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31 Famous California Landmarks: How Many Have You Seen?

California is a massive state filled with many important landmarks. There are too many to name, but this list of California landmarks contains the best of them. From breathtaking natural sites to modern marvels and historic gems, there’s something everyone will appreciate.

The coast of California hugs the breathtaking Pacific Ocean while the interior is filled with National Parks and charming cities. It’s easily one of the most beautiful states in the US.

Many of the landmarks listed are world-famous, but you’ll learn about some sites that you’ve probably never heard of before too.

california_yosemite_yosemite-valley-1
The beautiful Yosemite Valley

31 California Landmarks

1. The Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood Sign is one of the most iconic California landmarks. It’s set high on Mount Lee, in the Santa Monica Mountains. The commanding location allows for it to be seen from various points around Los Angeles.

the hollywood sign

The sign was created as a temporary advertisement in 1923. It originally read “HOLLYWOODLAND”, which was the name of a new housing development above the

Hollywood district of LA. The whole sign also used to light up; it contained around 4,000 light bulbs, which flashed in segments: “HOLLY,” “WOOD,” and “LAND”.

hollywood sign at sunset
hollywood sign at sunset

Due to the sign’s popularity, it was left up. Today, it’s a cultural icon and a symbol of California.

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2. Hollywood Walk of Fame

The Hollywood Walk of Fame is stretched along 18 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, running for a total of 2.1 km (1.3 miles).

Hollywood Walk of Fame
Hollywood Walk of Fame

This star-studded sidewalk honours achievements in the entertainment industry. It features everyone from actors to musicians to directors and even fictional characters. You can visit anytime you like and take pictures next to your favourite stars.

Hollywood Walk of Fame
Hollywood Walk of Fame

There are quite a few to see. As of 2021, the Walk of Fame contains 2,704 stars.

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3. TCL Chinese Theatre

The TCL Chinese Theatre is a grand movie palace that’s located along the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame. It opened in 1927, with the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The King of Kings”.

TCL Chinese Theatre
TCL Chinese Theatre

It represents Hollywood’s golden era, and has been the site of many Academy Awards ceremonies. In 1977, Star Wars also made its premiere here.

TCL Chinese Theatre
TCL Chinese Theatre

The theatre is open to the public for movies as well as tours. Or, you can simply stop by and check out the hand and footprints of the celebrities that have left their mark in the cement, like Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe, and more recently, Kevin Hart and Katy Perry.

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4. Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles is situated on the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park. It was founded in 1935 and has an art deco design. It features an impressive array of space and science exhibits and displays, like a high-tech planetarium and telescopes.

Sunset_Griffith_Observatory_Los_angeles_California
Sunset at Griffith Observatory

The observatory looks out over the Los Angeles Basin, including Downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and the Pacific Ocean.

griffiths observatory los angeles
griffiths observatory

It’s a sensational place to watch a California sunset. You can also see the Hollywood Sign. If you’re visiting LA, it’s a must-visit, especially since admission is free.

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5. Walt Disney Concert Hall

The Walt Disney Concert Hall was designed by Frank Gehry. It opened in 2003 and is characterized by unique steel architecture with lots of large curves. The massive building perfectly represents the creative energy of Los Angeles.

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall

It’s one of the most acoustically sophisticated concert halls in the world and is the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

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Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall

6. The Getty Centre

The Getty Center is another California landmark in Los Angeles. It contains the Getty Museum and other facilities of the Getty Trust. It opened in 1997 and costs $1.3 billion dollars to make.

With such a high price tag, it should come as no surprise that the architecture and gardens are absolutely jaw-dropping. And the views that overlook Los Angeles as some of the best you’ll find.

getty centre
getty centre

The Getty Museum is the most popular building in the complex. It contains pre-20th century European art of all sorts. Many well-known artists are featured, from Vincent van Gogh to Rembrandt and Claude Monet

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7. Disneyland Park

Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California is one of the happiest places on earth. It’s the first Disney theme park. It opened in 1955 and is the only park designed and built to completion by Walt Disney himself.

thunder mountain
thunder mountain

Over the years, it has undergone many expansions and renovations. It contains lots of popular rides, like Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Space Mountain.

A whole host of Disney characters also parade around the grounds daily, from Tinker Bell to Goofy and Mickey Mouse.

Main Street, U.S.A. is another iconic point of interest in the park. It’s meant to resemble a small American town during the early 1900s.

Sleeping_Beauty_Castle
Sleeping Beauty Castle PC: Wikipedia

It’s very nostalgic and leads you right to one of Disneyland’s most photographed attractions, the enchanting Sleeping Beauty Castle.

No matter your age, you’ll love visiting this California landmark.

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8. Santa Monica Pier

The iconic Santa Monica Pier is a double-jointed pier that’s the postcard of this laid-back California city. It jets out over the Pacific Ocean for almost 500 metres (1600 feet) and is packed full of different attractions and activities.

Santa_Monica_Pier_Sunset_Los_Angeles_California.jpg
Santa Monica Pier

The pier contains an amusement park, known as Pacific Park, the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, a video arcade, and numerous shops, pubs, and eateries.

There are also areas for viewing the ocean and fishing. It has a lively vibe and is almost always busy, especially during summer.

santa monica pier sunset in california
Santa Monica Pier

If you visit, make sure to ride the Ferris Wheel – the views from the top are spectacular.

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9. Hearst Castle

Heart Castle in San Simeon was the home of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst. The lavish estate was built from 1919 to 1947. During the 1920s and 1930s, it was often frequented by the Hollywood elite, like Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, and Clark Gable.

hearst castle exterior
hearst castle exterior

The massive estate contains 42 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, and a movie theatre. During Hearst’s lifetime, it also contained the world’s largest private zoo.

The zoo isn’t there anymore, but some of the zebras that Hearst kept are. Although these animals are native to Africa, they were brought to California by the newspaper tycoon. As you drive along Highway 1 near the castle, keep your eyes peeled for black and white stripes.

hearst castle
hearst castle

Today, Hearst Castle is open to the public as a museum. To visit, you need to book a tour with a guide beforehand. If you don’t feel like seeing the inside of the house, you can also catch a glimpse of it as you drive along Highway 1.

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10. Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions. Marked by the iconic Fisherman’s Wharf crab wheel sign, this buzzing area is right next to the water. It features stunning views straight out to the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.

Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf

There are countless souvenir shops selling all of your typical city memento’s. If you’re a fan of seafood, this is the place to get it fresh. Whether you choose to eat in a fancy restaurant or pick up something from a local street vendor, you won’t be disappointed.

The city’s speciality is a chowder bowl, which consists of creamy clam chowder served in a freshly baked sourdough bread bowl. It’s as delicious as it sounds.

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11. Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in the world. It sits over the Golden Gate, a narrow strait that connects the Pacific Ocean with San Francisco Bay.

san_francisco_golden-gate-bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge

It’s 2.7 km long (1.7 miles) and 27 metres (90 feet) wide. When it opened in 1937, it was the world’s longest and the tallest suspension bridge.

It’s free to walk or bike across the bridge, or you can book a guided tour. Alternatively, free walking tours are offered every Thursday and Sunday by San Francisco City Guides.

golden gate bridge san francisco at sunset
golden gate bridge san francisco at sunset

Whatever way you choose to visit, it’s sure to be a memorable experience. Between the dazzling views of the city and the powerful pacific below, you’ll be spellbound.

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12. Lombard Street

Lombard Street is a steep street in San Francisco that looks like something from a cartoon. The one-block road features sharp hairpin turns. it’s said to be “the most crooked street in the world”.

lombard street
lombard street

The one-way curvey route was designed in 1922 to reduce the hills natural grade, which was considered too steep for most cars to pass through.

It’s a public street, so all cars are free to drive through it. Just note that on weekends and during rush hour you may have to wait about 20 to 30 minutes to pass through.

An easier option might be to walk next to the street. There is a set of stairs on either side and you can stop wherever you like to take pictures.

Keep in mind that you have to stay on the stairs or the sidewalk as you’re not allowed to walk on Lombard Street itself.

Lombard Street is located along the eastern side of San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighbourhood.

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13. The Painted Ladies

If you’ve ever seen the TV series “Full House”  you’ll recognize The Painted Ladies from the opening credits. This famous California landmark is a row of colourful Victorian houses. They’re located at 710 to 720 Steiner Street in San Francisco.

The Painted Ladies
The Painted Ladies

They’re also referred to as “Postcard Row” and the “Seven Sisters.” They were built between 1892 and 1896. Their historic allure beautifully clashes with the backdrop of the skyscraper of downtown San Francisco.

The Painted Ladies
The Painted Ladies

The Painted Ladies are privately owned, so it’s not likely you’ll be able to visit the inside. You’ll still be able to admire their fascinating facades from a close distance.

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14. Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is a small island located in San Francisco Bay, about 2 km (1.25 miles) offshore.

It served many purposes over the years, the most well-known being the site of a federal prison, which operated from 1934 to 1963.

san francisco unique restaurants 2

It contained several notorious criminals in American history, including gangsters such as Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert Franklin Stroud – the “Birdman of Alcatraz”.

alcatraz island
alcatraz island

Today, it operates as a museum that you can tour with an audio guide. Day tours and night tours are both offered.

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15. Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach is part of the Big Sur region. It’s about 1.6 km (1 mile) long and well known for its occasionally visible purple sand. The colour is a result of the Manganese garnet that erodes down from the hillsides.

pfeiffer beach california sunset
pfeiffer beach

It also features several unique rock formations. Most notable is Keyhole Rock, which has a large keyhole arch in the middle of it. It’s a beautiful sight that’s especially popular with photographers.

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pfeiffer beach big sur california
pfeiffer beach big sur

16. Bixby Creek Bridge

Bixby Creek Bridge is located on the Pacific Coast Highway and is often regarded as the gateway to Big Sur. It opened in 1932 and rises 79 metres (260 feet) above a steep canyon carved by Bixby Creek.

Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Creek Bridge

Its unique, aesthetic design and picturesque location make it one of the most photographed bridges in the state.

Note, this is an active highway with cars. There is no pedestrian path across the bridge so it’s not safe to walk across. You’ll still get a fabulous look at this California landmark by driving your car over it, however.

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Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Creek Bridge

17. Buena Vista Winery

Located in Sonoma, California, Buena Vista Winery is the second oldest winery in the state. It was founded in 1857 and is still located on the original grounds.

Stop in for a tasting and to admire the classic, old-American grandeur. Tours of the facility are also offered and are an excellent way to gain more insight into this historic California landmark.

Buena_Vista_Winery,_Sonoma,_CA
Buena Vista Winery Sonoma CA PC Wikipedia

As you can imagine, the wine here is top-notch. After a tasting, purchase your favourite bottle and make your way to the outside picnic area for an evening of socializing and snacks.

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18. Bubblegum Alley

Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo is a uniquely interesting attraction in California. As the name implies, this landmark is a walkway covered with already chewed gum. Walk down a 4.5 metres (15 feet) high and 21 metres (70 feet) long passageway and see the different layers of colourful gum.

Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo
Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo

Don’t forget to leave your mark on the wall before you leave and snap a photo next to this interesting landmark.

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19. Old Mission Santa Barbara

Old Mission Church in Santa Barbara is a Spanish mission that was founded by Father Fermín Lasuén in 1786.

Old Mission Santa Barbara
Old Mission Santa Barbara

It’s nicknamed the “Queen of the Missions” due to its exceptional beauty. The historic structure contains grand architecture and well-manicured gardens, all with a backdrop of the gorgeous San Ynez Mountains.

Old mission santa barbara
Old mission santa barbara

Travel back in time to California’s earliest days as you explore the colourful grounds, old church, and on-site museum. Discover artefacts, 17th-century art, and re-created rooms of the living quarters.

Self-guided tours are available that give you an inside look into this historic California landmark.

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20. Mission San Diego de Alcalá

Mission San Diego de Alcalá is a historic California landmark. It was founded in 1769 by Spanish friar Junipero Serra (Father Junipero Serra).

Mission San Diego de Alcalá
Mission San Diego de Alcalá

The classic adobe is the first Franciscan mission that was established in California. Although, it was founded when the state was still a province of New Spain.

The area had previously been long inhabited by the Kumeyaay people. When Serra established the mission, its purpose was to convert the natives to Catholicism and serve as a place of worship for the Spanish colonists.

The original mission burned down in 1775 as a result of an uprising by the natives. The current structures were built in the early 19th century. It’s open to the public to tour at their leisure.

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21. Balboa Park

Located in sunny San Diego, Balboa Park is a large landmark that contains many different aspects. The 1,2000-acre urban park is full of open spaces, local vegetation, gardens, and walking paths.

Balboa Park
Balboa Park

There are also plenty of museums, restaurants, shops, several theatres, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

This is the kind of place you’ll want to wear your walking shoes too; there is so much to see and do. You could easily fill a whole day (or more) exploring all the different areas. Don’t forget to pack your camera too, everywhere you look is worthy of a picture.

Tip: when you visit, start your day at the visitor centre and map out your itinerary ahead of time.

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22. Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach is probably what you think of when you picture a typical San Diego beach. Surfers, sunbathers, and swimmers all frequent this pristine stretch of coastline. Extending for 2.4 km (1.5 miles) long, it’s very flat, which makes it great for walking and jogging.

coronado ferry landing view
coronado ferry landing view

The atmosphere is family-friendly. On a nice day, you’re guaranteed to see the beach full of beach towels, bright umbrellas, coolers, and sandcastles. There are lifeguards on duty and restroom and shower facilities are also available.

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coronado beach san diego
coronado beach san diego

23. La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is a small cove and beach surrounded by cliffs in San Diego. It’s part of a marine reserve and below the surface lies a variety of aquatic life.

sea lion at la jolla cove san diego
sea lion at la jolla cove

This makes it very popular with scuba divers, snorkelers, and swimmers. During low tide, a lot of fascinatingly filled tide pools can be seen.

Sea lions also live around the waters of La Jolla Cove. During certain times of day, they leave the water to rest on the beach, cliffs, and bluffs.

la jolla sunset san diego
la jolla sunset

The swells are known for being rather strong, so it’s more suitable for people with good water skills. Although, lifeguards are present every day from about 9:00 am until sunset.

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24. Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose is a very peculiar and interesting California landmark.

Sarah Winchester was the widow of firearms magnate William Wirt Winchester. When her husband died in 1881, she inherited a massive amount of money.

Her income back then was roughly USD $1,000 per day, that’s equivalent to about USD $27,000 per day now.

She used her wealth to begin building a massive mansion. She did not hire an architect and instead added to the house in a very haphazard fashion.

Winchester Mystery House
Winchester Mystery House

She had a crew of labourers working day and night, eventually turning the residence into a seven-story house.

The reason Sarah built in such a crazed style is that a medium had told her to do so. According to the medium, her late husband had given her a message: she needed to continuously build a house for herself and the spirits of the people who had died at the hands of Winchester rifles.

The California mansion contains many oddities. There are doors and stairs that lead nowhere, windows that look onto other rooms and hidden passages.

Many believe the mansion is haunted by the ghosts of the people killed by the rifles her husband created.

The house is designated as a California historical landmark. It’s a major tourist attraction and opens to the public for tours.

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25. Yosemite Falls

Located in the magnificent Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in the valley. Given its size, it’s easy to see from far away.

yosemite falls
yosemite falls

But to really appreciate its power, take one of the hikes that allow you to see all of the incredible vantage points of the falls.

There are two options for seeing the falls up close. The Lower Yosemite Falls Trailhead takes you to the bottom of the falls. It’s a quick and easy hike that’s suitable for all skill levels.

yosemite falls
yosemite falls

There’s also The Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. It leads you to the very top of the falls and offers jaw-dropping views of the entire valley. It’s 12.2 kilometres (7.5 miles) long and rated as difficult. If you’re up for it, it’s very rewarding.

The best time to see Yosemite Falls is in spring when the waterfall reaches its peak.

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26. Half Dome

Another one of Yosemite’s most popular landmarks is Half Dome. This well-known granite rock formation lays on the eastern side of Yosemite Valley.

california_yosemite_glacier-point-5
Half Dome from Glacier Point

It’s named for its unique shape. Three sides are round and smooth, while one side has a sheer face. This makes it look like a dome that’s been cut in half. It shoots straight up for 1,444 metres (4,737 feet) towering above everything else on the valley floor.

california_yosemite_glacier-point-4
Half Dome as seen from Glacier Point

It’s only accessible to climbers, who will need a permit to travel up the dome via cables. It’s truly a bucket list activity and a once in a lifetime experience.

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27. Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is a slice of paradise in Northern California. This freshwater lake is in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, right on the border of California and Nevada. It’s known for many things.

lake tahoe
lake tahoe

It’s one of the purest lakes in the world; the water that flows in is 99.994% pure. To put in perspective how clean that is, distilled water is 99.998% pure. Lake Tahoe is also the largest alpine lake in North America and the second deepest lake in the United States.

This beautiful body of water is surrounded by mountains. It’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and a major tourist attraction all year long.

In the summer, it offers all your typical water activities, like boating, canoeing, kayaking, and swimming. In winter, the mountains that surround it are perfect for skiing, snowboarding, and other snow centred ventures.

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28. Devils Postpile National Monument

Devils Postpile National Monument is located in eastern California, near Mammoth Mountain. This US National Monument is a rare sight to see. The formation is one of the finest examples of columnar-jointed basalt in the world.

It features thousands of hexagonal rock formations that showcase striking symmetry and tower up to 18 metres (60 feet) in the air. They formed 100,000 years ago from a lava flow that slowed, cooled and cracked.

Devils Postpile National Monument
Devils Postpile National Monument

Although it’s much smaller, Devils Postpile National Monument is comparable to the columnar-jointing displays found at Scotlands’ Fingal’s Cave and Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway.

This unique geological structure is only accessible in the summer months (June to August). A shuttle takes visitors to Devils Postpile and other nearby attractions.

You can hop on at the Mammoth Adventure Centre at Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge

From there, you’ll need to take a one-mile round trip hike to see the monument. 

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29. Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park is another scenic park in California. It encompasses an area of protected forests, beaches, and grasslands along the state’s picturesque northern coast.

The most popular point of interest inside this national park is the Redwoods. These trees are nature’s skyscrapers. They can reach a height of more than 107 metres (350 feet) with a diameter of 7 metres (24 feet). They can also live to be 2,000 years old.

redwood national park
redwood national park

They once were found throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere, although today they only reside on the coast, from central California to southern Oregon. 

Redwood National Park is open year-round. There are numerous hiking trails for discovering the mystical beauty of the area. The James Irvine Trail, the Tall Trees Grove Trail, and the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Hike are the best ones for seeing the trees up close.

This California landmark is the perfect place to breathe in the fresh ocean air and enjoy nature.

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30. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect place to admire the beautiful scenery of the California desert. Located in the southern end of the state, it’s famous for its signature twisted Joshua trees and unusual rock formations.

joshua tree park
joshua tree park

Looking to experience some of the best nature experiences in the United States? Check out my posts on the 15 Best Northern California Hot Springs, 13 Best Pumpkin Patches in Arizona, 9 Best Hot Springs in Washington State, 11 Best Pumpkin Patches in Las Vegas, 33 Historical Places in Florida, 3 Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs, 13 Spectacular Sunflower Fields in Long Island, 11 Pumpkin Patches in Houston, 13 Sunflower Fields in Illinois, 13 Hot Springs Oregon, 15 Stunning Sunflower fields in New Jersey, 13 Best Pumpkin Patches in San Diego, 10 Best Places for Hot Springs in the USA, 6 Best States to see Sunflower Fields in the United States, 15 Gorgeous Sunflower Fields in California, 15 Best Places for Cherry Picking in Michigan, 23 Hot Springs In Nevada, Radium Hot Springs Colorado, 29 Hot Springs in Montana, 21 Sunflower Fields in Ohio, 13 Best Hot Springs in Pagosa Springs, 7 Stunning Sunflower fields in Minnesota, 29 Hot Springs of New Mexico, 29 Idaho Hot Springs and 11 Terrific Texas Sunflower Fields.

They’re set amongst a vast desert landscape. The park’s oldest rocks are called Pinto Gneiss, some of them were formed about 1.7 billion years ago.

An interesting fact about Joshua Tree National Park is that it contains two desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado. This adds to the variety of plants and animals that inhabit the area.

This national park is popular with hikers, campers, and climbers. There are nine official campgrounds. Backcountry camping is also allowed for those who wish to backpack.

There are a variety of hiking trails suitable for all different fitness levels.

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31. Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point is located in Death Valley National Park. It offers an elevated panorama look out over the desert and some stunning rock formations.

You’ll be able to admire a landscape full of colour, depth, and contrast. It’s a phenomenal place to view the sunrise and sunset.

Zabriskie Point
Zabriskie Point

⇒ If you’re enjoying this article you’ll love my articles on 15 North America Landmarks, the 10 Most Famous Landmarks in the US, 7 Most Beautiful Bridges American Bridges, 60 Most Famous Landmarks in the World, 9 Gorgeous Lakes Canada has on offer, 23 Must See Landmarks in Mexico, 15 Most Beautiful States in the US, 31 California Landmarks, 16 Most Beautiful Cities in Canada, 17 Washington DC Landmarks Not to Miss, 11 Beautiful Canada Landmarks and the 20 Most Beautiful Cities in the United States.

The parking lot for Zabriskie Point is located right next to the lookout, so you’ll be able to walk right from your car to the viewpoint.

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California Landmarks | Final Thoughts

There are so many wonderful California landmarks to see in this beautiful state. From impressive bridges to unique houses to historic structures, you’ll be spoiled for choice.

You’ll find plenty of options in the bigger cities, like San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. But the small towns and national parks also contain many interesting landmarks worth visiting.

Hopefully, you now have a few in mind that you can add to your next California vacation itinerary.

california sunset
california sunset

⇒ Interested in heading to California? Check out my posts on Unique Restaurants in San Francisco, 15 Gorgeous Sunflower fields in California, Things to do in Calistoga review of the great Solage Spa, 19 awesome places to watch San Diego Sunsets, visiting Yosemite in One Day, 15 Best Northern California Hot Springs, 15 Best Places to Watch San Francisco Sunsets, 10 Stunning Sunsets in California and in Yosemite in October, 31 California Landmarks and my guide to a Livermore Wine Tasting.

I covered all of the costs associated with writing this article. However, this California landmarks post includes affiliate links. That means if you click through and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. I wanted to make sure you were aware of this.

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