Advertisement
368 posts
  • Family-friendly
  • Deserts
(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Why: You’ll never see another holiday display quite like it. And it sits on 4 acres in the middle of an upscale Palm Springs neighborhood.

What: The Coachella Valley, with its 80-degree December days, is a quirky place to celebrate winter holidays to begin with. And the quirks multiply once you enter Palm Springs’ Movie Colony neighborhood and approach the Irwin house, about two blocks from the old Frank Sinatra Estate. Since at least 32 years ago, when he was 12, Kenny Irwin has been driven to create epic displays from cast-off items — dreamscapes that suggest robots, space aliens and more obscure spectacles that defy description. With his father’s support (and a corps of seasonal workers to handle logistics and crowd control), Irwin’s compulsion has grown into Robolights, a seasonal landmark that combines Santa Clauses, reindeer, sleighs and gingerbread houses with little green men, skulls, dolls, hybrid creatures, reclaimed consumer electronics, half-melted toys and at least one coffin. At Robolights there are no clear lines between Halloween, Christmas and science fiction.

(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

From Nov. 22 through Jan. 8, the scene is lighted by thousands of bulbs and visitors are ushered along a path that leads from the front yard through a forest of fantasy in the back, then out again. A thousand visitors in a night is not uncommon. On my visit in early December, Irwin was out and about, a soft-spoken man with a skullcap, caftan, long beard and gentle smile. (Did I mention that the artist converted to Islam many years ago?)

Advertisement
  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
(Beach Yoga With Brad and Friends)

Why: Beach yoga is good for the bod, and the spirit, in ways that no cramped, sweaty studio can match.

What: All sorts of beach yoga classes are held up and down the California coast, but few are as affordable and easy as Beach Yoga With Brad and Friends in Santa Monica. No reservations required. Just drop in with $15 and a beach towel (or a yoga mat if you prefer).

Instructor/owner Brad Keimach is a Juilliard-trained classical music conductor who moonlights – or sunlights – with these yoga classes every Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 till noon. He also holds Wednesday sunset classes starting at 3:45 p.m. and lasting an hour. When the days are longer and the clocks change, he adds more weekday sunset classes.

(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)
Advertisement
  • S.F. Bay Area
Boulangerie de San Francisco, 1909 Union St.
Boulangerie de San Francisco, 1909 Union St. (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Why: Sometimes you just want to shop in a strange city. Not in the middle of a grand scene like Union Square or the Ferry Building, but along a street that feels like a neighborhood just a bit beyond your means. With Victorian mansions here and there. Hello, Union Street.

What: Union Street has had its great-shopping reputation since the 1950s. The eight-block stretch between Van Ness Avenue and Steiner Street, surrounded by the Marina and Cow Hollow residential neighborhoods, is the prime retail portion.

Many of the shops (which tilt toward apparel and beauty products) and restaurants are housed in Victorian mansions that survived the quake of 1906. One even older mansion, the pale blue Octagon House at Gough and Union, went up in 1861 and has been preserved in its residential state by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America (so it would be wrong to knock on the door and ask if this is the weed dispensary you’ve heard so much about). The society opens the house a few days a month for tours.

  • Family-friendly
  • San Diego County
(Irene Lechowitzky)

Why: Where else can you spend an hour and feel like you’ve been on a soul-replenishing spiritual retreat? At the Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens in Encinitas, you can be fully present in the moment and get in touch with your inner yogi – and do it surrounded by gorgeous gardens on a bluff overlooking the ocean.

What: The goal of the Meditation Gardens, part of a large complex at the southern end of downtown Encinitas dedicated to the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, is to “inspire you to a greater realization of the Divine Presence that lies within.” Walking up the stone steps into the lush, eclectic gardens imparts an instant feeling of serenity.

(Irene Lechowitzky)

There are koi ponds and many quiet nooks with benches where you can sit. At the top of the ocean bluff is a plaque that marks the location of the Golden Lotus Temple. The temple, built in 1937 to take advantage of the incredible views, only stood for five years before the ground gave way and it had to be dismantled. Wander past the old, empty swimming pool up the tree-shrouded path to the “dry” area featuring native plants and succulents overlooking the famed surf spot Swami’s. (The beach’s name was a nod to Yogananda.) Some visitors pray, others meditate. I like to watch the surfers below and imagine them praying for good waves.

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

Why: John Wooden was the Elvis of college basketball, a mythic, once-in-three-lifetimes figure. Pauley Pavilion was his Graceland. Along with Lambeau Field and Fenway Park, it belongs on any sports fan’s must-see list.

What: Updated and comfortable, Pauley sits on the sweeping and shady UCLA campus in Westwood. It is one of the easiest L.A. sports venues to park near ($12) and navigate.

Reopened in 2012 after a two-year renovation, the stadium now offers modern concessions, more room to roam and 1,000 more seats. Most significantly, it added a concourse, improving comfort and flow. Be ready for a lot of blue. After Dodger Stadium, this is L.A.’s second blue heaven.

(Photos by Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)
Advertisement
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: For certain carnivorous Californians, a visit to this burger chain is like church, but with more calories. At the flagship In-N-Out location just south of the 10 Freeway in the eastern L.A. County suburb of Baldwin Park, of course you can drive through, as most customers do. But you could eat inside, then browse a company store, then (on the north side of the freeway) admire a non-functioning replica of chain’s first burger shack.  

What: Harry and Esther Snyder founded the first In-N-Out burger shack in 1948, which puts them among the first to try a drive-through restaurant. Now their granddaughter runs the company.

To taste what the fuss is all about, order a “double-double, animal-style”  — two beef patties cooked with mustard, two slices of cheese and a choice of hand-leafed lettuce and tomato, plus pickles, extra spread and grilled onions.

  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
The Museum of Neon Art in Glendale showcases the once wildly popular light form.
The Museum of Neon Art in Glendale showcases the once wildly popular light form. (Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Decorative and delightful, the works that light up our lives at Glendale’s Museum of Neon Art are part art and part science and all fascinating.

What: In 2015, the museum moved from downtown Los Angeles, where it had lived since 1981, to Glendale and has been lighting up lives ever since. 

Pep Boys grace the entry.
Pep Boys grace the entry. (Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

For this you can credit the founder of the feast,  Georges Claude, a Parisian who invented the neon light in about 1910.

  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
Wednesday morning, pluots and persimmons.
Wednesday morning, pluots and persimmons. (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Why: Some of the state’s most accomplished farmers rise before dawn on Wednesday mornings and drive as much as 200 miles, just so they can set up and sell at this market. One reason: The Santa Monica Farmers Market draws some of Southern California’s most decorated (and discriminating) chefs. And the market venue happens to be a tomato toss away from the beach, a cucumber roll from the scores of shops and restaurants along the Third Street Promenade.

What: About 75 farmers set up stalls along a few blocks of Arizona Avenue, which is closed to vehicles on market mornings. If you’re coming by car, you’ll have to cope with nasty traffic and parking, even at 8:30 a.m., but once you’re afoot, life is good. In late fall, you’ll likely find dates from Mecca, apples from Cuyama, persimmons from Fallbrook, pluots from Kingsbug, oranges from Ojai, mushrooms from La Habra Heights. Consider this a reminder that for all its glitz, California remains an agricultural powerhouse. And even if you’re not going to bite into that persimmon, you’ll feel the sea breeze and hear the banjo player at Arizona and 2nd, or maybe the guitarist a block to the east.

(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

The market was born in 1981, and the stampede of kitchen professionals began soon after. Noting that close relationship between growers and chefs, Saveur magazine in 2016 labeled this “L.A.’s best farmers market.”

Advertisement
  • Family-friendly
  • San Diego County
Aloft near Fairbanks Ranch.
Aloft near Fairbanks Ranch. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Here’s your chance to climb into a wicker basket and rise 3,000 feet above Fairbanks Ranch, to stand just below a fire-belching burner (which makes your balloon rise), to see sunset from high up, and maybe even to throw shade onto one of Bill Gates’s houses.

What: A balloon ride is a 19th century sort of thrill, and as California’s open spaces get filled in, ballooning options are decreasing. The Napa and Temecula vineyard areas still feature plenty of balloons (which usually launch in early morning, when winds are calmer and temperatures are lower). The Palm Springs and Santa Barbara wine country areas have some too. But balloons are a rare sight along the California coast, so I grabbed a chance to soar above northern San Diego County. Though balloon pilots strive to keep their aircraft above land, the views from on high include miles of ocean and the red tile roofs of countless Mediterranean-style mansions.

Rides typically last 45 to 60 minutes (depending on which way the wind blows), pilots are permitted by the Federal Aviation Administration, and it’s traditional to celebrate afterward with a glass of Champagne. In northern San Diego, it’s often a sunset operation flown by a team that started their day with a flight in Temecula. 

  • San Diego County
Terrace, the Med, La Valencia.
Terrace, the Med, La Valencia. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Life can be seriously sweet at this hotel, which was built in 1926 with a big La Jolla Cove view and anchors a neighborhood of ultra-spendy shops and glitzy galleries. Since the days when Gregory Peck hosted other La Jolla Playhouse luminaries in the hotel’s Whaling Bar, La V (as many locals know the place) has offered a frothy concoction known as a Whaler. Picture a milkshake, enlivened by Kahlua, brandy, coffee, whipped cream and various mystery ingredients.

What: The 114-room hotel has long been known for its pink paint job and Spanish Mediterranean style. In the course of ownership changes, expansions and renovations, the Whaling Bar has slipped away. But its frothy legacy remains. Grab one of the 15 or so tables on the terrace of the hotel’s signature restaurant, The Med, order a Whaler for dessert, and don’t plan on operating any heavy machinery for some hours. (If you think you see a Kardashian, it may not be a hallucination; members of the family have been dropping by for years.)

Where: 1132 Prospect St., La Jolla, 112 miles southeast of downtown L.A., 14 miles northwest of downtown San Diego.