Almost two and a half years ago my husband (then fiancé) and I moved from Indiana to California and since then, we have visited several fun destinations. We have done a lot of exploring. I haven’t been everywhere and still have a ton to see but these are my favorite spots so far. I have broken them up into 4 categories: beaches, views, parks, and hikes. There is some overlap but that’s okay.
This beach is on the south end of Laguna. It has free street parking (get there early) and is pretty large. You walk down what seems to be 1000 steps to reach the beach. I think it’s actually less than that but I’m not sure of the actual number. I recommend leaving most of your beach supplies at home.
This beach is massive. It’s good because there is an abundance of parking but it’s a little pricy. It’s $5 per hour or $15 for the day. It’s a beautiful beach.
This beach also has free street parking if you get there early enough. It is pretty large and has a cool tower that one of the residents build a while ago. It is a popular photo spot. There is no restroom here.
This is a very popular spot and parking can be difficult but it’s well worth the visit. It’s a beautiful little cove in San Diego. There are tons of sea lions lounging on the rocks and swimming around. If you want to see sea lions this is a great spot because they are always here. I have been at least 5 times and never not seen any.
This beach is very large and has clean sand. It’s one of the better beaches in the LA area. Many of those beaches are crowded and have dirty looking water. I prefer this beach to Santa Monica and Venice.
In my opinion, this beach is ideal. Most times I have been there the water was crystal clear and blue. Since moving here I haven’t surfed but I really want to surf here. I am planning on getting a cheap board this summer.
Coronado Beach, San Diego
I have only been here once but when I was here it seemed to be the best San Diego beach. It’s very large, like huge! There is plenty of room for all of the crowds that come. There is also free street parking.
This is a little park that has a hill with stairs going straight up the front, a trail to the top, and a road to the top. A lot of people use it for exercise but I like the views. It overlooks Santa Monica and Los Angeles. You can even see the Hollywood Sign in the distance.
You have to take a boat or ferry to get here but it’s well worth it. It feels like someplace in Europe. The colorful buildings all over the hills, against the contrasting bright blue water are amazing. There are several different pretty view points. My favorite is from the boat when you arrive.
Badlands Park, Laguna
This is a park in a neighborhood, at the top of the hills. It overlooks the ocean and all of the beaches. There are some walking paths and picnic tables. You can see so much, including Catalina Island. There are many similar parks to this place in Laguna but I haven’t been to any of the others.
This is another really popular spot. I don’t recommend it on weekends but it’s really beautiful. You can drive to the parking lot at the top or park for free at the bottom and hike up. The walk up isn’t super difficult. It’s amazing for sunset. This spot over looks all of Los Angeles and has a great view of the Hollywood Sign. Be sure to check out the observatory itself.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
These are cliffs near San Diego that are right on the ocean. You can park along the street. It’s a nice place to go and watch the waves. There are also some caves.
The Flower Fields
The Flower Fields are a pretty popular place to go and take photos or just appreciate the ranunculus. There are a variety of colors and they are beautiful. They are one of my favorite flowers and what my wedding bouquet mostly consisted of. There is a fee to get in but it’s worth it once in a while.
Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park
This is a lookout at Joshua Tree. you can see super far. It overlooks the Coachella Valley and the San Andreas fault. It’s nice because you can drive right up to it.
Cabrillo National Monument
This National Monument is really nice. From the main lookout point you can see all of San Diego and really far over the ocean. You can even see Mexico. It’s a nice park to hike and see some tide pools too. There is a fee to enter.
There are a bunch of trails surrounding Big Bear Lake. They are especially pretty during fall because the leaves change color a little bit. You have to stop by the Discovery Center to get a parking pass or use a National Park Pass if you have one.
Hidden Valley Trail at Joshua Tree National Park
In my opinion, this is the best trail at Joshua Tree. It is super scenic with all of the boulders surrounding the path. It’s a pretty short loop. Like every National Park, there is an entrance fee.
Pelican Cove Park, Rancho Palos Verdes
Pelican Cove Park has a trail that goes along the coast, through a resort to a beach. There is a sea cave at the end. It’s not that strenuous of a hike, mostly just pretty. Parking is free and never hard to find.
Red Rock Canyon Trail, Whiting Ranch (Currently Closed because of mountain lion attacks)
These trails are really nice. The Canyon is kind of a pinkish/red color. You can’t walk amongst the canyon very much because the trail ends when you get to the red canyon. It’s still worth the hike. Beware: there are tons of snake holes and mountain lions are often spotted. It is currently closed but I thought I would mention it anyway.
Walker Canyon, Lake Elsinore (during poppy season)
This has become a super popular park, since social media but if you are able to check out the poppy bloom, I recommend it. Go as early as possible to get parking. It’s a bit unpredictable when there will be a super bloom but you can hike year round too.
Ocean Trails Reserve, Rancho Palos Verdes
These ocean side trails are really nice for getting some exercise and spotting marine life. The parking lot is a bit tricky to find, but it’s down La Rotonda Dr. near the Trump Gulf course
Hollywood Hills trails
There are plenty of trails all over the Hollywood Hills. The views overlook Los Angeles and it’s beautiful. It can get very hot because there is no shade in a lot of the areas so I recommend only hiking if the temperature is below 75 degrees.
Mt. San Jacinto State Park, Palm Springs
This is a state park at the top of a mountain. I don’t have the name of any trails but there are plenty of good ones. It’s very pretty. You have to take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to get up to the state park.
I probably don’t need to talk about why Disneyland is so great but I am a huge Disney fan so I feel like I have to mention it. Of course it’s best to go on a weekday during the off season to make the most of it. Make sure to download the app so that you can view wait times of all the rides and get fast passes. Last time I went we were able to go on basically every ride because of these two features.
San Diego Zoo
This is my favorite zoo that I have ever been to. It’s really large and full of animals. Some zoos have a bunch of empty exhibits. It’s also super clean and has an aerial tram that takes you from one side of the park to the other. It’s free so you can take it as many times as you need to. It’s a bit expensive to get in but parking is free and it’s well worth it.
Balboa Park, San Diego
This park is right next to the San Diego Zoo. I think the zoo is technically inside it but it’s huge and has a bunch to do. There are lots of gardens and pretty sitting areas. It’s hard to explain but you have to check it out. It’s free to get in and park.
El Dorado Regional Park, Long Beach
This park is very large. One side has trails and a nature center. The other side has a bunch of other things. There are multiple ponds, a dog park, a place to fly a drone, picnic spots, and tons of other things. The price varies by day but it’s around $7 to enter.
Point Vicente Interpretive Center
This spot is near the Point Vicente Lighthouse. It’s on sea cliffs with paths that go along the shore. There is a little museum and gift shop. It’s a really amazing place to whale watch. You can borrow binoculars and watch for whales and dolphins.
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
This photo doesn’t really do this place justice, it’s the only photo I have. This park is marshland near the ocean, on the other side of PCH. It’s a protected area for the local bird species. There are paths going everywhere. It’s interesting to see all of the bird species feeding on fish.
Huntington Beach Central Park
This park is right next to the Public Library in Huntington Beach. It has a bunch of nice paths and a pretty garden. There is also a little pond. It kind of reminds me of the parks in London because there is a cafe inside too.