Things to do in California: Explore 20 Gems in the Golden State

Last Updated on October 30, 2020 by Darrif William

Calling California by different nicknames is not that difficult. The sheer glamour and the infrastructure will give you enough words to frame scores of nicknames that can perk up anyone. Whether you call it ‘nature’s greatest temple’ or ‘a playground of cars and coastlines’, the diversity of the Golden State will spellbind you time and time again. First timers visiting this enthralling state could start from the bottom and work their way to the top – the zoo in San Diego, shopping zones in Los Angeles, drive down the Big Sur, soak up appealing sights of Carmel and Solvang, Sacramento, Napa Valley and on and on and on…if you wish to skip Disney and the beaches, you can, you will not miss out anything as there are other umpteen things to see, do, explore and experience in California. Among 482 cities in California alone, take a walk to discover the things to do in California’s top cities…maybe a 20. Let’s begin with the capital – Sacraaaamento!

1 – Say ‘Hi’ to the animals in Sacramento

the animals in Sacramento

Sacramento Zoo or Saczoo might seem to be like any normal zoo, but the history of this zoo is mind-blowing. From a tiny zoo in the park (4.2 acres) with 40 collected animals including monkeys, raccoons, birds and deer, it grew to be an impressive place of fascination with more than 500 animals (14.3 acres) from all over the globe including rare African and South American species such as fennec foxes, aardvarks, fruit bats, Wolf’s guenon, red-billed hornbill, and crested guineafowl. The Sacramento zoo also educates on conservation and recreation. It’s an amazing place for children, where they can watch and interact with the animals.

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2 – Take the Universal Studio Tour in Los Angeles

Universal Studio Tour in Los Angeles

With 1001 things to do in Los Angeles alone, this glitzy city can leave you awestruck. Los Angeles is world-famous as the entertainment capital of the world. Out of the several classic attractions, the Universal Studio is a world in itself. Beginners and returning visitors will surely have the ultimate experience at the Universal Studio tour – the original illustrious attraction of Los Angeles. With Jimmy Fallon’s baritone-voiced narration, visitors will have a gala time exploring what all goes behind in making a Hollywood movie. The highlights include King Kong 360 3D and one of the largest 3D experience. Beware: your kids might not even want to leave the place.

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3 – Explore Balboa Park in San Diego

San Diego

In a metropolis like San Diego, which has transcendent beaches, bewitching cultural wonders, flourishing culinary scene and everything else an elite city could offer, trying to choose one can be confounding. Whether you want to explore Balboa Park, walk around Gaslamp Quarter, spend an evening at La Jolla, explore Little Italy, laze on the Pacific Beach or elsewhere, there’s more to one can think or imagine. If you talk to any San Diego local, Balboa Park is the talk of the town. It has 16 museums, performing arts centre, outdoor places, kid’s playground, Japanese friendship garden, golf lawn, tennis court, bowling and biking trails. No wonder, it’s a scene from a fairy tale!

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4 – Mix among Nature and City Life at San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco needs no introduction. This world-class city stretches only 7 miles but it is packed with abundant outdoor activities – from food tours, museums, water & amusement parks, cable car rides to key buildings and structures. Among all the iconic structures and attractions, the Golden Gate Bridge & the Park, Alcatraz Island and Fisherman’s Wharf are the key attractions. Food lovers can grab a bite at the Ferry Building Marketplace or relish street food at Castro. If you wish to see the mountainous life and city life together, San Francisco is the perfect getaway. The Twin Parks offers the best hiking and climbing trails for nature lovers with captivating views of the city below.

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5 – San Jose Bleisure?

San Jose

Business or leisure? You will find endless things to do in your spare time. Spend an afternoon at the Children’s Discovery Museum and at the legendary San Jose Museum. The famous Silicon Valley is another must-see attraction for you and your kids. Learn about the history and explore the Tech Museum of Innovation. Families can head towards the expansive Great America amusement park at Santa Clara. If hunger strikes, grab good meals at Santana Row. Shoppers can explore San Jose Farmers’ Markets, the luxurious Great Mall and branded Gilroy Outlets. Enjoy shop hopping at the enchanting Willow Glen shop and marvel at the antique treasures.

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6 – Explore the heart of Yosemite National Park in Fresno

the heart of Yosemite National Park in Fresno

Located at the heart of San Joaquin Valley, on the edge of San Joaquin River, Fresno is the fifth largest city with several things to keep visitors entertained. Home to the Yosemite National Park, River Park shopping, underground gardens, the grand Fresno fair and more, the city of Fresno is no more underrated. With so much to see, do and explore, nothing beats the designated UNESCO World Heritage Site Yosemite National Park. Famous for stunning waterfalls, granite cliffs and over 700 miles of trails, this is the Eden of the modern world.

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7 – Stay beside Lake Merritt in Oakland


Oaklanders say – the worst thing in life is not to experience all the 40 things in Oakland city. And yes, it’s true to an extent. Oakland has a bucket list beginning from eating and sightseeing to several city tours and fests. If you are in the city for a good amount of days, there are several things you can do but if you’re just enjoying a city break there are a few must-try things that you should not miss – visit Children’s Fairyland with your family and let the kids enjoy to their best. Since the city sits beside Lake Merritt, you would not mind enjoying a gondola ride, would you? Nature lovers can head towards Merritt College parking and capture the stunning sunset. All you foodies Shan Dong Restaurant, Dorothy Everett, Jones BBQ are the place to resurrect your taste buds with a bowl of hand-pulled noodles and dig into some luscious ribs.

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8 – Experience best Californian living in Long Beach

Long Beach

Perfect climate, enchanting local culture and an assortment of cuisine will grip your senses in Long Beach – there’s so much to do. Whether you’re alone or with your family explore the Aquarium of Pacific that features more than 12,000 animals and 500 species of marine life. Lingering around the ocean will give you a chance to spot whales. Get deep into the historical facts while exploring the Shoreline Village located along the striking harbour. Shopping is fun at Long Beach; locate your favourite dealer and retailer and fill your bags with your desired merchandise. If you’re after vintage items, the Retro Row is a must-visit. There are two famous museums – The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) and the Long Beach Museum Art. Enjoy the displays and a delectable lunch at the waterfront restaurant.

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9 – Enjoy nature’s best in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is specially made for nature lovers. Take in the views of the Pacific Ocean while driving down West Cliff Drive and Natural Bridges State Beach. Enjoy fun under the sun while shopping at iconic places such as the Santa Cruz Wharf and the Beach Broadway. For some respite from the sun, tourists can always jump on board the Roaring Camp Railroads for a ride through the woodlands.

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10 – Revive, Refresh and Refuel in Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Resting in the shades of the San Jacinto Mountains, Palm Springs doesn’t believe in itineraries – don’t keep a list of to-do things while exploring Palm Springs. Here, ‘enjoyment’ is the keyword and remember to do more than just beach activities and sunbathing. The surrounding brownish mountains and deep gorges provide hikes and skiing. See more of nature at the Joshua Tree National Park – from Hidden Valley hikes to the Cholla Cactus Garden.

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11 – Meet the World of Harry Potter in Burbank


Burbank is home to several things related to entertainment but the city holds other surprises too. If you like the outdoors – the lakes and the sea and the effects of the Universal or Warner Bros Studios, Burbank is the best place for you. Take your kids to the USH or Universal Studios Hollywood and show them behind the scenes of a movie. Explore the world of Harry Potter, King Kong 3D, the World of Fast and Furious, and more.

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12 – Ride the Waves in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

Often referred to as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is extremely cool. Thanks to the stunning shores, nearby hills and the amazing weather, window shopping while sipping smoothies is fun but there’s more. This captivating Californian city has a wealth of things you can do – art, culture, nightlife, festivals and food. Begin with hiking at the Santa Ynez Mountains looking down at the city or soak up the sunset with the Santa Barbara Cruise. The views, the breeze and the booze will give you more for your money. Leave your camera and take your money – shopping is fun! Do not miss the boutiques of La Arcada and the grand products. Butterfly Beach is best for families and sunsets. Engage in a game of volleyball and ride the friendly waves.

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13 – Sip country’s best wines in Sonoma


Lush hills, flourishing vineyards, coastal trails and grand architecture are the crowning factors that make Sonoma an irresistible city. Top places include Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, Cline Cellars and Ravenswood Winery. But newcomers with an image of a holiday destination will truly enjoy every bit with complete rest and relaxation. So where to start? At the Sonoma Plaza, of course! This historic spot is a must-do – more than 100 shops, scores of eateries, dining and spots where your kids can run around freely. Explore the Sonoma Coast State Park that seems to go on and on for nearly 20 miles along the majestic Pacific Ocean. Admire explored and unexplored beaches, prairies and craggy shorelines that sizzle in that area.

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14 – Experience cultural flavours in Stockton    


Have some fun things in mind? Look no further than Stockton. Well-known as one enlivening bundle of joy in the Mid Valley District, Stockton has several things to keep you on your toes. Whether you are here for a short time, just passing by or looking forward to great and grand holidays, it’s not hard to begin a tour. Indulge in a variety of amusing activities at the Oak Grove Park or spot different types of roses at the Victory Park. What better way to leisure out with your family than being in Pixie Woods? Combine fairytale moments with modern entertainment and spend a day with your family and loved ones.

15 – Travel back into time in Tuolumne


Tuolumne County is the entrance to the vast Yosemite and High Sierra explorations. Just 3 hours east of San Francisco Bay, Tuolumne is accessible throughout the year for all-season adventure and fun. Enjoy limitless outdoor recreation, shopping, historic tours, sightseeing, camping resorts and more. Tuolumne County is the superlative destination for families, couples and friends. From camping to full-service resorts, visitors will find lodging for every budget and taste.

16 – Cherish seaside moments at Santa Monica

Santa Monica

A perfect beach town with abundant attractions – that’s what Santa Monica offers. With a laid-back appeal, this tiny Californian wonder balances coastal charm along with modern city sophistication. Perfect for beach and water activities, it attracts swimmers, surfers and divers. Whether you hire a bike or enjoy a ride on the biking trail, get your surfing board and spend your time at the sea, explore Santa Monica Pier and relish your favourite dish, take your kids to the Pier Aquarium, enjoy oceanfront stroll and other amazing things, you cannot get Santa Monica off your mind.

17 – Away from Concrete and Chaos in Malibu


Malibu offers coastal respite with a laid-back lifestyle but it’s much more than beach activities. Hop on a Wine Safari Tour Bus, explore the beauty of El Matador State Beach, hike uphill to admire the 150 foot tall Escondido waterfall and Solstice Canyon, relish great seafood, go shopping at the Malibu Country Mart and sip wine.

18 – Find Hidden Gems in Newport Beach

Newport Beach

Newport is the hidden gem of the Californian coast with frequent celebrity visits – Paris Hilton, Kate Moss and the Kardashians. When winter leaves you cold and shivering, Newport Beach is the ultimate summer destination with endless things to enjoy – luxury shopping, spa treatments, golf and mingle into the affluent lifestyle. It’s a haven for outdoor activities – surfing, sailing, cycling and hiking. Create everlasting moments on the Californian beaches, awesome breathtaking cliffs, sunset cruises and more.

19 – Take a historic walk around Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is one of the most stunning spots in southern California with unlimited things on offer. From small churches, intricate bungalows, iconic towers, art and marine animals, this town will not allow you to get bored. A few major activities in Laguna Beach include a hike to the pirate tower, try out doing yoga on the water, enjoy snorkeling at Wood’s Cover, take a historic tour, and relish seafood next to the sea and other awe-inspiring activities.

20 – Enjoy Outdoor Haven in Irvine


Enjoy, explore and experience a plethora of outdoor activities in Irvine – right from the Giant Wheel to Splendid Jamboree, the Global Village Festival and others. Whether you’re alone or with your family, get a bird’s eye view of the city 400 feet above the ground, enjoy the 110-foot tall giant wheel, relish international flavours at Diamond Jamboree, explore Irvine Museum, enjoy yourself picking pumpkins, strawberries and melons at Tanaka Organic Farm. Believe me, you’ll be on your toes in Irvine.

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