There are hundreds of lists of things to do in the USA, or individual states like California, but we’ve come up with one thing in every state plus D.C. in 21 different categories. Truly something for everyone, from historic places to foods you have to try, from the downright quirky to amazing museums, and from weird places to stay to fun things to do. Our primary criteria were we have or want to see them, and they are things you can physically visit or try.
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Historic Place: Alcatraz
The Rock was the inescapable prison, sitting in San Francisco Bay, surrounded by deep water and powerful currents that no-one ever officially escaped. Now you can tour this historic facility, learn about the inmates, the escape attempts and admire the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline.
Famous Person: Walk of Fame
Why have one famous person, when you can have over 2,600! The brainchild of E. M. Stuart, it took seven years for the idea to become a reality. The first star to be laid was for Stanley Kramer on 28th March 1960. Notable stars are the moon “star” for the Apollo astronauts to the only star not on the ground, that of Muhammed Ali
Natural Wonder: Avenue of Giants
Drive through towering redwood trees with some big enough to drive a car through. The original Route 101 is now maintained as State Route 254 so we can still enjoy the incredible sight of some of the world’s tallest trees close up.
Food & Drink: Fish Tacos and A&W
Fish Tacos originated in Baja California in Mexico, but are now a firm favourite of the California further north. Grilled or fried fish, lettuce, salsa, sour cream or mayonnaise all wrapped up in a tortilla. Try it with a Root Beer from California’s A&W.
Factory Tour: Warner Bros. Studio Tour
California’s most famous export – the movies. Seeing behind the magic is incredibly interesting, how many of your favourite films and TV shows might you see traces of. After the tour, there is an interesting museum that includes interactive exhibits to demonstrate some of the tricks the industry uses.
Man Made: Golden Gate Bridge
One of the most recognisable bridges in the world is the Golden Gate bridge. This Art Deco bridge opened in 1937 to span the entrance to San Francisco Bay and was the longest suspension bridge in the world for 27 years until 1964.
Record Breaking: World’s Largest Tree
Nicknamed the General Sherman, this is officially the world’s largest tree by volume.
Quirky Record: World’s Tallest Thermometer
Commemorating the record temperature of 134°F (57°C) in Death Valley, this thermometer was created for Willis Heron, a local baker, and cost $700,000. It stands 134 feet (41m) high and uses nearly 5,000 lamps to display the temperature.
Activity: Gaze at the stars
At the Griffith Observatory you can look through professional grade telescopes out into the night sky. Perhaps you’ll get a closer view of a neighbouring planet or be able to see a galaxy, far, far, away.
Photo by Raymond M. Coveney
Atlas Obscura: Racetrack Playa
Map Death Valley National Park; Inyo County, California
Rocks that move all by themselves? Leaving a trail behind them like some kind of stone snail? Well, yes! It took a long time to prove and work out how, but these rocks really do move across the lake bed due to forces of nature.
Most Visited: Disneyland
Probably the world’s best known theme park, this is the only theme park designed and built under the supervision of Walt Disney himself. With eight themed lands to explore, dozens of rides to enjoy, parades featuring classic characters and shows to watch, you can’t be bored in the Magic Kingdom.
State/National Park: Yosemite
Admire the great valley, gaze at waterfalls, go on a day hike through giant sequoias or maybe stumble across some wildlife – the possibilities are endless at Yosemite.
Event: Kinetic Grand Championship
Far more than just a parade, more of an endurance event for the participants, this annual event starts in Arcata Square in the morning. The teams and their kinetic sculptures are first judged before being released at noon. Then they head fifty miles over three days in a gruelling, but fun, attempt to be the kinetic champion.
Different Place to Stay: Queen Mary
Once the pride of Cunard Line and the fastest ship across the Atlantic, the Queen Mary counted the rich, famous and royalty as passengers. The ship is now a floating museum, hotel and conference venue. Taking a tour of the ship shows some of the opulence the guests enjoyed, the art deco interior and its time as a troopship during WWII.
Different Place to Eat: Kansas City Barbeque
The place where the infamous “sleazy” bar scene from Top Gun was filmed, with the main characters singing “Great Balls of Fire”. The walls are covered with pictures and quotes from the film and the big neon “Top Gun” sign in the window meant we just had to stop for lunch.
Have Some Fun: Ride a Cable Car
San Francisco’s famous cable cars just have to be ridden; the skill it takes to control gripping the cable that runs beneath the street is amazing. Add in all the traffic, the fact the cars have to stop at junctions and give way, PLUS all those hills; well, I tip my hat to the drivers!
Film Location: E.T.
Map 7121 Lonzo St, Tujunga, California 91042
Elliott’s house from the Spielberg classic E.T. This is where the family lived in the movie, where E.T. was discovered in the back garden, and which was covered in plastic once the authorities got involved.
Map Mount Whitney | Badwater Rd, Death Valley, California 92328
Both the highest point in the contiguous United States (Mount Whitney 14,494 ft) and the lowest point in North American Continent (Badwater Basin in Death Valley -282 ft) are in California and they are less than 90 miles apart as the crow flies.
Something Different: Android Statues / Apple Mothership
We’re not going to take sides in the smartphone war! So if you love Android, head to the statue garden to see all those cute robots they make for each release of the OS. If you prefer Apple, then a visit to the Mothership is a must; you can even buy a t-shirt so everyone knows you went!
Museum: Computer History Museum
Ancient history in computing is owning last year’s smartphone! But here you’ll see a view of older history than that, and just how far computing has come. The museum traces the history of computing from 2,000 years ago through to the present day.
Scenic Drive: Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur
The coast hugging road from Monterey to Los Angeles through Big Sur is a momentous drive. Stunning bridges, beautiful cliffs, the Pacific Ocean just feet away – it all adds up to one amazing drive.
Don’t miss McWay Falls; it’s one of the most beautiful waterfalls we’ve ever seen.
We’d love to hear what you think. What did we miss? What do you think we should have chosen instead?
If we love your idea, we might just swap it into the list, if we like it, maybe will give it an honourable mention; either way we’ll be sure to give you credit, AND add it to our list of things to see and do when we are in the area.
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