Top 7 Outdoor Things to Do in California

Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe. Image by

California is home to some of the most diverse and beautiful natural landscapes in the world, making it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. The state of California offers a wide range of outdoor activities to explore, like hiking, camping, surfing, biking, scenic drives, mountain climbing, or simply taking in breathtaking scenery.

California is home to iconic National parks, lake towns, and redwood forests and has some of the best coastal scenic drives in the world. Here are some of the best outdoor things to do in California:

1. Visit Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is a breathtakingly beautiful alpine lake located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range on the border of California and Nevada. Its crystal-clear blue waters, surrounded by majestic mountains and dense pine forests, make it a popular year-round destination for hiking and outdoor activities.

In the summer, Lake Tahoe is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Lake Tahoe hiking trails wind through the forests and mountains. Water activities such as swimming, boating, parasailing, kayaking, and paddleboarding are also popular on the lake.

In the winter, skiing is a popular activity at one of the many world-renowned ski resorts in the area, such as Squaw Valley or Heavenly Mountain Resort. These resorts offer a variety of terrain for all skill levels, from beginners to experts.

2. Hike in Muir Woods

Muir Woods National Monument, located just north of San Francisco, is known for its towering redwood trees, some of which are over 1,000 years old and reach heights of up to 250 feet. Muir Woods is a popular destination for hiking enthusiasts, as the park offers a variety of trails that wind through the forest and offer stunning views of the redwood trees and surrounding landscape.

One of the most popular trails in Muir Woods is the Muir Main trail, which is a paved pathway that winds through the heart of the park. This trail is relatively flat and is suitable for visitors of all ages and fitness levels.

Muir Woods
Muir Woods. Image by

For more experienced hikers, there are several other trails in the park that offer more challenging terrain and longer distances. One of these is the Dipsea Trail, which starts at Muir Beach and winds up through the forest to Muir Woods. This trail offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding hills and is a great option for those who want a more strenuous hike.

Regardless of the trail, hiking in Muir Woods is a truly unforgettable experience and one of the best outdoor things to do in Northern California. The towering redwoods, tranquil streams, and peaceful surroundings make it a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

3. Explore Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, is home to some of the most breathtaking natural landscapes in the world, including towering granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and ancient forests.

There are many outdoor things to see and do in Yosemite, but some of the most popular outdoor activities are hiking, camping, and visiting the sights. Yosemite’s most epic hiking trails include the Mist Trail, which takes you past Vernal and Nevada Falls, and the Half Dome Trail.

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park. Image by

Yosemite Valley is home to some of the park’s most famous landmarks, including Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Falls. Located at an elevation of over 7,000 feet, Glacier Point offers stunning panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the surrounding mountains.

One of the unique outdoor experiences in Yosemite is camping in the park. There are several campgrounds within the park, each offering a different experience.

Yosemite National Park is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves the great outdoors and natural beauty.

4. Drive the Pacific Coast Highway 1

The Pacific Coast Highway 1 (PCH 1) is one of the most iconic drives in the world. It spans over 600 miles along the California coast, offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, rugged cliffs, and scenic beaches.

The journey begins in San Diego County and follows the coast all the way up to Mendocino County in the north. Along the way, you’ll pass through some of the most beautiful and iconic cities in California, including Malibu, Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, Monterey, and San Francisco.

Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Coast Highway. Image by

One of the most famous sections of the PCH 1 is the Big Sur coastline. This rugged, mountainous region offers stunning vistas of the ocean, as well as access to world-renowned attractions such as Pfeiffer Beach, McWay Falls, and Bixby Bridge.

The Pacific Coast Highway 1 drive is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should be on every traveler’s bucket list. From the stunning vistas to the iconic landmarks, this drive offers a glimpse into the natural beauty of California and provides opportunities for outdoor exploration like hiking, surfing, swimming, or just admiring the coastal views.

5. Experience the Field of Lights in Paso Robles

The Field of Lights in Paso Robles is a stunning outdoor art installation that has become a must-see attraction on California’s Central Coast. Created by internationally acclaimed artist Bruce Munro, the Field of Lights is a sprawling landscape of over 58,000 illuminated spheres that glow and pulse in an ever-changing display of color and light.

Sensorio Paso Robles
Sensorio Paso Robles. Credit:Anu Agarwal

Located at Sensorio, a 15-acre property in Paso Robles, the Field of Lights installation covers a vast expanse of rolling hills, creating a mesmerizing visual spectacle that is both beautiful and awe-inspiring. Thousands of glowing orbs are arranged in undulating waves of color, creating a sense of movement and flow that is both calming and energizing.

Whether you’re looking for a romantic date night, a family-friendly outing, or a solo adventure, the Field of Lights attraction is one of the best outdoor things to do in Central California.

6. Relax at Southern California beaches

Southern California is renowned for its beautiful beaches, with miles of pristine coastline that offer endless opportunities for sun, sand, and surf. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, Santa Monica Beach is one of the most popular in southern California. It offers a wide expanse of sand and a picturesque pier.

Located just across the bay from San Diego, Coronado Beach is a stunning stretch of sand that offers magnificent views of the city skyline. The beach is also home to the iconic Hotel Del Coronado, a historic hotel that has hosted celebrities and dignitaries for over a century.

Located in the upscale community of Malibu, this beach offers a pristine coastline, crystal-clear waters, and plenty of opportunities for surfing and swimming. The beach is also home to some of the most luxurious homes and estates in southern California.

There are several other popular beaches like Venice Beach, La Jolla Cove, and Laguna Beach in Southern California.

7. Visit Death Valley

Located in the southeastern part of California, Death Valley is one of the hottest and driest places on earth, with temperatures that can reach well over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in summer. However, despite its harsh conditions, Death Valley is a unique and stunning landscape that is worth exploring, especially during winter, Spring, and Summer when the weather is pleasant.

Death Valley
Death Valley. Image by

Death Valley is a vast park with a variety of landscapes and attractions, including sand dunes, canyons, hot springs, and historic sites. Make sure to visit popular spots like Badwater Basin, Artist’s Drive, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and Zabriskie Point, but also consider exploring lesser-known areas of the park, like Ubehebe Crater.

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America, at 282 feet below sea level. The salt flats here are a stark contrast to the surrounding mountains and make for stunning photo opportunities.

Death Valley is very popular with photographers as the sunlight can create beautiful effects on its diverse and stunning landscape.

Wrap-up: Outdoor things to do in California

California offers endless opportunities for outdoor adventures with so many great outdoor things to do and several amazing places like National Parks, beaches, lake towns, scenic drives, and cities to explore. With its stunning landscapes and temperate climate, it’s no wonder that California is a top destination for outdoor enthusiasts from around the world.

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Anu Agarwal
Anu loves to vacation with her family to destinations all over the world and is obsessed with doing endless research for her trips. She has been to several destinations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, and India. With her vacation travel blog Destination Check-Off, Anu is excited to share her destination itineraries and travel guides with you and help you check those dream destinations off your list!