Summer vacations are annual traditions that we look forward to every year to soak up some sunshine, relax, and experience a little bit of paradise. Not surprisingly, California is always a top summer vacation destination because of its picturesque beaches, iconic parks, impressive mountains, and soothing scenery. So, if you’re looking for a little inspiration for your next summer vacation, consider one of these places in California to take your friends, family, or do a solo trip.

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Lake Tahoe Photography with a dog at Lake Tahoe
Credit: Alyssa L. Ochs
Photography with a dog at Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Many people think of the Lake Tahoe region of California as an epic snow sport destination in the winter, but this is also a top summer spot with moderate weather all season long. Residents flock here in the summer from the hot central valley area to get a break from the heat and enjoy all sorts of outdoor recreation. The lake is a fun place to kayak, while the ski resorts open up for mountain biking and scenic aerial rides. When you’re in this part of California, consider renting a boat at the marina for fun on the water or taking a water skiing lesson.

Mendocino Beautiful rocky coastline and churning ocean below cliffs near Mendocino Bay on sunny day in California.
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Beautiful rocky coastline and churning ocean below cliffs near Mendocino Bay on sunny day in California.

Mendocino

The northern coastal town of Mendocino has very moderate weather all throughout the year and is especially cool and refreshing during the summer. Come here for amazing coastal scenery, great hiking weather, and so late-blossoming wildflowers in the early summer. The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is definitely worth a visit while you’re here. Other fun things to do include taking a ride on the Skunk Train, learning about the strange Glass Beach in nearby Fort Bragg, and photographing the lighthouses along the coast.

Pismo Beach Waves and sunshine at Pismo Beach, California
Waves and sunshine at Pismo Beach, California

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach is a fun beach town on California’s central coast that is a fun getaway destination in the summer. It is a popular place for summertime travel, so make sure to book your accommodations early. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with fun shops, a nice pier, and delicious local restaurants. While you’re on this summer vacation, it’s also fun to rent an ATV and check out the Oceano Dunes to ride up and down the dunes on a day of exploration.

Sequoia National Park Hiker Exploring Giant Ancient Forest in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sequoia National Park
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Hiker Exploring Giant Ancient Forest in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park

The huge and towering trees of Sequoia National Park are impressive at any time of the year, but the shade they provide is perfect on a hot summer’s day. This is a fun place to visit on summer vacation to get a dose of nature, get the kids away from their screens, and get some great exercise in the outdoors. Although national parks all across the country get crowded during the summer, this one is considerably more chill than Yosemite if you’re looking to minimize crowds and traffic.

Catalina Island Catalina Island, California
Credit: Bigstock.com
Catalina Island, California

Catalina Island

You’ll need to hop on a boat from the mainland of California to reach California Island, which instantly creates a magical summer vacation experience. This is a place to come in the summer for beach lounging, snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing, and boat tours. It’s also fun to go stand-up paddleboarding on the calm and sheltered waters here, tour the Catalina Conservancy, and join in the fun of the 4th of July celebration on the island.

Lassen Volcanic National Park Mountains and lakes at Lassen Volcanic National Park
Credit: Alyssa L. Ochs
Mountains and lakes at Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Located in northeastern California, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a unique summer destination that’s filled with volcanoes, hiking trails, and fascinating geothermal areas. The park is near the town of Redding and is often one of the most relaxing parks to visit with manageable crowds. It sits at a high elevation, which means that snow doesn’t melt until the middle of summer during some years and that the temperatures remain pleasant even with much of the rest of the state is boiling hot. A popular attraction is the Bumpass Hell Trail, which is three miles in length and passes by hydrothermal areas. You can camp at the Manzanita Lake campground in an RV, tent, or cabin.

San Francisco View towards Golden Gate bridge from the coastal trail, Presidio Park, San Francisco,
View towards Golden Gate bridge from the coastal trail, Presidio Park, San Francisco,

San Francisco

Even on days in the middle of summer, San Francisco often stays cool and comfortable for travel. In fact, you should definitely pack a pair of jeans and a sweater even if you’re planning a trip for July! There are also so many fun things to do in San Francisco in the summer, including festivals, parades, outdoor concerts and markets, and there’s even budget-friendly activities too. The city has a great 4th of July celebration, Giants baseball games, the Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate Park, the epic Pride Parade and Festival, and the San Francisco Marathon in July.

Mount Shasta Mt. Shasta
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Mt. Shasta

Mount Shasta

It’s also fun to visit Mount Shasta in northern California for your outdoor recreation fix. This is an awesome place for hiking and mountain biking in the summer, with rental shops in the area if you need some gear. Meanwhile, Lake Siskiyou is nearby and a favorite place among fishermen in the summertime. Mount Shasta has a free summer music concert series and a blackberry festival if you hold off on your summer trip until Labor Day weekend.

Mammoth Lakes Lake scene at Mammoth Lakes
Lake scene at Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes

Like the Lake Tahoe region, Mammoth Lakes is often reserved for winter vacations because of the epic skiing at Mammoth Mountain. However, this is also a great laid-back summer destination because of fly fishing, boating, mountain biking, and hiking opportunities. You can hike in the Mammoth Lakes Basin area for great views, ride at the Mammoth Bike Park with its over 80 miles of singletrack, and go backpacking in the Ansel Adams and John Muir wilderness areas. Other fun things to do here include kayaking at Lake Mary, rock climbing with a local guide company, horseback riding, and visiting nearby Devil’s Postpile National Monument.

Monterey Cannery Row and Beach in Monterey
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Cannery Row and Beach in Monterey

Monterey

Monterey is a fun place to visit for summer vacation because of its coastal scenery, exciting Cannery Row area, and family-friendly attractions. The temperatures are usually pleasant here during the summer, you can spot whales year-around, and there are some excellent wineries and tasting rooms to try in Monterrey. Here you can play a game of golf, browse a local farmers’ market, and attend one of the many festivals. Top events in this area in the summer include the Carmel Valley Art & Wine Celebration, San City West End Celebration, the Monterey International Blues Festival, Artichoke Festival, and Monterey Car Week.

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