Why: The Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa has the largest collection of "Peanuts" strips in the world. It explores the nuances and global reach of Schulz's work, and the impact of cartoonists generally.
What: Opened in 2002, the museum charts the career of Schulz, who drew "Peanuts" from 1950 to 2000 and died on the day before his last cartoon was published. (He lived in Santa Rosa.) Displays include a black-and-white tile mural with 3,588 "Peanuts" images, a re-creation of "Sparky's studio" (that was Schulz's nickname) and a doghouse wrapped in cloth by the artist Christo as an homage to Shulz.
The museum is neighbored by an ice rink, coffee shop ("the Warm Puppy Cafe"), gallery and gift shop, all built by Shulz, who lived in Sonoma County for more than 40 years.
Why: This is where Europe first glimpsed the California coast. Nowadays, it's where you can see Coronado and Tijuana from on high, and tidepools up close.
What: In 1542, explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo became the first European to sight California from the sea when he spotted the Point Loma peninsula, then came ashore. Perched high on the point, Cabrillo National Monument has a visitor center explaining what Cabrillo’s sighting meant for Spain and the world. (The mysterious explorer died later on the same expedition.)
A short walk away on the monument grounds is the first Point Loma lighthouse, built in the 19th century. And if the history and the wide views aren't enough, you'll find dramatic sandstone formations and tidepooling opportunities along the water's edge.
Why: The No. 19 at Langer’s Deli is the Marilyn Monroe of pastrami sandwiches, a smoky, bombastic, love-at-first-bite Los Angeles legend. I think it’s the lean, hand-cut pastrami. Or maybe it’s the slab of slaw atop it. Come to think of it, the rye bread is probably what makes this sandwich such a hit. Tender in the middle, crunchy on the edges, the double-baked bread is the stage of this luscious sandwich. Then again, it might be the meat. Epic poems have been written over far less.
What:Langer’s Delicatessen opened in 1947, with about a dozen seats. Still in a struggling, working-class neighborhood across from MacArthur Park, it now draws huge crowds for breakfast and lunch.
The menu is a ferocious mix of deli standards: egg salad, matzo ball soup, cheese blintzes. Carved from the navel of a steer, and cured as you would corn beef, pastrami is by far the most-popular meat. The flavor comes from a combo of smoking and steaming that preserves the moisture.
Why: Welcome to the Los Angeles River, America's least likely recreational area. That L.A. has a navigable river at all surprises many folks. All they see are the empty concrete culverts poured decades ago to prevent mass flooding. But honestly, if someone blindfolded you and plopped you down here, you might think you're in Idaho.
What: There are stretches — a mile here, seven miles there — where the bottom is soft and the deep earth tones are a cinematographer's smeary dream. A wall of trees to your left. A wall of trees to your right. Dozens of species of chattering birds. Minnows doing button-hooks beneath a ribbon of urban drool. This water isn’t as pristine as it might look. It is sourced from storm drains and a treatment plant. Yet the water sparkles over rocks. Herons and hawks work the shorelines
It's the surprise of this setting — a tunnel of trees in the parched valley — that makes the unmasking of the L.A. River so alluring. It is also one more reminder, in this land of freeways and mini-malls, that nature and wildlife still manage not just to survive, but to thrive.
Why: Because the city of Orange's Old Towne Historic District is a funky yet family-oriented spot for strolling, dining and people-watching. The heart of the matter is the pedestrian-friendly traffic circle where Chapman Avenue and Glassell Street meet. Some people call it the Orange Circle, some call it Plaza Square.
What: This neighborhood, which sits in the middle of Orange County, has sustained a vibrant conglomeration of quaint cafes and restaurants, bars, coffeehouses, and specialty and curio stores since the late 19th century. It doesn't hurt that within a few blocks, you'll find a working train station and the campus of Chapman University.
Why: If I told you there are about 17 hotels on one side of this single street 1.5 miles long, you might want to run the other way. But it works here, probably because the other side of the street is a low bluff over a charming central California coastline of cypress trees and rocky outcroppings. All these lodgings are smallish enough to call themselves inns (once upon a time, they were motels). And you can stroll to a few casual restaurants such as Sea Chest (no credit cards, no reservations) and Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill (no reservations) along the same stretch.
What: Moonstone Beach Drive runs along the ocean side of Highway 1, and a pleasant boardwalk runs along the ocean side of Moonstone Beach Drive. Now and then, deer show up in the meadows. One lodging that's seen a lot of upgrading in the last year: Oceanpoint Ranch (previously known as the San Simeon Pines), with 61 rooms on 9 acres. But whether you sleep in the neighborhood or not, this is a great place for a walk, especially on foggy early morning.
Where: Moonstone Beach Drive, 8 miles south of Hearst Castle in San Simeon, 238 miles northwest of downtown L.A.
Why: Where else in the world can you experience shoals of flopping fish on the shores of a moonlit beach?
What: Every March through August, small silvery fish called grunions (Leuresthes tenuis) show up on the sandy shores of California’s southern beaches to spawn. These fascinating creatures have attracted and entranced Californians since long before Europeans reached these shores. For a two-hour period late on the nights after the highest tides, grunions ride in on waves and flop onto the sand en masse to deposit their eggs. If you're fishing or catching and releasing, that's your cue to reach in and grab the grunion with bare hands. But it may be thrill enough just to watch the tide of fish under the night sky.
The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro offers an introduction to the spectacle. The museum opens its door at 8 p.m. for two scheduled nights in June and two more in July to offer a “Meet the Grunion” program that includes guided observation of grunions on the beach.
Why: As a rule, there's not much on Hollywood Boulevard that I'd recommend for a kid in elementary school. But this rule has one gleaming exception: Disney's exuberantly restored El Capitan Theatre, which is a great place to see a family film.
What: This venue, built in 1926, premiered "Citizen Kane" in 1941 and kicked off Hollywood's revival (still ongoing) with its reopening 50 years later. The outside is Spanish Colonial. The inside: East Indian Theatrical (by way of a San Francisco architect). The Disney studio often premieres new films here. Whether the show is a premiere or not, pre-show entertainment often includes performances on the venue's Mighty Wurlitzer organ, which rises from beneath the stage.
Back in the '20s, this venue began its life as a stage for live theater. In fact, it was one in a trio of boldly themed venues on the boulevard: El Capitan, Chinese and Egyptian. In 1941, El Capitan switched from live theater to movies.
Why: Los Angeles' downtown Biltmore, now known as the Millennium Biltmore, is a snazzy space on Pershing Square with a starry history and hints of noir.
What: The hotel, which dates to 1923, began life as the biggest American hotel west of Chicago and housed several Academy Awards ceremonies in the 1930s, 1940s and 1977. Nowadays it gets a lot of business travelers, who stride purposefully through rooms done up in a glitzy mix of Renaissance, baroque, neo-classical and Moorish styles.
The tale is told that this is where aspiring actress Elizabeth Short -- a.k.a. the Black Dahlia -- was last seen alive before her notorious unsolved murder in 1947. And the hotel's Gallery Bar serves a Black Dahlia in her memory -- citrus vodka, Chambord and Kahlua. Inconveniently, some who have studied the case closely say there's no solid connection between Short and the bar. But the hotel has seen plenty of shooting, including many movies ("Chinatown"), perhaps the longest talking-while-walking shot ever on TV's "The West Wing," and the semi-dirty dancing in singer Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" video.
Why: Since 1921, this quirky downtown restaurant has been a gathering place for L.A. power brokers and carnivores.
What: Most restaurants made out of replica train cars are diner-type joints. But the Pacific Dining Car aims higher. Steaks are a specialty, and the hefty prices are clearly aimed at the expense-account crowd. It's open around the clock, and it's been in its current location since 1923. Part of the harrowing cop film "Training Day" was shot here, and Michael Connelly has used the restaurant in his Harry Bosch detective books. Breakfast is a good time to catch power diners in the act. Lunch is a good time to order the Caesar Salad with Filet Mignon ($41.95).
Where: 1310 W. 6th St., in downtown L.A., two miles west of City Hall. (There's a second location on Wilshire in Santa Monica, but 6th Street is the one with tenure.)