Today, with full expectation of howling dissent and snorts of derision, we present the Travel section's first California Golden 15. We, your neighbors, do so as the holiday travel season approaches and as distant strangers peddle their compendiums of places you should visit before you die. These are 15 places we think you must visit to grasp the wonder of this state.
This is not California for beginners -- not Disneyland, not Hearst Castle, not the San Diego Zoo, not even Sutter's Mill. (Those and 11 other basic must-see destinations get their own sidebar; see Page 15.) This is the California that speaks to the seasoned native and the thoughtful newcomer, the California that waits beyond the well-explored city limits of Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
This California checklist remembers when the license plates were black, what Jerry Brown's dad did for a living, what PSA stood for on the side of those smiling old jets. But this is a 21st century list too. Its contents have been harvested from a combined 254 years of California residence and travels among eight Travel staffers. (Don't get worked up about the numbers; the list of destinations is random, not by ranking.)
The deliberations, by the way, were not tranquil. Some believe the date shake should be made our official state beverage; others do not. One contends that Lombard Street in San Francisco is the state's dumbest tourist attraction, although there is also support for Hollywood and Vine; Cannery Row in Monterey; the big thermometer in Baker; and Erick Schat's Bakkery in Bishop. Yet when it comes to shellfish, we can agree. In our first solicitation for staff nominations, the only destination to win multiple votes was Tomales Bay, an oyster eater's utopia.
For 15 more destinations that merited honorable mention, check latimes.com/honorables. You also can create your own list (latimes.com/favorites), rate your own California travel quotient (latimes.com/scoreboard) -- and be reminded about those PSA initials.