California has some of the most iconic cities in the world, beautiful beaches, a stunning coastline and some of the most breathtaking natural attractions.

Choosing where to go is difficult, especially if you don't have much time.

To help you plan the ultimate trip to California check recommendations for the top places to visit by our featured travel writer Hayley Bateman. 

I loved American drama series The OC and the state of California has had a certain prominence. The series is set in the coastal town of Newport Beach in Orange County, and focuses on the lives of the rich families who form the community.

Although The OC is fictional, the places and locations the characters inhabit are real, and this inspired my list of things I’d recommend doing in California.


1. Los Angeles

Los Angeles skyline

Los Angeles is known worldwide for its association with the film and television industry, and the result is an interesting and entertaining city which has to be seen to be believed.

Hollywood is a popular destination for tourists due to its iconic status. The Hollywood Boulevard is home to the Walk of Fame; over 2400 stars are embedded in the pavements, each one recognising the achievements of someone from the entertainment industry.

It was first established in 1958, and each star has a picture icon representing the industry of the owner. Also on Hollywood Boulevard is the Dolby (Kodak) Theatre, which holds the annual Academy Awards; outside are the hand and foot prints of famous actors cast in concrete. Another worthwhile trip is the Star Homes tour.

Tours like can be booked at numerous outlets on the Boulevard and regardless of the celebrities, it is an entertaining trip through the Hollywood Hills. Or you can ride the subway. Or the train. LA contains such a diverse mix of people, travelling on public transport is an experience in itself.

People watching doesn’t get better than Los Angeles; aspiring actors on the phone arranging auditions, glamorous older women reminiscing about the city’s golden past, commuters trying to get to the office, and students heading for the beach. Add in a few eccentric types (people talking loudly to themselves or telling wild stories) and you’ve got an extremely entertaining journey.

And who knows, you might even spot a celebrity!

For something different check out some lesser known Los Angeles destinations.


2. Venice Beach

Venice beach skateboarders

Approximately half an hour by bus from central Los Angeles, Venice Beach is a world away from the glamour of Hollywood. The area has a more relaxed feel and is culturally significant, with street performers, poets, skateboarders and artists lining the beachfront boardwalk.

It is home to an outdoor gym (named Muscle Beach) containing weightlifting equipment used by the local bodybuilders - the whole environment is a little strange!

There are numerous shops and cafes along the boardwalk all overlooking the beautiful palm tree lined beach.


3. San Diego

San Diego beach

San Diego has beaches, parks and so much more.

Within the Old Town district of San Diego is the State Historic Park, which commemorates the early days of the town, as it has several historic buildings preserved from the nineteenth century.

As San Diego sits near the border, Mexican, Spanish and American influences are evident, both in the architectural style and its cultural attractions. Buildings include a courthouse, blacksmiths, a traditional adobe, museum and stables, and the park runs regular history demonstrations.

There are also Mexican restaurants renowned for their traditional cuisine, and bars serving tequila shots and very strong margaritas!


4. Santa Monica

Santa Monica pier

The City of Santa Monica is situated in Los Angeles County and occupies an envious beachside location facing the Pacific Ocean. It has seen an increase in tourism in recent years, mainly due to investment in facilities and the regeneration of the beach front.

One of the main attractions is the Santa Monica Pier, a 100 year old landmark which is home to an amusement park, Ferris wheel and carousel from the 1920’s.

The Pier has been used in many films and television shows and has become a cultural icon. Santa Monica is also known for hosting film festivals, and alludes to the ‘golden age’ of film through its two cinemas built in the early twentieth century.

The city also has excellent shopping and dining facilities; it is home to several large chain stores as well as independent outlets. However occasionally the weather can be unpredictable; we left clear skies and sunshine in LA to find the whole of Santa Monica shrouded in cold sea mist, so be prepared!


5. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park Cathedral Rocks

Yosemite is one of the best national parks in the United States.

Situated in central California, occupies over 700,000 acres and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

It is internationally recognised for its granite cliffs, groves of Sequoia trees and clear waterfalls, and is renowned for its biodiversity; it is home to nearly 200 rare plant species, and animals and birds thrive on the green grasslands and natural water sources. 


6. San Francisco

San Francisco sunset golden gate bridge

No trip to California would be complete without going to explore San Francisco.

Popular tourist attractions inclde the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fishermans Wharf and neighbourhoods like Haight Ashby. San Francisco is a popular city to live with celebrities and those working in tech, and it is one of the most expensive places to live in the world.


Plan the Ultimate Trip to California

No matter if you have always dreamed to exploring America, or want to take a gap year and go backpacking, or you just work in the USA, you really need to go to California.

There are hundreds more incredible places to see in this state, but hopefully I have given you some ideas for the places not to miss.

To plan an amazing trip search USA tours, there are so many different itineraries with departures all year round.

By Hayley Bateman