Skip to Content

10 Extraordinary Movies Set In California That Will Inspire You To Visit!

10 Extraordinary Movies Set In California That Will Inspire You To Visit!

The enchanting allure of California, with its dazzling landscapes, vibrant cities, and rich cultural mosaic, has been the setting for numerous movies set in California. This region, from the sun-kissed beaches of Southern California to the majestic redwood forests of the north, offers a diverse and picturesque backdrop that has been integral to countless cinematic masterpieces.

This article takes you on a journey through the silver screen, exploring some of the finest films that have captured the essence of the legendary Golden State.

California’s unique combination of natural beauty and urban charm has made it a beloved setting for a wide range of film genres. From classic Hollywood fare to contemporary independent gems, the state’s iconic landmarks and distinct neighborhoods have played significant roles in shaping memorable narratives.

Whether exploring the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles or capturing the laid-back ambiance of San Francisco, these films paint vivid portraits of the state’s diverse landscape and its cultural richness.

Movies Set In California

In addition to the natural and urban splendors, California’s dynamic cultural scene has also been a central theme in many films. The state’s rich history, from the Gold Rush era to the tech boom of Silicon Valley, provides a fascinating backdrop for storytelling. Movies set in California often delve into the complexities of the American Dream, showcasing the hopes and struggles of diverse characters.

The diverse population, including significant Latino, Asian, and African American communities, adds depth and authenticity to these cinematic stories, allowing viewers to experience the true melting pot that California represents.

Wondering where to watch? It depends on where you live in the world and which streaming services you have. We link to the streaming service we watch on in each case - be it Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, or elsewhere.

You can get one month free of Amazon Prime (or a 6-month trial for students) of Amazon Prime and also get immediate access to FREE Two Day shipping, Amazon Video, and Music. While you won't be charged for your free trial, you'll be upgraded to a paid membership plan automatically at the end of the trial period - though if you have already binged all these, you could just cancel before the trial ends.

Apple TV+ also has a one-week trial, and Hulu has a one-month trial (which can be bundled with Disney!). Another option might be using a VPN to access Netflix titles locked to other regions. Netflix is now available in more than 190 countries worldwide and each country has a different library and availability. US Netflix is (understandably) one of the best. 

While we wish everything could just be in one place - for now, it seems these are the best streaming platforms to watch on.

Movies Set In California
Movies Set In California
Movies Set In California

La La Land (2016)

La La Land is a captivating romantic musical film directed by Damien Chazelle, who rose to prominence with his critically acclaimed film Whiplash. Chazelle’s ability to blend music and storytelling shines through in La La Land, making it a must-watch for cinema enthusiasts.

Set in the vibrant city of Los Angeles, California, La La Land tells the story of Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist. The film beautifully depicts their passionate pursuit of their dreams while navigating the challenges and sacrifices that come with their ambitions.

Chazelle’s direction brings the essence of Los Angeles to life, showcasing its dreamy landscapes and the alluring glamour of Hollywood. The film presents a picturesque and stylized portrayal of the city, emphasizing its optimistic and nostalgic spirit. From iconic locations like the Griffith Observatory and the Hermosa Beach Pier to the bustling streets of downtown LA, La La Land captures the essence of the city’s artistic allure.

The film’s plot unfolds through a series of enchanting musical numbers and heartfelt performances by Stone and Gosling. The chemistry between the two leads is palpable, drawing viewers into their passionate romance. As the story progresses, Mia and Sebastian’s dreams collide with the realities of their careers, leading to a bittersweet exploration of love and ambition.

If you are a fan of musicals, heartfelt romances, or simply appreciate captivating storytelling, La La Land is a film that should not be missed. Its captivating blend of music, visuals, and compelling performances makes it a delightful and enchanting experience. 

Clueless (1995)

Amy Heckerling’s directorial masterpiece, Clueless, has turned out to be a cultural icon that continues to captivate audiences with its wit, charm, and timeless depiction of teenage life. Heckerling, known for her ability to capture the essence of youth, skillfully weaves together a narrative that explores the trials and tribulations of adolescence with a delightful touch of satire.

Set in the affluent neighborhood of Beverly Hills, California, Clueless serves as a window into the extravagant and often superficial world of the rich and privileged. Heckerling masterfully utilizes this setting to expose the idiosyncrasies and follies of the characters. Through the lens of the charismatic and fashionable Cher Horowitz, brilliantly portrayed by Alicia Silverstone, we witness a clever parody of materialistic youth and their struggles to find their true selves amidst the glittering façade of high school.

The film’s plot centers around Cher’s attempts to play matchmaker while navigating her own romantic entanglements. As she orchestrates romantic pairings, Cher begins to discover the complexities of love and the importance of self-discovery. With a hilarious and insightful script, Heckerling seamlessly blends elements of comedy, romance, and social commentary to create a film that remains relevant even today.

In conclusion, Clueless is a must-watch film that seamlessly captures the essence of teenage life with its sharp writing, exceptional performances, and satirical take on the world of the privileged. Whether you’re seeking a nostalgic trip back to the ’90s or simply craving a delightful coming-of-age story, Clueless guarantees a delightful cinematic experience that will keep you entertained from start to finish.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a quintessential coming-of-age film directed by Amy Heckerling. Heckerling, known for her keen ability to capture the nuances of youth culture, solidified her position as a talented filmmaker with this influential work. Throughout her career, Heckerling has showcased her versatility by successfully delving into various genres, including comedy, romance, and teen dramas.

The film takes place in the fictional Ridgemont High School, located in the San Fernando Valley, California. Heckerling masterfully portrays the vibrant, laid-back atmosphere of Southern California, showcasing the sun-drenched beaches, palm trees, and the seemingly carefree lifestyle that characterizes the region. The setting serves as an integral backdrop for the film, evoking a sense of freedom and rebellion that resonates with the teenage characters.

The plot revolves around a diverse group of high school students, each navigating their own personal struggles and aspirations. From the naive freshman Stacy Hamilton (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the charismatic slacker Jeff Spicoli (played by Sean Penn), the characters’ lives intertwine, culminating in a hilarious and heartfelt portrayal of adolescent experiences.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High stands the test of time due to its authentic and relatable depiction of teenage life. Heckerling’s astute observations and witty screenplay capture the awkwardness, confusion, and occasional triumphs that accompany adolescence. The film also benefits from an ensemble cast of talented young actors who deliver memorable performances, bringing their characters to life with depth and charisma.

Boyz n the Hood (1991)

John Singleton’s directorial debut, Boyz n the Hood, is a compelling portrayal of life in South Central Los Angeles. Singleton, a prodigious talent in the film industry, rose to prominence with this groundbreaking movie, becoming the first African American and the youngest person ever to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Director.

The film follows the lives of three friends growing up amidst the violence and social challenges of their neighborhood. Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.), Doughboy (Ice Cube), and Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut) navigate the complexities of their environment, where gang culture, poverty, and racial tensions shape their daily existence. Set in the late 1980s, the story delves into the struggles and choices faced by these young men as they grapple with their dreams, relationships, and the ever-present threat of violence.

Boyz n the Hood captures the essence of South-Central Los Angeles, depicting the harsh realities of the area without resorting to stereotypes or glamorization. Singleton’s deft storytelling explores the socio-economic factors contributing to the cycle of violence, highlighting the systemic issues that plague marginalized communities.

Boyz n the Hood remains a significant piece of cinematic history, offering a poignant and thought-provoking exploration of race, poverty, and the human spirit. It serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of empathy, understanding, and the need for societal change. With its strong performances, evocative storytelling, and resonant social commentary, this film is a must-watch for anyone seeking a profound cinematic experience that confronts pressing societal issues head-on.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Big Lebowski is a cult classic film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, commonly known as the Coen Brothers. Throughout their illustrious career, the Coen Brothers have carved a unique niche for themselves in the realm of filmmaking, characterized by their dark humor, eccentric characters, and unconventional narratives.

They have become masters of blending genres and creating films that defy easy categorization. With The Big Lebowski, the Coen Brothers deliver yet another gem that showcases their distinctive style.

Set in Los Angeles, California, the film revolves around the life of Jeffrey The Dude Lebowski, portrayed by Jeff Bridges. The Dude, an easygoing and laid-back character, finds himself entangled in a case of mistaken identity when two thugs urinate on his rug, mistaking him for a millionaire also named Jeffrey Lebowski. Seeking retribution for the rug, The Dude embarks on a series of absurd and surreal adventures involving bowling, kidnapping, and a ransom demand.

The film’s portrayal of California is vibrant and vivid. The sun-drenched streets of Los Angeles serve as a backdrop to The Dude’s misadventures, capturing the essence of the city’s eclectic and quirky nature. From smoky bowling alleys to lavish mansions, the Coen Brothers paint a rich tapestry of California’s contrasting landscapes, both gritty and glamorous.

The Big Lebowski is a must-watch for cinephiles and casual viewers alike. It offers a delightful blend of comedy, mystery, and offbeat characters, all masterfully woven together by the Coen Brothers’ impeccable storytelling. The film’s witty dialogue, unforgettable characters, and unexpected twists make it an enduring favorite among fans.

500 Days of Summer (2009)

500 Days of Summer is a captivating romantic comedy-drama film directed by Marc Webb, which graced the silver screen. Marc Webb, a renowned American filmmaker, made his directorial debut with this movie and garnered critical acclaim for his unique storytelling approach. He later went on to direct other notable films such as The Amazing Spider-Man series.

Set in the beautiful city of Los Angeles, California, 500 Days of Summer tells the heartwarming and bittersweet tale of Tom Hansen, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a young man who falls head over heels for his co-worker, Summer Finn, portrayed by Zooey Deschanel.

The film deviates from the conventional linear narrative structure, jumping back and forth between different days in Tom’s relationship with Summer. This nonlinear approach allows the audience to witness the highs and lows of their romance, ultimately providing a realistic portrayal of the complexities of love and human emotions.

500 Days of Summer is a must-watch for anyone seeking a fresh take on the romantic comedy genre. It beautifully captures the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with love, highlighting the complexities and uncertainties of relationships.

The stellar performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, coupled with Marc Webb’s directorial finesse, make this film a delightful and thought-provoking cinematic experience. So, grab some popcorn, settle in, and embark on this enchanting journey through the seasons of love.

L.A. Confidential (1997)

L.A. Confidential is a neo-noir crime film directed by Curtis Hanson. Hanson, known for his keen storytelling and meticulous attention to detail, was an accomplished filmmaker in Hollywood. Throughout his career, he demonstrated a knack for delving into complex characters and crafting atmospheric narratives.

Set in Los Angeles, California during the 1950s, L.A. Confidential takes us on a captivating journey into the dark underbelly of the city. The film follows three LAPD detectives—Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), Bud White (Russell Crowe), and Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey)—as they navigate a web of corruption, scandal, and murder. As the trio gets entangled in a high-profile case involving a massacre at a coffee shop, they soon discover that their pursuit of justice reveals a far-reaching conspiracy.

The film brilliantly captures the essence of 1950s Los Angeles, depicting the glamour and allure of Hollywood juxtaposed with its seedy underpinnings. From the glitzy mansions of the elite to the smoky jazz clubs and the grittier corners of the city, L.A. Confidential paints a vivid portrait of a place where ambition, power, and betrayal intertwine.

If you appreciate engrossing crime dramas that transport you to a bygone era, L.A. Confidential is an absolute must-watch. It’s a film that immerses you in the seedy glamour of 1950s Los Angeles while unraveling a captivating mystery. With its impeccable direction, strong performances, and a compelling story that keeps you guessing until the very end, L.A. Confidential stands as one of the finest films of its genre and a true cinematic gem.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Little Miss Sunshine is a gem of a film that showcases their remarkable talent for capturing both humor and poignancy. The duo’s directorial collaboration has been marked by their unique ability to infuse ordinary situations with an extraordinary touch, and this film is no exception.

The story revolves around the Hoover family, a delightfully dysfunctional clan residing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The film takes us on a road trip as they embark on a mission to support their young daughter, Olive, who has qualified for the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, California. Each family member possesses their own idiosyncrasies, creating a hilarious yet touching dynamic throughout their journey.

Set against the backdrop of California’s picturesque coastal region, the film paints a vibrant picture of the state’s allure. While the Hoover family’s economic struggles are evident, the film doesn’t dwell on them but rather highlights the resilience and unity that prevail in the face of adversity. It showcases California as a land of dreams, where even the most unconventional of families can find a sense of belonging.

Little Miss Sunshine is a cinematic masterpiece that blends comedy and drama with a poignant touch. It serves as a testament to the power of family and the pursuit of dreams. Whether you seek laughter, tears, or a gentle reminder of the importance of embracing one’s uniqueness, this film has it all. Don’t miss the opportunity to embark on this heartwarming journey; it will leave you uplifted, entertained, and inspired.

Magnolia (1999)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia is a mesmerizing masterpiece that delves into the interconnected lives of several characters in California’s San Fernando Valley. Anderson, known for his distinctive storytelling and unconventional narratives, cemented his status as a visionary director with this film.

Set in the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, Magnolia vividly captures the essence of the San Fernando Valley. The film showcases the contradictions of the area, where the glitz and glamour of Hollywood coexist with the loneliness and desperation of its inhabitants. Anderson’s meticulous attention to detail creates a sense of both beauty and decay, showcasing the duality of the Valley’s landscape.

Magnolia is a cinematic tour de force, with Anderson’s masterful direction complemented by stunning cinematography and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack. The film’s nonlinear structure and poetic narrative style create an immersive and emotionally charged experience for the audience. It challenges conventional storytelling norms, urging viewers to reflect on the complexities of human nature and the unpredictable nature of life itself.

Magnolia is a great watch for all movie buffs profound exploration of human emotions and its ability to capture the essence of a place and its inhabitants. It is a thought-provoking and visually stunning film that pushes the boundaries of cinematic storytelling. Prepare to be captivated by its remarkable performances, intricate storytelling, and the profound impact it leaves on the viewer. Magnolia is an extraordinary work of art that deserves to be experienced by all lovers of cinema.

Collateral (2004)

Michael Mann’s Collateral is a gripping crime thriller that showcases the director’s exceptional storytelling and cinematic vision. Known for his stylish and intense approach to filmmaking, Mann has established himself as a master of the crime genre through films like Heat and The Insider.

Set in Los Angeles, California, Collateral takes place over the course of a single night and follows the life-altering encounter between Max (played by Jamie Foxx), a meticulous and dedicated cab driver, and Vincent (Tom Cruise), a cold-blooded hitman. When Vincent hires Max for a series of stops, Max unwittingly becomes an unwilling accomplice in a killing spree across the city.

Mann’s portrayal of Los Angeles serves as an integral backdrop to the film. The city’s sprawling streets, vibrant nightlife, and stark contrasts between affluence and poverty reflect the characters’ journeys and the moral ambiguity that permeates the narrative. Through breathtaking cinematography and skillful use of ambient lighting, Mann captures the essence of the city, creating an atmospheric and visually striking experience for the audience.

Collateral is an exceptional crime thriller that showcases Michael Mann’s directorial prowess. Its gripping plot, stunning visuals, and stellar performances make it a film that should not be missed. If you enjoy thought-provoking narratives and stylish filmmaking, Collateral is a must-watch that will leave you captivated from beginning to end.

Her (2013)

Spike Jonze, the acclaimed American filmmaker known for his distinctive vision and unconventional storytelling, directed the film Her. With a career spanning over two decades, Jonze has garnered critical acclaim for his unique style and ability to capture the complexities of human emotions. He is known for films such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, which showcase his imaginative approach to storytelling.

Set in a near-future Los Angeles, Her follows the story of Theodore Twombly, brilliantly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix. Theodore is a lonely writer who develops an unexpected connection with an advanced operating system named Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. As Theodore and Samantha’s relationship evolves, the film delves into themes of love, intimacy, and the human capacity for emotional connection.

The film’s setting in California serves as an ideal backdrop for Theodore’s journey. Jonze masterfully captures the vibrant yet isolating atmosphere of modern-day Los Angeles, showcasing its sprawling cityscape and technological advancements. Through stunning cinematography and thought-provoking visuals, Jonze paints a poignant picture of a society on the brink of emotional detachment, where people seek solace in artificial relationships.

Her is a thought-provoking and emotionally resonant film that explores the complexities of human connection in the digital age. It challenges our perceptions of love and asks profound questions about the nature of intimacy. Jonze’s exceptional direction, coupled with outstanding performances from the cast, creates a captivating and immersive experience.

Sideways (2004)

Alexander Payne, the acclaimed director known for his bittersweet comedies, helmed the film Sideways. Payne has built a remarkable career by crafting insightful and character-driven narratives that resonate with audiences. His previous works include Election and About Schmidt, but it was with Sideways that he achieved widespread recognition.

Set against the picturesque backdrop of California’s wine country, Sideways follows the journey of two middle-aged friends, Miles and Jack, played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church, respectively. Miles, a struggling writer and wine enthusiast, takes Jack, an actor about to get married, on a week-long trip through the vineyards of Santa Barbara County before Jack’s impending nuptials.

The film delves into their complicated lives, exploring themes of friendship, love, and the elusive pursuit of happiness. As Miles and Jack encounter various people along the way, including Maya (Virginia Madsen) and Stephanie (Sandra Oh), their preconceptions and vulnerabilities are laid bare. Payne masterfully weaves humor and heartache, creating a nuanced portrayal of flawed individuals navigating the complexities of midlife.

Whether you’re a wine enthusiast or simply appreciate finely crafted narratives, Sideways offers a compelling blend of humor, heart, and introspection. It reminds us that sometimes the most unexpected journeys lead to the most profound revelations. So grab a glass of your favorite wine and immerse yourself in this delightful film that will leave you with a renewed appreciation for life’s unpredictable twists and turns.