L.A. and San Francisco are great, but don't miss these 7 spots that are just as Cali cool.

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California is the third largest state in the U.S., but most tourists tend to stick to two cities when planning their itineraries: San Francisco and Los Angeles.

It’s understandable. These two cities are fantastic, with fashion, food, views and a cemented place in the culture of the United States.

However, we’ve also fallen in love with several other spots in the Golden State. So if you’re looking to do some California dreamin’, we encourage you to try something new — or at least tack a few days onto your trip to experience some less-visited gems.

Santa Barbara

About 100 miles north of L.A., you’ll find the drop-dead gorgeous coastline of Santa Barbara. The town is ideally located between the mountains and the sea, providing some spectacular views across the Pacific Ocean.

Why you should visit: Santa Barbara offers a cultured atmosphere with a quaint, natural vibe that is a welcomed relief to the hubbub of larger, louder, busier cities.

Recommended activities: Wine tasting, orca and sea lion spotting, Spanish architecture tours, hiking in one of the many parks or botanical gardens, lazing at the beach.

Wow factor: Though the town still has under 100,000 residents, Santa Barbara’s tourism industry brings in over $1 billion each year.

Bixby Bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Bixby Bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway’s California leg is a must-do for anyone who loves a scenic road trip, coastline views and the thrill of a twisting seaside road. The route officially starts up around Mendocino County and ends down south by Dana Point.

Why you should visit: This 123-mile drive down the coast is a fantastic (and beautiful) way to see a large stretch of the Golden State. There are plenty of places to stop for scenery, beaches and food along the way.

Recommended activities: Just enjoy the ride, soak up the saltwater breeze and stop off to sample delicious roadside bites. Don’t let the stunning views distract you too much, though, as the Pacific Coast Highway (also known as Highway 1) is known for its twists and turns.

Wow factor: The PCH is considered one of the best road trips in the country (if not the world).

The Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego.
The Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego.

San Diego

One of the more popular tourist destinations, outside of San Francisco and Los Angeles, is undoubtedly Southern California’s San Diego.

Why you should visit: San Diego is an easy-to-navigate city just a couple hours south of Los Angeles that has beaches, oodles of family-friendly activities, theme parks, history and fantastic foodie options.

Recommended activities: Animal lovers should not skip a visit to the San Diego Zoo, one of the country’s best. Other points of interest include the gorgeous beaches, sunsets and nature of La Jolla and Del Mar; the lazy, family-oriented vibe and sprawling coastline of Mission Bay; and historic areas, like Mission Valley and the city’s Gaslamp Quarter, known for its gastronomy and hip nightlife.

Wow factor: With more than 34 million visitors a year, San Diego is able to rake in around $10 billion annually. The zoo alone sees around three million visiting faces a year.

Half Dome at Yosemite National Park.
Half Dome at Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park

An absolute stunner, Yosemite National Park should be on everyone’s bucket list. Whether you are a seasoned camper or prefer a few more creature comforts, there’s a place for you here.

Why you should visit: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to some of our country’s most humbling and awe-inspiring landscapes, hundreds of animal species, the popular Bridalveil Fall and the towering granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome.

Recommended activities: Hiking, rock climbing, canoeing in the rivers, birdwatching, reconnecting with Mother Nature, horseback riding.

Wow factor: This protected park draws more than four million tourists each year and has been considered a national treasure since the early 1800s.

Joshua Tree National Park.
Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree and the Salton Sea

Joshua Tree National Park is an easy add-on to your Los Angeles itinerary. In fact, at around two hours from the city, it’s a favorite place for Angelinos to escape and find some peace, quiet and, of course, Joshua Trees.

Why you should visit: A quintessential desert lined with huge boulders and cacti, Joshua Tree is an inspiring spot that is good for exploring, hiking, relaxing and rejuvenating. It lies against the Mojave Desert, has views of Coachella Valley, and is a prime spot for sunrises, sunsets and stargazing.

Recommended activities: Aside from soaking it all in, hiking and reconnecting with nature, check out the colorful, man-made Salvation Mountain (featured in the movie “Into the Wild”) and the western movie set Pioneertown, soak in an Integratron sound bath or camp out in trailers at Hicksville.

Wow factor: Joshua Tree was named a national monument by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 and was upgraded to a national park in 1994.

Avalon Bay on Catalina Island.
Avalon Bay on Catalina Island.


Catalina Island is a small island off the coast of Southern California that was originally planned as a resort-only town. These days it’s got a lively local scene as well as busy tourism flow. You can access it by boat from Long Beach, Dana Point or San Pedro.

Why you should visit: This relaxing island feels like a cross between New England’s coastal towns and and a Caribbean getaway.

Recommended activities: Surrounded by the Pacific, it makes sense to try your hand at one of the island’s numerous watersport activities or take a boat tour. But, if you’d rather relax, you can have a spa day, sip wine and nosh by the water, relax on the breezy beach or tee off for a round of golf.

Wow factor: This 50,000-square-acre island gets around one million visitors a year, prompting its residents to rely heavily on tourism dollars.

The view of Mount St. Helena from Cardinale Winery in Napa Valley.
The view of Mount St. Helena from Cardinale Winery in Napa Valley.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley is known as the place to go in California for a wine getaway. The picturesque stretch of Northern California is the Tuscany of the U.S., and is famous for its cabernet sauvignon varietals.

Why you should visit: A spot that no foodie or wine lover should miss, Napa Valley is a full sensory escape thanks to its excellent restaurants, warm breezes, expansive landscapes and delicious wines.

Recommended activities: Wine tasting, hiking, restaurant hopping.

Wow factor: California’s wine country has seen a massive influx in tourism lately, rising 12.2 percent between 2012 and 2014.

Read the original story, Where to Go in California, Instead of San Francisco and L.A. by Katherine Alex Beaven, on Oyster.com.