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Ready to explore the best destinations in California in the summer? There’s something truly special and quintessentially California about a summer visit. As a local, it’s one of my favorite times of year to hit the road and explore.

You can spend days at the beach and late sunsets over the ocean in coastal California, to music festivals in the cities. There are great hiking, camping, and wildlife-spotting opportunities in the mountains. I find there are so many reasons to visit the state during the summer season.

Many of the places on this list have been my go-to California summer trips for years, including some right in my backyard. I’m always in for a last-minute trip.

Whether your trip is for a day or a week, you can’t go wrong with California summer. Read on for some of my favorite places to visit in California in summer.

Short on Time? Here Are My Top Picks for the Best Summer Destinations in California:

  1. San Diego (stay at Hotel Del Coronado), for the best family-friendly resort getaway
  2. Sonoma Coast (stay at Timber Cove Resort), for the best northern coast getaway
  3. Santa Barbara (stay at Palihouse Santa Barbara)for the best relaxing getaway

The Best Summer Destinations in California


1. Laguna Beach

Destinations to Visit In California In Summer

Nothing says summer like the pristine beaches of Laguna Beach. It’s somewhere I’ve visited since I was a child in the summer months. I have very fond memories of strolling the beaches, observing critters in the tide pools, and spending time downtown.

As an adult, it’s become my favorite beach getaway in the state, and somewhere to relax and retreat with top-notch dining and views. It’s the perfect summer vacation spot for couples, families, and even solo travelers to enjoy.

Helpful Laguna Beach Guides to Plan Your Trip

Laguna Beach Hotel Recommendations

  1. Montage Laguna Beach, for the best luxury oceanfront resort
  2. Hotel Joaquin, for the best design hotel
  3. Laguna Beach House, for the best design-for-dollar stay

2. Lake Tahoe

Destinations to Visit In California In Summer

For a very different type of beach getaway, head to the shores of beautiful Lake Tahoe for swimming, hiking, mountain biking, and Fourth of July fireworks. Think crystal-clear water surrounded by beautiful mountains and pines, and a low-key, All-American dining scene.

I grew up spending many summer weekends at the lake, which is just an hour or so north of where I grew up. I’m a particularly big fan of the north shore, which to me has the best hikes and lake spots as well as a more relaxed vibe overall.

Helpful Lake Tahoe Guides to Plan Your Trip

Lake Tahoe Hotel Recommendations

  1. The Coachmanfor the best South Lake hotel
  2. Basecamp Tahoe Southfor the best design-for-dollar hotel
  3. Desolation Hotelfor the best new South Lake hotel

3. Sonoma Coast

When many people hear “Sonoma,” they think of Sonoma Valley and wine country. But there’s so much more to discover in this Golden State county—including its beautiful coastline. As you drive north, the cliffs seem to rise taller and the beaches widen out, revealing a beautiful coastline dotted with picture-perfect beach towns.

A favorite stop of mine is Timber Cove resort, whose 25 acres rise above the ocean at the top of a cliff. Design lovers will appreciate the architectural details done in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as the 46 beautifully updated guestrooms.

Helpful Sonoma Coast Guides to Plan Your Trip

Sonoma Coast Hotel Recommendations

  1. Timber Cove Resort, for the best overall hotel

4. Malibu

Travel Guide to Malibu, California

Just west of Los Angeles, Malibu is another world-famous beach destination on Highway 1. Backed by the Santa Monica Mountains, this surf town is packed with hip shops and eateries. It’s the perfect destination for relaxing in nature while taking advantage of good food and accommodations.

Since summer in Malibu is peak beach season, keep in mind that it can get busy. But that’s not to say you can’t still have a peaceful vacation. I highly recommend checking out The Surfrider, a relaxed, 20-room boutique hotel, for its calming spaces and eye-catching design.

Helpful Malibu Guides to Plan Your Trip

Malibu Hotel Recommendations

  1. The Surfrider Hotel, for the best overall hotel

5. Mendocino Coast

The Best Luxury Mendocino Hotels

Mendocino is a weekend destination that keeps calling me back again and again. It’s a slow-paced, idyllic, charming town intimately connected with nature. Discover the choppy Pacific Ocean waters to the whales and birds that call the area home to the dense redwood forests. A stay in Mendocino will give you a front-row seat to whale watching and all the other outdoor wonders this part of the coast has to offer.

The town center offers a different set of activities and delights. Artist studios, boutiques, water towers, historical landmarks, and quirky architecture are in no short supply. It’s a great place to wander and soak up the friendliness of locals who care about your experience and their town.

Helpful Mendocino Coast Guides to Plan Your Trip

Mendocino Coast Hotel Recommendations

  1. Heritage House Resort and Spafor the best oceanfront hotel
  2. Brewery Gulch Innfor the best Mendocino hotel
  3. SCP Mendocino Inn & Farmfor the best bed-and-breakfast stay
  4. Mendocino Grovefor the best glamping stay
  5. Nicholson House at Beaujolaisfor the best Mendocino bed-and-breakfast stay

6. San Diego

San Diego is known for its gorgeous beaches and parks, and while those certainly don’t disappoint—they are wonderful to explore during the summer, and perfect for swimming and hiking—there is so much more to the city. For starters, adults can enjoy playing golf, dining in Little Italy, and exploring the historic Gaslamp Quarter, while kids can check out the world-class zoo and watch the sea lions in La Jolla.

While in San Diego, don’t miss the chance to check out the charming resort area of Coronado Island. With great beaches and a quaint neighborhood, it’s a perfect place for a family-friendly vacation.

Helpful San Diego Guides to Plan Your Trip

San Diego Hotel Recommendations

  1. Pendry San Diegofor the best city hotel
  2. The Pearl Hotelfor the best boutique hotel
  3. Hotel Del Coronado, for the best family-resort
  4. Alila Marea Beach Resortfor the best resort

7. Trinidad

Trinidad isn’t as well-known as many of the other destinations on this list, but it should still have a spot on your summer travel bucket list. When I first visited Trinidad, I felt as though I could have spent a week there. There’s so much to do, with the iconic redwood trees and scenic beaches so close by.

My recommendations would include visits to Redwoods National State Parks, Fern Canyon, and Moonstone Beach, as well as a few of the local restaurants. While a little pricey, they serve up excellent fresh seafood. The Larrupin Café and Moonstone Grill were my favorite spots, and don’t miss Beachcomber Café for breakfast.

Helpful Trinidad Guides to Plan Your Trip

Trinidad Hotel Recommendations

  1. Whalesong Housefor the best home rental stay

8. San Francisco

Best Destinations to Visit In California In Summer

What can I say? San Francisco is my favorite city in the U.S. and a place that still feels like home after living there for several years. It has so many amazing things to do that it would take weeks to explore it all—instead of trying, I recommend doing a few parts well and saving the rest for a future trip.

Summers in San Francisco can be windy and foggy, but don’t let that put you off. I love some of the city’s indoor activities, such as museums (MOMA and the de Young Museum are a couple of favorites). With some layers in tow, you can still have a wonderful time exploring the unique neighborhoods and beautiful outdoor spaces. And don’t miss the chance to indulge in a top-notch dining scene.

Helpful San Francisco Guides to Plan Your Trip

San Francisco Hotel Recommendations

  1. San Francisco Proper Hotelfor the best overall hotel
  2. 1 Hotel San Franciscofor the best waterfront hotel
  3. Fairmont San Franciscofor the best luxury hotel

9. Marin County

Marin County is a place I treasure and a place I’ve frequented over the years. Point Reyes Station in particular is a favorite day or weekend trip location I return to again and again for its beautiful views, quaint town, and great accommodations. The Point Reyes National Seashore is a protected outdoor space of more than 22,000 acres, offering endless opportunities for outdoor adventure.

If you’re staying overnight in Marin, you can’t do better than Nick’s Cove on Tomales Bay. It’s a beautifully maintained seaside cottage that will bring you a world away from the hustle and bustle of nearby San Francisco. Don’t miss the chance to view a late summer sunset over the bay from the hotel’s restaurant.

Helpful Marin County Guides to Plan Your Trip

Marin County Hotel Recommendations

  1. Nick’s Cove, for the best overall hotel

10. Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, known as the American Riviera, has a beautiful coastal location. Its mountain and coastal views are striking, and on top of that, it boasts a nearly endless supply of things to do. Art, history, culture, nature, dining, wine and beer tasting—you name it.

For can’t-miss activities, I love the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, the historic Red Tile Walking tour of downtown, and the Funk Zone, a hip neighborhood where several winery tasting rooms are based. If you’re planning a longer stay in the area, you can also take side trips to Ventura and Ojai.

Helpful Santa Barbara Guides to Plan Your Trip

Santa Barbara Hotel Recommendations

  1. Hotel Californianfor the best overall hotel
  2. Palihouse Santa Barbarafor the best downtown hotel
  3. El Encanto, A Belmond Hotelfor the best luxury hotel

11. Sequoia National Park

50+ Epic Things to Do in California

Sequoia National Park gets visitors year-round to see its famous towering Sequoia trees, but summer is an especially nice time to visit. Temperatures in the groves are comfortable thanks to the shade, making it a great place to beat the heat.

Sequoia National Park is adjacent to Kings Canyon National Park, meaning you can visit both together. Though they each boast high elevations and namesake trees, each park has its unique features, and both are worth visiting.

Helpful Sequoia National Park Guides to Plan Your Trip

Sequoia National Park Hotel Recommendations

  1. The Darling, for the best close-to-park hotel

12. Santa Ynez Valley

For a laid-back yet refined winery destination, look no further than the trendy Santa Ynez Valley. Chock full of chic places to stay, effortlessly cool shops, and elevated restaurants, it’s the perfect place for couples or friends to explore and sip on summer wines.

The valley comprises several towns, including Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Los Alamos, and Solvang. They’re all within 15-20 minutes of each other, so if you have a car, it’s easy to hop between them.

Helpful Santa Ynez Valley Guides to Plan Your Trip

Santa Ynez Valley Hotel Recommendations

  1. Hotel Ynezfor the best overall hotel
  2. The Inn at Mattei’s Tavernfor the best luxury hotel
  3. Fess Parker Wine Country Innfor the best-located hotel

13. San Luis Obispo / Pismo Beach

Somewhat overshadowed by big-name tourist destinations in Northern and Southern California, Central California doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. But there are so many gems to explore in this area, including San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach. The Central Coast is an ideal part of the state for a road trip, and spring and summer are my favorite times of the year to take one with mild weather and wildflowers in full bloom.

These towns have something for everyone, including bustling downtowns, proximity to the ocean, great hiking trails, and even nearby wineries. Morro Bay State Park and Pismo Preserve are a couple of great places to explore outdoors. 

Helpful San Luis Obispo / Pismo Beach Guides to Plan Your Trip

San Luis Obispo / Pismo Beach Hotel Recommendations

  1. San Luis Creek Lodgefor the best overall hotel
  2. Granada Hotel & Bistrofor the best downtown hotel
  3. Edna Farmhousefor the best private homestay

14. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Best Destinations to Visit In California In Summer

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the most underrated national parks I’ve had the opportunity to explore. It’s full of surprises, from boiling mud pots to wildlife, meaning you’ll want to take some time to explore instead of rushing through.

One of the best parts? It’s not spoiled by overtourism. You’ll find uncrowded hikes and backcountry lakes and creeks where you can enjoy magnificent nature in peace. If you want to get even more immersed, several nearby campgrounds are lovely in the summer.

Helpful Lassen Volcanic National Park Guides to Plan Your Trip

Lassen Volcanic National Park Hotel Recommendations

  1. Highlands Ranch Resort, for the best overall hotel

15. Los Angeles / Santa Monica

L.A. is an incredibly large area, and a week is truly not enough time to see at all. Given that, I suggest picking a few different neighborhoods to explore depending on the length of your trip—and for a summer visit, Santa Monica, with its walkable neighborhood and proximity to the ocean, should be at the top of the list.

On my most recent trip, I based my family in Santa Monica for four days, which allowed us to explore nearby neighborhoods including Venice and West Hollywood. While these areas have lots of great restaurants and shops to explore, I encourage you to be mindful of traffic if you intend to drive between them, as it can be no joke.

Helpful Los Angeles / Santa Monica Guides to Plan Your Trip

Los Angeles / Santa Monica Hotel Recommendations

  1. Santa Monica Proper, for the best overall hotel 

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15 Best Destinations to Visit In California In Summer

PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are:


Xx,
Jessica

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