Korea and Little Armenia, as well as museums dedicated to the many people that formed the city. Discover more about California’s past with a visit to Sacramento for exhibits about the Capitol, local Native Americans, and history of the railroad, to name a few. Step into the ancient past with a visit to the Getty Villa in Malibu, a reconstructed Roman villa filled with artefacts from Greece, Italy, and beyond. If you’re an art lover, there’s at least a few galleries and museums in each city sure to open your eyes to new worlds.
Those who revel in the fast pace of cosmopolitan cities will find some of the country’s most exciting destinations during their holidays in California, from the colourfully cultured San Francisco to the dreamy, star-studded Los Angeles. Both are filled with impressive streets lined with slick skyscrapers, and are bordered by suburbs of green parks and waterside sanctuaries.
Wine and Dine
From food trucks and local joints to Michelin star restaurants, the food scene here is one of the top California attractions. Inspired by its status as a melting pot of cultures, everything from funky fusions and staples like juicy hamburgers and crispy fries are found in California. Don’t miss out on traditional Mexican food in the south, classic In-N-Out burger in Los Angeles, or incredibly fresh seafood along the coast that will have you salivating. California’s wine scene in Napa Valley and north of Santa Barbara ensure your taste buds will be in heaven, although you can fine exquisite wines in any top-notch restaurant.
Aside from sunshine and scenic wonders, California also boasts a number of theme parks and family friendly days out. Take the whole family to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Los Angeles for a day of rollercoasters and rides, or head to Carlsbad for the fun and imagination of LEGOLAND. Another one of the top things to do in California, SeaWorld in San Diego cannot be missed, and neither can the one, the only, Disneyland and California Adventure in Anaheim. Film buffs must take a tour of Universal Studios Hollywood and catch a taping of one of the hottest shows on television at any of the many studios around Los Angeles. Catch a baseball game at the AT&T Park in San Francisco, cheer on the San Diego Chargers in an American football match, or watch the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Centre. For a real treat, plan your holiday to California to include three nights at the LA Staples Centre to watch a basketball game, a hockey match, and a concert by a world-famous musical act.
Action and Adventure
Thrill seekers and explorers are drawn to the Golden State for more than its natural beauty; there are also an infinite amount of exciting things to do in California. Home to some of the best hiking in the States, Yosemite National Park in Northern California should be top of your list. Grab a board and learn to surf in Santa Cruz or sunny San Diego, skateboard or rollerblade in Venice Beach, or take a whale watching cruise to Catalina Island before diving off the boat to explore the Pacific. Ski and snowboard in Lake Tahoe or Mammoth in the winter, or drive into neighbouring Nevada for a quick weekend in Las Vegas.
Visitors with energy to burn can enjoy the two extremes of the sporting world, from skiing and winter activities in the Big Bear or Lake Tahoe resort, to surfing and scuba diving in Santa Monica or Orange County.
Life's a Beach
Home to an environment that defines the word ‘cool’, one of the top things to do in California is to top up your tan on the beach. The warmest waters along the coast are from Los Angeles to San Diego, but there are plenty of beautiful beaches to choose from up and down the Pacific; just grab a beach towel and some sunscreen for a peaceful day in the sun. For more heat, Palm Springs is the go to place for southern California residents to recharge their batteries in style. If you want to relax in the shade, there are thousands of tranquil spas in the state, and some of the best are in soothing Santa Barbara.
Night life on a California holiday is varied and plentiful. Downtown San Diego is host to a star cast of venues such as the grooves of the FLUXX Nightclub, the happy hour bargains of the Side Bar, or the hip-hop and house vibes of the Onyx Room. Further north, if salsa is your thing then the El Palacio in San Bernadino is a must. San Francisco will blow your mind with its choice – from Californian craft beer to penthouse views of the Bay, ‘Frisco’ has it all. There’s the 39th floor lounge for stunning views and easy listening, Smugglers Cove themed tiki bar, the Occidental Cigar Club for connoisseurs, and everything else in between if you just fancy following the whims of an evening. But no California holiday for creatures of the night would be complete without Los Angeles would it? The City of Angels boasts several clusters of night life and takes in the trend and glamour of Hollywood, the cocktail bars of Downtown, or the Palmtree karaoke bar if you feel the urge to showcase your own talents! You really will be walking with the stars on a California nightlife holiday.
Heading ‘Westside’ for a California holiday is a couples’ dream. Set out on a two-wheeled excursion of wine country with a Santa Barbara cycling tour which takes in delicious lunches and tastings of the local wines and olives. If you would prefer someone else to do the pedalling, jump on a rickshaw in San Francisco and ask the driver to brave the hill up to Coit Tower – you’ll simply love the views of the city and the bay. A short (downhill) stroll from there and you’re at Fisherman’s Wharf for bay side games, gifts and seafood. If Southern California took your fancy, San Diego Zoo makes for great and varied days out followed by shopping and nightlife in the Gaslamp Quarter. To recover from those action-packed days, perhaps you could be persuaded by a stroll along the waterfront to explore the boutique shops, eateries and diverse street entertainers that can be found around Seaport Village. California holidays are made for couples – it all depends on your tastes, styles and energy levels!
California really is the Golden Coast if you seek culture and history in your holidays. In San Francisco you can take in some of the state’s best art galleries and eateries, jump on a historic tram to see the “Painted Ladies” against the backdrop of the city skyline, or see first-hand the perils of the former federal prison on Alcatraz Island, aka “The Rock”. From your boat you’ll also witness two of California’s architectural marvels in the form of the stunning Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. If the performing arts are more your act, head south to The Broadway Theatre District in Los Angeles which boasts California’s biggest cluster of theatres and creative spaces. Little Tokyo Historic District is only a short stroll away for some pre-show culture, delicious sushi and invigorating sake. Holidays are meant for relaxing after all, so a nautical haven away from the bustle of the city can be found by heading across to the Balboa peninsula to take in the island’s museum and Historical Society, before nestling in for some delicious seafood and a true California sunset over the Pacific Ocean. From following in the footsteps of the Spanish missionaries to the stunning splendour of the San Diego Museum of Art and everything in between, holidays in California are a treasure trove of culture that you’re sure to love.