photo Visit California/Carol Highsmith

For culture fans, California hits the jackpot with world-class museums and art galleries.
In the San Francisco Bay Area travelers will want to visit the de Young museum. Housed in a dramatic copper-clad structure in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, this museum has one of the world’s finest collections of American art, including many international masterworks. Its observation tower offers exceptional city and bay views.
Also in San Francisco, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a must-see for art connoisseurs. The museum houses some 26,000 pieces within a visually striking building in the city’s South of Market, or SoMa, district.
Visitors stopping in Gold Country will want to explore the California Museum. Revitalized by the state’s former first lady, Maria Shriver, this Sacramento site celebrates notable figures and moments in the state’s history. It also includes the California Hall of Fame.
One of the most beloved spots along the Central Coast is Hearst Castle. Perched high on a coastal bluff, this ornate, art-stuffed compound, built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, includes the grandiose Casa Grande and three guest houses. Crowd favorites include the outdoor Neptune Pool and the indoor Roman Pool. Booking in advance is a must for many of the tours.
In Los Angeles County, the Getty Center is an iconic museum in the hills overlooking downtown L.A. Its European collection includes works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Monet, as well as sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and photographs from Europe and America.
The seven-building Los Angeles County Museum of Art in downtown Los Angeles is the largest art museum in the western United States, with some 100,000 objects dating from antiquity to the present. The downtown campus includes outdoor performance spaces and the Broad Contemporary Art Museum with works by Richard Serra, Jeff Koons, and other modern art superstars.
In San Diego, Balboa Park is billed as America’s largest urban cultural park, with 17 museums. Stroll or bike from one outstanding site to the next: Museum of Man, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Natural History Museum, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego Air & Space Museum, and other cultural sites including the renowned San Diego Zoo.

Additional Museums

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla - photo Visit California/Max Whittaker

Besides the heavy hitters, California has specialized art museums as well.
In San Francisco find the Asian Art Museum, with 17,000 artworks spanning 6,000 years, ranging from tiny jade carvings to towering statues that include the oldest known Chinese Buddha.
The Charles M. Schulz Museum is a charming collection in Santa Rosa containing more than 6,000 cartoon strips by the creator of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and other beloved Peanuts characters.
In San Francisco’s Presidio find the Walt Disney Family Museum. This comprehensive collection chronicles the life of the visionary genius through drawings, artwork, music, and archival film clips.
Gold Country’s California State Railroad Museum showcases an outstanding collection of renovated engines and rail cars, as well as memorabilia commemorating the state’s rich railroad history. Rides on a steam-powered train follow the course of the nearby Sacramento River.
In Los Angeles, visit the Craft and Folk Art Museum near LACMA along L.A.’s historic Miracle Mile. This museum celebrates traditional and contemporary craft, design, and folk art–everything from edgy fabric arts to iconic Barbie dolls.
Celebrate the classic California surf at the California Surf Museum in northern San Diego County. From vintage boards and woodies to entertaining film clips, this sleek museum in Oceanside captures the magic of hanging ten in the Golden State.

Iconic Landmarks

Golden Gate Bridge - photo Visit California/9MPHOTO

With such a diverse landscape, and one that is chock-full of man-made marvels, no matter where visitors go in California they are sure to be within reach of an iconic landmark. 

Here are just a few to suggest:
San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is a symbol for both the city and the entire state. The bridge connects San Francisco to the Marin Peninsula and spans the passage between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The bridge was built in 1937, and its burnt orange color is known all over the world. With towers that stretch 746 feet into the sky, this eye-grabbing landmark is a memory maker, whether you’re crossing it by car, on a bike, or on foot.
Popping out of San Francisco Bay is Alcatraz Island, which was used as a federal prison from 1933 to 1963. Rumored to be escape-proof, the entire island is haunted with legends and stories. Today it’s part of the National Park Service.
Any fan of the movies who is visiting Los Angeles will surely recognize the Hollywood sign, which is perched high on the hills overlooking the city.
While driving through Central California, travelers should schedule a stop at Hearst Castle in the town of San Simeon. Built between 1919 and 1947 as the private mansion of newspaper giant William Randolph Hearst, it was donated to the state and is now maintained as a state park.
In San Diego, a stop at the USS Midway Museum is a must. San Diego has always been an important navy base, and the USS Midway, now decommissioned and turned into a museum, embodies that legacy. The Midway is a World War II–era carrier and one of the longest-serving carriers in the U.S. Navy.
Be sure that tour clients visit the missions along the Pacific coast, which are imperative to understanding California’s history. Strung along an 824-mile trail from San Diego to Sonoma there are 21 historic missions offering a wealth of treasures, from priceless artifacts to architecture. Some of the best preserved of these missions are found along the Central Coast.

The most notable include:

  • San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in Carmel
  • San Miguel Arcangel in San Miguel
  • San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in San Luis Obispo
  • La Purísima Concepción in Lompoc, and
  • Old Mission Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara.

Additional Highlights

The gold-mining ghost town of Bodie, Bodie State Historic Park - photo Visit California/Max Whittaker

It’s certainly a daunting task for visitors to try to hit every iconic landmark in the great state of California. So when planning a client’s getaway, here are some extraordinary landmarks that should get top billing.
Lake Tahoe is a High Sierra gem straddling the California-Nevada border, and is a bucket-list essential for any trip to California. With crystalline water and views of white-capped majestic peaks, Lake Tahoe is truly a natural treasure. Lakefront towns dot the shoreline, each with its own distinct charm. Snow in winter and spring lets skiers and snowboarders carve it up at alpine resorts, while summer makes life on the lake pop with sailboats, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and more.
Along California’s Central Coast is one of the world’s most beautiful stretches of coastline. The Big Sur Coast, a 90-mile stretch of redwood and fog-trimmed waterfront between Carmel-by-the-Sea and Hearst Castle, has drawn travelers, artists, writers, and celebrities to soak in the views of bluffs, sea, and sky.
California is also home to the granddaddy of all theme parks,  Disneyland. Since 1955 visitors have come from all over the world to experience a day in this land of make-believe.

  • This Anaheim institution serves up such supreme rides as Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Manson, as well as movie-inspired attractions like Anna & Elsa’s Royal Welcome and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.

  • The resort, which consists of the original Disneyland Park and the adjacent Disney California Adventure Park, has themed “lands” with rides, shows, and other attractions.
Edgy, artsy, and at times even odd, Venice Beach in Los Angeles is certainly a landmark that gives a burst of color to the California scene. Abutting Santa Monica’s south side, this region is a blend of new condos and funky beach bungalows. It is most famous for its quirky beachfront boardwalk, where street entertainers and vendors add to the local culture.
Marine lovers have certainly heard of SeaWorld San Diego, with its million-gallon aquariums, interactive shows, and swooping rides. See and learn about life under the sea, from walruses and sea lions to polar bears and penguins.
Hugging California’s northwestern edge is a gorgeous network of parks that protects nearly half of the world’s coast redwoods. These trees can grow more than 350 feet high. Redwood National Park works together with three state parks–Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek Redwoods–to protect the region, which includes grassy plains, rivers, and wild beaches.
As far as icons go, the Hollywood sign is world-renowned. Originally erected in 1923 to promote a housing development called Hollywoodland, this enormous sign–which lost its last four letters in 1949–now acts as a beacon for anyone who has ever dreamed of walking a red carpet.
California has its fair share of mansions, but the most notable one is Hearst Castle. Designed as the private residence of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, this complex is a temple to opulence. The 165-room castle sits on 127 acres of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools, all with wraparound views of the Central Coast.


Highway 1 in Mendocino - photo Myles McGuinness

There’s no doubt about it–California has a lot of ground to cover. Fortunately, a supremely fine-tuned system of highways and backroads allows for fantastic road-trip itineraries. Driving around California couldn’t be easier or more fun, especially when you factor in the sunshine, cities, theme parks, national treasures, and secluded eaches located throughout the state.
California is made for road trips. An easy-to-navigate network of more than 50,000 miles of good-quality highways and freeways links just about every corner of the state, with secondary routes leading to even more under-the-radar finds.

Some of these roads are famous—Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast, legendary Route 66, and Avenue of the Giants (Highway 101, winding through towering redwoods). Some are workhorses—most notably Interstates 5 and 80—getting drivers (and truckers) up and across the state as quickly as possible. But even these heavy lifters can lead you to surprising destinations.

VisitCalifornia.com has dedicated road-trip itineraries that cover most of California.

Routes include:*

  • The Wild North Coast
  • Volcanoes to the Sea
  • California Gold
  • Sierra Adventure
  • San Francisco Bay Loop
  • Highway One Classic
  • Pacific Coast Highway South
  • Route 66
  • Ultimate Northern California, and
  • Ultimate Southern California
* PDF's of each are available in the Sales Toolbox.

Renting a car in California is easy. Most rental companies have locations at major airports and in convenient city locations. To rent a car in the state you must be at least 25 years old (in most cases) and have a valid driver’s license and credit card. Non-U.S. citizens must have passports.

Shopping California

photo Myles McGuinness

There’s only one thing better than scoring the perfect outfit or pair of designer shoes: getting them for a bargain price. That’s why shopping at a department store or outlet can be so sweet–they are hotbeds of top-quality products filled with designer and name-brand finds.
The state’s 11 Premium Outlets offer big-name brands like Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, and Prada. Find specific locations here.

  • The biggest of the bunch is Ontario Mills, California’s largest outlet center. With more than 200 stores, it literally has brand names from A (Abercrombie & Fitch) to Z (Zumiez). Look for great deals in clothes and shoes for men, women, and children, plus accessories, electronics, sporting goods, and home wares.

  • There’s also a big selection at Outlets at Lake Elsinore, where you’ll find deals at stores for Nike, Gap, and Guess.
For visitors in L.A. willing to dig a little, there are bargains and blowouts aplenty in the L.A. Fashion District—especially on Saturdays, when merchants sell samples, overruns, and returns at up to 70% off. Southeast of L.A., elegant Old Pasadena has a 22-block shopping and entertainment area with 200 boutique stores, plus larger shops, galleries, restaurants, and clubs. 


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