The Best Outdoor Experiences in California
Collected by Julia Cosgrove , AFAR Staff
Balboa Park, San Diego, CA, USA
A 1,200-acre green space filled with museums, theaters, and gardens, Balboa Park is the center of art and culture in San Diego. It’s also one of the city’s most historic sites, built for the Panama–California exhibition in 1915. While the museums...
2920 Zoo Dr, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
At the world-famous San Diego Zoo, you’ll essentially take a journey around the world as you explore 100 acres of habitats that resemble everything from the Australian Outback to the South African coastline. In fact, this institution cares so much...
One Legoland Dr, Carlsbad, CA 92008, USA
Perhaps you have a kid who’d traverse the globe for Ninjago World. Or maybe your child could spend a whole weekend creating his or her own Lego kingdom. Either way, a family trip to Legoland California is fun for all. With the water cannons...
1257 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
If anything’s endemic to Orange County it’s surfing—there are 40 miles of coastline here, after all. It’s not hard to find passionate practitioners of the sport, but doing is one thing and teaching is very much another. For...
6551 Park Blvd, Joshua Tree, CA 92252, USA
Never mind if you’ve never snapped on a climbing harness before. The sole prerequisite for a private climbing experience with Cliffhanger Guides in Joshua Tree National Park is a willingness to try something new. After speaking with you at...
1701 S Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264, USA
For decades, the Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium operated quietly, visitors referred by word of mouth for strolls through the family-owned one-acre grounds. Then Instagram happened. Thanks to social media, this collection of exotic desert...
62975 Blair Ln, Joshua Tree, CA 92252, USA
Throughout his life, African-American artist Noah Purifoy reimagined junk as art, using found materials to create sculptures inspired by Southern California’s culture and landscape. Some of his best-known pieces were made out of charred...
17985 Pacific Coast Hwy, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272, USA
J. Paul Getty’s original museum is as much about the transporting setting as it is about the pieces inside. When the billionaire oil tycoon decided to open a museum for his extensive collection of antiquities in 1974, he modeled it after an...
1200 Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90049, USA
Crowning any one location as having the “best view in L.A.” would be controversial, but the Getty Center is certainly a contender. The anticipation that builds upon approach to the arts and cultural center—up a driveway to park,...
100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608, USA
Call it the magic of Hollywood: Since opening in 1964, this theme park has continued to reinvent itself, creating ever-more ambitious experiences inspired by blockbuster movies. For Harry Potter fans, a visit to The Wizarding World of Harry...
695 Ashley Rd, Montecito, CA 93108, USA
As the name suggests, this 37-acre Santa Barbara garden is horticultural heaven. For more than 43 years, socialite and opera singer Madame Ganna Walska filled the grounds with more than 3,000 plants; after her death, Lotusland opened to the public...
750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452, USA
This sprawling, 165-room mansion may be known as Hearst Castle, but officially, it’s called La Cuesta Encantada (“The Enchanted Hill”), former owner William Randolph Hearst’s affectionate name for the property. Designed by legendary California...
52801 California State Route 1, Big Sur, CA 93920, USA
One of Big Sur’s most iconic images comes from this state park: tree-topped rocks jutting above a golden beach next to crashing surf. If you’re not an avid outdoorsperson, this is possibly the best reward for an easy hike that exists: Visitors can...
Pfeiffer Beach, California 93920, USA
If you blink, you might miss the turnoff for Pfeiffer Beach. There’s no signage except for a yellow “Narrow Road” warning at the top of otherwise unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road, the only paved, ungated road on the west side of Highway 1 between...
125 Ocean View Blvd #122, Pacific Grove, CA 93950, USA
Using an e-bike isn’t cheating—it’s far more environmentally friendly than using a car, plus you get some exercise as well. And those climbs along the coast are much easier when you have a 750-watt assist. Big Sur Adventures offers a trio of...
886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940, USA
When you stand on the Monterey bluffs and look at the bay, the vast expanse of marine protected areas may inspire you to learn more about conservation of the ocean and its creatures. That’s exactly the mission of the innovative Monterey Bay...
55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA
The California Academy of Sciences is an unfortunately stuffy name for an institution that is anything but staid. The country's largest natural-history museum includes an aquarium, a planetarium, an enormous rain-forest exhibit under a...
8204 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA
Driving a car through Golden Gate Park doesn’t do the landscape justice. The best way to appreciate the grandeur and diverse greenery of the 1,017-acre park is by bicycle. To ensure that your two-wheeled adventure doesn’t end with you...
17000 Armstrong Woods Rd, Guerneville, CA 95446, USA
Grays and greens abound in this public conservation tract in the tiny town of Guerneville along the Russian River. The area predates logging in the northern part of the state, so the preserve is home to some of the oldest and tallest trees in...
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