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: This isn't the state's tallest or widest waterfall. But if you haven't confronted it yet, you need to. The way its waters thunder down, it looks like a Greco-Californian temple, with a pair of robust columns framing hundreds of busy rivulets. The flow is about 100 million gallons per day.
What: Burney Falls is about an hour outside Redding, and the approaching path makes the landmark even better. First you confront the falls from above, looking down slightly across a gorge. Then you descend by trail, facing the water as you go. Once you're halfway down, the water seems wider. When you reach the foot, the roar seems far more powerful -- and mist covers everything. You can scramble across rocks to reach the edge of the pool, if you dare. (The winter's storms did force temporary closure of one popular trail; check the park website for trail closure before arrival.)
And keep an eye on the waters up top. Some fishing guides take customers to a spot just before the dropoff. I saw three people standing in the water about 50 feet from the edge, calmly casting and reeling in trout. (Guide John Foschatti, who was one of them, told me he hasn’t lost an angler yet. "Even if you fell," he said, "there's no way you'd go over.")
The 910-acre park also has a campground, cabins, a marina on Lake Britton and a general store.
Where: Highway 89, 6 miles north of Highway 299, 64 miles northeast of Redding, 612 miles north of downtown L.A.
How much: Admission to state park is $8 per car.
Why: It’s the biggest sundial in California, and you can sort of see through it.
What: Designed by Santiago Calatrava of Spain, this bridge has been a celebrity since the day in opened (July 4, 2004), surrounded by a 300-acre parking along the Sacramento River. The bridge's 217-foot-tall, slanted white pylon (the technical term, I just learned, is gnomon) draws you in, and the glass-and-steel deck makes it semi-translucent. On the morning I crossed the bridge, the place was busy with moms and strollers and dogs and kids and dads and anglers.
Don't count on the bridge as a timekeeping device, though. Local leaders say it doesn't work in winter; in other months, it's basically impossible to read except between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. But it's so attractive that people can't stay away, nor can swallows. (They may be scant in San Juan Capistrano, but they're nesting here.)
The Turtle Bay Museum next door gave the project’s detailed history. Its aquarium tanks show what the river looks like below the surface, including plenty of fish. You'll also read about the fighting between natives and immigrants here in the 1850s. (For gory details, see the section on author Joaquin Miller or read his book “Life among the Modocs: Unwritten History.") There's also an arboretum and playground.
Where: 840 Sundial Bridge Pkwy., Redding, 551 miles north of downtown L.A.
How much: Crossing the bridge is free. Museum admission is $16 for visitors age 16 and over, $12 for children age 4-15
Why: Running a river is a signature thrill in California's Gold Country -- a splash of cold water in your face on a 90-degree day. And the South Fork of the American River is a classic place to board a raft for the first time, with evocative scenery and relatively mild Class I-III rapids.
What: River-rafting can be a risky sport, as the many fatalities in the high, fast waters of 2017 have shown. That's why wise newcomers and families sign on for trips with licensed, experienced companies and pull on life vests, helmets and sometimes wetsuits on this usually forgiving fork of the American River.
More skilled paddlers may prefer the riskier Middle and North forks of the American, or the Merced, Tuolumne, Kaweah, California Salmon, Stanislaus or Kern rivers. On the South Fork of the American, most trips are daylong adventures, and many rafting outfitters are clustered in Lotus, a tiny area next to Coloma along the river.
Where: Several outfitters have their headquarters along Lotus Road near Henningsen Lotus Park, a pebble's toss from Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Lotus is 45 miles northeast of Sacramento, 433 miles north of downtown L.A.
How much: Half-day and all-day rafting trips typically cost $100-$180 person. Wetsuit rental may add $20 to the bill.
Info: American River
Why: The 15-foot bluffs of Dockweiler State Beach, in the shadow of LAX, are the launch point for beginner hang-gliding lessons, perhaps the coolest sport you've never tried. The lessons are quick, and the sport as intuitive as flying gets. Stepping off a bluff under a hang glider is almost pneumatic, as if compressors are involved.
What: All you really want to know is how difficult it is, and I'd compare hang-gliding to opening an umbrella or smearing a bagel with cream cheese. Essentially, anybody who is fairly active can hang-glide. You're harnessed into this 40-foot training glider, which wants to fly the way beer barrels want to float.
Once you get comfortable, hang-gliding is playful and exhilarating — a spirited and spiritual escape.
Beginner sessions are offered Wednesdays through Sundays, on bluffs 15 to 30 feet high. There is the training, then four to seven flights, of various lengths, and soft landings. It’s not exactly idiot-proof, but the risks are minimal, and the instructors patient and encouraging.
You start at the lower “bunny bluffs,” then work up to longer flights. As with sailing, winds kick up later in the day, and the most sparkling and sensational rides take place before dusk.
Once you get comfortable, hang-gliding is playful and exhilarating — a spirited and spiritual escape. For a while, it’s just you and the gulls and the sea breezes, and the roar of L.A. traffic feels 1,000 miles away.
Where: Windsports Soaring Center, Dockweiler State Beach, 12501 Vista del Mar, Los Angeles.
How much: $99 for a lesson and four flights; $160 for a lesson and seven flights
Why: Because you won’t find this in your local dinner theater. This series of comedy skits and wrestling bouts features slightly plump men in leotards and the saucy women who stalk them. The dancers, meanwhile, are like Venn diagrams of what saloon girls used to look like: lots of leg and eyelashes like a rake. No, wait, that girl's a dude.
What: Lucha VaVoom stages a half-dozen L.A. shows each year. Developed 15 years ago by Liz Fairbairn and Rita D'Albert, its hybrid of masked Mexican wrestling, burlesque and campy humor draws raucous twentysomethings as well as middle-aged couples tired of the usual multiplex dreck.
"I thought I'd be a millionaire by now," confesses D'Albert, given the way sold-out audiences respond to the shows in the old Mayan Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.
Between matches, you’ll see burlesque and aerial acts, hula-hoop hotties and comedian emcees that include guest commentators such as Fred Armisen, Patton Oswalt and Bobcat Goldthwait.
The audience is diverse in age, dress (mostly casual) and temperament, but anyone with a sense of the absurd and half a funny bone is bound to like it.
Where: The Mayan Theater, 1038 S. Hill St., downtown Los Angeles. You must be 21 or older.
How much: Tickets start at $40. Shows are open only to those 21 and older.
Why: This is the brown stucco doughnut seen 'round the world.
What: Randy's Donut's is big largely because its doughnut is. That 32-foot-high doughnut, perched since 1953 on the roof of a busy little shop near LAX, has shown up in countless photos and movie clips (including about one second of the original Randy Newman "I Love L.A." video back in 1983). In person, I found the doughnuts good, not great. But I liked the price, especially compared with the amounts being charged in Beverly Hills and elsewhere. "You will never see a $5 doughnut at our shop," says Randy's website. It's open around the clock, and the shop has a drive-through window, which is good because the parking lot is often full (even on days when Snoop Dogg isn't DJing) and there's frequently a line of folks waiting at the twin windows in front.
Where: 805 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood, just off the 405, 12 miles southwest of downtown L.A. If the parking lot is full, try for one of the metered spots along Manchester. Paying 25 cents per 15 minutes won't kill you and your exit may be easier.
How much: 95 cents for a plain doughnut, $1 for glazed. A dozen for $10.
Info: Randy's Donuts
Why: This "outsider" landmark, built by compulsion by an unschooled Italian American and surrounded by a blue-collar community that's mostly Latino and African American, has become one of the most emblematic artworks in the state.
What: Simon Rodia, an immigrant from Italy, spent 33 years putting up these 99-foot-tall towers in his backyard, using rebar, concrete, cast-off tiles, bottle caps and bits of colored glass (including the old blue Phillips' Milk of Magnesia bottles). Then, in 1954, he walked away. Yet he built so well, and with such conviction, that his work survived and now anchors an arts center. For the gritty details — such as the work's maritime influences or the day somebody broke a crane trying to pull down the towers — take a tour. And don't miss the contemporary works in the neighboring gallery space. Tours are offered every half-hour, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays through Saturday, 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays.
For maximum sensory impact, visit on Day of the Drum, Sept. 30, 2017, when percussionists from multiple cultures gather. Or come the day after, when the Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival takes place.
Where: 1727 East 107th St., Los Angeles, 9 miles south of downtown L.A.
How much: General admission is $7 for adults, $3 for visitors ages 13-17. No credit cards. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. No tours on Wednesdays.
Info: Watts Towers Arts Center
Why: If you had to rely on one museum in California to lead you through all of art history from a Western perspective, you'd almost certainly wind up at the doors of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And your teenager (who gets in free) wouldn't want to leave without a selfie amid the lampposts of Chris Burden's "Urban Light" at the museum's Wilshire Boulevard entrance.
What: Never mind that it's the biggest encyclopedic art museum in the West. LACMA is also a linchpin of Wilshire Boulevard, drawing casual visitors with "Urban Light" out front and Michael Heizer's "Levitated Mass" (a boulder above a walkway) out back. You might not be wild about the museum buildings' jarring juxtaposition of architecture from different decades, but you can spend hours roaming inside — and hours more with the museum's neighbors.
Next door is the kid-friendly La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, fronted by a dozen food trucks on most days. On the south side of the street, wrapped in stainless-steel ribbons, is the Petersen Automotive Museum. And almost directly across the street from "Urban Light" are several chunks of the Berlin Wall, provocatively painted.
Where: 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 9 miles west of downtown L.A. Expect traffic hassles in the immediate neighborhood as crews build a Metro light-rail station.
How much: General admission is $15 per adult, which rises to $25 when you add special exhibitions. But it's all free for children 17 and younger. Closed Wednesdays. Off-street parking $14.
Why: Because it's wet and it's not a mirage. In the middle of Death Valley, that's enough.
What: From the 1920s until recently, this place was known as the Inn at Furnace Creek and its pool (fed by underwater springs) was the most glamorous body of water for miles around. It was the fanciest lodging in Death Valley National Park, but it would close down in summer because the valley gets so beastly hot. In June, however, management announced a $50-million facelift and name change: The Furnace Creek Resort area (which includes the 66-room inn and a more casual 224-room "ranch") is getting a big upgrade and a new set of names.
Beginning this summer, the area will collectively be called the Oasis at Death Valley. The inn with this fancy pool (formerly the Inn at Furnace Creek) is now The Inn at Death Valley. It's closed for the summer and will reopen Nov. 2 as a year-round lodging. The more affordable Furnace Creek Ranch (which also has a pool) is now the Ranch at Death Valley. It remains open through the summer, though parts will close as renovations go on.
This doesn't necessarily mean you should go now. It means you should know now. Go when you will be comfortable -- and when the hoteliers can promise you won't be bothered by renovation work.
Where: The Oasis at Death Valley (a.k.a Furnace Creek Resort) is 289 miles northeast of downtown L.A.
How much: Checking the first weekend in April 2018, I found prices (before taxes and resort fees) starting at $409 to $528 a night at the inn and $239 to $259 at the ranch.
Why: It's easy to forget that Russia once had a good shot at taking over California, but that was the case in the 18th century. Fort Ross is a reminder of those days: a state historic park where Russian traders used to operate, even after Spain and then Mexico seized control of this region.
What: The park includes more than 3,000 acres of rugged coastline, including the wooden-walled rectangle that was for three decades the center of Russian culture in California. The Russians arrived in 1809 and bailed out in 1841, seven years before the U.S. grabbed California from Mexico. This may be where California's first windmill went up, and where its first shipbuilding took place. Half a dozen weathered wood buildings remain (once there were 50), including the Rotchev House, Kuskov House, a chapel and fur warehouse.
Also, if you're headed north, add another dose of Russia with a stop to eat or sleep 29 miles up the coast highway at St. Orres, a fanciful Gualala inn and restaurant that was crafted to echo Russian influences. Onion domes, elaborate woodwork and some rooms are under $100 nightly.
Where: 19005 Coast Highway 1, Jenner, 88 miles northwest of San Francisco, 463 miles northwest of downtown L.A.
How much: Admission is $8 per vehicle. The grounds are open sunrise to sunset. The visitor center and compound are open 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Fridays-Sundays.
Why: Because oil helped make Southern California and American society what they are today. Besides coastal panoramas, this hilltop, surrounded by a blue-collar community, gives you petroleum perspective.
What: Signal Hill's Hilltop Park is what it sounds like — 3.2 acres of high ground on a founded hill that rises about 365 feet above the nearby sea, adorned by a semi-circle of palms. Stand there around sunset and you see not only the sun sinking into the Pacific but the the profile of many a pumpjack — those birdlike, seesawing metal contraptions that coax oil out of the ground. Ninety years ago, the view from here would have been thick with pumpjacks, and the municipality of Signal Hill only has its independence from surrounding Long Beach because of oil-business maneuvering.
Between the 1920s and the 1980s, Signal Hill's oil wells produced more than a billion barrels, making this one of the richest oil fields on Earth. Even now, there are many pumpjacks, some bobbing next door to single-family homes. (Elsewhere around Los Angeles, people have tried all sorts of disguises to conceal their oil infrastructure. Not so much here.)
Where: 2351 Dawson Ave., Signal Hill, 23 miles south of downtown L.A.
How much: Free.
Info: Hilltop Park
Why: Little plastic, interlocking bricks. They're hard to resist, especially when deployed to mimic the White House or the Golden Gate Bridge. Especially when you're 8, but sometimes when you're 48.
What: Legoland California, in Carlsbad, is at once homegrown and exotic, a theme park that wouldn't exist if some guy in Denmark hadn't started stamping out colorful, connectable plastic bits in 1949. Now there are Lego movies, clothing, books and so on.
The Carlsbad park, opened in 1999, is one of six worldwide. It includes an adjacent 250-room hotel (very kid-friendly), about 60 rides, shows and attractions ("Star Wars" figures? Check. Bust of William Shakespeare? Check.). It's also got a next-door aquarium and water park; a new Surfers Bay is expected to open this summer. And don't forget the beach, which is a mile to the west and free. Perhaps because most of its rides won't upset your stomach or raise your blood pressure, Legoland has a reputation for appealing to younger kids more than older ones. (It officially targets families with kids ages 2-12.)
Where: 1 Legoland Drive, Carlsbad, 90 miles southeast of downtown L.A., 34 miles north of downtown San Diego.
How much: One-day admission is usually $95 for adults (13 and older) and $90 for children (ages 3-12). You'll pay an additional $10 a person for an extra day plus access to the water park and aquarium.
Info: Legoland California
Why: It's elementary. Homo sapiens like sitting on sand, watching water lap the shore while a bonfire crackles in a light breeze.
What: Bolsa Chica State Beach is a prime beach bonfire destination, 3 miles long, with 200 fire rings available nightly (first come, first served) from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. And that's an increasingly rare distinction. Authorities have banned fires in many coastal areas, focusing increased attention on those that remain.
Bolsa Chica, a long, flat beach, is also known for its surf fishing and grunion runs. Just inland you have the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, a 1,300-acre estuary and wetlands area that attracts about 200 species of birds (and almost as many sub-species of birders). There are various beach concessions nearby. (Farther north in Los Angeles County, Dockweiler State Beach is another fire-ring destination.)
Where: Bolsa Chica, north of Huntington Beach's Seapoint Street and and south of Warner Avenue, is 33 miles south of downtown L.A.
How much: Day use is $15 per car.
Info: Bolsa Chica State Beach
Why: waves, people-watching, landscape.
What: To appreciate the Steamer Lane surf break, you need not get wet. You don't even have to duck into the little red brick lighthouse, which was converted into the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum in 1986. (But it would be silly not to.)
Just scoping out the swells from that cliff top, looking down on one of the state's best-loved surf spots is enough to bring you closer to the soul of Santa Cruz, which must be related somehow to the soul of California. Moreover, the elevation gives you a great angle for photography, and Lighthouse Field State Beach is right next door. (One more thing: This patch of land, Lighthouse Point, marks the northern boundary of Monterey Bay.)
Where: Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, 701 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, 366 miles northwest of downtown L.A.
How much: Free (but the museum welcomes donations). The museum closes on Wednesdays and also Tuesdays in non-summer months.
Why: This may be the beach house of your dreams. If it isn't, your dreams may need upgrading.
What: The Adamson House, just east of the spot where Malibu Creek empties into the Pacific, is as classic as a Spanish-style beach home can get. It was built in 1929 by a family that owned thousands of Malibu acres, and that family made sure this home was full of gracefully swooping lines, hard-carved doors, frescoes, cast-iron sconces, colorful tile work and pottery made from local mud. The state of California bought the property in 1968 and opened it as a museum in 1983.
Hourlong guided tours of the interior are offered 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; Also, see the building that looks like it used to be the house's five-car garage? Well, that's what it was. But now it's the Malibu Lagoon Museum. Nearby you'll also find Malibu's civic center and mall (just west and across the highway) and the Malibu Pier (just east).
Where: 23200 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, 12 miles west of the Santa Monica Pier, about 28 miles west of downtown L.A.
How much: The house tours are $7 per adult and $2 for those 6 to 16.
Info: Adamson House
Why: It's a family business that goes back 71 years. In an era of food fads that wax and wane, in a territory crowded full of chain operations, the Apple Pan is a sort of North Star, unchanging and unreplicated. A North Star with hickory sauce.
What: The Apple Pan has been peddling burgers on Pico Boulevard since 1947 — before the Westside Pavilion (which now looms across the street) was ever contemplated, inspiring L.A. Times Food section features in 2007 and 2017. Twenty-six seats around a U-shaped counter. No reservations, no alcohol, no air conditioning, no credit cards. Order the Hickoryburger and apple pie.
Where: 10801 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 13 miles west of downtown L.A.
How much: Hickoryburger, $7.10. Apple pie, $6.
Info: No website, but Yelp has hours, comments and a menu link.
Why: Think of an "Asian night market" as the Comic-Con of street food. For 20 bucks, you can nibble your way through some of the most delicious, and occasionally outlandish, Asian dishes you've never seen. I guarantee you'll walk out full.
What: Held during summer weekends beneath billowing clouds of barbecue smoke, Asian night markets at Santa Anita Park and now in Orange County feature more than 150 vendors under pop-up tents, serving mostly Asian-themed street food.
They are modeled on a craze that began in Taiwan, and now, with games, entertainment and all sorts of creative dishes, feel like a traditional county fair on steroids. It is also evidence that no American could ever resist something that is both deep-fried and skewered on a stick.
Prices begin at a buck or two for sample plates of chicken wings or sausages. Portions are generous.
The markets are a cheaper version of the food-truck craze but with more choices and a laid-back, chatty atmosphere. Among the perennial favorites: Squid on a stick; stinky tofu; Peking duck tacos; pork belly musubi.
Go early to avoid the longer lines, which can stretch 40 minutes for such popular items as spiral-cut potatoes.
How much: Admission is $3-$5, depending on when you go.
Where: The 626 Night Market is at Santa Anita Park, 285 Huntington Drive, in Arcadia, 17 miles northeast of downtown L.A. The OC Night Market is at the Fair and Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, in Costa Mesa, 40 miles southeast of downtown L.A. Each venue holds a Friday-Sunday event about once a month during the summer. See websites for schedules.
Why: This territory, in California's northernmost national park, is this state’s own Yellowstone.
What: Bumpass Hell, a 3-mile round-trip trail full of steam-belching scenery, is the marquee hiking attraction of Lassen Volcanic National Park. But Lassen gets just one tourist for every 11 who reach that other Yellowstone. So you'll probably have the trail to yourself.
Instead, enjoy the most geothermally active corner of the state, its slopes and meadows dotted with boiling creeks, steaming lakes and bubbling mud pots. It's only open in warmer months, and because of the big snows last winter, park rangers say the trail probably won't open until mid-July in 2017. (Lassen National Park Highway, the 30-mile-long main route through the park, was expected to open in early July. Check with rangers for updates.)
Impress your fellow travelers by casually mentioning that when Mount Lassen last erupted, in 1915, it sent mushroom clouds seven miles into the stratosphere. And if that seems to take their breath away, remember that you're 8,000 feet above sea level. It might just be the altitude.
Where: Lassen Volcanic National Park, 48 miles east of Redding, is 570 miles north of downtown L.A.
How much: Park admission is $20 per vehicle (for a week) from April 16 through Nov. 30. In colder months, it's $10.
Why: Maybe you've always wondered about the nature of the universe, or maybe you just wanted to be a rock on Mars. Either way, here’s your chance.
What: You can visit the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a weekday tour or through its annual open house, the “Explore JPL” weekend. (In 2017, it was May 20-21.) In one Explore JPL event this year at the well-guarded campus in the foothills La Cañada Flintridge, visitors got down low and imagined they were pebbles and boulders on faraway Mars while a remote-controlled “prototype” rover slowly climbed over them. Wicked-smart engineers and scientists explained their projects, which entailed studying the poles of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn and Earth's atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, as measured from space.
Can't make the open house? Sign up in advance for a weekday tour, where you'll visit key sites like Mission Control and the Spacecraft Assembly Building. Or, in the von Kármán Visitor Center, read and dream about where the golden record aboard Voyager (packed with Earth's sounds and images) is now: far, far away.
Where: 4800 Oak Grove Drive, La Cañada Flintridge, 15 miles northeast of downtown L.A.
How much: Free. But reservations are required, and tours, lectures and other events often fill up months in advance.
Info: JPL Public Tours
Why: This stretch of Humboldt County highway is a journey to the heart of redwood country, the largest remaining expanse of old-growth redwoods in the world.
What: The Avenue of the Giants, which follows alongside the Eel River and U.S. 101 for 31 or 32 miles, depending on who's counting. It takes you past legions of majestic trees and a great collection of roadside redwood kitsch, including restaurants, lodgings and souvenir shops with treehouses, drive-on logs, chainsaw art and so on. If you're heading south to north, the avenue will take you through the 53,000-acre Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Be sure to park and stroll a 1.3-mile trail (it's flat) through Founders Grove to appraise the magnificent corpse of the Dyerville Giant, once thought to be the world's tallest tree. In March 1991, the roughly 370-foot-tall tree crashed to the ground after a storm, making a boom that was heard for miles.
The park's Rockefeller Forest has more trails, and there are swimming holes along the river.
Where: The Avenue of the Giants' southern entrance is 6 miles north of Garberville, 585 miles northwest of downtown L.A. The Founders Grove of Humboldt Redwoods State Park is at Dyerville Loop Road and Avenue of the Giants, 4 miles south of Red Crest, 18 miles beyond the avenue's southern entrance.
How much: Free.