Things to do in California: Attractions and places to visit

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Endless coastal roads, perfect surfing beaches, the glittering world of Hollywood, gigantic amusement parks and breathtaking national parks – the state of California not only arouses special expectations among American holidaymakers. More and more German tourists appreciate the diversity of the Sunshine State.

Boredom is a foreign word in California, because the abundance of excursion possibilities and activities is almost endless. The state is ideal for round trips and road trips with your own rental car. In this way, you can combine several regions at your own personal pace.

Below we present you the most exciting tours, the most beautiful attractions and the best sights in California.

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Baker Beach an der Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco (Chee-Onn Leong /  lizenziertes Stockfoto 
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1. Redwood National Park

If the northwest coast of California is known for one thing, it is its forests with gigantic redwood trees. The sequoia trees thrive in the consistently damp, often foggy forests and reach a height of up to 115 metres. No wonder the majestic backdrop was used as the location for Waldmond Endor in the third part of Star Wars.

Redwood National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 and is a paradise for hikers and cyclists. The visitor centre provides information about the multitude of hiking trails, and here you can also learn more about the ecology of the park. If you’re lucky, you’ll see shy visitors such as Roosevelt elks and giant salamanders in the vastness of the redwood forest.

2. Yosemite National Park

John Muir, the American “father of the national parks”, was astonished when he entered the Yosemite Valley in eastern California for the first time in May 1868. He spent the next ten years exploring the mountains, forests and lakes of this first national park in the United States. At 600 to 4,000 metres above sea level there are diverse ecosystems.

Unique soils let sprout plant species that attract thousands of butterflies. Visitors wander in the shade of the sequoia trees, follow crystal-clear rivers and let their gaze wander over the Bridalveil waterfall. If you want to get a taste of the mountain air, you can climb the granite mountain Half Dome at dawn. In the Ansel Adams Gallery, guests marvel at historic black and white prints of the landscape, and the Yosemite Museum displays relics of the Ahwahnechee Indians who once lived in the valley.

3. Big Sur on Highway One

When visiting the Sunshine State, a road trip to the Pacific coast is a must. California offers many picturesque routes where you can feel the vastness of the country and the fresh sea breeze, and one of the most beautiful is the Highway One from San Francisco to San Diego. Along the rugged rocky coast, visitors drive through the sparsely populated area of Big Sur and cross the Bixby Bridge – a landmark known from numerous car advertisements.

Stop to your heart’s content at the roadside and look out for Californian condors in the sky. With a little luck you will see sea lions, otters and grey whales off the coast. And if you feel like taking a dip yourself at the sight of the surf, make a stop at Huntington Beach.

4. Golden Gate Bridge

Few buildings have the cult status of this bridge, which was opened in 1937 and is considered one of the modern wonders of the world. Once the longest suspension bridge in the world, this masterpiece of engineering extends 1.3 kilometers across San Francisco Bay. The orange paint was originally only used to protect against rust, but the inhabitants liked it because it matched the landscape and contributed to the building’s fame.

Visitors are free to choose whether to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, cycle or walk. They can stop on a hard shoulder and let their gaze wander to the prison island of Alcatraz. A special highlight is a night drive over the bridge towards the glittering skyline of San Francisco.

5. San Diego

When it comes to California’s most beautiful sights, one city is often forgotten: San Diego. The state’s second largest city is full of attractions and highlights, offers a very special flair and is much less excited than Los Angeles, for example. The most important visitor magnet in the port of the city is the gigantic USS Midway Museum on a former aircraft carrier.

Even non-military fans get exciting impressions here and can better understand a piece of American identity thanks to the very good audio guides. The Gaslamp Quarter San Diego is a charming quarter during the day and turns into the nightlife mile of the city in the evening. A day trip to La Jolla, where large seal colonies can be admired on the beach, is highly recommended. At sunset, drive onto the rugged cliffs of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park!

6. Napa Valley

California shows itself from a less known side in the Napa Valley on the west coast. One hour north of San Francesco there are more than 400 wineries. No wonder, since the Mediterranean climate ensures that Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Chardonnay grapes of world-famous quality grow here. Nearly 5 million tourists visit the wine-growing region every year – making Napa Valley the second most popular tourist attraction in California after Disneyland


In spring, the landscape is dominated by lush greenery and yellow flowers of mustard plants, while the summer attracts guests with wine tastings. One of the most impressive wineries is the Castello di Amorosa, where visitors can admire a replica of a 13th century castle – a worthy setting for fine wines.

7. Universal Studios

Visitors who want to take a look behind the scenes of Hollywood’s dream factory should visit Universal Studios in Los Angeles. Formerly only the starting point for tours to the film company’s studios, over the years it has become one of the most visited theme parks in the USA.

The park’s rides take guests into the primeval setting of Jurassic Park and the Harry Potter village of Hogsmeade, while fans of the cartoon series The Simpsons visit replicas of Moe´s Taverne and Krusty Burger. At the WaterWorld show Hollywood stuntmen prove their skills and at the Walking Dead Attraction visitors get up close and personal with creepy zombies. If you like it more relaxed, visit NBC Universal, a museum with film costumes and props.

8. Disneyland

No amusement park in the world has so many visitors every year as Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Already opened in the 50’s, the park has been steadily expanded since then and today consists of 8 “countries” with an abundance of sights and attractions. In “Mainstreet USA” rises the iconic Dornrösschen Castle, while the tropical Adventureland houses a jungle roller coaster and Tarzan’s tree house.

The ghost house in New Orleans Square is a creepy experience, and in Frontierland visitors are taken back in time to the Wild West – including a saloon and western show. Guests experience a humid and cheerful pleasure at the Splash Mountain whitewater ride, and at Fantasyland you feel like you are in a Bavarian village. Numerous other sights make Disneyland an attraction that will not let you get bored.

9. Hollywood Boulevard

Hollywood’s glamour and glamour is experienced by visitors on Hollywood Boulevard, which stretches from Sunset Plaza Drive to Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Here guests get very close to their favourite movie stars – not the real people, but the stars with which they were immortalized on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Other celebrities have left their hand and footprints in the entrance area of the Chinese Theatre. Opened in 1972, the theatre is now a state-of-the-art cinema where Oscars have already been awarded. Those who not only want to see their idols but also want to touch them can visit the Hollywood Wax Museum. In addition to real film stars, film monsters also populate the museum.

10. Death Valley

Hardly any other place in the USA is as hostile to life and at the same time as beautiful as the Death Valley National Park in southeast California. The highest temperatures in the world were measured in this region of extremes in 1936. It is the driest place in North America and at the same time the lowest – 86 meters below sea level.

Here you will find mysterious singing rocks, bizarrely coloured sandstone canyons, sand dunes of impressive size and extensive salt pans. In spring, however, the landscape changes radically. Then wildflowers dip the desert, awakened to life, into a sea of golden flowers.

More things to do and activities for your California holiday

Best time to visit California

We recommend the following months as best time to travel for exploring the attractions and acivities of California:

April, May, June, July, August, September, and October

You can find more information about the weather, including all climate data, on our climate page for California.

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