Palm Springs spa pool

47 Fun Things to Do in California

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From world-class events to Hollywood attractions, vibrant gardens to beach bonfires, here are 47 fun things to do in California.

I’ve loved seeing so much of California over the past twenty-five years. With unique attractions, beautiful beaches, incredible wineries, award-winning restaurants, and fantastic scenery, you’re going to love the fun things to do in California. Here are my suggestions.

TIP: Be sure to check the websites for anything listed here to ensure they are reopened due to the pandemic.

What to see and do in California

1. Explore Hearst Castle

Easily one of the finest homes in America is that of William Randolph Hearst, The Enchanted Hill, or Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. Hearst Castle is a visual delight, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I loved the 127 acres of pristine grounds and outdoor sculptures, swimming pool, fountains, and gardens even more than the house itself, but a tour is well worth your time and money. Hearst Castle features a twin-towered mansion that is over one hundred years old.

Hearst Castle is four hours from LA and San Francisco.

iconic-hearst-castle-california

2. See The Best Chinatown

San Francisco easily has the best Chinatown in the country. Between great food stands and grocers, there are also unique things to see, such as the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and many places of worship. The Tien Hau Temple was my fave. Be on the lookout for the cool pagoda arch, Dragon Gate, and Grant Avenue, the most photographed part of town.

A great way to explore Chinatown is with Linda Lee, offering three-hour tours and plenty of historical and fun facts about this remarkable California address. 

chinatown san fran

3. Relax At A Rancho Mirage Spa

Just the mention of Palm Springs, you have to think of luxury rides, high-end shopping, world-class resorts, and total self-indulgence. You can save a few dollars by staying in Rancho Mirage, the closest town to Palm Springs. The spas in this indulgent part of California are fantastic!

Treat yourself to a detoxifying mud wrap, signature firming and lifting facial, and deep-canyon therapeutic massage before soaking in the serene spa pool and enjoying the jaw-dropping scenery. My top-pick for spa and accommodations is the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa.

Palm Springs spa pool

4. Admire The Trees In Muir Woods

Muir Woods is a place to go for great hikes, beautiful photographs, and to be in tune with nature amidst dozens of redwood trees. These redwoods are unlike anything I’ve ever seen; one even hits 258 feet high. You can even pose for your pictures inside of the trunks—they are that big. This old-growth forest was named a National Monument (US National Park Service). Muir Woods was founded and dedicated to the father of the National Parks, John Muir. Other trees in the natural setting include big leaf maples, tanks, Douglas fir, ferns, and mushrooms. 

muir woods man inside tree

5. Stroll Forest Lawn Cemetery

Pay your respects to Walt Disney, the creator and brainchild of Mickey Mouse, and everything Disney when you visit his gravesite in the famous Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. It’s fun to see the cool trinkets left by Walt’s many fans inside his courtyard. 

To get to Walt’s gravesite, follow signs to the Freedom Mausoleum. When facing the Freedom Mausoleum, his grave is to the left of the entrance. Other celebrities buried here are Brittany Murphy, Jimmy Stewart, Paul Walker, and Elizabeth Taylor.

walt disney gravesite

6. Photograph The Venice Canals

The Venice Historic District is a beautiful part of the city with modern luxury homes that sit alongside four small, picturesque man-made canals. Developer Abbot Kinney built this beautiful part of the town back in 1905. In this stretch, most of the houses have boat docks with some form of boat or gondola, which looks stunning on the water.

Tip: Find one of the canal bridges to walk onto for the best photo ops.

Venice-beach-canal-beautiful-homes

7. The Hollywood Bowl: A Definite Fun Thing To Do In California

California’s Hollywood Bowl is one of the most prestigious venues globally, and the premier live music venue for Southern California. The arched-band shell venue will hold 17,500 guests for musicals, concerts, sing-alongs, and much more. You can purchase regular seats, garden and terrace boxes, and even lawn seats to save money. No matter where you choose, you will be able to see what’s going on from the ginormous screen across the stage. 

FYI: Waiters bring you purchased or pre-ordered food and drinks if you are sitting in the boxes.

the hollywood bowl stage

8. Tour Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano is the most famous and jewel of the California missions. Located in the city of the same name, this historical attraction is number seven of twenty-one missions built through the state. Missionaries stayed here on their way to spread Christianity to the native peoples of California. Mission San Juan Capistrano a Historic Landmark, chapel, museum, and botanical gardens. 

Swallows migrate 6,000 miles from Goya, Argentina, to the mission, and a huge celebration takes place for nearly 90 years. Be sure to take a docent-led tour to fully understand what you are seeing and the mission’s significance.

mission san juan capistrano

9. Play On Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is a great area to enjoy sun and fun in one of California’s most popular and beautiful locations. Laguna is known for its bohemian chic artsy style and feel, art galleries, beaches (8 miles of coastline), and fantastic outdoor attractions. Don’t be surprised to see picture-perfect locals and celebs hanging out in this luxurious address.

The famed lifeguard stand of Laguna Beach has been in several tv shows and movies, while the dramatic cliffs and hills make for a fantastic backdrop. A few movies filmed in Laguna Beach include Dead to Me (Netflix), The O.C., Laguna Beach (MTV), A Few Good Men, and A Star Is Born.

Famous people such as John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Jay Leno, Diane Keaton, Chuck Norris, and Vanna White have lived here at one time or another. Laguna Beach has been a famed artists’ colony for over 100 years.

Laguna beach lifeguard stand

10. Visit The Reagan Library

Celebrate the life and presidency of Ronald Reagan at the library of the same name in Simi Valley, California. The presidential library has a wealth of exhibits, memorabilia, and pictures sharing Reagan’s eight years of presidency, movie career, and life. You can even board and explore Air Force One that carried President Reagan 660,000 miles, a bonus offering. President Reagan and First Lady Nancy are both buried at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library site.

Be sure to get your picture made in the Oval Office.

reagan presidential library

11. Ride The Rides At Knott’s Berry Farm

Buena Park is home to the oldest theme park in the country. Knott’s Berry Farm is a blast and much more than I ever imagined. You can enjoy thrilling roller coasters and rides and meet and greet Snoopy and many of the Peanuts Gang. Then, enjoy the western world with costumed interpreters at the Old West Ghost Town, and sink your teeth into delicious eats at one of the 38 onsite food and drink stands and restaurants.

Be sure to eat something with huckleberries. Knott’s Berry Farm initially started as a restaurant serving the huckleberries grown on the property. 

knotts berry farm amusmement park and rides

12. Have A Luxury Santa Barbara Stay

Santa Barbara is a luxurious, laid-back town with lovely resorts, excellent local restaurants, and overlooking the Pacific Ocean. A walk on the beach allows you to capture fantastic scenery, such as the Bacara Resort pictured here. The three infinity-edge pools were our favorite offering on the property. Watch out for the tar pits on Carpinteria State Beach…it’s killer getting it off. Olive oil or dish soap works best.

Note: The Bacara Resort is now a Ritz Carlton property, no surprise there since the service and accommodations were that level on our visit long ago.

bacara resort santa barbara

13. See The Famous Sea Lions

Pier 39 in San Francisco is home to the iconic sea lions. Chances are you will smell them before you see them, but they sure are adorable to watch. Dozens of chubby sea lions clump together and frolic in and out of the water, often asserting their dominance to see who gets to stay on the slight amount of room on the floating buoys. They are a hoot to watch!

sea lions at pier 39

14. Overnight In Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach is the name that refers to four acclaimed, world-class Monterey golf resorts and three impressive luxury hotels. To say you’ve golfed at Pebble Beach is quite an accomplishment. We stayed at the Inn at Pebble Beach, a remarkable upscale property complete with incredible ocean views, the Spanish Bay bagpiper, cozy fireplaces, and award-winning hospitality. This area is part of the majestic Del Monte Forest. I recommend seeing, shopping, and dining at all three properties, and the Spa at Pebble Beach is a must. 

pebble beach
bagpipe player in pebble beach

15. Go To Disneyland

Anaheim, California, is home to world-famous Disneyland. This 65-year-old park is filled with fun and adventure from the Haunted Mansion to it’s a small world, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and oodles of things in between. Watch for selfie photo-ops with Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, and many of their pals. You can also cross the street and visit Disney’s second park, California Adventure, which is equally as wonderful, with Soarin’ Around the World, Toy Story Midway Mania, and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree.

disneyworld posing with cruella da ville
fun things to do in California

16. Sail On The Chardonnay

The Chardonnay Sailing Charters in Santa Cruz is an excellent way to explore the picturesque Monterey Bay. Leaving out of the Breakwater Cove Marina, sail away for two hours of sheer bliss, enjoying the scenery as you nibble on hors d’oeuvres or pizza and sip soda, wine, or beer. The sunset sail is magnificent, but there are two other tour options, as well.

chardonnary sailing cruise in Santa Cruz

17. Indulge In A Ghiradelli Sundae

We all know how freaking delicious Ghiradelli is, but visiting the Original Ghiradelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop at Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco is pretty darned special. Indulge in a finger-licking-good Salted Caramel Brownie Sundae, Nob Hill Chill, or Twin Peaks with marshmallow creme. Calories don’t count, right, because you are on vacation? 

sundae with nuts and cherry from ghiradelli

18. Visit Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is one of the most visited attractions in California and part of the National Park Service. You can take the ferry to see the San Francisco Bay landmark venue, where you can hop off to tour or see it firsthand from your boat. Alcatraz Island, also known as “The Rock,” was a lighthouse, military fort and prison, and a federal prison from 1934 until 1963. 

alcatraz prison

19. Take the Warner Brothers Tour

We’ve taken the Warner Brothers Studio Tour twice and been highly impressed on both occasions. Part of the fun is having an entertaining guide, and the other half is reliving your favorite TV and movie moments at the places they were filmed. Tour famous sound stages, hear personal accounts of stars filming on the lot, and even catch a glimpse of celebrities as you make your way across the studio in a snazzy tram

On our visit, we have worn the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter, saw the last episode of The Drew Carey Show being filmed, found scenes from Hart of Dixie and Growing Pains, and photographed cars from dozens of Hollywood fame. Much of the tour is phone and camera-free, so know this before you go.

warner brothers tour
Arthur car from movie at Warner brothers

20. Drive PCH

Driving along the Pacific coastline on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) is one of the best in the whole country. While PCH (656 miles) runs from north to south, Leggett to Dana Point, our favorite part is the picturesque 17-mile drive through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove. Here, you’ll have a good idea of how incredible the drive is, with mansions, scenic attractions, famed golf courses, and Del Monte Forest as your backdrops. 

Driving PCH affords great photo-ops along the way, with magnificent crashing waves against the rocky terrain and layers of different blue water shades against the horizon. It is a thing to remember for a lifetime. My daughter and I did it all a few years ago and stopped at least a dozen times for photos. Note: Cell service is nonexistent on some parts of the drive.

driving pch scenery and sea lions

21. Visit Monterey

Monterey is a coastal California city famous for fishing, beaches, the shops of Cannery Row, and Old Fisherman’s Wharf. John Steinbeck wrote about Monterey County in several books (Cannery RowSweet ThursdayEast of Eden, and Tortilla Flat) and a beautiful bronze bust dedicated to him in Steinbeck Plaza. The wharf was an old wholesale fish market, now a commercial visitor attraction. You’ll find candy, jewelry, and souvenir stores, and great family-friendly things to see and do in this fun town. You can also book a fishing or sailing adventure, whale watching, and bay cruises. 

We recommend you enjoy a meal at Old Fisherman’s Wharf, namely a bowl of Clam Chowder, the freshest you’ll ever have. Down the street is the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, a must for sea life fans.

monterey ca fisherman's wharf

22. Cruise Newport Harbor

Seeing the Newport and Balboa Piers and cruising the harbor are must-dos when you are in this part of California. My family first visited Newport because it is where The OC was filmed. You can take a boat tour of Newport to see the iconic and famous homes and hear the upscale area’s interesting history. Before or after, enjoy playing at the Balboa Fun Zone, an old-school amusement park. You’ll find the 1936 Ferris wheel here, used for one of our favorite Ryan and Marissa scenes from The OC

newport pier ferris wheel

23. Take A Food Tour

Oakland, California, has an epic food tour that will knock your socks off. Put on your comfy walking shoes and hit the town running, with visits to Jack London Square and several local eateries. While the tour may have changed since I was on it, my group tried delicious Everett & Jones barbeque, local donuts, incredible pizza, and craft beer from Drake’s Dealership, all while hearing great stories of history and folklore.

local food adventures tour Oakland California

24. Visit The Iconic Hotel Del

The Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego is one of the most iconic hotels in the country. Besides being a magnificent beachfront property, the Hotel Del is where many famous movies were filmed and where celebrity romantic interludes took place. Even if you aren’t staying there, stop by for shopping, sightseeing, and to eat a meal on the pristine property. 

Did you know that the Hotel Del is now a Curio Collection Hilton property?

hotel del coronado

25. Find Romance In Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a dreamy location in Northern California where romance meets fairytales. Sip wine from the local purveyors, visit the Carmel Mission, take a trip to the beach, or dine at excellent restaurants with superb menus. A few of our favorites are Katy’s, Vesuvio, and Casanova, and of course, Hofsas House is a gorgeous place to stay for your getaway.

carmel-by-the-sea-houses

26. Go Behind-The Scenes At The San Diego Zoo

The world-famous San Diego Zoo sets the standard for zoos worldwide with their conservation and animal care programs. Here, you can see an incredible offering of exotic animals from around the world, including pandas, Amur leopards, and 15,000 other animals. If you feel like a splurge, do the five-hour VIP experience to get up close and personal with camels, koala bears, and whatever animals interest you. 

You can even enjoy the fun from your armchair by watching the San Diego zoo’s koala, hippo, and penguin cams.

panda bear san fran zoo

27. See The Hollywood Sign

Hollywood is the city of dreams for so many and the sight of many incredible attractions. Perhaps one of the most recognized is the iconic 45-foot-tall, 350-foot-long Hollywood Sign that originally spelled out Hollywoodland back in the day. You can get a good view of the sign for your photos from Griffith Park or the corner of Windsor and 5th Street.

28. Drink Holman Ranch Wines

The beautiful Holman Ranch Estate Vineyard & Winery in Carmel Valley is a California vineyard producing exquisite estate-grown varietals since 1928. Not only can you experience Holman Ranch wines and their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir labels and boutique wines, but you can also stay at the amazing property with views of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Choose from the 14 rustic guest rooms and enjoy the sprawling property, game room, stone terrace, and inner courtyard. 

holman ranch vineyards

29. Visit Haight-Ashbury

Haight-Ashbury is home to hippies, or at least it was in the 1960s and 70s when love-ins were a popular thing. Now, the Haight is famous for vintage clothing boutiques, record shops, and dive bars. I like going there for the cool street murals and eclectic businesses, plus the Victorian homes are fantastic. Be sure to look for the Grateful Dead House.

haight ashbury ca

30. Play At The Santa Monica Pier

I can’t say enough about how fantastic the Santa Monica Pier is. While it may be a tourist trap to some, to me, it screams California in every way. Whether you choose to eat a fantastic seafood meal from The Lobster at the entrance of the pier or partake in the arsenal of fun rides, games, and carnival eats, everyone in the family is sure to have a good time at this California landmark.

santa monica pier

31. Have A Habit Burger

Forget In and Out Burger, The Habit Burger Grill is by far better tasting. This California fast-food restaurant features amazingly juicy chargrilled burgers. Add a side of perfectly-seasoned, crisp French or sweet potato fries, onion rings, or tempura green beans to complete your meal. Not a beef fan? How about an ahi tuna or chicken sandwich or veggie burger. The Habit has been in business since 1969.

32. Take In Venice Beach

Cheesy, touristy, and downright bizarre is how I describe Venice Beach, and I visit every time I’m in the area. Venice Beach is filled with all things that might invoke the term redneck, but in a fun-filled, grungy way that is eye-opening. Don’t miss the bodybuilders, pot shops, t-shirt stands, skatepark, and street performers.

Fun Fact: Until 2017, you could visit the Venice Beach Freakshow, which was in a class of its own.

venice beach shops and boardwalk

33. See The Elephant Seals

Big Sur Beach is full of hundreds, if not thousands, of big, fat elephant seals. The Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery spreads over miles of shoreline along California’s scenic coast. Seeing the seals are really fun, but hearing them singing, yelling, fighting, whatever they are doing, is even better. There are hundreds of them, too. I could seriously sit for hours and watch them frolic and hop across the sand, clumsily hauling their several thousand-pound bodies.

sea-lions-pacific-coast-highway

34. Stroll The Hollywood Walk Of Fame

Hollywood’s legendary Walk of Fame features stars awarded to those achieving success in one (or more) of the five possible categories. Categories are television, motion pictures, recording, radio, and live performance. Walk the 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard (and three blocks of Vine), comprised of 2690 stars to see your favorites, including Walt Disney, Daniel Radcliffe, Tim Allen, Drew Barrymore, and Buzz Aldrin, to name a few. 

Fun fact: Gene Autry is the only person on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame that met all five categories.

hollywood star walk

35. Ride The Roaring Camp Railroad

Located in Felton, the Roaring Camp Railroad is a family-friendly tourist attraction that is good, clean fun. Board the steam train for a 3.25-mile jaunt through the redwood forests, admiring Bear Mountain from the top. When you return, visit the general store, tour the museum, and take photos at the picturesque covered bridge before indulging in a buffet-style chuckwagon bbq with live music.

47 Cool things to see and do in California

36. Explore Fisherman’s Wharf

San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf is a place everyone should see at least once in their life and where the local fishermen market their catch. Restaurants use those ingredients to whip up the best crab and clam chowder you’ve ever had—try it in a signature bread bowl. You’ll taste the best sourdough at Boudin Bakery, baking magic since 1849, in a multitude of different sized and shaped loaves. Conveyor belts even run around the shop carrying the loaves as they cool.

You’ll find some legendary businesses in this part of town, like Ghiradelli and of course the adorable sea lions. Fisherman’s Wharf also offers views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

san Francisco fisherman's wharf
sourdough bread san francisco

37. Visit The Conservatory Of Flowers

The most famous resident at the Golden Gate Park is the Conservatory of Flowers, a botanical garden and greenhouse that houses rare and exotic plants. The wooden conservatory was finished in 1879 and is the oldest building in the state park. With construction completed in 1879, it is the oldest building in the park, now the third most visited park in the country. Designations include California Historical Landmark and National Register of Historic Places, to name two. Exhibit rooms range from aquatics to lowlands and highlands to potted plants. The water Lilies and lotus pants are my favorites.

conservatory of flowers

38. Shop The Grove

One of the best shopping destinations is The Grove in Los Angeles, a multiplex of high-end shops and famous boutiques with an incredible selection of clothing, accessories, and trendy items. Our favorite residents are American Girl Place, Madewell, See’s Candies, and Nordstrom. Also at The Grove is LA’s legendary Farmer’s Market, a sprawling market with incredible eateries, gourmet grocers, and shops. Come hungry; you’re going to want everything you see and smell. 

39. Stop By Marina Del Rey

If for nothing more than to capture a photo by the sign that country-music great George Strait sang about, Marina Del Rey is a gorgeous seaside town with vibrant blooms and waterfront dining and hotels. You can also get out on the water in a wide variety of ways, with fishing and sailing being the two most popular.

marina del ray sign

40. See The Carlsbad Flower Fields

I lucked into seeing the colorful and eye-catching Flower Fields on a visit to Carlsbad, California, one year. The stunning views and bright blooms are among the most extraordinary things you can see or do in this quaint North San Diego town. Fifty acres come to life during this annual 40-year tradition. Seeing the American Flag of Flowers is my favorite part of the event. Antique tractor wagon tours, Sweet Pea maze, and Santa’s Playground are all things the little ones will enjoy. 

flower fields carlsbad

41. Go To The Zoo

The Oakland Zoo is a special place to enjoy animal visits, learn about conservation, and ride the ADA-accessible gondolas from the central zoo to the California Trail for impressive city and mountain views. The Oakland Zoo, established in 1922, contains elephants, bison, black and Grizzly bears, and jaguars, to name a few. Amphibians, birds, reptiles, and invertebrates also have unique features and educational sections at the zoo. 

One of the newest attractions at the Oakland Zoo is Glowfari, with colorful, illuminated lanterns in animal shapes.

oakland zoo funicular

42. Attend An International Film Festival

The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, in its 27th year, runs like a well-oiled machine. Visit a host of theaters (Fremont and The Palm) and venues in neighboring seaside towns to see incredible movies during a six-day annual event showcasing classic and contemporary screenings. The festival will pick a winner for the King Vidor Award for Excellence in Filmmaking, a tribute to an industry professional who has made a notable artistic contribution to the industry.

fremont theater international film festival

43. Eat Goodies From Porto’s Bakery

You’ve had the rest, now have the best. Pastries, that is. Portos Bakery & Cafe is a huge Cuban bakery chain in Southern California with six locations. Anything pastry-related that you can think of is offered in this world-class eatery. You can also order your drink of choice ranging from teas, coffee, and smoothies to soda, juice, milk, and mojito fusions. 

portos bakery california

44. Attend An Event At The Staples Center

The STAPLES Center is Los Angeles’ contribution to the sports and entertainment center of the world. Yes, world. Opened in 1999, the STAPLES Center has hosted Taylor Swift, Kane Brown, and Bruce Springsteen in the past and is home to the LA Clippers (hockey) and LA Kings (basketball) games and some minor league teams. It has also hosted the Grammy Awards 19 times. Pre-COVID, the STAPLES Center hosted 250 events annually and saw four million guests each year. A statue dedicated to Kobe Bryant will stand in front of the venue in the future. 

staples center california

45. See San Fran’s Painted Ladies

If you see the colorfully painted houses throughout San Francisco, ones that make your jaw drop due to intricate detail and beauty, chances are, you’ve found the Painted Ladies. The Victorian and Edwardian houses are noticeable by the three or more paint colors that embellish their innovative architectural features and dramatic windows. Many of the homes were built in the late 1800s and renovated for nearly 50 years now. Prices run the gamut from two to five or six million, many in need of repair, and pay tribute to the California Gold Rush.

painted ladies san francisco

46. Admire San Diego’s Skyline

San Diego has a gorgeous skyline and waterfront views that are often overshadowed by more popular California coastal towns. I love the city and think that taking a Hornblower cruise is one of the best ways to capture its eloquence and magnificent photo-ops. If you are in town on a Sunday, you can board the Hornblower San Diego Champagne Brunch cruise, really fun and packed with delicious food and drinks.

san diego skyline

47. Have A Beach Bonfire

The city of Santa Cruz, California, is home to eye-catching sunsets and killer beaches, but also the historic amusement park (SC Beach Boardwalk) right on the water’s edge. Residents and tourists take advantage of the sprawling beach, with picture-perfect views, to camp, sunbathe, frolic, and have bonfires. I was lucky to participate in one with the tourism board, complete with S’Mores, on my visit. Santa Cruz has a vibe that I almost didn’t recognize for California and one that I would visit again and again.

bonfire on santa cruz beach

Where To Stay

We have stayed at some amazing properties on our California visits. A few of our favorites are:

california hotels
california hotels and resorts

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47 fun things to do in CA
47 fun things to do in California

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