16 of California's most unbelievably beautiful places

Forests, mountains, deserts and more.

  • 16
  • 44:44
  • 2,262 mi
  • $381
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Created by ChrissyEdwards - November 6th 2018

With 10 National Parks, more than 800 miles of coastline, and landscapes ranging from deserts to forests to everything in between, it's not hard to find yourself California dreamin'. The most obvious park to visit is the iconic Yosemite National Park, but other parks provide equally incredible experiences: Death Valley's striking sand dunes, Joshua Tree's gnarled yuccas, Redwood's imposing forests, and Lassen Volcanic's colorful geothermal weirdness are all just as amazing. And don't forget, in the middle of all of this, you'll find Big Sur's breathtaking beaches and Lake Tahoe's lush shoreline... better leave enough time to visit all of California's most beautiful spots!

Photo of Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park, Furnace Creek, CA, US

Death Valley National Park

The most extreme landscape in the country (home to the hottest, driest, and lowest points in America) means extreme beauty, mostly untouched by humans, as few dare to journey into Death Valley. A trip to the park is worth it, though: The strange-looking salt flats at Badwater Basin, the mysterious sailing stones at Racetrack Playa, the jagged hills at Zabriskie Point, the colorfully pigmented Artists Palate, the singing sand at Eureka Dunes, the breathtaking stargazing at night, and the ghost towns dotted across the park make for an unforgettable trip.

120mi 02h 21m
Photo of Alabama Hills Recreation Area

Lone Pine, CA, US

Alabama Hills Recreation Area


At the edge of the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains is this smaller, humbler, but no less stunning mountain range: the Alabama Hills. At the Alabama Hills Recreation Area, you can make the quick hike to the famed Mobius Arch, learn about movies and TV shows that were filmed here, study up on the Native American history of the area, and try your hand at backcountry camping.

113mi 02h 05m
Photo of Oh Ridge Campground

June Lake Beach Rd., June Lake, CA, US

Oh Ridge Campground


Oh Ridge offers more than just excellent camping: swimming and fishing, and great mountain views come with a stay here. Bonus: In addition to being near Yosemite, it's also close to Mono Lake, known for its strange-looking tufa towers.

133mi 02h 34m
Photo of Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe

Tahoe Blvd, Incline Village, NV, US

Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe


Boulder-studded coves, shady pine forests, crystal-clear water, and beaches can all be found at Lake Tahoe's Sand Harbor. Hike, kayak, swim, or parasail the day away, and then cozy up at a campsite or in a resort come nightfall. It's a popular vacation destination, and it's not hard to see why! Pro tip: Paddle out to Fannette Island, the lake's only island, to explore the abandoned tea house!

202mi 03h 51m
Photo of Lassen Volcanic National Park

44801 State Highway 36 E, Mineral, CA, US

Lassen Volcanic National Park


When it comes to National Parks with steamy geothermal features, people usually think of Yellowstone National Park-- but it's certainly not the only park that's hot to trot. There's also California's Lassen Volcanic National Park. It's one of the only places in the world that has all four kinds of volcanoes, so you know a park that's packing that much heat is definitely gonna have some cool sights to see. From Bumpass Hell to Devils Kitchen, hikes here are marked by brightly colored pools, bubbling mudpots, and steaming geysers. Oh, and if you smell something a little funky, don't worry... it's just sulphur.

243mi 04h 59m
Photo of Redwood National and State Parks

US Highway 101, Orick, CA, US

Redwood National and State Parks


There are several units in Redwoods National and State Parks, each offering its own views of the majestic trees. Jedidiah Smith State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and Redwood National Park all feature groves of massive redwood trees. Visit one of the drive-through trees, hike around the stands of trees, and soak up the lush serenity of these special forests.

111mi 02h 14m

6831 Avenue of the Giants, Miranda, CA, US

Avenue of the Giants


If you're road-tripping through Northern California, a drive along the Avenue of the Giants is a must. Once a part of Highway 101 (aka the Pacific Coast Highway), it's since been designated State Route 254. The 31.6-mile-long stretch of road takes you right through groves of California's oldest and tallest redwood trees, along the scenic Eel River, and past some pretty great roadside attractions.

78mi 02h 07m
Photo of Fort Bragg Glass Beach

Elm Street and Glass Beach Drive Santa Maria Ca, Fort Bragg, CA, US

Fort Bragg Glass Beach


Fort Bragg Glass Beach's colorful sand actually has a pretty gnarly past: The beach was once a dump established by local residents. The ocean pounded the glass bottles from the trash heap into small, smooth stones that gently washed back up on the beach. Visit and appreciate nature's gift for turning trash into treasure, but remember that you aren't allowed to remove any glass sand from the shore: Leave it for everyone to enjoy!

146mi 03h 01m
Photo of Point Reyes National Seashore

1 Bear Valley Rd, Point Reyes Station, CA, US

Point Reyes National Seashore


Central California has the country's prettiest beaches, hands down, bar none. They're rugged, foggy, secluded, and utterly breathtaking. They're not lined by boardwalks and souvenir shops like beaches on the East Coast or along the Gulf of Mexico. And if you're not convinced, take Point Reyes National Seashore as proof. Point Reyes is almost entirely separated from the mainland via a sunken rift in the San Andreas fault, and it's famed for its rugged coastal scenery, misty and hidden beaches, trails that wind past untamed fields of wildflowers, and rare and endangered wildlife.

194mi 03h 43m
Photo of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

52801 California State Route 1, Big Sur, CA, US

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park


McWay Falls, which tumble right onto the beach and are visible from one of the many scenic overlooks along the coast, are reason enough to visit Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, but Pfeiffer Beach and the camping add to the experience. The beaches, rocky coast, and lush forests, give you Big Sur at its best.

239mi 04h 49m
Photo of Yosemite National Park

Northside Drive, Yosemite Valley, CA, US

Yosemite National Park


Yosemite National Park will always have a special place in the National Parks System. A favorite of famed naturalist John Muir, the Yosemite Valley offers iconic views from Tunnel View and Glacier Point... but even though pictures of this stunning park are everywhere, it's still worth visiting in person. Seeing the sweeping beauty in real life is an intense and heart-stopping experience.

202mi 03h 56m
Photo of Bakersfield River Run Rv Park

3715 Burr St., Bakersfield, CA, US

Bakersfield River Run Rv Park


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When you need to rest your weary head, right off Highway 99 is the Bakersfield River Run RV Park. Featuring a pool, hot tub, fitness center, and game room. This RV park is a great stop-off if you're just passing through, or if you want to stay and explore a little longer.

82mi 01h 24m
Photo of Red Rock Canyon State Park

Highway 14, Cantil, CA, US

Red Rock Canyon State Park


You can find multicolored layers of sandstone worn into cliffs, buttes, and other rock formations at Red Rock Canyon State Park. Hike into the desert, and admire the striking views as you look for paleontology sites, the abandoned ruins of 1890s mines, and Native American petroglyphs.

130mi 02h 34m
Photo of Dogwood Campground

26898 Rim of the World Hwy., CA, US

Dogwood Campground


Dogwood Campground lets you spend the night secluded in the lovely San Bernardino National Forest. It's got all of the amenities you need for a comfy stay, and it's located just a quick drive from two lakes, that you can visit for a fun afternoon adventure.

134mi 02h 39m
Photo of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

200 Palm Canyon Dr, Borrego Springs, CA, US

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park


Anza-Borrego Desert State Park contains nearly 600,000 acres of rugged desert beauty. Here, you'll see mountains, badlands, and washes with scrubby plant life, dotted by springs and oases. The best time to visit is the spring, when the landscape explodes with colorful flowers (even in the desert!) Camping here offers stunning views of the night sky as well.

128mi 02h 27m
Photo of Joshua Tree National Park

74485 National Park Dr, Twentynine Palms, CA, US

Joshua Tree National Park

Twisted Joshua trees (which are actually not trees but a species of yucca), strange rock formations begging to be climbed (including the epic Skull Rock), and some of the most scenic campsites in the country make Joshua Tree an overlooked hidden gem in California. Plus, it's near all kinds of offbeat spots such as the Salton Sea, Salvation Mountain, Slab City, and the Integratron.

California is a special place. Beaches, forests, mountains, deserts, and more all blend together to create a landscape that's utterly enchanting. This is why bucket lists were created!