18 Perfect Places For A California Summer Vacation
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Wondering about some of the most amazing places that will make your California summer vacation exceptionally memorable? Here are some of the best spots to help you plan your summer in California.
Summer is just a few months away and now is the perfect time to plan an epic getaway or staycation. California being one of the most diverse states in the United States offers vibrant cities, beach fronts, lake towns, hiking spots, wineries and a lot more.
With many outdoor adventures, relaxing coastal areas, charming sites and natural beauty, Summers in California are a call to wonderful times. Check out some of the best places to visit for a fantastic California summer vacation.
Best Places For A California Summer Vacation
1. Big Sur
If you are looking for the perfect summer destination in California, you really cannot go wrong with the absolutely breathtaking Big Sur on the Central Coast. With landscapes that are the stuff of dreams, any trip to Big Sur is sure to be memorable.
Located roughly thirty miles south of Monterey Bay, you can also reach this incredible natural area via a road trip to Big Sur from Los Angeles or other California cities.
Once you are there, there are lots of things to keep anyone occupied in this beautiful setting. Take the time to go on one or two of many hikes in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, take in the iconic Bixby Bridge, enjoy the views of the McWay Falls as the water cascades onto the beach or simply pull over at a few of the many vista points to gaze in awe at the dramatic cliffs and seaside.
There are few places in the United States that are as famed as Big Sur and once you visit, it’s not hard to see why. So if you’re looking for an unforgettable destination in California, then you absolutely cannot go wrong with visiting the inimitable Big Sur!
By Maggie of The World Was Here First
2. Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara makes an ideal weekend getaway in Southern California. Just north of Los Angeles and south of San Luis Obispo, it’s the gateway to California’s central coast. With the Santa Ynez mountains as a backdrop and colorful red tile roofs everywhere, Santa Barbara feels upscale and sophisticated—after all, plenty of celebrities have homes in Montecito here—yet easy-going and accessible.
Plus, the whole town is walk-able, making it a breeze to enjoy an evening out at any one of the many award-winning restaurants here. Santa Barbara’s foodie scene has always been on point.
Spend time at any of the beautiful beaches here or go wine tasting in The Funk Zone near lower state street. One of the best things about Santa Barbara is the beautiful bikes-only path that stretches from downtown all the way along the beach up to the university (UC Santa Barbara) north in Isla Vista. Cycling here is a dream come true.
Visiting Santa Barbara in summer is ideal. In fact, it’s famous for its June Solstice Festival, a beautiful annual tradition with a world-class parade filled with colorful costumed revelers. With more time, head into the hills 30 minutes to access world-class wine tasting opportunities in the Santa Ynez Valley. Whichever activities you choose, your Santa Barbara visit is sure to surprise and delight.
By Chris of Explore Now Or Never
3. San Diego
San Diego is known for its 70 miles of beautiful coastline. With summer temperatures in the low 80s during the day and temperatures in the 60s at night, it is a fantastic summer destination with plenty to explore. Arrive early to see the popular La Jolla Cove seals and sea lions. Alternatively, take a kayak tour, or a seal tour, to enjoy the seals and panoramic views of San Diego from the water.
Explore the USS Midway Museum, the most popular Naval Warship Museum in the United States. Allow 3-4 hours to explore it. The museum gets extremely busy, so arrive early. Wander the Gaslamp Quarter, while enjoying the history, Victorian architecture, and restaurants featuring world-renowned chefs. The Gaslamp Quarter is a lively downtown neighborhood that is easily walkable.
Don’t miss Balboa Park, a 1,2000-acre historic urban cultural park that features green space, gardens, several museums and theaters, and one of the best Zoo’s in the world, the San Diego Zoo.
Coronado is one of America’s finest beaches. With a long sandy beach, it is a great place to enjoy some time relaxing in the sunshine. Plus, driving across the 200 foot tall Coronado Bridge provides one of the best views in San Diego.
By Debbie Fettback of World Adventurists
If you are looking for a relaxing, gorgeous location for your California summer vacation, Carmel-by-the-Sea is for you. Carmel is a small, coastal city located just 1.5 hours south of San Francisco. It’s home to many bohemian artists, writers and poets and known for its whimsical feel and fairy-tale-like cottages.
You can sunbathe and listen to the waves on Carmel Beach or window shop and stroll art galleries on Carmel’s famous Ocean Avenue. And when you are ready for a snack, pick up a delicious treat from Carmel Bakery which is over 100 years old.
Take a short drive to Point Lobos State Park for some easy hikes to see Carmel’s breathtaking, rocky coastline. While you’re there, be sure to see China Cove’s crystal-clear, turquoise waters!
Summer travel to Carmel is perfect for travelers who love a good summer festival. Swing by the annual Carmel Art Festival, Carmel Surfabout or the world-class Carmel Bach Festival (just to name a few!).
By Jenessa Van Woerkom of Destination Daydreamer
5. Mammoth Lake
Although Mammoth Lakes is famous for skiing and other winter activities, it’s actually an awesome place to visit in the summer, too! From hiking to mountain biking to camping (and even gondola rides), you won’t run out of fun things to do in Mammoth Lakes, even if you spend your whole summer in this lovely mountain town.
While Mammoth Lakes is full of incredible hikes, one of the most iconic is Devil’s Postpile/Rainbow Falls. An easy trail will take you to both the unique basalt columns and the gorgeous 101 foot waterfall, named for the rainbows it often creates on sunny days.
Also make sure to pay a visit to Mono Lake, just outside of Mammoth. This saltwater lake is one of the oldest lakes in North America (it’s over a million years old!) and features cool-looking tufa rock formations. Don’t forget to stop at nearby Mono Cone in Lee Vining for a yummy summer treat.
And even though you won’t find any powder to ski at Mammoth Mountain in the summer, you can still ride the gondola and take in the panoramic views of the whole area to scope out your next adventure!
By Allison of She Dreams Of Alpine
Mendocino is one of the best places to visit in California in the summer. Located on the North Coast of California, Mendocino offers lots of fun things to do outdoors. Although Mendocino has a temperate climate all year long, the long daylight hours of summer make it possible to explore more.
Visit the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, which are flush with blooms in the summer. The rose garden and summer heathers are particularly spectacular. Walk the coastal trail to enjoy the beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.
Explore some of the state parks around Mendocino, which feature redwood forests, coastal bluff trails, and opportunities to spot wildlife. A little north, you can visit Glass Beach to look for the sparkling colored glass pieces on the beach.
In the town, stroll the pretty streets to admire the architecture, and visit a museum or two to learn more about the history of the area. Mendocino is home to charming inns, and great places to eat and drink: Trillium is both a cafe and an inn.
By Dhara Of Roadtripping California
7. Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park is the perfect Californian summer vacation. Home to the highest peak in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney, as well as most of the world’s sequoia trees, the national park covers a significant portion of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The elevation makes it much cooler than most of the state. Summer daytime temperatures are typically in the 70’s.
The park is also home to the eponymous sequoia trees, the largest trees on earth. These, along with pine, fir and cedar trees, make ideal hiking destinations. There are plenty of trails and visitors can fill their days gazing in awe at enormous sequoias and admiring the beauty of the mountains. The Congress Trail is a particular highlight, as it passes many of the largest trees on our planet. Moro Rock is another fun trail to hike.
In the mornings or evenings, it is common to see black bears and other animals feeding in the meadows. Don’t miss the Giant Forest Museum to gain insight into the growth of these amazing trees.
By James Ian of Parks Collecting
8. San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo is one of the most gorgeous spots along the central California Coast. Located approximately halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, SLO, as locals call it, offers enough to keep you busy for at least a couple of days. Begin your trip in downtown San Luis Obispo, where you can check out the Bubblegum Alley. Learn about the history of the area at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, one of the city’s top historic landmarks, and grab local produce at the local farmer’s market.
While San Luis Obispo is located inland, however, it sits near some of the best beaches in Central California. The area also boasts some incredible hikes since it is surrounded by the Nine Sisters, a chain of dormant volcanic cones that present a great opportunity for hiking and mountain biking. These craggy mountains include the popular Bishop Peak, Cerro San Luis, Cerro Cabrillo Peak, Hollister Peak, Black Hill, Islay Hill, and Cerro Romauldo among others.
By Daria Bachmann of The Discovery Nut
9. Pismo Beach
California is filled with so many fun summer getaways and Pismo Beach is one of them. Pismo Beach is a classic beach town located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco that offers so much to do.
One of the best things to do in Pismo Beach is to hang out at the pier. While here, keep your eyes open for dolphins and other marine life. Afterward, head over to the pedestrian-only promenade where you can wander through shops.
Another fun thing to do in Pismo Beach is to spend a day hopping from winery to winery. A few of the best wineries in the region include Edna Valley Vineyard, Wolff Vineyards, and Saucelito Canyon Vineyards.
A visit to Dinosaur Caves Park is also a must. The views of the coastline from here are beautiful. Don’t forget to stroll through the Shell Beach neighborhood. Here you’ll find old-fashion beach cottages. Lastly, be sure to enjoy the local seafood while you are in Pismo Beach. You cannot leave without trying clam chowder at Splash Cafe.
By Disha Smith of Disha Discovers
10. Bay Area
The Bay Area of Northern California is probably best known for the beautiful hilly city of San Francisco. But the Bay Area itself actually covers nine counties offering a wonderful mix of city and nature. Although this is a year-round destination, summer is the most popular time to visit.
San Francisco is buzzing in the summer with fun activities such as wandering the lovely Golden Gate Park, cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge to the charming town of Sausalito, or watching the sea lions at Pier 39 while eating fish and chips.
Wine lovers will be in heaven exploring the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. The wineries are great to visit year-round but in the summer there’s the added charm of small town festivals and live outdoor entertainment.
If you’re looking to escape the city and immerse yourself in nature head to Big Basin Redwoods State Park or Muir Woods to see the awe-inspiring giant redwoods. Or for stunning coastline and fresh sea air you have got Ocean Beach or Point Reyes with its iconic lighthouse.
Accommodations in the Bay Area are abundant and varied. Choose from full-service hotels, quaint guest houses and inns, simple motels and everything in between. You can even go glamping in the Bay Area for a delightful balance of nature and comfort.
By Sarah & Nathan of All About Glamping
11. San Francisco
San Francisco is one of the prettiest cities in the world and it’s no wonder that there is so much to do and see. Summer is a great time to visit San Francisco because of the mild weather and blue skies. Some of the most popular things to see are the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Palace of Fine Arts, Fisherman’s Wharf, Coit Tower, The Seven Sister, Nob Hill, SFMOMA, Yerba Buena gardens, the Missions etc. The list goes on and on.
Besides the famous landmarks, a perfect day trip to San Francisco would include beautiful mosaic steps and sunset sail in San Francisco Bay.
For the chocolate lovers Ghirardelli Square is an absolute must visit. San Francisco is a foodie paradise with something for every palette. Some of the popular cuisine are Italian food at Stinking Rose in Little Italy. Authentic Chinese food and the original fortune cookies in China town. The best sushi in Mission area at Shizen. The best Indian food at Ambar and many amazing Mexican places such as Gracias Madre.
By Jyoti of Story At Every Corner
12. Napa Valley
Napa Valley in the summer can be a wonderful trip with kids if you know where to go! Start your day with a reserved tour of Castello di Amorosa and wow your kids with a real Italian Castle. (And their wine is delicious as well!) Kids will love exploring the castle and there are chickens and peacocks to chase as well.
Next, drive less than 3 miles down iconic State Route 29 to Sterling Vineyards. This is the only vineyards in the valley that has an Aerial Tram or gondola to take you to their tasting room in the hills. Kids will love the ride and adults will love the views. A hot air balloon adventure too takes you over the gorgeous views of the vineyards, hills and agricultural fields
Finally, drive just 8 miles south to Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena and end your day of exploring with a well-deserved meal at The Farmstead. It’s a delicious farm-to-table restaurant, outdoor café, and general store which is a “one-of-a-kind Napa Valley experience.” There are outdoor games for kids and an extensive, delicious menu and wine list for the adults. And on your way home, check out these non-screen car activities for your kids.
By Jennifer of FamilyTripGuides
13. June Lake
June Lake, located in the Eastern Sierras, is one of the most beautiful spots to visit in California. In the summer, June Lake has so much to offer: hiking, swimming, kayaking, camping and more! To get there, you could either fly into Mammoth Airport, Reno Airport, or drive about 6 hours from Los Angeles. Driving is the most popular option, as it’s a super scenic and easy drive!
If you’re planning on camping, Oh Ridge campground is one of the best. The views are epic and the campground is conveniently located right near the beach side of the lake – which is the perfect place to hang out during the summer. Make sure you reserve ahead of time, as the campsites fill up quickly, especially for weekends! If you’re not the camping type, there are quite a few cute Airbnbs or hotels/lodges located in the town of June Lake.
Hanging out at the lake itself is one of the best things to do in June Lake – it’s absolutely beautiful! Have a beach day, bring some floats, and soak in the amazing views. If you find yourself walking around the cute town of June Lake, try out June Lake Brewing for some great beers (and an awesome Hawaiian food truck!), or June Pie Pizza Co for delicious pizza!
By Lauren Wilson of Ready Set PTO
14. Shasta Cascade
The Shasta Cascade region in Northern California is absolutely beautiful any time of the year. However, summer is extra special as it’s a great time to be outdoors enjoying all the natural beauty. There are many waterfalls, swimming holes, and lakes. Be sure to check out Burney Falls, one of California’s gems. And if you’re a hiker there are tons of amazing trails in Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Castle Crags State Park, and beyond.
For the ultimate hike, you can summit Mount Shasta. This is a strenuous hike but a non-technical climb. However, anyone can enjoy the many Mount Shasta viewpoints in the area. The mountain is so large, it can be seen from many miles away.
To get to the Shasta area you can fly into Redding, which is the major city in the area. The drive to Shasta is about an hour and most of the waterfalls and hiking is within an hour’s distance. Summer is a great time to camp and a great option if you’re planning to do most outdoor activities.
By Jeanine of Le Wild Explorer
15. Palm Springs
Palm Springs, located about two hours southeast of Los Angeles, is the perfect place to soak up some California summer sun. While the city can see temperatures hitting triple digits during the summer months, the low humidity and desert-like climate creates the quintessential “dry heat”, perfect for enjoying Palm Springs’ infamous pool scene or better yet, exploring local attractions.
For example, check out the Moorton Botanical Gardens for gorgeous displays of cacti and other desert flora or make a trip to the neighboring Joshua Tree National Park to climb on interesting rock formations and marvel at the eponymous, Seussian trees.
For such explorations, it’s best to plan doing the majority of your exploring in the early morning or the late afternoon to beat the brunt of the summer sun, but these limitations are worth it- you’ll enjoy fewer crowds and more affordable prices during the summer months. And most importantly, that will leave your daytime free for lounging by the pool.
By Jessica Schmit of Uprooted Traveler
16. Lake Tahoe
Located right on the state line between California and Nevada, this freshwater alpine lake is the perfect summer destination with warm daytime temperatures, sports and activities for a range of interests, special summer events like boat shows and fireworks displays, along with beautiful sunsets.
Besides relaxing on the beach, you might enjoy getting out on the water in a kayak or stand up paddle-board to enjoy the crystal clear lake waters anywhere along the shoreline. Try parasailing for panoramic views or rent a jet ski to really get out and explore. You can also rent equipment for boating activities like water skiing, wake-boarding, tubing and fishing, try the King’s Beach area for rentals.
There are also great hiking trails around Emerald Bay and options for horseback riding from a few resorts, or consider doing the Tahoe Rim Trail all the way around the lake !
The small city of South Lake Tahoe offers a range of hotel options. Budget travelers might try staying at a nearby campground, and Emerald Bay State Park is a popular choice. Groups or families could also rent a lakeside cabin. Remember to book accommodation well in advance for busy summer weekends and holidays.
By Claire of Claire Pins Travel
17. Joshua Tree National Park
Located in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is an incredible location for a California summer vacation. Summer is the lowest season for tourism in Joshua Tree because of the hot weather. However, visitors can take advantage of this opportunity and score an excellent campsite inside the park, something that is very difficult to do during peak seasons.
If you are planning on staying near Joshua Tree, then you will generally find more variety and affordable accommodations. No matter which season you decide to visit Joshua Tree, one of the best activities to do is to explore the hiking trails. Some of the best hiking trails in Joshua Tree are Warren Peak Trail, Hidden Valley Nature Trail and Ryan Mountain Trail, as they offer incredible views and insights into the flora of the region. Just remember to avoid the midday heat when doing any outdoor activity.
If you are able to secure a campsite inside the park, then you must not miss the opportunity to go stargazing. Due to the lack of light pollution, Joshua Tree National Park is rated as one of the best places to go stargazing in US. Summer offers a unique stargazing experience because August is the perfect time for the annual Perseid Meteor Shower.
By Sean of Living Out Lau
18. Albama Hills
Summer is a great time for a road trip in California. One of the coolest places you can see is east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Alabama Hills is a bizarre landscape with piles of rounded rocks juxtaposed against the jagged mountains. It is popular for camping because it’s a public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, meaning you can do free dispersed camping throughout the area.
If you prefer a more formal campsite, Tuttle Creek Campground outside of Lone Pine is your best bet. Because of its unique landscape, many movies have utilized Alabama Hills for filming, including Django Unchained and Iron Man. Movie Flats Road takes you throughout the area and can lead you to other noteworthy sites such as the Mobius Arch and the Heart Arch.
Less than 10 miles north you can also explore Manzanar, one of the previous sites of Japanese and Japanese-American internment during WWII. You can find Alabama Hills about 3 hours away from Los Angeles on Highway 395.
By Taylor of Taytrum Travels
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