SoCal is world-renowned for its broad sandy beaches, perpetual sunshine, and ultra laid-back culture — but that’s just the beginning.
This picturesque and diverse slice of the world is loaded with unique landmarks, epic landscapes, and eclectic attractions. From sea caves accessible only during low tide to natural hot springs and even a pirate tower, here’s the ultimate Southern California bucket list.
10 Things to Put on Your Southern California Bucket List
Southern California is filled with amazing places to visit and natural wonders to explore. Here are our top 10 SoCal bucket list destinations.
1. La Jolla Sea Caves
La Jolla’s rugged sea cliffs are among the most famous Southern California nature attractions, but there’s more here than meets the eye — you can actually explore seven hidden sea caves! All but one are accessible via water only, and the most popular (and safest!) option is kayaking. While you can paddle the caves on your own, it’s highly recommended to go with a tour company, as the tide can be unpredictable and somewhat dangerous.
2. Salton Sea
The Salton Sea is so unique, it should be on everyone’s SoCal bucket list! Once the go-to weekend destination for Hollywood elite, this area is desolate today. The sea is one of the largest inland seas in the world, but its saline levels are so high that nothing can survive in it. Spend a day visiting the area, which includes attractions such as boiling mud pools, hiking trails, eclectic art communities, the Bombay Beach ruins, and famed Salvation Mountain.
3. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Near the Salton Sea, California’s largest state park, Anza-Borrego offers visitors plenty to see and do. There’s off-roading, spectacular badlands to explore, slot canyons and wind caves you can hike, camping, and perhaps best of all, stargazing. Anza-Borrego is an International Dark Sky Park, meaning its skies are exceptionally clean, clear, and dark.
4. Saltwater Pools at 1,000 Steps Beach, South Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach is a Southern California bucket list destination itself, but the concrete saltwater pools are on another level. The sun heats the near-century-old pools, making them warmer than the ocean! The best part, though, is getting to them. You have to first find parking along PCH, then either swim a long way or climb through a cave — which is safe only at low tide. Check a tide table before you decide when to go.
5. Pirate Tower at Victoria Beach
Also in Laguna Beach, the “pirate tower” is a unique landmark worthy of your SoCal bucket list. The 60-foot tower contains a staircase and was built into the cliffs in 1926. It was built as private beach access for a nearby estate, but there’s one problem: the tower floods with water at high tide. Today, the tower is locked, but you can still visit for a great photo op — just make sure it’s at low tide.
6. Deep Creek Hot Springs
These natural hot springs in the San Bernardino National Forest are some of the best Southern California nature attractions. To visit the five natural hot spring pools, you’ll have to hike in. There are two trail options: the strenuous 2.5-mile Bowen Ranch Trail or the (longer but easier) 6-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Note that Deep Creek has long been considered clothing optional.
7. Catalina Island
No Southern California bucket list is complete without Catalina Island! An adventure lover’s paradise, Catalina offers hiking, biking, boating, fishing, off-roading, kayaking, diving, and more — even zip-lining! For those looking for a more relaxed experience, the island also has plenty of spas, shopping, museums, and beaches. The best way to get to Catalina is a one-hour ferry from Dana Point, Long Beach, Newport, or San Pedro.
8. Red Rock Canyon State Park
Situated between two California national parks, Sequoia and Death Valley, Red Rock Canyon State Park is an often-overlooked hidden gem. The towering red cliffs, striped with the signs of erosion, are a landscape much more typical of the American Southwest. The park’s main attraction is hiking, and most trails are short and easy enough that you could hike two or even three in one visit.
9. Lava Tube in Mojave National Preserve
After a long, rough drive on a dirt road and a much shorter, smoother quarter-mile hike, you’ll find one of the neatest Southern California nature attractions: a lava tube. For anyone unfamiliar, a lava tube is essentially a cave that forms underneath an active lava flow. Once inside the tube, you’ll want to watch the way light filters through the two “skylights.”
10. Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park is so little known that it may surprise some to learn it’s just off the SoCal coast. And that’s exactly why it’s Southern California bucket list-worthy. Each of the five islands offers something unique. For example, hike to a 1932 lighthouse on Anacapa Island or explore massive sea caves on Santa Cruz Island. The only way to get to the islands is via an Island Packers boat.
Cruise Your Way Through Your SoCal Bucket List
Whether you plan to visit one or all 10 of these Southern California bucket list destinations, consider getting a Cruise America RV rental to make the trip even better. With over a dozen SoCal pickup locations, you can start wherever (and whenever!) you want. Safe travels!