Although states like Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, Montana and Florida are hailed for their wide array of outdoor adventures, the massive state of California also has plenty to offer nature lovers.
From pristine mountain lakes and flourishing redwood forests to sunny beaches and sandy desert dunes, these are the best spots for outdoor exploration in California.
Yosemite National Park
The unbelievable Yosemite National Park is easily the top spot for soaking up the outdoors. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the eastern part of the state, this famous park has plenty of opportunities for hikers, rock climbers and even cross-country skiers.
Known around the world for its massive granite cliffs like El Capitan, the area is also home to many waterfalls, lakes and streams, glaciers, mountain peaks, meadows and sequoia groves.
Corona del Mar
A sub-section of famous beach city Newport Beach, Corona del Mar has a stunning, unique state beach. Sitting just south of the Newport Harbor jetty, the mild waves make it an ideal spot for swimming, but there are other things to do here as well.
Giant cliffs overlook the channel where the boats enter and leave the ocean, with ridges perfect for climbing. If you make it over them, you’ll find a smaller ocean cove that’s often less crowded. Corona del Mar also has fire pits for summer bonfires.
Joshua Tree National Park
Many visit California for its warm weather, and few places get hotter than Joshua Tree National Park. Much of the park is a designated wilderness area, but there are still plenty of parts travellers can explore.
With nine organized campgrounds in the park, Joshua Tree is a major hotspot for camping. Backcountry camping is also permitted within the park. As with most national parks, there are a variety of nature paths and hiking trails—some with views as far as Coachella Valley and the Salton Sea. It is also a popular spot for bouldering and rock climbing.
One of the most beautiful places in California is Lake Tahoe. The region is filled with activities for those who enjoy either tourist traps or more natural locations. It splits the California/Nevada state line.
The southern shore of the lake is the more popular vacation spot, filled with large hotels, casinos and watersports like parasailing and jet skiing. But, in the north, you’ll find resorts popular with downhill skiers in the wintertime.
This relaxing destination offers incredible views of mountain peaks surrounding the cool alpine lake and small towns littered with summer festivals along the shoreline. Snag one of these California vacation rentals and relax by the water.
A few hours north of San Francisco, Humboldt County is filled with redwood trees and foggy coastlines. With a very small population of mostly college students and hippies, this interesting area has some rather unique spots to enjoy.
Possibly the most exciting is Patrick’s Point State Park, which offers coastal views, forest hikes and overlooks on top of giant rocks. There is also a small recreation of a Sumeg village, showcasing the area’s rich Native American history. Other popular coastal hikes and opportunities for rock climbing can be found at Luffenholtz Beach. Wandering the greenery-filled hikes at Fern Canyon is also outstanding.
Travelling in Humboldt will save you money simply because nearly everything here is outdoors—and free.
The shores of La Jolla are a great choice for San Deigo beachgoers. Their varied settings allow for reclining on the sandy beach or sitting atop rocky cliffs overlooking the blue ocean.
Also in La Jolla, travellers can climb down to some tide pools, where they’ll spot everything from hermit crabs to sea stars. Though you have to watch out for the waves to make sure you stay standing, it’s a fun way to get up close and personal with some marine life—for free. While all of Southern California’s beaches are beautiful, this one stands out above the rest, with possibly the most stunning sunsets in the region.
This spot may be lesser known to travellers, but Borrego Springs is home to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Located in eastern San Diego, Imperial and Riverside counties, this sprawling region has over 100 miles of hiking trails in the Colorado Desert.
The park includes desert, chaparral and woodland ecosystems, which are home to colorful rock formations, desert washes, natural springs, the unique desert bighorn sheep and native desert plants and cacti. The park is set far away from any substantial cities, offering dark skies that often draw stargazers.
Central California has a very different coastal make-up than both Southern and Northern California. In the south, the sunny beaches are a huge part of recreation and tourism. Whereas in the north, they’re colder but still ideal for strolling on the sand and looking at the water.
In Big Sur, the Pacific Coast Highway twists and winds on massive coastal cliffs that drop off into deep turquoise waters below. On the opposite side of the highway from the colorful sea, forests of towering redwoods line the roadside. There are plenty of forest hikes in this area. Some have views of the expansive ocean, floating sea otters and coastal waterfalls.
Located in the Sierra Nevada range, not far from Yosemite, is Mammoth Lakes. It’s a popular area in both winter and summer.
Wintertime snow in the range offers plenty of outdoor adventures! There’s cross country skiing, snowmobiling, tubing, snowshoeing, ice climbing and snowboarding. During summer, the region is littered with lakes and waterfalls. You’re also close to the nearby June Lake Loop and the saltwater Mono Lake as well as ghost town Bodie.
Although it’s not often mentioned, Catalina Island is a gem. This small island close to the Los Angeles coastline has a lot of fun to offer travellers. You can get there by boat or plane. Snorkeling and scuba diving adventures, submarine trips, parasailing, golfing and ziplining are all popular pastimes. There are also hiking trails up to the Wrigley Memorial through the island’s botanic garden.