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California Travel Guide

Looking for an in-depth California travel guide?

Then you’re in the right place!

There’s a reason California is the most visited state in the US! As one of the largest in the Continental United States, the Golden State has a lot to offer travelers of all kinds.

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From breathtaking beaches to famous National Parks to a culture as diverse as its population, there is so much to see and experience in California.

So much, in fact, that you might not know where to start. No worries — we’ve compiled a comprehensive California visitor guide just for you!

California is home to tons of unique natural wonders to explore.

On the eastern end of the state, just a few miles from the Nevada border, you’ll find Death Valley National Park, a desert park known for its sky-high summer temperatures and incredible night sky vistas. With miles of sandy hills and canyons, you’ll feel like you’re on another planet.

Incidentally, the park was a filming location for two of the original Star Wars films!

Want a more classic California experience?

Head to San Luis Obispo county! Here you’ll find some of the state’s best beaches, incredible mountains for hiking, famous attractions like Hearst Castle, and some of the best vineyards the Central Coast has to offer.

Between the old mission buildings and the museums dedicated to aviation and railroads, you’ll get a good sense of the state’s history.

Beyond the major cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, there are also plenty of great California towns that deserve some of your time.

Santa Barbara is a favorite of travelers from all over thanks to its gorgeous beaches, fresh seafood, art galleries, and tasting rooms.

Want to guarantee some seal and sea otter spottings? Head to Monterey, home of one of the most famous aquariums in the world, the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

And if you’re visiting LA, you’ll definitely want to spend a few hours in Venice Beach, a quirky coastal town with incredible surfing conditions, amazing art, and plenty of sites to see along the boardwalk.

Keep reading to dive into resources that will help you with planning a trip to California in the United States.

Note: This ultimate California guide contains affiliate links to trusted partners!

California Map

Use this California tourism map to begin planning your trip to this incredible state!

California map

Click here for an interactive Google Map version of the above graphic.

San Francisco City Guide

No northern California travel guide would be complete without mentioning San Francisco! These posts can help you plan the perfect itinerary for the city.

Los Angeles Travel Guide

Looking for a Los Angeles visitor’s guide? No southern California travel guide would be complete without visiting this exciting city, and these guides can help you plan the perfect itinerary!

Southern California Travel Guide

If you’re in need of a Southern California visitor’s guide, this section is for you!

California Hiking Guides

Looking for some California adventure guides? The following articles will help you plan epic hikes around the state!

California Road Trip Guides

Doing a road trip in California? These guides can help!

California Travel Tips

The following California travel advice can help you plan the perfect trip to The Golden State!

Best California Tours

Explore local culture with a California tour guide through these unique excursions:

  • Napa Valley Aloft Hot Air Balloon Ride from Yountville
  • Full-Day Iconic Sights of Los Angeles: Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Beaches and More from Santa Monica
  • Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay Cruise on M.S. Dixie II from Zephyr Cove
  • Alcatraz Inside and One Day Bike Rental from San Francisco
  • San Diego Harbor Dinner Cruise
  • Monterey, Carmel and 17-Mile Drive – Full-Day Tour from San Francisco
  • Guided Yosemite National Park Hiking Excursion

Renting A Car In California

Need a rental car for your California road trip or vacation?

Use Discover Cars to quickly compare your car rental options.

Their comparison tool does the homework for you, so there’s no need to have up 10+ tabs trying to figure out which company is the most affordable. Actually, you can save up to 70% using their tool!

Public Transportation In California

Getting around California by train, bus, or ferry?

Omio is a must! You can use this tool for all of your public transportation needs when traveling around California.

The site is straightforward and user-friendly — and you can pre-book your tickets in advance at a discount.

They even offer flight and car deals!

California Hotels

Click here to browse the best California travel hotels!

Prefer self-contained stays?

Click here to check out unique local rentals!

You can also use this map to search for local properties:

California Travel Insurance

It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling solo or with a group on a California tour. When visiting California — or any other country in the world — make sure to get travel insurance to protect your health and safety.

In my opinion, the best travel medical insurance for travelers is SafetyWing as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage — including coverage if you’re traveling for months as well as limited coverage in your home country).

Additionally, SafetyWing is budget-friendly and offers $250,000 worth of coverage with just one low overall deductible of $250.

With coverage, you’ll have peace of mind as you embark on your California travel itinerary.

Click my referral link here to price out travel insurance for your trip in just a few clicks.

California Travel Guide FAQ

Below, find answers to frequently asked questions about traveling in California.

Q: What is the best month to go to California?

There’s really no one perfect time to visit California. The best time to visit definitely depends on your itinerary since the state is so large and has such diverse climates.

That said, the summer is usually a safe bet for visiting Northern California, the Central Coast, and Southern California.

Desert destinations like Palm Springs and Death Valley are better to visit in the cooler months, as temperatures can spike above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.

If you want to avoid the crowds and still enjoy the California sunshine, consider visiting in the fall, a season that’s less popular with tourists but still pretty beach-friendly.

Q: How much money do you need for a trip to California?

Your budget will depend on your itinerary. Travelers tend to spend more in big cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco than they do in smaller towns like Santa Cruz.

The average traveler spends about $199 per day in California on accommodations, transportation, food, entertainment, and other expenses.

There are also plenty of ways to cut down costs by staying in hostels or AirBnBs over hotels, checking out food trucks and stocking up on groceries instead of eating every meal out, and using public transportation in major cities.

Q: How many days do you need in California?

If you’re planning on doing a full tour of the state, you’ll want to plan for 7 to 10 days away. Moreover, you’ll want to spend at least two days each in the major cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles to see all the top attractions.

From there, you can spend the rest of your time driving up (or down) the Pacific Coast, stopping in towns like Santa Barbara and Monterey for some great beach time and hiking opportunities.

You’ll also want to schedule in a day or two to visit one of the state’s national parks like:

Keep reading for more great road trip ideas!

Q: What are the best things to do in California?

No trip to the USA would be complete without mentioning California, and here’s why:

California has a lot to offer nature lovers with nine National Parks, the most of any state in the U.S. These parks also highlight the state’s natural diversity, ranging from iconic deserts like Joshua Tree to breathtaking forests like Redwood National Park.

You also shouldn’t miss Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park — home to the famous James Irvine Trail.

Animal lovers will want to check out Channel Islands National Park near Ventura to see bald eagles, sea lions, and whales in their natural habitats.

And there’s nothing quite like Yosemite, with its iconic mountains, waterfalls, and rivers that look even more spectacular in person than they do in photos.

Pop culture obsessed? You’ll definitely want to spend some time in Los Angeles, the entertainment hub of the world and home of Hollywood.

Many of the major film and television studios, including Warner Bros., Universal, and Paramount Pictures, offer tours of their backlots that take you through iconic sets and give you an inside look into how movies and television shows get made. These are popular experiences whether you’re in a group or traveling to Los Angeles alone.

Want to be a part of the action?

Check out sites like Audiences Unlimited and 1Iota to get free audience tickets to a whole host of currently filming TV shows, from sitcoms to late-night talk shows. You’ll also want to take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard; here you can visit iconic sites like the TCL Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

San Francisco also has something for every kind of traveler, from some of the world’s best hiking trails to one-of-a-kind neighborhoods. It’s also considered one of the best places for solo female travel in California.

The city is home to the largest Chinatown in the world (outside of Asia, of course), with blocks and blocks of authentic restaurants and shops that reflect the city’s diversity. See if your trip overlaps with any cultural festivals — like Lunar New Year, as you won’t want to miss the fireworks and parades through the neighborhood!

History buffs will want to take a ferry over to Alcatraz, the infamous former federal prison that was once home to Al Capone.

Looking for a little fresh air?

Drive across the famed Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods National Monument, a redwood forest with plenty of hiking trails to explore.

While you’re in the Bay Area, take a day trip over to Napa or Sonoma, two top destinations for wine lovers. Tour some amazing vineyards and taste some of the best wine the state has to offer.

You might also consider heading south to spend a weekend in Paso Robles, a stunning and delicious California wine region, or San Diego, a fun-filled city with loads of museums, nature, and beaches. Tip: If heading there, check out these sumptuous hotels with jacuzzi tubs in San Diego!

Q: How do I prepare for a trip to California?

The answer to this question depends on your itinerary, but there are a few tips that will serve you well wherever you go in California.

Sun protection is an absolute must for any trip to California. The Golden State is known for its sunny weather and even if it doesn’t feel that hot outside, you’ll want to protect yourself. Stock up on SPF, remember your sunglasses, and wear a hat if you’re going to spend a lot of time outdoors at the beach or in the parks.

Remember the iconic words of Smokey the Bear: “Only you can prevent wildfires.” Wildfires are a major issue in a dry state like California and have only gotten more severe in recent years.

If you’re going camping, make sure you know how to safely build a campfire and remember that you’ll need a permit to build an open fire on federal land. Even if you’re not planning on building a campfire, there are plenty of ways you can prevent fires. Be mindful of where you put out cigarettes, report any unattended fires, and be aware of current wildfire risks where you’re traveling.

Also, be sure to budget for high taxes during your trip. The state sales tax is 6% and local taxes can add even more to that, leading to a tax of 10% in some areas. While some items like food are untaxed, it’s important to keep this in mind, particularly if you’re not used to paying sales tax.

Q: What is the best California road trip?

There are so many great road trips in California! One not to miss is Highway 395, starting in Los Angeles and ending in Mammoth Lakes. There is so much nature and history to explore along the way.

Along with numerous museums, like the California Route 66 Museum and the Maturango Museum, you can enjoy outdoor adventure at spots like the Fossil Falls Scenic Area. Here, you can see the remnants of a giant basalt lava flow that occurred somewhere between 400,000 years ago and 10,000 years ago.

Another great option: planning a Big Sur road trip itinerary full of scenic viewpoints, hikes, beaches, and more! you can also easily add on a weekend in Paso Robles or a Solvang itinerary!

Q: Where is California?

California is a state in the western United States in North America. It shares borders with Oregon (north), Nevada and Arizona (east), and Mexico (south).

Q: Are credit cards accepted in California?

Credit cards — particularly Visa and Mastercard — are widely accepted around California, though it is always wise to carry some cash for smaller establishments and in case of emergency.

Q: Can you drink the tap water in California?

Yes, tap water is safe to drink in California.

Q: What is the local currency in California?

The local currency in California is the US Dollar (USD).

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