popular cities in California to Visit

25 Best California Cities To Visit (Tourist Cities in California)

Are you wondering what the best California cities to visit are?  There are so many fun cities in California to choose from!

California is an amazing place to go on vacation and no matter where you decide to go in this state you will not be disappointed! I love being a tourist, so the best tourist cities in California are always on my list. 

There are so many famous California cities to visit!  This list includes the best cities to vacation in California.  From San Diego all the way up to the Redwood trees in Crescent City, we include the most beautiful cities in California to visit.  

In this post, we are going to focus on the best cities in California to visit. This will include the well-known and nicest cities in California as well as some hidden gems.

Let's get started and explore the best cities in California to visit!

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Best Cities in California to Visit (Northern California)

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Best Cities in California to visit - northern California

We love visiting Northern California.  It is absolutely gorgeous.  Some of the best coastal towns in California are in this area. 

We will start at the top of California and list the best Northern California cities to visit. 

Top Cities in California to Visit (Northern)

  • Crescent City
  • Eureka
  • Mendicino
  • Morro Bay
  • Truckee

Let's check out some of the best places to visit in Northern California

1. Crescent City California

Best Cities in California to Visit -Crescent City California

Crescent City is located in the northern part of the state and is one of the best cities in California.  It is most known for Redwoods National Park.  It also is a great start for traveling the California coastline. It is a great beach town in Northern California as well. 


If you want to explore the Redwoods in California—and really, you’d have to be crazy not to—Crescent City, CA is just about the best spot to declare your home base.

Things to Do Near Cresent City

Crescent City is a 20-minute drive from Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, a 16-square-mile area that is filled with towering trees.

You have countless hikes to choose from, and I recommend starting in the Stout Memorial Grove. This short loop takes you past 300-foot-tall Redwoods, and you can also climb on top of fallen logs.

Pebble Beach

Crescent City is a lovely town to explore when you’re not marveling at gigantic trees. Don’t miss hunting for agates on Pebble Beach, just minutes from downtown. At low tide, you can also cross to the Battery Point Lighthouse.

The land bridge to this historic lighthouse is underwater as soon as the tide begins to come in, though, so keep a close eye on the tide tables!

Restaurants and Accommodations

My favorite place to eat in Crescent City is Sea Quake Brewing.   It is a local brewpub where the beer and pub fare are equally delicious. (Try the slaw-topped chicken sandwich or, if you want something healthier, the Thai salad.)

If you need a recommendation for the best place to stay, I would go with the Best Western or I would rent an RV and camp down the California coast. 

Activities for Kids

If you have kids, don’t miss Beach Front Park just across the street from Sea Quake. This park has an epic,  fortress-like playground my kids couldn’t get enough of.

Crescent City is one of the best cities in California to visit, whether you’re just stopping through en route to the Redwoods or you’re looking for a laid-back coastal Northern California town, you’ll adore Crescent City.

Contributed By: To and Fro Family

2. Eureka California

cool cities to visit in California - Eureka California
If you love outdoor adventure and quirky vibes, Eureka, California might be one of the best cities in California to visit for you!

Located in Northern California, close to the border of Oregon, Eureka is a unique town of 26,000 people. It sits in the center of California's Redwood National and State Parks, making it the perfect hub for those who are looking to explore the outdoors or plan a Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

Things to Do Near Eureka

Just out of town, you can venture out to explore the Humboldt Redwood State Park, which is home to the famous scenic drive, the Avenue of Giants.

North of Eureka, you can explore popular Redwood hikes like the Tall Tree Grove, Boy Scout Trail, or Lady Bird Johnson Grove.

Restaurants, Fun, and Accommodations 

Enjoy local eats in the Old Town District like Lost Coast Coffee, The Green Lily, and Jack's seafood on the water. Spend the afternoon at the Sequoia Park Zoo, or book tickets for the new Redwood Sky Walk for adventure with the whole family!

There are several great spots to stay overnight in Eureka. The Best Western Plus and Holiday Inn Express are great economical options that have free breakfast too!

Contributed By: Themandagies.com

3. Mendicino California

Cities to visit in California - Mendicino

Mendocino has one of the most dramatic and picturesque coastlines in all of California. Making it one of the best coast towns in California.

Mendocino is a small coastal community known for its artists, beautiful Victorian-style architecture, and plenty of outdoor spaces for those seeking to hike on trails along the Pacific Ocean or among giant Redwoods. 

Things to Do in Mendocino 

There are many things to do in Mendocino such as taking a stroll through the charming downtown and popping into shops and restaurants. The number one activity in Mendocino is to spend time exploring Mendocino Headlands State Park.

Mendocino Headlands State Park 

The park covers miles of pathways to walk along the bluffs overlooking the ocean. It also happens to be one of the best places in Mendocino to enjoy the sunset.  

Museums and Historical Homes 

Visit the Ford House Visitor Center and Kelley House Museum to learn all about the town’s fascinating history with its start as a logging town.

Both are housed in historic homes that once belonged to Mendocino’s founding families. There is a very informative walking tour you can take from Kelley House that is worth going on. 


The Point Cabrillo Light Station with its stark white lighthouse and bright red roof, is a site for stunning coastal views. Still active, it has been running since 1909 to protect ships from colliding into the rocky coast.  

Restaurant and Accommodations

Soak up the history and elegance by staying at the Headlands Cove Resort or the MacCallum House Inn right in the heart of downtown Mendocino. Plus, it has a restaurant and a wrap-around porch perfect for enjoying an afternoon drink. 

Contributed By: Travelingness.com

4. Morro Bay City California

California best places to visit - Morro Bay

Morro Bay is a small town in San Luis Obispo County that makes a great visit on a road trip.

With a population of only 10,000 people, this is a quiet destination for a relaxing getaway. It is one of the best cities in California to visit and a hidden gem. The most famous feature is Morro Rock, which is part of the California State Park system.

Things to Do in Morro Bay City

The best thing to do in Morro Bay is visit the T piers in the harbor where you can almost always see sea otters. Sometimes you can also see them with their pups. Other things to do include hiking the Black Hill Trail and the Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History. 

If you like local breweries, I recommend Three Stacks and a Rock, named for the town’s three distinct smokestacks and the Morro Bay rock.

While some consider it an eyesore, many in the town have grown fond of the now-decommissioned factory smokestacks. To the dismay of many, the smokestacks are scheduled to be demolished in 2028. 

Restaurant and Accomdations

A great family-friendly and affordable place to stay is the Blufftop Inn and Suites, which has recently been remodeled. It is also within walking distance of waterfront dining options.

Contributed By: Taytumtravels.com

5. Truckee California

Most popular Cities in California

Truckee in North Lake Tahoe is one of the best cities in California to visit with kids. Between the historical downtown, natural beauty, outdoor activities, and interesting museums, there are many things to do in Truckee as a family year-round. 

Things to Do in Truckee

There are four different ski resorts within a 15-minute drive of downtown Truckee, which are popular in the winter for snow schools where children can learn how to ski or snowboard or perfect their skills. In the summer, there is biking and hiking along trails in resorts.

In downtown Truckee, kids can learn about American history first hand from the interesting museums. Visit the Jail Museum, Railway Museum and the Museum of Truckee History to learn about Truckee’s intriguing history.

Be sure to walk down the quaint downtown to see the old fashioned ice cream parlours, souvenir shops and candy stores. There are also some family-friendly restaurants.

If you have kids younger than 10 years old, be sure to head to Kidzone, an indoor playground in Truckee that encourages pretend play and imagination. 

If you’re feeling adventurous, try whitewater rafting along the Donner river. (For kids 7+ years of age.)


A great place to stay as a family in Truckee is Gravity Haus. Enjoy lots of space to relax as a family in this rustic location with a hot tub, and bike riding on the beautifully landscaped grounds.

Contributed By: Tinyfootstepstravel.com

Best Cities in California to Visit (Central)

San Francisco Girls Weekend

Central California is a great area to visit. These are some of California's best cities to visit between San Francisco and Los Angeles! 

There are some popular cities in California that make our list and some more unique places in this area of California to consider. Some of the best places to travel in California are in this area. 

Top Cities to Visit in California (Central)

  • San Francisco
  • Sausalito
  • Sacramento
  • Oakland
  • Santa Cruz
  • Monterrey (Carmel-by-the-Sea)
  • San Luis Obispo
  • Solvang

Let's explore the best cities in California to visit in central California!  

6. Yountville California

Best places to visit California Yountville
While Napa Valley tends to claim the spotlight in Wine Country, you'll be doing yourself a disservice if you don't venture off the beaten path to Yountville – a tucked-away little gem within the heart of this iconic wine region.  Just roughly 9 miles north of Napa, Yountville seriously redefines what it means to be in wine country. 



Especially for wine lovers, Yountville is an absolute paradise with some of the best family-run wineries in the state, let alone the country. With wine being one of the highlights of the town, going on a wine tour is easily one of the best activities to try. I recommend giving Handwritten Wines a try to start; you'll feel like you're visiting old friends with how warm and hospitable the staff are.

Aside from Handwritten Wines, Jessup Cellars and Silver Trident are great wineries in Yountville to try out. But honestly, you can't go wrong with any winery you visit in the area. 
The vibe in Yountville is very laid-back and unpretentious, so you don't have to worry about flashy getups or stiff formalities – just a community of down-to-earth folks who share a passion for the nice glass of wine (or five, we're not here to judge).

Things to Do in Yountville

Beyond the grape vineyards, there are a lot of activities to try out no matter when you visit. You can go on a hot air balloon ride, visit the Napa Valley Museum, grub on locally sourced food at restaurants like Lucy Restaurant & Bar, check out local art on the Art Walk, play a round or two of golf, the list goes on. 
No matter what you end up doing, Yountville is one of those rare places where time assumes a leisurely pace so you can truly unwind and unplug from the busyness of everyday life. 


Adopting the town's namesake, Hotel Yountville is one of the best hotels in the area for your visit. It's close to just about everything, and they really do a great job of blending Tuscan design with the laid-back ambiance of Yountville itself. 
Cheers to creating memories and sipping great wine in Yountville, CA! There's truly no place like it. 
Contributed By: Wayfarewithpierre.com

7. San Francisco California

San Francisco Girls Trip

San Francisco is one of the best cities in California to visit!  There is so much to do and see making it one of the best tourist cities in California.  From all the most famous landmarks to the best places to eat, this city will not disappoint.

We are going to highlight a few of our favorite reasons why San Francisco is the best city in California! 

San Francisco Picnic Spots

When most people think of San Francisco they tend to think of the iconic sites such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Pier39. 

Did you know that this amazing city has some fantastic sites for an afternoon picnic?  There are several spots all around the city where you can enjoy the views without the hustle and bustle!

San Francisco is one of the best cities in California to relax and enjoy the beautiful weather!   

Let's explore some other reasons why San Francisco is one of the best California cities to visit. 

Top Attractions in San Francisco

Alcatraz San Franciso

San Francisco has so much to offer!  This city really has something for everyone which makes it one of the best cities in California to visit.  Obviously, the Golden Gate Bridge should be on your list but there are many must-see sites in San Francisco 

Tours in San Francisco 

There are some really fun tours to consider.  The Grand Tour of San Francisco is led by a personal guide and will go to all the major areas of the city.  I personally loved biking all over the city.  

Maybe you are a little more adventurous and would enjoy an Airplane ride over San Francisco or just enjoy a San Francisco night tour.

San Francisco is one of the best cities to vacation in California!

Best Places to Eat in San FranciscoMama's on Washington Square

If you are headed to San Francisco for the first time you may not know that it is a foodie's dream destination!  San Francisco is one of the most famous California cities to visit for this reason! There are so many amazing places to eat in San Francisco.

I love to try new foods every time I go to San Fran, but there are some that I like to hit every time I go like Ghirardelli Square!

Whether you are planning a girls' trip or a family trip to San Francisco with the kids, there are so many things to do in San Francisco!

San Francisco really is one of the best California cities to visit!

Contributed ByFrogmom.com and One Chel of an Adventure

8. Sausalito California

Tourist Spots California Sausalito

Sausalito, a charming coastal city, is nestled just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco and is a great place to visit if you have 3 days in San Francisco or more.

Sausalito is one of the top tourist sites California has to offer. Sausalito offers a delightful waterfront escape to the hustle and bustle of San Francisco. A short drive or ferry ride brings you to this scenic city. 

Things to Do in Sausalito

The charming streets are perfect for leisurely walks, and numerous art galleries showcase local talent. Renting a bike or kayak allows you to explore the area's natural beauty up close.
Families can enjoy the Bay Area Discovery Museum's interactive exhibits. Waterfront dining provides a taste of fresh seafood and bay views. The Trident is a great fine-dining restaurant along the waterfront. 


The Gables Inn in downtown Sausalito is a great place to stay, providing Victorian charm, cozy lodging, and stunning vistas of the bay. You can walk to the downtown restaurants and along the waterfront. 

9. Sacramento California

Best California Cities -Sacramento

Sacramento, with its diverse culture, rich history, and amazing food, offers plenty of things to do.  Personally, I think Sacramento is one of the best cities in California to visit.  I would like to recommend 3 amazing things to do while visiting. 

Food Tour

You can find so many different places to eat. If you love food like me, you will enjoy a food tour.

With 6-8 different restaurants to tour,  you will get to meet the owners and taste their signature dishes. It is very exciting! I just love food.


Sacramento also has some of the best street art. You can take a stroll through neighborhoods and see some of the best art for FREE or go on an official Mural Tour.

California State Railroad Museum

One of the best museums in California, the California State Railroad Museum takes you into the past. It features 21 trains and cars with a few of the trains dating back to 1862. 

Riding a train is the highlight of this visit.  It takes about 45 minutes to ride.  The lovely view of the Sacramento River is so nice and makes the ride worth going on.

There is a reason Sacramento is one of the most popular cities in California. It can easily be added to the best cities in California to visit list!

10. Oakland California

Best Cities in California- Oakland

Another California tourist spot is Oakland. There are so many great places in Oakland to visit.  Jack London Square, for instance. Many of you probably recognize the name of the man who wrote classics like The Call of the Wild. An Oakland native, Jack London's name lives on in this nice waterfront entertainment district.

Things to Do in Oakland

While there are plenty of bars in Jack London Square, the one you really have to drink in is Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon.

When Johnny Heinold opened this small, cozy bar in 1883, he gave it that name because it was either the first or last chance a sailor had to get rip-roaring drunk, either before shipping out or upon returning to port.

It's also been called “Jack London's Rendezvous,” and was the inspiration for many bar scenes from his books. You can find money and souvenirs from all over the world, as well as the last operating gas lamp in the state of California.

California Tourism Tip 

See a wooden board with random letters on it? Go ahead and ask the bar what that means.  Be sure to check out the exact same log cabin that he stayed in while living in the Klondike, preserved and relocated from Canada.

Jack London Square holds plenty of spots to relax, a telescope through which you can view the San Francisco skyline, a movie theater, and plenty of eating options.

Restaurant and Accomdations

If you are vegan, you're in for a treat!  Just three blocks northeast of the square is Souley Vegan, the best vegan restaurant I've eaten in.  They offer traditional Louisiana soul food with a healthy twist while sacrificing none of the Cajun flavors.

Jack London Inn is a great place to stay while you explore one of the best cities in California! 

With all of these options, be sure to pay Jack London Square a visit the next time you're in Oakland!

Contributed By: Onebagnomad.com

11. Santa Cruz California

Best California Coast cities to visit - Santa Cruz

One of the best cities to visit in California is the coastal community of Santa Cruz.

Take a day trip from San Francisco or a week-long getaway. You’ll find a variety of activities to enjoy for the entire family. Walk the boardwalk, discover coastal beaches, hike the bluffs overlooking the Pacific and under the lofty redwoods, and more.

Fun things to Do in Santa Cruz, California

Here is a list of some of the best things to do in Santa Cruz, California.

  • Spend a day at one of the 34 beaches located in Santa Cruz County.
  • Visit the iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Amusement Park, and Municipal Wharf.
  • Rent a boat and go sailing or paddling.
  • Watch for whales, otters, seals, and birds at scenic Natural Bridges State Park.
  • Become mesmerized by the Monarch Butterfly Nature Preserve – that attracts thousands of monarchs from October to mid-February.
  • Discover Wilder Ranch State Park, a living history farm that offers 34 miles of coastal and cliffside trails and historic buildings.
  • Stop in at the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum – or take a surfing lesson.
  • Take a short 20-minute drive to the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
  • Next door go back in time and explore the historic Roaring Camp and ride a steam train through the redwoods to the summit of Bear Mountain. 

Santa Cruz, California Tours


Santa Cruz, California offers several seaside lodging options. One of the most popular places to stay is The Dream Inn. Every room offers an oceanview at this hotel that overlooks the Santa
Cruz Wharf and Santa Cruz Boardwalk and Beach.

Contributed By: Kmfiswriting.com

12. Carmel-by-the-Sea

Best cities in California - Carmel and Monterrey

I feel like Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea are what we think when we think ‘classic California’.  They are the most beautiful California cities to visit! 

There is a lot of history in this part of the State, with beautiful architecture and buildings reborn into a more modern use like Cannery Row in Monterey, and the beautiful old homes (many dating back to the 1900’s), built by artists and other creative’s in Carmel.

Pebble Beach Community 

Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea are linked by the beautiful 17 Mile drive through the Pebble Beach community.   In order to take this scenic drive through this private community, you have to enter through one of their 5 gates and pay the per-car fee.

There are 17 beautiful stops along the way, listed on the visitors' map they give you.  There are 5 golf courses, as well the spectacular Pebble Beach course.

 The road runs right along the coastline most of the way, and I stopped at just about every single stop. There are beautiful ocean vistas, stunning multi-million dollar homes, and of course, the world-famous Lone Cypress, which has been the iconic logo of Pebble Beach for 100 years (1919).

The Pebble Beach property is worth the stop, and if you decide to have lunch, they’ll deduct the entry fee from your final bill.


I didn’t set a timeline for my drive, so all in all I spent almost 2 hours making the 17 Mile Drive.  You’ll depart through another guarded gate and arrive just outside of Carmel, taking you to yet another beautiful community worth spending time in.

Monterey Best Cities to Visit in California

Oh, and while you’re in Monterey, I cannot stress how amazing the Monterey Bay Aquarium is.  To go to this area without spending a few hours there would be a travesty, and you don’t need kids with you.  I was there alone and would go back again!

Monterey is one of the best cities to visit in California! 

Big Sur

You might as well drive down the California Coast and visit the Big Sur area.  It is absolutely gorgeous.  Be sure to stop at Pfeiffer Beach to see the purple sand! 

Contributed By: The Eventful Traveler

13. San Luis Obispo California

California Best Place to visit between San Francisco and Los Angeles - San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, located in central California, is a less-traveled gem in the state. There are so many great things to do in San Luis Obispo!  It is one of the best cities to vacation in California.

From San Luis Obsipo, you can explore their charming downtown, take a day trip to the coast, or sample local wine at the many wineries in the area. A private tour of San Luis Obispo is also really nice. 

Things to Do in San Luis Obispo

In downtown SLO, don’t miss the Creamery Marketplace, which has some great restaurants. Visit Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa to learn more about California’s history with Spanish colonization.

For some fun, head to BA Start Arcade Bar to play your heart out while enjoying some of their great food and drinks.


The best place to stay in San Luis Obispo is the Madonna Inn, a kitschy over-the-top hotel complete with a steakhouse, spa, wine cellar, and live music each week.

There are 110 uniquely themed rooms, so your stay is guaranteed to be special! Plus, the pool overlooks San Luis Obispo Valley for some fantastic views.

Contributed By: Periodic Adventures

14. Solvang California

Best place to go California

You don’t need to go to Europe when you can visit Solvang in California. This little Danish town is located less than an hour from Santa Barbara and is one of the best tourist cities in California.

It’s small enough to walk around the whole town and resembles Denmark in every way possible. There are even replicas of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid and Round Tower!

Things to Do in Solvang

In Solvang, you can walk to Elverhøj Museum, go olive oil and vinegar tasting at Olive Press, go on a food tour or eat traditional Danish cuisine at Red Viking Restaurant, and take pictures In front of the many windmills.

If you have a car, you can drive a few minutes away to Ostrichland USA to see and feed over 100 ostriches and emus overlooking the Santa Ynez Mountains. 


For a comfortable, luxurious stay, spend two or three nights in Hotel Corque. The home has wine motifs everywhere from the wine bottle chandeliers to the wine stain illustration in its logo and branding.

The beds are oh-so plush beds, bath robes, and a tray on the bathtub with a rubber ducky (with Hotel Corque’s logo, of course) to bring home.

Contributed By: HannahonHorizon.com

Best Cities in California to Visit (Southern)

Best cities in California to visit - Southern Cali

We are now moving to the southern part of California where you will find some of the most famous cities in California.

I think Southern California has the best cities in California to visit. I love the weather!  It is perfect all year round.  These popular cities in California are probably on your radar. In fact, they are the most visited cities in California.


Top Cities in California to Visit (Southern)

  • Santa Barbara
  • Malibu
  • Los Angeles (Orange County)
  • Long Beach
  • Newport Beach
  • Laguna Beach
  • Manhattan and Hermosa Beach
  • San Diego
  • Coachella
  • Palm Springs 

Let's explore the best cities in California to visit in Southern California! 

15. Santa Barbara California

tourist cities in California - Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a gorgeous coastal city in Southern California. Known for its beautiful waterfront with stunning views and beaches, Santa Barbara is a great destination for beachfront family fun. It is one of the best California cities to visit.

Things to Do in Santa Barbara

Trolley tours are a great way to see the city! These 90-minute rides provide a great overview of the area in the comfort of an old-time trolley. 

In town, visitors can rent little two-seater buggies to cruise around town. Several vendors offer rates for only a few hours. The vendors will provide a map – take it up to the mission, the rose garden, and down along Stearns Wharf and the waterfront. 

West Beach and East Beach are the most well-known beaches in the area, but the 1,000 Steps Beach can provide a bit more adventure.  Walk Chase Palm Park down to Santa Barbara pier to soak in the seaside views.

For families with older children who enjoy hiking, there are a few trails just north of Santa Barbara, like the Hot Springs Canyon Trail and Cold Spring Trail.

Santa Barbara is located about two hours north along the coast from LAX International Airport. Travelers can rent a car or take a car service there.

Contributed By: Elevateyourescapes.com

16. Malibu California

Best cities in California to visit Malibu

Malibu is located a little less than an hour northwest of Los Angeles and is one of the best places to travel in California.  Malibu has many amazing things to do and see.  It is on the ocean and is known for its celebrity homes and beautiful beaches.  You could easily spend all your time in this beautiful beach town and be perfectly happy!

Malibu is one of the most famous cities in California to visit, Thanks to Barbie! 

Zuma Beach

Malibu is the home to the well-known Zuma Beach where many movies have been filmed.  You can enjoy surfing, swimming, and building sandcastles, and then walk over to the pier and do some fishing!

Hikes in Malibu

Malibu also has many hikes.  One that you need to check out is the Solstice Canyon located in the Santa Monica Mountains. This is a great family hike and is a great way to spend an afternoon.

If you are deciding which city to visit in California, Malibu is one of the best cities in California to visit!  

Contributed By: Hilary Style

17. Los Angeles California

Best Cities in California to visit LA Hike to the hollywood sign

Los Angeles is one of the best places to visit in Orange County and one of the best cities in California to visit! 

Hike to the Hollywood Sign

Have you ever wanted to get an up-close encounter with the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles?  Guess what you can!  Hiking up to the sign is a great way to spend your day.

The Hollywood sign hike is the perfect day trip.  It is about 6 miles round trip.  It will take you around 3-4 hours to complete.  Once you are at the top you will see the most incredible views of the city.

If you are interested in a guide to the Hollywood sign, it is an option.  You will learn more about the history of Hollywood as you climb

If you are in Los Angeles you should really give it a try!

Amusement Parks Near Los Angeles

Amusement Parks near Los Angeles

If you’re in Southern California and want to visit an amusement park, you have plenty of choices! Of all the destinations in California, Orange County wins the title of the “fun places to go in California”. 

Universal Studios

To get a feel for Hollywood, visit Universal Studios. The rides and shows give you a glimpse into movie magic. You can even take a bus tour to go behind the scenes of your favorite movies!


If you’re traveling with smaller kids, Disneyland will be the better bet. This theme park will have such a surreal vibe as you run into some of your favorite Disney characters. Getaway Today is a great way to book Disneyland

Knott's Berry Farm

Maybe you can’t afford Disney prices, but still want to take your family to a theme park while you’re in SoCal. Fortunately, Knott’s Berry Farm is a budget-friendly theme park 15 minutes away from Disneyland.

They have options for all ages! Toddlers can have fun playing with Snoopy while teenagers can ride extreme roller coasters. Whenever you need a rest, find a live show to watch with your family.

Six Flags

If you really just came for the roller coasters, then Six Flags Magic Mountain is the place to go. Like the other Six Flags parks across the country, Magic Mountain has some of the best roller coasters you’ve ever experienced!

However, keep in mind the worst part about amusement parks: the lines! Be a master of avoiding the crowds and you will have fun!  This is one of the best cities to vacation in California for families. 


18. Long Beach California

California tourist sites - Long Beach

Long Beach, located along the picturesque Southern California coastline, offers a delightful array of experiences for travelers of all kinds.

This vibrant city features exciting attractions, beaches to play in the waves, exciting nightlife, delicious dining, and much more! Making it one of the best cities in California to visit. 

Things to Do in Long Beach

For families, the Aquarium of the Pacific is an absolute must-visit. The biggest aquarium in California, it features exciting exhibits such as the Seal and Sea Lion Habitat, the Ray Touch Pool, and the Tropical Reef Habitat.

History buffs and adventure seekers should not miss the opportunity to explore The Queen Mary. This legendary ocean liner is steeped in fascinating stories. You can take a guided tour to learn about its history or, for the brave at heart, embark on a spine-tingling ghost tour.

Make sure to explore the Shoreline Village, a charming waterfront shopping and dining area with a picturesque carousel and fun-filled arcade games for children.

Or, head to the Pike Outlets which boast a variety of shops, from well-known brands to boutique finds, as well as many excellent dining options.


As for accommodations, check out the Hyatt Regency Long Beach. This waterfront hotel not only offers comfortable and family-friendly rooms but also provides stunning views of the ocean and easy access to many of Long Beach's attractions. 

You will find no shortage of exciting things to do in this amazing California city and it's an excellent place to stay for easy access to many other big cities and attractions in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

Long Beach is certainly a worthwhile destination for its blend of history, marine life, and family-friendly attractions.

Contributed By: Makethetripmatter.com

19. Newport Beach California

Best Cities in California to visit Newport Beach California

Newport Beach is one of the most beautiful cities on California’s Southern Coast. There are plenty of great activities for your whole family to enjoy while visiting this idyllic destination.


First of all, we recommend staying at Marriott’s Newport Coast Villas. You can book a villa has 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a full kitchen, and a washer and dryer. It is the perfect setup for a family!

The location, just up the road from Crystal Cove State Park, is perfect. Great pools and activities are going on at the resort too.

Crystal Cove State Park

Speaking of Crystal Cove State Park, this is a spot your whole family will love! It is one of the best destinations in California to visit. 

Go at the right time and you can explore the tidepools. The kids will love searching for sea anemones, starfish, and hermit crabs. Bring some sand toys and a ball and you can spend hours there.

Newport Beach Pier

Another great activity for your family is to visit the Newport Beach Pier. Walk along the boardwalk, watch the waves crash, and search for dolphins. You can also rent bikes there and enjoy a nice ride along the beach.

Balboa Fun Zone

After visiting the boardwalk, walk over to Balboa Fun Zone. Be sure and ride the Ferris Wheel, have Zoltar tell you your fortune, and play some arcade games.

From Balboa Fun Zone, take the ferry over to Balboa Island. The ferry is cheap but requires cash. The ride is a fun, quick experience.

Once you get to Balboa Island go grab a Balboa Bar (old-fashioned chocolate-dipped ice cream bar).  Dad’s and Sugar n’ Spice have delicious bars and are right next door to each other.

Newport is the perfect California destination full of lots of activities for a family! Beaches and sunshine?  What more could you ask for? It is one of the best cities in California to visit for family fun!

Contributed By: Travel Hacking Mom

20. Laguna Beach California

Best tourist cities in California Laguna Beach
Located in Orange County, Laguna Beach is a true gem of the state's coastline.
This picturesque seaside community boasts stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, a vibrant art scene, and some of the best restaurants in Southern California.
Foodies will appreciate the quality of the cuisine from celerity chefs and hidden gems. Many of Laguna Beach’s best restaurants also offer incredible views.

Things to Do in Laguna Beach

With almost seven miles of gorgeous coastline, the area is full of hidden coves, rocky outcrops, and tide pools. One of the best coastal walks in Laguna Beach is the path behind the Montage Hotel.
This is a wonderful hotel to stay at, but even if you don’t, you can walk along the cliffs on their path through beautifully manicured gardens.
In addition to the scenic beauty, Laguna Beach is a haven for art lovers. In the center of town, you’ll find numerous art galleries to admire works by local artists.
On the west end of town, the Laguna Art Museum showcases artwork from a variety of styles and movements.
Laguna Beach is a famous city in California for its Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters held in the summer. In the fall, it hosts the Sawdust Arts and Crafts Festival.
Contributed By: Chefdenise.com

21. Manhattan and Hermosa Beach Cities

Best ca beach towns - manhatann and Hermosa

Manhattan and Hermosa Beaches are coastal chic beach towns in Los Angeles, California, just south of the Los Angeles International Airport.

The stunning coastline captivates visitors with its small-town charm and lively coastal beach vibe. These two neighboring beach cities offer an enticing blend of relaxation, outdoor activities, and mouthwatering restaurants, making them must-visit destinations for anyone seeking a quintessential California beach experience.

Manhattan and Hermosa Beaches are part of the South Bay, where there are so many fun activities The pristine sandy shores of Manhattan and Hermosa Beaches are a paradise for sun-seekers and surf enthusiasts alike.

Things to Do at Hermosa and Manhattan Beaches

Their wide stretches of soft, golden sand and consistent waves provide the perfect backdrop for lazy sunbathing sessions or a surf lesson.

Adjacent to the beach is the Strand, a scenic bike and pedestrian path that offers a fantastic way to explore the coastline.

Rent a bicycle at Hermosa Cyclery or Manhattan Beach Ebike Rentals and take in the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean as you cruise along this picturesque route.

Along the way, you'll find charming cafes, beachfront bars, and unique boutiques that capture Southern California's laid-back, beachy spirit.

Manhattan and Hermosa beaches are ideal for day trips to other Southern California attractions. Nearby, you'll find the iconic Santa Monica Pier to the north and the natural beauty of the Palos Verdes Peninsula to the south.

Contributed By: Thetravnav.com

22. San Diego California

Best Cities in California to Visit - San Diego - Beach

In my opinion, San Diego is the best city to visit in California!  It is a fun place to go in California. I love everything about San Diego! The weather is perfect, it is one of the best places to visit in California in December. That is our favorite time to visit.    

Let's learn why it needs to be on your “places to go in CA list.”

Best Hikes in San Diego

Best HIkes in San Diego

Although San Diego is known for its amazing beaches, incredible waves, and delicious fish tacos, the sunny border city is also home to some of the BEST hikes in Southern California. And you can squeeze in plenty of hikes just on a weekend trip!

Some of the classic hikes are Torrey Pines State Reserve near the beach and Point Loma Tide Pools near the Cabrillo National Monument. Both are fairly easy-to-moderate hikes and boast dramatic views over the shoreline.

 Challenging Hikes

For a more challenging hike, check out Ho Chi Min Trail, near La Jolla, to work up a sweat. Cowles Mountain is the highest point in San Diego, and arguably the most challenging! However, Potato Chip Mountain is the most iconic and instagrammable spot in San Diego, so pick your poison.

 Each of these three “harder” hikes is achievable in a half-day if you start early-ish in the morning.

To round out your hiking experience, visit Sunset Cliffs at…well, sunset! Accurately named, it holds the title of best sunset vantage point in the whole city, and you can even hike down to the small beach at the bottom.

Best Places to Eat In San Diego

Hotel Coronado San Diego

San Diego is definitely a foodie town! From swanky oceanfront dining to taco trucks and everything in between, San Diego has what you’re looking for.

For visitors, there are some can’t-miss SD experiences when it comes to food.

You really can’t leave without trying some amazing fish tacos. My pick is Oscar’s Mexican Seafood in Pacific Beach (branch out and try the octopus – you won’t regret it). Old Town is great for Mexican and surprisingly sushi! 

Another great foodie experience, particularly if you’re looking for something higher-end or romantic, is to dine at any one of San Diego's many restaurants on the ocean.

My recommendation is Jake’s Del Mar – you can’t get any closer to the beach than this and the food is excellent.

Coasterra which sits on the edge of Harbor Island with incredible views of the bay and downtown San Diego is another great choice.

Little Italy

If Italian food is your thing, head to Little Italy. This quaint downtown neighborhood has so many great options.  I recommend Monello (especially for happy hour) or Barbusa, but whatever you choose, make sure to head to Pappalecco for gelato afterward!

Hotel del Coronado

And lastly, I have to mention the Hotel del Coronado. This San Diego historic landmark is not to be missed and it has a couple of options for dining.

There is the less expensive Sunset Bar, a beachfront lounge with breathtaking views of the ocean, or Sheerwater, a more upscale choice but still beachfront. The Hotel is beautifully lit at night, I recommend coming for sunset and staying for dinner.

Plan a San Diego itinerary!

Best Amusement Parks In San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego Vacation

San Diego is one of the best cities in California for pure fun.  As you plan your San Diego itinerary be sure to include some of the fun amusement parks and attractions in San Deigo.

SeaWorld, Legoland, and of course the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are all located in San Diego.  There is also Old Town San Diego, the Marina District, and of course the beach! I have been to all of these amazing parks and have loved all of them.

SeaWorld San Diego

We recently went to SeaWorld San Diego and it was amazing for adults and kids of all ages. We really enjoyed the park.  The shows were amazing, especially the orca whales.  My kids loved all the rides and we loved all the food!

San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo is one of the most famous Zoos in the country.  You will not be disappointed.  The extension of the zoo is the Safari Park which is similar to Disney's Animal Kingdom's safari ride.

There is so much to do in San Diego which makes it in my opinion one of the best cities in California to visit! You are sure to have a fun time!

Contributed By: The Awkward Travelern and Family Travel Lifestyle

23. Carlsbad California

Family Vacation in San Diego California

Carlsbad California is just north of San Diego. It is where Legoland and some of the best beaches for surfing ar located. 


Legoland is geared toward kids under 10 or extreme Lego fans.  We loved going to this park and checking out all of the best rides at Legoland.


But one Lego tip that made it extra special was staying at the Legoland Hotel.   It was unbelievable!  The themes of the rooms were outstanding.  There are so many fun activities and dance parties that will make your stay magical!

Carlsbad is one of the best cities in California! 




24. Palm Springs California

Best Cities in California to visit - Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs is a nice place to visit in CA as it is a vacation town in the south-eastern corner of California. It has a lot of interesting attractions to fill your travel itinerary. It is one of the best places to go on vacation in California!

Palm Springs is mostly associated with 3 main things: palms, springs (as in “hot springs”), and golf.

There are a couple of areas around town where you can find unique palms oasis, such as Coachella Valley and Indian Springs. Hiking in these nature reserves gets you close and personal with unique desert habitats.

The neighboring town of Desert Hot Springs has plenty of hot springs resorts. You can either stay in one of these resorts or purchase a day pool pass to enjoy thermal waters and maybe a spa treatment on top of that.

Golf Courses

There are plenty of golf courses in and around Palm Springs due to the nice weather between October and April.  Palm Springs is definitely a winter escape destination. Palm Springs is also a perfect gateway for exploring Joshua Tree National Park.

Arts and Culture

In addition to the above, Palms Springs has a vibrant arts and culture scene and interesting mid-century architecture that attracts tourists.

The town was a popular winter playground for Hollywood stars back in the day so you can get the feel of the celebrity vibe while checking out some of its landmarks such as the house where Elvis spent his honeymoon or Melvyn’s restaurant which was Sinatra’s favorite.

Contributed By: Family Road Trip Guru

25. Indio California

Best Cities in California- Coachella

Have you ever heard of Coachella This is a huge music festival located in the city of Indio, CA, which is about 30 minutes from Palm Springs.  This area of California is known as the Coachella Valley.

This amazing event happens every spring.  It lasts 3 days.  People will camp out, yet dress like movie stars.  The performers are top-notch.  The rumors are always flying around about who will be performing every year and it never disappoints! It is a fun place to go in California! 

Tickets to Coachella

Tickets start at $400 per ticket.  If you want the VIP pass they start at $926!

Have you ever been?  Let us know in the comments!

Contributed By:  Escape Around The World

Best Cities in California to Visit - Overall Opinion

California best places to visit

There is so much to do and see in California. To be honest, I don’t think there is a best overall city in California; rather the best cities in California to visit (or area) will be different based on what you are looking for.

If you like theme parks, southern California has you covered. Golf? There are other places for that. Beaches? National parks? Ditto. Traveling down the coastal highway and finding coastal towns no one knows about. Amazing!

Based on what you personally like, I hope that this post guides you to the perfect destinations in California to visit, and you get to go to the fun cities in California for vacation. 

Make Your Trip Even Better

If you want to do more than one activity a Go Card Los Angeles, Go Card San Diego, Go Card San Francisco is worth looking into.

Facebook Community

If you have any questions be sure to ask in the comments below or even better join our Travel Community on FacebookThe Travel community is a place where you can ask any question about any trip and will be sure to get help from everyone in the group!  I also try to post any good deals that come my way!

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  3. I have visited California several times, so some of the cities I’ve seen are on your list, however you have many on your list that I have not visited! This is exciting and makes me want to plan another trip out to California to one of these other cities! Thank you for the information

  4. This is great. We are planning a trip that will take us through parts of CA. We will be using your suggestions for locations to visit on our road trip.

    1. San Francisco is a great city! I think we may go there on our next quick getaway. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is there and we may need to go see it!

  5. Great post! We plan on driving the coast of California in a couple of years. We went to start-up in San Fran and make our way down. Of course, we will stop in Disneyland for a couple of days and end in San Diego. I know where to go if I have any questions!

  6. What an interesting and informative post! Definitely pinning this for later reference when I visit here! Thank you so much!

  7. Wowww…what a comprehensive list! What I love about California? The beach. The food. The wine. The metropolitan area. The diverse culture. The weather. It’s hard to pick what area I would love to visit first but I love anything near the beach, Malibu would be nice!

  8. We went to California for the first time last summer, and I can’t wait to go back and see more! I’d love to go north now; we saw a little of LA and San Diego. I can’t believe how wonderful the weather was while we were there!

  9. Wow, there are so many great places! I’ve only ever been to L.A. I’ll have to put a few more of these on my bucket list.

  10. This is a great compilation! There are always so many more places to see in California, no matter how many times I visit. Someday I’ll make it to LA and see the Hollywood sign, but for right now San Fran really does hold my heart.

  11. I’ve only been through the airport in CA. I will certainly need to make more time to visit some of these destinations. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Thanks for including me in this collaboration. What a great list! I have so much more to see in California.

  13. I’ve only been to San Diego and the Disneyland area and I would love to see more in the future! You have great tips and great pictures!

  14. This is such a cool collection! My husband and I went and drove up and down the pacific coast highway for our anniversary so we stopped at a lot of these places. So beautiful!

  15. I’ve yet to visit San Francisco in California. That city looks amazing and it’s on my list of places to see!

  16. Running from San Diego to San Francisco is the California One Highway. One of the most celebrated driving roads in the world. You will travel through wine country and beaches along this winding coastal drive. An absolute must for anyone who loves a road trip.

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  18. This is a great list of California cities! I love California, and I can’t wait to see more of it. Your pictures sparked some of my favorite memories. My husband and I still joke that we’re about to move to Monterey or Anaheim. Maybe someday!

  19. Great list of 25 best cities to visit in California! I was born and raised in Santa Monica, and have visited quite a few of the cities in your list, but have not made it to so many others! I moved away from California two years ago, but would love to check out a few of these cities the next time I visit…Sausalito and Carmel-by-the-Sea are at the top of my list!

  20. I have always wanted to visit California (more than just the airport! LOL). And, while I’m excited about seeing the big cities and Disneyland, I’m also really excited to visit the small towns like Eureka, California. I have always wanted to see the redwoods!

  21. This is an amazing list of cities to visit in California! There are so many options for people that want to visit.

  22. I’ve always wanted to go to San Fran! But I’ve just never found the time or the money to even consider booking a trip!

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