5 Beautiful, Fun & Cool Places to Visit in California: Fora's Guide

Fora Author Fora

The Modern Travel Agency


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Planning a trip to the Golden State but wondering where to go? Perfect, because we’re covering five of the coolest places to visit in California.

Want personalized recommendations instead? Connect with Fora to plan and book your trip. We’ll hook you up with expert travel suggestions that fit your preferences and budget while scoring you awesome perks at the best hotels in California (and beyond).

5 of the coolest, most exciting places to visit in California

Ready to check out some of the coolest places to visit in California (which, unironically, happens to be one of the best places to visit in the USA)? Read on.

1. San Francisco: a cosmopolitan hub with an excellent foodie scene and beautiful natural landscapes

San Francisco is easily one of the most diverse cities in the United States, let alone California. This wide range of influences has cultivated an awesome cultural hub that has heavily permeated everything from its thriving arts scene to its legendary gastronomy (just see our local’s guide to San Francisco). 

The city is also supremely beautiful — and yes, some parts are a little rough around the edges (like any major city), but many of the complaints are overstated. Downtown San Francisco is filled with an eclectic mix of Victorian and modern architecture. Meanwhile, the city is surrounded on three sides by the Bay and the Pacific, with majestic mountain ranges in the distance.

(Wondering where to stay? Check out our guide to the best hotels in San Francisco.)

2. Big Sur: one of the most beautiful places to visit in California 

Stretching from Monterey to the upper border of San Luis Obispo County (a.k.a SLO), Big Sur is arguably the most gorgeous stretch of coastline in the United States — and because of a concerted effort to protect this vital ecosystem, it’s largely undeveloped. 

Through most of Big Sur, the Pacific Coast Highway hugs the misty shoreline, with dozens of picturesque vistas (and the occasional hotel) alongside lush forests, scenic cliff sides and quiet beaches. Even in a state known for its natural beauty, Big Sur leaves an impression. 

The region is also abundant with wildlife. It’s the only place where you can catch a glimpse of California condors, elephant seals and plenty of other rare species. 

Another bonus: Big Sur is also one of the best places to visit in November, as thousands of elephant seals return to the beaches to begin their mating season.  

Want more intel on Big Sur, including where to stay? Plan and book your trip with Fora.

3. Lake Tahoe: the USA’s largest alpine lake, with relaxing lakeside retreats

Continuing our list of stunning natural places to visit in California: Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Here, turquoise waters are surrounded by evergreen forests and snow-capped peaks.

Like Big Sur, Lake Tahoe is an excellent place to escape into nature — but you’ll still find small pockets of civilization here and there, including ritzy resorts and more casual places to stay. Anyone can access the lake’s beaches, which are also especially popular for watersports and cruising around on small boats. 

(Planning a family vacation in Lake Tahoe? Check out our guide.)

4. Palm Springs & Joshua Tree National Park: dry heat, relaxing resorts & a fun downtown area to explore

For about a century, Palm Springs has served as a relaxing retreat for Southern California celebrities and discerning travelers. Dozens of spa resorts, golf courses and a fun strip lined with great eateries, bars and indie boutiques make Palm Springs one of the best places to visit in California to unwind far from the hustle and bustle of bigger cities. 

To some degree, Palm Springs does cater a bit to an older crowd. However, in recent years, a lot of development around Palm Canyon Drive has been geared toward injecting a bit of youth into the area. 

As for Joshua Tree National Park, consider its wide expanses and seemingly barren hills the antithesis of Big Sur’s misty shores and vivid scenery. But don’t take that as a slight: Joshua Tree is just as beautiful in its own way.

Sidenote: while not quite as popular as Palm Springs, nearby Palm Desert is a ritzy, up-and-coming area with luxurious spas, resorts and cool boutiques. 

Love the idea of planning a trip to Palm Springs, Joshua Tree or Palm Desert? We can help! Connect with Fora to work with a dedicated travel advisor.

5. San Diego: one of the coolest places to visit in California for families, couples and, well, anyone…

On the world stage, San Diego sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of great cities in the USA, but it’s every bit as deserving of being featured among the coolest places to visit in California. The city’s gastronomy and arts scenes rival those of San Francisco, perhaps on a smaller scale, while the best hotels in San Diego are among the most luxurious in the state (read our local’s guide to San Diego, if you’re curious). 

San Diego is also the seat of naval power on the US West Coast, with rows of aircraft carriers and regular flyovers serving as an impressive sight.

You also can’t mention the city without talking about the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park, arguably the most prestigious zoo in the world. Beyond the “typical experience,” the San Diego Zoo also features an awesome safari that takes you through a separate park that recreates the natural habitats of animals from all over the world.

Want more ideas for places to visit in California? Connect with Fora

This state is huge, diverse and beautiful. So, of course, there are more than five awesome places to visit in California — we didn’t even mention Santa Barbara or Los Angeles (but you can check out our guide to the coolest places to visit in Los Angeles)! 

Instead of reading a longer list, though, why not get personalized recommendations for places to visit in California that will interest you? We’ll help you build a travel plan that fits your budget and interests while scoring you awesome hotel perks along the way. All you have to do? Connect with Fora to plan and book your trip.

Not quite ready to start planning? Check out our guides to a few more places to visit in California:

This article has been fact checked by Pro Fora Advisor Mandy Wieker, an expert on travel to California.

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