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30 Cities in California for a 3-Day Vacation

Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway for the family, a girls trip, or a solo trip, California has some incredible cities for a weekend getaway. Here are some 3-day vacation ideas that are hidden gems and popular destinations in California. We’re even including some of the highlights for each area to help you plan your itinerary. So let’s dive right in and explore.

3-Day Vacation Ideas In California


Anaheim is the perfect place for family vacations. With a lot of theme parks in close distance, and plenty of shopping and restaurants surrounding the area, you’ll be able to find something for everyone to enjoy.

Anaheim Highlights:

Long Beach

For an ocean getaway with plenty of culture to explore, Long Beach is the perfect place. There’s plenty of museums and historic sites, such as the Queen Mary or the Long Beach Museum of Art. A variety of dining and shopping options are available as well.

Long Beach Highlights:

  • Aquarium of the Pacific
  • Shoreline Village, Bluff Park, & The Queen Mary
  • Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center
  • El Dorado Park & Nature Center
  • Rancho Los Cerritos & Rancho Los Alamitos
  • Belmont Shore & 2nd Street
  • Pine Avenue
  • Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA)

Santa Monica

When you think of California beaches, the iconic Santa Monica pier is likely one of the first things that comes to mind. With plenty of shopping, activities, and dining in the area, you can spend plenty of time in this wonderful place.

Santa Monica Highlights:

  • Annenberg Community Beach House
  • Bergamot Station Arts Center
  • Santa Monica Pier
  • Santa Monica State Beach
  • Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
  • Palisades Park, Camera Obscura, & Inspiration Point
  • Downtown Santa Monica & Third Street Promenade
  • Route 66 End of the Trail Sign
  • Museum of Flying
  • jAdis

San Diego

If you’re looking for an extra dose of sun, San Diego is the perfect beach destination. You can enjoy a wide range of activities, such as snorkeling, kayaking, whale watching, and a whole lot more! Get a CityPass or a Go City Tourist Pass for multi-day and multi attraction experiences.

San Diego Highlights:

Catalina Island

Located just a short ferry ride from the California coast, Catalina is ideal for weekend getaways, where you can relax and enjoy the island’s shops and activities. With glass bottom boats, golf cart rentals, and even a buffalo tour around the island, there’s plenty to soak up.

Catalina Island Highlights:

Santa Barbara

There is no better place to spend a weekend filled with wellness and self-care than Santa Barbara. There are a variety of offerings such as yoga on the beach in the morning, and many luxurious spas where you can rejuvenate and recharge in a beautiful setting.

Santa Barbara Highlights:

  • Stearns Wharf
  • Old Mission Santa Barbara
  • El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park
  • Santa Barbara Zoo
  • Santa Barbara Museum Of Natural History
  • Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
  • Arroyo Burro Beach County Park
  • MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration & Innovation
  • Cold Spring Tavern
  • Santa Barbara Public Market
  • State Street


Located just north of Stockton, Lodi is a beautiful location for wine and nature lovers alike. With plenty of hidden gems of restaurants, you can start your day off right with a delicious breakfast before heading off on one of the many winery or bike tours that are offered.

Lodi Highlights:

  • Lodi Lake
  • Micke Grove Zoo
  • World of Wonders Science Museum
  • Spenker Family Farm
  • Sip Shuttle Lodi Wine Tour
  • Micke Grove Regional Park
  • Woodbridge Ecological Reserve
  • San Joaquin County Historical Museum


It is hard to find a better place to spend your vacation than Monterey, with its many hiking trails, beaches, parks, and museums. In addition to the fun things to do, there are also some incredible dining spots that you cannot afford to miss out on.

Monterey Highlights:

  • Monterey Bay Aquarium
  • Old Fisherman’s Wharf & Cannery Row
  • Dennis The Menace Playground
  • Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
  • 17 Mile Drive
  • Pebble Beach Golf Course & Visitor Center
  • Carmel-By-The-Sea
  • Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
  • Steinbeck Plaza
  • National Steinbeck Center

Santa Cruz

Whether you want to take advantage of the crystal clear waters, or the historic sites like the Roaring Camp Railroads or the Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz has something for everyone. There’s also a plethora of small shops in town that are absolutely worth a visit.

Santa Cruz Highlights:

  • Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
  • Santa Cruz Wharf
  • Natural Bridges State Beach
  • Wilder Ranch State Park
  • The Mystery Spot
  • Santa Cruz Surfing Museum
  • Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History
  • Roaring Camp Railroad
  • Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
  • Capitola
  • Mission Santa Cruz


It is safe to say that Hollywood is the one place you should visit at least once in California. With its rich movie and television history and plenty of attractions, it’s a must-see! (we recommend hopping on one of the iconic double-decker buses for a tour.)

Hollywood Highlights:

  • Hollywood Walk Of Fame
  • TCL Chinese Theatre
  • Ovation Hollywood
  • Madame Tussauds Wax Museum
  • Dolby Theatre
  • Hollywood Bowl
  • Griffith Park & Observatory
  • The Hollywood Museum
  • El Capitan Theare
  • Universal Studios Hollywood
  • Hollywood Sign
  • Pantages Theatre
  • Ripley’s Believe It Or Not
  • Paramount Pictures Studio Tour
  • Amoeba Music

San Jose

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose offers a unique blend of activities, delicious food, and a rich history for anyone who wants to experience it all. With the Winchester Mystery House, San Pedro Square Market, you’ll have to visit multiple times to see everything.

San Jose Highlights:

  • Winchester Mystery House
  • Santana Row
  • Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
  • Happy Hollow Park & Zoo
  • The Tech Interactive Museum of Innovation
  • Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
  • San Jose Museum Of Art
  • Japanese Friendship Garden
  • California’s Great America
  • Alum Rock Park
  • New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum
  • Castle Rock State Park

Napa Valley

Napa Valley is a wonderful place for a weekend getaway for adults, whether you’re looking to get an up close view of the production of many of your favorite wines, or wanting to explore the arts and culture side of the city, Napa Valley is a wonderful place.

Napa Valley Highlights:

  • Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
  • Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park
  • Napa Valley Wine Train
  • Castello di Amorosa
  • Oxbow Public Market
  • Napa Valley Museum
  • Robert Louis Stevenson State Park
  • Napa Valley Aloft Hot Air Balloon Rides
  • Old Faithful Geyser of California in Calistoga
  • Robert Mondavi Winery
  • Baldacci Family Vineyards
  • The French Laundry


There is no better place for a weekend getaway with family than the capital of California. In Sacramento, there are things for both young and old to enjoy, including historic sites such as the Old Sacramento waterfront, as well as things for children such as the jelly belly factory.

Sacramento Highlights:

  • California State Capitol, Museum, & Park
  • California State Railroad Museum
  • Sacramento Zoo
  • Old Sacramento & Waterfront
  • Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park
  • Fairytale Town
  • Sacramento History Museum
  • Aerospace Museum Of California
  • State Indian Museum
  • Downtown Commons
  • Funderland Amusement Park
  • The Underground Tasting Room

Thousand Oaks

Thousand Oaks is a great place for hiking that isn’t too far from the city. With over 140 miles of trails that you can explore, you can take in the gorgeous views of southern California while having plenty to do once you’ve had your fill of the great outdoors.

Thousand Oaks Highlights:

  • Conejo Valley Botanic Garden
  • Gardens Of The World
  • The Oaks
  • Wildwood Regional Park
  • Underwood Family Farms
  • Chumash Indian Museum
  • Ronald Regan Presidential Library
  • Trifuno Creek Park
  • Satwiwa Native American Indian Natural Area

Palm Springs

In Palm Springs you will find a wide variety of hot springs which surround the area, so it is the perfect place for a self-care weekend. In addition to their incredible spas, there’s plenty of hiking trails to explore the wonderful desert surroundings.

Palm Springs Highlights:

  • Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
  • Palm Springs Air Museum
  • Moorten Botanical Garden
  • The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens
  • Palm Springs Art Museum
  • Tahquitz Canyon
  • Agua Caliente Casino Palm Springs
  • North & South Palm Canyon Drive
  • Downtown Palm Springs
  • Mt. San Jacinto State Park
  • The Purple Room Supper Club
  • Annenberg Theater
  • Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa

Laguna Beach 

Laguna Beach should be at the top of your list if you’re looking for a romantic getaway. This amazing area is nestled in its own 7-mile stretch of coastline. There are plenty of dining spots and experiences that you and your partner can enjoy, allowing you to enjoy the best of everything.

Laguna Beach Highlights:

Big Bear Lake

Regardless of the time of year you choose to visit Big Bear Lake, you will surely have a great time. In the winter, there’s activities like sledding, snowboarding and skiing – while summer brings out plenty of fun to be had on the lake with jet skis, kayaking, and more.

Big Bear Highlights:

  • Big Bear Alpine Zoo
  • Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain
  • Boulder Bay Park
  • Big Bear Discovery Center
  • Snow Summit
  • Bear Mountain
  • Stanfield Marsh Wildlife Preserve
  • Gold Rush Mining Company Adventures
  • Big Bear Pirate Ship
  • Big Bear Jeep Experience


Malibu beach is the perfect destination for a 3-day vacation for those who are looking for beachy weekend getaways where they can feel as luxurious as some of the many stars who reside there. This area is full of luxury resorts, cuisine, and shopping so there is something for every type of visitor.

Malibu Highlights:

  • Malibu Pier
  • The Getty Villa
  • Point Dume
  • Solstice Canyon
  • Adamson House Museum
  • Malibu Country Mart
  • El Matador Beach
  • Malibu Lagoon State Beach
  • Zuma Beach


Known for its stunning architecture and rich culture, Pasadena is perfect for history buffs and art lovers alike. The city itself can also be explored in its full beauty through guided or unguided tours.

Pasadena Highlights:

  • Rose Bowl Stadium
  • Old Pasadena
  • Kidspace Children’s Museum
  • Norton Simon Museum
  • The Huntington Library
  • Pasadena Playhouse
  • Descanso Gardens
  • Wrigley Mansion
  • Mt. Wilson Observatory
  • Mosaic South Pasadena at the Rialto Theatre
  • Echo Mountain


Carlsbad is another fantastic family-friendly destination. With its many beaches and aquariums, as well as Legoland only a short drive away, you’re sure to make some incredible memories with everyone on your trip.

Carlsbad Highlights:

  • Legoland California & Sea Life Aquarium
  • Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park
  • Carlsbad Premium Outlets
  • State Street Farmers Market
  • The Flower Fields
  • Carlsbad Village
  • Green Dragon Tavern & Museum
  • Carlsbad Lagoon Recreation Area
  • South Carlsbad State Beach


If you want a weekend away with your furry friend, Ventura is the perfect place! Touting themselves as one of the most dog-friendly towns, you can bring them around to the beaches, restaurants and hotels which makes this the perfect place for extra bonding time!

Ventura Highlights:

  • Mission Basilica San Buenaventura
  • Ventura Botanical Gardens
  • Ventura Harbor Village
  • Olivas Adobe Historic Park
  • Old Creek Ranch & Winery
  • Ventura Pier
  • Downtown Ventura
  • Players Casino


Yosemite is perfect for the people who want to spend a few days surrounded by the beautiful nature of one of California’s most beautiful national parks. With its many gorgeous waterfalls, giant sequoia trees, and vast wildlife, this is the perfect choice for any nature lover.

Yosemite Highlights:

  • Tunnel View
  • Yosemite Falls
  • Half Dome
  • El Capitan
  • Tuolumne Meadows
  • The Ahwahnee
  • Mariposa Grove
  • Tenaya Lodge
  • Vernal Falls
  • Wawona Hotel


In case you are looking for some beautiful gardens and parks to spend your 3-day vacation at, Fresno is the best spot in California for you to visit. The Forestiere Underground Gardens is the center of attention for many with their gorgeous passageways filled with some beautiful foliage.

Fresno Highlights:

  • Fresno Chaffee Zoo
  • Forestiere Underground Gardens
  • Meux Home Museum
  • Tower Theatre for the Performing Arts
  • Simonian Farms
  • Tower District
  • Downing Planetarium

Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach is an amazing destination for a weekend getaway because of the perfectly balmy weather and plenty of beaches to pick from. If you have never been here before, then you are in for a treat. In addition to the beautiful beaches, there’s some incredibly unique stores and dining experiences to enjoy.

Huntington Beach Highlights:

Beverly Hills

It is not difficult to see why Beverly Hills is the perfect destination for those looking for a luxurious weekend. There is a lot to love about this city where you will find boutique hotels, fine dining, and unrivaled shopping opportunities. 

Beverly Hills Highlights:

  • Beverly Gardens Park
  • Greystone Mansion
  • Rodeo Drive
  • Beverly Hills Hotel
  • Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
  • Beverly Hills Farmers Market
  • Spago
  • LA County Museum of Art
  • La Brea Tar Pits
  • The Grove
  • Petersen Automotive Museum

San Clemente

A vacation in San Clemente is unforgettable, with incredible beaches, delicious restaurants, and so much more, you can’t go wrong! The Del Mar Boutiques, which offer everything from surf shops to homemade goods and food, are among the biggest highlights of the city.

San Clemente Highlights:

San Francisco

With Fisherman’s Wharf, the golden gate bridge, and many museums sharing the city’s deep and rich history, San Francisco offers something for everyone. San Francisco also offers plenty on the front for foodies, which makes it perfect for a weekend of excellent dining! 

San Francisco Highlights:

  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Alcatraz
  • Palace of Fine Arts
  • Pier 39
  • Oracle Park
  • Union Square
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • Chinatown
  • Lombard Street
  • Muir Woods National Monument

San Luis Obispo

There is so much to do and see in San Luis Obispo, between its beaches, its history, and its wine region. One of the biggest highlights is Light at Sen­so­rio – a multi-acre experience with fields of gorgeous lights surrounding everywhere you walk! (For an additional fee, you can have the choice of either a char­cu­terie or cru­dité plat­ter to enjoy as you take in the views.)

San Luis Obispo Highlights:

  • Madonna Inn
  • Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
  • Sunset Drive In Theater
  • Bubblegum Alley & Downtown SLO
  • Avila Valley Barn
  • San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum
  • Chamisal Vineyards
  • SLO Botanical Gardens
  • Avila Beach

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is always a popular weekend getaway destination, and it’s easy to see why! Both the north and south sides of the lake offer a beautiful atmosphere and plenty to do. During the summer you have biking trails galore, and winter brings plenty of skiers and snowboarders up to this beautiful city.

Lake Tahoe Highlights:

  • Sand Harbor
  • Tallac Historic Site
  • Emerald Bay State Park
  • Eagle Falls
  • Northstar California Resort
  • Heavenly Mountain Resort
  • Tahoe Trout Farm
  • Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks
  • Historic Downtown Truckee


Eureka, which is located just two hours’ drive from the incredible redwood forests, has plenty of artistic culture and hidden gems that make this city a must-do for a 3-day vacation. One gem that locals rave about is the incredible farmers markets, so make sure to leave some extra room in your bag!

Eureka Highlights:

  • Sequoia Park Zoo
  • Carson Mansion
  • Fort Humboldt State Historic Park
  • Sequoia Park & Garden
  • Morris Graves Museum of Art
  • Clarke Historical Museum
  • Old Town Eureka
  • Redwood Discovery Museum
  • North Coast Repertory Theatre
  • Headwaters Forest Reserve

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Morgan Mulac
Morgan is an avid writer about her journeys and enjoys sharing the beauty California has to offer. She is dedicated to using her writing skills to share her passion for travel with others and to help them discover the best places to eat while on vacation, no matter where she is.