Travel to These 7 Must-See California Destinations in 2024

A patch of California poppies and grasses with the ocean in the background

New year celebrations have settled and it’s time to look forward to four seasons of California travel experiences. Planning ahead is not only sensible, allowing you to get the best deals and top choices for lodging across California, it also gives you something to be excited about. It all starts with picking a destination or two – and the Golden State has no shortage of beautiful places to visit. 

California is one of the most culturally and ecologically diverse places in the world! We have 840 miles of coastline, active volcanoes, the world’s tallest and largest trees, and landscapes ranging from snowy peaks to balmy beaches. The big-ticket destinations that make every top 10 list of places to go in California (like San Francisco, Disneyland and Yosemite), are always enticing. But we suggest adding some of the following amazing destinations to your 2024 travel list instead.

Channel Islands National Park: The Galapagos of North America

Channel Islands National Park is one of California’s most unique and spectacular destinations, yet it ranks among the least-visited national parks in the United States. If you’re looking for a beautiful place in California without crowds, put this incredible destination on your 2024 travel list! Hiking, camping, kayaking, snorkeling and wildlife spotting are the top activities at the park. Look for dolphins, whales and pinnipeds during your channel crossing, adorable island foxes on land, and abundant birdlife throughout your visit. Many plant and animal species in the park are found nowhere else on Earth. 

A channel of water cutting through hillsides with yellow wildflowers and chaparral on Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park
Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park (Photo by California News Press)

Exploring the Channel Islands is often described as walking back in time, as their protected ecosystems represent coastal Southern California in its natural state. UNESCO, which recognizes the islands as a biosphere reserve, calls them “one of the last examples of natural Mediterranean ecosystems in North America.” The islands’ isolation and untouched environments are all the more remarkable in contrast to the hugely populated mainland just across the channel. 

The national park comprises five of the eight Channel Islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara. To visit, you must book a spot on a boat through park concessionaire Island Packers. Departures are from Ventura Harbor, which is also the location of the national park headquarters. Each island is unique and boat schedules vary in frequency and duration, so plan ahead. Campsites – the only accommodations on the islands – must be booked ahead of time as well. Plan to bring all your food, drink and other supplies with you, as none are available on the islands. 

Bodega Bay: See the Seabirds and Scenery

Bodega Bay’s biggest claim to fame is being the filming location for Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (1963). More than 50 years after the film’s release, it remains the most evocative motif of this scenic, blustery coastal village in Sonoma County. Plan a weekend away in Bodega Bay and embrace the moody vibe of windswept cedar groves, craggy headlands, crashing waves and banks of fog that you might playfully perceive as foreboding. 

Coastal land with water on both sides at Bodega Bay on California's Sonoma County coast
Bodega Bay in Sonoma County (Photo by Georg Eiermann on Unsplash)

Bodega Bay, about 40 miles northwest of San Francisco, is one of the best places in California for a couples’ getaway. Spend your time together walking coastal trails, beachcombing, tidepooling, spotting amazing marine life and sampling local seafood, wines and cheeses. Nearby Sonoma Coast State Beach is a prime location for scenic excursions. For a headier dose of adventure, book a kayaking or fishing trip. Crabbing and seasonal whale watching are popular things to do in Bodega Bay as well. 

San Jose: Stop Sleeping on NorCal’s Biggest City!

On paper, San Jose should be a major tourist destination. It’s the largest city in Northern California, the third most populous city in the state, and one of the wealthiest major cities in the world. It has just about everything we love about California, including cultural diversity, natural beauty, and an interesting history (did you know San Jose was the first state capital?). It also claims an impressive lineup of museums, amusement parks and other attractions. So, why doesn’t San Jose generate any tourist buzz? Maybe 2024 will be the year you investigate its curiously concealed charms. 

San Jose’s major landmarks include Plaza de César Chávez, a downtown park and the historic heart of the city dating to 1797. Around the plaza are the Tech Interactive, a hands-on STEM museum with the largest IMAX screen in the west, and the San Jose Museum of Art, dedicated to modern and contemporary works by West Coast artists. More top-notch museums in San Jose include the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, and the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, which claims the largest collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities in the west.

The Winchester Mystery House, a tourist attraction in San Jose, a Victorian mansion with red conical roofs and a stag statue on the front lawns
The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose (Photo by California News Press)

One of the biggest tourist attractions in San Jose is the Winchester Mystery House, a unique architectural treasure. It has an intriguing backstory: Sarah Winchester, widow of a wealthy firearms magnate, spent her life and fortune from 1886 to 1922 overseeing the baffling and boundless expansion of her property. The mansion grew to seven stories and 160 rooms, which you can explore on a guided tour. Visitors who enjoy ghost stories find the Winchester Mystery House to be one of the spookiest spots in California

San Jose has some excellent attractions for families. Take the kids to the award-winning Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. It’s expansive, enriching, inclusive and really, really fun. For an outdoor adventure, head to Kelley Park, which features a history park, Japanese Friendship Garden and the delightful Happy Hollow Park and Zoo. Plan a full day for the thrill rides and family fun at Great America, a major theme park just outside San Jose. It also features a seasonal water park.

Redding: The Sunniest City in California

Redding, approximately midway between Sacramento and the Oregon border, is California’s sunniest city. It’s the major hub of the Shasta Cascade region and offers close access to the great outdoors along with the comforts and charms of a mid-sized city. 

Plan a visit to Redding, California this year, and you can spend your days exploring the lakes, waterfalls, swim beaches and trails of nearby Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. You might also choose Redding as a home base for visiting Lassen National Park, which is under an hour away. In the city, enjoy the walkable downtown with its sculpture park, historic Cascade Theatre and ample green spaces along the Sacramento River.

A view from the top of Sundial Bridge crossing the Sacramento River in Redding, California
Sundial Bridge in Redding, California (Photo by Leo on Unsplash)

The top attraction in Redding is Turtle Bay Exploration Park comprising botanical gardens, a museum, and the Sundial Bridge. Completed in 2004, the bridge is an engineering and architectural marvel that’s become an icon of Redding. The bike and pedestrian bridge spans 700 feet across the Sacramento River and is one of the world’s largest sundials. The tip of its shadow moves at approximately 1 foot per minute, allowing you to observe the rotation of the Earth with the naked eye. The bridge’s translucent deck is illuminated at night. 

A day at Turtle Bay Exploration Park is a must when you visit Redding. Spend some time among the trees and plants of the McConnell Arboretum and Gardens, which include a pond, children’s garden and nursery. Head inside the Museum at Turtle Bay to see the aquarium, river lab and exhibits about the history and ecology of the Shasta Cascade region. Feed the colorful lorikeets at the park’s Parrot Playhouse, one of several animal exhibits that are a big draw for families. 

Oak Glen: An Apple Boom Town in the San Bernardino Foothills

Oak Glen, a scenic, rural community off I-10 in San Bernardino County, sees a surge of visitation during fall. Not only is it one of the best places for fall foliage in California, Oak Glen is at its peak of activity during the August-to-November apple season. The first apple orchards in Oak Glen were planted during the late 19th century, and they were so successful that it became an “apple boom town.” 

Oak Glen’s agricultural heritage endures, with many local orchards growing rare heirloom varieties and offering pick-your-own experiences during the harvest season. The Apple Butter Festival takes place on Thanksgiving weekend, and visitors can enjoy live music, petting zoos, horse-drawn wagon rides and press-your-own cider experiences. 

A meadow with wildflowers and trees and a mountain backdrop at Oak Grove Preserve in San Bernardino, California
Oak Glen Preserve in San Bernardino County (Photo by Jon Doerr Jr on Unsplash)

Oak Glen is enticing all year-round, with apple pies, preserves, apple butter and other treats available at roadside stands and local bakeries. In spring, come for the spectacular show of apple blossoms. In summer, cooler temperatures draw visitors away from the heat of Los Angeles and Palm Springs, both less than an hour from Oak Glen. 

In addition to all things apple, Oak Glen attracts visitors with its beautiful landscapes ideal for recreation, picnicking and photography. Explore the region’s rural heritage at Los Rios Rancho, established in 1906 and now park of the Wildlands Conservancy’s Oak Glen Preserve. Here, you can go hiking among oak and pine forests and streams lined with willows. Wander the Southern California Montane Botanic Garden and check out the Children’s Outdoor Discovery Center along with the Los Rios Rancho Apple Farm. Admission is free. 

Mariposa: (More Than) a Gateway to Yosemite and Gold Country

Mariposa is a tiny community with tons of historic charm, natural beauty, and an ideal location for exploring California’s glorious Gold Country region. It’s also just 42 miles from Yosemite Valley, making Mariposa a fantastic hub for day trips to the super-popular national park. 

Named for the butterflies that flock through its rolling hills, Mariposa was settled around 1849 as one of the southernmost gold mining camps in California. Its original street plan remains along with many brick and adobe buildings from the late 19th century. Today’s invitingly stroll-able Main Street features farm-to-table restaurants, breweries, wineries and boutiques. 

Old western storefronts along the main street in Mariposa, California
Old West storefronts along Mariposa’s historic Main Street (Photo by California News Press)

Visitors can venture into California history with a visit to the Fremont Adobe, the oldest building in Mariposa, and the old stone jail. Among the most impressive historic landmarks in Mariposa is the circa-1854 county courthouse, one of the oldest in the west. 

Top local attractions include the Mariposa Museum and History Center, called “the best little museum of its size west of the Mississippi” by the Smithsonian Institute, and the California State Mining and Mineral Museum, a state park exploring the geological diversity of California. The museum features more than 13,000 gems, minerals and mining artifacts. Its star attraction is the rare and valuable “Fricot nugget,” the largest intact specimen of crystalline gold in California. 

The nearby Stockton Creek Preserve offers some serene and picturesque hillside trails along the creek. In spring they’re lined with wildflowers and profuse with the town’s namesake butterflies. Consider visiting during the Mariposa Butterfly Festival, scheduled for May 4 – 5, 2024. 

Where to Stay in Mariposa

If you have moved Mariposa to the top of your list of places to go in California in 2024, check out the Restful Nest Bed and Breakfast Resort. The beautiful Mariposa B&B sits on 11 rustic acres dotted with mature oaks, a fishing pond, and vintage farming and mining equipment. Guests also enjoy access to a swimming pool, spa and BBQ pit. Sweeping views of the Sierra Nevada foothills amplify the vibe of timeless tranquility. 

The Restful Nest B&B house with rustic acreage in front
The Restful Nest B&B in Mariposa (Photo by California News Press)

Choose from two guest rooms, each with a private bath and shower, or book the private one-bedroom guest house with its own living room, bathroom and wood-burning stove. You may also book all the rooms for a family or group. Breakfast is served family-style in the main house with owners Lois and Jon Pierre Moroni, an incredible cook originally from France. Enjoy generous portions of home-baked goods, homemade condiments and hearty breakfast fare. It’s a perfect way to start a day of adventure in Mariposa. 

Knott’s Berry Farm: A SoCal Institution

There are a lot of theme parks in California, all promising a super-fun day out for all. Knott’s Berry Farm in Orange County’s Buena Park stands out from the crowd with its wholesome heritage. There’s nothing wrong with massive global fame, but this park feels much more like a locals’ institution than a tourism behemoth. It’s the kind of place that inspires long-time SoCal residents to tell their kids what rides “used to be” in this corner of the park and how few dollars the famous chicken dinner cost way back when. 

Knott’s Berry Farm has come a long way since the 1920s, when Walter and Cordelia Knott sold berries, pies and jams by the roadside and brainstormed wacky ways to bring in more customers. Their chicken dinner restaurant, replica ghost town and collection of Old West artifacts expanded to today’s 57-acre park with four themed areas and Snoopy as a mascot. The park features 40 rides, covering every kind from high-thrill roller coasters and water rides to toddler-friendly amusements and boardwalk games.

A scary figure propped on a hay bale in front of theme park rides for Knott's Scary Farm at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California
Knott’s Berry Farm transformed into Knott’s Scary Farm (Photo by Ryan Zazueta on Unsplash)

You might plan your visit to Knott’s Berry Farm in 2024 around annual spectacles like Knott’s Scary Farm for Halloween frights, or Knott’s Merry Farm for holiday season festivities. There’s also the Boysenberry Food Festival in spring, plus after-dark fun during Knott’s Summer Nights. Summer is also the time to combine visits to Knott’s Berry Farm and the adjacent, seasonal Knott’s Soak City water park. 

Looking for more California travel ideas? We have you covered!

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