The California Bucket List is your daily guide to essential California adventures, from easy to edgy. Check in every day for a new must-do adventure, each tried and tested by one of the Travel section's staffers and contributors.
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Why: Bolinas, a lagoon-adjacent haven of 1,600 bohemian souls in an oft-overlooked corner of Marin County, has been operating incognito for decades. Locals steal road signs so that outsiders can't find their way in. Now that attitude might be softening, and the town, surrounded by hiking, surfing and kayaking opportunities, is fascinating.
What: About 50 years ago, hard-core Bolinas locals started stealing the town's highway sign and they never stopped. The goal, conceived in back-to-the-land idealism, was to build a nature-friendly community without the distractions and economic distortions of tourism. But as properties turn over and GPS renders signage moot, Bolinas seems to be evolving. Whether you're on the water or Wharf Road, it's a great place to think about hippie legacies and the nature of community at a time when Bay Area real estate is very nearly a blood sport.
Don't expect a tourist welcome center, but if you show up mellow and humble there's no reason you shouldn't drop in for a bite at the Coast Cafe; browse the tiny but well-appointed Bolinas Museum (open Fridays through Sundays only), or drink at Smiley's Schooner Saloon and Hotel, which goes back to the 19th century. In fact, Smiley's (which got new owners in 2015) offers live music four nights a week and rents out six rooms in back. I slept comfortably in one. On the street and in Smiley's, I was an obvious outsider with a camera around my neck, but everyone I met treated me well and Enzo Resta told me how his uncle may have been the first to take the town sign back in the day.
You'll see plenty of gray pony tails (and experience rotten cellphone service). And keep an eye out for BO Gas, the only nonprofit service station I've ever encountered. The rates are shockingly high ($4.66 a gallon in early August) but the money helps support the Bolinas Community Land Trust.
Where: Wharf Road, the commercial heart of town, is 25 miles northwest of San Francisco, just north of Stinson Beach, south of Point Reyes Station, 414 miles northwest of downtown L.A.
How much: It's free to take a walk or check out the museum. The rooms at Smiley's go for $135-$225 nightly. A Budweiser at Smiley's goes for $3.50.
Info: There's no Bolinas Visitors Bureau — probably never will be. But there's a Marin Convention & Visitors Bureau to tell you what's nearby.
Why: Good things do come in small packages — sometimes, very small packages with hoofs. Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch in Solvang will have you oohing and aahing over its mini-Flickas and, if you’re lucky, their babies too.
What: If Solvang’s Scandinavian flavor seems a little surreal for you, this horse farm just outside of town feels real and relaxed. It’s quiet. The tiny horses (about 35 of them) and their offspring are mesmerizing. How enchanting can a critter munching grass can be? You’ll be surprised.
And if you’re lucky there will be foals. There were three births this year, and half a dozen are expected in spring 2018. You will chuckle at their gangly attempts to act like the big kids. The cast of characters changes each year as some of the herd is sold and new ones are born, which means you can go back again and again and see new faces.
Where: 1555 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang, 128 miles northwest of downtown L.A. The ranch is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday. (The ranch will be closed Sept. 9.)
How much: Free. You may wish to leave a donation.
Info: Quicksilver Ranch
Why: Bristlecone pines are not only the oldest living things in the world, but the most tortured. They grow incredibly slowly, sipping at arid soil that barely fuels them. Their 5,000-year-old rings are textbooks on the history of the planet, with chapters dating to 3000 B.C.
What: You can browse the oldest groves in the world at Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, 50 minutes off the 395, just south of Bishop. The excellent visitor center provides a fine and comfortable launch point, for guided or self-guided hikes amid these ancient totems.
These are not the giant, majestic sequoias, but twisted and gnarled veterans. They are stunning. The trees look like living driftwood, and in some cases, as if they have been at war.
In a way they have. Oddly, the poorer the soil, the older the trees. That’s because the softer, healthier bristlecone pines here in the White Mountains fall victim to pests at higher rates than the slower growing trees nearby. Essentially, mankind and nature let them be.
The oldest trees are found in an area called the Methuselah Walk, a four-mile loop that begins right outside the visitor center. It takes about two hours to hike. Take plenty of water and sunscreen.
How to identify a bristlecone? Look for small branches resembling foxtails, and dark green needles in clusters of five. The oldest trees tend to have spiky dead tops and bare wood on limbs and trunks. That’s right -- they look half dead.
Where: In the Inyo National Forest, 276 miles (about 4.5 hours' drive) north of downtown Los Angeles. Out of Big Pine, take state road 168 for 13 miles to White Mountain Road. From there, it’s about 10 miles to the visitor center.
Cost: $3 per person, with a maximum of $6 per car. The visitor center is open from May to mid-November.
Why: A good soak in these natural hot springs might be the Sierra’s best free attraction. When to go? Late afternoon, when light falls just right on the stunning scenery, adding to the magic.
What: Travertine hot springs are located about a mile east of U.S. Route 395, just south of Bridgeport. For visitors to Mammoth or June Lake, they are an easy 45-minute drive. They also make a relaxing pit stop on the way to Lake Tahoe.
The pools attract families, couples, even rangers from the nearby station. The best pools take a little hunting, especially on light days. But stick with it — and don’t leave the car barefoot, because the pathways feature stones and sharp vegetation.
Behind the craggy rocks are turquoise pools of 100-degree water, usually surrounded by flagstone seating.
Limited camping space is available on the short dirt road leading to the hot springs, but camping is not allowed near the pools.
The springs are open all year, though road access may be limited in winter.
Where: It’s a six-hour drive from Los Angeles in Mono County, about 370 miles. The turnoff from the 395 is Jack Sawyer Road, just past the ranger station. Follow Sawyer about one mile to the parking lot, which will give you the best access to the pools and restroom facilities.
How much: Free
Info: (760) 932-7070
Why: Long before it became the tag for a trendy burger chain, the name Shake Shack conjured images of a winsome little shake joint, perched like a pelican on the edge of one of the greatest coastal vistas in California. And that joint endures.
What: Ruby’s Shake Shack has been a pit stop on the Coast Highway since 1945. Once called Sunshine Cove, the bright yellow wooden structure still looks like the cover art for a Beach Boys album.
In 2006, the Ruby’s diner chain took it over, and has maintained the same barefoot vibe. Some locals say the food improved, but longtime fans continue to lament the changes.
Indisputable is the fact that this landmark still serves outstanding shakes – orangesickle, banana cream, mud pie -- with views that are the envy of far more expensive restaurants.
The restaurant is open seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with evening hours extending to 9 p.m. in the summer.
Where: 7703 E. Coast Highway, between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, in Orange County, 48 miles southeast of downtown L.A.
How much: Breakfasts $8 to $10. Shakes $5.99, and burgers, hot dogs and other sandwiches range from $8 to $12.
Info: Ruby’s Shake Shack, (949) 464-0100
Why: Bodie is an eastern Sierra ghost town so well preserved that it looks as if it might’ve been operating last week. Notorious for putting the "wild" in Wild West, it was once described by a minister as a “sea of sin.” By all accounts, he was right. The sprawling old mining camp at one time featured more than 60 saloons and dance halls.
What: Bodie’s heyday began in the 1870s, making it a gold rush town of 8,500 residents by the end of the decade. Miners spent difficult days working the mines and nights working the bars, dance halls and gambling dens. Gunfights and stage holdups were common as the riches were transported across long, dusty trails.
But the riches did not last long. By the 1880s, the mines were depleted. The population plunged to 1,500 by 1886. Fires destroyed much of the town, and what was left was abandoned in the 1940s. In 1962, it was declared a state historic park and a national historic landmark.
Each year, as weather permits, thousands of visitors peer into the past here.
Where: Bodie State Historic Park is in Mono County, 362 miles north of Los Angeles (a six- to seven-hour drive). It is off the 395, south of Bridgeport. The exit is State Route 270, and the first 10 miles of that road are paved, the last three rutted and dusty. Except for low-slung sports cars, most vehicles will have no problems making the drive. Park hours vary by season, and heavy snow closes the road.
How much: $8 per adult; $5 per child ages 3-17. Cash and checks only.
Why: Colorado may have more peaks over 14,000 feet than California does, but it doesn’t have Mt. Whitney. The Sierra peak is the highest point in the contiguous U.S. at 14,505 feet (give or take). It’s a rocky stairway to high-altitude heaven that can only be conquered on foot.
What: There are many routes up Whitney, but the most popular starts from the Whitney Portal just above the town of Lone Pine in the Eastern Sierra. Hikers usually set off during summer or sometimes fall. It's either a 22-mile round-trip day hike or a two- or three-day backpack journey, staying overnight at camps along the way. Wilderness permits are required for all trips and are awarded lottery-style every year.
The well-trodden, 11-mile trail to the top entails about 6,000 feet of altitude gain. It’s an arduous slog with flowery and grassy meadows in the first few miles, mountain lakes and stream-side waterfalls as you climb higher and then 99 switchbacks, which bring you to Trail Crest at 13,600 feet.
This is where you get a first glimpse of the craggy, rocky Sierra landscape above the treeline. Lakes below look like blue-green puddles; ridges and peaks seem endless. From here, it’s two more winding miles to the top along a hard-slab trail with steep drop-offs in places. At the top, hikers sign a register to document their victory, step into the stone shelter (built in 1909) and snap photos.
The first modern hikers known to reach the top of Whitney were three local fishermen who summited in August 1873. Two months later, John Muir made an ascent. Hulda Crooks, known as Granny Whitney, scaled the summit about two dozen times between the ages of 65 and 91 before she died in 1997.
Where: The hike starts at the Whitney Portal, accessible by road about 13 miles west of the town of Lone Pine, 220 miles north of downtown L.A. If you go, don’t forget to have a meal at the Whitney Portal Store — a burger if you make it down by evening, or breakfast pancakes in the morning, if you don’t. It’s a kind of base camp where hikers can celebrate their victory and buy a T-shirt to commemorate the day.
How much: Permits to hike up the trail are $20 each. But it doesn’t cost you anything to drive up to Whitney Portal, breathe some mountain air and get a little closer to the big peak.
Why: There are probably more critters creeping (and flying, and even swimming) in the world's deserts than you realize, and this preserve proves the point.
What: The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, opened in 1970, is a 1,200-acre zoo and botanical garden that's devoted to portraying life in the world's deserts. There's a reptile show; there are jaguar, leopard and cheetah chats; and the animals include a tortoise, a python, longhorn cattle, bobcats, foxes, Gila monsters and coyotes.
For $5, you can feed a giraffe (warning: long tongue). For $6, beginning in the fall, you can briefly ride a camel. You might spot an elusive bighorn sheep on the neighboring slopes. And you'll certainly see the model railroad. It's not flora or fauna, but it's surely an epic project, with more than 3,300 feet of track and miniature historic scenes including the south rim of the Grand Canyon, a California logging town and Mt. Rushmore.
Where: 47900 Portola Ave, Palm Desert, 124 miles east of downtown L.A.
How much: General admission is $19.95. For children age 3-12, it's $9.95.
Info: The Living Desert
Why: L.A.'s first food hall is a century-old and full of new vendors and new energy.
What: In the Grand Central Market, a fixture on Broadway since 1917, you shuffle along under vintage-looking neon signs, hearing multiple languages, sniffing street food and market ingredients from near and far. Nine kinds of mole sauce! A hipster butcher! It would be a shame to patronize just one of these joints. So order part of your lunch or dinner from a relative newcomer — like Wexler's Deli or the Golden Road beer-tasting bar — and another part from an old-timer, like China Cafe or Tacos Tumbras a Tomas.
If your last visit was a few years ago, you'll notice there's been big turnover and gentrification here, resulting in more ambitious food, bigger crowds, longer hours, higher prices and a younger clientele.
Want a bonus discovery with your snack? See if the historic, on-again, off-again Angels Flight Railway, just across Hill Street, is running again. (Boosters have pledged a reopening by Labor Day 2017.) Or peek inside the Bradbury Building just across Broadway. Or cross Broadway and slip down the pedestrian alley to 333 S. Spring St., where Biddy Mason Park celebrates a former slave who became one of the city's wealthiest women in the late 19th century.
Where: 317 S. Broadway, downtown L.A.
How much: The people-watching is free, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. For bagels with lox and cream cheese at Wexler's, it's $14. For a taco at Tacos Tumbras a Tomas, it's $3.50.
Info: Grand Central Market
Why: The Huntington is one of the Southern California's greatest cultural assets, with ever-evolving gardens; a library that includes everything from a Gutenberg Bible and Shakespeare folio to the papers of Charles Bukowski and Octavia Butler; and an art collection that, unfortunately, is often overshadowed by a single famous painting of a rich kid in satin knee breeches. (That would be Thomas Gainsborough's "Blue Boy," an 18th century portrait bought by California railway pioneer Henry E. Huntington in the early 1920s.)
What: It began as a citrus ranch and later sprouted a mansion and other buildings. Huntington and his wife, Arabella, created the institution, officially known as the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, in 1919. Its 207 acres include 12 gardens (including one where kids can romp) and the galleries inside feature more than 1,000 artworks, including paintings by Americans Mary Cassatt, Frederic Edwin Church and Edward Hopper. Both the library and art collection offer rotating exhibitions.
"The Blue Boy" is gone from view through Oct. 31, being analyzed before thorough "conservation treatment" that will take it off display again beginning in fall 2018.
Where: 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino
How much: Adult admission is $25 on weekdays, $29 on weekends. Children's admission ranges from free to $24, depending on age. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. six days a week, closed Tuesdays. It's free on the first Thursday of every month, with advance reservations.
Info: The Huntington Library
Why: Southern California is ground zero for the mid-century phenomenon that Tiki became, and the concept is experiencing a serious revival.
What: Hollywood’s Don the Beachcomber inaugurated the Tiki bar concept way back in 1934. The movement inspired generations to wear Hawaiian shirts, decorate in faux-tropical kitsch and order flaming cocktails. Though the original Don the Beachcomber went the way of the Tail O’ the Pup, the Tonga Hut and a few others held on through the dark time of Tiki’s decline in the 1970s. Until a few years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find a decent tropical rum drink from anywhere reputable.
But here we are, in a rebirth of Tiki, and if you want to experience a night of tiny umbrellas in a Polynesian paradise, look no further than the Tonga Hut in North Hollywood. Opened in 1958, the Tonga Hut offers an excellent Tiki-themed interior, a jaunty jukebox, devoted regulars, a wide-ranging list of classic tropical drinks and history — it’s Los Angeles’s oldest tiki bar still in operation. Look out for the Loyal Order of Drooling Bastards wall, which lists every person who has mastered the “Grog Log," a list of 78 classic exotic drinks, within a one-year time frame.
Still thirsty? Other L.A. Tiki options include the tiny but mighty Tiki Ti in Los Feliz and Clifton's Cafeteria's revamped Pacific Seas downtown. And there's the lively Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. Also, a new Tonga Hut location just opened in Palm Springs.
Where: Tonga Hut, 12808 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood, 14 miles northwest of downtown L.A.
How much: Drinks will set you back anywhere from $9 for something simple to $14 for a bowl drink, which might leave you horizontal.
Info: Tonga Hut
Why: On this barren, windblown patch of the Owens Valley, more than 10,000 Japanese Americans endured a painful home-front chapter of World War II -- a mass incarceration that U.S. leaders have conceded was wrong. The National Park Service has remade the site, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, as a place for contemplation of war, liberty, prejudice and endurance.
What: It was early 1942, about 10 weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered more than 110,000 Japanese Americans be incarcerated in internment camps. Walk through the two reconstructed barracks and mess hall, which are full of displays and signage explaining daily life in the camp. Watch the 22-minute film in the visitor center, "Remembering Manzanar."
Browsing the displays, you'll learn the details of daily life, from mess hall menus to the fruit crates that families converted into furniture. You'll also read NPS researchers' conclusion that "no person of Japanese ancestry living in the United States was ever convicted of any serious act of espionage or sabotage during the war." The exhibits include a 1988 news clip of President Reagan declaring the camps "a mistake" and offering compensation for survivors of internment. (Park rangers opened Manzanar as a historic site in 1992.)
Take the 3.2-mile driving tour around the periphery, and pause at the cemetery, where a tall monument is etched with Japanese characters.
Where: 5001 Highway 395, Independence. The site is 6 miles north of downtown Independence, 219 miles north of downtown L.A.
How much: Free.
Why: Legions of film, television and commercial actors, directors and crew have spent quality time among the boulders outside Lone Pine, making this part of the Owens Valley the face of the American West in many ways. John Wayne made a dozen movies here. John Ford and William Wyler worked here. Parts of the first "Lone Ranger" film (1938) were shot here, as were parts of the the "Lone Ranger" television series (1949-1957).
What: This is actually a two-stop adventure. First, step into the Museum of Western Film History in the Owens Valley town of Lone Pine. There you'll learn the evolution of western stories on large and small screens and see Tom Mix's black hat, the dentist's wagon from "Django Unchained" (2012) and one of Roy Rogers' old guitars and too many cool old posters to count. You'll also learn how some 400 movies and countless TV episodes and commercials have been shot in the nearby hills. The first film shot here may have been "The Roundup" (1920).
Your second stop is the Alabama Hills, which begin about 2 miles west of the museum. Using a map from the museum, you can drive Movie Road and walk to Lone Ranger Canyon, scanning the strangely familiar landscape and reviewing the list of titles filmed here -- not only westerns, but also parts of the "Iron Man," "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" franchises. There's also a Lone Pine Film Festival every year around Columbus Day.
Where: Museum of Western Film History, 701 S. Main Street, Lone Pine, 215 miles north of downtown L.A..
How much: $5 per adult, free for children under 12, military and members.
Why: Watching a field of lavender waving in a summer breeze is hypnotic, second only to smelling lavender. You need not go to France to experience this; it’s as close as Clairmont Farms in Los Olivos, a pretty 30-mile drive from Santa Barbara.
What: Besides the olfactory aesthetic, the grounds of the nine-or-so-acre farm, seven in lavender, are peaceful, surrounded by towering oaks and framed by the Santa Ynez Mountains. You can bring a picnic lunch and dine at the painted-purple tables and browse the gift shop for its made-here lavender products. Note that if you’re allergic to bees, this may be a no-fly zone for you.
Clairmont grows two types of lavender: Grosso, which goes into all of the farm's products (including many soaps and bath items); and Provence, which goes into culinary products such as pepper, salt, honey and tea. A little lavender tea, owner Meryl Tanz said, can enhance the flavor of beer, wine, martinis or margaritas.
There isn’t a bad time to visit the farm, but the bloom (usually in mid June) is a fragrance feast. The harvest this year is early—right now, in fact—because of the heat. Even post-harvest, Clairmont is the respite you need when the world is too much with you.
Where: 2480 Roblar Ave., Los Olivos, about 130 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Tuesdays.
How much: Browsing the farm is free. Spending in the gift shop is up to you.
Info: Clairmont Lavender Farms
Why: You'll find a feast for the eyes and a fascinating glimpse into the business of flowers at the largest wholesale floral district in the country.
What: Anchored by two large markets (the Original Los Angeles Flower Market and the Southern California Flower Market) and flanked by independent vendors, the historic Los Angeles Flower District is awash in beautiful blooms. More than 100 years ago, Japanese farmers began to offer their floral goods in this spot. Today, many offerings are still grown in Southern California—an area that reigns supreme in the national billion-dollar industry of flower farming. (Until the 1960s, Californians supplied the entire nation with all of its cut fresh flowers.) Plan for a morning visit—public hours start as early as 6 a.m., and many vendors are gone by noon.
Where: 766 Wall St. (between 7th and 8th streets), downtown Los Angeles.
How much: Public admission is $2 on weekdays, $1 on Saturday, closed Sunday..
Why: It’s like traveling back in time — way back. Steven Spielberg chose it as a location for “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” because the whole place looks prehistoric. And it is.
What: Fern Canyon is exactly as its name describes. Feathery ferns sprout from nearly every square inch of the 30-plus-foot cliffs lining this narrow ravine. The effect is like fluffy, 3-D wallpaper. If it doesn't bring Spielberg to mind, it might bring Jim Henson. Some fern species found here can be traced back 325 million years, with gallant names like the dark green sword and the delicate lady. As you hike deeper into the shadowy canyon, the ferns take over your field of view — it’s green tunnel vision. Scan the environs for mini-waterfalls trickling through moss as well as shy amphibians, and be sure to take a good, deep sniff. It smells like the Industrial Revolution never happened.
The Fern Canyon Loop is a flat path of 0.7 miles, easy enough for young children or road-trippers stiff from the bumpy drive in. (It’s about 9 miles from the highway on a dirt road that plows straight through a few small, stony streams.) In summer, rangers place foot bridges (read: slippery wooden planks) on the trail. Wear hiking boots if you have them, rain boots if you don’t, or sneakers if you don’t mind spending the day with wet socks. For avid hikers eager to tack on a few extra miles, the James Irvine Trail, which begins at the visitors center, is an alternate route to the canyon. If you brought lunch, stop at the Elk Meadow picnic area, where you’re almost guaranteed to see a grazing elk or two.
Where: Fern Canyon is in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, part of Redwood National and State Parks. It's 52 miles north of Eureka, 697 miles north of downtown L.A. Take Division Road off Highway 101, but call ahead about closures after a heavy rain or during the winter.
How much: Park admission is free, but there's an $8 day-use fee for Fern Canyon.
Info: Fern Canyon
Why: Heavy metal has an exquisite headquarters in the Petersen Automotive Museum. Cars and California have always been a dream couple. After all, the Golden State inspired such brands as the Malibu and the Laguna.
What: For auto buffs, it’s like a trip to the candy store. Across three themed floors, the Petersen pays tribute to the influence and fun of classic automobiles. Perhaps no other invention, save the light bulb, has so influenced American culture.
History has a floor of its own, as does industry, which tells the stories of the inventors and visionaries. But save the bottom floor, devoted to artistry, for last.
Among the collection are cars as fanciful as the 1989 Batmobile, or as simple and elegant as a 1900 Smith Runabout. There are race cars, concept cars and ancient Bugattis. In a way, the Petersen is the world’s ultimate showroom.
Where: 6060 Wilshire Blvd., about 9 miles west of downtown Los Angeles.
How much: $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students with ID, $7 for children. Parking is free for the first 30 minutes with a $12 flat rate thereafter.
Why: Long before Starbucks turned coffee into its own food group, there was Fosselman’s Ice Cream Co. Since 1919, the same year the Green Bay Packers were founded, the Fosselman family has turned out handmade ice cream in dozens of flavors, plus candies and desserts, from a timeless shop in Alhambra, 30 minutes from downtown Los Angeles.
What: The family ice cream company has changed through the years, but not dramatically, and not without the attention to
detail and customers that have made it a local landmark. These days, it sells to restaurants and hotels, but still does a brisk business out of the little shop on Main Street.
Not as kitsch as Fair Oaks Pharmacy, a rival parlor 10 minutes away, Fosselman's draws customers who don’t necessarily come for that old-soda-fountain experience. They come for the creamy-great desserts. They do it all here — sorbets, cakes, splits — but to appreciate how rich and wonderful Fosselman’s is, order a simple cup, or a milkshake.
Nearly 50 flavors are on the menu, which is constantly updated with seasonal variations: pumpkin for October; peppermint bark at Christmas.
Where: 1824 W. Main St., Alhambra, 10 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.
How much: Cones from $3.25, shakes and malts from $5.85. Sundaes from $5.40. Cash only.
Why: This isn't just an access road, it's a zigging, zagging path to a galaxy far, far away. On the way up, your belly begins to bark. Kidneys become spleens. You’re driving to Mt. Wilson, a top-of-the-world observatory that once revealed several significant secrets of the universe.
What: Mt. Wilson Observatory, 90 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, belongs in the astronomers’ hall of fame.
It is where Harlow Shapley discovered that we’re not in the center of the Milky Way; actually, far from it. It’s where Edward Hubble and others confirmed that the universe is expanding, key evidence in support of the Big Bang theory.
The sprawling complex is located in what was once cowboy country. Thieves once stashed stolen horses in the surrounding caves and canyons. In the mid-1800s, Benjamin Wilson, a rancher from the flatlands, went searching for timber for his wine casks, following old Indian trails to the site of Mt. Wilson.
By the late 1800s, those trails were used to set up the observatory. In 1917, astronomers began using the world's largest telescope there. There was even a hotel at one time, the $3-a-night Mt. Wilson Hotel, which closed in the late '60s.
Today, the cluster of vintage telescopes has gone into semi-retirement, used by school and astronomy clubs at group prices that start at $1,000. But various weekend tours, usually at 1 and 2 p.m., take you through the complex and, depending on the itinerary, right up under the 100-inch telescope.
Where: Above La Cañada Flintridge in L.A. County, 32 miles northeast of downtown L.A., about a 40-minute drive off the 210 Freeway (Angeles Crest exit).
How much: Docent tours are $15. To wander on your own is free.
Info: Tickets and visitor tips
Why: A Rivera mural anywhere is worth attention. This one, painted in the heart of the city's financial district during the early days of the Great Depression, is doubly worth it.
What: In 1931, Rivera painted "Allegory of California" on the wall and ceiling above the stairs to the Pacific Stock Exchange Lunch Club, now the City Club. The model for the archetypical California woman, presiding over the oil business, agriculture, shipbuilding, logging and other regional industries, was Helen Wills Moody, a homegrown tennis champion. It was Rivera's first mural in the U.S. (with many more controversial projects to follow). Though the City Club is private, it allows San Francisco City Guides (a nonprofit group) to bring in tour groups on the first and third Mondays of every month at 3 p.m. (excepting holidays).
Where: City Club, 155 Sansome St., San Francisco, 381 miles northwest of downtown L.A.
How much: Free (donations appreciated).