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). Whether you want to take a scenic road trip along Highway 1, explore incredible natural wildlife at Yosemite or check out the architecture and cool vibes of Palm Springs, here are just a few beautiful places in California to add to your Golden State bucket list.
The 10 Most Beautiful Places in California
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- Why We Love It: sandy beaches, gorgeous views, charming restaurants and shops
- Where to Stay: Balboa Bay Resort (from $429/night), Renaissance Newport Beach Hotel (from $220/night), The Westin South Coast Plaza (from $229/night)
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.
2. Big Sur
- Why We Love It: redwood forests, scenic drive, beautiful coastline
- Where to Stay: Ventana Big Sur (from $3,300/night), Big Sur Blue Cottage with Ocean View (from $590/night), Forest Yurt in Big Sur (from $368/night)
Can you think of a more iconic California visual than the Bixby Bridge along Highway 1? We’ll wait. This rugged landscape has remained relatively untouched, giving visitors breathtaking views of dramatic cliffs, coastal redwoods and the Pacific Ocean. 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.
- Why We Love It: sandy beaches, wineries, charming downtown
- Where to Stay: Harbor View Inn (from $336), Mason Beach Inn (from $331), Marina Beach Motel ($272)
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).
- Why We Love It: crystal-clear waters, beautiful coastline, charming coastal towns
- Where to Stay: Aurora Hotel ($285), Seacrest Inn ($157), Hotel Atwater ($399)
About 29 miles south of Long Beach lies Catalina Island, a small slice 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 also offers lounge chairs and cabanas for rent and is a great escape from the tourist crowds.
5. Napa Valley
- Why We Love It: world-class wines, beautiful scenery, great food
- Where to Stay: Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection (from $1,100); The Inn on Pine (from $209); Hotel Napa Valley Ascend Hotel Collection (from $259)
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.
- Why We Love It: beautiful beaches, fresh seafood, great hiking
- Where to Stay: Calamigos Guest Ranch and Beach Club (from $530/night), Malibu Beach Inn ($1,495/night), Topanga Canyon Inn B&B (from $290/night)
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).
- Why We Love It: wineries, hot air ballooning, golfing
- Where to Stay: Temecula Creek Inn (from $205), South Coast Winery Resort & Spa (from $254), Signature Temecula (from $90/night)
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, award-winning golf courses 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.
8. Lake Tahoe
- Why We Love It: outdoor activities, scenic views, luxury resorts
- Where to Stay: Edgewood Tahoe Resort (from $859/night), Bluelake Inn at Tahoe (from $98)/night, Hotel Azure (from $283/night)
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.
9. Palm Springs
- Why We Love It: cool architecture, desert scenery, great food
- Where to Stay: Ace Hotel and Swim Club (from $160/night), Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs (from $259/night), The Skylark (from $98/night)
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.
- Why We Love It: picturesque views, waterfalls, natural wildlife
- Where to Stay: Micro Cabin at Glamping Resort near Yosemite (from $159/night), Cabin in Oakhurst (from $175/night), The River Sage (from $203/night)
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.
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