The 10 Most Beautiful Places in California

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The beauty of living in California is that no matter which direction you’re headed, you are always in close proximity to either the beach, mountains or desert. In fact, you can technically hit the slopes and the beach all in one day (OK, it’s a little ambitious but it is possible). If you’ve been dreaming of the scenic road trip along Highway 1, now is the perfect time to start planning. California is a nature lover’s paradise and there is so much to explore outdoors with something here for everyone. From the idyllic town of Newport Beach to the hot desert in Palm Springs, here are just a few beautiful places in California to add to your Golden State bucket list.

Editor’s note: Please remember to mask up and follow social distancing protocols while traveling and be sure to check up on the town’s health and safety guidelines before you go.

The 15 Most Charming Beach Towns in Southern California

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1. Newport Beach

Newport Beach is well-known for its sparkling coastline and beautiful beaches that stretch for 10 miles. On the southern end of Newport Beach, located off of the busy Pacific Coast Highway, lies Crystal Cove State Park surrounded by 18 miles of hiking trails in the wilderness, an underwater park for scuba divers, tide pools and historic 1930s-style cottages. Go for an early morning walk along the beach and reward yourself with breakfast at The Beachcomber, a casual oceanfront restaurant at Crystal Cove (but prepare to wait over an hour on weekends). For an unforgettable happy hour, visit the Coliseum Pool and Grill at The Resort at Pelican Hill during sunset and admire the cotton candy skies. The resort's timeless Italian-inspired architecture may be the closest you'll get to Rome this summer.

Where to stay: This four-bedroom bayside home from Marriot Homes & Villas sleeps 10 and boasts a private dock, kayaks, boogie boards, skimboards, a hammock, a fire pit and a BBQ. While we wouldn’t blame you for never leaving this charming coastal home, if you did feel like venturing out you’re only a short walk away to Balboa Island and the Newport Pier.

Visit California, Myles McGuinness

2. Big Sur

Can you think of a more iconic California visual than the Bixby Bridge along Highway 1? We’ll wait. After a massive landslide destroyed a 150-foot section of the highway, Caltrans recently announced the road repairs would be completed just in time for summer so now’s the time to start planning your bucket list road trip. Spot wildflowers in full bloom at Garrapata State Park and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and shop plastic-free and support woman-owned businesses at Big Sur Dry Goods.

Where to stay: This oceanfront home for six guests is perched on a private ridge high above the Pacific. Here you can take in the breathtaking views below, including dolphins, wales, fishing boats and soaring birds…not to mention the most gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.

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3. Santa Barbara

Situated in coastal California just two hours away from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is full of picturesque landscapes living up to its nickname, the American Riviera. Towering palm trees set against the Santa Ynez mountain ranges and cobalt blue waters make this laidback beach town an iconic California backdrop and home to some of the best Mexican food in SoCal. Get a taste of Oaxacan cuisine at Flor de Maiz, and try one of their housemade mole dishes paired with a specialty margarita or a craft cocktail like the Mitla made with mezcal. If you prefer a quieter retreat, the neighboring town of Montecito is where you’ll find the same panoramic views but with less crowds (and maybe a Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sighting).

Where to stay: You can’t beat the location of this sunny Santa Barbara beach house—it’s walking distance to the area’s many shops, museums, parks, restaurants and grocery stores (like Convivo and Tri-County Grocery). And while you and your four other guests can happily sit back and take in the ocean views from the furnished patio, you’re also just one mile from the Santa Barbara pier.

Courtesy of Love Catalina Island

4. Catalina Island

About 29 miles south of Long Beach lies Catalina Island, a small piece of paradise. Plenty of water and land activities are offered on the island to enjoy on your own or with a guide from Catalina Backcountry. Descanso Beach Club, a 15-minute walk from town, offers the famous buffalo milk cocktail, an ode to the island’s buffalo population. The private beach club offers lounge chairs and cabanas for rent and is a great escape from the tourist crowds.

Where to stay: This one-bedroom Hamilton Cove villa comes with the ultimate Catalina Island accessory—a golf cart. But the private white-sand beach, pool, spa and workout room located just 100 steps away aren’t too shabby, either.

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5. Napa Valley

After slowly recovering from the Glass Fires at the end of 2020 (during a pandemic, no less) Napa Valley is ready to bounce back and welcome visitors again to the epicenter of wine. World-class wineries and exquisite fine dining at Michelin-star restaurants are just a few of the things Napa Valley has to offer. Indulge in a mud bath treatment at the 20,000 square-foot spa at Solage in Calistoga or rent a bicycle with Napa Valley Bike Tours for a guided (or self-guided) tour. Ride along the 12.5 mile Napa Valley Vine Trail and choose from over 375 wineries to go wine tasting.

Where to stay: After a busy day of wine tasting, spa treatments and cycling, unwind at the sleek and sustainably-driven Bardessono Hotel & Spa for a quiet escape nestled in the mountains.

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6. Malibu

Malibu is notorious for its 21 miles of iconic coastline, celebrity sightings, and avid surfers—it’s a quintessential California destination. It’s also the backdrop for many famous Hollywood movies like The Fast and the Furious and The Notebook, to name a few. Go for a drive on PCH and take your pick of Malibu beaches but we recommend Zuma Beach or Paradise Cove Beach which are less crowded. If you’re lucky enough to snag a reservation at Nobu Malibu which fills up weeks in advance, request a table outside to enjoy oceanfront views. For more casual fare, check out Malibu Farm Restaurant at the Malibu Pier, a boho chic seaside eatery serving healthy, farm-to-table fare with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options (because it’s LA).

Where to stay: This beautiful, breezy ocean view home boasts five bedrooms, two living rooms, a pool table and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. In the daytime, check out Zuma beach across the street or hit up the Zuma Canyon Trailhead. Then unwind in the evening with some BBQ and a glass of California’s finest Merlot in front of the fire pit.

Visit Temecula Valley

7. Temecula

Temecula Valley is Southern California’s answer to wine country. The quaint town about an hour south of Irvine is best known for its approachable wineries and hot air balloon rides floating over the vineyards. For a unique wine tasting experience on the ground, book a tour with So-Cal Sidecars and cruise through the back roads and vineyards in a sidecar based on an original WWII era Soviet Ural. In Old Town Temecula, the new Small Barn Old Town is an excellent rustic chic restaurant with a massive outdoor patio and a menu that revolves around what’s local and in season. A few stores down is Temecula Lavender Co. where you can stock up on essential oils, bath and body products and all things lavender.

Where to stay: This five-bedroom stunner is surrounded by four acres of vineyards and features a pool flanked by citrus and avocado trees, plus a stone and marble summer kitchen. Carter Estate Winery and Resort is also good choice for spacious bungalows with patios overlooking the vineyard. Pro-tip: You’ll get a front-row seat to an epic sunset.

Visit California, Myles McGuinness

8. Lake Tahoe

Emerald Bay in South Lake Tahoe offers one of the most breathtaking views we’ve ever seen. The turquoise blue-green colors of the water enclosed by verdant pine trees is a view we’ll never get tired of. Explore the lake on a stand-up paddleboard or rent kayaks at Baldwin Beach for a scenic ride. See if you can spot Vikingsholm Castle, a historic landmark inspired by Scandinavian architecture tucked away on the lake but open for tours.

Where to stay: Edgewood Tahoe is an excellent choice for luxury lodging by the lake but it is on the Nevada side, just a short 25-minute drive from Emerald Bay.

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9. Palm Springs

While most people make the trip out to Palm Springs around Coachella season, the desert is a dreamy retreat year-round for urban dwellers who want to slow down and add a little zen in their life. Drive by quirky mid-century modern homes that tell juicy stories of the Golden Age of Hollywood or choose from dozens of hiking trails amongst the majestic mountains. And while you may think the desert is not the kind of place to have sushi, Sandfish Sushi & Whiskey will prove you wrong. The Scandanavian-inspired concept is bending all the rules by bringing an elevated sushi experience to Palm Springs that is meant to be paired with their extensive whiskey menu.

Where to stay: For families, this recently-renovated two-bedroom condo in downtown Palm Springs is a great pick. The Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs is also conveniently located—it’s adjacent to the Palm Springs Art Museum which is also worth a visit.

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10. Yosemite National Park

If you’re craving a dose of nature, Yosemite National Park is the answer to your wilderness prayers. Get lost in the giant sequoias and chase waterfalls which are best viewed in May or June just before the hordes of tourists come in. The best way to explore Yosemite is by foot and there are plenty of hiking trails for all levels including The Mist Trails and the popular Half Dome trail.

Where to stay: If camping is not your thing, AutoCamp Yosemite is a deluxe airstream experience about 40 minutes west of the Arch Rock Entrance to Yosemite National Park.

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