From the sparkle and glitz of Hollywood to the stunning engineering marvel that is the Golden Gate Bridge, you will find the most iconic landmarks in the USA are in California. Whether you are an architecture admirer, a die-hard movie enthusiast, or a simple traveler, California has something for everyone. In this blog, we will explore the most famous landmarks in California, from the Hollywood Sign to the Santa Monica Pier and beyond it. Beyond the top 10 California Landmarks, some other natural landmarks and famous landmarks in San Francisco have also been covered.
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Top 10 California Landmarks
1. The Hollywood Sign
The hike to the Hollywood Sign is a gorgeous hike with views all over Los Angeles. Beginning from various points like Griffith Observatory or Canyon Drive, the trail winds through Griffith Park’s green surroundings. The path is a mix of dirt tracks and well-marked routes, which makes for a varied and engaging trek for hikers.
As you ascend, you will find breathtaking viewpoints along the trail. The Mulholland Scenic Overlook has a panoramic view of Los Angeles’ sprawling cityscape. As you continue the ascent, the sign will gradually reveal itself against the blue sky. The end point of the hike is a viewpoint that has a great perspective of the Hollywood Sign and the surrounding landscape.
The Hollywood Sign itself has an interesting history. It was originally built in 1923 as “Hollywoodland” to advertise a real estate development company. It eventually became an icon of the film industry. Over the years, it underwent restoration and preservation efforts. Today everyone around the world recognizes the sign.
2. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge stands as an iconic symbol of engineering excellence in San Francisco, California. It spans 1.7 miles across the Golden Gate Strait and connects San Francisco to Marin County and redwood forests beyond. It was completed in 1937 and at that time was the world’s longest suspension bridge.
Constructing such an enormous structure was no simple task given the strong currents, turbulent winds, and dense fog in the San Francisco Bay area. Yet engineers Joseph Strauss, Charles Ellis and Leon Moisseiff overcame these difficulties to craft one of the most famous San Francisco landmarks.
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco has multiple vantage points that are perfect for viewing and photography of this iconic structure. This iconic landmark naturally was the highlight of our San Francisco 4-day itinerary. A few of the top places where one can observe and photograph this incredible structure include:
If you walk 750 feet from the closing parking lot you will find Battery Spencer at Fort Baker. Battery Spencer has breathtaking views of the San Francisco skyline and bridge from Marin Headlands viewpoint. A great spot for tourists and locals alike!
Another spot within the Marin Headlands is Hawk Hill. This is ideal for photographers hoping to capture sunrise or sunset images of the Golden Gate Bridge from Hawk Hill. On foggy days, this view becomes especially spectacular!
Lands End is situated on San Francisco’s eastern shoreline. It is a coastal park with hiking trails and cliffside viewpoints that have fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge against the Pacific Ocean.
Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, is an iconic entertainment destination that holds a special place in the hearts of millions worldwide. Spanning over 500 acres, Disneyland has 2 theme parks – Disneyland Park and California Adventure Park. Disneyland has stood as a beacon of magic, imagination and childhood dreams, since opening its doors to guests for the first time back in 1955.
Disneyland Park is divided into themed lands such as Main Street U.S.A, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland etc. It has classic attractions like Sleeping Beauty Castle, Pirates of the Caribbean Space Mountain as well as beloved characters that roam its streets. Disney California Adventure Park has attractions like Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! and World of Color nighttime spectacular. Both these park make for an awesome 2 day Disneyland Itinerary.
Beyond theme parks, Walt Disney Resort has an abundance of experiences from world-class dining to unique shopping opportunities. It is a great place for families with kids to visit. They are sure to love this wonderful place. It is a popular destination for families and you must check out the top Disneyland California hacks to plan a trip to the Happiest Place on earth.
4. Death Valley
Death Valley National Park is in eastern California and parts of Nevada. It is an impressive desert landscape covering an expansive 3.4 million acres. It is well known for its extreme temperatures and can only be visited in the winters. Death Valley holds the record for highest temperature ever measured on Earth. Even under its harsh conditions, this park has stunning and varied natural features such as vast salt flats, towering sand dunes, badlands and mountain ranges. Badwater Basin (North America’s lowest point) and ancient Joshua trees add to its charm.
Death Valley’s ecosystem supports lots of plant and animal species that have adapted to survive its extreme conditions. This makes it an attractive spot for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers. Visitors to Death Valley National Park can explore its geological formations, hike through canyons and stargaze beneath some of the darkest skies in America. The park is known for its breathtaking natural beauty and remarkable geologic history. You can choose to take a day tour to Death Valley from Las Vegas.
5. Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle stands proudly atop a hill in San Simeon, California and is an eye-catching reminder of William Randolph Hearst’s extravagant lifestyle and grand vision. It is on the Pacific Coast Highway and very easy to do on a California road trip. It was constructed between 1919 and 1947 and is now considered amongst the top 10 landmarks in California. The grand estate showcases architecture as well as artistic talent. This castle was designed in Mediterranean Revival style and draws its inspiration from European castles and Spanish cathedrals. It has 165 rooms across its main house and three guesthouses.
It also has lavish gardens, multiple pools, terraced landscapes, and ocean views which create an enthralling setting. Inside the castle you will find everything from priceless tapestries to ancient sculptures and ornate ceilings. The art gallery also has breathtaking pieces. Hearst Castle serves as both a National Historic Landmark and a museum. Each room displays Hearst’s unique tastes and his deep appreciation of antiquity.
6. Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier is an iconic Southern California landmark, representing Los Angeles’ beach culture since 1909. The pier has an amusement park built on it which is loved by locals and tourists alike. It has an eye-catching Ferris wheel and roller coaster that provide breathtaking views of the coast. They are lit up in different designs every night!
The pier is filled with street performers, musicians, and an abundance of tasty food vendors. Right next to the pier is the Santa Monica Beach with amazing waves. You can take surf lessons or get a tan on the beach and relax. The pier also has Bubba Gump Shrimp which is the most iconic seafood vendor of California. The Santa Monica pier is best visited at sunset when you can see the sun dip behind the ocean and the sky lights up in beautiful colors. The entire Malibu coastline lights up at night and you can trace the coastline with your eye.
7. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is tucked in California’s Western Sierra Nevada mountains. It is a stunning natural park that draws millions of visitors each year. It is one of the most beautiful parks on the west coast and listed as one of top 10 landmarks in California. Yosemite National Park covers an area of more than 1,100 square miles and has breathtaking landscapes from towering granite cliffs such as El Capitan and Half Dome, to picturesque waterfalls like Yosemite Falls which is one of North America’s tallest waterfalls. Yosemite Park’s ancient giant sequoia groves, including Mariposa Grove are not to be missed.
Yosemite’s diverse ecosystems provide habitat for a vast variety of flora and fauna. Hikers, rock climbers, and outdoor adventurers flock to Yosemite National Park to take advantage of its extensive trails and challenging terrains. The best time to visit the park is during spring and fall. You can also go camping in the park but will require reservations in advance to do this. Yosemite Village has lots of shops, restaurants, and lodging if you plan to spend the night here. There are plenty of things to do at Yosemite with kids.
The best way to experience Yosemite is to stay a night or 2 in the national park. But if you are short on time, you can take a full day tour from San Francisco to Yosemite.
8. Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay is an intriguing landmark with a long and fascinating history. It once served as a military fortification and later became one of the most notorious federal prisons in America. It was operational between 1934 and 1963 and held some of America’s most notorious criminals such as Al Capone and Robert “The Birdman” Stroud from 1934 until 1963. Due to its remote and harsh conditions, it proved virtually unbreakable despite numerous daring attempts made at escape which further added to its appeal. Alcatraz Island has long been a top tourist attraction, drawing in visitors from all corners of the globe.
It has now been designated as a National Historic Landmark. The prison has guided tours that provide insight into its dark history as well as daily life of its inmates. Alcatraz Island has much more than just the prison. This historic San Francisco landmark also serves as a sanctuary for diverse seabird colonies. Here is a time-saving option to book a round trip to Alcatraz and the admission ticket.
9. Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood, in Los Angeles, is an entertainment mecca that combines movie magic and thrilling attractions. It is a working movie studio turned theme park where you can spend an entire day. You can enjoy thrilling rides inspired by blockbuster movies or take the studio tourand get an insider view into Hollywood’s film-making process while showcasing iconic film sets.
From Harry Potter’s Wizarding World to Jurassic Park, themed lands transport people into beloved fictional worlds. Live shows, special effects demonstrations and character meet-and-greets add an extra level of excitement for people visiting Universal Studios. Universal Studios Hollywood has an unforgettable experience for film enthusiasts and families alike. Get a skip-the-line Express Ticket for an all-day admission to the Universal Studios Hollywood.
10. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
These National Parks are deep within California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Sequoia National Park is well-known for its giant sequoia trees, such as the General Sherman Tree which stands as the world’s tallest living tree. Kings Canyon National Park stands out with towering cliffs, deep canyons, roaring rivers with the most famous being Kings River which runs deep within its canyon depths. Both parks are an essential oasis for wildlife. Some animals you can find here are black bears, mule deer and various bird species.
Hikers and nature enthusiasts will also appreciate an extensive network of trails leading to breathtaking viewpoints, pretty meadows and gorgeous lakes. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are an unparalleled treat for nature enthusiasts. You can take a guided hiking tour to visit both Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks on the same day.
Landmarks in San Francisco
11. Fisherman’s Wharf
Besides the iconic Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco has many other landmarks. Fisherman’s Wharf is a touristy spot that you can visit before or after your Alcatraz Prison Tour. If you are visiting San Francisco with kids, they would love the sea lions. There are well-known seafood restaurants, artisans selling flowers and fresh produce to be found here.
12. Twin Peaks
If you are looking for a beautiful view of San Francisco city and the Bay area spread beneath you, you will find the drive to Twin Peaks quite worthwhile. You will see many folks walking, running and biking on this path. These hills have an elevation of about 925 feet. It is a great landmark in San Francisco and is absolutely free.
13. Ferry Building
The Ferry Building with its tall clock tower has been the icon of the San Francisco waterfront for more than 100 years. Until the 1950s, ferries were the main transport form to reach San Francisco. This transport form became obsolete once the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge were completed. The Ferry Building was restored in a public food market in 2003 and now stands amongst the famous San Francisco landmarks. You will have a fun time visiting this market place and buying some local produce.
You can ride a double-decker sightseeing bus to San Francisco’s most famous landmarks.
Natural Landmarks in California
14. Napa Valley
Amidst the glamorous city escapes and the beautiful national parks in California, a weekend getaway to Napa valley makes complete sense. There are plenty of amazing wineries in Napa and Sonoma. This region is known for its fresh produce, charming vineyards and distilleries. Napa valley wine country is located to the northeast of San Francisco.
Whether you go on a girls’ trip or a couples trip or on a family getaway with kids, there is some vineyard waiting for you in this beautiful region. Here are some Napa tours to consider:
15. Big Sur
Big Sur is situated in the most raw and rugged part of the central California coast. The Pacific Coast Highway passes through Big Sur and a lot of people stop here during the road trip. Big Sur has some really wonderful natural formations that make it really iconic. Pfeiffer Beach, also known as the purple beach with its iconic keyhole arch, is inside Big Sur. The beach is incredibly beautiful with water running off the surrounding rocks turning purple. Photographers come here during the winter months to capture the sun rays falling through the arch in the keyhole rock.
Another place to visit here is McWay Falls. It’s a gorgeous 80 foot tall waterfall that flows year round. The hike around the waterfall is great and you can fully immerse yourself in nature here. If you want to stay inside the forest, there are a few camps in Big Sur which make for a wonderful stay. The entire Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a unique natural gem waiting to be explored and never fails to amaze visitors with its natural beauty.
16. Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree is one of the most well known national parks on the west coast because of its unique landscape and desert. The park is known for its cactus garden, treks and bouldering routes and camping grounds. You can start your day at the Cholla Cactus Garden and then visit the Arch Rock and Skull Rock.
Some of the well known hikes with good views of the desert are Ryan Mountain sunrise hike and hike to Barker Dam where you can see lots of nesting birds. The park has lots of campgrounds where you can camp for the night. This allows you to see the completely light pollution free sky twinkling with stars and an amazing sunrise at one of the many viewpoints in the park.
A good way to do Joshua Tree is to go on a two day trip to the park. The drive from Los Angeles takes 3.5 hours. The first day you can cover some of the hikes and then camp. The next day you can watch the sunrise and visit Pioneertown near the park. There are also some interesting Airbnbs in Joshua Tree like the UFO airbnb and restored vintage trailers which are cool to stay in. Browse through these Joshua Tree National park tours:
17. Lake Tahoe
Everyone that visits California needs to visit this beautiful lake bordering the states of California and Nevada. Lake Tahoe is a huge crystal clear lake that is great to visit in the summers. You can go fishing, swimming or boating in the river in the summers. The surrounding mountains also make for wonderful hikes.
Lake Tahoe is surrounded by the Sierra Nevada range which has pristine wilderness and hikes all around the lake. There are also lots of biking trails for those that want a rush of adrenaline. If you go during the winter, you will find the mountains covered with snow. This is the perfect opportunity to try skiing and snowboarding. If you aren’t athletic you can try sledding or getting on a snowmobile instead. If you are planning a trip to Lake Tahoe make sure to stay at one of the old estates near the lake and really immerse yourself in the culture. It’s the perfect place for a winter or summer break.
Browse through these tour options at Lake Tahoe:
18. Redwoods National Park
The Redwoods National Park is where you will find the tallest redwood trees in the world. The best thing to do in Redwoods National Park is to hike across the forest and admire the natural beauty of these redwood trees. There are lots of different areas you can hike in the park such as Howland Hill Road, Enderts Beach, Klamath River Overlook and much more.
If you are pressed for time you can just drive your car through the forest for a quick look at these majestic trees. But if you have some time you should try and spend a night at one of the campgrounds inside the park. There are many developed campgrounds inside the forest. If you want to get even more wild you can apply for a backcountry permit and camp out in the most raw part of the forest.
Conclusion: Famous landmarks in California
From San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to Los Angeles’ Hollywood Sign, California’s iconic landmarks have come to represent California and draw global attention. Natural wonders such as Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park have stunning landscapes and abundant biodiversity, while tourists flock to Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood for unforgettable entertainment experiences. These iconic locations continue to inspire wonder and draw crowds from around the globe.
Most of the photos above have been sourced by Pixabay.
This is a guest post by Kanupriyaa, who runs a solo women’s travel blog My Lost Camel. The blog focuses on in depth travel guides and lesser known places to promote slow and sustainable travel.
If you are planning to extend your US West Coast itinerary beyond California, do check out these best places to visit in Arizona –
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