20 of the best places to vacation in California

20 of the best places to vacation in California

November 05, 2018

we believe a vacation home is a great accommodation choice when visiting California. You’ll enjoy extra living space, a full kitchen, and amenities like a pool, hot tub, or private outdoor area. So in choosing these ideal California getaways, we found the cities and towns that have some of the highest-quality rentals and top review scores from our travelers. Past guests are raving about the rental properties in these California hotspots.
Without further ado, here are 20 of the best places to vacation in California, where your accommodation and itinerary won’t disappoint.


Sonoma boasts dozens of award-winning wineries (and great tours to see them all) and stylishly laid-back vibes at a more affordable cost than its neighbor Napa. After long days of wine and cheese tastings or bike rides through coastal redwood forests, come back to the comforts of your Sonoma vacation rental, among some of the best-rated in the Golden State. From modern townhouses in the historic downtown or cozy beachfront cottages by the bay.

 Big Bear Lake

Visit Big Bear Lake, and you’re in for an adventurous vacation—there’s no question about that. Exactly what you’ll be doing, however, depends on the season. Book a cozy cabin during the winter, and you might be riding the lifts, learning to snowboard or sledding after dark at one of the area’s two ski resorts; reserve a lake house during the summer, and you might be mountain biking, Go-Kart racing or renting a pontoon from the local marina.

Marina del Rey

Marina del Rey is one of the best places to vacation in California according to traveler rental reviews. The laid-back vibes and year-round sunshine set the scene for full days of paddle-boarding, surfing, or sailing down the Pacific coastline, with long evenings spent dancing and dining under the stars. And if you want to explore a little further afield, there are local tours to help—helicopter over LA anyone? Vacation homes range from luxury condos overlooking the ocean to rustic houseboats on the bay.

San Clemente

San Clemente is best known for its world-class surf, but century-old Spanish-style buildings and a newly trending downtown lend cultural charm to this otherwise classic beach town. Beach bums will feel right at home lingering at the ice cream shacks just above the high-tide line. You’ll find that San Clemente is one of the best California vacation spots for sun and surf—the ideal mix for a West Coast escape. Your perfect vacation rental tops off the trip by providing a home away from home. When dinner time strikes, consider stocking up the fridge and having a BBQ on your rental’s private porch.


Anaheim is the obvious landing pad for your family-friendly California vacation. As the gateway to all-things Disneyland, this southern California city is a hit among children—as well as those who are just young at heart! An Anaheim rental can save you money compared to staying at the theme park resorts. Beyond the parks, Anaheim caters to all types of visitors with over 10,000 restaurants and close access to the beach and LAX.


High-class resorts meet family fun in Carlsbad, one of the best places to vacation in California—with top-notch rental options to boot. Choose to sunbathe poolside at one of the area’s upscale hangout spots, kayak and hike in the area’s numerous state parks, join a bike tour, or take the whole family to Sea Life Aquarium and Legoland for some kid-friendly fun.

Laguna Beach

A southern California classic famous for good surf and ocean views, Laguna Beach doesn’t disappoint as one of the best places to vacation in California. This small town packs in the charm with a boutique-filled downtown, art galleries galore, and a seven-mile-long stretch of pristine shoreline, all topped off by an abundance of vacation rentals from beach-chic to quiet and cozy that match your budget and style.


Gather your friends and get your beach fix in Oceanside, one of California’s great beachfront vacation spots. Known for its laid-back vibe and beautiful weather, this gem is central to all the activities SoCal has to offer. Bike the San Luis Rey River Trail, take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Mission San Luis Rey, play a round of 18 at La Costa Resort, or join a whale-watching cruise. The perks of staying in a rental add up fast. You’ll spend less by sharing the cost with friends or family—not to mention the cooking duties!—which means extra cash for happy hour drinks and jet ski rentals.

Santa Cruz

Redwood forests, beachfront entertainment, and world-class surf strike the perfect balance of crowd-pleasing activities on your trip to Santa Cruz. Spacious vacation rentals here—often including amenities like bicycles and wet suits—are some of the top-rated in the state and make this one of the best places to spend your California vacation. Nature enthusiasts will love gazing at the redwoods in Henry Cowell State Park, while beach-goers can try their hand at surfing with an expert lesson.

San Diego

For many travelers, San Diego is love at first sight. Take a stroll through the trendy downtown “Gaslamp Quarter” (with walking tours, pub crawls, and food tastings all available to pre-book), or head to the beaches and cliffs of La Jolla Cove. San Diego effortlessly combines laid-back beach vibes with city sights, plus offers kid-friendly activities and a large art scene, making it one of the best places to visit in California. 

Huntington Beach

If you’re looking for a vacation that looks like this—wake up, surf, chill, repeat—look no further than Huntington Beach. Nicknamed “Surf City,” this small beach town upholds its reputation as one of the best surf breaks in California, with an easygoing surfer culture to go with it. Vacation rentals add to the allure, with amenities like private outdoor areas (overlooking the water, perhaps) and relaxing jacuzzis all within walking distance to the famous local beach. To explore a little further, try a tour of Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, and Newport Beach.

Paso Robles

Paso Robles offers up wine without the expense and crowds that come with wine country. Get a taste of the good life with a vacation rental nearby the emerging downtown scene, complete with boutiques and eateries, or wander to the outskirts and select a county home with endless horizons and vineyard views. 

Newport Beach

Picking out your vacation rental is a breeze in Newport Beach, where almost every property is within a couple blocks of the sand and sea. This is great news for anyone with a love of swimming and surfing, while those who would rather stay dry can still enjoy the city’s diverse arts offerings (including the well-known Newport Beach Film Festival) and old school piers. Dolphin-watching cruises are popular here, and you can up the romance factor with a gondola tour of Newport Harbor.

Yosemite National Park

One of California’s most iconic spots for adventure vacations, Yosemite National Park is a pilgrimage place for outdoors-lovers. Get your heart pounding on a guided hike in the High Sierra, or climb the steep path up Half Dome, an exposed rock peak that’s a Yosemite Valley rite of passage. It’s not all so hair-raising, though: after a long day on the trail, find a shady spot by the Merced River to soak your feet. With many peaks and trails to choose, we recommend booking a tour beforehand to ensure everything goes smoothly during your visit to Yosemite. 

South Lake Tahoe

Year-round appeal sets South Lake Tahoe apart from other California vacation destinations. Visit in the winter for skiing and snowboarding, or come during warmer months for water sports, hiking, and sunbathing. No matter when you choose to visit, a broad selection of outdoor activities and highly-rated vacation rentals make South Lake Tahoe one of the best places to stay in California.

Bodega Bay

One of the most beautiful, albeit underrated vacation spots in California, Bodega Bay is made all the better with vacation rental options overlooking the ocean or the popular local golf course. It’s close to great hiking trails if you’re seeking some exercise, but nothing beats the peacefulness of Bodega Bay—which will be hard to ignore when you’re chilling out on your rental’s private patio taking in the sunny coastal views.

Dana Point 

Dana Point meets your beach vacation expectations with water sports, beachfront nature reserves, and a harbor pier full of fresh restaurants and boutique shopping. Vacation rentals with barbecue pits and ocean views make for an ideal getaway on California’s Riviera.


Riverfront vacation rentals nestled among California redwoods await you in Cazadero, an off-the-beaten-path community on the outskirts of wine country. Comb empty coastal beaches and hike through picturesque forests during the day, then return to your rental for a glass of local wine by the starlight at night. 


Just outside Yosemite National Park, Groveland offers close access to one of the most popular parks in the United States without the larger crowds. The town’s history as a gold mining camp makes for points of historical interest and a taste of old settler culture. Many rentals here are located in the Pine Mountain Lake community, which means access to the Pine Mountain Lake Marina, a popular spot for water activities and picnics.

Mammoth Lakes

Settled high in the Eastern Sierras, Mammoth Lakes is your go-to spot for outdoor adventure. Your vacation home serves as a base camp for high alpine treks, winter ski trips, and long days fishing out on the lake. 

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