Thanks to temperate climates and a diverse range of beautiful scenery, California is a destination you can explore year-round. And when it comes to outdoor activities, the options are endless—whether you want to spot migrating whales in Orange County, hike to hidden swimming hole near Santa Barbara, or anything in between. Below are 13 ideas for how to spend time outdoors on your next Golden State vacation, from San Diego to Monterey. Check out more outdoor experiences in Northern California here.
Grab a Fragrant Breath of Fresh Air
San Diego Botanic Garden, Encinitas
Thanks to San Diego’s sunny skies and mild climate, 5,000 plant species from all over the world thrive here. Take your time along the four miles of trails among majestic palms, flowering trees, and the country’s largest bamboo collection. The diverse topography spanning 37 acres includes a variety of microclimates that give outdoor and botany fans a sensation of going from a desert environment to a tropical rainforest.
Go on a Private Fishing Excursion
Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching, Dana Point
Take your family on a private charter—ranging from four-person boats to 95-foot vessels—to catch an assortment of fish off the coast of Dana Point. The company also offers small-group 1/2-, 3/4-, and full-day trips targeting yellowtail, dorado, tuna, and more for all ages of anglers as well as whale-watching tours. Given its high concentration of whales and dolphins, there are also plenty of other options for whale watching in Dana Point.
Watch the Sunset
Table Rock Beach, Laguna Beach
Follow the wooden stairway down to this picturesque pocket beach to end the day and leave the stress behind. The north and south ends of Laguna Beach's Table Rock Beach are capped by cliffs, which feel as if they’re protectively embracing the sand. Bring your towel or chair, find the perfect spot, and inhale the salt air.
Find Your Way in the Desert
Indian Canyons, Palm Springs
This ruggedly beautiful area features more than 60 miles of trails through scenic terrain in the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Greater Palm Springs. Popular trails include an easy path through Andreas Canyon, which passes through a California fan palm oasis; the moderate Murray Canyon Trail, which ends at the Seven Sisters Waterfall; and the Indian Potrero Trail, which leads to past a series of stone pools to a hidden plateau surrounded by rock formations.
Savasana Out to Sea
Mother’s Beach YOGAqua, Marina del Rey
Breathe the fresh air while you take a YOGAqua class on a paddleboard in this Southern California beach town. Even if you’re new to yoga, the water-based Vinyasa yoga flow class will make you feel like you’re one with the ripples on the liquid surface. Challenge your mind and body in true California beach style, and then paddle around to check out the Marina del Rey scenery.
Hike to Remote Camping
Little Harbor Campground, Catalina Island
You can reach Catalina Island via a short 22-mile ferry or helicopter trip—from Dana Point, Newport Beach, Long Beach, or San Pedro—and arrive in Avalon to stroll around the shops and each at ocean-view restaurants. But for a bit more of an adventure, consider hiking or biking your way to Little Harbor to discover the remote Little Harbor Campground and Shark Harbor Campground on Catalina’s under-the-radar backside. (The Wildlands Express Shuttle will also get you there.) You can order food and drinks—or stock up yourself—at the Two Harbors General Store and get your goods delivered to your campsite for $20. Explore the island’s surrounding waters on a kayak—rentals are available year-round from Wet Spot Rentals.
Play a Round of Beach Volleyball
Torrance Beach, Torrance
Home to The Strand, a coastal bike path that extends 22 miles, and swim- and surf-friendly waves, Torrance Beach has 40 acres of soft sand for sunny fun. Private and quieter than more popular Los Angeles County beaches, Torrance offers the opportunity to sit back and relax with plenty of space, or you can take advantage of the public nets and play a game of volleyball. It also has more than 300 parking spots for easy access.
Hike for the Views
Griffith Park trails, Los Angeles
One of Los Angeles County’s largest urban parks, Griffith Park preserves more than 4,200 acres at the east end of the Santa Monica Mountains. Hit the trails at Mount Hollywood, which rises over the center of the park behind the Griffith Observatory, and offers panoramic views of Los Angeles. If you’re looking for a prime view of the famed Hollywood sign, head to the Mount Lee trails.
Voyage to the “Galapagos of North America”
Island Packers trips to Channel Islands National Park, Ventura/Oxnard
Voyage from either Ventura or Oxnard harbor to visit Channel Islands National Park, where the “Galapagos of North America” is revered for its endemic plants and abundant wildlife. Isolation over thousands of years has resulted in unique animals and plants, and a visit here lets you see coastal Southern California as it once was. Feel the marine breeze in your hair on the cruise over and back with Island Packers, which visits all five islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary. For a different perspective of the coastline, consider launching 1,000 feet in the air with Channel Islands Parasail.
Play in the Sand with Your Furry Best Friend
Spooner’s Cove, Los Osos
Dogs love beaches, but beach rules don’t always love dogs. Bring your canine pal to this sweet spot in Montaña de Oro State Park to frolic and play in the sand—just be sure to have her on a leash. Take in views of rugged cliffs, miles of untouched oceanfront, sit on the rocks and listen to the sound of the waves, or trek down to the sand and wander to your hearts’ content.
Tour an Estuary by Kayak
Morro Bay Estuary, Morro Bay
Get the best view of the Morro Bay Estuary, which spans the southern end of Morro Bay to the shores of Los Osos-Baywood, by taking to the water in a kayak. Snag your rental craft at Central Coast Outdoors or A Kayak Shack, and paddle out into the waters protected from the open ocean by a 4-mile-long sandspit. From this different perspective, among the harbor seals and sea otters, take your time enjoying the views of Morro Rock and the coastal hills. Note: Check winter hours first.
Commune with Redwood Giants
Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park
When you’re surrounded by a grove of giant sequoias, it’s easy to feel small. Sequoia National Park was established to protect the Sequoiadendron giganteum (giant sequoia), which is the state tree of California (along with the coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens). Wander through the Giant Forest here, where among the 8,000 giant sequoias you’ll find the General Sherman Tree, the largest living thing on earth by volume.
Hang Ten, California Style
Monterey Bay Surf Lessons, Monterey/Carmel
California takes its surf culture seriously, but having fun is always the first goal of surfing. If you’re a newbie or merely looking to improve your skills, get a boost with private surf instruction from Monterey Bay Surf Lessons. An extra bonus to surfing in the Monterey Peninsula is that you get to gaze at the glorious Monterey and Carmel shorelines between sets.