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369 posts
  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

Why: It’s amazing how few L.A.-area restaurants celebrate the outdoors. Geoffrey’s in Malibu does. There’s hardly a bad table in this special occasion venue, where the ocean is almost as close as your wine glass.

What: A little fancy, yet hardly stuffy, Geoffrey’s has long been a go-to Malibu restaurant for anniversaries, proposals, birthdays and wedding showers.

(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

The patio restaurant is super busy in summer and over the holidays, making a warm November day an excellent time to go for a leisurely lunch – it stays open through the afternoon, with a brief pause from 3:30 to 4 p.m., as it resets for dinner. But linger at your table; this isn’t a place to rush you out.

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  • Family-friendly
  • Central Coast
The back of the house.
The back of the house. (Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

Why: If you need to be convinced that the delight is in the details, a visit to Casa del Herrero in Montecito will make a believer out of you. If you’re already a believer, you’ll be in your element.

What: Casa del Herrero (House of the Blacksmith), a 1925 home designated a National Historic Landmark in 2009, lets you peek into California, Spanish and Moorish homes and history. George and Carrie Steedman (pronounced sted-man) of St. Louis decamped to build their Spanish Colonial Revival dream house on 11 acres. If its design looks familiar, it’s because architect George Washington Smith designed nearly six dozen homes and some commercial buildings in the area. Their collaboration was like genius squared.

The side door.
The side door. (Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

The courtyard entrance, where a Spanish-tiled fountain gurgles, brings visitors to the front of a house that looks disappointingly plain. Not to worry. Open the door and you’re transported to southern Spain and its Moorish influences. The rooms reflect an Iberian shopping spree that filled the house with 13th and 17th century furnishings, tapestries and more.

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  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
The Great Mausoleum
The Great Mausoleum (Los Angeles Times)

Why: This is one of the grand cemeteries in the world -- in setting, in scope, in star power. Step inside Forest Lawn Glendale and honor the memories of Elizabeth Taylor, Walt Disney and Jimmy Stewart, among dozens of other famous names.

What: California in spirit, with wide lanes and sunny vistas, Forest Lawn Glendale is a far cry from the grim graveyards seen in most places.

The 300-acre cemetery dates to 1917 when Hubert Eaton took it over in hopes of celebrating eternal life. It hosts funerals, art shows and weddings. Ronald Reagan married Jane Wyman in one of its chapels.

(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Why: If death is inevitable, capitalism is inexhaustible and Los Angeles is Los Angeles, it should be no surprise that the L.A. County coroner has a gift shop. And let's face it, you're curious.

What: The Skeletons in the Closet gift store opened in 1993 (at about the time homicides in the city were reaching historic highs). Nowadays the homicide rate is far lower, but the retail continues. Beach towels (with body outlines), barbecue aprons, mugs, office supplies, lanyards and more (see below) -- this shop has you covered, so to speak. The goods are gathered just off the lobby of the coroner's headquarters in Lincoln Heights, a 1909 red-brick building that once served as a hospital.

(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

At least one other city has a coroner's gift shop. Still, this is a rare inventory in arguable taste. (For the weeks leading up to Halloween, body bags are offered.) For the record, the shop's management says the store exists "to promote how fragile life is and create awareness and responsibility toward one's actions." 

  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
(Elisa Parhad)

Why:   Vast meadows of orange poppies were once a common sight in the California springtime, inspiring Spanish conquistadors to call the San Gabriel foothills the "Land of Fire." The Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve is one of the last remaining places in the state to experience a large-scale—and predictably magnificent—display. Wildflower season at the reserve typically begins in mid-February and lasts until May. 

What: The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is a beautiful showcase of the state’s beloved golden flower. In good years, bright orange covers the earth as far as the eye can see. Legends of these sunny blooms are woven into the myths of native tribes, Spanish conquistadors and 49ers.

Not surprisingly, the California poppy became a state flower in 1903. Around this time, residents cherished the springtime tradition of picnics among poppy fields, much like cherry blossom gazing in Japan. Today, the flowers have few open places to create such spectacles.  Peak bloom falls around California Poppy Day on April 6, but the timing, intensity, and duration of poppy blooms vary from season to season, depending on the season's temperatures and rainfall.

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  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
Local pro skater Eric “Tuma” Britton on Snake Run, Venice Skate Park.
Local pro skater Eric “Tuma” Britton on Snake Run, Venice Skate Park. (Barbara Odanaka)

Why: With its oceanfront setting, gritty pedigree and a vibe like no other, this skate park rules—for shredder and spectator alike.

What: The Golden State is home to nearly 450 skateboard parks. Some are vast, like the 68,000-square foot Lake Cunningham Regional Skate Park in San Jose. Others offer monstrous terrain, like the eye-popping, stomach-dropping MegaRamp at Woodward West in Tehachapi. But for those seeking the soul of skateboarding: Venice.

This 18,000-square foot concrete playground, built on a rise of sand in the heart of Venice Beach, attracts skate-travelers from around the world. The park's compact design—including two bowls, a street area and a classic, 1970s-style snake run—offers something for every level.

  • Family-friendly
  • Central Coast
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Consider the tyranny of too much clothing. Or study the topography of clouds. Rustic Rincon Beach invites such reflection. It also lures surfers near and far for long runs on legendary, well-formed waves.

What: Just off the 101, near Carpinteria, Rincon is a worthy escape whether you surf or not.

Don’t be put off by the gated community that’s front and center as you arrive. Take a right into Rincon Beach Park, which features well-kept picnic areas lining the bluff and a set of wooden stairs leading to the beach. Or hang a left instead to the spot where the surfers congregate at three subsections of Rincon: Indicator, Rivermouth and the Cove.

  • Family-friendly
  • Inland Empire
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Why:  The museum and research center is the only memorial dedicated to Abraham Lincoln west of the Mississippi River.  

What: The shrine was presented to Redlands in 1932 by civic leader and philanthropist Robert Watchorn and his wife, Alma, as a tribute to Lincoln and a memorial to their son who had died years earlier from injuries suffered in World War I.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Step into the dimly lighted rotunda, where a handsome white marble bust of Lincoln will command your attention. Then gaze at the dome, which is adorned with allegorical figures — perhaps the “better angels of our nature” — painted on canvas. Under each is a word — Loyalty, Strength, Justice, Wisdom, Patience, Tolerance, Courage and Faith — attributes ascribed to Lincoln.

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  • Family-friendly
  • S.F. Bay Area
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Who’d have guessed that the future would be figured out at a strip mall? Yet here's Buck’s of Woodside. Elon Musk hangs out here, and PayPal was formed at that little booth in the corner. Think of it as an incubator of the digital future. It also serves a pretty mean omelet.

What: Buck’s benefits from its Silicon Valley location and address in the town of Woodside, a forested and hilly enclave where rich investors are plentiful.

The diner draws clusters of visionaries for breakfast, lunch and dinner, though morning is prime time for digital deal-making.

(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)
  • Family-friendly
  • Central Coast
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Best fish taco ever. Yes, ever.

What: OK, admittedly, I haven’t tried every fish taco stand in the state, or even Los Angeles, though I’ve tried. That’s a bucket list all its own.

But in Cayucos, just north of Morro Bay, rests a beloved little taco stand that elevates the art by smoking its fish, and serving it chilled with chunks of apple. Sure, you fish taco purists will scoff. Don’t knock it till you try it -- and try it and try it some more.