The Golden State is home to beautiful beaches, bustling cities, and some of the best Mexican food this side of the border.
From the Golden Gate Bridge that rises out of the fog with its orange hue to the miles of coastline along Southern California, it’s not hard to find places that you want to see. The only hard part is narrowing it down!
Let’s explore the ultimate California bucket list together. These spots are a must-see for any traveller, no matter where you’re coming from.
We’ve included the bright lights of the big city, the sleepy, laidback beaches, and everything in between.
So hop in the car and get driving to see everything that California has to offer.
The Golden Gate Bridge
The first stop on our California bucket list adventure is a classic. The Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco to Marin County and is the most popular landmark in California. In fact, every new driver’s license in the state will have an emblem of this architectural marvel.
When visiting the bridge, you can start at the Welcome Center, which offers merchandise and historical information that may interest visitors.
Or, you can join the San Francisco City Guides as they offer free walking tours of the bridge twice a week (on Thursdays and Sundays).
Bring comfortable shoes, as there’s a lot of walking on this massive bridge. Lastly, you can always make your own adventure at the Golden Gate Bridge.
Visit Pacific Outlook for a beautiful view of the bridge or head to Baker Beach to dig your toes in the sand with one of the state’s most beautiful views. You might even catch sight of some harbour porpoises!
Wine lovers, rejoice! Napa Valley and Sonoma County are home to some of the country’s best wines and they’re all right here for the tasting on your California bucket list adventure.
The valley is huge, so you might need to spend a few days here just to experience everything that it has to offer.
Some of the best wineries in the area include Alpha Omega with its panoramic terrace and famous Cabernets, Beaulieu Vineyard with its 19th-century historic building, and Beringer, one of the top producing wineries in the world.
Big Sur is Northern California’s must-see coastline because of its jagged rocks, crystal blue water, and sweeping views. Drive right along the Pacific Coast Highway to experience this dramatic view, and stop at one of the many rocky beaches to get the full experience.
Big Sur is still one of the only places in California that isn’t densely populated, so walking along the coastline in this area sometimes feels like it’s just you and the ocean.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is the ultimate bucket list spot in the area because it’s where massive coastal redwood trees meet beautiful beaches. According to the website, “This roughly 90-mile-long stretch of redwood- and fog-trimmed waterfront between Carmel-by-the-Sea and Hearst Castle draws you…in with a magic allure that is almost palpable.”
Speaking of parks, Yosemite National Park can’t be missed on your trip through California.
Bask in the glory of the many waterfalls, do a few hikes, and marvel at Half Done, the most iconic peak in the park. The website calls Yosemite “not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquillity of the High Sierra.”
The Hollywood Sign
Can you even do California without visiting the Hollywood sign?
Sure, this is one of the more touristy destinations on the list, but after hiking up to the sign and witnessing the views of the city below, you’ll thank us for including it. Plus, it’s free! Start in Griffith Park and choose one of four routes to get you up to the sign, as they vary in difficulty.
Venice Beach is a beach unlike any other and you have to see it to believe it.
With a huge outdoor gym, skateparks, and some of the best people watching in the city, you won’t want to leave this sun-drenched spot.
Some say strange and some say eclectic but no matter how you spin it, Venice is a California bucket list item for sure. Stroll along the Venice Beach Boardwalk and feel the breeze in your hair as you soak up the beach’s BoHo vibes.
No matter how old you are, you can’t resist the magic of the “Happiest Place on Earth” when visiting California! Disneyland is a must-see for obvious reasons, some of which include the brand new Guardians of the Galaxy ride, Pixar Fest, and many other new rides.
Not a Disney fan? There is also Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios, and Six Flags Magic Mountain all within a short drive of each other. Southern California is the amusement park capital of the country!
There’s so much to see in San Diego that we could make a bucket list for just this city, alone! Some of the city’s most memorable spots include Coronado Island, home of the Hotel del Coronado. The hotel has been featured in countless movies and magazines and you’re sure to catch a wedding or two happening on the beach outside of the iconic red roofs.
You’ll also need to check out Balboa Park, which is home to the San Diego Zoo and many other attractions, including multiple museums.
Take a stroll through the park to really experience the Spanish architecture, beautiful gardens, and many tasty treats.
Lastly, spend the evening in the historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego.
This hot spot is packed with unique bars, restaurants, and hotels and is right next door to the San Diego harbour, convention centre, and Petco Park.
California is such a beautiful state that you have to take a coastal road trip to see it all.
These must-see bucket lists stops should be on any visitor’s itinerary!