10 Best Cities / Places to Visit in California

As a resident of California, I am completely fascinated by the fact that life can be so different here from one city to the next. Even just in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live there is a lot of diversity in terms of socio-political views, urban vs. rural living, opportunities for work and education and other demographic details. Take into consideration that this state is so large that it takes up half the west coast and you can imagine just how many different ways of living there are in California.

I would almost say that it’s impossible to do a complete tour of California without taking a huge chunk of time to do it since each city here is so unique from the others. However, I do think that it’s possible to get a good sense of how many different ways of life there are in California by making a trip to each of the following ten cities in the state. If you manage to spend at least a little bit of time in each of them, you should have a good sense of what California could be about (and a much better idea of which part of California you wouldn’t like to live in if you wanted to make the move!)

Here are the ten cities that I would visit in California if I could only visit ten:

1. San Francisco. It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that San Francisco is at the top of my list since I not only live here but absolutely love living here. The architecture is beautiful, the people are creative and there is always something to see or do. It’s a geographically small city which means it’s easy to get around without a car but it’s an urban area with tons of activities of all kinds. It’s super-liberal and probably the city most like Europe that you’ll get to visit within the United States. It’s interesting and unique and filled with rich history. When you go here, check out the many different neighborhoods which are each like their own little microcosm of the world.

2. Los Angeles. It would be impossible to understand everything that there is to understand about California if you didn’t spend some time in Los Angeles and the surrounding area. It’s a massive city with many different things to see but it basically embodies the way of life that most people think of when they think of California. It has the glamour of Hollywood, the luxury of Rodeo Drive, the sunny beaches where blonde girls do their tanning … It also has a lot of interesting museums and cultural events and art galleries. It’s huge and that means that if there’s something you want to explore then it’s probably here. Plus Disneyland is nearby.

3. San Diego. This is another of the must-visit large cities in California. It’s a really interesting place because it’s got a combination of military influences and beach bum attitudes. The weather is terrific here and the beaches are the best reason to go. See San Diego Zoo and the park that it sits inside. Take advantage of the proximity to Mexico to learn more about the Mexican cultures. Explore the growing neighborhoods like the Gaslamp and the tourist neighborhoods like Old Town and Little Italy. But mostly, just enjoy the beach!

4. Sacramento. It is generally my belief that people trying to get a good sense of what any state is about should visit the state capital. California is kind of strange this way because the major cities and tourist attractions are those first three on the list so the capital city of the state gets overlooked a lot. It’s a good place to visit though and one that should be included on a California State Tour. You should check out Old Town Sacramento and explore historic landmarks and government buildings throughout the city.

5. San Luis Obispo. You have a few choices when you’re ready to visit small beach towns right on the coast of California. Most people will tell you to check out Monterrey but I would say to go a few hours south to San Luis Obispo. It’s a little bit quieter but it’s a college town so it’s got an interesting young scene with bars and a cool music-rich Farmer’s Market and some great little art galleries. It’s a small place and mostly good for a beach vacation but it’s got a lot of little nooks and crannies to see.

6. Arcata. If you’re more interested in the coast of Northern California then the most interesting town that you’re going to find along the way is Arcata which is way up north in Humboldt County. Anyone who is a fan of the hippie era, the Green Party, uber-liberalism and medical marijuana will be a fan of Arcata. And even if you’re not a fan, this is definitely a scene that’s integral to the overall make-up of the California mindset so you might want to give it a chance.

7. Redding. Inland from Arcata, in the center of the state but also up north is Redding. This is the largest city north of Sacramento and so it serves as a great hub for people who want to explore what Northern California is all about. It’s close to Mount Shasta so travelers that are interested in the outdoors will find a lot of things to do here.

8. Marysville. When you get to this tiny little place in central Northern California, you’re going to wonder how it managed to make it onto a list of top ten cities to see I the state. That’s because it’s a small place in an area that’s basically surrounded by military families and quiet Republicans. However, this is part of California too and it’s a part that most people miss. A lot of California really is just small towns with people living normal lives. It’s not all Hollywood and San Francisco. If you really want to know what California is like, you need to include a town like this. And this one is good because it’s got a cute little downtown area with a city lake and some great local shops.

9. Death Valley Junction. No trip to California is quite complete without at least seeing the vast desert that is Death Valley. Death Valley Junction is the city closest to the National Park and so is the place that you’ll want to put on your list for this part of the trip. There are a few historic sites here as well, mostly related to the railroad history of California.

10. Salton Sea. This is a place that almost nobody knows about so it’s the bonus area to add to your itinerary if you want to feel like a California insider. There’s a big salt water lake here. A long time ago, this area was built up as a recreational area but then some problems occurred and the area was mostly deserted. Only a few people live here now so it’s almost a little bit like a California ghost town. It’s a strange place but it’s worth a stop as you’re exploring the rest of Southern California.

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Comments 71 comments

J Toporek 12 months ago

Great informative piece save for one thing... Have you been to New Orleans, LA? I think most would agree it is more like Europe than San Francisco.


Nick 2 years ago

Awesome list, I'm a California native and have seen it all.

I would have squeezed Lake Tahoe in there somewhere.

Very happy you mentioned slo.

Thanks!


Chris 3 years ago

Doesn't anyone know about Bishop? It's an incredible place to live or just to visit!


mak 3 years ago

i am looking place to live with best air, best water and beautiful city in california which is that?

i do not like snow places.


TanetuP. 4 years ago

Very informative. I am planning to visit California before the year ends. I take your list for my visit.


GetitScene profile image

GetitScene 4 years ago from The High Seas

Thanks for sharing. Going on emergency road trip tomorrow and this helped us with some planning.


Brent Curiel 4 years ago

Wit the frik! Yosemite is the #1 place to go. People from all over the world goto see one of tge LAST forests in the world...


Phoua 4 years ago

Im surprised Marysville made to your top 10cities. I appreciate You for making Marysville more respected. Its a small town and theres nothing much to do there. Im from there. Now living in Sacramento. Its not hollywood but truly part of California. But i appreciate you for acknowledging it.


Max Factor 4 years ago

Here's my list in logistical order from south to north. Good trip for European and Japanese Tourists on a long stay.

1 San Diego

2 Disneyland

3 Catalina Island

4 Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Malibu Area

5 Santa Barbara/Solvang Area

6 Spend a few days driving north on Pacific Coast Highway from the central coast to the bay area

7 San Francisco

8 Yosemite, Mammoth Lakes, Eastern Sierra Nevadas Region

9 Death Valley National Monument

10 Las Vegas Nevada Yes Nevada!

There you have it. The best that Cali has to offer.


DoctorRain profile image

DoctorRain 4 years ago

http://hubpages.com/travel/Sacramento-More-like-Ex...

I been living in Sacramento for 5 months and I even wrote a blog about what I think. Check it out since its a good read. My California experience revolves around this so far lets just say.


Jes 4 years ago

What about Palo Alto? Its an awesome city!


Neil Horton profile image

Neil Horton 4 years ago from Greenwood, Arkansas

Why would anyone want to go to the Salton Sea? A chemically poluted dead inland sea that smells of dead fish. You could have named a hundred other places... How bout Surf City USA - Huntington Beach! Salton Sea....OMG


Jay 4 years ago

You forgot Sonoma/Napa!!! Most beautiful part of California without a doubt!


me 5 years ago

You should rename this "List all of the major cities in California." No imagination whatsoever.


Stef 5 years ago

Highway 395. Sequioa, Lake Tahoe,

Ca native here, seen it all.


Hennes  5 years ago

I really Love La so much and i am single and need a sweet lady that will go with me and catch fun together and you can contact me at hennesy78@yahoo.com


Travel Review 5 years ago

i live in the different country. i wish someday i'll be in California to spend my holidays or even to be a resident there


The Outdoor Fire Pit Guy 5 years ago

I also really like Santa Barbara, very classy place.


Peter Bruce Photo 5 years ago

This is the best you can do in one of the BEST states in the world !!!!

WOW LA dam look around in Ca

PB


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 5 years ago from Templeton, CA

I'm a native Californian who has visited all but four of your places -- Marysville, Death Valley, Arcata, and the Salton Sea. I have traveled Hwy 101 and 1 from south to north. I would be hard-pressed to choose only ten cities or communities. After seeing all the big cities on your list, I'm content to stay here in Templeton, a small town in wine country in San Luis Obispo County. I have written much about it on line and here on HubPages. I see I shall have to write more, since so many wonderful towns and cities aren't on the list. The two cities on your list I like best are San Diego and San Luis Obispo. I agree that Monterey is a must-see. I have spent a lot of time there, since my inlaws lived in Carmel Valley for many years. I love Carmel, except for the traffic getting there and back on Hwy 1. Paso Robles and this whole North SAn Luis Obispo County could keep you busy for a couple of weeks with its nearby beach areas, wineries, hiking, and festivals ranging from art to lavender. SAn Luis Obispo is only half and hour away. I'd also include Yreka -- a town I used to just drive through on the way to Oregon and Washington, until I was stranded there for a weekend. Too many lovely places! So little time


poki 5 years ago

I grew up in California and traveled to most of the places you mentione.I would add some of the national parks like Joshua Padrk and Yosemite, other cities like Santa Cruz,Monterey Bay,Napa valley and Palms Springs are really beautiful and some of the gold rush ghost towns are really nice to visit like Jamestown,Strawberry and Murphey.


Collin 5 years ago

Santa Barbara/ Solvang/ Santa maria should be on this list


craigmissuea profile image

craigmissuea 5 years ago from USA

I always wish to visit San Francisco. Your description of it has made me now more eager.


will 5 years ago

GO SAN LUIS OBISPO!!!!!!!!!!!!


Top10Places.com 5 years ago

I like travelling very much,sometimes, I don't know where to go so I often browse some newspapers about Tourist attractions.Recently, I found a web site called Top10Places(http://top10places.com/).This is a great website.It can tell me where should I go to travel.I can Simply navigate to my destination.


Yani  6 years ago

I love Newport beach !!! So good to me


hi 6 years ago

i live in sacramento and it SUCKS!!!!!!!!!! i hate it here so much. theres absolutely nothing sacramento has to offer :P


john000 profile image

john000 6 years ago from Superior, Arizona

For another nice and quiet little central valley California town, head to Gustine. 45 minutes or so south of Modesto. Takes you back 40 or 50 years. Lots of cows too! Thanks for the tour.


Used Acoustic Gui profile image

Used Acoustic Gui 6 years ago from New Zealand

Love San Fran! Looking forward to going back for another visit!


cloudhardy profile image

cloudhardy 6 years ago from United State

Good Hub!!!!

Selection is the most difficult task, specifically in the case of traveling, therefore the description of Californian and the most traversed places such as San Francisco,Los Angeles,San Diego,Sacramento,San Luis Obispo,Arcata,Redding,Marysville,Death Valley Junction and Salton Sea is really awesome. Thanks a lot for sharing such a wonderful peace of text.


R. J. Lefebvre 6 years ago

Kathryn,

Your city choices are interesting. I don't mind visiting large cities for short periods to satify cultural interests, but I would never want to live in any of them. Smaller communities seem to be more sociable and endearing.

Ronnie


Jaynie2000 profile image

Jaynie2000 6 years ago

Great hub with a few cities I've never been to, but would like to see. I would have included Santa Barbara.


Isabel 6 years ago

California is the best. These are all places people shouldn't miss, especially San Francisco. How can you not love a city with an opera season? For those visiting from outside the US, another good thing to think about is visitors insurance.


Art of legend india.com 6 years ago

I am enjoying your hub. it is a very nice collection about California.I love San Francisco.


Jane@CM profile image

Jane@CM 6 years ago

It was so nice when I googled Northern CA cities to find a Hub on it! We recently moved to the Sacto area and I wanted to find some artsy type towns for my daughter and I to explore. Good hub.


lender3212000 profile image

lender3212000 6 years ago from Beverly Hills, CA

Those are some excellent suggestions. San Diego has always been a favorite of mine although I am starting to explore a bit more when I travel to California so I'm starting to discover a few new things.


jeanie.stecher profile image

jeanie.stecher 6 years ago from Seattle

NiCe places you have mentioned here in your hub! I have gone to almost all of those and indeed you speak the truth. I love California since it has good weather and not to mention LA lakers! hehehe


ferma 6 years ago

i wish to visit morocco and to the city which is marrakech

this my e mail if you have any question ferma@live.fr


Nick 6 years ago

I live in Marysville and wow, i was shocked to see it on a list among San Diego, San Fran and LA. However, after reading our authors thoughts, i feel that her purpose was just. And ya, there are so many republicans you'd puke.


Metalhobbit7 profile image

Metalhobbit7 6 years ago

What about Monterey?! San Franscisco is my favorite place too, (no way would i live there though) but Monterey is a great place, shoulda been in the list.


carmellowyoshi profile image

carmellowyoshi 6 years ago

Nice, i used to live in California, it was so nice! And i agree with Michelle Smith, don't forget Santa Cruz! I used to live there, and i loved it so much. Outstanding hub, nicely done.


louise 6 years ago

i would love to live there im from ireland and i hate it its so boring over here


Michelle Smith 6 years ago

Don't forget Santa Cruz, next time you update your site!!!


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

I've hit your top five. . . .and three of them last month. I'm a proud Texan, but California is one hell of a beautiful place!

I agree with the fellow who commented above about Santa Cruz/Monterrey Bay. I stayed in Seaside for six weeks, and that area is awesome.


fiona_33 profile image

fiona_33 6 years ago from UK

Terrific hub. Really useful information. I've been to California twice and would love to go back again.


Jay 6 years ago

I think San Jose should be in the list.

Live here for 20 years, and this city

looks beautiful. Came and see it ,

and a bet you stay for ever..


LDC2010 profile image

LDC2010 6 years ago from Canada

i wish ill visit california one day.. i have heard so much beautiful things about that place.


sexysara 6 years ago

i didn't read all of it but what i did read i liked doing research on cali thanks alot


lizy22 profile image

lizy22 6 years ago

I personally enjoy your post, its very interesting and informative. Thanks


JC Martin profile image

JC Martin 6 years ago from USA

My bro has been living in San Diego for a few years now and he loves it. I also took a trip there last Summer to give the kids a nice vacation at Sea World and Legoland. We had a blast.

http://www.spataneoushottubs.com/portable-hot-tubs...


Twenty One Days 6 years ago

misses `frisco. `specially north bay.

red woods, coastline, rocky inlets...


jennafaw 6 years ago

Don't forget your casinos like San Manuel, Morongo, and Fantasy. Big Bear is really lovely too, but I have never been to Lake Arrowhead. However there is this place called Lytle Creek with a beautiful waterful [from what I've heard]. When I do get the chance to visit there, I'll definitely post up pictures.


Norwegian Pearl Cruises 7 years ago

Very cool list, I have spent quite a bit of time in Arcata, definitly a great place to run into some hippies.


natalie 7 years ago

I WENT HERE!!


jimmy 7 years ago

stockton should be on top ten


MikeNV profile image

MikeNV 7 years ago from Henderson, NV

I've been to 7 of the cities listed. California is very different from North to South. And the inland deserts are not very pleasant... but I'm one to talk. I love the Bay Area... and then OC the most.


c. mattingly 7 years ago

I really enjoyed your hub! I think Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake should definetly be added to these amazing cities!


Target Visibility profile image

Target Visibility 7 years ago

hey if you want to find out more about US cities, visit okbravo.com. Its a really good travel site that will help you plan your holiday in the US. Thanks for the info - this is a great hub Kathryn!


J. Kumm profile image

J. Kumm 7 years ago from Washington

Santa Cruz/Monterey should really be on this list! =)


Private Jet Prices 7 years ago

Great list of cities, I have been to everone at least once. San Diego is probably my favorite though. So beautiful and so much to do, great weather and friendly people.


Best Hot Tub Prices 7 years ago

I have spent some time in Humbolt County, the hippie generation is definitly alive and well there. Some very nice country though.


mwaky profile image

mwaky 7 years ago

really helpful!


Ozark Trail Tents 7 years ago

I grew up on the Oregon Coast right on the Oregon/California border. I have spent quite a bit of time in all the places you talk about and they all have their qualities that make them each unique. Great post.


Pierre van Eck 7 years ago

Congratulations on a fine and very informative Hub. Many thanks for sharing your take on the top destinations in California - its been a great read!


jennifer maurer profile image

jennifer maurer 7 years ago from Chicago, IL

Nice hub! I lived in California for about 10 years, from North to South. I liked your list very much. My personal favorite was Carmel/Big Sur. Also liked Man"happenin" Beach! I always love to hear from a native. One thing I observed while living out there was that most Californians don't bother to travel around their great state. I think I saw more of it than the average native. Glad to see you enjoy and appreciate it there, and share with all of us. Thanks!


cfangerow profile image

cfangerow 7 years ago from United Kingdom

I am also from California but have been abroad for most of the last five years. Your hub reminded me that there are so many interesting places to see back home!


Francisco 7 years ago

I would add Davis to that list. it is really interesting and has lots of things to do.


irene.trel profile image

irene.trel 7 years ago

Those cities you have cited in California is very much looking forward to visit. You publish a great travel information which gives me an idea on how much and which city I prefer to visit.


daveearley profile image

daveearley 7 years ago from Chicago, IL

Bonus area? I'll have to remember that one if I ever end up in Cali.


Triplet Mom profile image

Triplet Mom 7 years ago from West Coast

Nice choices! I would have added Solvang and Santa Barbara but like the ones you chose too. Too many choices when you talk about California.


St.James profile image

St.James 7 years ago from Lurking Around Florida

What no Oxnard?! or Weed?!

Great city choices!

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