Summer is the season for saying yes. Yes to spontaneous hikes, boho festivals, and expeditions to find the best secret swimming spots. Summer events in California are always bathed in happiness and sunshine, and it's the best time of year to get outside and appreciate California's natural beauty.
Make the most of the sunny season. Here are five of the best things to do in California during the summer.
1. Go to a summer camping festival
If you’re at a loose end and wondering what to do in California in the summer, a festival is always an excellent option. California summer music is sunshine in sound form. So braid your hair, dab sparkles all over your body, and make the pilgrimage to sun-soaked campgrounds in your camping vehicle.
Our five favorite summer festivals in California are:
- Joshua Tree Music Festival – This bi-annual festival is a colorful celebration of music, creativity, and community in one of California's most beautiful locations. It's both family and camping friendly, with plenty of art and yoga to complement the music.
- Beyond Wonderland – A visually spectacular electronic music festival, Beyond Wonderland is an immersive experience.
- Northern Nights – Taking place in Cook's Valley, just 3.5 hours north of San Francisco, this is a festival for anyone who loves nature, art, music, and a peaceful, loving environment.
- High Sierra Music Festival – High Sierra is a multi-day music festival held in the mountains. It's held each weekend on the weekend of July 4 and has been held since 1991.
- Lightning in a Bottle – Held on the Central Coast Region, this is a dynamic and multi-genre music festival. It's a true feel-good experience as the whole festival is centered around sustainability and cultural respect. Grab one of our camping festival packages and make it happen!
2. Go swimming
Cool off with a dip in one of California’s many rivers, lakes, and hidden swimming spots. There is nearly always somewhere within driving distance, and you can often combine your swim with a short walk in nature to refresh and cleanse soul and body!
We’ve got a great list of summer swimming spots in California. Here are our top five:
- Lake Tahoe – Emerald Bay is a prime location with brilliant turquoise water.
- American River – This is an awesome spot for activities like white water rafting, or lounging about on the beach near Watt Avenue.
- Russian River – the ‘secret spot’ you’ll have to ask locals to find!
- Cleo’s Bath – you’ll have to hike for four miles to reach this swimming hole, which makes the water feel even more delicious!
- McCloud River – Upper Falls is the most secluded and refreshing location on the waterfall-tiered river.
3. Go camping
When you’re scratching around for things to do in California in August, just start looking up camping spots. Camping is an awesome way to experience more of the outdoors, and if you’re not keen on sleeping a tent you can take a mini RV and enjoy the glamping lifestyle instead (pro tip – JUCY mini RVs have a fridge in the back to store your cold drinks).
For fantastic camping, here's where to go in California summer:
- Lake Siskiyou –The best camping in California with kids can be found at Lake Siskiyou Resort & Camp. This campground is right near the pretty lake that sits at the foot of Mount Shasta, and there are opportunities for relaxed swimming, low-speed boating, and even fishing.
- Redwood National and State Parks – There are four developed campgrounds where you can stay with an RV. Bookings are essential in summer.
- Lake Tahoe – There are dozens of campgrounds campgrounds to choose from, as well as beaches and hiking trails galore. One of the best places to camp right by the water is Meeks Bay.
- California's Big Sur – Some of the best coastal camping in California is found in Big Sur, where bluffs overlook the Pacific Ocean.
- Crystal Cove – A beautiful area of natural seashore and open space in Orange County, the miles of beach are a great backdrop for camping. This is fabulous family-friendly camping in California.
4. Visit A National Park
Escape the summer heat in the cool shade of national park forests. Going for a walk or short hike in a national park is the ideal way to make the most of sunny summer days, with the added bonus of swimming and camping opportunities on the way. On certain days out of the year, you can even visit national parks free!
The best five national parks to visit in California summer are:
- Yosemite National Park – you simply can’t beat the stunning beauty of Yosemite. Whether on foot or behind the wheel, Yosemite is the place to go in California summer.
- Lassen Volcano National Park – There are dozens of hiking trails to the volcanic features of this stunning park. Plus, one of the best summer festivals in California is the Lassen Dark Sky Festival, which celebrates the mystery and beauty of the night sky.
- Pinnacles National Park – The unique landscape of canyons, caves, and rocky spires is a delight to explore. Bear Gulch and Balconies Cave are two narrow canyon walks that have plenty of shade in summer.
- Sequoia National Park – The ideal destination for a summer road trip, the massive trees in this park mean there is plenty of shade for visitors even in the heat of summer.
- Channel Islands National Park – The five small islands off the coast of Southern California have walks to lighthouses, clifftop lookout points, sea caves, and seal colonies. This is a true nature escape with great swimming opportunities.
5. Go on a road trip
Most of the things to do over the summer in California involve hopping in a car, so why not make a proper road trip out of the journey! It might end up being just as good as the destination!
If you’ve got itchy feet and you’re wondering where to go in summer in California, check out these five incredible road trip destinations:
- Pacific Coast Highway from San Jose to Santa Barbara – With stops along the way like Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Big Sur, you'll want to make this a multi-day trip.
- South Lake Tahoe to Lone Pine – Head south on Highway 395 through the High Sierra to explore some of California's best natural wonders. Stop off at Mammoth Lakes for some great hiking, or Mono Lake Tufa State Scenic Reserve to see a salty lake and bizarre rock formations.
- Rim of the World Scenic Byway – State Highway 18 runs through the San Bernadino Mountains, ending at Big Bear Lake. the panoramic cliff-top views make this one of the most scenic drives in California.
- San Francisco to Napa Valley – Easily doable in a day, cruising out of town into the lush wine region of Napa is a true summer treat. You can customize your road trip by visiting any vineyards that take your fancy! Follow the Silverado Trail through Napa Valley from Napa Town to Calistoga for a truly spectacular jaunt through some of the best wineries around.
- Fresno to Cedar Grove – Cruising along State Route 180 takes you through fields of fruit and nut trees before climbing into King's Canyon National Park. Enjoy impressive mountain vistas the length of the drive.