The Getaway
The Best Things To Do In Southern California

Southern California is a perfect mix of natural landscapes and Hollywood glamour. Whether you are in downtown Los Angeles, San Diego, or parts in between, you can find everything you need. Some of the best amenities are within minutes of a beach, and a car ride away from gorgeous mountains, waterfalls, and hiking trails. There is something for everyone in Southern California whether you want to hike up a mountain to soak up the view of a waterfall or visit Sleeping Beauty's castle.

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01 Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is just east of Palm Springs. This park is where the Mojave and Colorado desert ecosystems meet which presents the opportunity for a wide variety of animals and plants, including the Joshua Tree that gave the park its name. This area provides gorgeous surroundings for a wide range of outdoor activities. It is also a great place to spend the night. From here, you can experience breathtaking views of the Milky Way in some of the darkest skies in California.

Joshua Tree Milky Way Schroptschop / Getty Images

02 Disneyland

Disneyland is in Anaheim, southeast of downtown Los Angeles. This location was the original theme park that started it all more than 50 years ago. Disneyland is obviously a must-see for kids, but parents will love it, too. There are more than 60 rides based on classic movies like Dumbo and more recent favorites like Finding Nemo along with several Star Wars attractions. You will find plenty of yummy food in the park as well as characters to meet and shows to see. Come and see why they call it the Happiest Place on Earth.

Disneyland Anaheim Castle Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

03 Los Angeles

It is impossible to talk about southern California without mentioning Los Angeles, the largest city in the Golden State. There is a seemingly endless list of things to do in L.A., including the Griffith Observatory, Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the La Brea Tarpits. Shop on the Third Street Promenade or Rodeo Drive or take a Hollywood homes tour to see where your favorite stars live. World-class dining and accommodations will make you feel like Hollywood royalty.

Los Angeles Downtown halbergman / Getty Images

04 Long Beach

Another must-see city is Long Beach. It is located just south of the greater-Los Angeles metro area along the Pacific Coast. There are a lot of cool and unique things to do here. In addition to bars, breweries, and delicious food, visitors can experience the outdoors by playing on the beach or taking a boat ride to Catalina Island. Visit the Aquarium of the Pacific, cruise the canals, or stay in the Queen Mary hotel, an art deco-style ocean liner that has been docked at Long Beach for more than 40 years.

Long Beach Pier Boats Ron and Patty Thomas / Getty Images

05 Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica lies on the coast, just west of downtown Los Angeles. While there is a lot to do in the area, the must-see attraction is the Santa Monica Pier. This is an amazing place for kids, but there is something for everyone. Ride the Ferris wheel and rollercoaster at Pacific Park or a take slower ride on the historic carousel. You can also visit the arcade or aquarium and even learn how to ride the trapeze. There are bike rentals, shopping, and plenty of yummy food, too, including burgers, pizza, hot dogs, and ice cream.

Santa Monica Pier Ershov_Maks / Getty Images

06 Gaviota Beach State Park

Up the coast from Los Angeles and about 30 miles outside of Santa Barabara is Gaviota Beach State Park. One of the cool things about this park is the variety of habitats found here. The elevation varies, changing the topography from sandy beaches to oak woodlands. You can spend the day hiking the trails in the dense backcountry, visiting the Gaviota Hot Springs, or boating and fishing off the pier. Campsites are available, too, an can accommodate tents as well as. trailers and RVs.

Part of the route of the Amtrak Coast Starlight passenger train, looking east along the Californian coast in the area of the Gaviota State Park. Leadinglights / Getty Images

07 Carlsbad Flower Fields

One of the most breathtaking views in southern California is the Carlsbad Flower Fields. Located in northern San Diego County, this 50-acre display of ranunculus flowers sits on a hillside overlooking the coast. Here, you can enjoy tractor rides, a sweet pea maze, and Santa's Playground as well as several greenhouses and gardens. This attraction is not available year-round. The flowers bloom every spring and are nearing the end of their life cycle by late summer.

Carlsbad Flower Fields cfbill / Getty Images

08 Whale Watching

One of the most amazing animal migrations in the world is the epic journey gray whales make every year. About 20,000 whales travel from Alaska to Mexico and back again, feeding in the cool Bering Sea and mating in the warm lagoons along Baja. There are opportunities for whale watching in many southern California cities, including around Los Angeles and from the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara. Humpbacks, orcas, and blue whales are often spotted, too. There are plenty of tours available along the coast. It is definitely worth adding this experience to your southern California itinerary.

Baja Whale Watching ANDREYGUDKOV / Getty Images

09 Tahquitz Canyon

Southeast of Palm Springs it Tahquitz Canyon, part of the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indian Reservation. This is a great place for anyone looking for a challenging hike. The trail takes you to the magnificent 60-foot waterfall and back to the Visitor's Center. This is not a beginner's trail as it gains 350 feet in elevation with many steep and rocky steps to climb. Plan carefully as there are no restrooms or water stops along the way. While the waterfall is the highlight of Tahquitz Canyon, there are also native plants and wildlife as well as native rock art to enjoy.

Tahquitz Canyon Hike Cheri Alguire / Getty Images

10 San Diego

San Diego is the second-most populous city in California, second only to Los Angeles. It is located in the extreme south, only about 16 miles or so from the Mexican border. Here, you can visit the San Diego Zoo, spend a day in the sun Mission or Coronado Beach, shop and dine at the trendy Gaslamp Quarter, or tour the USS Midway Museum.

San Diego Fireworks LPETTET / Getty Images

11 Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

Nestled between the sparkling coastline and bustling downtown Santa Barbara, the Funk Zone is a vibrant district that pulses with creativity. What once was an area of forgotten warehouses has transformed into a cultural mosaic of art galleries, boutique tasting rooms, and artisan shops. Strolling through its graffiti-adorned streets, visitors can dive into local art, savor fine wines, and indulge in gourmet delights. It's a colorful testament to the city's evolving identity, blending coastal charm with urban flair.

12 Channel Islands National Park

Views of Arch Rock on Anacapa Island from a boat in Channel Islands National Park

Off the coast of Santa Barbara, the Channel Islands National Park emerges as a pristine natural sanctuary. Kayaking through the serene waters around the islands offers a unique vantage point to appreciate their rugged beauty. Glide past secluded coves, navigate through kelp forests, and explore echoing sea caves. The islands' untouched landscapes and abundant wildlife create a sense of adventure and isolation, making it an unforgettable escape into nature's embrace.

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13 Anza-Borrego Desert

Wildflowers at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Southern California.

Under the dark skies of the Anza-Borrego Desert, the cosmos unveils itself in mesmerizing clarity. Far removed from the light pollution of the cities, this desert sanctuary offers one of the best stargazing experiences in Southern California. On clear nights, the Milky Way stretches across the sky in a dazzling display, with shooting stars streaking through the darkness. It's a moment of pure wonder, reminding us of the vastness of the universe and our place within it.

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14 Huntington Beach

Incredible colors of sunset by Huntington Beach Pier, in the famous surf city in California

Huntington Beach, affectionately known as "Surf City USA," is the epitome of California's surf culture. For those looking to catch their first wave, there's no better place to learn. Surf schools dot the coastline, offering lessons for all ages and skill levels. Under the guidance of experienced instructors, you'll paddle out past the breakers, feel the rush of the ocean beneath you, and perhaps even stand up on your board. It's an exhilarating introduction to the world of surfing, set against the backdrop of one of Southern California's most iconic beaches.

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15 Hiking to Potato Chip Rock

Potato Chip Rock, a popular geological landmark, California

Perched atop the mountains near San Diego, Potato Chip Rock is a thin, jutting slice of stone that has captured the imagination of hikers and Instagrammers alike. The hike to reach it is challenging but rewarding, winding through the rugged terrain of Mt. Woodson. At the summit, brave souls can step out onto the rock for a photo op, suspended above the sweeping vistas of Southern California. It's a physical and metaphorical high point of any visit to the region, offering panoramic views and a sense of accomplishment.

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