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When it comes to planning a U.S. vacation, it doesn’t get much more exciting than California. There are so many places to see and things to do in this large West Coast state, that you could take a vacation here practically every year and never get bored or run out of ideas! There are plenty of vacation spots in California’s cities and towns that will keep you busy for a week or even longer — great places for everything from quick romantic getaways to week-long outdoor family adventures. Here are 11 of the top vacation spots in California to check out.


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

Mammoth Lakes

The Eastern Sierras are a magical and underrated California vacation destination that are filled with endless adventure. One of the biggest reasons that people travel here is because of the epic ski resort, but Mammoth offers plenty of adventure all year long. You can ski and snowboard at Mammoth Mountain, one of the top resorts in the country, hike around the impressive Devil’s Postpile National Monument, go fishing in the region’s many lakes, and never find a bad view on the hiking trails. Summer activities include boating, camping, golfing, and paddleboarding, and Mammoth Brewing Company is worth a stop after your adventures.

Santa Cruz
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Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a fun and laid-back beach destination that’s perfect for a couple’s or family vacation. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is always a fun stop, and the Mystery Spot is another popular destination. Don’t miss the tide pools at Natural Bridges and spend your weekend with plenty of beach time and good food. While on vacation in Santa Cruz, check out West Cliff Drive, Roaring Camp Railroads, Wilder Ranch State Park, and the Seymour Marine Discovery Center.

Big Bear Lake Big Bear Lake
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Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake

For a Southern California vacation that is far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, head to Big Bear Lake. Here you can go boating in the summer and go skiing or snowboarding the winter. It’s a wonderful change of scenery if you are used to big-city life a breath of fresh air from the cities’ crowds and smog.

Paso Robles Paso Robles Wine Country Vineyards
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Paso Robles Wine Country Vineyards

Paso Robles

Wine country regions always make excellent California vacations, but one of our ultimate favorites is Paso Robles. Here you’ll find lots of vineyards and also the Firestone Walker Brewing Company for beer lovers. This area is near San Luis Obispo, and arts and nature-loving mid-sized town that it worth visiting during your Paso Robles vacation too. The famous Hearst Castle isn’t’ far away and worth a drive if you’re interested in taking a tour to learn about this famous local family and be impressed with architecture and décor.

Laguna Beach Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is an ultimate beach getaway if you’re looking for a sunny coastal town vacation. It’s about 45 minutes from the northern part of San Diego, so it’s possible to squeeze both of these destinations into a week-long trip. Laguna Beach isn’t as overdeveloped as many other parts of Orange County, which gives it a relaxing and artsy vibe. In fact, there are some exciting art festivals to check out here in the summer and galleries in town to check out.

Carlsbad Beach scene in Carlsbad, California
Beach scene in Carlsbad, California


Carlsbad is a town in the San Diego region of California and home to lots of attractions the whole family can enjoy. Plan a vacation here to visit the LEGOLAND California Resort, SEA LIFE Aquarium and even take rides in historic biplanes. Air and walking tours are popular here, as well as paddleboard lessons, go-kart racing, and the Flower Fields with their 50 acres of colorful flowers on the coastline’s hillside.

Lake Tahoe Lake Tahoe, California
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Lake Tahoe, California

Lake Tahoe

There’s truly nothing like a Lake Tahoe vacation, regardless of when you visit during the year. This is an epic place to plan a week of skiing, but it’s also fun for a summer vacation filled with white-sand beaches and views of the Sierra Nevada mountains. There are lots of quaint towns to visit around the lake, although must of the activity and accommodations are in the town of South Lake Tahoe.

San Diego Beautiful Balboa Park in San Diego California
Beautiful Balboa Park in San Diego California

San Diego

San Diego is famous for its year-around perfect weather, so there’s no bad time to plan a vacation here. Lots of people from cold climates visit in the winter to get some fun in the sun. There are lots of microbreweries here to give you a locals-only vibe during your trip and also plenty of beach opportunities nearby. Top ways to spend a family vacation in San Diego include the USS Midway Museum, San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, and SeaWorld San Diego.

Yosemite National Park Yosemite National Park, California
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Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park

There are lots of National Parks that you can visit on vacation in California, but Yosemite is by far one of the most impressive ones. The mountains are absolutely enormous, the lakes reflect their magnitude perfectly, and the hikes and rock climbs are some of the most famous ones in the world. Come here to be impressed with the sheer size of what nature can do and to also have all the amenities you need nearby to be comfortable. There are a couple hotels and campgrounds to stay at here and shuttle buses to keep the crowds manageable. To beat the crowds the best though, visit in winter and brave the cold to see the mountains capped with snow and far less people on the roads and trails.

Bodega Bay Sailboat at the Marina of Bodega Bay
Credit: Alyssa L. Ochs
Sailboat at the Marina of Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay is a perfect vacation destination if you’re looking to slow down the pace of life and relax in a quiet seaside town. It’s an idea place to go sailing, and there are local companies that will take you out on the water from the marina. Doran Beach is a beautiful place to take a stroll, and you can also visit the sites of the creepy Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Birds, including the Potter Schoolhouse and St. Teresa of Avila Church.

Big Sur Big Sur, California
Credit: Bigstock.com
Big Sur, California

Big Sur

Outdoor lovers always enjoy a vacation to Big Sur because of its rugged coastline, amazing views of the mountains, and mysterious redwood forests. Although Big Sur has been gaining a lot of popularity in recent years, you can still come here to find your personal sanctuary of tranquility and get in touch with the nature of the California coastline.

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