30 Best Places To Visit In Southern California - Updated 2024

best places to visit in southern california
Aarti
Aarti 
Updated
| 13 min read

Renowned for its stunning coast on the Pacific and receiving sunshine all throughout the year, Southern California has more to it than what meets the eye. This vibrant region is home to some of the most popular cities in the world like San Diego, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and Malibu. With so many amazing destinations and beautiful landmarks nestled here, it is no surprise why Southern California attracts millions of tourists every year. This region, other than being home to some popular sights, also boasts great dining options, bars, theme parks, park trails, and more. While you are planning a vacation here, add Anaheim’s Disneyland Park to your bucket list and make the most by reliving your memories from childhood. And if you are into hiking, nature, beach, and photography, you can head to destinations like Long Beach, Temecula, Santa Barbara, and Redlands among others. But rest assured, whichever destination you pick from this listicle of the best places to visit in Southern California, you will fall in love with the places you head to.

1. San Diego (from USD 85.0)

Renowned for its warm climate, parks, and beaches, San Diego is nestled on the Pacific Coast of California. Boasting tons of arts and cultural scene, this second-largest city in California has multiple art districts and a plethora of museums. Visitors here can indulge in water sport activities including scuba diving, surfing, and snorkeling among others. And people visiting with families here can head to LEGOLAND, San Diego Safari Park, Disneyland, and Sea World. If you are traveling solo or with friends, then you must take the Old Town Trolley Tour or take any other available city tours.

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San Diego Scenic Tour

Duration: 4 hours

450 reviews

2. Los Angeles (from USD 51.0)

Hollywood’s heart and soul, Los Angeles is a Southern California city that offers travelers a diverse mix of attractions and a lot of adventurous theme parks. Some of the popular landmarks include the famous Hollywood sign, Universal Studios, Country Museum of Art, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and Malibu Beach among others. This city also has plenty of biking, hiking, and walking trails for visitors who love to spend time in the lap of nature.

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Los Angeles Hop-On Hop-Off Double-Decker Bus Tour

Duration: 35 to 120 minutes

955 reviews

3. Santa Barbara

Santa-barbara-courthouse-tower-view1 (cropped)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Photopippo used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Boasting a backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara is one of those places where the city definitely has something for everyone. You could be looking for a place that is filled with beaches, or a place that is filled with a lot of rich history–Santa Barbara has it all, along with offering perfect weather all day of the year. Travelers vacationing here can visit Granada Theatre and Old Mission Santa Barbara, Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, Casa del Herrero, and Lobero Theatre. And if you are a seaside lover, you can check out the beach scene and indulge in water sport activities like paddle boarding, surfing, swimming, and more.

Santa Barbara

Website: Santa Barbara

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4. Long Beach (from USD 15.0)

A port and a coastal city in Southern California, Long Beach is your typical playground that is nestled near the sea. Hosting tons of adventure and water sport activities, this stunning city also boasts a lot of the cultural and music scene where art lovers and music lovers can indulge in exploring. Art lovers can check out Long Beach Museum of Art and Museum of Latin American Art, whereas the music lovers can head to Long Beach Symphony Orchestra and Long Beach Performing Arts Center. And if you are visiting here with the family, you can check out Aquarium of the Pacific, Disneyland Park, USS Battleship Iowa, LEGOLAND, and more.

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Long Beach Self-Guided Audio Tour

Duration: 2 to 3 hours

California Tour Guide

Stephanie Eley

Stephanie Eley

I'm a graduate of ITMI, International Tour Management Institute and 17 years as a licensed Tour Director and Program Director. My expertise began in NYC and Washington, DC where I'm a licensed guide and has expanded to Europe, South America, Cuba and the Western / Southwestern National Parks of the US. I'd love to introduce you for a day or a week to Denver, Colorado and the 4 corners region of... Read more

Tours by Stephanie

5. Pasadena

Pasadena City Hall David Wakely (cropped)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user David Wakely used under CC BY-SA 2.5

Situated northeast of California, Pasadena is a city that boasts a lot of rich history, culture, and heritage. While here, take a stroll in the neighborhood of Old Pasadena where you can admire the old Victorian buildings. If that was not all, visitors can check some of the city’s best attractions such as Norton Simon Museum, Rose Bowl Stadium, Descanso Gardens, Eaton Canyon Falls Trail, Kidspace Children’s Museum, and Armory Center for the Arts. You can also go on a drive to the neighboring city Los Angeles and visit the County Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

Pasadena

Website: Pasadena

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6. Malibu

Malibu
Source: Pixabay

Boasting over a 30-mile (48km) long stretch of Pacific coast, Malibu is the second home to most of the Hollywood town’s esteemed folks. Other than this, this town is famous for activities like surfing, fishing, whale-watching, beachcombing, and more. For history buffs, you can immerse yourself in deep history at Malibu Lagoon Museum, Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, and Adamson House Museum. And visitors who love to be surrounded amidst nature can head to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and witness the lovely waterfalls and wildflowers.

Malibu

Website: Malibu

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7. Anaheim

Sleeping Beauty Castle, Fantasyland, Disneyland, Anaheim, California
Source: Photo by user Ken Lund used under CC BY-SA 2.0

A city resting between the coastline of San Diego and Los Angeles, Anaheim in Southern California is home to the renowned Disneyland Resort. Some of the famous attractions here include Discovery Science Center, Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Battleship Iowa, Marconi Automotive Museum, MUZEO Museum and Cultural Center, Radiator Springs Racers, and so many more. And if you are a beach baby, head to the mecca of surfing - Huntington Beach.

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8. Beverly Hills (from USD 199.0)

A popular spot for a weekend getaway. Beverly Hills is home to several Hollywood stars and also to the upscale shopping street - Rodeo Drive. While vacationing here, visitors can enjoy exploring Greystone Mansion and Gardens, Melrose Avenue, Virginia Robinson Gardens, Paley Center for Media, The Original Farmers Market, Sunset Boulevard, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art among plenty others.

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Beverly Hills Segway Tour

Duration: 2 hours

59 reviews

9. Irvine

Giant Wheel at Irvine Spectrum Center
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Azusa Tarn used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Straddling between San Joaquin Hills in the south and Loma Ridge to the north, Irvine steals the crown for being the “safest big city” in California. Located in the heart of Orange County, this city boasts wonderful weather all year round, which makes it a perfect place to plan a vacation. And because of its convenient location, you will be close to some of California’s best attractions including Pretend City Children’s Museum, Orange County Great Park, Wedge Park, Irvine Regional Park, Balboa Pier, Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, Lyon Air Museum, and Limestone Canyon Regional Park among others.

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10. Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach Pier 17 2018-05-21
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user View more used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Perfect for adventure enthusiasts and families, Manhattan Beach is a laid-back community in the heart of South Bay. This beach town has surfers coming in from every corner to ride the waves. Along with this, the beach also has several volleyball nets and a fun pier to enjoy witnessing the sunsets. Visitors chilling in this town can soak up in the sunshine, go for a swim, do some people-watching, or get a lot of shopping done.

Manhattan Beach

Website: Manhattan Beach

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11. Temecula

Lovely morning over Temecula Wine Country
Source: Photo by user Kunal Mukherjee used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Surrounded by the vineyards and rolling hills, Temecula Valley is a wine country of Southern California. Other than the obvious wine-tasting tour to do in the city, Temecula also offers several other fun things to see, while on a vacation here. Visitors can take a hot-air balloon tour, go on a shopping spree, play a game of golf at one of the beautiful golf courses, dine at some of the finest restaurants, or relax with a massage at any of the wonderful spas.

Temecula

Website: Temecula

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12. Thousand Oaks

View of Thousand Oaks
Source: Photo by user American Luxury L... used under CC BY 2.0

The second-largest city in Ventura County, Thousand Oaks is about 40 miles (63 km) away from “the city of angels,” Los Angeles. If you are coming to this town, you can check out the famous Chumash Interpretive Center that was once home to the Chumash indigenous people. Along with this, you can also explore Paradise Falls, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Wildwood Regional Park, Gardens of the World, Conejo Valley, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and Rancho Sierra Vista among others.

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13. Huntington Beach

Surfer at Huntington Beach Pier
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Mcclane2010 used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Renowned as the Surf City of California, Huntington Beach boasts a 9.5-mile-long (15km) stretch of coastline that attracts millions of tourists all year round. This beach town boasts a unique vibe that makes visitors fall head over heels with the city. Some of the famous attractions in the city include Balboa Pier, International Surfing Museum, Orange County Museum of Art, Adventure City, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Mile Square Regional Park, and Heritage Museum of Orange County.

Huntington Beach

Website: Huntington Beach

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14. Murrieta

Two-way protected bikeway, Murrieta, CA
Source: Photo by user Eric Fischer used under CC BY 2.0

Nestled 100 miles (163 km) away from Los Angeles, Murrieta is mostly loved by people for its stunning vistas and the surrounding vineyards. While on a holiday here, explore Santa Rosa Plateau, Mulligan Family Fun Center, Harveston Lake Park, California Oaks Sports Park, Country Kennels, Los Alamos Hills Sports Park, Wings & Rotors Air Museum, French Valley, Sugarplum Farm of Temecula, and more.

Murrieta

Website: Murrieta

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15. San Clemente

San Clemente CA Photo D Ramey Logan
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Don Ramey Logan used under CC BY-SA 3.0

If you are on a hunt for a weekend getaway in the southern part of California, San Clemente is your best bet. Nestled along the coast of Orange County, California, San Clemente is situated close to Los Angeles and San Diego. This lovely city is a resting home to all the wonderful museums, beaches, restaurants, and other attractions. You can either go on a shopping spree, witness vibrant sunsets from the pier, or stroll around the city–there is something for everyone out there. And if you are planning a visit here, make sure to check out Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens, San Clemente Pier, Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, San Clemente Beach Trail, Vista Hermosa Sports Park, Forster Ranch Community Park, and Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park among others.

San Clemente

Website: San Clemente

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16. Glendale

Glendale from Forest Lawn
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Gedstrom used under CC BY-SA 4.0

A city in Los Angeles County, located just about 8 miles (12 km) from Los Angeles, Glendale rests amidst the Verdugo Mountains and San Fernando Valley. It is famously known for Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery which has long been a burial ground for many of the high-profile names in the Hollywood industry. Along with this, you can also explore the neighboring attractions including Universal Studios Hollywood, Autry Museum of the American West, Rose Bowl Stadium, Museum of Neon Art, Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum, and Wildwood Canyon Park among others.

Glendale

Website: Glendale

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17. Oxnard

Oxnard
Source: Pixabay

Nestled on the west side of Los Angeles, California, Oxnard is a beautiful oceanside town that boasts lively beaches for visitors to have their utmost fun. This town hosts a number of festivals throughout the year that attracts visitors from all over the world. Other than this, visitors also love exploring the popular landmarks of the city such as The Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Center at Channel Islands National Park, Mullin Automotive Museum, Oxnard Beach Park, Olivas Adobe Historical Park, Heritage Square, Sky Zone Trampoline Park, Marine Emporium Landing, and tons more.

Oxnard

Website: Oxnard

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18. Fullerton

Fullerton, CA, USA - panoramio (3)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user peter boy12qq12 used under CC BY 3.0

Located in the northern part of Orange County in California, just 20 miles (32 km) away from Los Angeles, Fullerton was founded in 1887. This city became a prime spot for growing oranges because of the warm Mediterranean climate it boasts throughout the year. Featuring over 50 city parks, visitors love living and exploring near Downton Fullerton for its abundant and vibrant nightlife. Some of the best things to see around here include Fullerton Arboretum, Laguna Lake Park, Hillcrest Park, Adventure City, Muckenthaler Art and Cultural Center, and Clayes Performing Arts Center among other famous attractions.

Fullerton

Website: Fullerton

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19. Carlsbad

Carlsbad,California.USA. - panoramio (1)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Roman Eugeniusz used under CC BY-SA 3.0

A neighbor of Los Angeles and San Diego, Carlsbad is famously nicknamed as “the village by the sea.” Boasting an old European charm, this wealthy town has the typical community of the Californian coastal resort. Offering over 6 miles (9 km) long stretch of coastline, you can find a number of restaurants lined along the white sandy beaches. Attracting vacationers mostly during the weekends, this town is home to some of the popular landmarks such as Carlsbad Village, New Village Arts Theatre, South Carlsbad State Beach, Sea Life Aquarium, LEGOLAND, The Flower Fields, and so many more.

Carlsbad

Website: Carlsbad

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20. Encinitas

View Looking North:  Moonlight Beach,  Encinitas CA
Source: Photo by user Joe Wolf used under CC BY-ND 2.0

If wonderful weather and untouched beaches don’t sound great for your next vacation, we don’t know what will. A location that truly exudes the 1950s beach vibe, Encinitas is a town located in the north county area of San Diego, California that is most-visited by surfers from around the world. While here, you can enjoy taking a dip in the ocean, playing a game of beach volleyball, going on an excursion on a paddle board, and many other fun sea activities. And if you want to take a break from the ocean, you can check out attractions including San Diego Botanic Garden, San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve and Nature Center, Annie’s Canyon Trail, and Butterfly Farms.

Encinitas

Website: Encinitas

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21. Yorba Linda

Development, Yorba Linda area, Oct. 1966
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Orange County Arc... used under CC BY 2.0

A suburban city located in Orange County, California, Yorba Linda is just 30 minutes from the downtown district - renowned for being the home of the 37th President Richard Nixon. Boasting a population of just over 63,000 people, this town was founded on the grounds of Bernardo Yorba’s land of 13,000 acres (5,260 hectares), which is now protected as a Historical Landmark of California. Some of the famous things to see here include Carbon Canyon Regional Park, The Richard Nixon Library & Museum, Chino Hills State Park, and Santa Ana River Trail.

Yorba Linda

Website: Yorba Linda

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22. Santa Ana

Santa Ana Amtrak Station
Source: Photo by user Charlie Nguyen used under CC BY 2.0

A city in Orange County, California, Santa Ana is situated just 40 minutes from Los Angeles and is one of the famous cities for a weekend getaway in the state. This city offers visitors a number of things to do including visiting the museums and other recreational areas. While on a visit here, take a tour of Bowers Museum - a museum that features artifacts from around the globe, and Santa Ana Zoo - home to a lot of monkey species, a walk-through aviary, and a mini-train. Some of the other attractions here include the Orange County Museum of Art, Lyon Air Museum, Discovery Cube, Peter’s Canyon Regional Park, and Bomo Koral Park.

Santa Ana

Website: Santa Ana

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23. Costa Mesa

Costa Mesa CA (2013) 06
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Nandaro used under CC BY-SA 3.0

A city incorporated in 1953, Costa Mesa is nestled cozily amidst San Diego and Los Angeles. Once known for its agricultural community, this city has grown rapidly with changing times and has transformed into a vibrant and modern city. Some of the famous things to see here include Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve, TeWinkle Park, Noguchi Garden, and Orange County Museum of Art. This city is also close to most of the famous beaches in California such as Huntington Beach, Balboa Pier, Laguna Beach, and North Star Beach.

Costa Mesa

Website: Costa Mesa

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24. Torrance

Torranceca
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Cardinalngold used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

A hidden gem of California, Torrance is nestled just 15 minutes from Los Angeles Airport and makes it a perfect destination for a weekend getaway. If you are planning a vacation here, you will enjoy the coastline that stretches for miles and miles, making this a perfect spot to indulge in a lot of fun in the sun. When at the beach, you can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, surfing, and building sandcastles with your kids. You will also find a lot of cultural options with tons of art galleries and museums that are located in the city. Some of the attractions include Western Museum of Flight, Torrance Art Museum, Charles H. Wilson Park, Los Arboles Rocketship Park, Hopkins Wilderness Park, and many more.

Torrance

Website: Torrance

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25. Corona

Bridge bamboo in Corona
Source: Pixabay

Located in Riverside County, California, Corona has a population of just over 160,000 people with a diverse community of well-educated and young families. With pleasant weather all throughout the year, this city boasts summers that get hot and winters that get warm. Because of the weather, Corona was once renowned as the “Lemon Capital of the World,” for its great conditions to grow lemons. This city is also home to some of the popular attractions namely Chino Hills State Park, Skyline Drive Trail, Tom’s Farms, Dos Lagos Bamboo Bridge, Corona Heritage Park & Museum, El Cerrito Sports Park, and Citrus Park.

Corona

Website: Corona

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26. Redlands

Palms and Snow, Redlands, CA 2-09
Source: Photo by user Don Graham used under CC BY-SA 2.0

A city situated near San Bernardino in Southern California, Redlands is loved by locals because of its historic buildings that go way back to the 1800s. While vacationing here, you can explore some of the city’s popular attractions like San Bernardino County Museum, Kimberly Crest House & Gardens, Splash Kingdom Waterpark, Box Springs Mountain, Prospect Park, Lincoln Memorial Shrine, and many other cool spots.

Redlands

Website: Redlands

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27. La Jolla (from USD 59.0)

la jolla

Famous for its beautiful rugged coastline, La Jolla is a brilliant spot if you like to soak up the sun or go paddle boarding in the ocean. The marine life in this part of California is abundant, making this a good place for snorkeling. There are gear renting facilities available in town if you are looking to take part in sea-based activities. In general, visitors will enjoy swimming out to the ocean because of its pleasant waves.

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La Jolla: 3-Hour Guided Bike Adventure

Duration: 3 hour

4 reviews

28. Santa Catalina Island (from USD 220.0)

santa catalina island
Source: www.viator.com

If you are looking for a place to feed the adventurous soul in you, you will feel right at home in Santa Catalina Island. One of California’s Channel Islands, Santa Catalina Island is situated in the southwest of Los Angeles. Some of the fun-packed activities to do on this island include zip-lining tours, off-roading in Cape Canyon, skyline tours, kayaking, sunbathing, horseback riding, camping, and dolphin tours among others. And if sea-based activities get too much, you can take a break and head to Catalina Art Gallery, Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, Lovers Cove, and Catalina Island Museum.

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Catalina Island Day Excursion

29. Santa Monica (from USD 65.0)

Located in the west of downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica is home to one of the most popular attractions - Santa Monica Pier. Here, you will find Santa Monica Pier Museum, Looff Hippodrome Carousel, Pacific amusement park, and multiple restaurants lined overlooking the Pacific Ocean. While here, visitors can also head to 18th Street Art Complex, Palisades Park, Heal the Bay Aquarium, Annenberg Community Beach House, and Edgemar Center for the Arts among others.

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Santa Monica City Tour Package, with Santa Monica Pier

Duration: 3 to 8 hours

30. Palm Springs (from USD 299.0)

Situated in Riverside County, California, Palm Springs is a desert resort city that boasts sunshine throughout the year. With dry and warm winters, this city is a hub for all outdoor enthusiasts. You can either go off-roading in a jeep or go dirt biking on a motorbike. Options are limitless. You can also check out an array of museums such as Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, Palm Springs Air Museum, and Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert. Other than this, visitors can take a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway that goes up to Mount San Jacinto State Park.

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Full Day Tour of Palm Springs

Duration: 10 hours

Visit the amazing Southern California

A region filled with plenty of attractions, great recreational areas, and stunning sights, you will never run out of things to do while on a vacation here, either by yourself or with your friends and family. And if you are planning a visit to Southern Cali anytime soon, make sure to use this guide as a reference while planning your itinerary.

Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Born in Mumbai and brought up in Bangalore, India, Aarti is a full-time freelance writer by profession. She is a lover of everything the ‘blue dot’ offers—world cultures, off-the-beaten tracks,...Read more

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