This post was most recently updated on December 2nd, 2019
From pristine beaches and vineyards, to amusement parks and snow-capped mountains, the Golden State offers a wealth of experiences for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re a visitor or a resident, there’s always something to discover in California.
From the mainstream to the completely unknown, this California bucket list contains 50 different items that you must experience before you die.
How many experiences have you already checked off of this California bucket list? Which ones still remain? *This post contains affiliate links.
The Ultimate California Bucket List
1. Visit the Glass Beach in Fort Bragg
Have you ever seen rainbow-colored sand? Well, you can at Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach, which is piled high with multicolored sea glass. Who knew pollution could be so beautiful?
2. See the Point Reyes Lighthouse
Because Maine isn’t the only state that boasts incredibly scenic lighthouses! Seek out breathtaking scenery, solitude, and a sunset at the Point Reyes Lighthouse.
3. Walk under the Cypress Tree Tunnel
20 minutes north of the Point Reyes Lighthouse lies another historic landmark that’s easy on the eyes: the Cypress Tree Tunnel. Don’t forget your camera; you’ll certainly need it!
4. Marvel at a rare wildflower super bloom in Death Valley
Most of the time Death Valley looks, well, dead. But about once per decade, when the weather patterns are just right, the valley and surrounding mountains erupt with a spectacular show of yellow, pink, and purple wildflowers. Make a point of seeing this rare super bloom once in your lifetime!
5. Watch the sun set at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
This 68-acre coastal attraction offers expansive views of the ocean, Southern California’s rugged coastline, and even the occasional cliff diver. These jagged cliffs paired with gentle pink sunsets serve as a haven for photographers and nature lovers alike.
6. Go wine tasting in Sonoma and Napa
California produces some of the best wine in the world, if not the best. For oenophiles, it would be a shame not to visit the famed Northern California vineyards of Sonoma and Napa.
Consider booking a day tour of the best wineries in the area!
7. Visit the mysterious tower of Laguna Beach
Victoria Beach’s historic Pirate Tower, paired with its azure waters, white sand, rocky tide pools, and jagged cliffs, is a must for all California residents and visitors alike.
You can find great deals on all California accommodations here!
8. Camp in Big Sur
Camping – or better yet, glamping – is surely the best way to experience Big Sur. Different campsites are scattered throughout the area, as well as glamping resorts, complete with luxury yurts and farm-to-table restaurants.
Consider glamping at the Ventana Inn & Spa!
9. Hike up to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
The 16-mile roundtrip hike to Half Dome is not for wimps. But if you’re up to the challenge, the triumphant feeling of finally summiting Half Dome and looking out over all of stunning Yosemite will be worth the effort!
If you have limited time, then consider this Yosemite National Park and Giant Sequoias Day Trip from San Francisco!
10. Fine dine at The French Laundry in Yountville
This three-Michelin-starred restaurant and foodie mecca is the absolute best restaurant in California. If you have a couple hundred dollars to blow on the best fine-dining experience of your life, The French Laundry is a must.
11. Whale watch in Monterey Bay
Few sights will take your breath away more than Monterey Bay’s humpback whales surfacing, and even jumping out of the ocean. Sightings aren’t at all uncommon, so prepare yourself for a real treat!
12. Hike to the Hollywood Sign
Oh, the famed Hollywood Hills! When you visit Los Angeles, can you really leave without hiking to the Hollywood Sign? Well, yeah, you could. But why would you want to?
13. Hot air balloon above Napa Valley’s vineyards
The only thing better than drinking world-famous Napa Valley wine would probably be drinking it from a hot air balloon, soaring over Napa’s rolling hills and lakes.
Book this Napa Valley Hot-Air Balloon Ride which includes a sparkling wine brunch!
14. Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is the most iconic landmark in all of California. If you really want to experience the engineering feat that is the Golden Gate Bridge, why not bike across it? Plus, panoramic views of the Bay Area will make for a nice accompaniment.
15. Take a self-guided food truck tour of Los Angeles
From Texas barbecue and gourmet ice cream, to Korean-Mexican fusion and cheeseburgers, if you want it, you can probably find it on a Los Angeles food truck. For a day of deliciousness, take yourself on a foodie food truck tour in Los Angeles.
16. Scuba dive/snorkel at Catalina island
Just a quick ferry ride away from the mainland lies Catalina Island. If you want to snorkel or scuba dive with bright-colored fish and coral reefs, Catalina Island is the place to do it!
17. Road trip up (or down) Pacific Coast Highway
The famed drive up or down Highway 1 is necessary to experience the best of California’s scenic coastlines, rugged hills, sunsets, and coastal towns. Points of interest along the way include (but certainly aren’t limited to) San Francisco, Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea, San Luis Obispo, Malibu, Santa Monica, and Laguna Beach.
You can find great deals on accommodations throughout California here!
18. Catch waves in Surf City USA
As its name implies, Surf City USA is the place to ride some waves. For those who don’t know, we’re talking about Huntington Beach here.
19. Overlook Los Angeles from Griffith Observatory
For the most spectacular views of Los Angeles, head to Griffith Observatory, located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood. From the Observatory, use the public telescopes to see the stars and ponder the universe, hang out at the café, and take in the city views.
20. Shop at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
Daily, San Francisco’s Ferry Building is filled with a variety of artisanal food and specialty shops, markets, and restaurants. And three days a week, there’s also a bustling outdoor farmer’s market selling the freshest produce, handmade pastas, breads, and so much more. A foodie haven, indeed!
21. Visit San Diego’s legendary breweries
San Diego is home to some of the greatest breweries in California, and the world. If you love beer, or just want to try something new, spend a day or two tasting different beers and touring San Diego’s many breweries!
Find great deals on accommodations near all the San Diego breweries here!
22. See the Redwood National and State Parks
When you see the Redwoods in real life, it’ll be hard to believe they are actually that huge. California’s natural beauty just never stops impressing, does it?
23. Visit Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier
Roller coasters and ferris wheels over the Pacific Ocean? That’s a thing? It is in Santa Monica! Come get your funnel cakes and hot dogs, and enjoy the sea breeze!
Find deals on beachy Santa Monica hotels here!
24. Savor Lake Tahoe’s unspoiled beauty
This California alpine lake couldn’t get any prettier. Whether you’re a photographer, a water skier or wakeboarder, a snowboarder, or a hiker, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Tahoe. Try finding a more beautiful place to do any of those activities; we dare you!
Consider booking this Lake Tahoe Semi-Private Photography Tour to ensure you capture Lake Tahoe’s most stunning views — and even learn some photography tips along the way! This tour has amazing reviews.
25. Eat a Double-Double Cheeseburger at In-N-Out
Because, really, what says California more than a Double-Double and fries, from In-N-Out?
26. Wander the Venice Canals
Named after Italy’s Venice comes a raunchier, more hipster, more Californian counterpart. While in Los Angeles, don’t miss strolling through the canals in Venice Beach. Enjoy a peaceful walk among the sunshine and flowers as boats float along the waterways.
27. Swim with the sea lions at La Jolla Cove
Sea lions are always out to play at La Jolla Cove. On a sunny day, throw on your suit and go for a swim!
28. Visit McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park
The McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park presents the opportunity to hike, fish, picnic, and camp among California’s most beautiful waterfalls. For all you nature lovers, visiting this park is another must!
29. Visit the San Diego Zoo & Safari Park
Can’t afford an African safari just yet? The next best thing might just be spending a day at the San Diego Zoo & Safari Park, where you’ll encounter elephants, rhinos, zebras, lions, and giraffes, among many others.
Purchase your tickets to the Safari Park here!
30. Enjoy the peaceful scenery of Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is one of the most stunning stretches of California coastline. If you’re journeying on Highway 1, don’t just pass through; instead, check into a hotel and enjoy the peaceful scenery for a while.
31. Eat Mexican food in San Francisco’s Mission District
San Francisco’s Mission District is home to the world’s best tacos and burritos. Really. If you love Mexican food – or even if you don’t – you must try La Taqueria’s legendary food!
We recommend booking this Secret Food Tour of San Francisco’s Mission District!
32. Visit the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
Each spring, Carlsbad Ranch’s colorful flower fields are a beautiful sight to see!
33. Experience The Broad in Downtown Los Angeles
Downtown’s newest contemporary art museum, The Broad, is a stunner. Though the line for free entrance is usually hundreds of people deep, the masterpieces on display are worth waiting for.
34. Visit the Danish Village of Solvang
Take a trip to Denmark without ever leaving California! Solvang was originally settled by Danes back in 1911, and still cherishes its Danish heritage and character today. There’s also a lot of wine tasting to do here!
Find deals on Solvang accommodations here!
35. Visit a Spanish Mission
21 Spanish missions scatter California’s coast. If you want to catch a glimpse into what life in California was like hundreds of years ago, visit a Spanish mission!
36. Twirl under the Urban Lights at LACMA
The Urban Lights sculpture is just one of the many pieces worth seeing at the LACMA. Even if you don’t visit the actual museum, make sure to stop by this iconic, photogenic Los Angeles landmark.
37. Visit the original Disneyland
In 1955, Walt Disney opened the original “Happiest Place on Earth.” It’s necessary to experience the magic that is Disneyland at least once in your lifetime. (And California Adventure, too!)
38. Go horseback riding in San Luis Obispo
With acres upon acres of wide open spaces, the best way to experience San Luis Obispo’s peaceful scenery is on horseback. Then wrap up the experience with some wine and cheese!
39. Watch a sunset in Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach has to be one of California’s prettiest coastal towns. And the best way to complete a beach day is always with an incredible sunset, right?
Find deals on Laguna Beach accommodation here! Trust us, you’ll want to stick around for a few days at least.
40. Drive, bike, or walk the 17-Mile Drive
The small toll necessary to drive the 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove is worth it for beautiful views of the rocky coast, grand mansions, and famous golf courses!
41. Ride ATVs over the Pismo Beach Sand Dunes
If you’re looking for a little adventure, grab some friends, rent ATVs, and zoom over the sand dunes at Pismo Beach. It’s that simple!
Pismo Beach is also home to a gorgeous beach resort, the Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa.
42. Visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Potterheads, are you ready? You can now live out your dreams of shopping in Diagon Alley, sipping pints of Butterbeer, and attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Universal Studios Hollywood’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter is finally open!
43. Ski/Snowboard at Mammoth Mountain
Get your snow gear ready! Are you skilled enough to ride some serious steeps and powder at California’s premier mountain resort?
Find deals on Mammoth Lakes accommodations here!
44. Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium
At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, experience the wonder of the sea. Over 35,000 sea creatures live and thrive at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which showcases one of the world’s richest aquatic regions!
Avoid the queues, and buy your tickets online here!
45. Experience apple everything in Julian
Julian is famous for its legendary apple pies! Visit Julian to wander through the orchards, pick fresh fruit from the centuries-old apple and pear trees, learn to make apple cider, and of course, eat that delicious apple pie!
Find quaint Julian accommodation options here!
46. Visit art galleries in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Carmel is a sleepy town, known for beautiful beaches, laid-back vibes, and awesome art. Make a trip out of Carmel-by-the-Sea by art gallery hopping!
Find affordable Carmel-by-the-Sea accommodations here.
47. See a movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
This historic Hollywood theatre opened its doors in 1926. The grandeur of this theatre’s interior makes seeing any movie a true cinematic experience.
48. Check out Salvation Mountain
Artist, Leonard Knight, spent 25 years of his life transforming an ordinary hill into a sculptural masterpiece. It’s hard not to be impressed by Salvation Mountain’s inspiring messages and bright murals!
49. Tour Alcatraz Island
While in San Francisco, take the ferry to Alcatraz Island to tour the abandoned prison, which once held some of America’s most notorious criminals. In addition, see the West Coast’s oldest functioning lighthouse, explore the rock pools, and see the island’s seabird colony!
50. Walk along the beach
Any beach. My favorite is Laguna Beach, forever and always.
If these 50 items aren’t already on your California bucket list, add them.
If they’re already on your California bucket list, but you haven’t completed all of them, you better get started!
There’s lots of California left to explore, and we’re running out of time!
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Over to you! What’s on your California bucket list? How many of these items have you already checked off from your California bucket list?