Best California cities to visit in 2024

Best California cities to visit in 2024

With such a variety of places to see and things to do, it’s no wonder that California is one of the most popular US states for tourists. Last year, over 15 million international visitors went to the Golden State.

From the urban sprawl of Los Angeles to the relaxed lifestyle in San Diego, California has a range of cities almost unlike any other state in the USA, with everything from well-known sports teams to some of the most famous locations on the planet.

Florida has Miami and Orlando, New York has the Big Apple, but no other state can boast three of the country’s most-visited cities, over 60 coastal cities located on 840 miles of Pacific coastline and 146 of the country’s National Historic Landmarks.

What are you waiting for? Get planning your Californian dream trip; to help, we’ve rounded up some of the state’s best cities – plus where to stay.

Los Angeles

A view of LA’s Financial District
A view of LA’s Financial District (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Where else to start but the state’s largest and – arguably – most famous city? LA is a sprawling metropolis of over three million people, with consistently good weather (think average temperatures of 15C in winter and 21C in summer, along with only 20 days of rain per year) and a dizzying number of landmarks and neighbourhoods – such as Silver Lake – to keep visitors entertained. It is one of the beacons of the USA, from the “American Dream” of Hollywood to the glitz and glamour of Beverly Hills or Rodeo Drive.

Hollywood Boulevard and the famous Hollywood Sign are among the other prominent attractions in the city and also possess a wealth of beaches – including the famous Venice Beach – as well as different areas for shopping, dining and nightlife (The Grove and Melrose Avenue are both good options). Those who want to experience more culture can visit museums such as the Museum of Contemporary Art or the Getty Center, while the Universal Studios theme park and Disneyland California (located in nearby Anaheim) are another popular option for a day out.

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Where to stay

Built in 1927 in a Spanish colonial style, The Hollywood Roosevelt is located in the heart of the famous neighbourhood. Room interiors are a good mix of classic and contemporary, and the bar, restaurant and pool areas are all equally stylish.

San Francisco

The Oakland Bay Bridge is one of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks
The Oakland Bay Bridge is one of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

San Francisco does possesses a rather eclectic mix of landmarks. Not many cities can say that their main draws are as varied as world-famous bridges, prisons and steep winding streets, but San Fran has just that. From the Golden Gate to Alcatraz and Lombard Street, its landmarks are reflective of a city that has developed and embraced its own individual, forward-thinking identity. It has preserved parts of its history – such as the Palace of Fine Arts to the cable cars that run through its hills – while adding touches of modernity, visible in architecture such as that of the de Young Museum.

Wandering the city’s districts will give you an insight into its past, as well as its cultural diversity. From the Mission and the Castro areas to Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown, the city’s charm will be on show, and there’s also a range of natural beauty that includes beaches, parks (the Golden Gate Park is the standout) and the city’s Bay Area.

Where to stay

The San Francisco Proper Hotel is situated in a historic flatiron building in the heart of the city’s Market Street. Inside, you’ll find a mixture of interior styles and modern, colourful rooms; outside there is a large roof terrace with sweeping views of part of the downtown area.

San Diego

The San Diego skyline at night
The San Diego skyline at night (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Located on the border with Mexico, San Diego is another city whose climate is almost perfect for the entire year. Consistent sunshine, average temperatures around 21C and gentle breezes make for brilliant conditions to enjoy the city’s beaches: Pacific Beach is a lively option, while Coronado and La Jolla Cove are scenic, relaxing alternatives. Water-based activities are popular, and range from whale watching and river cruises to kayaking, sailing and surfing.

Those who prefer land can explore Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre urban park that houses gardens, museums and theatres, and the city has an array of vibrant neighbourhoods including Little Italy, the trendy North Park and the historic downtown Gaslamp Quarter. For families, the city’s zoo or Legoland California will help keep the kids happy.

Where to stay

Dating back to 1888, the Hotel del Coronado has welcomed several famous guests and even served as the setting for the Marilyn Monroe film Some Like It Hot. While the buildings are in the style of a Victorian beach resort, the interiors are far more modern, and the gardens and pool area offer luxury relaxation.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica Pier is one of the city’s best-known attractions
Santa Monica Pier is one of the city’s best-known attractions (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

As is the case with Malibu and Beverley Hills, Santa Monica usually makes it into the recommendations of things to do and see in LA – despite being a city itself (US criteria for what makes a city are less stringent than in the UK, and Los Angeles County actually has 88 incorporated cities). Given all it offers, no one can deny Santa Monica of being worthy of its own recommendation.

Surrounded by the boundaries of LA, Santa Monica is very popular with visitors to the City of Angels due to its world-famous pier (and its amusement park) and the golden sands and azure waters of Santa Monica Beach. The city is also home to Palisades Park (with its spectacular ocean views) and Third Street Promenade shopping area, often associated with LA, though some of its ‘own’ attractions include Santa Monica Place, the Annenberg Community Beach House, the California Heritage Museum and a bustling farmer’s market. With all this going on, Santa Monica also makes a less crowded but equally entertaining base for visiting LA than some of the city’s main neighbourhoods.

Where to stay

Located right on the bay and just a 10-minute walk from the Pier, the Shutters on the Beach Hotel is a laid-back luxury Santa Monica offering. Rooms offer sea views and New England-style interiors, while the restaurants offer a mix of casual and formal dining.

Santa Barbara

A view of State Street, Santa Barbara’s main street
A view of State Street, Santa Barbara’s main street (Getty Images)

One of the state’s most naturally beautiful cities, Santa Barbara is a coastal paradise that carries many Spanish influences. Palm trees and red-tiled Spanish colonial buildings line its streets, while nearby beaches – such as West Beach and Leadbetter – are home to vast expanses of golden sands and crystal-clear waters. The Spanish seem to have lent the city their Mediterranean climate, too: average temperatures hover around 15C even in January, and on average the city receives over 11 hours per day of sunshine in July and August.

State Street is at its heart, with a pedestrian-friendly promenade home to several shops, restaurants and boutiques. The harbour area is popular for water sports and relaxation, while elsewhere there are cultural and architectural highlights, including the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and the Old Mission Santa Barbara.

Where to stay

Brisas del Mar is a Mediterranean-style hotel housed in typically spectacular buildings, with its own outdoor pool and hot tub. Located close to Leadbetter Beach and just a mile from the centre, it is a good base for exploring the best of the city.


Old Sacramento overflows with historic buildings
Old Sacramento overflows with historic buildings (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The state capital is a city steeped in Californian history. The Capitol building houses a state museum, while the cobblestoned 19th-century Old Sacramento district is a homage to the state’s relationship with mining and the Gold Rush (and offers suitable museums plus a range of bars and restaurants). The city’s arts and culture scene has a vibrant base in the Downtown district, with the Crocker Art Museum and California Museum sitting near the Capitol, and the Midtown area is a trendy, tree-lined district where several stylish restaurants can be found among the architecture that ranges from Colonial Revival to Italianate.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a popular Californian city without the potential for water-based activities. As the city lies at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, there are opportunities for riverboat cruises, kayaking or paddleboarding, as well as simply enjoying the views with a drink in hand. The zoo, Fairytale Town and the Funderland Amusement Park are just some of the child-friendly activities on offer.

Where to stay

For a unique stay in the city’s Old Sacramento district, try the Delta King Hotel. Housed in a 1927 paddle-wheeler that is docked on the river, it offers large, air-conditioned rooms with contemporary, pared-back interiors.

Palm Springs

The desert city of Palm Springs
The desert city of Palm Springs (Getty Images)

This famous desert resort city – found in the Sonoran Desert, just east of Los Angeles – has previously been popular with celebrities from Frank Sinatra to Walt Disney. It remains popular today, with the mountainous desert surroundings offering breathtaking views and picture-perfect purple and orange sunsets. The city has a retro feel to it, renowned for its mid-century modern architecture (think of the muted, straight-edged 50s and 60s style houses – you might have seen them in the much-talked-about Don’t Worry Darling) as well as outdoor pursuits like swimming, hiking and golfing (it is said to have the greatest concentration of golf courses in the world, with 124 in the greater area).

The retro feel might add charm but Palm Springs still has a range of modern-day things to do. The Joshua Tree National Park provides opportunities for more outdoor pursuits, and there are spas and wellness resorts in the city for those days when physical activity just doesn’t appeal. The Palm Springs Art Museum and Walk of Stars are worth checking out, and it wouldn’t be an American city if there weren’t dozens of options for shopping and dining, spanning informal and relaxed to upscale and expensive (mainly contained within the Downtown area).

Where to stay

If in need of a change from the plethora of mid-century modern buildings, head for the Ingleside Inn. Opened in 1939 and built in a Spanish-revival style, it’s found in a peaceful location near the mountains on the west side of the city, with stunning views from the pool area.

Read more: Best hotels in California – from glamorous Hollywood to family-friendly Disneyland

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