California has it all, from the stunning coastline and mythical forests, pristine waterfalls to expansive deserts. The golden state allures tourists with its perpetual sunshine, picturesque landscape, and urban sophistication. California has a way of enchanting people with its diverse cultural and geographical offerings.
From the glitz and glamour the city of Los Angeles offers to the serene and adventurous scenic beauty of national parks, there are many places you can visit while in California.
But apart from Disney land, Santa Monica pier or San Diego, and all the other popular destinations, there are a lot of incredibly unique and cool places to visit while you are in California.
Read on to find more about these hidden gems that the golden state encompasses and experience these places that have been seldom traveled.
So let us put together some of the unique places to visit in California where you will get some magical experiences.
Unique places to visit in California
Are you planning to spend your vacation exploring California?
Check out these unique and splendid places in California that will make you fall in love with this Golden State.
Muir woods, San Francisco
After experiencing the hustle and bustle of San Francisco city, visiting this small national monument park will be a perfect way to connect with nature. Named after the renowned conservationist and father of national parks, John Muir, this park is home to the majestic giant redwood trees that have been there for over 1000 years.
You might have seen this spot in the movie Planet of the Apes, wandering through these ancient trees looming over you can be a surreal experience. Also, there are a lot of hiking trails available, all leading to interesting spots.
Before you drive out of the redwoods, visit the ‘immortal tree’ and the avenue of the giants.
La Jolla Cove, San Diego
Are you a water sports enthusiast? Then this place is just for you!
La Jolla cove has it all. It is a great place to enjoy doing fun things, from kayaking and snorkeling to scuba diving.
The La Jolla Underwater Park’s ecological reserve is home to ample wildlife, such as Seals, Barracuda, Opaleye, Giant Sea Bass, Baitfish, and Orange Garibaldi.
You can soak in the warm sunshine and feel the serenity of the calm turquoise sea. Also, enjoy the antics of the La Jolla sea lions while taking a sunbathe. There are also various dine-in options, art galleries, and boutiques for you to explore in La Jolla cove.
Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco
If you are visiting the golden gate park, do not miss the Japanese tea garden, one of the oldest in the United States. It has an elegant 5-acre garden with pagodas, a bridge, a zen garden, and koi ponds. The feeling of being transported to an ancient Japanese environment is surreal.
Make sure you go to the tea house to cherish the flavor of authentic Japanese tea and other cuisines while sitting overlooking the koi ponds.
If you can, plan your trip in the springtime, for this is when the cherry blossoms bloom and cast over an enchanted beauty to the place.
The garden opens at 9 am and is free to visit before 10 am, after which you will be charged.
Lake Tahoe is one of the most stunning crystal clear bodies of water in all United States. Situated on the California- Nevada border, Lake Tahoe is an amazing picturesque spot for you to enjoy a weekend trip.
Surrounded by mountains and steep granite cliff sides, the sheer beauty of the lake is mesmerizing. Also, it is one of the best spots for skiing in Northern America. Apart from skiing, there are a variety of activities and places for you to explore and marvel at.
All seasons at Lake Tahoe are stunning, but try to visit for a wonderful adventurous experience during the winter season.
Sequoia National Park
Located near the Sierra Nevada in eastern California, Sequoia National Park is home to most of the world’s Sequoia trees. Walking through these giant trees on earth could be a mind-boggling and surreal experience.
At Sequoia National Park, you can have a unique experience hiking around these majestic trees.
Do not miss out on visiting the largest tree among them all – the General Sherman Tree, 2700 years old. There is also a hollow tree – Room Tree, where you can walk through the inside of the tree. How unique will that experience be!
The glass beach is one of the unique places to visit in California. As the name gives away, hundreds of little bits of glass are lining the seashore.
Check out how many colors of sea glasses you can find along the shore!
Hunting around for different colored sea glass is one of the cool things to do at the glass beach while enjoying the beach.
Death valley national park is the perfect spot if you are planning a road trip. The ray of sunlight hitting the rolling hills is a spectacular sight to behold.
Driving through the death valley will be a mesmerizing experience.
You can stop at the interesting spots in the death valley national park, but do not get too exposed to the sun as this is the hottest place in the country.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
How cool would it be to hike through a volcano and visit the top of its crater?
Well, you can exactly do that at the Lassen volcanic national park. After the hot and sweaty hike, you can cool off at the alpine lakes and cherish the experience of camping near a volcano.
Due to the heavy snowfall, it is better to visit during late summer (August-September) as the park would be accessible then.
Santa Catalina island
Santa Catalina Island is one of the desirable locations for people who love to spend their holiday basking in the warm sunshine and enjoy various water sports activities. It is only 2 hours away from San Diego.
You can take a short ferry ride, reach the island and explore this small island in a rented golf cart. The island has many snorkeling spots for you to explore the multi-colored reefs and marine life.
Napa Valley is famous for its wineries, luxury resorts, and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Indulge in the art of wine tasting while soaking in the beauty of the rolling hills and the ever-stretching vineyards.
You can also ride a hot air balloon to have a panoramic view of the beautiful Napa valley, which could be a delightful experience.
There is also a cute wine train that you can ride.
This is one of the scenic routes of Southern California, and the beach is one of the most gorgeous ones along the Pacific Coast highway.
Also known as Carmel-By- The Sea, this is the perfect spot for a relaxing beach vacation. You can also visit the Monterey bay aquarium and marvel at the beauty of the marine wildlife.
While being there, visit the small town of Carmel – By – The – Sea, which is famous for its tiny little cottages. The colorful cottages and the greenery surrounding it might make you wonder if the town came right out of a fairy tale.
Capitola, Santa Cruz County
If you are on a road trip along the Pacific coast highway, take a slight detour to visit this tiny beach town. The multi-colored houses lined along the beach are a visual treat.
This is the oldest seaside resort on the Pacific coast. You can go for wine tasting at Arminda Winery Tasting Rooms or the quiet Capitola Wharf.
Solvang Village, Santa Barbara County
While visiting Southern California, check out this colorful and quirky town, unique for its Danish history and culture.
You can wander through this Scandinavian village, exploring the European architecture and windmills. Do try out the authentic Danish baked goods and drool-worthy Scandinavian cuisines.
The city of Solvang has many local wineries. Embark on a wine tasting journey as there are many tasting rooms centered around the town.
Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara county
Santa Ynez Valley has a calm, laid-back atmosphere where you can enjoy a peaceful and quiet holiday.
Visiting the unique wineries and tasting the diverse wines is a delightful experience and one that you should not miss out on.
The mammoth lake offers one of the best hikes in Northern California, so make sure you visit this one.
If you are expecting a lake, you are in for a surprise. As hidden in the Sierra Nevada Mountains are several natural hot springs!
What more could be more soothing than taking a dip in one of these hot springs with a spectacular mountainous view under the clear blue sky after a long walk.
Mammoth Lake is easily one of the best unique places to visit in California and one you should try to cross off from your California bucket list.
Joshua Tree National Park
This is another fascinating national park in California, home to cactus-like twisted trees (Joshua trees). This rarely crowded park has a unique landscape with rock masses resting on the ground like tombstones.
One of the main attractions of this park is the skull rock.
Yes! The rock has the shape of a skull. The most incredible time to visit this park is during sunset as the land becomes strangely attractive against the backdrop of the pinkish glow of the sky.
The Joshua tree national park is also known for some of the darkest nights in Southern California. You can spend an eternity watching the star-studded sky.
Yosemite National Park
If you are exploring California, do not leave without visiting this stunningly gorgeous natural wonder. The sublime beauty of nature is reflected in the ethereal waterfalls, magnificent mountains, giant sequoia trees, translucent water, and expansive meadows.
The Yosemite falls (2425-foot waterfall) and Half Dome, the sheer-faced granite mountains, are the most breathlessly exquisite attractions of the park.
Do not miss out on the experience of camping at this beautiful park!
Imbibe the natural beauty of the Yosemite National park, a paradise for nature lovers.
Palm Springs is a perfect desert oasis spot that oozes a pleasant holiday atmosphere. The swaying palm trees provide a serene ambiance for enjoying a perfect weekend getaway.
While walking through the streets, notice that the houses have colorful front doors. They provide a perfect backdrop for an Instagram-worthy picture.
The charming town of Palm Springs offers a plethora of activities like golf courses, hiking trails at Mount San Jacinto and Indian Canyons, museums to explore, and gourmet restaurants to satisfy your taste buds.
Palm Springs is a fantastic destination for your unique holiday experience, with live music concerts and film festivals happening year-round.
Winchester Mystery House
This beautiful but bizarre mansion is an ideal spot for all mystery lovers. This Victorian-style mansion was built by Sarah Pardee Winchester, heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms fortune.
What makes this mansion unique and mysterious is the odd features like stairs that lead to the ceiling, doors that open to walls, and many more oddities.
Have a thrilling experience and explore this odd and mysterious mansion during Halloween.
Read more about the history and other mysteries related to this mansion here.
Bodie State Historic Park
Did you grow up fascinated by western Hollywood movies? Then relive your wild west town dreams by walking around the well-preserved authentic wild-west town.
Bodie is an old ghost town now turned into an open-air museum where you can relish the old buildings and original furniture and accessories inside.
If you are a history buff, explore the museum where some of the artifacts and historical evidence of the town are kept.
Golden gate bridge, San Francisco Bay area
Did you know that the Golden gate bridge is the most photographed in the world?
The Golden gate bridge is unique for its grandeur and astounding splendor. The deep gloomy water underneath gives it an ethereal touch.
Tour around the San Francisco Bay area and rent a bike to ride around the Fisherman’s wharf.
Traveling through the renowned Highway 1 is itself a fantastic experience. A car ride through this scenic highway overlooking the Pacific Coast will be a fabulous experience.
With the famous Bixby Bridge and the Pfeiffer Beach, unique for its purple sand and sea stacks, Big Sur is the most breathlessly exquisite stretch along Highway 1.
Big Sur is one of the gorgeous 90-mile stretches of breathtaking scenic roads you must visit in California.
This is an oceanfront town located 30 miles south of San Francisco.
Tucked away behind the undulating hills, Half Moon Bay is a fun place to visit if you are planning a one-day trip. Spend the day enjoying the gentle pacific ocean breeze while fishing and bird-watching. Relish in the divine seafood meal from the beachfront restaurants.
Apart from these, if you come in the winter season, you can enjoy picking up pumpkins and wandering through the pumpkin patches as the bay is famous for its pumpkins.
Hearst Castle is an incredible place to visit for art and architecture admirers.
Built in 1922 by William Randolph Hearst, a publishing tycoon, the castle is an architectural masterpiece. This place is called “La Cuesta Encantada” (“The Enchanted Hill”) by Hearst himself.
Perched on a hilltop high above the Pacific Ocean, the castle stands amidst 127 – acres of land. There are pools, beautiful gardens, fountains, and many more attractive places to explore.
Hearst Castle is most famous for its rare artworks and sculptures from around the world. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best places to visit in California if you are looking for a unique experience.
The giant rock
Spanning across 5800 square feet, the giant rock is the biggest free-standing rock on earth. The rock is also almost seven stories in height and is located in the Mojave desert.
If you look for unique stuff in California, you won’t find anything bigger than this natural giant rock.
So go out on a trip to this desert and capture this amazing natural wonder.
Fern Canyon is located at the prairie creek redwoods state park. Although it is a hassle to reach the canyon, it is so worth it once you enter this fern paradise.
The Canyon is coated with thick, lush ferns where you will get to see seven different types of ferns, some of which are ancient species tracing back 325 million years. You may find some rare fauna if you are lucky, like the Pacific giant salamanders and northern red-legged frogs.
Did you know that some scenes of Jurassic Park 2 were filmed here? So do not hesitate to add this fantastic place to your unique places to visit in California bucket list.
Mosaic steps at San Francisco
This is one of the hidden gems of California. You often might not notice these beautiful and visually pleasing stairs spread across San Francisco city.
These staircases were the canvas of local artists who grouped to transform the plain old stairs into this stunning piece of art. Each step has a design, and a group of such steps forms a painting. If you look closely enough at the staircases, you can find the general theme or flow related to the painting.
Next time you visit Lincoln Park, take a moment to notice and appreciate this scenic staircase.
Mossbrae fall is one of the most scenic waterfalls in California, and it is worth every hassle to get there. It is located in the very picturesque area of the Shasta Cascade region in California.
The falls originate from a spring and disappear into the Sacramento River. The canyon walls are coated with ferns which gives it an otherworldly look.
Alcatraz Island is one of the unusual places to visit in California, but one you should not miss out on.
The island located in San Francisco was where the infamous Alcatraz military prison, federal prison, and fortification were situated. The prison was closed off in 1963 and has become a historical site.
The buildings have been remodeled, and you can take a guided tour of the island.
Reach the island via a ferry ride, where you will have an incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Cypress Tunnel at Point Ryes
Walking beneath these natural archways created by the interlocking branches of the Cypress trees is purely a magical experience and one which you should not miss out on.
This natural Cypress tree tunnel is located in Point Ryes.
Pick out a sunny day to visit this site as the place transforms into a fairy tale scenery when the sunlight filters through the Cypress tree branches.
Carlsbad ranch is situated just over 30 miles north of San Diego. Spread across 50 acres, the ranch has the brightest flower fields in California.
The vibrant Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers are the main highlight of this ranch, and it blooms during the spring season.
At Carlsbad Ranch, you can wander through these endless fields of enchanting flowers, and the optimal time to visit will be between March and May.
This little coastal town of Santa Barbara is luxuriously pleasing and one of the best places in California to have an awesome vacation. Stroll through the palm-fringed streets of Santa Barbara and indulge in some shopping at the boutiques and open-air markets.
After soaking in the sun at the beach, you can enjoy and savor the delicious cuisines from the gourmet restaurants.
Also, do not forget to check out the Old Mission Santa Barbara, famous for its graceful adobe architecture and lovely setting.
Sonoma Valley, located in Northern California, is a fantastic place for you to enjoy a calm and peaceful nature retreat.
Although not so popular as Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley is a Scenic wine country where you can indulge in some wine tasting with a lower budget and half the crowd.
If you are looking for fun sports activities, then head to the Trione-Annadel State Park, where activities like hiking, mountain riding, and horseback riding are offered.
So if you are planning to visit some of the unique places in California, do check out these places and have an incredible journey filled with fun and adventure!