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Best things to do in California

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Where in the world: USA  /  California
Things to do in California promise a thrill for all kinds of adventurers, from nature enthusiasts to late-night urban buccaneers. You can see the pastel facades of San Francisco from its rolling hills surrounding the landmark Golden Gate Bridge. Los Angeles and San Diego host some of the best beaches in the country, and you're sure to enjoy them whether you prefer surfing or having a seaside drink at a local cafe. Those looking to head outside the heavily populated areas will be awestruck by the rolling hills of Napa Valley and California's massive redwoods.

California is best known for its Specialty Museums, Wineries & Vineyards, and Beaches.

Top 15 things to do in California

1. Alcatraz Island, San Francisco

Tour the infamous former maximum-security penitentiary on Alcatraz Island. Nicknamed The Rock, this small island in the San Francisco Bay is now a national park. After taking a ferry to the island, follow the audio guide, available in ten languages. You'll go through the inside of the old prison's facilities, which include a lighthouse, military fortifications, and cellblocks. Though long considered escape-proof, the prison suffered an irreparable blow to its reputation in 1962, when three inmates mysteriously disappeared using a makeshift raft. Explore the protected recreation area with a park ranger, who can enhance your visit with little-known information about the island's current inhabitants: the black-crested night herons and western gulls.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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2. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

One of the most photographed structures in the world, Golden Gate Bridge is the first feature of San Francisco you'll see when driving in from the north. Opened in 1937, the structure boasted the longest suspension bridge main span until 1964. Still considered one of the world's greatest engineering feats, the bridge draws visitors with its numerous vantage points, from which you can see and photograph the picturesque bay and boats passing under the iconic structure's red towers. The bridge has sectioned-off pathways on each side for both pedestrians and cyclists, so you can take your time crossing and admiring the views. Though the bridge closes for pedestrians at night.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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3. San Diego Zoo, San Diego

Providing a home for 3,700 of some of the world's rarest animals, San Diego Zoo features pandas, gorillas, antelopes, orangutans, koalas, and much more. Noted for pioneering the concept of cage-free exhibits that recreate natural animal habitats, this zoo covers an area of almost 40 hectares (100 acres). Take guided tours on a bus, or hop on an overhead gondola to see the diverse habitats from the air. See different animals often found side by side in the wild, along with native plant life from places such as African rainforests and Arctic taigas. To view the collection of rare plants, visit the arboretum. Begin your visit at the visitor center, where you can pick up a free map.
Suggested duration: 6 hours
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4. Disneyland Park, Anaheim

The "happiest place on earth," Disneyland Park consists of eight themed "lands" and a number of backstage areas. As you explore the 34 hectares (85 acres), you'll encounter roller coasters and boat rides, indoor and outdoor games, live shows, award-winning eateries, and a range of eclectic shops. If you'd rather not walk everywhere, stop at all eight lands via the narrow-gauge railroad that circumnavigates the park. As you travel through the magical worlds dreamed up by Disney, look for hidden representations of Mickey Mouse inserted subtly into the attractions' design and environmental decor. Conceived and built under the direct supervision of Walt Disney, this amusement park boasts the largest cumulative attendance of any theme park in the world--having welcomed more than 650 million visitors since it opened in 1955. It also gave rise to its relative, Disney World, in Florida.
Suggested duration: 8 hours
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5. Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

Encompassing the northern waterfront of San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf ranks as one of the city's top tourist attractions, packed with souvenir shops and seafood restaurants. Nearly 12 million visitors flock to this neighborhood each year, drawn by its museums, galleries, historical buildings, piers, and scenic vistas over the San Francisco Bay. For over a century the area served as the headquarters of the city's fishing fleet, which numbered nearly 500 vessels. Though the fleet's numbers dwindled over time, the remaining boats continue to supply some of the city's finest restaurants with fresh seafood. You can enjoy views of the bay from any number of restaurants, but try to explore other attractions as well, like the maritime museum, chocolate factory, and the infamous Alcatraz Island.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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6. Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Visit one of the country's largest and most-visited urban parks in the heart of the city at Golden Gate Park. The rectangular park is home to numerous museums, lakes, a botanical garden and conservatory, landscaped gardens, and athletic facilities. Spend a relaxing afternoon exploring the Japanese Tea Garden, or tour the previous home of the San Francisco 49ers football team, Kezar Stadium. Pack a picnic to enjoy lakeside or on one of the park's shaded lawns. Due to the park's sheer size, 412 hectares (1,017 acres), you might want to plan to take a bus or free shuttle back to the city center after exploring the park.
Suggested duration: 3h 30 min
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7. Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Half Dome is a granite dome at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California. It is a well-known rock formation in the park, named for its distinct shape. One side is a sheer face while the other three sides are smooth and round, making it appear like a dome cut in half. The granite crest rises more than 4,737 ft (1,444 m) above the valley floor.

Suggested duration: 5h 30 min
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8. USS Midway Museum, San Diego

An active naval aircraft carrier for nearly 50 years, USS Midway Museum now displays 29 restored planes and 60 interactive exhibits. You can see what the brig, engine room, pilots' ready rooms, and the crew's sleeping quarters looked like when the country's longest-serving carrier was on active duty. Explore the upper deck's bridge and the war room, or descend to the flight deck to discover the history behind some of the country's renowned military aircraft. Try out the flight simulators, or take a narrated audio tour. Be prepared to climb a lot of stairs.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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9. Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles

For an ultimate Hollywood experience, visit Universal Studios Hollywood, a film studio, theme park, and a self-contained city all its own. One of the oldest Hollywood studios still in use, this show business complex considers itself "the entertainment capital of Los Angeles." Originally created to offer tours of real film studios, sets, and sound stages, the complex now offers live shows, thrill rides, and behind-the-scenes presentations about the movie-making process. To see the highlights, take a tram tour of the sound stages and sets designed specifically for some of the studio's biggest blockbusters. You can also choose from indoor and outdoor roller-coaster rides that provide you the chance to face King Kong, a shark attack, dinosaurs, and a powerful earthquake.
Suggested duration: 8 hours
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10. The Getty Center, Los Angeles

Explore the impressive collection of pre-20th-century European art that fills the rooms of The Getty Center. Nestled in the hills overlooking Los Angeles, the six-building complex, notable for its new-age architecture and expanse of landscaped gardens, features exhibits of 19th- and 20th-century photographs, sculptures, and paintings. Take your time wandering through the museum’s sculpture garden, or have your picture taken with Van Gogh’s "Irises." Pack a picnic to have in the gardens while taking in a panoramic view of the city. While admission to the center is free, you must pay to park a car.
Suggested duration: 1 hour
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11. Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

The biggest grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park, Mariposa Grove is home to two of the biggest sequoias in the world. The Grizzly Giant is thought to be 1,800 years old. Your best is to hike to the grove, which also features the California Tunnel Tree that you can walk through. You can park at the entrance to the grove, or take a one-hour tram tour that operates seasonally. Visit the National Park Service's website for updates on temporary closures that periodically occur.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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12. Ferry Building Marketplace, San Francisco

Located inside a landmark building designed by architect A. Page Brown in the Beaux Arts style, Ferry Building Marketplace takes up the entire ground floor, the former baggage handling area of a ferry terminal. At its completion in 1898, this building was the largest project ever undertaken in the city. Today, the marketplace attracts foodies from around the country with its small shops selling everything from expensive mushrooms and sourdough bread to award-winning wines, cheeses, and chocolate cupcakes. The plaza just outside the building hosts local farmers and merchants selling organic produce grown in the area, as well as fast foods like burgers, pizzas, and tacos. Don't miss a stop at one of the marketplace restaurants, serving fresh seafood dishes and signature cocktails.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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13. Balboa Park, San Diego

An urban park, Balboa Park is home to 490 hectares (1,200 acres) of landscaped gardens, the world-famous San Diego Zoo, recreational spaces, art studios, museums, and theaters. Stroll through the Desert Garden or Japanese Friendship Garden to admire the park's diverse plant and animal life, or tour the San Diego Museum of Art or the Natural History Museum. Take advantage of the park's free tram service to get around.
Suggested duration: 4h 30 min
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14. Valley View, Yosemite National Park

At Valley View, you'll think you're about to jump into a postcard. This roadside lookout offers great views of the Merced River and the towering Cathedral Rocks and Spires.
Suggested duration: 30 minutes
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15. Yosemite, Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park

Take in the majesty of nature at Yosemite, Tunnel View, one of Yosemite Park's most iconic viewpoints. This site has drawn visitors, photographers, and artists since it opened in 1933. Those arriving by road must drive through a long, dark tunnel before emerging to see the breathtaking scenery, hence the viewpoint's name. A turn-out with ample parking enables you to stop for photographs of El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and Half Dome. If you are feeling adventurous, you can embark on a hike up to Inspiration Point from here.
Suggested duration: 30 minutes
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