Southern California is one of the most popular vacation spots for good reason. The gorgeous weather, vibrant culture, outdoor scenery, and the scenic beaches draw people from all over the world, all year round. Visitors can take in iconic attractions like Disneyland and Hollywood, and then spend the next day hiking a mountain or relaxing at the beach. With so many different options available, planning your visit can be pleasantly challenging. Here are 10 must-see places to visit in Southern California that you’re sure to love.

10.The Santa Monica Pier

The Santa Monica Pier is classic SoCal though and through. If you have ever watched the hit television show Baywatch, you have seen Santa Monica’s famous beaches. Santa Monica has everything you could hope for from a beach town, including fantastic surfing and swimming, upscale nightlife, unique cuisine, designer shops, eccentric art galleries, and so much more.

Santa Monica Pier is great place to spend the day, boasting an old-fashioned amusement park called Pacific Park. This family-friendly wonderland is home to the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel, as well as plenty of other rides and attractions, including an aquarium. If you’re looking for places to visit in Southern California that will thrill all age groups, definitely check out Santa Monica Pier and nearby 3rd Street Promenade.

9.Palm Springs

Palm Springs is a luxurious desert town located roughly 120 miles east of Los Angeles. Its close proximity to LA makes Palm Springs a popular place for celebrities to escape Hollywood for a weekend, and the mid-century architecture gives the city a wonderful retro Hollywood vibe, especially in the Movie Colony District. Palm Springs is also renowned for its exceptional golf courses, with over a dozen available in the city limits alone.

Palm Springs is also loaded with beautiful nature, including San Jacinto Mountain, the Indian Canyons, Palm Canyon, and the Coachella Valley Preserve. You can also take a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for a stunning birds-eye view of the desert from as high as 8.516 feet in the air. If you’re planning to visit Los Angeles anyway, why not stop by Palm Springs for a visit?

8.Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake is a must-visit if you love the great outdoors. This year-round vacation destination has endless choices for anyone who appreciates nature and outdoor activities. Big Bear Lake is located in the San Bernardino Mountains, approximately 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles. It is truly a paradise for adrenaline junkies, with two top-notch snowboarding and skiing resorts, as well as trails for hiking, excellent fishing spots, and exquisite golf courses.

Big Bear Lake boasts some wonderful places to dine, from welcoming local burger joints to upscale bistros. You can also enjoy tasting fine wines at Le Dolce Vita Tasting Room, or grab a cocktail at the much-loved Peppercorn Grille. As you might imagine, Big Bear Lake also boasts some fantastic attractions for anyone who enjoys boating. Rent a pontoon and take the whole family out for a day on the water, or test your skills water skiing or tubing.

7.Venice Beach

Beaches are where Southern California really shines. Originally nicknamed “Venice of America,” after the famous Italian city that inspired its canals and imported gondolas and gondoliers, Venice Beach eventually earned the title “Coney Island of the Pacific” due to its pier, amusement park, and miniature steam railroad. Venice Beach is packed with culture, and you can be sure that there are plenty of activities to keep you entertained for days.

Venice Beach’s world famous boardwalk is a must-see attraction if you enjoy people watching. Visitors from all around the world, as well as plenty of local free spirits, flock to the boardwalk daily. You can also watch street performers, fortune tellers, artists, musicians, and much more. Take a stroll to the intersection of Ocean Front Walk and Brooks Avenue on a Saturday or Sunday, and you can watch or even join the regular drum circle improvisation jam session. There is no shortage of activities to enjoy at Venice Beach, making it one of the best places to visit in Southern California.

6.Catalina Island

If you’re looking for an island oasis experience, Catalina Island is an excellent choice for Southern California things to do. Located roughly 22 miles from Los Angeles across the Pacific, accessing Catalina Island is part of the adventure. You can charter a private boat, take a ferry, or even ride a small place or a helicopter. This lovely island is a favorite getaway location for LA residents, as well as a hot spot for newlyweds and vacationers.

There is no shortage of fun awaiting you at Catalina Island. Enjoy a movie at the renowned 1929 Avalon Theater, and then try your luck at the stunning Catalina Island Casino located in the same building. While you’re there, why not take a tour of the gorgeous ballroom and the rest of the classic building? If you’re in the mood for some outdoor sightseeing, there are two different Zipline & Aerial Adventure Parks to visit. Plan to travel by bicycle, golf carts, or taxis on Catalina Island.

5.Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is the place to go if you want the Southern California desert experience. Located approximately 140 miles east of Los Angeles, Joshua National Tree Park is an excellent place to stop if you’re traveling from the East. Joshua Tree National Park is a wonderful place for photographers, nature enthusiasts, rock climbers, and anyone who appreciates a good hike.

There are so many options if you’re looking for desert-themed attractions. Enjoy a relaxing horseback ride through the scenic desert, or go to one of the many bird watching or wildflower viewing areas. Rent some mountain bikes and take a long ride through the beautiful back-country roads. This national park is also known for its stargazing, and if you’re lucky you may be able to see the Milky Way galaxy in all its awe-inspiring glory.

4.Universal Studios Hollywood

If you or your travel companions are movie buffs, Universal Studios Hollywood is one of the ultimate places to visit in Southern California.. For starters, Universal Studios Hollywood is home to one of the oldest film studios still being used to this day. The family-friendly theme park also offers many different movie-themed rides, including attractions based on Jurassic Park, Shrek, The Simpsons, King Kong, and Fast & Furious, among many others.

If you really want to treat yourself, you may want to consider the Universal Studios Hollywood VIP Experience, which gives you access to behind-the-scenes action not available to the general public, as well as first priority in lines, gourmet dining, and more. The Studio Tour is one of the most popular attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood, giving you a glimpse into the sets for classic films like War of the Worlds, Psycho, and plenty of others.

3.The San Diego Zoo

Located in the heart of San Diego’s much-loved Balboa Park, The San Diego Zoo is the perfect place for animal lovers to spend the day. With more than 3,700 different types of animals and over 650 species and subspecies, there is no way you are going to get bored. See animals like the Arctic fox, giant panda, king cobra, tiger, and countless others live and up close.

While you’re visiting the zoo, be sure to plan some extra time to explore Balboa Park. This 1,200-acre park boasts stunning gardens, many walking paths, museums, multiple theaters, and much more. It’s one of the perfect places to visit in Southern California if you want to enjoy a leisurely day surrounded by beauty. Feel free to pack a picnic lunch, or grab a bite at one of the restaurants conveniently located right in the park.



Hollywood is the quintessential stop for movie lovers, and for anyone who wants to experience the world-class nightlife for which Los Angeles is known. Hollywood has been the epicenter of movie culture since the silent films of the 1920s, and that tradition continues going strong. If you plan ahead, you may even be able to reserve a spot watching the filming of a television show.

Hollywood Boulevard is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. The Walk of Fame allows you to see many of your your favorite celebrities’ hand prints and footprints in the cement, as well as their gold stars in the sidewalk. Go to Griffith Park to see the world-famous Hollywood sign, and while you’re there you can also check out the Los Angeles Zoo, the outdoor Greek Theatre, and the Griffith Park Observatory.


Disneyland is one of the most iconic tourist destinations in the world. Located in Anaheim, this family-oriented amusement park is sure to delight everyone with characters, rides, and attractions based on the universally loved Disney movie classics like The Lion King, Aladdin, the Little Mermaid, and countless others. Try to plan at least 2-3 days so you can fully experience the many different types of magical enchantments that are in store.

Fans of the Star Wars films are sure to fall in love with the Star Tours ride. Ride it once, and then ride it again – it changes every time! Although it may be a bit spooky for younger children, the Haunted Mansion is another ride that is not to be missed. For a futuristic roller coaster thrill ride, check out Space Mountain, and then cool off with the wonderfully wet and wild Splash Mountain.

Don’t Forget to Explore

These ten must-see places are only a tiny fraction of what Southern California has to offer to adventurous visitors. Don’t be afraid to venture off of the traditional path, and create some unique memories. Southern California is full of friendly people that are happy to steer you in the right direction, so don’t be afraid to ask for some advice.

If you’re planning a trip, you’re going to need a convenient way to get around, and State Van Rental has the most affordable and comfortable vans to accommodate groups of all sizes. We’re conveniently located near LAX, so you can start your journey off right and hit all of your favorite destinations in style. Explore our website to learn more, and contact State Van Rental at 888-826-5212 for affordable van rentals throughout Southern California.

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