California is many things, but if we could only use one word to describe it, we'd say beautiful sums it up pretty well. And it's as vast as it is visually striking. You can breathe in the crisp mountain air, feel the warmth of the sun while looking out at the Pacific Ocean, walk through an enchanting fog, study charming architecture in San Francisco, take in hypnotizing valleys and vineyards, and watch the moon rise over desert-scapes all in one day. Since most of us can't pack all those sites in today, we decided to create a virtual tour of 23 beautiful places in California (though there are many more). So soak in the beauty of the Golden State and take note of our travel tips should you feel the urge to submit an OOO request as soon as you lay eyes on these destinations (warning: you will).
In the California Spotlight: Joshua Tree National Park
The Local Scoop: Outdoor adventurers, get ready for the trip of a lifetime. This expansive desert locale is ideal for hiking, scrambling, and stargazing. Set up camp or book a stay at the Joshua Tree House.
In the California Spotlight: Napa Valley
The Local Scoop: We suggest going on a hot-air balloon ride to get a bird's-eye view of the expansive greenery of the area. Stay at Calistoga Ranch, which is nestled in a lush, private canyon of the small town swarming with wineries and rolling hills. While you're in the area, explore Healdsburg, St. Helena, and Sonoma.
In the California Spotlight: Point Reyes
The Local Scoop: Just an hour and a half outside of San Francisco, this beautiful seaside town is a one-of-a-kind gem. With winding roads, rolling hills, and bay views (it also happens to be a national park), it's a lot more quaint and less commercial than some other Northern California destinations. You'll get the same foodie-friendly perks you'd find in San Francisco (cheese and oyster lovers will be especially happy here), though the picturesque town feels untouched by time. Stay at Nick's Cove and go to Hog Island Oyster Co.
In the California Spotlight: Los Angeles, East Side
The Local Scoop: Located in Los Feliz, Los Angeles, Griffith Observatory is a must-see. While it's mostly known as a lookout spot with hiking trails and expansive views of the city, the beautiful art deco building itself is worth exploring. Stay at Hotel Covell, a design-savvy boutique hotel just a few blocks away from the observatory, and explore Silver Lake, Downtown, and Echo Park while you're there.
In the California Spotlight: Yosemite National Park
The Local Scoop: Go camping in Yosemite for gorgeous waterfalls, lakes, and mountaintop views. Glacier Point and Half Dome are must-sees. It's the perfect excuse to unplug for a weekend.
In the California Spotlight: Badlands
The Local Scoop: Looking more like something you'd discover on Mars than on our planet, the Badland salt flats in Death Valley are truly remarkable. Bordering Nevada, this national park is full of natural wonders and even a ghost town.
In the California Spotlight: Ojai
The Local Scoop: Escape the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles for a weekend in this charming, old-school town of rolling hills, delicious food, horseback riding, and wine tasting. Stay at the Caravan Outpost or Ojai Valley Inn.
In the California Spotlight: Mount Tamalpais
The Local Scoop: Hiking Mount Tam is like stepping inside a magical kingdom. With quaint little footbridges, soothing waterfalls, canopies of lush greenery overhead, and sparkling views of the bay, it doesn't get more beautiful than this. Unless, of course, you go early in the morning when there's a thick blanket of rolling fog that makes you feel like you're walking on the clouds. Stay in nearby Sausalito at Cavallo Point or go camping in the Headlands.
In the California Spotlight: Owens Lake
The Local Scoop: Who says dystopic things can't be beautiful? Though visually striking, Owens Lake gets its name from vivid orange, purple, red, and yellow hues from massive amounts of halobacteria because it was emptied out in the early 1900s when Los Angeles diverted the Owens River and dried it up. Regardless, it's a really fascinating place to visit, especially if you're interested in ecology.
In the California Spotlight: Big Sur
The Local Scoop: Bixby Bridge is a California icon. Stay at Ventana Big Sur, where rustic yet chic, well-curated interiors rule. The Post Ranch Inn is also an unbelievably beautiful backdrop. And if you're just passing through Big Sur on a road trip, you should definitely see the black-sand beach.
In the California Spotlight: Orange County
The Local Scoop: For a quintessential California experience, head to Balboa Island in Southern California. This is one of the few places that really does live up to the reputation of feeling like summer year-round. Head to nearby Laguna Beach and stay at The Ranch.
In the California Spotlight: Big Bear Lake
The Local Scoop: Yes, it can snow in Southern California. This tiny Southern California town is a hot spot in the winter because of its ski resort, though it's just as worthy of a visit in the warmer and transitional months. Case in point? This narrow stream running along the trees.
In the California Spotlight: Mono Lake
The Local Scoop: Venus and Pleiades are pictured here rising at dawn over the island of tufa in the middle of Mono Lake. It's a shallow saline soda lake in the desert that was also a victim of the Los Angeles water diversion efforts in the 1900s. Though Mark Twain wrote that it is a "lifeless, treeless, hideous desert [and] solemn, silent, sailless sea—this lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth—is little graced with the picturesque," we beg to differ.
In the California Spotlight: Santa Barbara
The Local Scoop: Nicknamed the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is an idyllic, midsize city packed with history, gorgeous architecture, great food, and even better surfing. Enjoy a scoop of ice cream at the original McConnell's Ice Cream Shop, take a tour of the wine from the region on the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail, and then unwind at the Belmond El Encanto.
In the California Spotlight: Hot Creek
The Local Scoop: This is one of the most beautiful hot springs on the planet, though it's probably too hot to soak in. Indeed, the "fumaroles and periodic geyser eruptions at Hot Creek attest to the chamber of hot magma which lies about three miles below the surface of the earth in this area."
In the California Spotlight: Capitola
The Local Scoop: Right by Santa Cruz, Capitola is a beach town worth visiting for the row of colorful homes along the boardwalk and beach. Stroll along the boardwalk out to the pier and then check out the little village.
In the California Spotlight: Lake Tahoe
The Local Scoop: No matter what time of year you visit Lake Tahoe and how many times you go, the beauty of the crystal-clear lake, mountains, and fresh air is always astounding. Hit the slopes in the winter for powder skiing and partake in water sports during the summer. Or go hiking and rock climbing if you're more of a land person.
In the California Spotlight: Salton Sea
The Local Scoop: If you love to visit kitschy, eccentric locales and ghost towns, add the Salton Sea to your bucket list. From afar, the pristine white shore and pink sunsets are something out of a Dr. Suess storybook but step closer, and you'll see (though first, you will smell) that the shore is actually composed of dead fish bones. That doesn't take away from the beauty of the sunsets, though. It's absolutely fascinating and worth the drive. If you've already made the trek out here, check out Salvation Mountian too, which is a short drive away. Due to increasing salinity and pollution, much of the surrounding area has been deserted (some of the abandoned remains are now encrusted by salt).
In the California Spotlight: Palm Springs
The Local Scoop: When it comes to desert destinations, it's hard to beat this Southern California retreat, which also happens to be a mecca for midcentury-modern design aficionados with incredible antique shops and flea markets, as well as some of the most photo-worthy interior vignettes imaginable around every corner. Stay at the Parker, where you'll feel like you've landed in Jonathan Adler's iteration of Wonderland with vivid colors, quirky furniture, and whimsical décor accents everywhere you look (or pose for a photo).
In the California Spotlight: San Francisco
The Local Scoop: If you prefer to stay in cities but still want to soak in all the beauty of California, you'll fall in love with San Francisco. Between the picturesque views, the friendly communities, the European charm, countless culinary gems, and a unique cultural history, what's not to love about this city? Stay at the new Kelly Wearstler–designed hotel, Proper Hotel.
In the California Spotlight: Los Angeles, West Side
The Local Scoop: Since the west side of Los Angeles feels like a totally different city (and depending on which part you're in, it actually is a different city), we're also spotlighting Venice Beach. With charming little canals and footbridges, palm trees, hip boutiques, and delicious eateries, it's exactly what you'd expect from the California version of the romantic Italian destination. Stay at The Surfrider in Malibu or The Rose Hotel in Venice.