California, a land of sun-kissed beaches, towering redwoods, and vibrant cities, is a gem waiting to be explored. But it’s more than just the Hollywood sign, the Golden Gate Bridge, or Disneyland. There are countless cool places to visit in California that lie beyond the clichés, offering us a chance to venture into the Golden State’s lesser-known, yet equally awe-inspiring, attractions. So, pack your bags and let’s go on a journey to discover the cool side of California!
1. Redwood National and State Parks, Northern California
First on our list is the Redwood National and State Parks, a cool place for nature lovers to go. These parks are home to the world’s tallest trees, the redwoods, some of which reach over 350 feet. Walking amidst these ancient giants, some of which are over 2000 years old, is an experience like no other. It’s a humbling reminder of nature’s grandeur and a must-visit place for anyone seeking tranquility away from the city’s hustle.
The parks also offer scenic drives, hiking trails, and wildlife viewing opportunities. The Fern Canyon, with its 50-foot high walls covered in ferns, is a sight to behold. Don’t miss the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail, a peaceful walk through lush forest, named after the former First Lady who dedicated the park.
2. Disneyland, Anaheim
No list of cool places to go in California would be complete without Disneyland. Known as “The Happiest Place on Earth,” this iconic amusement park is a world of fantasy and adventure. Every day, Disneyland draws in visitors from across the US and around the world.
Disneyland offers numerous rides, shows, and attractions for all ages. Whether you’re meeting your favorite Disney characters, exploring exotic jungles, or watching a magical parade, Disneyland guarantees a day of fun and excitement.
3. World of Illusions, Los Angeles
Keeping to the theme of “coolest places you’ll ever see,” next we have the World of Illusions in Los Angeles. This interactive wonderland brings imagination to life through its four diverse exhibits. Begin your exploration at the Museum of Illusions, where 3D illusions transform the walls into vibrant, lifelike scenes. Dive into an underwater world, walk on a tightrope over a city, or face a mighty T-Rex. Here, the boundaries between reality and illusion blur, offering an unforgettable experience.
Next, step into the Upside Down House. With seven rooms that defy gravity, this exhibit is a fun, family-friendly place to go for those quirky Instagram-worthy shots. Then, prepare to feel like Alice in Wonderland in the Giant’s House, where everything is supersized. Lastly, unleash your inner rebel at Smash It, where you can literally smash plates against the wall. The World of Illusions, with its fantastic variety and affordability, is a must-visit place in LA.
4. Watts Towers, Los Angeles
While you’re in the LA area, don’t miss the Watts Towers. This hidden gem, created single-handedly by Simon Rodia over 33 years, is a testament to human dedication and artistic vision. These seventeen interconnected structures, adorned with glass, pottery, and seashells, hold a unique place in California’s cultural landscape.
The towers, reaching up to 99 feet, stand tall in the heart of LA, their intricate designs narrating stories of Rodia’s dream. The Watts Towers are not just structures, but a symbol of resilience and creativity, making them a cool place to visit for art and history enthusiasts alike.
5. Winchester Mystery House, San Jose
Venturing into the heart of Silicon Valley, we find the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. This architectural marvel, built by the widow of US firearms magnate William Wirt Winchester, is a maze of mystery and history. With its 160 rooms, staircases leading nowhere, and doors opening to walls, this house is an enigma wrapped in a riddle.
Rumored to be haunted, the mansion is a must-visit spot for those seeking a thrilling adventure. While exploring the labyrinthine layout, you can’t help but marvel at Sarah Winchester’s peculiar architectural choices. This cool place offers a glimpse into a unique chapter of California’s history.
6. Salton Sea, Imperial and Riverside Counties
Next, we venture into one of California’s most intriguing places to go – the Salton Sea. Once a glamorous vacation spot, it’s now a hauntingly beautiful testament to environmental change. The largest lake in California, its shores are lined with the skeletal remains of vacation homes, hinting at its past glory.
Visitors can explore the abandoned structures and artwork that have sprung up around the sea, making it a cool place to go for photographers and explorers. The Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge on the southern end offers fantastic bird-watching opportunities, with over 400 species calling it home. The surreal landscape of the Salton Sea makes it a unique and fascinating place to visit.
7. Glass Beach, Fort Bragg
Our journey takes us next to the Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, a testament to nature’s ability to reclaim and transform. Once a dumping ground for the city, the beach is now covered in smooth, colorful sea glass, creating a mosaic of sparkling jewels against the Pacific’s blue backdrop.
The Glass Beach is not just a cool place to visit; it’s a reminder of how human actions affect our environment and how nature can turn even our mistakes into something beautiful. Visitors are encouraged to admire the sea glass but leave it behind, ensuring future generations can also marvel at this unique beach.
8. The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles
Next we return to LA, this time to visit The Last Bookstore, California’s largest used and new book and record store. Housed in a grand old bank building, this bookstore is a bibliophile’s dream. The Last Bookstore offers a labyrinth of books that you can get lost in, including an actual maze made of books in the upstairs area.
The Last Bookstore is more than just a place to buy books. It’s a cultural hub, hosting events and providing a platform for local artists. Whether you’re a book lover, an artist, or just someone looking for a cool place to visit, The Last Bookstore is a must-see in LA.
9. Bodie State Historic Park, Bodie
Let’s take a step back in time and visit the Bodie State Historic Park. Once a bustling gold mining town, Bodie is now an authentic Wild West ghost town. With its deserted buildings frozen in time, it offers a haunting glimpse into the life of a 19th-century California gold-mining town.
Visitors are free to explore the park and peek through the windows of the old houses, shops, and saloons. It’s a cool place to go for history buffs and photographers alike, capturing the essence of the Wild West.
10. Lassen Volcanic National Park, Northeastern California
Venture into the wild at Lassen Volcanic National Park, home to the largest plug dome volcano in the world. This US national park boasts a diverse range of landscapes, from lush forests and sparkling lakes to bubbling mud pots and steaming fumaroles.
Hiking trails provide ample opportunities to explore the park’s unique geology. The Bumpass Hell trail, named after the man who discovered it, takes you to the park’s largest hydrothermal area. With its remarkable geothermal activity and stunning beauty, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a cool place to visit in California.
11. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, San Diego
Located within San Diego city limits, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a wilderness island in an urban sea. This coastal park features high broken cliffs and deep ravines on headlands overlooking the ocean.
Home to the nation’s rarest pine tree – the Torrey Pine – and host to a variety of flora and fauna, it’s a cool place to visit for nature lovers. With its hiking trails offering spectacular ocean views, Torrey Pines is a must-visit spot in Southern California.
12. Channel Islands National Park, Ventura
Off the coast of Ventura, the Channel Islands National Park, often referred to as the “Galapagos of North America,” is a secluded haven for diverse species. This US national park comprises five islands, each offering unique experiences, from hiking and camping to snorkeling and wildlife viewing.
With its abundant marine life, including seals, dolphins, and whales, it’s a cool place to go for wildlife enthusiasts. Though it requires a bit more effort to visit, the Channel Islands National Park’s untouched beauty makes it well worth the trip.
13. Joshua Tree National Park, Southern California
Joshua Tree National Park, where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet, is another cool place to visit in California. Known for its iconic Joshua Trees, rugged rock formations, and star-studded night skies, this park is a haven for nature lovers and stargazers.
Visitors can go hiking, rock climbing, or simply enjoy a scenic drive through the park. Don’t miss Keys View, which offers panoramic views of the Coachella Valley. Joshua Tree National Park offers a unique desert experience in the US, making it a must-visit place in California.
14. Hearst Castle, San Simeon
Perched high on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Hearst Castle in San Simeon is a testament to luxury and opulence. Built by media ty coon William Randolph Hearst, this grand estate boasts 165 rooms, beautiful gardens, and even a Roman-style outdoor pool.
Guided tours take visitors through different parts of the castle, showcasing its rich tapestries, antique furniture, and art collections. With its magnificent architecture and breathtaking views, Hearst Castle is undoubtedly a cool place to visit in California.
15. Napa Valley Wine Train, Napa
For wine enthusiasts, a trip to Napa Valley is incomplete without a ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train. This antique train takes passengers on a scenic journey through the heart of California’s wine country, offering gourmet dining and wine tasting along the way.
The train passes by many of the US’s top wineries, providing stunning vineyard views from its vintage Pullman cars. The Napa Valley Wine Train is not just a cool place to go; it’s an experience that combines history, scenic beauty, and the best of California wines.
16. Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, Lancaster
Come spring, the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve in Lancaster transforms into a sea of orange as California poppies bloom across the landscape. This state-protected reserve is dedicated to preserving the native flora, especially the California poppy, the state flower.
Visitors can explore the reserve through its eight miles of trails, which wind through the rolling hills blanketed in poppies and other wildflowers. It’s a photographer’s paradise and a cool place to visit, offering a unique spectacle of California’s natural beauty.
17. Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles
Back in LA, the Griffith Observatory is a gateway to the cosmos. Situated in Griffith Park, the observatory offers breathtaking views of the city and the stars. Its iconic architecture and status as a hub for space and science learning make it a must-visit place in LA.
Visitors can look through telescopes, explore exhibits, and see live shows in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium. Whether you’re an astronomy enthusiast or just looking for a cool place with fantastic views, the Griffith Observatory is worth a visit.
18. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz
A classic US seaside amusement park, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a beloved summer destination in California. With its vintage rides, including the historic Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, this place brings out the child in everyone.
Apart from the rides, visitors can enjoy arcade games, mini-golf, laser tag, and a variety of food vendors. Overlooking Monterey Bay, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is not just a cool place to go, it’s an iconic part of California’s coastal culture.
19. Alcatraz Island, San Francisco
Off the coast of San Francisco, Alcatraz Island is a testament to the city’s intriguing past. Once a maximum-security federal prison housing notorious criminals like Al Capone, Alcatraz is now a popular tourist destination.
Guided tours provide insight into the island’s history and offer stunning views of the San Francisco skyline. It’s a cool place to visit for history buffs, offering a unique perspective on one of America’s most infamous prisons.
20. La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles
The La Brea Tar Pits, located in urban Los Angeles, is a window into the US’s ancient past. These tar pits have yielded millions of fossils from the Ice Age, including saber-toothed cats and woolly mammoths.
The accompanying museum displays these fascinating finds and provides information about prehistoric Los Angeles. The La Brea Tar Pits is a cool place to visit for those interested in paleontology and history.
21. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Palm Springs
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway offers a thrilling ride to the cool mountain wilderness of Mt. San Jacinto State Park. The rotating tramcars provide 360-degree views of the rugged Chino Canyon, making the journey as exciting as the destination.
At the Mountain Station, visitors can explore hiking trails, go picnicking, or simply enjoy the stunning views. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a cool place to visit, offering a unique desert-to-mountain travel experience.
22. Lombard Street, San Francisco
Last but not least, Lombard Street in San Francisco, known as the “Crookedest Street in the World,” is a must-visit spot. With its eight sharp turns, this steep, hilly street is a fun challenge for drivers and a cool place for visitors to photograph.
The street is beautifully landscaped, lined with colorful flowers and elegant mansions, offering spectacular views of the city. Lombard Street is not just a cool place to go, but it’s also a symbol of the city’s quirky charm.
California, with its rich history, diverse landscapes, and vibrant culture, is a state that never fails to impress. From the glittering lights of LA to the serene beauty of its national parks, from its historic landmarks to its innovative museums, California promises an array of unique experiences and cool places to visit. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker, a nature lover, an art enthusiast, or a history buff, the Golden State has something for you. So come and discover what makes California one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world!
What’s the best time of year to visit California?
The best time to visit California really depends on what you want to do. For beachgoers and outdoor enthusiasts, summer (June to August) provides warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine. If you’re interested in wine, consider visiting during the fall (September to November) when the vineyards of Napa Valley are in harvest. Winter (December to February) is ideal for snow sports in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Lastly, spring (March to May) is perfect for visiting attractions like the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, when the poppy fields are in full bloom. And of course, for indoor attractions like the World of Illusions in LA, every day is a good day to visit – hot or cold, rain or shine.
I’m planning a road trip through California. Can you recommend some cool places to visit?
Absolutely! California’s scenic highways offer countless cool places to visit. Start your journey at the southern end with a visit to the World of Illusions in Los Angeles. As you move north, stop by the beautiful coastal town of Santa Barbara, known for its Mediterranean-style white stucco buildings. Further north, visit the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, an extravagant estate offering guided tours of its grand rooms and beautiful gardens. End your trip in San Francisco, where you can visit the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and savor delicious seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf.
What are some cool places to visit in California for outdoor enthusiasts?
California is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, boasting an array of cool places that offer a host of activities. Hikers should not miss the Joshua Tree National Park, with its stark desert landscapes and unique rock formations. If you’re a fan of water sports, Lake Tahoe offers opportunities for boating, fishing, and swimming. For a unique outdoor experience, visit the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, especially during the spring, when the fields are ablaze with the bright orange blooms of the state flower.