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200 trips in Southern California

200 trips in Southern California

This collection of play days is designed to give you hundreds of options, sprawling across seven counties. Nature, culture, show biz, kid stuff, tea rooms, biker bars, you name it. And I know an adventure can go south in a hurry if your first destination turns out to be a dud or the day is deadened by too much driving. So I've been to every one of these places myself, chosen favorites, and made micro-itineraries from the spots that seem to fit together best, geographically, historically, thematically, logically.

The tourists think big. Arriving in Southern California, they expect to conquer Disneyland and Hollywood, perhaps on the same day, in between the surfing and snowboarding. The locals think small. Tracing tight little loops between home and work, they dodge freeways and alien neighborhoods. So whether you're a tourist or a local in Southern California, you're probably leaving some fun on the table.

This is our bid to fix that. This collection of play days is designed to give you hundreds of options, sprawling across seven counties. Nature, culture, show biz, kid stuff, tea rooms, biker bars, you name it. And I know an adventure can go south in a hurry if your first destination turns out to be a dud or the day is deadened by too much driving. So I've been to every one of these places myself, chosen favorites, and made micro-itineraries from the spots that seem to fit together best, geographically, historically, thematically, logically. I've also left a little room for improvisation. Or a nap. Your call.

  FILTER Dining |Drinks |Shopping |Lodging |Arts & Culture |Kids |Outdoors |Entertainment |Show all

Downtown Los Angeles

Museums

Museums

You can spend hours meandering Exposition Park near USC -- the California Science Center, the California African American Museum, the Rose Garden. But not today. Today, you and your child are heading straight to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and you'll start by browsing the long hallways filled with old-school dioramas, an Age of Mammals exhibit that opened in 2010, and a Dinosaur Hall that opened in 2011.

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Books and dining

Books and dining

Shhh. You're going to the library. The big one on 5th Street, with the strange pyramid on top that deserves a role in the next overwrought Nicolas Cage conspiracy movie. Don't be put off by the street people at the entrance or the low ceilings on the ground floor. Climb one level and behold the soaring rotunda, full of spectacular murals painted in 1933 -- conquistadors, friars, Native Americans and European settlers, not to mention the globe chandelier that throws light on them.

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L.A.'s sporty side

L.A.'s sporty side

You're all about sports, and you've scored tickets to see the Clippers or Kings or Lakers at Staples Center, next to the L.A. Live entertainment complex and Los Angeles Convention Center near the southern end of downtown. Congratulations, especially if those are Laker seats. Now, there are more than a dozen restaurants and bars in L.A. Live, not to mention the Grammy Museum, a JW Marriott Hotel and a Ritz-Carlton, both of which opened in 2010. But that's not where you're eating or sleeping tonight.

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Drinks downtown

Drinks downtown

Atop the Standard Hotel, you'll find a pool (guests only), fireplace, synthetic turf deck, goofy topiary and a trendy open-air bar with skyscraper views on all sides. Scan the horizon, quaff a beer or cocktail, then descend and head two blocks east to the Millennium Biltmore Hotel. Stroll down the broad corridors of this grand old pile (where many early Oscar ceremonies were staged, beginning in the '30s), and imagine the whole place upside-down and wet. Yes, parts of "The Poseidon Adventure" (the 1972 version) were shot in this lobby.

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Grand Central Market

Grand Central Market and environs

"Are you Jose?" somebody asks the Asian man behind the counter of Jose's Ice Cream Shop in Grand Central Market at 317 S. Broadway. "Yes," he says, handing over a scoop of pistachio. This market is all about mixing it up. Carpeted with sawdust and illuminated by a jumble of neon signs, the open-air market dates to 1917. It offers produce, meats and street food of many countries (especially Mexico). Head to Tacos Tumbras a Tomas (Stall A5, on the left, halfway back) and order a taco or burrito.

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Chinatown

Chinatown

L.A.'s Chinatown can't match San Francisco's or New York's for pedestrian friendliness or retail and restaurant variety. But this Chinatown has its own story. The original neighborhood was leveled to make way for Union Station in the 1930s, so the community rebuilt itself a few blocks to the northwest. You can get ginseng by the barrel or dried shiitake mushrooms by the pound or inspect a vast selection of teas and traditional cures at Wing Hop Fung in Far East Plaza.

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Olvera Street

Olvera Street

Angelenos sometimes avoid Olvera Street, maybe because its genuinely historic buildings are crowded by vendors and carts peddling cheap trinkets, maybe because parking can cost a small fortune, maybe because the neighboring buildings seem to have been under renovation longer than most of Los Angeles has been standing. But this is where settlers from Mexico founded Los Angeles in the late 18th century, and it's where the 1818 Avila Adobe, the oldest home in Los Angeles, still stands. And it's an excuse to see Union Station.

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Disney concert hall

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Don't you want to lay hands on Disney Hall? Frank Gehry's rippling metallic beauty at 111 S. Grand Ave. is nearly irresistible, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic keeps it busy. Acclaimed young conductor Gustavo Dudamel leads about 40 performances each season, and the hall books jazz and world music too. But tickets are dear, so you might just take a free building tour, which doesn't cover the auditorium but does let you creep up and around the exterior.

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Downtown Art Walk

Downtown Art Walk

Downtown's boosters dream of a 24-hour district teeming with loft dwellers who nightly browse restaurants, bars, galleries and one-of-a-kind shops. We're not all the way there yet, but if you show up on Spring or Main streets, between 2nd and 9th streets, on the second Thursday evening of any month, you'll see something like that vision.

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Arts District

Arts District

You can hate most graffiti and still admire the colors, textures and sheer creative energy on the walls of downtown's Arts District. The "Mona Lisa" on the shed at Rose Street and Traction Avenue, for instance, and the long wall of crazy critters along Garey Street between 2nd and 3rd streets. Of course street art is subject to change, but much of this work was done at the invitation of property owners in this Bohemian, post-industrial 'hood.

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Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo is so close to the civic buildings of downtown that many government workers head out for sushi on their lunch breaks, as do some enterprising jurors. You have something similar in mind. You're on foot at East 1st and Alameda streets, having just stepped off a Metro train or parked in the nearby public lot. Walk a block west on 1st, keep an eye out for the Koyasan Buddhist Temple and choose now: You can step into the Japanese American National Museum, which has a history of smart exhibits and a small gift shop.

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Roller derby

Roller derby

L.A. doesn't have an NFL team -- yet. Till then, Angelenos have something almost as bruising, a banked-track, all-female roller derby league known as the L.A. Derby Dolls. Once, sometimes twice a month, about 2,000 people turn out at the rink at 1910 W. Temple St. to watch these tough puppies in unstaged athletic competitions.

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Inland Orange County

Nixon library

Nixon library

Disneyland can wait. First, ask yourself, "What would Nixon do?" That's the question that's printed on dozens of mugs and T-shirts at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum, about 40 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Of course, this leads to more questions. Has anybody told Kevin Bacon, for instance, that Nixon got elected student body president at Whittier College by opposing the campus ban on dancing?

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Disneyland

Disneyland

It's a given. If you have kids -- and maybe even if you don't -- you're going to Disneyland. And you're probably going to like it, because they're pros. So brace for the bill -- more than $300 for a family of four in 2012 -- and make your expedition easier by booking a night at a Disney hotel or one of the many partner hotels within walking distance. One excellent choice is the Ramada Maingate, where rooms for two were routinely under $150 in 2012.

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Knott's Berry Farm

Knott's Berry Farm

Knott's Berry Farm was up and running when Walt Disney was still a pup. It opened in the 1920s, and despite its high-speed, high-tech rides, it feels more homespun than Disneyland. It also appears a little frayed around the edges. It's also a lot cheaper than Disneyland: about $175 at the gate for a family of four in 2012, and not much more than that for a season pass.

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Irvine Great Park

Irvine Great Park

You are respectfully invited to step aboard a gigantic orange and hover above a mostly idle old military base in Irvine. Now, stop snickering and suspend ... yourself. It's true that the gradual conversion of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro into a 1,347-acre Great Park in Irvine (near Interstate 5's Sand Canyon Avenue exit) will be years in coming. But the Great Park Balloon is here now, a helium-filled ball with a people-carrying basket dangling beneath, and it's free.

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O.C. Sports

O.C. Sports

If you're looking for pro hockey or baseball in O.C., all roads lead to Anaheim. The Ducks (hockey) play from early October through early April (longer if the team makes the playoffs), with 41 home games at the 17,174-seat Honda Center. Adult tickets can cost $25-$290. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play baseball from April through October (longer if they make the playoffs), with 81 home games at 45,000-seat Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

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Outdoors & biker bar

Outdoors & biker bar

First, build thirst. You can do this by taking a hike or a bike or horseback ride in the Santa Ana mountains or the foothills near Rancho Santa Margarita. Maybe Limestone Canyon & Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park or O'Neill Regional Park, where you can make the 3.2-mile round-trip hike up Live Oak Trail to Ocean Vista Point, 1,492 feet above sea level, for a panorama of hills, suburban fringe and distant sea. Whichever trail you choose, head afterward to Cook's Corner, a biker bar and burger joint that dates to 1926.

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Santa Ana

Santa Ana

Santa Ana has some of the O.C.'s grittiest corners, but it's also home to a pair of worthwhile museums and a growing number of galleries. The kid-focused Discovery Science Center stands beneath a big black cube at the edge of Interstate 5 (the cube conceals a facsimile rocket) and has hands-on exhibits that cover populist themes such as the science of hockey, plus there's a modest climbing wall.

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Downtown Fullerton

Downtown Fullerton

When night falls, downtown Fullerton hops. This is especially true along Harbor Boulevard near the railroad tracks, where more than two dozen bars and restaurants cater to the hunger and thirst of Cal State Fullerton students and others. Count on young demographics.

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Costa Mesa shopping

Costa Mesa shopping

If you're not shopping, the recession wins, right? Now more than 40 years old, South Coast Plaza is still the biggest mall (by square feet) in California. Shoppers come from as far as Asia to roam the 280 stores and restaurants. You can spend $6,000 on a fountain pen at Paradise Pen Co. or $60 on shoes from Stride Rite.

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Los Angeles' park neighborhoods

Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory

In 1896, mining magnate Griffith J. Griffith donated 3,015 hilly acres that became L.A's biggest park. Later he put up the money for Griffith Observatory and the Greek Theatre. And in between donations, the hard-drinking Griffith shot his wife in the face (not fatally) and served two years in prison. But you're here to hike, not judge. Drive to the shady corner of Griffith Park known as Ferndell (or Fern Dell, depending on the source), park by the Trails Cafe, then head uphill.

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Silver Lake architecture

Silver Lake architecture

Silver Lake, a series of hills surrounding a scenic pair of reservoirs five miles northwest of downtown L.A., is where many of America's leading Modernist architects first made their marks from the 1930s to the '60s, working on sloping lots because they were cheaper. Walt Disney built his first studio and made "Snow White" at 2725 Hyperion Ave. (now occupied by a Gelson's supermarket).

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Elysian Park

Elysian Park

Elysian Park, near downtown, is home to Dodger Stadium. But first, take Stadium Way or Echo Park Avenue to Academy Road. And pretty soon -- boom! -- you're at the Los Angeles Police Academy (where you're likely to hear shots from the nearby firing range). Show up between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. on a weekday, and you can eat at the L.A. Police Academy Revolver & Athletic Club Cafe, where the 9mm Burger is a bargain at less than $7.

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Top of Hollywood

Top of Hollywood

First, make yourself at home. Claim a suite at Los Feliz Lodge, a collection of four Spanish-style courtyard bungalows from the 1920s, surrounded by residential blocks and available for short-term stays. The units, opened in 2007, are walking distance to dozens of restaurants, shops and the Sunset-Vermont Metro station. All have kitchens and rates well under $200 a night. But don't get too comfortable. Because on that first morning, you'll be rising before dawn and driving five to 10 minutes up the hill to the Griffith Observatory parking lot.

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Los Feliz

Los Feliz

Do happy people live in Los Feliz? Well, some. But the area got its name from Jose Vicente Feliz, an 18th century settler who received this real estate through a Spanish land grant. The Greek Theatre, home to many summer concerts, is a few blocks north of the commercial district on Vermont and Hillhurst avenues. Barnsdall Art Park (including Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House and a picnic-ready grassy knoll at 4800 Hollywood Blvd.

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Los Angeles Zoo

Los Angeles Zoo and environs

The Los Angeles Zoo can't match San Diego's, but it's cheaper ($16 per adult in early 2012), and it's right in Griffith Park. A new Asian elephant exhibit recently opened, but the best entertainment is still the Campo Gorilla Reserve, where your kids might get within inches of a gorilla's nose (with a thick viewing window in between). Their near-human attributes (we mean the gorillas) are endlessly absorbing. If you're more interested in human doings, the nearby Autry National Center's Museum of the American West may surprise you.

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Tchotchkes and tiki

Tchotchkes and tiki

You owe somebody a gift? Perhaps a grown-up pop-culture sort of gift, not necessarily in good taste? Step into the vast and semi-subversive retail wonderland known as Soap Plant / Wacko and the Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Feliz. Tiki tchotchkes, concert posters, Beatles lunch boxes, Bozo kazoos, rubber frog handbags -- they're all here in a former post office building, along with many picture books not suitable for children. After shopping, get a bite at Umami Burger, a block northwest.

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Sunset Junction

Sunset Junction

Remember that weird spark Melrose Avenue had in the 1980s? Something like that is happening now at Sunset Junction, the stretch of Sunset Boulevard storefronts near Sanborn Avenue in Silver Lake. Slouching twentysomethings with high cheekbones and thrift-shop wardrobes. Budding authors and auteurs, poised over their MacBooks by the blue-and-white Nicaraguan tile work at Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea or listening to Jacques Brel under the parasols at the Casbah Cafe.

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Echo Park

Echo Park

Echo Park, a blue-collar Latino neighborhood for decades, keeps getting trendier and more affluent. For more than a century, there's been a 13-acre lake at the southwest end of the neighborhood along Glendale Boulevard -- but it's been drained for an upgrade and is likely to remain fenced off through late 2013. Fortunately, you can still cruise by the aged ladies of Carroll Avenue -- the greatest concentration of well-tended Victorian homes in Los Angeles, seven blocks south of Sunset by way of Douglas Street.

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Griffith Park for kids

Griffith Park for kids

Got kids? Proceed to the ponies near the southeast entrance of Griffith Park at Los Feliz Boulevard and Riverside Drive. There, Tuesdays through Sundays, your child (age 1 or older) can sit on a tethered pony (which will make eight circles for $3) or ride two laps, untethered, on a larger oval track (also $3). On weekends, the scaled-down Griffith Park & Southern Railroad carries children and parents for $2.50 a ride, and more trains await in Travel Town and at L.A. Live Steamers at the north end of the park.

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San Fernando Valley

Scenic drive, hike

Scenic drive, hike

Mulholland Drive wriggles for about 20 miles along the ridgelines of the Hollywood Hills and Santa Monica Mountains, marking the border between the Los Angeles basin and the Valley, its two lanes passing palatial homes and big views. In "The San Fernando Valley: America's Suburb," author Kevin Roderick writes that he likes to introduce visitors with a drive here, preferably "on a sparkling winter morning, with a chilly north wind gusting down from the San Gabriels to keep the sky clean."

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Universal Studios

Universal Studios

The Universal Studios people would like you to believe they're in Hollywood, but you have a map, so you know better. Like the Disney and Warner Bros. studios, they're in the Valley. If you go whole hog at Universal, you'll pay about as much here as you will at Disneyland.

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Universal CityWalk

Universal CityWalk

You don't need to pay admission to visit Universal CityWalk, an entertainment district adjacent to the theme park, with 19 movie theaters and dozens of shops and restaurants, all arranged on a pseudo-street full of Southern California architecture in caricature. The restaurants -- Hard Rock Cafe, Johnny Rockets and so on -- aren't unique, but the flashing, splashing, buzzing energy and kid-friendliness of the place is undeniable.

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Ventura Boulevard

Ventura Boulevard

There's no sense fighting car culture, so you may as well embrace the boulevard. It carries the Valley's commercial lifeblood, and without it, the stars from up the hill would have no place to take their dry cleaning or get their poodles permed. Start at its southeast end in Studio City, perhaps with breakfast at Jerry's Famous Deli and head toward Tarzana, an upscale hillside community that began with the arrival in 1919 of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.

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Mission, Stoney Point

Mission, Stoney Point

Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana went up in 1797, 17th of the 21 California missions. The surrounding Mission Hills neighborhood -- a gritty triangle made by the 5, 118 and 405 freeways -- is not a tourist haven. But the mission complex has been well reconstructed, the church celebrates regular Masses and weddings, and there's a big collection of artifacts in the museum next door.

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Great Wall of L.A.

Great Wall of L.A.

The Great Wall of Los Angeles, created by artists Judith Baca and hundreds of high school kids between 1976 and 1984, is half a mile long, which makes it one of the biggest murals in the U.S. It's also an underdog's view of California, beginning before the dawn of man and including downtrodden Native Americans, imprisoned Japanese Americans and deported Mexicans, concluding improbably with the arrival of the Olympic torch for the 1984 Summer Games.

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Burbank

Burbank

Eventually, you're going to crash at the Tangerine Hotel, a 31-room budget spot (with pool) that's been recently redone in minimalist style, heavy on the color orange. But before you sleep, Burbank awaits, harboring more diversions than you might imagine. They begin with Bob. The oldest remaining Bob's Big Boy went up in 1949. Its sign stands 70 feet tall, it's open around the clock and its lot fills up with classic cars on Friday nights. On Saturday and Sunday nights, you can get car hop service.

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Studio City

Studio City

Take Tujunga Avenue north from Ventura Boulevard, then pull over between Woodbridge and Moorpark streets. You have just arrived in suburban paradise, although it comes with a fatal footnote. Begin by nibbling, sipping and browsing in the home and patio that have been converted into Aroma Coffee & Tea Co. and the neighboring bookshop, Portrait of a Bookstore.

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North Hollywood arts

North Hollywood arts

The North Hollywood Arts District, for many years a forlorn commercial strip, has been gathering steam as a bohemian enclave over the last decade, aided by a subway stop and redevelopment dollars. Start with dinner or lunch at Pitfire Artisan Pizza Co., which has a big patio with a fire pit and pingpong table. (It's part of a small Southern California chain.)

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Fresh produce

Fresh produce

Three generations along, the Tapia Bros. Fresh Produce keeps the Valley's agricultural history alive with an 80-acre farm and stand. The stand, which typically closes January through late March, greets spring with strawberries and tomatoes. The family also grows corn, keeps chickens, pheasant and goats, and sells flowers.

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Warner Bros. studios

Warner Bros. studios

Don't overlook the tour at Warner Bros. studios. It has no rides, no 3-D presentations, no spitting dinosaurs. What it does offer is a grown-up look at how TV shows and movies get made, priced recently at $49 for adults, closed to children younger than 8, and lasting about 2 1/2 hours. Led by a guide, you typically travel on foot and by golf cart in a group of 12.

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Coastal Orange County

San Clemente

San Clemente

Just about all of Southern California's sleepy little beach towns have been built up, priced up and, by many measures, messed up. But San Clemente's pier, beaches and red-tile roofs endure, and they're worth a look. The waves here offer some of North America's best surfing, including the spot known as Trestles (just south of town within San Onofre State Beach), which some people call "the Yosemite of surfing."

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San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano

The Mission San Juan Capistrano, which dates to 1776, is famous for the swallows that return every spring. Unfortunately, most of those swallows have ditched the mission in favor of a country club in Chino Hills, San Bernardino County. Bummer.

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Dana Point

Dana Point

Now we're a bit north of San Clemente, in Dana Point, with a little flashback: In 1834, a rich kid from New England decided to look for a little adventure before starting law school at Harvard. His name was Richard Henry Dana Jr., and he signed on as a merchant seaman on a tall ship working the cattle-hide trade along the coast of Alta California.

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Luxury lodgings

Luxury lodgings

The O.C. coastline is no place for penny-pinchers, especially when it comes to hotels, especially around Laguna and Newport beaches. Among golfers, two of the most popular lodging splurges are the Resort at Pelican Hill and the St. Regis Monarch Beach resort, both of which stand beside courses. Shoppers might book the Island Hotel or the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach near Fashion Island mall in Newport Beach.

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Crystal Cove

Crystal Cove

Down along the shore between Laguna Beach and Newport, local activists and state officials are rehabilitating a beloved old beach-cottage community called Crystal Cove. "It's just a rustic walk back in time," says cottages manager Lindsay Lane. More than a dozen films have been shot at the site, including "To Have and Have Not," "Herbie Rides Again" and "Beaches."

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Fashion Island

Fashion Island

You love shopping. You like the idea of a getting a $35 blow-dry, buying a $4,500 desk that folds up like a steamer trunk, along with a few hours of quality time at Neiman Marcus. In other words, you need Fashion Island, home to Drybar, Restoration Hardware, Nordstrom, Macy's and dozens more high-rent retailers.

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Beaches of Laguna

Beaches of Laguna

If fate placed you in beachy, artsy Laguna Beach this afternoon, would you jump in the ocean first or start prowling galleries? If you choose No. 1, begin by taking the measure of Main Beach at Pacific Coast Highway and Broadway. Besides lots of body-surfing, skim-boarding, volleyball on the sand and half-court hoops on two of the best-sited courts in California, it's a scene of romantic strolls and playing children, all at the foot of a blue and white lifeguard tower that dates to the '20s.

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Laguna lodgings

Laguna lodgings

You could sleep at La Casa del Camino, where surf designers have jazzed up 10 rooms in an otherwise old-school '20s building. Or maybe the Inn at Laguna Beach, a more contemporary building with 70 rooms just north of Main Beach. Maybe Pacific Edge, an oceanfront Midcentury motor lodge now boldly decorated and run by the trendy Joie de Vivre chain, which describes the hotel as a "boutique surfer-vibe hotel."

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Laguna arts

Laguna arts

Laguna Beach has been an art colony for a century or so. Though rising prices have worn thin the town's hippie veneer, you'll find galleries and festivals all over, especially in summer. Start with breakfast in north Laguna amid the decorative gnomes and greenery of Madison Square & Garden Cafe. Hop across the street to check the smallish but smart Laguna Art Museum and maybe have a look at blankets and beadwork at Len Wood's Indian Territory Gallery, just a few steps away.

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The Balboas, Part 1

The Balboas, Part 1

Some of the best fun and most difficult parking in Newport Beach are found on Balboa Island and the Balboa Peninsula. The island and peninsula are connected by an old-school ferry that carries just three cars , which is fun, but otherwise you'll be happier traveling by foot, bike or watercraft.

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The Balboas, Part 2

The Balboas, Part 2

The Balboa Peninsula includes a lot: the Newport and Balboa piers, several small hotels, a bunch of restaurants, a 1.7-mile bike trail that connects the piers, watercraft rentals, harbor cruises, the historic Balboa Pavilion building and a neighboring Fun Zone with rides and games. If you watched "The O.C." on television (2003-07), many of these spots will look familiar.

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Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach

If Newport and Laguna are the rich distant relations who might not remember you in their wills, Huntington Beach is the wild cousin who owes you money. Its downtown is all about scruffy surf culture, and the Main Street bars and restaurants stay lively late, with the usual attendant troubles.

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Long Beach, San Pedro and Catalina Island

Naples canal

Naples canal

Just before Los Angeles County runs out and Orange County begins, a southbound traveler comes across the watery Long Beach neighborhood known as Naples. It's a cluster of three upscale residential islands, with waterways between. They're a fine place to float, perhaps in a kayak or maybe in a Venetian gondola. For $85 a couple, Gondola Getaway offers 50-minute floating adventures nearly every day, complete with gondolieri in striped shirts and straw hats.

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Aquarium of the Pacific

Aquarium of the Pacific

You've gone as far south as Interstate 710 goes, to the damp heart of Long Beach. You've stepped into the Aquarium of the Pacific, a big and bright attraction that opened in 1998 near the city's convention center. Now find the Touch Pool. Reach into the shallows. And tickle the gray skin of the first flat, triangular creature that slithers by. That's a bat ray, its spine clipped (painlessly) to prevent venomous stings.

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Queen Mary

Queen Mary

In a slightly different universe, the Long Beach waterfront would still be dominated by the Long Beach Pike, a massive amusement park that went up in the early 20th century, a cousin to similar setups in San Diego, Santa Monica and Santa Cruz. But the Pike did not age well, and city leaders were scrambling for a new way to lure tourists. Enter the Queen Mary, a British ocean liner built in the 1930s, retired in 1967 and recast here as a floating hotel.

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Long Beach shops, arts

Long Beach shops and arts

Just when you think you're beginning to figure out Long Beach, up pops bohemian Retro Row, a medley of funky vintage and design shops on East 4th Street, to show you how little you know. More than two dozen shops are concentrated between Cherry and Junipero avenues. Near St. Louis Avenue, check out the new and vintage furnishings at Trebor Nevets, the hipster hats at Imonni Nanala, the wines at 4th Street Vine shop, the written words of Open Books.

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Belmont Shore

Belmont Shore

The commercial spine of Long Beach's Belmont Shore area is a 15-block stretch of 2nd Street, three blocks from the beach. Sit down to a mound of Lebanese kebabs at one of Open Sesame, and rest assured that next time you could try crepes, pasta, cupcakes, tacos, Thai, whatever. Require a pint? Choose among Murphy's, Quinn's and Shannon's Bayshore pubs, or Legends, a sports bar with the requisite televisions everywhere.

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Catalina Island

Catalina Island

Between Dana Point and San Pedro, there are four places to catch a ferry for Catalina. For the shortest boat ride and most frequent service, head for Catalina Express. It's an hourlong voyage (usually about $70 per adult, round-trip) and ends in Catalina's scenic, sleepy Avalon Bay.

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Catalina lodging, dining

Catalina lodgings

To impress the adults in your traveling party, book a room at the renewed Pavilion Hotel, right on bayfront Crescent Avenue. The place, formerly known as the Pavilion Lodge, was redone and reopened in 2010 with lush landscaping in its courtyard, an inviting fire ring and hints of Midcentury Modernism here and there. (And go in spring or fall, preferably on a weekday, when you can often get in for less than $200 a night.) On summer weekends, the rates more than double.

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Catalina zip line tour

Catalina Zipline Eco Tour

If your Catalina trip is a family venture, look into renting a house or condo with kitchen from Catalina Island Vacation Rentals, whose inventory goes anywhere from less than $200 to more than $500 nightly. Also, between bike rentals, glass-bottom boat rides and miniature golf tournaments at Golf Gardens, you'll want to line up at Big Olaf's ice cream shop along the waterfront, where $4.50 buys a single scoop of Dreyer's ice cream with topping.

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San Pedro

San Pedro

San Pedro is a sleeper. Wedged between the docks of Long Beach and the mansions of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, it has a throwback look (lots of 50-year-old signage) and a Croatian accent, because many local families came from Croatia to work seafaring or waterfront jobs. Along 6th Street and Pacific Avenue, you'll notice businesses such as Slavko's Harbor Poultry and Ante's Restaurant.

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Rancho Palos Verdes

Rancho Palos Verdes

Venture north of San Pedro and boom -- you're out of blue-collar territory and onto the genteel slopes of Rancho Palos Verdes, snaking along the not-at-all-smooth blacktop of Palos Verdes Drive. First, exit at Trump National Golf Club and park in the free lot on the left. Alongside this ritzy golf course and restaurant is a network of public trails. You can follow one down to the water's edge, where wave action has smoothed the many-colored pebbles almost halfway to becoming glass.

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Terranea resort

Terranea resort

A little farther north on Palos Verdes Drive, you'll reach a grand bluff-top chunk of land that longtime Angelenos will remember as the site of the Marineland theme park from 1954 to '87. Since 2009, these 102 acres have been the site of Terranea, a luxury resort that opened just in time to get kicked in the teeth by the recession.

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Venice, Santa Monica and Malibu

Venice

Venice

Venice lies just south of Santa Monica and left of the American mainstream -- artsy, edgy, defiant and occasionally downright dissolute. Check out Ocean Front Walk on a weekend morning, and bring a fistful of dollar bills to tip the street musicians, magicians and all-around characters. Don't miss the mural of Venus on roller skates, near Speedway and Windward Avenue.

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Annenberg beach house

Annenberg Community Beach House

For a memorable pool or a base camp for a beach day with the kids, head to 415 Pacific Coast Highway. There, by wide, sandy Santa Monica beach, William Randolph Hearst in the late 1920s built a vast mansion for his mistress, actress Marion Davies. These days, only the big marble-edged pool and guesthouse remain, joined by a sleek complex of changing rooms and special-event spaces that was completed in 2009.

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Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

You can't overlook the Santa Monica Pier. It starts where Colorado Avenue stops, it dates to 1909, and its Pacific Park amusement zone includes a solar-powered Ferris wheel. You'll find plenty of junk food, several restaurants, free live music on Thursday nights in summer and abundant people-watching at all hours. This is Southern California's Coney Island.

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Third Street Promenade

Third Street Promenade

You know that Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade isn't as trendy as it was 20 years ago. You understand that Santa Monica Place, a mall that reopened at the south end of the promenade after a major rehab in 2010, generates more retail heat these days.

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Santa Monica hostel

Santa Monica hostel

Just a block off the Third Street Promenade is Hostelling International Santa Monica, a 260-bed haven built in 1990 for frugal, youngish travelers and later upgraded. Don't expect a pool or much privacy; all hostel options involve shared bathrooms, from the dorm beds to the private rooms. Especially for younger travelers without children, the place has an agreeable global collegiate buzz.

Santa Monica hotels

Santa Monica hotels

If so, Santa Monica hoteliers are ready for you. Prove your cool by choosing the historic grandeur of the beachfront Casa del Mar, a redone '20s building with cool tile, big views from its upstairs bar and brochure rates that begin north of $495 a night. Or, for a comparable price, hop across Pico Boulevard to Shutters on the Beach, which looks like a New England beach house that just kept growing.

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Sweat, then shop

Sweat, then shop

Check in at Santa Monica's venerable Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, grab a table overlooking the pool and dig into an early dinner at FIG, an in-house bistro that focuses on seasonal dishes. Splurge on the carbohydrates, because you'll be up and out early the next morning in your workout wear, walking, jogging or pedaling 1.3 miles along Palisades Park to the public stairways on Adelaide Drive near 4th Street, a.k.a. the Santa Monica Stairs.

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Art and music

Art and music

Once upon a time, in the 19th century, Santa Monica's Bergamot Station was a rail yard. But ever since its revival as a cluster of galleries in 1994, it has been a treasured spot for one-stop art browsing. Along with contemporary painting and sculpture, you'll find a lot of photography, a few artsy shops, a well-shaded patio cafe for lunch or a snack, and the Santa Monica Museum of Art. There's your afternoon. Then head to McCabe's Guitar Shop, a beloved retailer and concert venue at 3101 Pico Blvd.

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The Getty Villa

The Getty Villa

The Romans, the Greeks, the Etruscans -- they're all here in Pacific Palisades, surrounded by gardens that have matured nicely since the villa's grand reopening in 2006 after a massive redo. The Getty Villa is as intimate as the Getty Center in Brentwood is epic -- the gardens, galleries and open-air theater crowded together in a canyon near the sea just south of Malibu. Do lunch in the cafe (open Thursdays-Mondays)

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Malibu dining, lodging

Malibu dining, lodging

First, acknowledge that you underestimated the size of Malibu: 27 miles of coastline. But about 12 miles up the coast highway from the Santa Monica Pier, you will find a handy foursome. First, the Malibu Pier, where you might buy bait (really, you could) or have a bite at the Beachcomber Cafe. Next, a few hundred yards farther up the beach, have a look at the Malibu Lagoon and imagine living in the Adamson House, a classic Spanish-style beach home that's now part of the state park system.

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Malibu beaches

Malibu beaches

Out-of-towners, beware. If you ask a local for tips on the best beaches in Malibu, you risk drowning in a sea of beach-bum bombast and legal disputes over what's public and what isn't, where to park, the shape of the waves, the clarity of the water, the rights of wealthy beach-dwellers and who lives in that big, ugly house over there, anyway? Zuma Beach County Park is big and sandy. El Matador State Beach is smaller, harder to reach, edged by cliffs and caves -- and gorgeous.

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South Bay

The Strand

The Strand

The Strand bike path covers the South Bay coast, stretching south to Palos Verdes and north to Playa del Rey, and, if you're ready to pedal around Marina del Rey, you can bicycle all the way north to Pacific Palisades. That's a 22-mile trip, with scarcely a break in the waterfront scenery, lively humanity and architectural triumphs and follies.

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Redondo's Riviera

Redondo's Riviera

Redondo Beach has a pier and beachfront complex designed just for tourists -- a place where visitors who like a rough-around-the-edges destination can stroll over the ocean, browse the seafood market, rent a paddle boat, duck into the din of a dark arcade, catch a tribute band at Brixton South Bay, maybe even sleep at the Portofino Hotel.

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High-style Hermosa

High-style Hermosa

Hermosa Beach is just 1.3 square miles. But it has plenty of action, beginning with the surfers in the water, the anglers on the pier and the world-class volleyball players thumping and sprawling by the nets on the sand. To explore all this from an upscale perch, begin by booking the Beach House at Hermosa Beach, with summer rates (in 2012) beginning at $319.

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Hermosa pier plaza

Hermosa Beach's Pier Plaza

Hermosa Beach's Pier Plaza is the last little bit of street before the beach itself begins. It's also where the hard-partying 22-year-olds tend to end up. If that's your scene, the plaza is car-free, lined by palm trees and chock-full of raucous bars and restaurants. The loudest might be Baja Sharkeez. The oldest and grungiest include the Mermaid and the Poop Deck. The best view probably belongs to the upstairs deck at Hennessey's Tavern.

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Jay Leno's other job

Jay Leno's other job

Leno's day job pays pretty well and keeps him busy. Yet the host of "The Tonight Show"continues to moonlight like a man whose mortgage is on the line. Most Sundays, he takes the stage at the Comedy & Magic Club, testing new material in a black-box space with about 250 seats. Buy a ticket to the 7 p.m. show (around $30), turn up soon after 5 p.m. (when the doors open), and you stand a good chance of claiming one of the 18 seats on the lip of the small stage (nine tables for two).

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Manhattan Beach Pier

Manhattan Beach Pier

Yes, there are three major South Bay piers, and they're all reasonably kid-friendly. But the Manhattan Beach Pier is the one with a little aquarium at the end. The Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium operates inside the eight-sided Roundhouse building (built in 1922, rebuilt in 1991), and it's free (though donations of $5 a family are suggested).

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For young and old

For young and old

Walk a few blocks up the hill from the Manhattan Beach Pier on Manhattan Beach Boulevard, pass Noah's Bagels on your right, and look left. That's Metlox, a sun-splashed semi-minimalist collection of shops and restaurants that's too genteel to call a mall. (The median household income in Manhattan Beach is more than $100,000, which makes it the wealthiest of the three beach-city neighbors.)

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LAX-area hotels

LAX-area hotels

No leisure traveler should spend more than a single night in one of those big hotels in the soulless zone that is Century Boulevard. But if you have a late-night arrival or early-morning departure, or both, that single night can be crucial. When that time comes, remember that the big airport hotels have free LAX shuttle bus service with departures every 15 to 20 minutes and that their rates are often much lower on weekends, when business travel slows.

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Theme Building at LAX

Theme Building at LAX

You know you've wondered exactly what's inside that spider-legged Jetsons-era Theme Building in the middle of LAX. The building and its Encounter restaurant, which was substantially renovated in 2010. So maybe, if you have a couple of airport hours to kill outside the security checkpoint, it's time to explore. There's a free observation deck up top that's open on weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. By day, concrete dominates the view.

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Marina del Rey

Marina del Rey

Just 10 miles north of Manhattan Beach and right next to Venice, Marina del Rey is an 800-acre sailors' haven -- a man-made lagoon with six hotels, six yacht clubs and about two dozen marinas and anchorages along its shores. Take a toddler to Mother's Beach near Admiralty and Palawan ways. Take a picnic to the grassy hillocks of Burton W. Chace Park, which is surrounded by water on three sides.

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Westside of Los Angeles

Culver City

Culver City

If Alex Trebek makes you swoon, you'll want to check out Sony Studios in Culver City. Its two-hour guided weekday walking tour costs $33 (no children younger than 12) and can include stops at soundstages where "The Wizard of Oz" was filmed in 1938 and where "Jeopardy!" has been shot since 1984. If neither Alex nor Judy Garland makes your world go 'round, think twice about this tour.

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Burgers, photography

Burgers, photography

Since 1947, the Apple Pan has been offering Angelenos burgers and desserts. No reservations, no alcohol, no air conditioning. Order the Hickory burger (about $7) and maybe a big slice of apple pie for dessert. Then head two miles northeast to Century City, where you'll park beneath the soaring cold metal and glass of the Creative Artists Agency building. You have not scored a meeting with CAA's deal makers, but they will let you in next door at the Annenberg Space for Photography, a nonprofit exhibition space with a video-friendly layout and sophisticated digital technology.

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Rodeo Drive

Rodeo Drive

The Rodeo Drive shopping experience boils down to about three blocks. Start at South Santa Monica Boulevard and make your way southeast, past Brighton and Dayton ways, to Wilshire Boulevard. See the impeccable salesman wiping fingerprints off the Cartier shop window? The strange staircase that architect Rem Koolhaas placed at the front of the Prada shop? The beckoning faux-European side street of the Two Rodeo shops?

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Beverly Hills dining

Beverly Hills dining

You can try La Cienega Boulevard, the official Restaurant Row of Beverly Hills, some other night. For now, scope out the high style and smaller scale of the eateries on Canon Drive between Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. At 225 N. Canon, glass windows reveal the steamy kitchen of Scarpetta, one of the region's most highly rated Italian restaurants.

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Paley Center for Media

Paley Center for Media

Grab a parking spot at the Beverly Hills Civic Center and walk or jog on the 1.9-mile greenbelt (a.k.a. Beverly Gardens Park) along Santa Monica Boulevard. At Beverly Drive, if not before, you'll realize you have company: That's where the big, gold "Beverly Hills" sign is, and tourists arrive day and night to pose by the letters. If it's Sunday morning, head next to the weekly farmers market at 9300 Civic Center Drive. If it's noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, step into the Paley Center for Media, because, as crazy as it sounds, some of the best things in life still aren't on YouTube.

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Beverly Hills books, deli

Beverly Hills bookstore, deli

Nate 'n Al is a deli that dates to the 1940s. You can count on ample supplies of matzo ball soup and perhaps some schmoozing by talk-show icon Larry King, who's been a breakfast regular for years. When you're full, stroll down the block and boldly step into the Taschen store. But leave the young ones at home. This elegantly arranged shop, which feels more like a gallery, is full of pricey, arty, lavish and often naughty books.

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Beverly Hills hotels

Beverly Hills hotels

Beverly Hills and environs have plenty of famous hotels, including the luxury-laden Peninsula Beverly Hills and L'Ermitage, the celebrity-heavy Four Seasons Hotel and the massive Beverly Hilton. But the elder statesman is the 210-room Beverly Hills Hotel, which opened in 1912.

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South Beverly

South Beverly and beyond

First, fuel up in SoBev (Beverly Drive south of Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills) with breakfast or lunch at the affordable, busy Urth Caffe. Now, slowly drive past Heath Avenue and Olympic Boulevard, where you'll spy the backside of Beverly Hills High School and the campus oil well, wrapped in what looks like an enormous floral-patterned oven mitt. Three blocks east of the oil well, on Olympic, pause at Roxbury Memorial Park, where there are tennis, soccer, baseball and play structures.

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Westwood and UCLA

Westwood and UCLA

Maybe it will help you feel young to see those UCLA freshmen kicking a ball around on the lawn between Royce Hall and Powell Library. Or maybe, recalling that these kids were born in the 1990s, you'll feel otherwise. Either way, with its 420 acres and nearly 40,000 students, the UCLA campus in Westwood will stretch your legs and brain. Wander on your own, or join one of the free student-led tours for prospective students and their parents most weekdays and Saturdays.

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Marilyn Monroe memorial

Marilyn Monroe memorial

Just south of Wilshire Boulevard, hidden behind a clutch of tall buildings, you'll find the Pierce Bros. Westwood Village Memorial Park & Mortuary, a grassy territory covering about 2 1/2 acres, open 8 a.m.-dusk. Marilyn Monroe rests in a crypt, her name often surrounded by lipstick kisses.

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Brentwood

Brentwood

The Brentwood Country Mart looks like a bad idea. In one of California's elite neighborhoods, a low-rise fake barn? Really? Yet locals love it. The Country Mart, which opened in 1948 as a smaller version of the Farmers Market in the Fairfax area, has more than 25 boutiques and stalls, a handful of casual eateries, one stylish bookshop and two little courtyards. Next, hop on Interstate 405 and head north to the Skirball Cultural Center, whose exhibits and performances aim to connect Jewish culture with American history.

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Getty Center

Getty Center

When Southern California devolves into feudalism, the sensible place for the new king will be atop Brentwood in the gleaming, sprawling Getty Center. This museum, backed by billions from late oil man J. Paul Getty, opened in 1997, its campus covering 110 acres. Park underground. (The museum is free, but parking costs $15.)

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West Hollywood, Fairfax, Wilshire, Koreatown

West Hollywood

West Hollywood

West Hollywood is what you get when you place a 1.9-square-mile neighborhood between Hollywood and Beverly Hills, fill it with a booming gay population and an enduring community of Russian immigrants, then give it cityhood (which happened in 1984). Along WeHo's Santa Monica Boulevard, which used to be part of Route 66, you'll find scores of nightclubs and restaurants with names such as Fubar and Mother Lode.

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Sunset Strip

Sunset Strip

In the '70s, they say, the Led Zeppelin guys rode motorcycles through one or more Sunset Strip hotel lobbies. Now that you're here, you realize they were probably just looking for parking. The Sunset Strip has action and pop-culture history, so people come.

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LACMA, tar pits

LACMA, La Brea Tar Pits

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art sprawls along the "Miracle Mile" stretch of Wilshire like a small college designed by an architect with a multiple-personality disorder. (The buildings have gone up piecemeal for five decades.) For a dose of order, step into the grid of 202 street lamps out front ("Urban Light," by Chris Burden, 2008).

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Art and Architecture

Art and Architecture

This part of Los Angeles is big on design -- not only clothes and art but also architecture. For insight into Modernist pioneer and L.A. emigre Rudolph Schindler, check out the bare walls and simple geometry of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture (a.k.a. the Schindler House), which he designed as a two-family home in the 1920s.

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Farmers Market

Farmers Market and shopping

Farmers Market was born in 1934 as a dirt lot where farmers sold goods from trucks. Now it's one of the best-loved public spaces in the city, and the grounds include about 40 restaurants and dozens of shops, some local, some national, and a few produce merchants. Next to the market is the Grove, which has upscale retail, movies, a grassy patch and cavorting fountains for kids.

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Fairfax's ethnic eats

Fairfax's ethnic eats

Canter's Deli stays open all night, dates to 1931, anchors the Jewish business district along North Fairfax and is as old school as L.A. gets. But it has a rock 'n' roll life too. In the 1960s, Frank Zappa and the Doors used to hang out on Tuesday nights at Canter's Kibitz Room lounge.

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La Brea, Melrose

La Brea, Melrose

Brace yourself. Your first stop is the original Pink's, a hot dog haven founded in 1939 by Paul and Betty Pink. It opens at 9:30 a.m. Arrive much later and there's likely to be a long line. Order the chili dog ($3.45), admire the wall of fame (Steve Martin, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Cosby and George Lopez), sit in the rear patio and watch your meal vanish. Now on to Melrose Avenue, between Fairfax and Highland, where retailers showcase edgy displays and bizarre goods. Japanese dinosaur suit?

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Koreatown

Koreatown

Koreatown was born in the 1970s as Korean immigrants settled in the area along Olympic and Wilshire boulevards between Vermont and Western avenues. It has grown into an equal-opportunity night-life zone, frequented by USC and UCLA students and grads, lighted by electronic billboards and fed by all-you-can-eat barbecue joints and trendy food trucks.

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Wilshire Boulevard

Wilshire Boulevard

It's L.A.'s grand boulevard, a 16-mile shrine to all things automotive and a collector of immigrant cultures. So get on Wilshire downtown and roll east to west, past the old Art Deco Bullocks Wilshire building (occupied by Southwestern Law School); past the former Ambassador Hotel, where Robert F. Kennedywas killed in 1968 and legions of kids go to school (the Robert F. KennedyCommunity of Schools); and past the sleek, green Wiltern theater, a 1931 marvel.

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Pasadena and environs

Architecture

Architecture

To see why the Arroyo Seco is so central to the Pasadena state of mind, join the early-morning dog-walkers for some vigorous striding along South Arroyo Boulevard near Arbor Street, where grand old trees tower above grand old houses. On your way in and out, look at the stylish old U.S. courthouse (Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals) and imagine when it was the Vista del Arroyo Hotel or, before that, Emma Bangs' boardinghouse.

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Museums

Museums

For a lot of top-notch art in a small place, you can't beat the Norton Simon Museum. It begins out front with "The Burghers of Calais," Rodin's 1884 bronze celebration of heroic and doomed politicians. It continues inside with a murderers' row of European and Asian artists, including Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Rafael. Then there's the handsome garden and pond in back. (Closed Tuesdays.)

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Rose Parade

Rose Parade

In late December, you can expect scaffolding to go up along Colorado Boulevard -- reviewing stands for the Rose Parade, which lays siege to Pasadena every Jan. 1 (or Jan. 2, if Jan. 1 falls on Sunday, as it did in 2012). For details on the opportunities and complications that come with it, from float-viewing to road closures, check www.tournamentofroses.com.

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Colorado Boulevard

Colorado Boulevard

In Old Pasadena, scads of national chains occupy the historic facades along Colorado Boulevard, and sidewalks are filled with pedestrians day and night. To find homegrown merchants and eateries, check the old brick alleys and side streets or sign on to a Melting Pot Food Tour. Don't miss the kid-friendly public art in alleys and the courtyard of the One Colorado complex.

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Rose Bowl

Rose Bowl

Now nearing 90, the Rose Bowl is in the middle of a renovation, but the sports continue. Besides hosting the Rose Bowl football game every January, the stadium is home field for UCLA football. On the second Sunday of each month, the Rose Bowl Flea Market materializes with its antler lamps, dial telephones, vintage fishing poles, and daunting entrance fee. It'll cost you at least $8 to get in (they said flea, not free), but it is epic.

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South Lake Avenue

South Lake Avenue

Shopping South Lake Avenue is like surfing: Someone is going to tell you how much better it was before you came. And life was good in the '90s, when retailers thrived and the Huntington hotel was run by Ritz-Carlton. But now is not bad. The former Ritz, now known as the Langham Huntington Pasadena, stands on 23 acres and specializes in spa indulgences and twinkling holiday decorations.

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Horse racing, hiking

Horse racing, hiking

There's a gambler or a horse lover in every family, right? If it's racing season (late December-late April), take him, her or them to Santa Anita Park, where Seabiscuit once galloped to glory and the view of the San Gabriels is reliably gorgeous. Horses usually run Thursdays-Sundays. You can watch early workouts for free from 5-10 a.m. from Clocker's Corner at the west end of the track.

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Arcadia

Arcadia

Tired of people? Try peacocks and cycads instead. At the 127- acre L.A. County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, you can do that, inspect reflections on Baldwin Lake and read up on the life, times and wives of local pioneer Lucky Baldwin, whose land this once was. When you get hungry, there are hundreds of Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants along the main drags of nearby San Gabriel, Alhambra and Monterey Park. But you have world-famous dumplings within 1.2 miles, so you're headed to Din Tai Fung.

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Eagle Rock, Glendale

Eagle Rock, Glendale

Start in hipster-heavy Eagle Rock, just west of Pasadena, with a comfort breakfast at Auntie Em's. Then head about three miles west to Forest Lawn Memorial Park, which is a cemetery in the same sense that Hearst Castle is a house. Begun in 1906, these 300 acres of rolling green hills contain more copied Michelangelo sculptures and celebrity graves than any place else you'll find all week.

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South Pasadena

South Pasadena

South Pasadena (another sort of Main Street USA, but this time with yoga and lattes) won't jolt you with its high energy. In fact, it may tranquilize you with its prosperous, family-friendly calm. First, get breakfast at Heirloom Bakery. Stroll on highly walkable Mission Street, Meridian Avenue and El Centro Street, and maybe break for a snack at the mural-bedecked Buster's Ice Cream & Coffee Stop, next to the Metro tracks.

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San Marino

San Marino

When in San Marino (median household income: about $159,000 a year), why not loll like a 1-percenter? Have an elegant breakfast at Julienne, or get a meal to go from its gourmet market and head for nearby Lacy Park, a 30-acre refuge of tall trees, playground and paths well-suited to picnickers and beginning bicyclists.

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Hollywood

Hollywood sign

Hollywood sign

Head to the Monastery of the Angels, a mile from the Hollywood sign, where 17 cloistered nuns spend their days praying, eating, sleeping and making desserts. On any day but Sunday, you can hand over $10 to the gift-shop volunteer for a hefty loaf of pumpkin bread -- which would make a fine souvenir, but you're likely to nibble it away in short order. Then head two blocks east to Beachwood Drive, turn north toward the famous sign and keep going even after the road dwindles to dirt.

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Hollywood Bowl

Hollywood Bowl, Greek Theatre

The Hollywood Bowl is such a prime city asset that it's a wonder nobody has proposed selling it to reduce municipal debt. It was carved into the hills in the 1920s and programmed by the L.A. Philharmonic, seats about 17,000 people and stages mostly jazz, classical works and show-tune performances, June through September. For newbies, the big surprise is that by long tradition, audiences can bring their own picnics, beer and wine.

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Hip strip

Hip strip

You're not in a hurry. So you patiently seek one of the rare parking spots off Franklin Avenue near Tamarind Avenue, then meander past the trendy row of shops and restaurants between Tamarind and Bronson avenues. Browse used books and music (including CDs, LPs, 45s, 78s, cassettes, eight-tracks and reel-to-reels) at Counterpoint Records & Books, scan magazines at the Daily Planet.

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Pantages Theatre

Pantages Theatre

Wouldn't that be a great name for an L.A. law firm? Sit down to an early dinner at Musso & Frank Grill, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood (opened 1919), for old-world service, setting and menu, with juicy steaks and the option of Jell-O for dessert. (It's closed Sundays and Mondays.) Now you're ready for some live theater at the Pantages Theatre, whose 1930 Art Deco lobby is one of the greatest rooms in the city.

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Hollywood & Highland

Hollywood & Highland

If you can handle $56 ($43 plus tax and processing fee) a person and up, there's no better place than Hollywood to see a sort-of play about movies -- Cirque du Soleil's "Iris," which shares the 3,332-seat Kodak Theatre with the annual Oscars ceremony. "Iris," which premiered in mid-2011, is a mix of gymnastics, dancing, live music, cinematic effects and trapeze work, held together by a slender plot. It's expected to run for years.

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Hollywood Walk of Fame

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Don't worry about missing the Hollywood Walk of Fame -- you're sure to come across it in the course of seeing other Hollywood. But for the record, its 2,400-plus terrazzo stars, the first of which were laid in 1960, now cover 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and a few neighboring streets too. To see who's where, check http://projects.latimes.com/hollywood/star-walk.

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Stars at work, rest

Stars at work, rest

Like Universal and Warner Bros.studios in the San Fernando Valley and Sony in Culver City, Paramount Pictures opens its lot to paying visitors, offering a two-hour guided weekday tour ($48 a person, reservations required) by foot and golf cart. Really, the Warner Bros. tour is better than the others at giving outsiders a sense of working Hollywood, including glimpses of prop inventories and sound-effects tools.

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Magic Castle

Magic Castle

The bad news: You probably aren't among the 5,000 worldwide members of the Academy for Magical Arts. The good news: For a price, you can still spend an evening in its one-of-a-kind clubhouse, the Magic Castle. The castle is a 1909 Victorian mansion a few blocks north of Hollywood Boulevard.

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East Hollywood

East Hollywood

For years, Palm's Thai restaurant has had a not-so-secret weapon: Kavee Thongpreecha, better known as Thai Elvis, who serenaded diners with the King's hits while they dug into boar, deep-fried frog, fish maw salad and more conventional Thai dishes. Thai Elvis has been recently sidelined by poor health, but Palm's Thai is still an emblematic L.A. experience.

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Music and soul food

Music and soul food

Start by scavenging for new and used music and videos in cavernous Amoeba Music. Cross Sunset to Space 15 Twenty, a little alt-mall that includes an Umami Burger and a Hennessey + Ingalls art and design bookstore. For fortification, head to Stout, which specializes in burgers and has more than two dozen beers on tap.

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Joshua Tree National Park and Desert Hot Springs

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park covers nearly 800,000 acres. No matter the time of year, you'll enjoy it most in the day's first and last hours of light, when the shadows get interesting and temperatures change fast. The Mojave and Colorado deserts collide here, and a few billion rocks demand climbing or observation. There are almost as many cartoonish Joshua trees, which are better admired than climbed.

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Downtown Joshua Tree

Downtown Joshua Tree

Get your first meal at the Crossroads Cafe where the bulletin board is liable to mention rock climbers' chalk bags for sale; mercenaries for hire; and any upcoming drum circles. (At least, it did in February.) For a date shake, walk down to Richochet. For gear or a guide, stop at Joshua Tree Outfitters (61707 Twenty-nine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree).

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Desert art

Desert art

There's a growing art scene here, and not just within the walls of the Red Arrow Gallery and Joshua Tree Art Gallery on the main drag. Check out the artists of High Desert Test Sites, who make outdoor works that the desert will transform and reclaim. Like the galleries, the headquarters opens on weekends (Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m.- 3 p.m.) and one work is always accessible.

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Pioneertown

Pioneertown

Pioneertown, up on a plateau about five miles north of Yucca Valley, was built in the 1940s as a TV and movie set. Some decades later, along came Pappy and Harriet's Pioneer Town Palace, a roadhouse with live music that has become a desert institution. Somehow, Pappy's gently blends desert-rat locals with escaped city slickers and lures performers you'd never expect in the middle of nowhere.

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The Integratron

The Integratron

You're either up for The Integratron or you're not. It stands about 20 minutes' drive north of Joshua Tree, a white wooden dome, 38 feet high and 55 feet in diameter, built in the 1950s, '60s and '70s by renegade aeronautical engineer George Van Tassel (who died in 1978). Van Tassel wanted to contact other worlds.

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Twentynine Palms

Twentynine Palms

The city of 29 Palms stands at the northern entrance to the national park, its population of 30,000 dominated by the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, which readies marines for service overseas. Since the early 1990s, town boosters have bankrolled the painting of about two-dozen historic murals, so as you roll past all the barbershops in town (marine cuts a specialty), you'll notice a lot of history in living color.

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Roughley Manor

Roughley Manor

In a territory dominated by stray boulders, why is it so surprising to find a house with stone walls? Maybe it's because Roughley Manor, which goes back to 1928, is three stories high and surrounded by equally tall trees. This is a good spot for families, its 25 acres set apart from the rest of town, the grounds including a pool, grassy areas, two suites in the main house and five cottages.

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Big Morongo preserve

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

After you've zoomed down the hill from Joshua Tree but before you reach the windmill forest at the entrance to the Coachella Valley, you reach Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, where boardwalk trails trace paths past riparian brush and desert willows. More than 250 bird species have been recorded in the area. When you're done, hop across the highway for grub at Willie Boy's Saloon & Dance Hall.

Two Bunch Palms

Two Bunch Palms

If you saw Tim Robbins take a mud bath in "The Player" (1992), you've seen Two Bunch Palms. Set on 56 acres and shaded by palms and tamarisks, this 52-room resort goes back to the earliest days of Desert Hot Springs. It also has a new set of owners -- which is good, because many guests have complained for years about the property's deterioration.

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The pueblo and the spas

The pueblo and the spas

First you'll see the head -- a 40-foot Indian head with feather, carved from sequoia by artist Peter Toth in 1978. Then you'll notice the rest of Cabot's Pueblo Museum, a four-level, 35-room mansion built in ersatz Hopi style by Cabot Yerxa, one of the pioneering eccentrics of Desert Hot Springs.

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Spa time

Spa time

You're done with the park, your muscles are sore, and your wallet is thin. And so, for just $7 on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday -- or $5 on most weekdays -- you buy a day pass at the Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel. There, you meander among eight spring-fed pools, each a different temperature. (On Tuesdays, the price drops to $3.).

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San Diego, Coronado and La Jolla

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

For all the attention it gets, the San Diego Zoo boils down to about 3,700 animals on 100 acres -- not unlike certain college campuses. But instead of four years, you spend a full day, beginning at the 9 a.m. opening. Use the bus or Skyfari aerial tram to trim walking time.

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Balboa Park

Balboa Park

Even if you omit the zoo, Balboa Park is among the most inviting and enlightening public spaces on the West Coast. Its 1,200 acres include more than a dozen museums (fine art, folk arts, photographic arts, cars, planes, trains, anthropology, natural history, sports) and several performing arts venues, most notably the Old Globe theaters. Then there are the gardens, the reflecting pool and a few restaurants.

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East Village

East Village

The East Village, east of the Gaslamp Quarter, is beginning to outshine much of downtown. It helps that pleasant, intimate Petco Park is tucked in amid the condos, hotels, retailers and restaurants. And it doesn't hurt that the ballpark has added Hodad's, a locally renowned burger joint, to its list of food purveyors.

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Little Italy

Little Italy

In the early 20th century, when tuna fishing meant more to San Diego than conventioneers did, Italian fishermen lived on and near India Street. Then the tuna industry began to shrivel, Caltrans put a freeway through the neighborhood, and Little Italy dwindled.

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Old Town

Old Town

If you like celebrating a Latin culture that thrived in San Diego long ago, you need not stop with Little Italy. Follow the legions of tourists north to Old Town, which was the heart of San Diego in its years under Mexican control from the 1820s to the 1840s.

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Coronado

Coronado

Begin with a greasy-spoon breakfast at Clayton's Coffee Shop, with its horseshoe-shaped counter and military specials. Then meander to the beach by the Hotel del Coronado, where Navy SEALs often train and sandcastle master Bill Pavlacka often fashions amazing edifices.

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Point Loma

Point Loma

Plenty of tourists overlook Point Loma, but not you. First stop is the Cabrillo National Monument, where an 1850s lighthouse overlooks dramatic cliffs and tide pools. On the way, you'll see the grassy slopes of Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery, where about 100,000 service members and family members are buried. Then return to Point Loma Seafoods, a local haunt that upgraded in early 2012, and grab a table on the upstairs deck overlooking the marina.

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Mission Bay

Mission Bay

Shamu beckons, and if you can face entrance fees of as much as $73 a head, you'll answer. Founded in 1964 by four former UCLA frat brothers, SeaWorld San Diego has rides, shows and scores of animals, including dolphins, penguins, seals, sea lions, polar bears and killer whales.

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Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach

Just about the sleekest thing in hard-partying P.B. is Tower 23, a bright minimalist hotel that faces the waves and the old wooden Crystal Pier. If you have kids along, head instead for the pier itself -- the Crystal Pier Hotel has some cottages that date to 1930 and hang above the waves. If the beachfront parade of joggers, bikers and skateboarders is too much, try a room on the quieter bay side of Mission Boulevard at the Catamaran Hotel.

La Jolla

La Jolla

La Jolla's scenery speaks for itself, if you can hear it over the yawp of the harbor seals that have taken over the beach at the Children's Pool near Coast Boulevard and Jenner Street. Find your way early to Coast Boulevard so you can snag street parking. Then enjoy grassy Ellen Browning Scripps Park, the Coast Walk Trail between Cave Street and Torrey Pines Road, the upscale shops on Prospect Street and the galleries on Girard Avenue.

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Torrey Pines

Torrey Pines

The epic scenery continues at Torrey Pines State Beach, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Torrey Pines Golf Course. You might want to sleep at the Spanish-style Estancia La Jolla resort or visit Birch Aquarium, where admission is $14.

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Santa Barbara and environs

Ojai

Ojai

Ojai is the sort of place where mystics meditate on hilltops (as author and teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti did from the 1920s to the 1980s), where Jack Nicholson holed up with the Monkees to make a kooky movie (as they did in 1968 for the film "Head"), where "the pink moment" is a solemn civic ritual otherwise known as sunset. The town (fewer than 8,000 people) sits in a valley full of oak trees, its residents eager to embrace all things artsy, quick to denounce any chain store or restaurant.

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The Reagan legacy

The Reagan legacy

To understand the Great Communicator better, head for the Simi Hills and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum (40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley). Using an array of modern media, this complex shows the 40th president's folksy charm, his tiny handwriting (over the decades, he scribbled thousands of favorite quotations on index cards) and a portrait of him made from butterfly wings (a gift from the Central African Republic).

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Ventura

Ventura

Santa Barbara will still be more than 20 miles away when you pull off the northbound 101 Freeway in Ventura. On and near Main Street, you'll find antiques shops, thrift stores, the San Buenaventura Mission and vintage masonry and tile work on the walls of the Watermark Restaurant. At 21 S. California St., you'll see the office building where author and attorney Erle Stanley Gardner created the beloved lawyer Perry Mason.

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Carpinteria

Carpinteria

Hear that gently lapping surf near the Ventura-Santa Barbara county line? That might be the world's safest beach beckoning. Boosters of Carpinteria (Carp, for short) have long bragged about its calm, kid-friendly waters, and the little town's beach-adjacent campground and highly strollable Linden Avenue are additional selling points. If you intend to camp at Carpinteria State Beach, congratulations -- you'll be a pebble's toss from the water and still able to walk downtown.

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Montecito and environs

In and around Montecito

Built in 1927, the Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore is a wonderland of Spanish colonial arches and colored tiles, shaded by fig trees, swaddled by ferns. Not only does it face Butterfly Beach but its guests also get access to the Coral Casino, a ritzy private club with a bigger-than-Olympic pool and two restaurants.

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Architecture, art

Architecture, art

The Old Mission Santa Barbara sits next to a big lawn at the foot of a spectacular hillside neighborhood. (Are those private homes, or is this a whole block of liberal arts colleges?) In late May, you have the annual I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival, for which dozens of artists fill the pavement in front of the church with vividly colorful pastel images.

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B&B and Bouchon

B&B and Bouchon

The Simpson House is anniversary insurance. You can get a lot of things wrong, but if you mark that big date by bringing your mate to this 1874 Victorian B&B, which sits on a verdant acre, much will be forgiven. Especially if you rent the Hayloft room.

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State Street

State Street

At some point, every Santa Barbara visit will include State Street; it's the main drag, and it's where you'll find the handsome old train station, near the loud, gritty, beachy end of things. If you start at that end, you'll have many bars to choose from and a Tuesday afternoon farmers market between Haley and Ortega streets.

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Stearns Wharf

Stearns Wharf

Stearns Wharf is full of tourist businesses that locals don't bother with, but it also has the kid-friendly touch tanks of the Ty Warner Sea Center, and it's still a great place to stand at sunset. It's also the starting point for an inspection tour of the arts-and-crafts booths that line up along Cabrillo Boulevard from 10 a.m. to dusk every Sunday and some holidays.

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Beach B&Bs

Beach B&Bs

For a quiet night and a beach breakfast, begin at the well-appointed Franciscan Inn, an easy walk from the shore (or the marina) but three long blocks west of the tumult of lower State Street.

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East Beach

East Beach

Santa Barbara has plenty of beaches, but East Beach is known for its volleyball action and all-around scene. It has a built-in snack stop, the East Beach Grill. But you're already close to the taqueria district, a.k.a. North Milpas Street. There, much-celebrated La Super Rica continues to turn out remarkable food in an ultra-casual setting.

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San Diego North County

Legoland

Legoland

Apart from that guy who whispered "Plastics!" to Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate" all those years ago, who suspected that little interlocking bricks would one day threaten to rule the world?

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Carlsbad

Carlsbad

Feeling naughty? Grab a sugary bite at Boxd, which serves waffle sandwiches out of a converted shipping container in the heart of town. Then jump in the ocean and see if you get cramps. (Despite what your mother told you, the evidence is thin.) After your dip, try lunch or a happy-hour dinner at Las Olas Restaurant, an ultra-casual Mexican place with an older sibling restaurant farther south in Cardiff.

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Swami's Beach

Swami's Beach

Swami's Beach is a great spot for surfing, strolling or running, reached by a staircase just south of the Self-Realization Fellowship's temple grounds. (Hence the name Swami's.) For dinner, there are plenty of options along the coast highway, but there's only one Q'ero Peruvian Kitchen, a very tasty spot.

Botanic garden

San Diego Botanic Garden

The San Diego Botanic Garden is a 37-acre wonderland of plants that has been open (under various names) since 1971. It includes flora from around the world, including a hilarious band of semi-topiary musicians in the Mexican garden and the terrific Hamilton Children's Garden, whose "spell and smell" garden covers the alphabet from aloe to zebra grass.

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Design and dinner

Design and dinner

Who knew, back in the late 1940s, what the Bill Jack Scientific Instrument Co. was starting? That company, housed in a series of Quonset huts along Cedros Avenue, has receded into Solana Beach history. But those swooping rooflines remain, the space now occupied by shops and restaurants -- and Cedros Avenue has been reborn as a design district. Browse its many design and antiques shops, such as the Leaping Lotus, which sells jewelry, furniture and art (and, regrettably, Obama and Romney toilet paper at $5.99 a roll).

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Solana Beach

Solana Beach

How to begin an ideal day: Rise early. Jump into the ocean at Solana Beach's Fletcher Cove, where a pleasant little green park meets the sea. Some locals call it the Pillbox because there was a gunnery installation here during World War II.

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Rancho Santa Fe

Rancho Santa Fe

In the fertile hills a few miles east of Solana Beach, you'll find the roadside headquarters of Chino Farms, a Japanese American family operation that produces fruit and vegetables beloved by chefs such as Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck. The farm is 45 acres. The stand (officially known as the Vegetable Shop) has been in business since 1969, and whether it's peppers, strawberries, carrots, onions or greens, the quality is startling and priced accordingly (cash only).

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Del Mar

Del Mar

Del Mar, with its many Tudoresque buildings, Olde English street names, stratospheric property values and well-fixed gentry, might remind you of Carmel. But Carmel has no horse racing (see below), and Del Mar has milder weather, busier beaches and bigger home lots. It's the sort of place where a motel can charge $259 a night in summer and Ranch & Coast Plastic Surgery hangs its shingle along the main drag.

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Del Mar Fairgrounds

Del Mar Fairgrounds

It was here at the county fairgrounds in 1958 that a teenager named Raquel Tejada was named San Diego's Fairest of the Fair and was launched on her way to becoming Raquel Welch. Like Raquel, the San Diego County Fair endures (it ran June 8-July 4), midway and all.

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Safari park

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

If the San Diego Zoo is the tidy and compressed Twitter version of the animal kingdom, then the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formerly the San Diego Wild Animal Park) is the New Yorker article. It rambles. The animals, scattered over 1,800 acres of dry hills in the San Pasqual Valley, are relatively free to roam.

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Rancho Bernardo

Rancho Bernardo

There are plenty of premium golf options north of La Jolla, including hotel-adjacent courses at the Grand Del Mar, Aviara and La Costa in Carlsbad. There's also a less luxurious, less pricey option a little farther inland -- the hacienda-style Rancho Bernardo Inn . Along with its 18-hole championship course, this resort offers more than 280 guest rooms, three pools and three restaurants.

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Santa Barbara County wine country

Camping

Camping

About 13 miles before the northbound 101 Freeway bends inland at Gaviota Pass, El Capitan State Beach and its neighbors offer places to splash in the Pacific and sit around a campfire before the wine country begins in earnest. The state beach is a rugged stretch of sand-and-rock coastline, and it includes a campground (which, in September, was afflicted by a behind-schedule construction project).

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Cold Spring Tavern

Cold Spring Tavern

Cold Spring Tavern may be the greatest throwback in Santa Barbara County -- a 19th century stagecoach stop built from logs, where you can huddle by one of the stone fireplaces or dine on boar chops and rabbit medallions. If you take Highway 154, it's on the way from Santa Barbara to Solvang, and it's open for lunch and dinner daily.

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Solvang

Solvang

Don't pretend you're above Solvang. The city, founded in 1911 by Danish educators as a little slice of Denmark in the California outback, might be the global capital of windmill kitsch. Stroll down Copenhagen Drive, pause at the big red wooden clogs outside the Solvang Shoe Store, then nose around the Viking-themed restaurants and Nordic knife merchants, which are joined by neighbors such as the Thomas Kinkade Gallery and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.

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Steak and pea soup

Steak and pea soup

You're not going to spend this holiday retracing locations in "Sideways." But you need to know that the Hitching Post II, seen prominently in that 2004 film, is just off the 101 with a long list of steaks barbecued Santa Maria style over oak.

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Alisal Ranch

Alisal Ranch

Then again, maybe you're better off. And maybe horses or golf courses inhabit your dreams. If so, the place for you may be Alisal Ranch, tucked into the hills just outside Solvang. Born as a dude ranch in 1946, it has 73 rooms and suites set on 10,000 acres, with a 100-acre private lake, a busy corral, 50 miles of riding trails, two 18-hole golf courses, seven tennis courts, pool, spa and fitness center.

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Los Olivos

Los Olivos

Los Olivos is tiny but mighty -- full of wine, art, equestrian accessories and countrified emblems of status and wealth. Choose among more than 20 winery tasting rooms. Browse the Bin 2860 Wine Shop in the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn. Get lunch on the patio of Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe, where you can peruse a 37-page wine list while eavesdropping on gossip about quarter horses and real estate.

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Los Alamos

Los Alamos

Long-slumbering Los Alamos, about 12 miles northwest of Los Olivos and 20 miles northwest of Solvang, is waking up. Start with breakfast at Cafe Quackenbush, then wander into the adjoining Art Brut Gallery, where the fetching California landscapes include Alan Freeman's boldly colored rural scenes.

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Lompoc

Lompoc

Most wine country tourists stick to the east side of 101, but not you. You head west. At Lompoc (pronounce that LOME-poke), if it's late spring or summer, you'll be greeted by colorful flower fields. Enjoy, but keep going west and take Jalama Road, a two-lane country byway that will deliver you to underappreciated coastline just south of Vandenberg Air Force Base.

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Foxen Canyon

Foxen Canyon

The Foxen Canyon Wine Trail covers 16 wineries and lots of gorgeous ground. It's about 28 miles from the Andrew Murray Vineyards in Los Olivos to Cambria winery in the Santa Maria Valley, and much of the route follows Foxen Canyon Road, a curvy route that skirts low-lying vineyards along one stretch, then climbs elsewhere to follow oak-studded ridgelines with big views.

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Coachella Valley

Shopping and dinosaurs

Shopping and dinosaurs

Even before you get to Palm Springs, the spending opportunities begin. A little east of Banning on Interstate 10, the Desert Hills Premium Outlets include about 130 upscale retailers with names such as Armani, Ferragamo and Gucci, along with a few more that aren't Italian. Then come the Cabazon Outlet Stores, about 15 retailers with a sporty slant, including Puma, Rip Curl, Oakley and Columbia.

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Entering Palm Springs

Entering Palm Springs

On the way into Palm Springs, stop at the Palm Springs Visitors Center (formerly the Tramway Gas Station) and marvel at its midcentury modernity. Browse the brochures for free, or plop down $5 for a map of modern architecture landmarks in the Coachella Valley.

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Aerial tramway

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a standard tourist stop -- and at $23.95 per adult, not a cheap one. But it's also a wondrous thing: a 10-minute ride up the steep, rocky slopes of Mt. San Jacinto from 2,643 feet above sea level to 8,516 feet. Hike near the top, or throw a snowball if it's winter. Trams run until 8 p.m., so you can catch the glimmer of distant desert city lights after dark.

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Downtown

Downtown Palm Springs

Come to where the restaurants hiss (it's the misters, keeping customers moist) and "Marilyn" stands tall. The best night to do downtown Palm Springs is Thursday, when cars are banished from part of Palm Canyon Drive and Villagefest invites pedestrians and farmers market vendors to take over. The Palm Springs Art Museum, open Tuesdays-Sundays, is full of fascinating works such as Indian blanket designs and contemporary glass.

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Indian Canyons

Indian Canyons

Start early with caffeine at Koffi (1700 S. Camino Real, Palm Springs), then head to the Indian Canyons , which open at 8 a.m. Yes, Indian Canyons sounds like a mall, but -- are you sitting down? -- it's actually a trio of canyons owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Your destination is Palm Canyon, which is 15 miles long, its floor shaded by some of the few native palm trees in all of Southern California.

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Theaters

Theaters

Start with the Palm Springs Air Museum and its colorful collection of World War II aircraft. The museum stands next to the city's airport, and one hangar is devoted to the Pacific Theater, with large, helpful maps and other exhibits; another hangar covers Europe.

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Museums

Museums

The Living Desert is a great place to tiptoe into the landscape. In addition to its extensive cactus and succulent gardens, the institution has a large collection of animals, including giraffes, camels and bighorn sheep that roam on a steep but enclosed hillside.

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Sunnylands

Sunnylands

Since February 2012, nine acres of the Sunnylands gardens and a handsome, glass-walled Sunnylands Center building have been open to the public for free, Thursdays-Sundays. The carefully arranged gardens and twin reflecting pools are a great haven, and you can grab a salad or sandwich at a cafe on the grounds.

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La Quinta, Indio

La Quinta, Indio

Begin the day by waking at La Quinta Resort & Club. This sprawling Spanish-style retreat, about 40 minutes southeast of downtown Palm Springs, has 796 hotel rooms (often available for less than $200 a night) on 45 acres, along with 41 pools, 23 tennis courts, seven restaurants and five public golf courses.

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Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead and Idyllwild

Roadside scenery

Roadside scenery

One of the best things about a local mountain trip is getting there. Yes, driving those two-lane roads takes your full attention, but there are views to cherish as you creep into the San Bernardino Mountains on State Route 330 (or, depending on traffic and your destination, State Route 18 or State Route 38).

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Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain, Snow Valley

For skiers and snowboarders, there's good news. Thanks to December's storms, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit at Big Bear Lake and Snow Valley at Running Springs are all open. Running Springs is about 85 miles east of Los Angeles; Big Bear Lake, 15 miles farther. Check individual resorts for info on snowfall and trails.

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Big Bear Lake dining

Big Bear Lake dining

If you're a young boarder on the way to Bear Mountain, stop at the gritty Grizzly Manor Cafe to load up on calories with menu items such as the Blob and the Mess, and to check out the bumper-sticker collection. (Over the stove: "Friends don't let friends join Sierra Club.")

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Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake (population, about 5,000; altitude, 6,750 feet) is a mountain town with a 7-mile-long lake next door, a batch of vintage cabins and lodges on its side streets and a deflating series of national franchises along its main drag. Besides skiing and boarding in winter, it offers all sorts of hiking, boating and fishing in summer. You can start with a comfort-food breakfast at Teddy Bear Restaurant, then browse a few shops in the neighboring Village.

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Big Bear Lake outdoors

Big Bear Lake outdoors

Wake in your woodsy unit at Sleepy Forest Cottages, then stroll a few blocks in the adjacent Eagle Point neighborhood. Here, along Eureka Drive, Eagle Drive and Meadow Park, you see massive and classic cabins with big lake views. For a more direct lake view, head about 2 miles west to Boulder Bay Park, which has picnic tables, a covered pavilion and a little fishing dock.

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Fawnskin

Fawnskin

On the quieter, lazier side of Big Bear Lake is the community of Fawnskin. To lie low, sleep in the Inn at Fawnskin, which is the big log cabin Laura Ashley would choose if she were in the neighborhood. Locals will recommend at least one meal at the North Shore Cafe.

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Lake Arrowhead

Lake Arrowhead

Right away, you'll see this is not Big Bear. The lake is privately owned, which means the only people allowed to put boats on it are Arrowhead Woods homeowners and their guests. And even those people are banned from wind-surfing, kneeboarding or using jet skis. As you may have surmised, the roughly 11,000 folks who live here earn about twice as much money as those in Big Bear (so says the Census Bureau).

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Idyllwild

Idyllwild

If you live to ski or snowboard, stay away from Idyllwild -- nothing for you here. But everybody else, including rock-climbers, listen up. Idyllwild (population 3,500; altitude 5,300 feet) sits in the San Jacinto Mountains, fairly bursting with artsiness. Mountain Mike's has been selling custom leather work, hats, moccasins, straight-edge razors, holsters and elk hides ($10 a square foot) for more than 30 years (For $400, you can have a pair of slippers hand-sewn of sheepskin, elk skin and deer hide, with bull-hide soles.)

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Scenic byway

Palms to Pines Scenic Byway

If you'd rather enjoy your mountain scenery without getting dirty or sweaty, grab your convertible or motorcycle (or just roll the windows down) and try the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway. It begins at Banning (on the way from L.A. to the Coachella Valley) and under the name State Route 243, it climbs steeply to Idyllwild.

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