California is home to 12 distinct regions encompassing world-class cities and quaint small towns sprawling across deserts, valleys, beaches and mountains. While differing from one another in their climate, location and offerings, each is an important facet of the whole and contributes to the beautiful diversity that defines the Golden State. The individual profiles below provide a glimpse into what visitors can expect when traveling in the different regions along with helpful maps and contact information.
This region, in California's northeast corner, is known for mountains, forests, waterfalls, and amazing, safe-to-visit volcanoes. The region, a 3-hour drive north of Sacramento, gets its name from the rugged Cascade Mountains and their signature peak in state, 14,180-foot/4,322-meter Mount Shasta—yes, a volcano.
With crashing waves along the coast and soaring redwood trees blanketing miles of uncrowded parkland, this is one of California's most spectacular regions. The largest city, Eureka, is roughly a 5-hour drive north of San Francisco—but what a drive: see lush wine country, charming hamlets, spouting whales, and breathtaking sunsets.
The western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Range, defining California’s eastern border, are known as the Gold Country, named after the rich Mother Lode discovered here in the mid-1850s. While gold is still found in the region, new riches include top museums and art in Sacramento, the state capital, plus whitewater rafting, tucked-away towns, farm-fresh dining, and award-winning wines.
San Francisco Bay Area
On the western oceanfront of Northern California, at the state's distinctive bend along the coast, lies this breathtaking region. It’s framed by an unforgettable gateway—the iconic Golden Gate Bridge—spanning the mouth of San Francisco Bay. Explore diverse cities, picturesque hamlets, family-friendly beaches, coastal parklands, and wine country, including Napa and Sonoma wine country, 1½ hours north of San Francisco.
Nicknamed "California's backbone," this region of towering granite peaks defines much of the state’s eastern boundary. Visit Yosemite Valley, Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, and the giant trees of Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks—all within a day's drive of either San Francisco or L.A. In winter, enjoy snow sports; in summer, go hiking, mountain biking, fishing, or boating.
Running right down the middle of California, this broad region contains some of most productive farmland in the world. Wine country around Lodi features big, bold reds. Further south, the Fresno has a lively arts scene.
In this narrow strip of coastal hills and valleys, discover romantic towns, including Carmel-by-the-Sea, historic Monterey, and elegant Santa Barbara, nicknamed "the American Riviera." The region’s classic drive along Highway One, linking San Francisco to Los Angeles, visits Big Sur, Hearst Castle, wine country, and kick-back surf towns.
This dramatic region takes up the southeastern half of the state. Remarkable desert parklands, including Death Valley, Joshua Tree, and Anza-Borrego, provide an extraordinary chance to explore, while the oasis-like allure of Palm Springs, 3 hours northeast of San Diego, offers sunny resort-style getaways, with golf, tennis, spas, and high-end shopping.
This densely populated Southern California region has surprising alpine getaways, like Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead, in the impressive San Bernardino Range. On the region's sunny east side, explore the inviting Temecula Valley wine region. The university town of Riverside is the region’s largest city. San Bernardino, the second largest city, has museums and impressive shopping, while Fontana has NASCAR racing.
This sunny region along the state's southern coast is California's most populated region, best known as the capital of the entertainment industry. Here, movie stars really do work in Hollywood, play in the surf at Malibu, and shop in Beverly Hills. Looping freeways make the car king, but the region also has a surprisingly good network of buses and light rail—a hassle-free way to explore.
Tucked between San Diego and Los Angeles Counties, this region is known for flawless beaches and "the happiest place on earth," Disneyland Resort. Anaheim, the theme park's home, offers a surprisingly hip vibe in a refurbished downtown. Newport Beach has dazzling yachts, Huntington Beach has iconic surfing, and Costa Mesa beckons with top shopping.
This sun-and-surf region is known for some of the best weather and warmest water in the state. San Diego, the state’s second largest city, is home to the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park, one of the world’s great urban parks. For family fun, play at SeaWorld San Diego and Legoland California. Inland, discover surprising mountain towns like Julian, known for orchards and apple pie.