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368 posts
  • L.A. County
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Because this building begs to be touched.

What: Gleaming, silvery, curvaceous Walt Disney Concert Hall stands along Grand Avenue, the cultural corridor at the edge of downtown L.A.'s government quarter. When Frank Gehry's hall was going up, some local highbrows scoffed that it would be a secondhand landmark; the architect had already unveiled a similarly sheathed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. But since the L.A. venue's 2003 opening, Southern California has embraced Disney Hall in a big way. Up close, you can see yourself in it.  

If you can catch the L.A. Philharmonic or another performer from one of the 2,265 seats here, do it. (Be prepared for great sightlines but scant leg room.) 

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  • Central Coast
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: It has 109 rooms, no two alike; a preponderance of pink (because the owner loves the color); and a long history of satisfying newlyweds. If you spell kitsch with a capital K, this is your place. On Valentine's Day? Even better.

(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

What: The Madonna Inn, a family operation since its opening in 1958, has always been an irresistible hot pink mess. Maybe you've heard of its splashes of pink paint high and low, or the waterfall in its men’s room, or the plastic flowers in the dining room, or its thematically customized guest rooms, which feature zebra-pattern carpets, poppy wallpaper, merry-go-round, etc.

Lately, the place has been getting horsier and the decor perhaps a tad more restrained. These are alarming signs.

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

Why: Because these critters, like creationism and evolution, demand closer inspection.

What: In Cabazon, on the road to Palm Springs, a pair of massive dinosaurs lurks by Interstate 10, eager to lure children. Rex and Dinny are their names.

If you're tight on money, just admire them from the parking lot. If the kids insist on a close encounter, pay the admission fee and they can clamber up inside a dinosaur's neck and look out at the world through his teeth (as Pee-wee Herman did in the 1985 film "Pee-wee's Big Adventure").

  • Central Valley
Noriega's on a Thursday night.
Noriega's on a Thursday night. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: You'll sit down at a long, loud table with dozens of strangers, eat whatever the chef is cooking, drink from unlabeled wine bottles (and maybe pour a little red into your vanilla ice cream dessert, as is the house custom). By meal's end, you'll be surrounded by new friends. Your belly with be very, very full. And you might know a little more about Basques and the West.

What: There are several Basque restaurants along the train tracks in eastern Bakersfield, a legacy of the years when Basques owned and worked sheep ranches in California, Nevada and Idaho, clinging to their memories and native cuisine from the Pyrenees mountains along the border of France and Spain.

Noriega Hotel Restaurant — Noriega's, the locals say — goes back to 1893, and still has a boarding house next door. (On my last visit in January, there was a B from the Kern County Public Health Services displayed in a barred window.) The kitchen serves three meals a day, and dinner, at 7 p.m. sharp, is the big attraction. You take a seat at a long table, greet your new neighbors and prepare for an onslaught of plates.

  • Family-friendly
  • San Diego County
Hodad's on Newport Avenue in San Diego is a classic burger joint, a block from the beach.
Hodad's on Newport Avenue in San Diego is a classic burger joint, a block from the beach. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Is it the onions? The beef? The thrill of waiting in line among the wayward beach people of Ocean Beach in San Diego? It's impossible to say. But Hodad's, born in 1969, has won a reputation as a classic burger joint, a block from the beach.

What: The walls are covered with license plates.The best table is a truncated surfer van. The people-watching on Newport Avenue will be a revelation to anybody who thinks San Diego, with all its military and Republican history, has no scruffy lefties.

Non-surfers are welcome at Hodad's in San Diego.
Non-surfers are welcome at Hodad's in San Diego.

To avoid waiting in line, get there a few minutes before the 11 a.m. opening time. Or go to one of the restaurant's newer locations: one downtown, and one in Petco Park, where the Padres play.

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  • Central Valley
Paul Chavez at the grave of his father, labor leader Cesar Chavez.
Paul Chavez at the grave of his father, labor leader Cesar Chavez. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Because he changed the way California's farmers and farmworkers live.

(USPS)

What: In the busiest days of his battles to gain rights for farmworkers in California's Central Valley, United Farm Workers leader César E. Chávez used to strategize with trusted aides in the hamlet of Keene.

All these years later, Chávez (1927-1993) is buried at the site, which is part of the César E. Chávez National Monument. And if you're picturing a forlorn, dusty spot in the middle of a big, flat valley, think again.

  • Family-friendly
  • San Diego County
Midway Museum, San Diego.
Midway Museum, San Diego. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Who hasn't wondered how it feels to stand on the deck of an aircraft carrier?

What: The Midway, a retired aircraft carrier, now rests at the San Diego downtown waterfront, offering a close look at Navy history. This was the longest-serving U.S. aircraft carrier of the 20th century, with 47 years. Between September 1945 and 1992, the ship was home to more than 200,000 sailors. In 2004, it opened as a floating museum.

More than 20 aircraft are arrayed on the flight deck, many with accessible cockpits. See that big number 41 painted on the side of the ship? That's because this was the 41st aircraft carrier built in Navy history.

  • Family-friendly
  • Deserts
Kayaker, Salton Sea.
Kayaker, Salton Sea. (Ben Whitefield / For The Times)

Why: Because where else can you do water sports on a sunken sea in the middle of a desert?

What: It’s serene yet a bit surreal to paddle onto this huge, accidental lake in the desert south of Indio and drink in the vistas of choppy blue water, agricultural fields, dried-up earth and cloud-studded sky, all ringed by the Chocolate and Santa Rosa mountains.  The lake, created in 1905 when the Colorado River overflowed a canal and flooded into the Coachella Valley for 18 months, is more than 30 miles long with about 115 miles of shoreline, all more than 200 feet below sea level.

Although some dismiss the Salton Sea as a desolate, abandoned wasteland with too many environmental issues to count, as you kayak almost alone on this wide-open water -- staring at stately brown pelicans and scolded by the chattering gulls -- you’ll be reminded that this place is very much alive.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
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  • Family-friendly
  • High Sierra
Broken Arrow run, Squaw Valley, 2016.
Broken Arrow run, Squaw Valley, 2016. (Ben Arnst / Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows)

Why: The only time the Winter Olympics ever came to California, they came here.

What: More than a dozen ski resorts dot the mountains around the big, blue lake, including Squaw Valley (host of the 1960 Winter Games, now joined under common ownership with nearby Alpine Meadows, both at the north end of the lake); and Heavenly Mountain Resort (which straddles the Nevada border at the south end of the lake). 

Other major players include Kirkwood (to the south; lots of expert runs), Northstar (to the north; has a Ritz-Carlton handy); and Sugar Bowl (to the north; gets more snow and Bay Area people because of its high, westerly location). (Mt. Rose, on the Nevada side, is known for lots of snow, steep slopes and commanding lake views.)

  • Deserts
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Because sonically, you may be unclean. And the acoustics of this place are amazing.

What: The Integratron, on the fringe of Landers about 20 miles north of Joshua Tree National Park, was supposed to be about time travel, geomagnetism and extraterrestrial life. Its creator, George Van Tassel (1910-1978), said he was influenced by Moses' Tabernacle, the work of Nikola Tesla and a visit from a being from Venus in 1953.

But times change. And ownership changed. And now the Integratron is about sound baths. That is, personal growth, internal harmony and the sort of calm and wonder that emerge when somebody coaxes strange vibrations from a series of tuned crystal bowls in a room full of uncanny resonance. In the middle of the desert.