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Things to do in Central Valley, California

Our most recommended things to do in Central Valley, California

Monterey Bay: Whale Watching Tour

1. Monterey Bay: Whale Watching Tour

Discover a variety of whale species in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary on this cruise from Monterey. Uncover one of the world’s best locations for whale watching due to its deep submarine canyon close to shore. With whales spotted almost every day, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Set sail from the Old Fisherman’s Wharf. Catch a glimpse of the hundreds of Californian Sea Lions inside the harbor as the boat leaves the dock. Take advantage of the view and snap a photo to capture the memory. Pass the historic Cannery Row as you leave the harbor and enter the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Search for feeding humpback whales, a variety of dolphin species, porpoises, blue whales, and fin whales. Listen as the onboard biologist provides fascinating insights into the creatures of the bay and what is being done to protect them. During the summer/ fall season, the tour will focus on feeding whales that come to the bay to feast on small fish and krill. Spot humpback whales daily but keep an eye out for blue whales, fin whales, gray whales (finishing migration), orcas and a variety of other dolphin species. During the winter season, the tour will focus on migrating whales at the south end of Monterey Bay where gray whales pass by. Return to your starting point at the end of your tour.

From San Francisco: Yosemite Park Guided Day Trip

2. From San Francisco: Yosemite Park Guided Day Trip

Escape the crowds of San Francisco on a full-day guided tour to Yosemite National Park. See highlights, including Yosemite Falls and Inspiration Point. Enjoy seamless travel in a bio-fueled mini-coach. Heading east across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge offers great views of the San Francisco skyline, Alcatraz Island, Fisherman's Wharf, and the Golden Gate Bridge. En route to the park the tour crosses through the Central Valley, where you will stop at a fruit stand for some local produce. Famous for its rich volcanic soil, the Central Valley is the largest agricultural region in the United States. The section the tour drives through is best known for specialty fruits and nuts such as almonds, walnuts, cherries, and strawberries. After this quick rest stop, you will enter the rolling foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. Continuing into the mountains brings you to California gold country and the gold rush town of Groveland before the tour winds its way into Yosemite National Park. On your 1.5-hour narrated coach tour of Yosemite's glaciated valley, you will see famous waterfalls and rock formations including Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America. Continue on past El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, Sentinel Dome, and much more. During the tour you will see Yosemite Valley from a number of great vantage points, the best of which is perhaps Inspiration Point. After the tour, you will stop for the afternoon near the base of Yosemite Falls. If you have not already picked up picnic supplies, there are many options for getting lunch in the park. You will have 3-4 hours of free time to explore the valley as you choose. You can walk to the base of Yosemite Falls, check out the visitor center, visit the Ansel Adams Gallery, stop in at the Ahwahnee Hotel, rent a cruiser bike, or hike some of the trails that originate from the valley. Although you could easily spend 3 weeks in Yosemite, the 3 hours you get on your own is enough time to understand why Yosemite is one of America's most popular national parks.

From San Francisco: Yosemite National Park Full-Day Trip

3. From San Francisco: Yosemite National Park Full-Day Trip

Spend an active, fun-filled day learning why Yosemite is one of America’s most popular national parks. Hike through the park with an experienced guide and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature on this tour. Start off by making your way east from San Francisco and heading across the Bay Bridge. Continue toward the Sierras and into the mountains. Learn about California’s rich history as you pass through some of the first settlements built during the Gold Rush. Arrive in Yosemite National Park for a 2.5-mile round-trip hike to see the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias. Be prepared for a strenuous hike, descending 400 feet into the grove, before turning around and trekking back up. Next, cruise into the famous Yosemite Valley to take in views of Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, and more. Capture breathtaking photos at Tunnel View and take in the eastern expanse of Yosemite Valley. Then, enjoy 1.5 hours of free time to explore on your own. You can meander down paved paths, hike around Yosemite Falls, engage further with the park’s history at the visitor’s center, or visit the Ansel Adams Gallery. In the late afternoon, you’ll depart for San Francisco, stopping for a short break before arriving back in the city. Arrive back at your hotel in the late evening to sleep off the day’s adventures.

From San Francisco: Yosemite National Park

4. From San Francisco: Yosemite National Park

Travel through the Great Central Valley into the Sierra Foothills where Forty-Niners panned for Gold. Follow the beautiful Merced River to the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains. Glaciers cut through these mountains forming spectacular granite monuments you will see throughout the park. Spend a total of 4 hours within the Yosemite National Park: 1-hour on a guided tour and 3 hours to explore on your own. There is the option of selecting a Chinese-speaking guide on certain days. Take advantage of the photo opportunities at: • El Capitan • Bridalveil Falls • Vernal Falls • Yosemite Falls • Cathedral Spires • Half Dome

San Francisco: 1-Day Bike Rental

5. San Francisco: 1-Day Bike Rental

Decide where you want to ride and then head out from Fisherman’s Wharf to discover the sights of San Francisco. You’ll be outfitted with a current-model bike, helmet, front handlebar bag and rear gear rack, map, and route instructions. Just tell the local staff how many miles you wish to ride, and they’ll show you a great route that includes all the best sightseeing stops the Bay Area has to offer. Your tour will take you on bike paths and over mostly flat terrain. You’ll receive a guide that provides recommendations on favorite local rides. You can keep the rental bike for the whole day.

Pacific Coastal Highway Tour to Monterey & Carmel

6. Pacific Coastal Highway Tour to Monterey & Carmel

Travel along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea. This full-day tour takes you along California’s stunning coast to experience the beauty of Highway 1. When you arrive at the Monterey peninsula, follow the 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach to visit the Lone Cypress, where your guide will stop for you to take photos of the rugged, beautiful coast. As your tour continues, visit Monterey city where you can walk down Cannery Row, or visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium (for an additional cost). From Monterey, your tour continues to the coastal town Pacific Grove, which features charming Victorian-era buildings; and the artsy Carmel-by-the-Sea, where you will visit the historic mission established in 1770. On the way back to San Francisco, drive through Silicon Valley, the tech capital of the United States; and, as you circle round the north end of San Francisco, catch a glimpse of the Seal Rocks in the distance.

Napa: Napa Valley History Guided Kayaking Tour

7. Napa: Napa Valley History Guided Kayaking Tour

Go beyond the stunning natural beauty of the Napa Valley as you listen to local history and tales from your guide on a tranquil kayaking tour on the Napa river. Enjoy using stable and high-quality kayaking equipment that suited for both beginners and advanced kayakers. Meet your guide at a conveniently-located spot that is close to downtown Napa and get set up with well maintained kayaking gear. Put on your life jacket and sett off down the river with your guide. Journey to the past as your guide gives you a run-down of local lore, including tales you’re not likely to read about in any guidebook. Learn about first settlers to Napa Valley and hear about Napa’s famed wineries and local businesses. Paddle at a leisurely pace through the waterways of the Napa Valley and meander past historic sites and learn about their significance. Find out about the first people in the Napa Valley and hear some Native names that are still used for places. Hear about Native culture. Uncover the history of the Napa earthquake and the historic buildings it damaged. Watch as your guide identifies birds and other animals along the Napa river. Look for beavers, otters, egrets, and minks. Have the chance to explore on your own after the first hour of the tour. Finish your tour at the centrally-located meeting point where it began.

Oakhurst: Guided Sierra National Forest Snow UTV or ATV Tour

8. Oakhurst: Guided Sierra National Forest Snow UTV or ATV Tour

Get ready to ride into the snowy wilderness of the Sierra National Forest on this guided tour. Enjoy the winter wonderland in an exciting way with a snow UTV or ATV tour. Meet your guide in at the activity provider's office in Oakhurst and gear up for your tour. Expereince the rush of gliding over rocky trails and zipping through wide open paths. Blaze thorugh the snowy wilderness and kick up some fresh powder as you go.  Cruise around a frozen lake and discover how beautiful the forest can be when it is covered in a layer of snow. Have the option to add on a sledding package if you want to stop for some exhilarating wintertime fun. 

Carson City: Hot Air Balloon Flight

9. Carson City: Hot Air Balloon Flight

Fly high in the sky in your balloon. Witness breathtaking scenery and incredible wildlife. Benefit from professionals with two decades worth of hot air ballooning experience. Enjoy an invigorating Nevada hot air balloon tour with unparalleled, panoramic views of Carson Valley. See wildlife like bald and golden eagles, prairie falcon, red-tailed hawks, deer, and more. Relish the views of the Carson River and Carson Range. See the spur of the Sierra Nevada, including the Jobs Peak. Some flights are even lucky enough to see Lake Tahoe over the mountains. Learn from your pilot about historical and popular points of interest. Take comfort in knowing you're in the hands of balloon experts with more than two decades worth of experience, and get ready to float high above Nevada.

Giant Sequoia Snowshoe & Yosemite Valley Tour

10. Giant Sequoia Snowshoe & Yosemite Valley Tour

Experience the best that winter in Yosemite National Park has to offer in just one day. Enjoy snow-topped Yosemite Valley and a picturesque snowshoe hike to the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias. Get picked up and go straight to Tunnel View, one of the best panoramas in all of Yosemite National Park. While here, grab some photos and take in the beauty of this glacially-carved valley in winter.  Next, travel to another area of the park to reach the trailhead to the Giant Sequoias. Once at the trailhead, it's time to layer up and strap on your snowshoes. If appropriate snow conditions do not exist, you will complete the hike in your regular hiking boots. On this 3-mile round-trip hike, make your way down the serene trail to reach the cluster of ancient Giant Sequoias. Find around 20 mature trees in one of Yosemite's most peaceful groves. Once you've worked up an appetite, enjoy your provided picnic lunch surrounded by the towering trees. Next, make the gradual uphill return of 600 feet elevation back to the trailhead. Change out of your layers, get comfortable, and relax on the scenic drive back to your hotel.

Top sights in Central Valley, California

Frequently asked questions about Central Valley, California

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Other Sightseeing Options in Central Valley, California

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What people are saying about Central Valley, California

Overall rating

4.6 / 5

based on 1,378 reviews

The day exceeded all our expectations. We saw hundreds of dolphins, Orcas, and whales. Our guide seemed exceptionally professional, knowledgeable, outgoing and friendly. The actual whales were spotted about a half hour before we were due to return and in order to get the actual sightings in it was necessary to extend our trip. The fuel and time cost the company money but the crew seemed more than happy to incur the extra expense in order to ensure a successful voyage. Impressive!

Mitch was a very safe and experienced driver, and took us to all the popular spots where we could have a clear view. There was also sufficient rest stops to break up the very long ride. Recommended for those with only one day.

This was me and my wife’s first time being on a boat in the sea. I must say that the crew and the captain were very helpful as well as knowledgeable. I would recommend Discovery whale watching

Daniel the captain, Andrew and Kayla were fantastic hosts, we saw 5 whales, dolphin, sea lions and otters, highly recommend Travelling from Wales in the UK

Friendly knowledgeable staffs. We got to a few marine life: grey whales, humpback whales, otters, dolphins, and sea lions. It was a wonderful experience.