The 15 Most Beautiful Places in California You Didn’t Know Existed

From The 15 Most Beautiful Places in California You Didn’t Know Existed

Published on 7/20/2015

By Grant Marek



From Yosemite and Big Sur, to Joshua Tree and Santa Barbara, California is home to some of the most beautiful places on the West Coast, nay, the country, nay, THE WORLD, okay reverse nay, still just the country. It’s beautiful enough, that no matter how many Half Dome hikes you take, you’re still never even going to scratch the surface of all the Instagrammable wonder the Golden State has to offer.

But that doesn’t mean we’re not gonna help you try: here are the 15 most beautiful places in California you didn’t even know existed.

1. The cypress “tree tunnel”

Point Reyes
Located in between the Pacific Ocean and Tomales Bay (and inside of the Point Reyes National Seashore) you’ll find this Monterey cypress “tree tunnel” that leads to an old Point Reyes wireless telegraphy receiving station built in the 1920s. Doesn’t matter if you catch it with a patch of early morning fog enveloping either end, or with the afternoon light breaking through its interlocked branches, either way, you’ll feel like you’ve won the damn day.

2. Alamere Falls
Point Reyes
Oh this? It’s just a waterfall. THAT FLOWS DIRECTLY INTO THE OCEAN. A rare “tidefall,” it’s found by following the Coast Trail from the Palomarin Trailhead on a 8.5-mile round-trip hike. Pro tip: stop at Bass Lake along the way if you’re into rope swings. (Editor’s Note: You’re into rope swings.)

3. Bowling Ball Beach
Point Arena
Named after the spherical sandstone creations, which look like bowling balls (and also, just regular balls), Bowling Ball Beach is located way the hell up Hwy 1. If the tide level is just right, this is one of the most SWTF (Seriously What The Fuck) things in California.
4. The Glory Hole
Lake Berryessa
The California drought has kinda ruined this one, but when the water levels are right and you’re near the east side of the Monticello Dam at Lake Berryessa, this open bell-mouth spillway (basically what lets them release flows of dam water into Putah Creek) is one of the coolest things you’ll ever stare into (from a very, VERY safe distance) in your life. Creepy bonus: the lake was the site of one of the Zodiac murders!

5. La Tour
Laguna Beach
Turns out, Orange County’s only “lighthouse” (known as “Pirate Tower” to locals) was actually a 60ft structure built in 1926 to help California State Senator William E. Brown get from his home on the top of the cliff to the beach below (there’s a metal staircase inside). Today, it’s home to Westley and Princess Buttercup (or something).

6. Painted Canyons
Located about an hour southeast of Palm Springs, this is hands down one of the most unique California “hikes” you’ll ever go on, largely because it’s a LADDER hike (!) through a narrow and actually really refreshingly cold gorge formed years ago by the San Andreas Fault. The whole “Painted Canyons” name is thanks to the walls, which are washed with pinks, reds, grays, browns, and greens — especially when you first pull into the canyon. Bonus: a few years back, some wonderful person replaced the wood ladders with metal ones. (Thank God.)
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7. Natural Bridges
Known to geology nerds as a “karst,” the Natural Bridges were formed when the rushing waters of Coyote Creek eroded through a layer of soluble bedrock and created this Aladdin-caliber Cave of Wonders. Best part? If you really want to explore this thing (and you can), you’re gonna need a bathing suit. Basically if you’re going to California Gold Country, you’ll want to also be going to here.
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8. Pfeiffer Beach
Big Sur
McWay Falls (NorCal tidefall No. 2!!) gets a lot of the Big Sur attention — as it should, it’s freaking ridiculous — as does Bixby Bridge (also great), but Pfeiffer Beach might actually be the gem-ier gem. Not only does it have THE INSANE ROCK FORMATION PICTURED ABOVE (get an Insta of the keyhole at sunset if you want to set a new likes record), but it also has purple sand. Yep. Purple. Sand.
9. Fern Canyon
Gold Bluffs Beach
Steven Spielberg chose this as the location for The Lost World: Jurassic Park because 1) holy crap look at it, 2) it’s an international Biosphere Reserve (what does that even mean???), and 3) it’s a narrow gorge carved out by Home Creek with walls hugged by seven types of ferns, some of which date back 325 million years. It’s a short trail, so double back on it. Twice. Okay fine, thrice.
10. The Seven Tea Cups
One of the coolest natural wonders of the Sierras, the Seven Tea Cups has been described as one of the world’s (WORLD’S!) most spectacular canyoneering challenges. And that’s the rub on this one — you need, like, ropes and stuff to climb it. But if you do (or find a friend who knows what the hell they’re doing and can, like, carry you up or something) you’ll be rewarded on the way back down, which awesome people have been known to awesomely take inflatable killer whales and alligators down (just, duh, make sure the water depth is chill before you kill yourself). This is a must-read if you’re gonna actually try this thing. And you should. Because holy shit look at this thing guys. LOOK AT IT.
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11. Glass Beach
Fort Bragg
While years of dumping Fort Bragg garbage along the coastline in the ’50s and ’60s was mostly the worst thing ever, it wasn’t totally and entirely, thanks to Glass Beach — a beach filled almost entirely with sea glass. Just don’t take any of it with you — because of souvenir hunters and the waves (which are constantly grinding down the glass), it’s actually diminishing. Don’t be that guy.

12. Mossbrae Falls
Yep. That’s in California. One of the most scenic waterfalls in the Golden State, Mossbrae Falls are fed by springs, which course down a moss-covered canyon wall and create this eye-bulger. Just make sure you use the right access point — one of the trails is closed.

13. Enchanted Forest
Shady Dell
This way WAY Northern California redwood forest on the Lost Coast is like any other redwood forest, except it’s known as the Enchanted Forest (!!!) and is home to the insane candelabra trees you see above/three fairy godmothers who’re trying to keep Princess Aurora safe. Maybe. Seriously though, the Lost Coast is one of the true gems of California, and this right here is one of the true gems of the Lost Coast.

14. Poppy Reserve
Antelope Valley
Fields of the California state flower, literally for as far as you can see. It’s one of those things that makes you feel incredibly small in the grand scheme of things.

15. Zabriskie Point
Death Valley
Ninety-nine percent of Death Valley is super death-y. But 1% — this 1% — comes alive. Named after a VP of an old borax company who used 20-mule teams to transport borax (Wikipedia-five!), it’s maybe the most beautiful-looking rock place in the entire state. Also it was featured prominently on U2’s The Joshua Tree album cover. So there’s that.

Grant Marek is Thrillist’s Senior Cities Director and is blowing up his inflatable killer whale right now. Offer to carry him up the Seven Tea Cups on Twitter at @grant_marek.

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