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368 posts
  • Family-friendly
  • S.F. Bay Area
Dias Ridge.
Dias Ridge. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Its peak might be a mere 2,571 feet above sea level, but modern mountain biking wouldn't be what it is without Mt. Tamalpais.

What: Mt. Tamalpais State Park, cradle of mountain-biking innovation in the 1970s, is full of options, including fire roads and multi-use trails (and neighboring public lands have even more). Two favorite paths (open to bikers, hikers and horses alike) are the Coast View and Dias Ridge (sometimes spelled Diaz) trails. If you ride Dias Ridge, you'll end at Muir Beach by the Pelican Inn, a facsimile of a 17th century English pub that serves refreshments and hearty meals.

Non-cyclists, don't worry. The park has plenty of cyclist-free trails. At least one is wheelchair-accessible: the Verna Dunshee Trail (0.75 mile) at East Peak, known for big views. (Accessible tables, restrooms and drinking fountains are nearby.) 

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  • L.A. County
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: In a world of conspicuous consumption, there is no place more conspicuous to do your consuming. 

What: The Rodeo Drive shopping experience — which became a globally recognized thing around the time Judith Krantz's book "Scruples" came out in 1978 — boils down to about three blocks. Start at Beverly Gardens Park, at Rodeo and South Santa Monica Boulevard. Next make your way southeast on Rodeo (say Ro-Day-O, as locals do), past Brighton and Dayton ways, to Wilshire Boulevard. This gives you a good look at Cartier, Gucci, Prada, Harry Winston, Burberry and their well-heeled neighbors. Near Brighton Way, look for the late designer Bijan's yellow Rolls-Royce convertible, semi-perpetually parked near the House of Bijan at 420 N. Rodeo Dr.

Do this and you'll wind up facing the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where Warren Beatty once lived and Esther Williams taught 14-year-old Elizabeth Taylor how to swim and Richard Gere brought Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman." 

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Andreas Gursky's "Amazon" draws a Broad crowd.
Andreas Gursky's "Amazon" draws a Broad crowd. (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)
The Broad.
The Broad. (C. Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Why: These two museums are on the front lines of contemporary art worldwide, focusing on works made since 1945. They stand within a stone's throw of each other on Grand Avenue.  

What: The Broad Museum (opened in September 2015 and bankrolled by L.A. art maven Eli Broad) is free for general admission, but you have to reserve in advance or in the stand-by line, which can last more than an hour. The Museum of Contemporary Art (born in 1979) isn't free, and isn't getting so much buzz since the Broad opened. But both can startle, enlighten, disgust and amuse you.

Within the Broad, art stars like Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Andy Warhol, Edward Ruscha and Andreas Gursky dominate the two levels of galleries, and visitors queue up to spend 45 seconds alone in Yayoi Kusama's "Infinity Mirrored Room" (which will remain through Sept. 30.  Just outside the museum, there's a patch of grass under several gnarled old olive trees, and the restaurants Otium (seafood) and Vespaio (Italian).  

  • Family-friendly
  • High Sierra
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Why: It's ancient and lunar. It impressed Mark Twain in the 19th century (he put it in his book "Roughing It") and Pink Floyd in the 20th (they put it on the sleeve of their album "Wish You Were Here").

What: Mono Lake goes back at least 760,000 years, covers about 70 square miles and feeds no rivers, which makes it salty and strange in many ways. The shoreline, more than 6,300 feet above sea level, is crawling with alkali flies, packed so densely that you may at first mistake them for a black-sand beach. In the water are legions of brine shrimp, fingernail-sized creatures that float at all depths. Protruding from the water are the tufa towers, which look like irradiated anthills but are really calcium-carbonate mounds formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water.

If there were a lake on the moon, I'm pretty sure it would look like this. (And if the lovers of the lake hadn't waged a sustained political fight to save it from the thirst of Los Angeles, it would probably be a smaller, sadder spectacle now.)

  • Family-friendly
  • Central Coast
The view from the clock tower.
The view from the clock tower. (Susan Spano/For the Times)

Why: From the observation deck atop the clock tower, you can scan a panorama of Santa Barbara's many red-tiled roofs. In the mural room below, you'll see enormous, evocative depictions of early California history.

(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

What: In a city full of mansions, the Andalusian-style Santa Barbara County Courthouse is among the prettiest buildings of all. It was completed in 1929, four years after an earthquake damaged much of downtown and set off a boom in Spanish-style construction.

Beginning in the second-floor mural room, docents give free, hourlong tours on weekdays at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., weekend days at 2 p.m. But you can climb the clock tower stairs on your own, and nose around the mural room too — if there isn't a wedding happening.

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  • Family-friendly
  • San Diego County
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: You won't find another pier in California with cottages on it, and this pier stands along one of San Diego's most popular beaches.

(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

What: The Crystal Pier Hotel & Cottages go back to the 1930s. Despite changes in owners (and many a dispute with city officials) in early decades, the operation has been run by the same family since 1961. The pier is wooden, with fishing at the end. The 31 units are painted white with blue trim and flower boxes. The beachfront promenade, Ocean Front Walk, is San Diego's answer to Venice -- a boisterous concentration of people, bikes and beach culture that runs three miles through the Pacific Beach and Mission Beach neighborhoods.

Where: 4500 Ocean Blvd., San Diego, 115 miles southeast of downtown L.A.

  • S.F. Bay Area
In the shadow of the Transamerica Pyramid.
In the shadow of the Transamerica Pyramid. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Walking is good. History is good. Free is (pardon the grammar) good. Taken together on the rising and falling streets of San Francisco, they're a tourism hat trick.

What: San Francisco City Guides is a nonprofit group whose volunteers lead walking tours all over town. The regularly scheduled tours are free (although donations are welcome), and there are several every day. On some Saturdays, there are as many as 20 different walking tours offered, covering tea gardens, epic stairways, murals, mansions and old military posts. In Union Square and the Financial District alone, the group offers 21 different itineraries.

I did a custom walk on Montgomery Street with volunteer Joyce Kurtz and came away with a whole new way of seeing the Financial District. Now I understand that Montgomery Street was the waterfront in the old days. And that Mark Twain once worked in the building that was razed before the Transamerica Pyramid went up. (That's why the alley next door is named for him.)  

  • Family-friendly
  • S.F. Bay Area
Cartoonist Charles Schulz's son Craig, right, clowns around under a museum mural with Schulz's widow, Jeannie, and Steve Martino, director of "The Peanuts Movie."
Cartoonist Charles Schulz's son Craig, right, clowns around under a museum mural with Schulz's widow, Jeannie, and Steve Martino, director of "The Peanuts Movie." (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

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.

(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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.

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  • Family-friendly
  • San Diego County
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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.

  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
The No. 19 at Langer's.
The No. 19 at Langer's. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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.