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369 posts
  • Family-friendly
  • Central Coast
This videos explores the two greatest bubble gum walls of the American West, in Seattle and San Luis Obispo.

Why: Because this is California's foremost known repository of used gum.

What: Bubblegum Alley is found just off Higuera Street (the main commercial drag of San Luis Obispo) on the 700 block between Garden and Broad streets. It's the sort of unsanitary whimsy you might expect from a college town: a narrow alley whose tall brick walls are bedecked, festooned, clad and ennobled by the steady accumulation of gum that's already been chewed.

This has gone on for decades, evolving from a lingering prank into a full-fledged civic landmark and guidebook highlight despite the fact that it disgusts a substantial part of the population. There's a similar wall in Seattle's Pike Place Market -- where a recent clean-up immediately gave way to renewed gum accumulation -- but there are no known rivals in California.

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  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
(Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Why: You’ve seen it from the blimp. Now see it up close, with a three-mile stroll around this lovely landmark and the lush public golf course next door. In a rush? You can drive it as well.

What: Sports Illustrated once dubbed the Rose Bowl the No. 1 venue in college sports, and the 94-year-old stadium has hosted several Super Bowls as well. But whether you’re a sports fan or not, you’ll appreciate this setting.

Go in the late afternoon, when the setting sun gives the San Gabriels a rosy glow, then stop for dinner or a drink on the patio of Brookside Restaurant (park for free in the course lot, or in nearby stadium lot D). Locals use this route around the stadium as their free health club, for biking and hiking. Stadium tours take place the last Friday of the month.

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  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Because your mission is to boldly go where William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy have gone before.

What: The jagged and otherworldly forms of Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, a 932-acre geological oddity in northeastern L.A. County, have been attracting film crews for nearly a century, including the markers of the vintage TV series "The Lone Ranger" (1949-1957). But no film or TV property can match the "Star Trek" franchise's faithfulness.

In a beloved episode called "Arena," Captain Kirk battled an overgrown lizard called a Gorn amid these red rocks. In the "Friday's Child" episode, these rocks represented the planet Capella IV. In the "Shore Leave" episode, the rocks stand in for planet Omicron Delta, where Kirk is again called upon to do battle. IMDB.com lists more than 350 productions that have shot at the rocks (which were named for a 19th century bandit), including the films "Austin Powers," "Blazing Saddles," "Frankenstein" (the 1931 Boris Karloff version) and "Dracula" (the 1931 Bela Lugosi version) and the TV shows "Maverick," "Kung Fu" and "The Big Bang Theory."

  • S.F. Bay Area
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Because this neighborhood's ups and downs since the 1960s have not only reshaped San Francisco but also American attitudes.

What: Catch the F Line & Wharves streetcar up Market Street to San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, a.k.a. LGBTQ HQ. Lively, irreverent and affluent, it's the most famous and historically important gay neighborhood in the West. 

Hop off at Market and Castro streets. Pause at the Twin Peaks Tavern, which in the early 1970s seems to have become the first gay/lesbian bar anywhere with full-length glass windows.

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

Why: The desert is hot. You are thirsty. And you have a sweet tooth.

What: Indio's Shields Date Garden has been growing dates and making shakes since Floyd and Bess Shields showed up in 1924. Park near the vast orchard of swaying palms, order your shake at the fountain or the cafe, and don't miss the slide show on the "romance and sex life of the date," narrated by the late Floyd Shields himself.

(If Indio is too far out of your way, the date shakes at Hadley's in Morongo, right on your way between Palm Springs and Los Angeles, are tasty too. But be warned that Hadley's has relocated from its quaint old headquarters to a neighboring modern building with far less character.)

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  • L.A. County
The Arroyo Seco Parkway in 1940.
The Arroyo Seco Parkway in 1940. (Los Angeles Times file photo)

Why: To see where freeways in the western U.S. were born, and how far they’ve come.

What: Covering a little more than eight miles between downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena, the Arroyo Seco Parkway -- a.k.a. the Pasadena Freeway, a.k.a. State Route 110 -- was the first freeway in the western U.S.  It was completed in 1940, then extended here and there to join up with other, newer freeways.

If you have never driven it, brace yourself for short on-ramps, stop signs on off-ramps; narrow lanes; ever-so-slightly-banked turns; and scant shoulders. Ten minutes on this freeway is guaranteed to deepen your appreciation for every one that's been built since.

  • Family-friendly
  • Orange County
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Why: This might be the most-visited of California's missions, and it's surely among the most scenic, with ruins and gardens. It even has a handy Amtrak station.

What: About the time George Washington and his East Coast friends were declaring independence from the British, Franciscan missionaries Junípero Serra (now St. Junípero) and Fermín Lasuén were founding and refounding this mission on behalf of the Catholic Church and Spain. Since then it has been assaulted by earthquakes (including a rough one in 1812), adopted by migrating swallows (which inspired a pop song in the 1940s, but they don't come around as much anymore) and embraced by tourists.

The historic structures and gardens make an easy day trip by train from San Diego, Santa Barbara or any place in between. And the adjacent Los Rios District ("oldest neighborhood in California") includes the Zoomars Petting Zoo and the Ramos House Cafe, which does weekend brunches on its sun-dappled patio.

  • Family-friendly
  • Deserts
Ricardo Breceda's work near Borrego Springs
Ricardo Breceda's work near Borrego Springs (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Per capita, this must be California's metal beast capital

What: Sleepy little Borrego Springs and the surrounding Anza Borrego desert back country of San Diego County will never match the high modernist style of Palm Springs. But Palm Springs will never match Borrego's beasts.

Dinosaurs. Dragons. Mammoths, sloths and horses. A scorpion and grasshopper, staring each other down like gunfighters on Main Street. About 150 are scattered around the town, many of them visible from Borrego Springs Road, all made of metal by sculptor Ricardo Breceda.

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

Why: These rocks are stars.

What: Joshua Tree National Park is famed for its namesake succulents, which raise their arms like beseeching biblical figures. But its granite is just as special. The park's Hidden Valley and Wonderland of Rocks draw climbers, boulderers, desert campers and geology geeks from all over. (This is where the Mojave and Colorado deserts collide.) Prime stargazing, too.   

Where: Joshua Tree National Park, San Bernardino County, 132 miles east of downtown L.A.

  • Deserts
Pappy & Harriet's, Pioneertown.
Pappy & Harriet's, Pioneertown. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: This is a watering hotel that feels as though it sprouted straight from the hot, dry desert sand.

What: Pappy and Harriet don't live here anymore. But there's no desert roadhouse that can beat Pappy & Harriet's in Pioneertown for true grit and live music. (Also lunch and dinner.) The joint, north of Yucca Valley, was built as a movie-set cantina in 1946 and has operated under its current name since 1982, but it feels at least as old as Willie Nelson's wrinkles.

It usually has bands (without cover charge) Thursday through Sunday nights -- usually local performers, sometimes national ones, and for one night in October 2016, Paul McCartney. All meat and fish is cooked on an outdoor mesquite grill. It's usually closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.