California Cities You Need to Visit

Manhattan Beach Pier

When it comes to California cities you need to explore, it should come as no surprise that there are a TON – because California is a BIG state. It stretches all the way from Mexico for nearly 900 miles – and clocks in as the 3rd largest state in the US (though Alaska is first – but that’s kind of a cheat code in our opinion!). Below, we’ve chronicled a few of our favorites in this ever-growing list of sunny Cali destinations for your trip-planning pleasure.

Los Angeles

The confusing thing about Los Angeles is that it encompasses so many smaller cities, towns and neighborhoods. When you ask someone where they live, they may say Los Angeles – but really they mean that they live in a small beach town (like Manhattan Beach, as an example). Regardless, Los Angeles is home to tons of different points of interest as well as other California cities that you need to explore. Check them out below!

Manhattan Beach

Foggy surfers in the Pacific Ocean - California Cities - Manhattan Beach

If you’re looking for a chill vibe with a little bit of social scene and lots of waterfront views, you’ll want to check out Manhattan Beach. In terms of California cities, it’s in the ‘South Bay’ area on the Pacific Ocean, just southwest of the LAX airport. Neighboring metro areas include Marina del Rey and Hermosa Beach. Manhattan Beach is actually home to the oldest concrete pier in the US – Manhattan Beach Pier.

Manhattan Beach Weather

As with most California cities (especially in the mid to southern Cali area), the temperature sits at a balmy average of 65-85 degrees for most of the year, fluctuating toward the colder temps in the cooler months (as one would expect). Occasionally you may get some heavy fog rolling in off the ocean, but for the most part, you can count on sunny days – perfect for cycling, running, walking, surfing and more!

Manhattan Beach Things to Do

Manhattan Beach may not be downtown LA proper, but it has no shortage of activities, eateries, culture and outdoor recreation.

Manhattan Beach Shopping

When it comes to Manhattan Beach things to do, you would be remiss if you didn’t spend at least a little bit of time perusing the shops. Home to a ton of creative boutiques and upscale retailers, you’re sure to find something for everyone. Additionally, Manhattan Beach is actually a neighbor to the birthplace of renowned handbag and accessory designer Hammitt – which was essentially started at a BBQ in Hermosa Beach.

  • The Beehive – kaftans, cords & tie dye, oh my! Unique finds and accessories
  • Gum Tree – curated home goods boutique and apothecary for all your nesting needs
  • BLVD – clothes and accessories for women, men and an assortment of cute kids clothing to boot
  • Katwalk – boutique featuring lots of latest trends and accessories with a distinct Cali vibe
  • William B + Friends – athleisure, the latest trends, accessories and more
  • Pacific Coast Gallery – features fine art, super hi-res photography by Matthew Welch

Manhattan Beach Restaurants

While all of this may be a bit different during recent pandemic times, Manhattan Beach is home to some great restaurants – because of the beautiful weather, outdoor dining is a regular occurrence.

  • Uncle Bills Pancake House – quaint breakfast joint with the best buttermilk pancakes you’ve ever tasted
  • Sugarfish – famous sushi spot, known for their ‘Trust Me’ pre-fixe carryout mixes
  • Oceanview Café – Mediterranean spot with delicious salads and other inspired dishes
  • Manhattan Beach Creamery – a must-visit for their delicious ice cream cookie sandwiches
  • Gelato & Angels – an off-the-beaten-path (aka not as busy as Manhattan Creamery) shop with lots of flavors

Outdoor Recreation in Manhattan Beach

Rad Surfing

Like many California cities, since Manhattan Beach is on the water, there is quite the surfing culture – you can even take lessons! But if you don’t necessarily want to catch a gnarly swell yourself, you can opt to watch the surfers along nearly any stretch of the beach (however you’ll probably get the best views from the Manhattan Beach Pier!).

The Strand Recreation Path

Manhattan Beach is part of the stretch that the famous Strands (aka the Marvin Braude Bike Trail) runs through – a recreation path that is perfect for cycling, rollerblading, running or walking. The path is even split into two in some areas (especially through Manhattan Beach) – giving pedestrians and runners their own area. This path actually goes all the way to Santa Monica!

Manhattan Beach Pier

As we mentioned, the Manhattan Beach Pier is kind of a big deal – it’s the oldest concrete pier on the West Coast, having been built in 1920. Not only is it a great spot to catch surfers riding waves, it’s also a good spot for reading, fishing or eating an ice cream sandwich (because why not!).

Venice Beach

Venice Beach Skate Park California Cities

We know this title carries a LOT of weight, but Venice Beach just might be one of our favorite California cities – natch, places in the whole United States. Venice Beach is a mix of quirky and cool, laid back and spectacular. Check out some of our favorite things to do in Venice Beach – a must-see member of the California cities list!

History of Venice Beach

Venice Beach began as a humble seaside resort town in 1905, when Abbot Kinney (important for later) founded it as the ‘Venice of America’. It’s now part of the ‘Westside’ of Los Angeles, but known for its street performers, vendors, eateries, and shopping. Oh – and we couldn’t forget recreation! As we mentioned with Manhattan Beach – Venice Beach is connected via the Marvin Braude Bike Trail (aka The Strand) – which is the perfect place for rollerblading/skating, biking or walking.

Fun fact: Abbot Kinney created the Canals of Venice Beach in order to drain the marshy land he’d scored for development – they’re now a popular destination for pictures and walking today!

Venice Beach Restaurants

Venice Beach is home to some really wonderful eateries – tacos, salads, sweets – you name it! Below are a few of our favorites:

  • Gjelina – upscale spot with an amazing courtyard/patio and lots of delicious bites. Some of our favorites include the lemon buckwheat ricotta pancakes (if you’re feeling sweet) and the Moroccan Baked Eggs (if you’re jonsin’ for savory).
  • Salt & Straw – sure, this may be a Portland brainchild, but it is dang good ice cream.
  • La Tostaderia – come for the tacos, but don’t skip out on the ceviche or the guac. You’ve been warned.
  • Blue Bottle Coffee – this Oakland, CA native brand boasts some of the best dang cold brew you’ll ever taste.
  • Gjusta – we haven’t been here ourselves, but it’s been recommended so many times it’s definitely on our list for next time. Gjelina is its sister spot.

Venice Beach Things to Do

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – the quirky-cool vibe of Venice Beach, California is worth spending some time in. Below are some of our favorite Venice Beach things to do!

Watch Skaters at the Venice Beach Skate Park

Hands down, by far, one of our most favorite activities in the whole vicinity of Venice Beach – we could honestly watch the skateboarders for HOURS. Whether in the glorious daylight or sultry sunset, skate punk has never looked so good. Stick around for golden hour and you may get a glimpse of the seasoned veterans showing off their moves.

Check out the Venice Beach Pier

Venice Pier is sort of a no nonsense concrete behemoth that isn’t as charming as some of the other piers in the vicinity (check out Manhattan Beach Pier, above) – but it’s still a great place for a gorgeous view of the ocean, a great vantage point of VB proper, or a place to fish. Fun fact – no fishing license is required!

Cycle, run or rollerblade on the Venice Beach bike path (the Marvin Braude Bike Trail)

Rollerskating, rollerblading, skateboarding and surfing were all popularized on the West Coast in the past few decades, so it would make sense that this is a THING. Speed skate with purpose or exude full on Cali Vibes while sporting skates, a fanny pack and hoops. Got two left feet? No worries – you can either BYObike or rent one from a spot like Perry’s Café (10 points to Gryffandor for location – Perry’s is SMACK at the start of the Venice Beach path – you can rent, return and check out the food scene nearby). Running and walking are always options too!

Shopping on Abbot Kinney

Whether you’re in the mood for a unique boutique, or want to hit up area-favorites such as AllBirds, Alternative and RayBan, Abbot Kinney will be right up your alley. A couple of our favorite haunts include:

  • Skylark: rocker girl, laid back vibe – awesome spot for delicate, hammered hoops and vintage Harley Davidson t-shirts.
  • Alternative – probably some of the softest, comfiest basics you’ll ever find – many are ecofriendly to boot!
  • Principessa – awesome boutique with one-of-a-kind looks and accessories. Lots of tie dye.
  • Ananda – trendy boutique with lots of boho looks and accessories (especially jewelry and sunglasses!).
  • Náti – boutique with all your basic LA looks – also a KILLER mural of some of the most badass women you can find – keep an eye out!
  • Allbirds – speaks for itself – but if you want to ‘walk on clouds’ – you’ve gotta stop here.

San Francisco

Oh man. California cities have a LOT going on – especially the big ones, like San Francisco. Let’s just start by saying that there is SO much to do in San Francisco, that we couldn’t  possibly cover it all here, and that this will be a forever ongoing work in progress. San Fran is one of the most culturally-rich US destinations we’ve ever been to. From the mysteriously friendly fog (named Karl, apparently) and Alcatraz, to the historic & hippy Haight, hiking, the Golden Gate Bridge – well, you’re probably going to need a LOT more than one visit to take it all in. Below, you’ll find a good-faith attempt at some of our favorite highlights!

San Francisco Weather

San Francisco weather deserves its own section because it is absolutely a conundrum. If you’ve never heard of the term ‘microclimate’, you’ll want to familiarize yourself! As true with many California cities, it’s on the coast. Due to the fact that the area of the city is only about 7 miles wide, but surrounded by water on 3 sides, and very hilly (with high and low points), you can get many ranges of temperatures, fog, sunshine, wind – from neighborhood to neighborhood. So what to do about this wacky San Francisco weather? LAYERS (especially a weatherproof one for wetter times!). Never have we advocated for layering up more than to visit San Fran. You’ll thank us later!

San Francisco to Los Angeles – The Drive

As we have a section on Los Angeles, we thought it would be prudent to talk about the San Francisco to Los Angeles commute – which is about 5.5 hours, give or take (depending on the infamous traffic). The drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles is a straightish shot up ‘the 5’ (or the Pacific Highway). Not too shabby if you have some time!

Lyon Street Steps - California Cities - San Fran

Best Neighborhoods in San Francisco

Rather than break up this section into our usual ‘where to eat, what to do’ order, we thought it would be more beneficial to highlight some of the best neighborhoods in San Francisco that make up the rich culture of the area. In no particular order (except, ya know, alphabetical for ease of reference). * Note: even if we only point out a few spots in a neighborhood, you should still plan to soak up the vibes for a bit in any area!

  • Chinatown: SO many amazing places, we don’t even have any specific destination to check out. Plan to spend at least half a day (if you can swing it) exploring the nooks and crannies of this historic area.
  • Dogpatch
    • Piccino Café: upscale small plates eatery with some REALLY delicious burrata and cocktails.
    • Ungrafted: family-owned wine bar with a great wine list, amazing nibbles and a industrial-chic vibe.

  • Fisherman’s Wharf: okay, this area is pretttyyyy touristy, but at least worth a visit for beautiful Bay views!
    • Pier 39: so fun to watch the playful seals barking up a storm – and don’t pass on a Boudin sourdough bread bowl with chowder. Ye been warned.
    • Alcatraz: one of our favorite haunts (yes, that is intentional) of San Fran – the old (and very famous) Alcatraz prison is no longer in use but has a LOT of eerie history and is absolutely a must-see.
    • The Buena Vista: this diner-vibe eatery is well-known for its Irish Coffee drink, which is the perfect way to warm up after a romp through the chilly fog.
    • The Stinking Rose: okay, so this is technically more in North Beach than on the water (and a little touristy), but if you are partial to garlic, you HAVE to check out this ridiculously fragrant Italian restaurant. Garlic bread (duh), garlic pastas… garlic WINE. And even garlic ice cream!!
    • Haight-Ashbury: similar to Chinatown, there are SO MANY awesome spots in Haight, it’s worth planning to spend at least half a day. Lots of street art, boutiques and other quirky-cool places to see. Oh – and if you’re a sweet tooth, grab a treat at the OG Ben & Jerry’s!

  • The Mission
    • Media Noche: LOVE LOVE LOVE this little Cuban-inspired spot; be sure to get a mojito, the guac and the ceviche. Muy delicioso!
    • Tartine Manufactory: okay, when  we were told we HAD to get a loaf of sourdough here, we may have been a bit skeptical. Skeptic, no more. It gets busy and they tend to sell out, so plan accordingly!
    • Bi-Rite Creamery: can you tell we love sweets? Not only is the ice cream worth the wait, they also have baked goods too.

  • Protrero Hill
    • Big Daddy’s Antiques: probably one of the only shops in this list (we tend to favor the eats) – but worth a visit; they have gorgeous collections for the home, but they also host events too! Be sure to check out their adorable patios in the back.
    • Rocksalt Pilates: another outlier – but we loved our workout at Rocksalt so much, we had to put it on this list. Think Pilates meets cardio in a fast-paced, guaranteed-to-leave-your-legs-shaking workout.
    • Provender Coffee: the most adorable coffee shop you ever did see – not much room for seating, but you wanted to stroll the hills with your latte anyway, right?
    • Plow: knock-your-socks-off good brunch in a beautiful, well-lit space. There’s usually a pretty significant wait, so plan accordingly.
    • Philz Coffee: would it be a San Fran guide if we didn’t include Philz Coffee on here? Local chain that knows your faves and how to make a great cuppa.

Produce at the Clement Street Farmer's Market in San Francisco
Click to buy this fresh print!
  • Richmond District
    • Arsicault Bakery: we know almond croissants, and can we just say – we would come back to San Francisco solely for this croissant. Yes, it’s that good. Again, they may sell out so plan accordingly!
    • Clement Street Farmers’ Market: as much of an activity as an opportunity to get your grocery shopping done – lots of amazing produce and artisan-crafted goods!
    • Green Apple Books: there’s nothing quite like a physical book, and Green Apple has tons of both new and used reads. We love browsing the collections out front – lots of amazing coffee table books!
    • Burma Superstar: stop everything you’re doing and remember this name – this is a MUST VISIT when in San Fran. As the name suggests, its known for its Burmese food (sort of a fusion of Indian and Asian cuisines in the Burma area near Thailand) and the tea-leaf salad and coconut rice are NOT to be missed.

Hiking Near San Francisco

If you’ve gathered anything from our founder, Megan, we love outdoor adventure and recreation. So we would be remiss if we didn’t include some of our favorite spots for hiking near San Francisco in this list!

Muir Beach Overlook
  • Land’s End Trail: of all the hiking near San Francisco, Land’s End is probably the easiest to get to from the city proper – you don’t even need a car. One thing to keep an eye out for is the amazing Labyrinth sculpture – you’ll get the best view of it if you climb up just a bit. Stunning!
  • Marin Headlands Hikes: you’ll probably need a car to make it out to the Marin Headlands hikes, but we promise they’re worth it. There are a number of trails to choose from – and all have gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge there and back, miles of coastline trails and lots of wildlife!
  • Muir Beach Hike: similar to the Marin Headlands hikes, you’ll probably need a car to make it out to the Muir Beach hike – but again, it’s worth it if you can make it. We put this one on here specifically so we could talk about the Muir Beach Overlook. One of the most stunning views in the whole area. Absolutely breathtaking!

Like we said, there are so many California cities to visit this overview couldn’t possibly do it justice. Keep checking back for more updates to this post for other California cities you need to put on your radar – this is definitely a work in progress!

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