Each of the 10 best cities to visit in California has its own unique vibe whether you’re looking to wine taste in Napa Valley or surf in Santa Cruz. Known for its diverse natural beauty and laidback atmosphere, California is home to plenty of incredible cities to visit.
From Tahoe’s emerald lake to the rolling hills of San Luis Obispo, California has every kind of beautiful natural environment you could imagine. In addition, you’ll find delicious cuisine, iconic landmarks, and plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures all across the state.
Planning a group trip to California with friends or family? Head over to Troupe to get the travel planning started. Trip members can even vote on their favorite city to visit in California and share fun ideas for activities, restaurants, and more.
The 6 best cities to visit in California include:
- San Francisco
- San Diego
- Santa Cruz
- San Luis Obispo
Best cities to visit in California
While Napa tops our list when it comes to bachelorette parties and girls getaways, it’s also perfect for any kind of vacation. Yes, even with kids! Napa has an adorable downtown with loads of delicious restaurants, including everything from cheap taquerias to Michelin-starred restaurants.
Beyond winetasting, Napa offers visitors plenty of ways to experience the outdoors like hiking its hills, kayaking on the Napa River, or biking through the vineyards. Head over to the Oxbow Market to enjoy a selection of restaurants, shops, and breweries.
In addition, take a hot air balloon ride, enjoy a spa day in Calistoga, or hit the links on some of the most beautiful courses in the state.
2. San Francisco
San Francisco is one of the best cities to visit in California thanks to its notarity. The city by the bay is home to many world-famous landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the Painted Ladies.
A true melting pot, you’ll find a wide variety of cultural attractions and restaurants featuring cuisines from all around the world. But make sure you don’t skip over San Francisco’s most popular local foods like sourdough bread from Boudin Bakerty or a Mission-style giant burrito.
3. San Diego
One of the best cities in California to visit for a bachelor party, there’s loads more to do for everyone in California’s most popular surf destination.
With the perfect blend of natural beauty, a laid-back lifestyle, and a vibrant downtown, San Diego is great for those looking for a chilled getaway. The city’s stunning beaches, including La Jolla Cove, Coronado Beach, and Pacific Beach, are perfect for swimming, surfing, or simply sunbathing.
Balboa Park is home to many museums and gardens while the historic Gaslamp Quarter is filled with lively restaurants, bars, and nightlife. Coming with kids? World-renowned attractions great for families include the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, and Legoland.
Lake Tahoe is simply perfection. This tranquil lake of royal blue and emerald green waters is a popular vacation spot in both summer and winter. During the warm summers, Lake Tahoe’s northern city of Truckee is surrounded by picture perfect hiking trails to explore during the day and mountain-life bars and restaurants to enjoy at night. Originally a railroad town, the historic downtown of Truckee is worth a visit.
In the winter, Truckee is surrounded by the best of the best ski resorts at Lake Tahoe including Squaw Valley and Northstar.
5. Santa Cruz
Located on the central coast of California, Santa Cruz is a popular beach destination for lovers of surf, sand, and relaxation. The iconic boardwalk is perfect for strolling during sunny afternoons and there are loads of cafes and restaurants serving up breakfast burritos, fish tacos, and local beers.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a popular attraction, with a historic wooden roller coaster, arcade games, and carnival rides.
You’ll find numerous State Parks nearby like Natural Bridges State Beach and Wilder Ranch State Park, which offer hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails.
Where to stay: The Dream Inn with panoramic views of Monterey Bay from its rooms.
7. San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo, lovingly referred to by Californians as SLO, is one of the best cities to visit in California thanks to its college-town atmosphere and beautiful Spanish-style architecture. The picturesque town located on California’s central coast is surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards, with many wineries and tasting rooms located nearby. Foodies will appreciate the city’s farm-to-table cuisine, which features fresh, locally-sourced ingredients like avocados, starberries, seafood, and artisan cheese.
With its blend of trendy bars and eateries and natural beauty, San Luis Obispo is a popular destination for visitors seeking a quintessential California experience.
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