Why: After eight decades as the unsung older sibling to the Golden Gate, San Francisco's Bay Bridge stands every night in a spotlight of its own. Some 25,000 of them, in fact. Admire it after dark, from land or sea.
What: The Bay Bridge, opened in 1936 and largely renewed after years of still-ongoing seismic retrofitting and replacements, now offers LED light displays nightly. Artist Leo Villareal, who conceived the twinkling spectacle, calls it The Bay Lights. The work was first displayed from 2013 to 2015, then returned as a permanent feature in January 2016. About 25,000 programmed white lights are involved — but you can't see them from the bridge itself.
Instead, you can see them from across the water — perhaps the Ferry Building, or almost anywhere along the Embarcadero (including the long boardwalk of Pier 7). Or you could admire them from aboard a ferry.
Why: This handsome beach, which neighbors the Montage Resort, includes sandstone cliffs and a prime parking area that fills up fast.
What: Treasure Island isn't an island. But it is a beach and city park in Laguna Beach. It's sometimes overlooked because it wraps around the exclusive Montage resort (most rooms cost $800 a night or more). But Treasure Island has a shaded parking structure (whose roughly 30 spaces fill up early ever day), a pleasant bluff-top path alongside the resort's immaculate landscaping, public benches, picnic spots with 180-degree ocean views, tide pools and white-sand shores that include a dramatic sandstone arch.
About the name: In the 1930s, this beach was used as shooting location for a movie version of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel "Treasure Island." Later, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz used the spot in their 1954 vacation road-trip movie, "The Long, Long Trailer." The Montage site once held a trailer park.
Why: Boot camp becomes a playground. What's not to like?
What: Built as a Navy training center in the 1920s, shut down in 1997 and converted to civilian uses, Liberty Station's stately, sprawling Spanish Colonial Revival grounds now house dozens of restaurants, shops and many sports and arts groups, with acres of lawn to boot. While Old Town and Balboa Park grab tourists in vast numbers, Liberty Station draws more locals. (It's got grocery and hardware stores.) And it underlines the Navy's strong role in the local history and economy. The compound's Public Market is a modest food hall, neighbored by the immodestly large indoor-outdoor space of Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, which has taken over the old mess hall.
If you'd rather consume culture than ale, IPA or Imperial Stout, the complex's Arts District houses dozens of art and dance studios, a few galleries and minor museums, and sundry special events, including free outdoor movies on summer Saturday nights. The complex also includes a Courtyard by Marriott, a Homewood Suites by Hilton and the nine-hole Sail Ho golf course, also known as the Loma Club.
Why: There is no publicly accessible golf course in the country with the history, spectacular coastal vistas, memorable holes and overall experience of Pebble Beach Golf Links.
What: Pebble Beach will host the U.S. Open championship for the sixth time in 2019 and is an annual stop on the PGA Tour for a reason: It’s a course of almost unimaginable beauty and variety. As magnificent as it appears on television, it’s beyond that in person. Noted golf course architect Tom Doak wrote in “The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses,” considered by many the bible of critiques of the world’s courses: “Your first time around, it’s probably as thrilling a course to play as any in the world.” No argument here. (The neighboring courses aren't bad, either.)
The only catch is that to be assured of a tee time, you need to book at least two nights at one of three Pebble Beach resorts. You can also show up first thing and put your name on a stand-by list, or you can try to make a tee time 24 hours in advance, but both those options are dicey, particularly during the busy season from April through November.
Why: This bookseller has taken a dead bank building on an iffy downtown block and turned it into a bold retreat for readers and bohemians.
What: The Last Bookstore opened elsewhere downtown in 2005, as booksellers were faltering across the land. And then-owner Josh Spencer defied conventional wisdom a second time by moving his business to this far larger space in 2011. It beckons readers with a ground floor full of new and used books, including graphic novels and an annex for art and rare books.
The store also buys, sells and trades used vinyl, CDs and DVDs. The 25-foot white columns, circa 1915, suggest you may be sifting through the ruins of a lost civilization. The suspended artworks hint at acts of magic in progress. The stage gets used often for readings and live music.
Why: It’s an opportunity to play a seaside complex where Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Phil Mickelson (three times) and Tiger Woods (seven times) have been professional champions. That includes Woods’ dramatic playoff victory in the 2008 U.S. Open despite two stress fractures in his left leg and an ailing left knee that required surgery shortly after his win.
What: The North and South courses at Torrey Pines live by the same mantra that guides real estate: Location, location, location. High on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific, the courses offer distractingly beautiful views of the ocean and beaches below, accented above by ever-present hang gliders soaring over the cliffs and the frequent fly-bys of military jets from the nearby Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
Why: Largo (formally, Largo at the Coronet) is a rare venue where music and comedy rub elbows, where performers take chances, where big names turn up on stage and in the crowd, where audiences really concentrate. So don't show up late; once the show starts (usually 8:30 p.m.), the doors close and that's that.
What: Largo began in 1989 as Cafe Largo on Fairfax Avenue. Over time it changed owners, shortened its name and changed addresses (in 2008), but held its reputation. The main performance space is the 280-seat Coronet Theater, but just off the entry courtyard you'll find the 65-seat Little Room (Guinness on tap).
Recent performers include Jon Brion, the Watkins Family Hour, Grant Lee Phillips, Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, Tig Notaro, Harry Shearer and Judith Owen. On Sept, 19, I caught Sammy Miller and the Congregation, a young, six-man lineup that specializes in joyful jazz with lots of laughs and theatricality.
Why: North and south, as far as the eye can see, you have perhaps the most dramatic meeting of land and sea on the 840 miles of California's coastline. In between you have Highway 1 and this graceful span, a man-made respite between coastal wonders. But the highway is highly vulnerable to landslides, which is why, through mid-2018, Southern Californians need to approach Bixby Bridge by way of a big detour.
What: Highway 1 through Big Sur covers about 90 miles, beginning above San Simeon and continuing north to just below Carmel. The stormy winter of 2016-2017 damaged the road in multiple spots, now reduced to one closed zone at Mud Creek, about 20 miles northwest of San Simeon. (Those landslide damage repairs are due to conclude in June 2018). Still, most of Big Sur's scenery and businesses are open and accessible. Bixby Bridge is a highlight of the northern portion.
To reach the Bixby Bridge, the Rocky Point Restaurant, Point Lobos, Carmel and other points north, drive north on the 101 from Southern California. Then double back through Monterey via Highway 68. Soon you'll be hugging that amazing Big Sur coastline. Bear in mind that some trails are open in Andrew Molera and Garrapata state parks but much territory is closed or tightly restricted as repairs continue.
Why: These are some of the most epic miles of California's coast, and this cliff-clinging bohemian throwback restaurant has been a part of it since 1949.
What: Sometime in the second half of 2018, when all damage from the storms of early 2017 is mended, we'll again be able to drive all the way from San Simeon through Big Sur to Carmel on Highway 1. Until then, a 6-mile stretch of the highway (site of the Mud Creek slide) is closed just north of Ragged Point, forcing Southern Californians into big detours to reach Big Sur's most beloved landmarks, including Nepenthe. To reach those spots from the south, we can drive up 101 and double back on Highway 1 near Carmel, or we can exit at Jolon Road (north of Paso Robles) and continue via Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to rejoin the Highway 1 above its closure point.
It's along that northern portion of Highway 1 that you find Nepenthe, about 800 feet above the Pacific, about 31 miles south of Carmel.
Why: Dim sum is a brunch parade of Chinese tastes. There's no better place to enjoy California dim sum than Los Angeles County's San Gabriel Valley, where several cities boast populations of 40% or more Chinese Americans. And in this territory, NBC Seafood of Monterey Park is an institution.
What: NBC Seafood, a vast Cantonese banquet hall in a busy mall on Atlantic Boulevard, serves dim sum daily from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Diners pick dishes in baskets from an armada of circulating food carts, sipping tea between bites. The options are almost endless (including Jell-O and pickled chicken feet).
On my last visit, besides the usual shrimp-crab-pork-beef-broccoli-rice-dumpling favorites, I tried the boiled beef stomach (which was chewy, like octopus). Next time, maybe the chicken palm in abalone sauce...