Southern California is well known for its perfect weather, beautiful beaches, and epic landscapes. Offering a myriad of enjoyable, scenic, and sometimes even free things, visiting this state must be on everyone’s bucket list. The best things to do in Southern California entail outdoor activities, eating and shopping, and checking out the region’s assortment of entertainment options. With so many ways to have fun in the sun, you will always enjoy Southern California no matter how many times you come back.
Planning a trip to Southern California? You’ll be excited to see what awaits you. Whether you are visiting with family or adventuring alone, here are the 15 best things to do in Southern California in 2021.
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Top things to do in Southern California in 2021
1. Ride the iconic Santa Monica Pier rollercoaster
One of the top things to do in Southern California is to visit Santa Monica. This coastal city near LA is best known for its iconic, quintessentially Southern Californian pier: Santa Monica Pier.
This historic and legendary pier is over 100 years old, featuring carnival activities, tours, eateries, and a small aquarium. The star of the show is undoubtedly the roller coaster, offering sweeping, panoramic views of Santa Monica Bay as you move in the air at a brisk 35 mph.
Santa Monica is the perfect way to start your Southern California tour. So be sure to bring a camera along, as you won’t want to miss these precious moments.
2. Eat delicious food and surf at Huntington Beach
Huntington Beach is a gorgeous beach town in Orange County. It definitely deserves a visit when you’re in Southern California.
Stroll the beaches and piers, and you will find no shortage of dining venues, shops, and other unique attractions. Referred to as the “Surfing Capital of the World,” Huntington Beach Pier is a terrific place to watch professional surfers in action. It is here, where the U.S. Open of Surfing is held each year.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn surfing, what better place to do so than the surfing capital itself?
Whether you’re looking for relaxation or adventure, you’ll find that a visit to Huntington Beach is among the top things to do in Southern California.
3. Check Out the San Diego Zoo
The world famous San Diego Zoo is one of the top bucket list attractions in Southern California.
Located in San Diego’s Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo is home to over 3,500 animals, including the Giant Panda. It’s set on 100 acres of land, so you should expect to spend 4-5 hours to explore the whole zoo. It’s truly the perfect family activity, where you can easily spend half or even a full day and not run out of things to see!
If you want to save money on the zoo admission and avoid the long lines, purchase your tickets online in advance. It’s worth the hefty price tag for the diverse range of animals and unique attractions, including the Skyfari Aerial Tram!
4. Hike the Santa Monica Mountains
Looking to go hiking in Southern California? You won’t want to miss the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
Not far from urban jungle of Los Angeles and the beaches of Malibu is this oasis in the mountains. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is home to countless miles of hiking trails and other unique sights and attractions that are among the best in Southern California.
A short 10-minute walk from Santa Monica Beach, the Los Liones Trail is a must if you’d like to experience the best this park has to offer. It’s around 3 miles in total, not very rugged, and provides sweeping vistas of the coastline and the skyscrapers. Bring along extra water, hiking boots, and begin hiking early in the morning to stay clear of the crowds. It’s truly the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
From views of the coastline to that of the Los Angeles Skyline, you’ll have plenty of reasons to hike the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s no wonder hiking here is among the best things to do in Southern California.
5. Shop ‘til you drop at Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills
Okay so you don’t have to shop here, because it’s incredibly expensive, but at least stop by for a bit and do some people-watching. Perhaps you will even spot your favorite celebrity!
Rodeo Drive is a two-mile long street Beverly Hills that’s known for its ultra-luxury designer stores. It’s where the rich and famous go, or at least their ‘people’ who do the shopping for them!
Even if you don’t intend to shop here (I don’t blame you!), it’s still one of the top things to see and do in Southern California.
Want to stay here? Read next: Coolest Airbnbs in Beverly Hills, California!
6. Hike or bike along the Long Beach Bike Path
Located near Long Beach, California, this pedestrian bike path is just 3 miles long. It’s a terrific activity for those seeking ocean views and a soothing sea breeze.
The Long Beach Bike Path is perfect for those seeking a fun and not too strenous summer activity. The path is totally flat and rarely crowded, providing endless sights of beautiful blue water! Additionally, if you continue cycling past the trail for another mile or so, you will enter the stunning Shoreline Village!
7. Dine and shop at the Shoreline Village
Situated near downtown Long Beach, Shoreline Village is the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon.
This seaside village, found next to famous Aquarium of the Pacific, is filled with colorful shops and trendy restaurants. Add to that stunning harbor views, tuck shops, scenic cruises, and an excellent beachfront biking course, and you’ll have yourself an entire day of fun activities.
Tip: Be sure to visit Parkers’ Lighthouse at night for the best city skyline views!
The assortment of dining establishments, cruise tours, and tourist attractions can be found in other coastal destinations in the region. However, Shoreline Village’s charming ambiance and vibrant buildings make visiting here one of the best unique things to do in Southern California.
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8. Visit Disneyland: One of the best things to do in Southern California for families
Disneyland is dazzling any time of year. It goes without saying that this is one of the best things to do in Southern California, but for those who haven’t been, here’s what makes it so special:
Built in 1955, Disneyland was the world’s first Disney theme park. It was designed by Walt Disney, whose futuristic ideas and fantasies were put into action in the form of a 160-acre amusement park. Now, there are 2 parks to enjoy, Disneyland Park and California Adventure Park, which draw 18 million visitors a year. This makes Disneyland the second most visited theme park after Disney World in Florida.
Be sure to take advantage of all the rides that Disneyland has to offer, including Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, It’s a Small World, Soaring Around the World, and the Indiana Jones Adventure. There’s truly so much to do here, particularly if you’re a family with younger children. So you won’t run out of unique attractions!
Today, there are several newer and bigger Disney theme parks sprawled around the world. But this is the original, which is why it definitely merits a visit among the best things to do in Southern California.
9. Experience the desert life at Joshua Tree National Park
Located in southeastern California, Joshua Tree is one of the most unique national parks in the US.
It’s named for these rare and beautiful trees, but there’s also a dreamy desert oasis, mountains, and gold mining ruins to discover here.
Stay in a unique Airbnb or go glamping, and you’ll be on your way to checking off all these best things to do in Southern California!
10. Become young again at Legoland
Located between San Diego and Anaheim, Legoland in Carlsbad is definitely one of the best attractions in Southern California.
Legoland offers more than 60 rides, shows, and attractions, all geared for families with young children. The Legoland California Hotel and Resort is one of the coolest stays in all of Southern California, as it also has an aquarium and water park.
For adults, Miniland USA is a must-see. It’s one of the most unique attractions at Legoland, showcasing lego designs of well-known areas and real-life tourist attractions from seven locations around the United States. They were built using 32 million Lego bricks, featuring iconic places like the Golden Gate Bridge, Washington DC, New York’s Grand Central Station, Mardi Gras, and so on. You will feel like you’ve seen the whole country all in a matter of minutes!
11. Visit the Griffith Observatory – Unique Things to do in Southern California
Take a walk around the Griffith Observatory, one of the most best tourist sights in Southern California. It lies inside Griffith Park on the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood.
With sweeping views that will make your jaw drop, the Griffith Observatory is a popular place to visit from Los Angeles. In addition to seeing LA’s endless skyline and the Pacific Ocean, you’ll also catch a glimpse of the famous Hollywood Sign.
Apart from the vistas, enjoy the scientific exhibits that the observatory has to offer. Learn about science and space through devices like telescopes and other interactive exhibits. It won’t be long when you begin pondering the meaning of life and the infinite possibilies of our universe.
If you enjoy astronomy and stargazing, you’ll see why the Griffith Observatory is one of the best cultural gems in Southern California.
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12. Hike with your friends at the Crystal Cove State Park
This hidden gem in Orange County’s Laguna Beach provides scenic panoramas and a good day’s worth of exercise. For the outdoorsy types, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Southern California.
Crystal Cove is a lovely state park with over 3 miles of shoreline and 2,000 acres wilderness. Climb up lofty hills for wide-ranging views of the surrounding landscape and sea that are certainly worthy of the effort!
Additionally, there’s a beautiful stretch of beach, which isn’t as crowded as the more prominent beaches in the area. Cap off the day by relaxing here and perhaps have a barbeque as you take in the breathtaking coastal landscapes of Southern California!
13. Watch sea lions in action at La Jolla Cove: A top thing to do in Southern California
La Jolla Cove is a peaceful beach surrounded by two sandstone cliffs. It’s among the most beautiful beaches and photography spots in San Diego. As such, it also deserves a mention among the best things to see and do in Southern California.
Soaking in the pristine coastline is not the only thing you will find interesting at La Jolla Cove. You can also witness big sea lions gracefully sunbathing on the rocks. There are many of them out in the morning hours. Grab a bite to eat in La Jolla (Caroline’s Seaside Cafe is a local gem) and take part in other activities like swimming, kayaking, and scuba diving. You’ll never want to leave!
14. Experience LA’s live music scene
It’s no secret that LA, and the Southern California region in general, is known for having an amazing live music scene.
If you have a favorite musical artist, chances are they’ve held a concert in LA before. If concerts and music festivals are your thing, come here and take advantage. You likely won’t want to leave!
15. Wrap up your trip with a hike at the Runyon Canyon
Runyon Canyon is yet another amazing spot to visit in Southern California. The sights of Los Angeles, the Hollywood Sign, and the Santa Monica Mountains are nothing short of extraordinary. You will need to bring your video camera for this one!
Runyon Canyon Trail is under 3 miles, offering some of the best hiking you’ll find in the greater LA area. It’s a relatively easy trek, so if you want something more challenging, do some jogging up the hills instead.
For a more soothing experience, cost-free yoga is offered here every day at the Runyon Canyon Yoga. Rest on the lush green grass and let the gentle breeze sooth your soul.
Tip: Drop by on a weekday if you want some peace and seclusion (weekends and public holidays are on another level!).
Unique Things to do in Southern California
Southern California has it all: sandy beaches, infinite outdoor adventures, entertaining and family-friendly tourist attractions, waterfront activities, and cultural attractions. So, if you haven’t been there yet, make it the number one priority on your USA travel bucket list. If you’re already there or are still planning, we hope this article helps you plan the perfect vacation!
Planning to visit So Cal? Read next: Best Airbnbs in Southern California: Rustic cabins, Beach Houses + More!
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