Southern California is home to some amazing beaches, an expansive desert, and of course, some of the biggest and most entertaining cities in the world. If you’re looking to take a road trip along the southern end of California, or if you’re just thinking about a summer getaway, you’ll want to consider some of the best cities Southern California has to offer.
First and foremost, there’s San Diego. It’s considered the “birthplace of California,” and is one of the best beach towns in the area. There are dozens of things to do in San Diego, so whether you’re looking for food, creative stimulation, or just something entertaining to do with the kids, you’re going to find something interesting. Check out the San Diego Zoo, one of the best zoos in the world, or head to La Jolla Cove—a smallish beach area surrounded by stunning cliffs. At night, you can people watch at the Gaslamp District, or visit Sunset Cliffs Natural Park to watch the sun go down in style.
Another top name in Southern California is Malibu, a frequent setting for TV shows and movies. It offers some of the best surfing spots in the entire state, so if you’re interested in hitting the waves or if you’re going to learn for the first time, it’s a great place to start. If you’re not interested in the ocean, don’t worry—there are also miles of hiking trails you can explore. You can also have some fun at the Malibu Country Mart outdoor mall, and keep an eye out for celebrities who live in the area.
Anyone visiting Southern California for the first time should head to Hollywood. It’s technically a suburb of Los Angeles, but it stands as a city of its own. As you’re likely aware, Hollywood is heavily associated with the film and television industry. There, you’ll find the signature Hollywood sign looking over the city. You’ll also find Grauman’s Chinese Theater (also known as TCL Chinese Theater), a fully functional theater that’s home to many red-carpet events throughout the year. You can also tour the Hollywood Walk of Fame to see tributes to your favorite stars, or check out Sunset Strip to see the high-end shops. There’s also no shortage of bars and restaurants to try.
It’s impossible to recommend Anaheim without mentioning Disneyland, the massive Disney-themed amusement park that has brought fun to children and adults alike for generations. There are multiple individual parks under the Disneyland umbrella, as well as a full-fledged shopping district, so you shouldn’t run out of things to do there. You can also catch a ballgame at Angel Stadium or check out one of the beaches.
Even if you’ve never been there, you’ve likely heard of the Santa Monica Pier—one of the best things to do in Santa Monica. For more than a century, the Santa Monica Pier has been home to dozens of attractions, including an arcade, an aquarium, and a full-blown amusement park, as well as restaurants, shops, and hotels where you can stay near the action. Santa Monica is also home to many other interesting features, including Third Street Promenade—one of the best shopping districts in all of Southern California.
Palm Springs is notoriously sunny, with 350 days of sunshine every year. There, you’ll find a wide range of luxury hotels and resorts, where you can rest by the pool after a long day of walking. Palm Springs is home to several golf courses—some of the best in the country—as well as the Living Desert, a 1,200-acre wildlife and botanical park. You’ll also find hiking trails, wonderful bars and restaurants, and an amazing view of the mountains.
Planning Your Trip
With so many cities to visit and sights to see in Southern California, it’s going to be hard to do everything in one trip. The good news is, no matter what you see or what you miss, you’re almost certain to have a good time. Take your time, and set goals for your trip; would you rather do a “deep dive” into a single city that interests you most, or get exposure to as many cities as possible during this trip? In any case, try to strike a balance between intensive planning and improvisation; you’ll likely be more satisfied with your trip that way.