7 Great Destinations for Your Next California Vacation
California is an iconic vacation destination with more variety of locations to see and things to do than most countries can claim. To get your California vacation planning juices flowing we developed a list of the top seven places we'd go to if we took one epic trip across the Sunshine State.
From Napa to San Diego, from roughing it in a National Park to the luxury of Palm Springs, explore some of the best places to vacation in California:
California Vacation Ideas
America’s most popular national park, Yosemite is also home to some of the nation’s most iconic scenery.
On a day where everything at the park is wide-open, there’s little limit to the adventures you can have, from rock climbing to hiking Half Dome to backcountry excursions.
If the weather or other circumstances limit you, you can always drive through the park, enjoy the breathtaking scenery, and perhaps do some light hiking, particularly the trails around Half Dome. Be sure to take lots of pictures.
One of the great joys of the national-park system is the onsite lodgings. They’re not always the most luxurious, but they’re almost always the most evocative.
In the case of Yosemite, the place to be is the Yosemite Valley Lodge. It perfectly encapsulates the Yosemite experience – and it’s right there. No other jumping-off point requires so little a jump.
Also read: The Best National Parks For Family Vacations
California’s iconic wine country has taken some hits from wildfires, but in many areas you wouldn’t even know it. Napa and Sonoma promise Italianate vistas, an endless string of winery tours, wonderful food, and world-class lodgings, and some of these can still be experienced now, despite restrictions.
Places to stay run the gamut from the ephemeral, quasi-Japanese Gaige House to the rustic (in a very high-end sort of way) Calistoga Ranch. Dining options range from oyster bars to dining experiences like Solbar at Solage.
Some people find Napa and Sonoma just too, too much – but for everyone else, its mix of the eclectic, the scenic, and the glamorized rustic is just right.
San Diego remains true to itself – eternally sunny, laid-back, home to surfers and retirees and zoo animals, maybe just a tick behind the rest of California, but unrepentant about it.
San Diego’s attractions are modest: strolling by the bay, visiting the zoo, picnicking in Balboa Park, and walking through the hills. Fortunately, they’re things you can do practically under any circumstances.
If you had to pick a place to just hang out and be, San Diego is high on the list. That makes it a prime destination these days.
Once the hangout of Rat Packers, Palm Springs makes for a getaway that checks almost all of the boxes: someplace sunny and warm, with lots to do and lots of places where you can do nothing luxuriously.
If you stay at one of the area’s retro-chic hotels, like The Parker or Sparrows Lodge, you can merely see and be seen and have a great time. If you choose to be more ambitious, you can stroll the funky (but in the coolest way possible) shops along Palm Canyon Drive. And if you decide to be really ambitious, Joshua Tree National Park is just on the other side of the mountains.
Half Moon Bay
Close enough to San Francisco geographically but a world removed in pace and feel, Half Moon Bay offers an experience that can be close to the earth and water, laid-back and funky, or decidedly luxe. The Ritz-Carlton has the luxe part covered; for the rest, just explore the town and do what feels right.
Whatever you choose, the water is never far away. To make sure of that, hike the Coastside Trail to Pillar Point, and drive the Pacific Coast Highway down to Pescadero State Beach, taking the time to stop at some scenic lookouts along the way. From there, it’s a short uphill drive to the Purisima Creek redwoods – yet another wilderness wonder.
You might dismiss Laguna Beach as just another name in Los Angeles’ never ending metro sprawl, but LB is a singularly blessed place … which helps explain the blessedly high prices.
Still, who can say no to a couple of nights at the Hotel Laguna, a glorious example of Spanish California architecture which dates from 1888 and counts Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Barrymore, and Errol Flynn among its guests? And if not there, then the Casa Laguna Inn and Spa, with its cottage-style rooms and luxurious amenities.
It’s always the right call to follow up your cabana massage with dinner at Nick’s, because you have to go to Nick’s and order the prime-rib sandwich. Just be prepared to wait. And if you can’t wait, head to the Penguin Café and grab a burger. You’ll be happy either way.
Lake Tahoe is as diverse as any place on earth. It’s beautiful and active in summer and winter. The north shore’s totally secluded and isolated, and the south shore’s right off of the highway and up for anything.
No matter what they like to do, families or singles can probably do it in Tahoe. They can hike and bike and zipline and kayak and windsurf all day, and gamble and party at casinos and clubs all night – in two states, no less.
Whatever you choose, be sure to check out the views from the Heavenly Resort gondola and have lunch at Sprouts Cafe, where you can eat what the locals eat where they eat it. And if it’s ski season, do not leave without covering a few of the 2,000-plus acres of slopes at Sierra-at-Tahoe, home to Olympians and novices alike.
California has some of the most diverse vacation experiences you’ll find anywhere in the continental United States. And with a little bit of luck and timing, they’ll all be open and waiting for you when you spring for that California vacation.
Wherever you go in California – or anywhere else around the world – it makes more sense now than ever before to get a travel protection plan from Generali Global Assistance. Make your plans, get a quote, and travel happy!