Travel Gems: Best Places to Visit California

best places to visit in california

California is a dream destination for many travelers, known for its iconic cities and stunning coastlines. But beyond the popular tourist spots, the Golden State is also home to hidden gems waiting to be discovered. From tranquil lakes and national parks to charming towns with unique attractions, California offers a wealth of diverse destinations and experiences. So, if you’re looking to explore the best of California beyond the usual hotspots, join me as I uncover some hidden treasures that will make your trip truly unforgettable.

Key Takeaways:

  • California offers more than just its famous cities and coastlines.
  • There are hidden gems waiting to be discovered in the Golden State.
  • Tranquil lakes, national parks, charming towns – California has it all.
  • Explore the best of California beyond the usual hotspots.
  • Uncover unique treasures that will make your trip unforgettable.

A tranquil lake and an active volcano – Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park

When it comes to finding a perfect combination of tranquility and adventure, look no further than Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park. Nestled in California’s Shasta Cascade region, Lake Almanor is a hidden gem located just 160 miles north of Sacramento. This serene lake offers a breathtaking escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Step onto the shores of Lake Almanor and immerse yourself in the picturesque beauty of its crystal-clear waters and scenic surroundings. Whether you’re a water sports enthusiast, a fishing aficionado, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat, Lake Almanor has something for everyone. Spend your days kayaking, paddleboarding, or fishing in its pristine waters, or simply unwind on the sandy beaches and soak up the sun.

But the adventure doesn’t end there. Just a short distance from Lake Almanor lies the incredible Lassen Volcanic National Park. This unique park is home to an active volcano, offering visitors an opportunity to witness Mother Nature’s fiery display. Explore the park’s fascinating geothermal features, including bubbling mud pots and steaming vents. Don’t forget to capture the beauty of the boiling hot springs and mesmerizing fumaroles.

In addition to its volcanic wonders, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Embark on a summer adventure and hike through the park’s vast network of trails, revealing stunning vistas and lush forests. As autumn arrives, witness the park’s transformation as the foliage paints a vibrant tapestry of colors. And when winter blankets the park in snow, grab your skis or snowshoes and experience the thrill of gliding through a winter wonderland.

Experience the harmonious balance of tranquility and adventure at Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park. Whether you seek a peaceful lakeside retreat or an exhilarating exploration of an active volcano, these hidden gems in California’s Shasta Cascade region will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.

Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park

A rugged northern coastline perfect for whale-watching – Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands

When it comes to breathtaking coastal beauty and incredible whale-watching opportunities, Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands in Mendocino County is a true hidden gem. Located approximately 140 miles north of San Francisco, this rugged northern coastline offers a thrilling and unforgettable experience for nature enthusiasts.

As part of the California Coastal National Monument, Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands is a protected area that showcases dramatic seascapes and diverse marine life. The pristine landscape and stunning vistas make it a paradise for photographers and outdoor lovers alike.

One of the highlights of visiting Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands is the chance to witness breathtaking whale migrations. During the migration season, lucky visitors may spot humpback, blue, or gray whales as they pass through these coastal waters. It’s a magnificent sight that will leave you in awe of the wonders of the natural world.

For the best vantage point and panoramic views, make sure to visit the historic Point Arena Lighthouse. Standing tall on the coastal cliffs, it offers a magnificent perspective of the coastline and the vast Pacific Ocean.

To truly immerse yourself in the beauty of Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, take a leisurely stroll along the well-maintained hiking trails that wind through the area. You can explore the vibrant tidal pools, observe diverse bird species, and breathe in the fresh sea air.

Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands is an ideal destination for those seeking a serene retreat in nature. Whether you’re an avid photographer, a wildlife enthusiast, or simply looking to connect with the stunning coastal landscapes, this hidden gem of Mendocino County will not disappoint.

Under-the-radar wine-tasting – Murphys

Nestled in California’s Gold Country, the quaint town of Murphys is a hidden gem for wine enthusiasts seeking a unique tasting experience. With over two dozen boutique wineries, Murphys offers an intimate and personalized setting to savor the flavors of the region.

Whether you prefer red, white, or sparkling wines, the wineries in Murphys showcase a diverse selection that will appease every palate. Take a leisurely stroll through the picturesque vineyards and indulge in guided tastings, where passionate vintners share their knowledge and expertise.

What sets Murphys apart is its unpretentious and welcoming atmosphere. You’ll find friendly locals and fellow wine enthusiasts eager to share their stories and recommendations. The charming streets of downtown Murphys are lined with tasting rooms, shops, and restaurants, making it an ideal destination for a leisurely afternoon of exploration.

Taste Your Way Through History

Your wine-tasting journey in Murphys is more than just a sensory experience. The region’s rich history adds an extra layer of fascination to your visit. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the nearby Calaveras Big Trees State Park, where you can admire ancient giant sequoias, some of the largest trees in the world.

If you’re feeling adventurous, venture into the depths of Moaning Cavern, a natural limestone cave that offers thrilling guided tours and an opportunity to explore its stunning underground formations.

After a day of wine-tasting and exploration, you can unwind at one of the charming bed and breakfasts or boutique hotels in the area. Wake up refreshed and ready to continue your wine-tasting adventure in the heart of Gold Country.

Murphys Wine-Tasting

Discover the Hidden Charms of Gold Country

While wine-tasting may be the main attraction in Murphys, the surrounding Gold Country region offers even more to explore. Take a scenic drive through the rolling hills and discover the area’s rich history during the California Gold Rush.

Visit historic towns like Columbia, where you can step back in time and experience life as it was during the 19th century. Explore the quaint streets, visit the old-time shops, and even try your hand at gold panning.

For nature enthusiasts, the Stanislaus National Forest is a haven of outdoor recreational activities. Embark on hiking trails that wind through towering pine trees, fish in crystal-clear lakes, or simply relax amidst the peaceful serenity of the forest.

End your day with a delightful dinner at one of Murphys’ charming restaurants, where you can pair the local wines with farm-to-table cuisine showcasing the region’s bountiful produce.

From the warm hospitality of the locals to the exquisite wines waiting to be discovered, Murphys invites you to unwind, savor, and immerse yourself in the charms of Gold Country. Come experience the under-the-radar wine-tasting destination that is sure to leave a lasting impression.

An epic alpine byway worth a road trip – Sierra Vista Scenic Byway

The Sierra Vista Scenic Byway is a 100-mile stretch of road that takes travelers on a breathtaking journey between two remarkable national parks in California: Yosemite National Park and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. This scenic byway showcases the beauty of the Sierra Nevada mountains, with its towering granite domes, magnificent glaciated peaks, and abundant natural wonders.

One of the highlights along the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway is the Jesse Ross Cabin, a historic landmark that provides a glimpse into the region’s rich history. This well-preserved cabin offers visitors a fascinating insight into the lives of early settlers in the area.

As you travel along this remarkable byway, you’ll be surrounded by stunning natural landscapes, including picturesque meadows, dense forests, and crystal-clear lakes. The Sierra Vista Scenic Byway is particularly captivating during the summer months when wildflowers bloom in vibrant colors, creating a breathtaking sight for nature enthusiasts.

For adventure seekers, the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway offers access to thrilling outdoor activities such as rafting, hiking, and fishing. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or a nature lover, this byway provides ample opportunities to immerse yourself in the natural wonders of the Sierra Nevada region.

Don’t forget to keep your camera handy as you drive along the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway, as you’ll encounter numerous viewpoints and scenic overlooks that offer awe-inspiring vistas of the surrounding landscapes. The beauty of this alpine byway is truly unforgettable.

Sierra Vista Scenic Byway

Why Visit the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway:

  • Experience the stunning beauty of the Sierra Nevada mountains
  • Explore historic landmarks, such as the Jesse Ross Cabin
  • Enjoy breathtaking views of granite domes and glaciated peaks
  • Immerse yourself in a variety of outdoor activities, from rafting to hiking
  • Capture memorable moments with awe-inspiring photo opportunities

The craziest trees you’ve ever seen – Gilroy Gardens

Located in Gilroy, about 40 miles inland from Santa Cruz, Gilroy Gardens is a unique theme park that features elaborate grafted trees. These whimsical trees twist and contort in fantastical ways, creating a magical atmosphere. With over 40 rides and attractions, Gilroy Gardens offers a perfect blend of amusement park fun and natural beauty.

As you stroll through the park, you’ll be amazed at the extraordinary shapes and forms these grafted trees take on. From twisted trunks to intertwined branches, each tree is a work of art in itself. It’s a real-life wonderland that will delight visitors of all ages.

Gilroy Gardens

Not only are the trees a sight to behold, but Gilroy Gardens also offers a variety of exciting rides and attractions. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker looking for high-speed roller coasters or prefer a leisurely spin on a carousel, there’s something for everyone. The park’s unique combination of thrilling rides and natural beauty sets it apart from other amusement parks in the Central Coast region.

For nature lovers, Gilroy Gardens is a dream come true. The park’s commitment to environmental sustainability is evident throughout, with lush gardens, scenic landscapes, and an abundance of greenery. It’s a refreshing escape from the bustling city life where you can immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature.

If you’re planning a trip to the Central Coast, don’t miss the chance to visit Gilroy Gardens. It’s a one-of-a-kind attraction that offers a truly magical experience for the whole family. Whether you’re marveling at the extraordinary trees or enjoying the exhilarating rides, Gilroy Gardens guarantees a day filled with wonder and adventure.

A honky-tonk venue where you can still dance to live country music – Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace

Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, about 110 miles north of Los Angeles, is a legendary honky-tonk venue that celebrates the Bakersfield Sound. This iconic music spot, opened by country star Buck Owens, offers live music, dancing, and a museum filled with music memorabilia.

Stepping into Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace is like taking a trip back in time to the golden age of country music. The walls are adorned with photographs and guitars signed by country music legends, creating a shrine to the roots of the genre. From the moment you walk through the doors, you’re greeted with the twangy melodies of live country music filling the air.

No visit to Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace would be complete without hitting the dance floor. The spacious venue provides ample room for boot scootin’ and two-stepping to your favorite country tunes. Whether you’re a seasoned dancer or a first-timer, the friendly atmosphere and talented musicians will have you moving and grooving in no time.

Not only does Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace offer incredible live music and dancing, but it also features a museum that pays homage to the rich history of country music. Displays showcase stage outfits worn by country music legends, vintage instruments, and other memorabilia that offer a glimpse into the past. Music enthusiasts and history buffs alike will be captivated by the stories and artifacts on display.

When you’re in Bakersfield, make sure to explore the city’s other attractions as well. Indulge in the local Basque cuisine, known for its hearty flavors and family-style dining. Take a stroll along the beautiful Kern River and enjoy the tranquil surroundings. Bakersfield offers a mix of history, culture, and natural beauty that perfectly complements the vibrant atmosphere of Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace.

So put on your dancing shoes, grab your partner, and head to Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace for an unforgettable evening of live country music and honky-tonk fun!

An Alpine Getaway That Makes It Possible to Surf and Ski in the Same Day – Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake

Situated in the stunning San Bernardino Mountains, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, Big Bear Lake offers a unique and exhilarating experience where visitors can go from surfing to skiing within a day. This alpine getaway is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of nature, providing the perfect blend of adventure and relaxation.

In the winter months, Big Bear Lake transforms into a winter wonderland, attracting snow sports enthusiasts from near and far. With its vast slopes and pristine snow conditions, the destination is ideal for snowboarding and skiing. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner, the ski resorts in Big Bear Lake cater to all skill levels.

As the snow melts and gives way to warmer temperatures, Big Bear Lake transforms once again, offering a wide range of outdoor activities during the summer months. Hiking and cycling enthusiasts can explore the picturesque surroundings and enjoy breathtaking views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Water sports such as kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing provide opportunities for fun and relaxation on the crystal-clear waters.

Big Bear Lake is not just for the outdoor enthusiasts. The charming village, located near the lake, offers a variety of shopping, dining, and entertainment options. Browse unique boutiques, indulge in delicious cuisine, or catch a live music performance at one of the local venues.

With its convenient location and diverse range of activities, Big Bear Lake is the ideal vacation destination for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers. Escape the hustle and bustle of city life and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the San Bernardino Mountains. Whether you’re seeking adrenaline-pumping adventures or a tranquil lakeside retreat, Big Bear Lake has something for everyone.

One of the best spots for stargazing – Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, located in Borrego Springs about 90 miles northeast of San Diego, is a prime spot for stargazing. The park’s remote location and efforts to reduce light pollution make it the perfect destination to observe the night sky in all its glory.

As the first International Dark Sky Community in California, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offers unparalleled opportunities to witness the wonders of the universe. With minimal interference from artificial lights, visitors can marvel at the countless stars, constellations, and even the Milky Way stretching across the horizon.

During the day, the park also has much to offer. Exploring the unique desert landscape is an adventure in itself, with rugged canyons, cacti-dotted hills, and stunning panoramic views. One popular attraction within the park is the remarkable art sculptures created by metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda, which add a touch of creativity to the desert.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Whether you’re a seasoned astronomer or simply a lover of nature’s beauty, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a must-visit destination. Immerse yourself in the tranquility of the desert, take in the breathtaking night sky, and create unforgettable memories under the stars.

Fort Bragg

Located along the breathtaking Mendocino Coast, about three hours north of San Francisco, Fort Bragg is a hidden gem that offers visitors a picturesque Northern California coastline with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. Whether you’re seeking a relaxing beach getaway or outdoor adventures, this coastal town has something for everyone.

One of the must-visit attractions in Fort Bragg is Glass Beach, which was once a glass dumpsite. Over the years, the pounding waves transformed the discarded glass into beautiful sea glass fragments that wash up on the shore, creating an enchanting spectacle. Explore the beach and discover the colorful treasures sparkling in the sunlight.

MacKerricher State Park is another popular destination in Fort Bragg, offering scenic coastal trails where you can admire the spectacular ocean views and observe diverse wildlife. Keep an eye out for gray whales during their migration season, as well as seals, sea lions, and various bird species.

If you’re looking for a unique way to explore the area, hop aboard the Skunk Train. This historic railway takes you on a journey through majestic redwood forests, offering breathtaking vistas and a glimpse into the area’s logging history. Experience the charm of riding a vintage steam train and immerse yourself in the beauty of the Mendocino Coast.

For those who love horseback riding, Fort Bragg provides an ideal setting. Take a horseback ride along the beach and feel the exhilaration of trotting through the surf while enjoying the stunning coastal scenery.

Fort Bragg, with its natural beauty and charming attractions, is a destination that offers a unique and unforgettable experience along the Mendocino Coast.

Fort Bragg

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach, located on the Central California Coast, is a hidden gem often overlooked by tourists. With its long, wide beach surrounded by cliffs and the Pacific Ocean, the beach offers opportunities for clam digging, skim boarding, and enjoying the ocean breeze.

Visitors can also explore Dinosaur Caves Park, a picturesque park with stunning coastal views and sea caves. The park is perfect for hiking, picnicking, and enjoying the beautiful sunsets.

For a taste of the local culture, be sure to browse the Pismo Beach Farmers Market. Here, you’ll find a variety of fresh produce, local goods, and artisan crafts, providing a true sense of the community.

Whether you’re looking to relax on the beach, explore scenic parks, or immerse yourself in the local culture, Pismo Beach offers a perfect escape on the Central California Coast.

Conclusion

California is a treasure trove of hidden gems, offering a diverse range of destinations beyond the well-known cities. Whether you’re seeking serene lakes, panoramic mountain views, or cultural experiences, these lesser-known places in California have something unique to offer.

Venture off the beaten path and discover the true beauty of the Golden State. From the tranquil shores of Lake Almanor and the bubbling volcanic landscapes of Lassen Volcanic National Park to the rugged coastline of Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands and the under-the-radar wine-tasting experience in Murphys, California has it all.

Embark on an epic road trip along the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway, marvel at the whimsical trees of Gilroy Gardens, dance to live country music at Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace, or experience the thrill of surfing and skiing in the same day at Big Bear Lake. Cap off your adventure with stargazing at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park or relaxing on the picturesque shores of Pismo Beach or Fort Bragg.

FAQ

What are the best places to visit in California?

Some of the best places to visit in California include Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park, Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, Murphys, Sierra Vista Scenic Byway, Gilroy Gardens, Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, Big Bear Lake, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Fort Bragg, and Pismo Beach.

Where are Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park located?

Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park are located in California’s Shasta Cascade region, about 160 miles north of Sacramento.

What can I expect to see at Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands?

Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, located about 140 miles north of San Francisco, offers dramatic seascapes and is part of the California Coastal National Monument. Visitors can explore the historic Point Arena Lighthouse and may even spot humpback, blue, or gray whales during the migration season.

Where is Murphys located and what makes it a hidden gem?

Murphys is located in California’s Gold Country. It is a lesser-known destination for wine enthusiasts, with over two dozen boutique wineries offering year-round wine-tasting experiences. The region also boasts historical attractions such as Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Moaning Cavern.

What is Sierra Vista Scenic Byway and where does it take travelers?

Sierra Vista Scenic Byway is a 100-mile stretch of road that takes travelers on a journey between Yosemite National Park and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. This scenic route showcases granite domes, glaciated peaks, and historic landmarks like the Jesse Ross Cabin.

What makes Gilroy Gardens unique?

Gilroy Gardens, located in Gilroy, is a theme park that features elaborate grafted trees that twist and contort in fantastical ways, creating a magical atmosphere. With over 40 rides and attractions, it combines amusement park fun with natural beauty.

What can visitors expect at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace?

Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, located in Bakersfield, is a legendary honky-tonk venue that celebrates the Bakersfield Sound. It offers live music, dancing, and a museum filled with music memorabilia. Visitors can also explore the city’s other attractions, like Basque cuisine and the Kern River.

What can visitors do at Big Bear Lake?

Big Bear Lake, situated in the San Bernardino Mountains, offers a unique experience where visitors can go from surfing to skiing within a day. In the winter, snowboarding and skiing are popular activities, while the summer months are perfect for hiking, cycling, and water sports on the lake.

Why is Anza-Borrego Desert State Park a prime spot for stargazing?

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, located in Borrego Springs, is the first International Dark Sky Community in California. Its remote location and efforts to reduce light pollution provide incredible opportunities to observe the night sky. During the day, visitors can explore the park’s unique desert landscape and encounter art sculptures by metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda.

What attractions can be found in Fort Bragg?

Fort Bragg, located along the Mendocino Coast, offers a picturesque Northern California coastline with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. Visitors can explore Glass Beach, MacKerricher State Park, take a ride on the Skunk Train, or enjoy horseback riding along the beach.

What makes Pismo Beach a hidden gem?

Pismo Beach, located on the Central Californian Coast, is often overlooked by tourists. With its long, wide beach surrounded by cliffs and the Pacific Ocean, it offers opportunities for clam digging, skim boarding, and enjoying the ocean breeze. Visitors can also explore Dinosaur Caves Park or browse the local Pismo Beach Farmers Market for a taste of the local culture.

What are some of the hidden gems worth exploring in California?

Besides the well-known cities, California offers hidden gems like Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park, Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, Murphys, Sierra Vista Scenic Byway, Gilroy Gardens, Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, Big Bear Lake, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Fort Bragg, and Pismo Beach.

Where can I find a diverse range of destinations in California?

California is a treasure trove of hidden gems, offering a diverse range of destinations beyond the well-known cities. Whether you’re seeking serene lakes, panoramic mountain views, or cultural experiences, these lesser-known places in California have something unique to offer.

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