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...
Why: Because this stretch of Highway 1 is more than a jaw-dropping drive. It often features hundreds, sometimes thousands, of portly pinnipeds flopped on the sand at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.
What: An uncanny bellowing beckoned me off the road last winter. On that trip, I joined a crowd on a boardwalk looking down in delight and wonder as these mega-sized marine mammals jockeyed for dominance on the beach. (Males get up to 5,000 pounds and 16 feet long, and this was mating and birthing season.) In the spring, we found a second visit equally intriguing: molting season. The beach was full of tan, brown and silvery lumps that looked like driftwood, until one would yawn or another would toss cooling sand over its hot, heavy body.
It was the early 1990s when growing numbers of Northern elephant seals (so called because of the mature male's large nose) began gathering here. Since then (with support from many conservation organizations) the lumbering beasts have claimed about six miles of shoreline as a haven for birthing , breeding, molting and rest. Though the elephant seals spend most of their lives at sea, there’s something happening here most months. In September and October, for example, young ones arrive for the fall haul-out.
Why: Back before anybody carried Chihuahuas in purses, in the days when comfort animals were an uncommon sight in America's planes, trains and restaurants, this place in quaint Carmel was already eager to see your dog. And Doris Day, co-owner, singer, movie star and advocate, is the reason.
What: It's neither the fanciest hotel in town nor the most affordable, but the Cypress Inn stands in the middle of the village, full of Spanish Colonial flourishes.
It goes back to 1929. I've stayed there without a pet and been pleased. If you don't mind stairs, ask about the Queen Tower suite. Views on three sides.