Relax at the Beach in California

21 Amazing Things to Do in California – Hand Picked Local Experiences

by Shira Weitz - updated April 29, 2020

California is a land of dreamers- and I’m one of them. The songs all rave about it, world-renowned actors and musicians call it home, and if what they sing about is true, the beach culture is on point.

The glamour of the urban scene certainly contributes to California’s broad appeal.

The mountainous terrain with the roaring Pacific ocean in the distance and centuries old redwoods up close make simple activities like a walk on the beach, or wine tasting, exceptional endeavors.

One thing is clear- whether you’re a nature freak or bourgeoisie af, California has something (very special) for you.

Once, I was a dreamer, and then I had the pleasure of living out that dream.

Here’s my guide to the best experiences that California has to offer, so you can get your own taste of a dream come true!

1. Surf the turf

Surf the turf
Catch your first ride and feel the connection to the ocean by Surfing

California is known for its surf, and accompanying that is surf culture.

But not everyone who indulges has to be a pro.

Up and down the state, you’ll find an array of surf schools that provide surf lessons to people of all ages and experience levels.

You might not be hitting the big waves quite yet, or competing in one of the many international surf contests that California hosts… but you can find a newfound respect for those who seek their next wave.

After all, once you catch your first ride and feel the connection to the ocean as it gently pushes you along, surrounding you with all its splendor, you too might be more inclined to follow the swells.

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2. Go to the Desert

Go to the Desert
Walk through the quirky cacti and spot some actual Joshua trees

“I don’t want to go to the desert,” they said.

“I don’t need to be around dead things,” they said. (Full disclosure, “they” was me… that is, the “me” before I took my first trip to Joshua Tree.)

Holy moly, how humbled I was. Joshua tree is a desert ecosystem where you can camp, glamp, or even rent a ranch-style, secluded Airbnb that probably comes with a hot tub.

This National Park is littered with hiking trails where you can walk among the quirky cacti and spot some actual Joshua trees, from which the park was named.

The real appeal of this place comes after you’ve watched the sunset behind the mountains, and the stars take over the sky, shimmering bright for you to gaze at throughout the night.

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3. Hop over the boarder

Hop over the boarder
Hop over the California boarders.

California boarders some equally interesting places, one of which is Mexico on the southern boarder.

Hop over that boarder and head to Baja Mexico, a peninsula that stretches 775-miles long and boasts several national parks, and the Sea Of Cortez, which is home to over 800 species of fish, and perfect for snorkeling and diving.

Mountain biking is the perfect sport for the mountainous coastline, as it offers views of the sea below.

Totally worth hoping over the boarder, and slurping down a margarita straight away to get you in the right frame of mind for your excursion.

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4. Visit La La Land

Visit La La Land
Shop till you drop at La La Land souvenirs in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California.

Los Angeles is one of those cities that has it all.

You can walk the canals and watch the (and I say this with love) weirdo’s of Venice Beach.

You can see where the stars live, and their actual stars, in Hollywood.

You can roam the artsy neighborhoods of Silverlake and Highland Park. You can have a cocktail at the Ace Hotel in downtown, overlooking the city, shop the thrift stores on Melrose, or top designer brands.

The list goes on.

Not only is there enough to do in Los Angeles to keep you busy for a lifetime, but if you happen to be into American culture (yes, it exists!) that is, film, TV, music, modern eats, etc., then Los Angeles is for you.

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5. Hit the theme parks

Hit the theme parks
Go for immersive adventures to Disney Land

Not for nothing, California boasts a plethora of theme parks, allowing you to round out any trip with immersive adventures to Disney Land, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farms, Six Flags, and more.

Here, you will feel an extra special spark, since Los Angeles is where many of the iconic movies and studios that the rides were inspired by originated.

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6. Taste all the wines

Taste all the wines
Have a sip of wine while having the best scenery

One of my personal favorite ventures in California is wine tasting.

With Napa being known around the world as one of the most popular regions in America for winemaking, there are plenty of other regions that can give Napa a run for its money.

I absolutely love wine tasting in the southern regions. Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara are close to one another, and offer the backdrop of lush, rolling hills beyond the vineyards.

The wineries here are a bit more relaxed than its northern counterpart.

Some popular northern regions, besides Napa, are Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Cruz.

That’s really just scratching the surface of the many regions, which all offer terrain diverse enough to taste subtle differences, like the ocean breeze in one variety, and the dry, cool air in another. 

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7. Explore Santa Barbara

Explore Santa Barbara
Explore the shore in Santa Barbara pier, California

If you’ve been dreaming of a place where bougainvillea billows over fence of Spanish-style casas onto the sidewalk across from the beach, where seafood restaurants and patio bars line the streets, all accessible via a beach cruiser or stroll, then you should put Santa Barbara on your list of places to go.

Watch the sun go down when you pick a restaurant off the famous Stearns Wharf pier, like Santa Barbara Shellfish Company, then easily prance over to the lively bars nearby.

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Go on a Road Trip
Get your road trip experience and be prepared to wind your way through twisty roads

California is the perfect place to get your road trip fix, and the Pacific Coast Highway is the reason why.

The scenic highway takes you from coast to coast; with so many picture-worthy viewpoints it will make you want to stop every 10 minutes.

Be prepared to wind your way through twisty roads, and gasp every time the picturesque landscape comes into view.

The sights aren’t the only mouthwatering attribute.

From up to down and down to up, there are some noteworthy food stops to fill you up along the way.

Whether it’s a fresh burger from the In-N-Out, or High Street Deli in San Luis Obispo, you’ll stay smiling while you’re on the go.

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9. Take a bath… in the mud

Take a bath in the mud
Try out the one-of-a-kind mud bath experience

If you need a break from all that wine tasting in Napa then book yourself an appointment for a one-of-a-kind mud bath.

You’ll have no trouble finding a spa that offers this unique experience, as Calistoga is known for their dirt-filled tubs.

Mud baths are more than the enjoyable sensation of wiggling slushy earth between your toes and… other parts… they also have anti-inflammatory benefits and are a great way to detoxify.

Don’t worry- the adventure is usually capped off with a relaxing shower and soak in a non-mud tub, so you can continue your wine consumption feeling fresh and clean. 

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10. Visit San Fran & the Bay Area

Visit San Fran & the Bay Area
Head to the waterfront on Fisherman’s Wharf and watch the vast number of sea lions basking in the sun.

I remember first arriving in San Francisco and thinking that it was strange for such a big, urban city to look so colorful and quaint.

San Francisco is filled with amazing bookshops, thrift stores, fun bars, and top rated restaurants, all primed and ready for you to stumble upon during a part-stroll-part-hope-on-the-trolley waltz around the city.

You can head to the waterfront on Fisherman’s Wharf and watch the vast number of sea lions basking in the sun.

Walk over the breathtaking Golden Gate Bridge and treat yourself to a picnic in the park after.

Take a hike to Twin Peaks and see the city from a bird’s eye view.

San Francisco and the surrounding Bay area are packed with cute, diverse and interesting neighborhoods.

You really can’t go wrong.

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11. Discover Marvel at the Redwoods

Hike Marvel at the Redwoods
Hike and walk around the Redwood trees

Visiting a redwoods forest is pretty much an un-missable activity when you head to California.

There is something awe-inspiring when the beautiful beasts of trees surround you, some having been alive for longer than 2,000 years.

While the Redwood National Forest is the perfect place to get your redwood fix, there are actually a handful of State parks where the redwood population is thriving.

Muir is a great option for those staying near the San Francisco area, while Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a bit further south.

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12. Soak in a spa

Soak in Spa
Try detoxing in nature

Whether you’re sticking to the major cities or detoxing in nature, California knows about optimal relaxation, and how to pass it on to guests who are looking for the best spas and retreats to splurge on.

One of the many great options to indulge in is the Post Ranch Inn.

Hidden in the forest of Big Sur, this spa is sure to set your spirit free with a Shaman lead drum circle, and massages that will cleanse your chakras.

For the royal treatment, head to Spa Montage Laguna Beach, a retreat nestled on the coastline for clients to enjoy.

The massages and treatments are plentiful and will leave you feeling rejuvenated and ready to take on whatever challenges come your way.

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13. Go whale watching

Go whale watching
Have intimate experience with your family while watching whales.

With some whale species migrating from Dec to April and some migrating from April to December, there is no bad time to go whale watching in California.

Additionally, whether you’re in the north or the south, there’s no bad coast to hop on a boat.

Tours range from large groups to more intimate experiences.

Either way, a professional with the best insight about where these magnificent creatures will surface guides them.

During the winter, the sea is rife with Gray Whales, Dolphins, and Orcas, while spring and summer is a great time to spot Humpback and Blue Whales. Bring your binoculars!

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14. Eat lots and lots of ‘chokes

Eat lots and lots of ‘chokes
Try Artichoke soup with pork ribs and fried pork with rice.

A little known fact is that California’s small town Castroville is the artichoke capital of the world!

Friends have often told me that they never had an artichoke as a meal until eating dinner at my house.

Well, if I could host all of you for dinner, I would, but I can’t, but Castroville’s “The Artichoke Restaurant” probably could!

It’s not hard to find, just hop off the highway in Castroville and you’ll run right into the giant artichoke structure that sits outside its doors.

When you stop in, for the love of all things, order yourself the artichoke platter. I’m not messing around here, people.

I’m talking artichoke soup with artichoke cupcakes with a side of fried artichoke, and then some.

You’re welcome.

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15. Relax in Monterey Bay

Relax in Monterey Bay
Have fun and relaxation you need in Monterey Bay

California is full of quaint beachside towns; among them, Monterey Bay stands out.

My memories of visiting Monterey include strolling along the walking path perched over the beach, popping in the Aquarium, and soaking in the views.

They include wine tasting on the pier, and seeing dolphins pass by around sunset.

If you have an extended stay, you can take a day trip to McWay Falls, which is in Big Sur; or head to Carmel-by-the-sea.

Either way, it’s a magical experience that’ll be sure to give you the fun and relaxation you need.

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16. Go to an Aquarium

Go to an Aquarium
Learn about the miraculous sea life

The wonders of the Pacific Ocean come through in the many Aquariums that California hosts.

Not only is a trip to the aquarium educational, it’s also inspirational.

Learning about the miraculous sea life that resides just underneath the surface of the surrounding ocean- and in some cases, on shore- tempts you to jump into the water and explore it for yourself.

Whether you opt for a smaller aquarium that practically hangs off the pier in Santa Monica, or Long Beaches extensive Aquarium of the Pacific, getting an up close look at the mysteries of the Pacific will be a decision you won’t regret.

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17. Visit a museum

Visit a museum
Explore one of the most comprehensive collections of Asian art in the world.

Whether you’re into fine art, history, nature or culture, California has a museum for you.

In Los Angeles, get your photo gear prepped when you visit Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) where the famous structure “Urban Light” will make you feel like a dancer at heart. Enjoy the view, inside and out, at the Getty Center, or get super modern at The Broad.

In San Francisco, bask in color at the Asian Art Museum- the largest collections of Asian art in the world!

Or, head to de Young Museum after a picnic at Golden Gate Park.

If you’re into nostalgia of classic good times, go to independently owned Musee Mecanique, where they display antique arcade and carnival games for your pleasure.

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18. Take a hike

Take a hike
Hang out in nature while getting your heart pumping

Literally. If you love hanging out in nature while getting your heart pumping, there is no shortage of hiking trails that lead you to ridiculously gorgeous outlooks.

Regardless of your preferred terrain, you can definitely find a hiking trail that fits your desires.

 There are trails hidden in the midst of wooded forests, and trails on the cliffs overlooking the ocean.

There are trails among wineries, and trails in the desert.

Make sure you gear up, grab your water (or wine) and time your hike so you steer clear of the heat of the day.

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19. Watch the sunset

Watch the sunset
Catch the beautiful sunset at the beach

You maaayyyyyy have heard me mention a thing or two about the sunsets in California, but I think there are enough sunset junkies out there to emphasize the point.

In this case, the point is sunset, sunset, sunset!

You can catch it on a cliff, on the beach or in a restaurant.

You can catch it wine tasting, or driving on the PCH. No matter your viewpoint, it’s a sight that you will never forget.

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20. Enjoy beach life

Enjoy beach life
Enjoy Huntington Beach in California in a sunny day.

In California, beach weather is year round.

Whether you’re bundled up in a sweater and enjoying a bonfire in one of the fire pits spread along the coast, or in your swimsuit, playing in the surf, there’s no wrong way to do the beach.

Watch the sea lions sunbathing on the rocks, or the dolphins swim by.

Keep an eye out for the migrating whales on the horizon as you relax in the warmth of the sand and feel the breeze on your skin. 

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21. Connect to nature in Big Sur

Connect to nature in Big Sur
Enhance your outdoor experience by camping with family.

Surround yourself with nature when you visit this flourishing forest on the central coast of California.

Big Sur offers incredible camping experiences for those who want to feel like they’re “off the grid.”

Big Sur is also home to Esalen, a retreat that offers workshops, healing arts and springs, and is one of the best ways to combine luxury with nature that I’ve ever seen.

Don’t forget to sign up ahead of time for public night bathing!

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What are your thoughts about California? Do you have any questions or anything cool still to add on? We love to discuss travel so go ahead and fire away, there are no wrong comments!

Also, please let us know how your trip went and what was the most exciting part about it.

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