The Golden State is home to some of the most famous landmarks and attractions in the United States, possibly even the world. Some, like the Hollywood Sign and the Golden Gate Bridge, are iconic symbols of the state. Others, such as Yosemite, showcase California’s amazing natural beauty. The following are eight of the best landmarks in California that you just can’t miss.
1. Lone Cypress
This photogenic cypress tree has stood sentry on a granite promontory overlooking the surging Pacific Ocean for approximately 250 years. Its solitary stance on the windswept outcropping has made it a symbol of strength in the face of adversity. And this tree is a true survivor. Its growth has been stunted by the rock it sits upon, and it has had to endure many cruel storms over the years. It has even lived through an arson attempt. The Lone Cypress is located on the scenic 17-Mile drive on the Monterey Peninsula, and it is probably the most photographed tree in California, possibly the entire United States. Of course, you’ll also want to cruise the entire 17-Mile Drive, which is considered one of the most scenic roads in America.
2. Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier, which was built in 1909, is an iconic Los Angeles-area landmark. Located at the end of Colorado Avenue, this pier has a lot to offer visitors. It is, for example, home to Pacific Park, an amusement park that contains numerous rides, games and the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel. There is also an aquarium and even a trapeze school located on the pier. You’ll also find a beautiful historic carousel on the Santa Monica Pier that was built in 1922 and boasts 44 hand-carved horses. The pier is also the site of numerous events, including a free weekly concert during the summer months. Other activities you can enjoy while at the Santa Monica Pier include shopping and fishing.
Located in Anaheim, this is the flagship park for the Disney empire and the second most popular amusement park in the world — only its younger sibling Disney World had more visitors in 2015. Disneyland, which opened on July 17, 1955 is also the only Disney park that was actually built under creator Walt Disney’s direct supervision. Although Disneyland originally opened with only 12 rides, it has since quadrupled that number of attractions. And as of March 2017, Disneyland offered 54 attractions to entertain guests of all ages. In 2001, Disney opened a second park, California Adventures, right next to Disneyland.
4. Hearst Castle
This magnificent 165-room castle, which sits on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, was said to have been built — at least in part — as a love nest for publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst and his mistress, actress Marion Davies. Hearst Castle was also the inspiration for the mansion depicted in the 1941 classic movie, “Citizen Kane.” This mansion was a beautiful retreat for Hearst, and he loved to invite Hollywood’s rich and famous to the castle for dinner parties. Work first began on this famous castle in 1919, and it was still under construction when Hearst had to stop spending time in the secluded mansion due to his poor health. When the publishing magnate died in 1951, the Hearst Corporation donated his estate to the state of California. Then in 1958, it was turned into a museum and was made open to the public. There is much to see at the castle, including gorgeous gardens, stunning pools as well as Hearst’s private collection of art.
From 1934 until 1963, Alcatraz was a federal penitentiary that was considered escape-proof. Even if an inmate were to somehow manage to escape Alcatraz, its location on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay meant that the prisoner would still have to swim through the cold, turbulent shark-filled waters surrounding the prison to reach freedom. Because of this, many of America’s most dangerous felons, including Al “Scarface” Capone were sent to this prison, which was also known as The Rock. During the period of time that Alcatraz was being used as a federal penitentiary, there were no known successful escapes; although, there were five prisoners who escaped and were never found. Alcatraz Island was also the site of the first lighthouse built on the West Coast, as well as the first fort built by the United States on the West Coast.
6. Yosemite Valley
Located in the gorgeous Yosemite National Park, this valley contains some of the park’s best known landmarks, including two world famous granite formations, Half Dome and El Capitan. Yosemite, which was designated a national park in 1890, also contains an amazing number of waterfalls, including Yosemite Falls, which is one of the world’s tallest. And if you happen to be in the park from mid- to late-February, make sure to visit Horsetail Fall around sunset. This is when the cascading waters of the fall appear to turn a fiery orange. Yosemite is very popular with hikers, rock climbers and, of course, just general sightseeing. This park is also home to approximately 90 species of mammals, including bighorn sheep, black bears, deer and mountain lions.
7. Hollywood Sign
The iconic Hollywood Sign sits high above Los Angeles in the Hollywood Hills. The letters making up this sign are 45-feet tall and a bright white in color. Although the sign is a “star” today, having appeared in countless movies and photographs, its beginnings are actually quite humble. This huge sign was built by Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler in 1923, and it was just a billboard for his real estate development, Hollywoodland. While it is illegal to actually get up close and personal with this Californian landmark, there are several vantage points where you can take great pictures of the sign, including a viewpoint on Mulholland Drive called Hollywood Bowl Overlook as well as the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue.
8. Golden Gate Bridge
Although San Francisco is home to many well-known landmarks, the Golden Gate Bridge is, arguably, the city’s most famous. Opened in 1937, the Golden Gate was once the longest bridge span in the world. If you’ve never seen the Golden Gate Bridge, you might expect it to be yellow or metallic in coloring, but it is actually a bright red. There are several great areas near the bridge where you can take photos, including from Baker Beach and the Fort Point National Historic Site. Feel like getting a little exercise? Then consider walking or biking all or part of the bridge’s 1.7-mile span.