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Things to Do in California

From southern California’s beachy San Diego and star-studded Los Angeles to history-steeped San Francisco and quieter towns in the north, the Golden State serves up an endless array of destinations and activities. Cruise out to Alcatraz, the famed former prison in the San Francisco Bay, or visit Catalina Island on a boat trip from Long Beach or Dana Point. Outdoor adventures in Yosemite National Park, skiing in Lake Tahoe, or a stroll down the Santa Monica Pier give a glimpse of the state’s majestic natural features. Visit LA to stroll on the Walk of Fame, hit the theme parks in Anaheim, or hike up to snap a photo in front of the Hollywood sign. Monterey and Carmel are home to miles of coastline, a wealth of marine life, and world-class golf facilities. Both the San Diego Zoo and the Monterey Bay Aquarium are considered the top wildlife facilities in their categories, home to an incredible array of animals and opportunities to learn about our non-human neighbors. California’s miles of farm country mean dining opportunities include farm-fresh, high-quality meat and produce. Foodies can dig into fish tacos in SoCal, munch sourdough bread in San Francisco, or hit the wine trail in Napa and Sonoma.
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Aquarium of the Pacific
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One of Long Beach’s top attractions, the Aquarium of the Pacific is home to at least 11,000 aquatic animals across more than 50 exhibits that reflect the marine life of the Pacific Ocean. The nonprofit organization is the largest aquarium in Southern California and one of the most visited in the United States.

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Carlsbad Village
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Carlsbad Village is the downtown area at the heart—and waterfront—of Carlsbad, a fun-loving Southern California beach town. Visitors to Carlsbad spend most of their time in the village, as it’s where most of the shops, restaurants, and hotels are found, including the famous Carlsbad Inn: a Bavarian looking hotel on the corner of Carlsbad Village Drive and Ocean Street. A visit the Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa is a great way to relax with a massage or spa treatment using the local alkaline artisan mineral water. To mingle and pick up fresh local fruits, stop in at the Carlsbad Farmer’s Market, which happens every Wednesday. And of course the beaches and boardwalk that run along Carlsbad Village are the main draw. Tamarack Beach is a great, centrally located stretch that’s ideal for bike riding, surfing or sunbathing.

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Yosemite Falls
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The highest measured waterfall in North America and the sixth-highest in the world, Yosemite Falls is the superstar attraction in Yosemite National Park. With a cumulative drop of 2,425 feet (739 meters), Yosemite Falls comprises three falls and is especially stunning in late spring when the snow melts and water flow is at its peak.

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Alcatraz
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Alcatraz, the former federal prison that once held notorious criminals Scarface Al Capone and George 'Machine Gun' Kelly, is today a national historic landmark and one of the most sought-out (and sold-out) attractions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tour the remains of the maximum-security facility on small and windy Alcatraz Island, aptly nicknamed 'The Rock,' to scope out the grounds and cellhouse; hear stories from former inmates; and pass by the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, and Angel Island on your 1.25-mile (2-km) ferry rides in and out.

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Cannery Row
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Cannery Row is a proudly tourist-friendly strip running along the atmospheric Monterey waterfront. Once home to a series of bustling commercial sardine canneries, the famous waterfront street changed its name of Ocean View Avenue to its longtime nickname, Cannery Row, in 1958 to honor the 1945 John Steinbeck novel of the same name.

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California State Capitol and Museum
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Completed in 1874, the neoclassical California State Capitol building houses both a museum and the seat of California’s government. It is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and features artwork and monuments and artifacts from California’s history, both inside and on the surrounding grounds.

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Hollywood Sign
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One of LA's most distinguishing icons, the famous Hollywood Sign proudly stands on Mt. Lee (Mount Lee) in the Hollywood Hills, overlooking Los Angeles and the California movie industry it has come to symbolize. This LA landmark first appeared on its hillside perch in 1923 as an advertising gimmick for a real-estate development called Hollywoodland. Each letter stands 50 feet (15 meters) tall and is made of sheet metal painted white.

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San Diego Zoo
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The world-famous San Diego Zoo presents a stunning variety of nature’s largest, smallest, exotic, and most endangered creatures. The epic zoo has more than 3,700 animals representing over 800 species in a beautifully landscaped 100 acres (40.5 hectares), typically in lush enclosures that replicate their natural habitat. San Diego Zoo is considered to be one of the best and well-known zoos in the world, and is a must-see attraction in sunny Southern California.

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Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf
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Set on California’s central coast, Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf is famous for its ocean views, resident sea lions and sea otters, and sourdough bowls of clam chowder. Souvenir shops, candy stores, street performers, and seafood restaurants line the seafront. Nearby, you can watch as trawlers unload the day’s catch at Fisherman’s Wharf II.

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Williamson Wines
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Australian natives and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Bill and Dawn Williamson create their award-winning Sonoma County wines from a dozen of their own sustainably farmed vineyards strung along the Dry Creek Valley, which is famed for it’s wine friendly conditions. With vineyards across three different microclimates, Williamson Wines specializes in many varietals, including Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone style wines. Visitors looking to sample their wines don’t need to venture outside of Healdsburg however, as the winery’s tasting room is located downtown, where tasters can enjoy a complimentary wine sample, or reserve a table to try a more immersive experience, with artfully prepared food and wine pairings, including cheese plates dusted with Williamson’s famous truffle salt.

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More Things to Do in California

Catalina Express

Catalina Express

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Find an island escape right off the urban shore of Southern California by taking a quick ride aboard a Catalina Express ferry. Once on Santa Catalina Island, you can spend a day or more relaxing in the Mediterranean-like atmosphere; wildlife watching on the island’s interior; or scuba diving, kayaking, or fishing just offshore.

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Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

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No traveler to San Francisco leaves without checking out the stunning views along the Golden Gate Bridge. The iconic, red-orange suspension bridge rises high above the San Francisco Bay and spans 1.7 miles (2.7 km) across, connecting the city’s northernmost point to Marin County. While it’s a major route for Bay Area commuters, the famous landmark attracts visitors from around the world with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, the Marin headlands, Alcatraz, and San Francisco.

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Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1)

Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1)

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The Pacific Coast Highway—also known as PCH or, more commonly, Highway 1—runs north-south along most of the United States’ West Coast. The incredibly scenic California stretch is known for its oceanfront locales, rugged cliffs, hidden coves, and numerous beaches, making it one of the nation’s most popular road-trip routes. From San Francisco to San Diego and the many charming stops in between, it’s truly one of the most naturally beautiful places on the planet to take a drive.

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Hollywood Walk of Fame

Hollywood Walk of Fame

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Only in Los Angeles are stars so common that they can even be found on the sidewalk. Studded with more than 2,600 brass stars across 18 city blocks, the Hollywood Walk of Fame features names of celebrities in mini monuments. See if you can spot the stars of your favorite motion pictures, TV shows, live theater, and more.

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Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa Valley Wine Train

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Just an hour from one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States, the Napa Valley Wine Train in California distills the essence of the wine country into a single day of wining, dining, and riding through the countryside on an antique train.

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17-Mile Drive

17-Mile Drive

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California’s 17-Mile Drive, said to be one of the world’s most scenic drives, is an essential Central Coast experience. Looping around the Monterey Peninsula, the private toll road offers stellar views of Monterey Bay and passes attractions such as the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock, the Del Monte Forest, and the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course.

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Mojave Desert

Mojave Desert

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The driest desert in North America, the Mojave is home to Death Valley National Park, which is best known for its Badwater Basin, the lowest point on the continent at 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level. The Mojave’s 25,000 square miles (65,000 square kilometers) also encompass Las Vegas, Lake Mead, Mojave National Preserve, and more.

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Coronado

Coronado

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Across the bay from downtown San Diego, the small resort town of Coronado is an idyllic escape from the city with a wide, sandy coastline and a tree-lined main drag that’s home to shops and restaurants. Visitors go to hang out on the beach, tour historical sites, and watch the sunset.

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Old Mission Santa Barbara

Old Mission Santa Barbara

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One of the most famous Catholic monuments in the state, Santa Barbara’s Old Mission is one of the longest continuously operating missions in California. Visit this beautifully constructed 1786 outpost to find stunning stonework, impressive columns, and two domed towers, as well as plenty of Native American and Spanish colonial history.

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USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Museum

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Formerly the US Navy’s longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century (1945 to 1991), the USS Midway Museum comprises an entire floating city. Aboard the hulking vessel docked in San Diego, California, visitors can now explore more than 60 exhibits as well as peek inside the museum’s impressive aircraft collection.

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Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

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Explore the depths of the sea without getting wet at San Diego’s Birch Aquarium at Scripps, and see more than 5,000 species of fish and marine life. Learn about the ocean through interactive displays, hands-on exhibits, and daily feeding demons, and observe cutting-edge research, underwater photography exhibits, and art installations.

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Glacier Point

Glacier Point

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Yosemite National Park’s Glacier Point affords an incomparable bird’s-eye view over Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls, all with very little physical effort involved. The small Geology Hut, to the side of the paved trail leading to the main overlook, shows how the valley has changed over the course of the last 10 million years.

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El Capitan

El Capitan

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El Capitan is the largest exposed-granite monolith in the world and among the most popular rock-climbing destinations in the US. Rising 3,593 feet (1095 meters) above Yosemite Valley, El Capitan was once considered impossible to climb. However, since Warren Harding first conquered the "nose" in 1958, El Capitan has become the standard for big-wall climbing.

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Tunnel View

Tunnel View

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As you drive north on Highway 41 towards Yosemite Valley, you'll pass through a tunnel and, on other side, you'll be treated to an epic view: Bridalveil Fall spills over granite cliffs into a verdant valley while El Capitan and Half Dome stand sentry. Originally constructed in 1933, Tunnel View is the most famous—and visited—scenic overlook in Yosemite.

A 2008 renovation included a more accessible viewing area, improved traffic flow and educational exhibits. Every vista from Tunnel View is picture-worthy, but for frame-worthy light, try to time your stop at Tunnel View to coincide with sunset, when the light turns to shadow and sweeps across the valley.

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