The year-round sunny weather isn’t the only selling point for why it might be time to take a trip to Southern California (SoCal). With romantic escapes, family-friendly fun, and stunning beaches sprinkled throughout, SoCal has something for everyone.
Southern California reaches from the inland mountains and deserts to the lovely shores of the Pacific Ocean. With so much to do in a single location, it’ll be hard for you to pick where you want to go!
15 of the Best Places to Visit in Southern California
Since there are so many activities to participate in and places to see when visiting SoCal, we’ve listed the top cities to check out and the most popular destinations within each location.
Hollywood is among the most popular places in the world and a must-see destination when you visit South California. This spot in LA has been the ideal location for various films and television shows from the 1920s until now.
Tourists are welcome to book a ticket to sit in during a live taping when staying in or near Los Angeles. Taking a stroll on the Walk of Fame, past the Chinese Theater, you’ll see dozens of handprints and footprints on the sidewalk from the industry’s most famous celebrities.
The Hollywood sign is also close by, along with the outdoor Greek Theatre, the LA Zoo, and the Griffith Park Observatory.
2. Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park, consisting of eight islands off the coast of SoCal, is fertile ground for plenty of adventures. No one inhabits five of those islands, and they have been preserved for visitors who want to appreciate nature’s beauty.
Grab the family and sign up for a full or half-day excursion to see Santa Rosa, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and other villages.
You can even go camping overnight on an island of your choosing which offers a great chance to enjoy some star gazing! If you’re looking for more thrill, consider scuba diving, snorkeling, or exploring the kelp forests and sea caves.
Anaheim is on the SoCal coastline between San Diego and LA. You’ll find the famous Disneyland landmark, and numerous other amusement theme parks, like Knott’s Berry Farm, which is excellent for young children and teenagers.
If you’d like to head to the beach, Huntington is a popular choice in Orange County, also known as Surf City. There’s plenty of food, shopping, and activities in that area, so you’ll never get bored.
Are you a culture buff?
If so, there are a ton of cool museums to visit, like the Marconi Automotive Museum, the Discovery Science Center, Battleship Iowa, and more. Plus, there’s no shortage of art centers throughout the city and an eclectic selection of restaurants at every corner.
4. Island of Santa Catalina
This destination is specifically for water lovers looking for an adrenaline spike. Santa Catalina has off-road canyon excursions, zip line tours, dolphin tours, and skyline tours for those who like to admire the scene from high above.
Catalina Island is a gorgeous location to visit with friends or family to dabble in a little bit of everything.
There’s an undersea expedition, horseback riding, swimming, sunbathing, boating, kayaking, camping, snorkeling, stand-up paddleboarding, and so much more waiting!
Read Next: The Best & Worst Times to Visit Catalina Island in 2023
5. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
You can’t go wrong with a trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It’s the largest state park in California, about a two-hour drive from San Diego. Please start at the Visitor’s Center, where they have maps, an introduction film to the area, and a lovely pupfish pond and desert garden.
From there, decide whether you’d like a guide to show you around or if you want to go at it alone. If by yourself, wander through the wildlife and plants and enjoy the hiking and horseback riding trails along the way.
6. Death Valley National Park
Death Valley doesn’t sound like the friendliest place, but in the spring especially, it is stunning. With ideal weather conditions, you’ll see an incredible display of white, pink, purple, or gold flowers.
It’s an excellent opportunity to take pictures, and it’s only about 20 minutes away if you take the scenic route to Badwater from Furnace Creek. Enjoy the extraordinary salt formations you’ll see while driving and Artist’s Palette – a colorful rock formation with natural pastel colors.
Read Next: The Best & Worst Times to Visit Death Valley in 2023
7. Los Angeles
Los Angeles is a known celebrity hotspot, but it offers much more. There is a broad base of first-class cultural entertainment, thrilling theme parks like Universal Studios nearby, and miles upon miles of biking, hiking, and beaches to appreciate.
Museum Row has four major LA museums, like the Museum of Art, which many people love.
This area of Los Angeles also has nightlife, food, shopping, history, and more. Cap the day off by driving to Malibu Beach and enjoying some fun in the sun. Don’t miss the Melting Pot Food Tour!
Read Next: Is Los Angeles Safe to Visit in 2023?
8. Palm Springs
The winters are dry, the summers are warm and breezy, and it is hard not to love visiting the beautiful city of Palm Springs.
Take an off-road motorbike or bicycle to explore one of the desert locations, golf, stroll through the gardens, or make a day out of going to the Living Desert Zoo. With so much to do as far as art shows, live theater, and nightly entertainment, there’s something for all ages.
Read Next: Where to Stay in Palm Springs in 2023
9. Joshua Tree National Park
Between the Colorado and Mojave deserts, you’ll see the Joshua Tree National Park. It houses an extraordinary geological landscape with a wide array of habitats for plants and animals.
To get out into the fresh air, take a nature walk along the scenic desert trails, go backpacking overnight for an exhilarating adventure, go for a day hike, or go wherever the wind blows you. They also have areas for rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, bouldering, and more.
Read Next: The Best & Worst Times to Visit Joshua Tree in 2023
10. San Clemente Coastal Trail
The just-over-two-mile trek along the San Clemente Coastal Trail is popular amongst those who live in the area and tourists alike. It’s situated from the state beach park to the North Beach shores. You’ll pass every local hangout spot as you take this hour-long hike.
If you have your dog on a leash, feel free to bring them along to see the stunning coastline. Whether you go biking, surfing, or watching the dolphins frolic, you won’t be disappointed when visiting this destination in SoCal.
11. Beverly Hills
Drop by the celebrity-riddled Beverly Hills, where you may be fortunate enough to see your favorite movie star as you walk down the vaunted Rodeo Drive.
Apart from being near the rich and famous, you can go on a Beverly Hills Trolley Tour, which grants you a great view of the city while highlighting celebrity homes.
Some historical sites you should consider are the Paley Center for Media, Greystone Mansion and Gardens, and the historic Saban Theatre, where you can catch an entertaining show.
12. San Diego
San Diego is the ideal destination to enjoy a day in the sun during an extended family vacation or a brief weekend getaway. Learn about the history of San Diego in the historic Old Town State Park and Gaslamp Quarter.
Take the family to have loads of fun at LEGOLAND, SeaWorld San Diego, or San Diego Zoo/Safari Park. If you’re a first-time visitor, you can get the hang of things on the Old Town Trolley or choose a walking, biking, or seaway tour of the city.
Take advantage of the coastline that stretches nearly 80 miles, and enjoy some snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, surfing, games, and more.
Read Next: The Best Time to Visit San Diego and Where to Stay in San Diego in 2023
Pasadena is renowned for being the host city for the Rose Bowl Game, an eventful football game held yearly on New Year’s Day. Also be sure to take a trip to Old Pasadena.
Here, you’ll get a feel for the historical area, where you can stroll through beautiful art deco and Victorian buildings. The city is full of rich culture and art attractions such as Norton Simon Museum, Kidspace Children’s Museum, the Pacific Asia Museum, and more.
14. Long Beach
For beachgoers, Long Beach is a must-see destination in the SoCal region, where you can embark on virtually any adventure imaginable. Regarding cultural attractions, the Long Beach Museum of Art will amaze you with beautiful visual art and breathtaking views of the Pacific.
For individuals who love music, you must visit the Long Beach Performing Arts Center to see the opera or symphony orchestra.
There are plenty of activities for you and the family to enjoy, like exploring the Aquarium of the Pacific, touring the historic Queen Mary, or having fun on the beach. You can even visit the USS Battleship Iowa, which is a remarkable sight to see!
15. Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier is near Malibu and is jammed with shops, restaurants, an aquarium, an amusement park, and an arcade. The Pacific Ferris Wheel will give you scenic panoramic views of the coastline over 130 feet above the pier.
The true treat happens at night when over 200,000 lights light up the pier. You should stop by the Third Street Promenade, especially if you like shopping. It’s one of the best destinations for shopping in the area.
Things to Consider
There are a few things to remember when visiting Southern California. While it’s popular for most people to want to head to California during the summer, remember that everyone probably has the same idea. That means you’ll be waiting in long lines and amongst massive crowds.
If you go in the spring or fall, you’ll get nice beach weather and fewer people to deal with. Because of the temperature and crowds, you may want to rent a car to ensure you’re comfortable during your trip.
Air pollution may be a problem for some tourists, as it worsens in popular metro areas in SoCal, but it’s more tolerable when it isn’t so hot outside.
Nonetheless, if you go in the summer, don’t forget your sunscreen! Also, always be aware of your surroundings, as there are some high-crime areas in Southern California, especially in and around LA.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are common inquiries concerning the best places to visit in Southern California:
What is the best month to visit Southern California?
The best time to visit California is during the summer, from June to August. The weather is warm, with little to no rainfall. All attractions are open, and you can enjoy a bevy of activities. Remember that the crowds are likely to be immense as well.
What is the safest beach in Southern California?
The safest beach in California when it comes to swimming is Coronado Beach. As you approach the shore, the waves are very calm, and the water is transparent, so you see what you’re stepping on. Additionally, the beach has many lifeguard stations to make the area safer.
What areas are considered Southern California?
The Southern California region comprises the following counties: San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Ventura, San, Riverside, and Orange.
What is the best city to live in in Southern California?
South Pasadena is a great place to live, and you can find affordable housing there, too, despite the area’s median home value.
Pasadena has a unique blend of city life without the noise and chaos that typically accompanies it.
Should I rent a car to travel around Southern California?
Unless you plan to take in city life for the whole trip, you’ll want to rent a car to get around to the various attractions. Keep in mind that California is a large state, so having a car is a necessity when you need to travel long distances.
It can be an excellent adventure to cruise on the coastal highway to enjoy the stunning views.
So, Where Should You Visit in Southern California?
The best place to visit in Southern California seems to be Los Angeles or Anaheim because of the allure of the celebrities and shopping in LA and Disneyland in Anaheim.
However, you can also check out many different cultural festivals and centers, art theaters and displays, and museums around Southern California. You’re guaranteed a fantastic vacation no matter where you end up going.
So what are you waiting for — book your trip to Southern California today!