It’s no secret that California is an absolutely incredible state. Stretching 770 miles long, this state includes a wide variety of different climates and ecosystems, meaning there are dozens of interesting and different things to see without ever leaving the state, making a California bucket list crucial.
Whether you’re a California resident or somebody looking to pay the Golden State a visit, deciding which of these amazing places to visit and things to do can be overwhelming. This is where the California bucket list comes into play.
By creating a travel bucket list for the state, you can keep track of things you want to do, cross off things you’ve done, and help ensure you get it all finished while you still can.
What is a Bucket List?
Not sure what a bucket list even is? Well, if you’ve ever heard the term “kick the bucket,” you might be able to guess exactly what it’s referring to. That’s right—a bucket list is a list of things you’d like to do before you kick the bucket, i.e. pass away.
For some people, these lists are full of things they’d like to do close to home. However, for many others, especially wanderers and travel enthusiasts, a bucket list is a travel list of things they’d like to accomplish during their travels.
You could of course keep one long travel bucket list. Our recommendation however is to keep individual bucket lists for each destination in order to keep things organized and easy to sort through when planning getaways.
In this article we will be discussing California bucket lists specifically. In the sections below, we’ve included our favorite bucket list ideas for this amazing state to help get you started.
Bucket List Vacations: California’s National Parks
First, let’s talk about California’s national parks. It should come as no surprise that this gorgeous and large state is home to a total of 28 NPS sites. Of these, 8 are full-fledged national parks, and all 8 of them are 100% worth putting on your bucket list.
#1. Channel Islands National Park
If you’re a fan of swimming underwater and interesting wildlife, you’re going to love Channel Islands National Park. This park includes five gorgeous islands that are home to a number of unique animals and plants. The park is also an ideal place for snorkeling.
#2. Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is an interesting place to visit any time of year. A place of extremes, this place has both winter snow and intense heat, and the rare spring rainstorms bring some of the prettiest flower blooms you’ve ever seen.
#3. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is an interesting place because it is the meeting spot of two distinct desert ecosystems. Because of this, a large variety of desert plants and animals call this park home, including the Joshua Tree it’s named for. It’s also a “dark sky” park, making it the ideal place to check out the stars.
#4. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Ever wanted to see a real volcano? A visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park provides the perfect opportunity to do just that. Hot water shapes the land, clear lakes reflect the stunning sky, and the meadows are dotted with lovely wildflowers.
#5. Pinnacles National Park
An unusual landscape that was created by lava flow millions of years ago, Pinnacles National Park is an incredible sight to see. Hiking trails take adventurers through caves of bats, to the tops of tall spires, and through oak woodlands.
#6. Redwood National Park
The Redwood Forests of California are pretty well known. Here, the tallest trees in the world tower high above the visitors, reminding us all just how magnificent and powerful nature can be.
#7. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Another park with some incredible trees, Sequoia National Park boasts the world’s largest trees. These trees are so big that you can’t hug them all the way around, and the Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks surrounding the trees are absolutely breathtaking.
#8. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is probably the most well-known of the California national parks, and is one everyone should visit at least once. Here you’ll see snow-capped mountains, spectacular waterfalls, crystal clear lakes, and wildlife around every corner.
More California Bucket List Experiences
Of course, the national parks in California are just the beginning of all the amazing things to see and do. If you’re looking to expand upon your California travel list, consider adding some of the following experiences.
#9. Take a Boat to Alcatraz Island
Most people know something about the infamous prison on Alcatraz Island. Take a boat ride to the island and learn even more about the crazy history surrounding the place.
#10. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge
While in San Francisco, you’ll also want to be sure to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. We recommend doing this on foot or by bicycle in order to get the full experience.
#11. Ride a Trolley
No visit to San Francisco is complete without a ride on a trolley. Thankfully, this form of public transportation remains active and runs through the day. Make a point of hopping on board and experience this fun way of seeing the city.
#12. Go Surfing in Surf City
Huntington Beach is known as “Surf City” for a reason. This place is a hub for surfers and the beaches offer some seriously great waves. If you enjoy surfing, be sure to visit the area. If you’ve never tried surfing, consider signing up for a lesson.
#13. Pay a Visit to Slab City
One of the oddest cities in the US, Slab City is a stop you absolutely must add to your to-do list. This place is in an unincorporated, off-the-grid community of squatters who live in trailers and live by their own set of rules.
Slab City is also home to Salvation Mountain, an unusual and fascinating piece of art that must be seen to be appreciated.
#14. See the Happiest Place on Earth
Of course, you can’t forget to pay a visit to Disneyland. If you have kids, this stop should be especially high on your list. That said, even fully grown adults tend to enjoy steeping themselves in Disney magic for a few days as they enjoy classics such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain, and Peter Pan’s Flight.
#15. Spend Some Time in Big Bear Lake
Looking for a more natural getaway option than Disneyland has to offer? Big Bear Lake is a great choice. If you visit in winter, this resort community offers a chance to try your hand at skiing. Meanwhile, those visiting in the summer months can enjoy hiking and camping with some gorgeous views.
#16. Find Thrills at the Santa Monica Pier
A super fun place, Santa Monica Pier features rides, food, and ons of fun for everyone. Yes, it might be a little bit touristy, but we still think this classic pier is worth a few hours of your time.
#17. Vacation in Venice Beach
While you’re in the area, consider spending a day or two in Venice Beach as well. This is an interesting place with a raunchy hipster vibe. While there, we recommend walking along the canals while enjoying a coffee from one of the many local coffee shops.
#18. Find Your Way to the Hollywood Sign
Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot in Hollywood that we recommend doing. For the most part, it’s kitschy and overrated. That said, taking a hike up the mountain to the Hollywood sign to snap a photo is something that is worth your time and deserves a place on your California bucket list.
#19. Hike the Dunes at Mojave Trails National Monument
Another place that’s worth hiking? The dunes at Mojave Trails National Monument. These sand dunes are absolutely beautiful, and while hiking in sand is tiring, the views from the tops of the dunes are lovely.
#20. Take a Big Sur Road Trip
Located in the rugged, mountainous part of the central coast of California, Big Sur is an area that offers a huge amount of natural beauty—so much so, in fact, that we recommend dedicating an entire road trip to seeing the coastline, waterfalls, mountains, and animals of the area.
#21. Try Paddleboarding at Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is such a beautiful and unspoiled lake and a perfect addition to your California bucket list. We highly recommend visiting the lake, even if you can only spend a single day there. Paddleboarding is one of our favorite Lake Tahoe activities, and we think everyone should give it a go in order to experience the serenity found in the middle of this shining lake.
#22. Taste New Wines in Wine Country
California’s wine country is a huge draw for wine enthusiasts. Both Napa and Sonoma boast an enormous number of wineries, making them awesome places to try new wines and learn exactly how they’re made.
#23. Check Out the Point Reyes Lighthouse
Point Reyes National Seashore is another NPS site that we definitely recommend checking out. In particular, we feel that Point Reyes Lighthouse is well worth seeing.
#24. Make Your Way through the Cypress Tree Tunnel
Another great thing to see while at Point Reyes National Seashore? The Cypress Tree Tunnel. As the name suggests, this is a tunnel created by cypress trees, and driving through it is absolutely magical.
#25. Snap Photos at the Glass Beach
The Glass Beach of Fort Braggs is an interesting and beautiful place. The beach was created when tons of glass was dumped in the area years ago. The ocean tossed and turned the glass, creating smooth, rounded pieces that now cover the beach, shining in the sun and creating a lovely sight.
#26. Witness Whales in Monterey Bay
Whales are easily some of the most incredible creatures on this planet. For this reason, we cannot say enough how much we recommend visiting Monterey Bay between April and November in order to see the annual whale migration.
#27. Enjoy a Beer or Two in San Diego
It’s a well known fact that San Diego is the place to go for craft beer in California. Head to this SoCal city, visit some of the local breweries, and decide for yourself if that reputation is well earned.
#28. Explore the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park
Another thing San Diego is known for? Its incredible zoo. The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park is one of the top zoos in the country. It features a wide variety of animals, many of which are unusual, and the zookeepers are some of the best out there. People also praise this zoo for its excellent layout, clean pathways and common areas, and great educational programs.
#29. Glimpse Sea Lions in the Wild
In addition to whales, Californians often have the pleasure of seeing sea lions in their natural environment. One of the best places to see these wonderful creatures is La Jolla Cove.
California is, without a doubt, a wonderful and fascinating state. It offers a LOT to see and do, and a road trip by RV is the very best way to ensure you see as many of the things on your California bucket list as possible. Why not start planning your visit today by checking out the many RVs for rent in the Golden State?
Need help finding the perfect campground? Camp-California.com is a free resource for California campers and outdoor enthusiasts who like to have fun and enjoy life. The parks listed on this website are members of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.