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12 Places in California That PROVE It’s The Most Beautiful State

California is one of the most diverse places on the planet.

From scorching deserts to snow-capped mountains and crystal-clear lakes, California has it all.

But with so much to explore, where do you even begin?

That’s why, in this guide, we’re revealing the top 12 most beautiful places in California that you just HAVE to visit.

Every item on this list is absolutely breathtaking but I do have to warn you, you may leave with your jaw permanently dropped!

There really is something for everyone on this list.

Without further ado, these are the most beautiful locations in California…

1. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

This picturesque spot along the California coast offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, with its dramatic cliffs, hidden coves and the vibrant underwater world just off its shores.

You’ll find it along the central coast of California near the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

What makes Point Lobos truly special is its incredible diversity of wildlife and natural habitats. 

It’s a haven for sea otters, harbor seals and sea lions, who can often be spotted lounging along the coastline or playing in the kelp forests that thrive here. 

The waters around Point Lobos are part of a protected marine reserve, which means they’re teeming with life. You’ll be able to spot colorful fish, anemones and sea stars.

For those who prefer to stay on land, Point Lobos also offers a network of trails that wind through the reserve, offering stunning views of the ocean, secluded coves and unique geological formations.

The Cypress Grove Trail is a must-visit, taking you through one of only two naturally growing groups of Monterey cypress trees in the world.

2. Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta stands at an elevation of 14,179 feet, making it the second-highest peak in the Cascade Range. 

Geologically, it is an active volcano however the last eruption is believed to have occurred over 3,000 years ago.

It is known for its stunning beauty and the variety of outdoor activities it offers from skiing and snowboarding in the winter to hiking in the summer.

Mount Shasta is considered to be one of the most sacred mountains in Native American culture and is often associated with various myths and legends. 

One of the more intriguing stories is about the hidden city of Telos, a mystical city said to exist beneath the mountain. 

An insider’s tip for those planning to visit Mount Shasta is to explore beyond the mountain itself. 

The surrounding area is dotted with hidden gems like the McCloud Falls, which offer a series of stunning cascades and pools perfect for a refreshing dip on a hot day. 

3. Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is a stunning natural wonder that straddles the border between California and Nevada. 

It’s one of the largest, deepest and clearest lakes in the United States and is known for its vivid blue waters and the picturesque mountains that surround it. 

This breathtaking lake is a year-round destination, attracting visitors with its natural beauty and the wide array of activities it offers.

In the summer, people come to swim in its clear waters, kayak or paddleboard and hike or bike the numerous trails that offer panoramic views of the lake and its mountainous backdrop. 

When winter arrives, Lake Tahoe transforms into a premier skiing and snowboarding destination. 

A fun fact about Lake Tahoe is that it’s so deep, the Empire State Building could stand at the bottom and its tip would still be underwater by over 100 feet! 

Related Reading: 9 Jaw-Dropping Lake Tahoe Views You CANNOT Afford To Miss

4. Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park, which is located just off the coast of Southern California, is a unique destination unlike any other. 

This national park is made up of five islands — Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara — each offering its own selection of natural wonders. 

The park is celebrated for its isolation over thousands of years which has led to the development of unique plants and animals not found anywhere else.

The islands are home to over 2,000 plant and animal species, of which 145 are found nowhere else on Earth. 

Kayaking through sea caves, snorkeling in kelp forests and hiking along scenic trails are just a few ways to explore the natural beauty of the islands.

The park covers an area of about 249,561 acres, with more than half of this area in the ocean. 

This marine sanctuary is home to a diverse range of marine life including whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions, making it a fantastic place for wildlife viewing.

5. Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is a land of extremes and contrasts. It’s famous for being the hottest, driest and lowest national park in the United States. 

Despite its foreboding name, Death Valley offers visitors a landscape of breathtaking beauty, with vast sand dunes, towering mountains, colorful rock formations and canyons.

Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, sits at 282 feet below sea level, offering a stark, salt-crusted landscape that seems more alien than earthly. 

The Furnace Creek area holds the record for the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth — a scorching 134°F (56.7°C) in July 1913.

A fun fact about Death Valley is that despite its extreme heat and dry climate, the park bursts into life with a superbloom of wildflowers on the rare occasions it receives significant rainfall. 

One of the park’s most photographed locations is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which features rolling sand hills that’s particularly mesmerizing at sunrise or sunset. 

6. Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is a breathtaking stretch of coastline located just north of San Francisco. 

This protected area is a sanctuary of natural beauty and offers a diverse landscape from beaches and cliffs to forests and grasslands. 

It’s a place where the Pacific Ocean crashes against rugged headlands, where wildlife roams freely and where visitors can escape the hustle and bustle of city life to connect with nature.

The seashore is also famous for its iconic Point Reyes Lighthouse which has guided ships safely through fog and treacherous waters since the 19th century.

A fun fact about Point Reyes is that it is home to the Earthquake Trail, which sits along the San Andreas Fault line. 

Visitors can see firsthand the effects of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which moved the fence at the fault line by 16 feet!

7. Napa Valley

Napa Valley is most famous for its wine production, boasting some of the finest vineyards and wineries in the world. In fact, it features over 400 wineries!

With its rolling hills covered in grapevines, historic wineries and gourmet restaurants, Napa Valley offers a blend of scenic beauty, culinary delights and a relaxed atmosphere.

The region specializes in several types of high-quality wines, with Cabernet Sauvignon being particularly celebrated.

A fun fact about Napa Valley is that it took part in the legendary “Judgment of Paris” in 1976, a wine competition where Napa Valley wines were blind-tasted against French wines. 

To the surprise of many, Napa Valley wines won, putting California wine on the map and establishing the region as a world-class wine-producing area.

Beyond wine, Napa Valley offers a variety of experiences, from hot air balloon rides that provide breathtaking views of the valley to luxurious spas where visitors can relax.

8. Santa Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island is a picturesque island off the coast of Southern California near Los Angeles.

It’s a popular getaway for those looking to enjoy a bit of paradise without straying too far from the mainland.

In particular, the island is known for its vibrant marine life, crystal-clear waters and the charming town of Avalon, which looks like it’s straight out of a postcard. 

Visitors can enjoy snorkeling or scuba diving in the island’s kelp forests, where they might encounter colorful fish, sea lions and even the occasional dolphin. 

The island also offers great hiking and biking trails that provide stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged landscape.

9. McWay Falls

McWay Falls is a stunningly beautiful waterfall located in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park along the Big Sur coastline of California. 

This remarkable natural wonder is known for its scenic beauty, as the waterfall cascades about 80 feet directly into the Pacific Ocean or onto the sandy shore, depending on the tide. 

It’s one of the few waterfalls in the world that flows directly into the ocean, making it a must-see for visitors to the area.

The setting of McWay Falls is equally breathtaking with the waterfall surrounded by steep, rugged cliffs and a dense forest of redwoods and other native plants. 

The turquoise waters of the cove and the pristine beach below (which is not accessible to the public to protect the environment) add to the magical feel of the place.

A fun fact about McWay Falls is that it didn’t always look as it does today.

The landform changed dramatically after a landslide in the early 1980s, which caused a sandy beach to appear at the base of the falls!

10. Joshua Tree National Park

This national park is known for its otherworldly landscapes including towering rock formations, rugged mountains and the distinctive Joshua trees that gives the park its name.

Joshua Tree National Park covers an area of over 790,000 acres, making it larger than the state of Rhode Island.  

Visitors are drawn to Joshua Tree for a variety of outdoor activities including hiking, rock climbing, camping and stargazing. 

The clear desert skies offer some of the best conditions for stargazing in the whole of California.

Joshua Tree got its name from Mormon settlers who were reminded of the biblical figure Joshua reaching his hands up to the sky in prayer when they saw the tree’s outstretched branches.

One of the most iconic features of the park is the rock formations. 

Places like Skull Rock and the Wonderland of Rocks are popular destinations within the park as they offer spectacular photo opportunities and challenging rock climbing adventures. 

11. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a vast desert area that spans over 600,000 acres, making it the largest state park in the whole of California. 

Anza-Borrego is famous for its breathtaking landscapes that include vast desert plains, rugged mountains, deep canyons and sprawling badlands. 

One of the park’s most iconic sights is the metal sculptures scattered throughout the Borrego Springs area. 

Created by artist Ricardo Breceda, these life-sized sculptures depict prehistoric animals, historical characters and mythical creatures.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park transforms into a spectacular display of natural beauty each spring. 

The park undergoes a dramatic transformation known as a “superbloom” where the desert floor becomes covered in a vibrant carpet of wildflowers.

12. Lassen Volcanic National Park

This unique park is famous for its active geothermal features including bubbling mud pots, steaming fumaroles and clear mountain lakes. 

It’s like stepping into a natural laboratory!

At the heart of the park is Lassen Peak, one of the largest plug dome volcanoes in the world and the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range. 

Lassen Peak last erupted a century ago and the park’s landscape is still recovering and evolving from these volcanic activities. 

A fun fact about Lassen Volcanic National Park is that it contains all four types of volcanoes found in the world: shield, composite, cinder cone and plug dome. 

Visitors to Lassen Volcanic National Park can explore more than 150 miles of hiking trails which lead through stunning volcanic landscapes and past serene mountain lakes. 

One of the most popular trails is the hike to the summit of Lassen Peak, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding area. 

And that’s it!

Those are the most beautiful places in the whole of California. 

From towering mountain peaks to crystal-clear lakes, California has a bit of everything.

Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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