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(Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Watching a field of lavender waving in a summer breeze is hypnotic, second only to smelling lavender. You need not go to France to experience this; it’s as close as Clairmont Farms in Los Olivos, a pretty 30-mile drive from Santa Barbara.

What: Besides the olfactory aesthetic, the grounds of the nine-or-so-acre farm, seven in lavender, are peaceful, surrounded  by towering oaks and framed by the Santa Ynez Mountains. You can bring a picnic lunch and dine at the painted-purple tables and browse the gift shop for its made-here lavender products. Note that if you’re allergic to bees, this may be a no-fly zone for you.

Clairmont grows two types of lavender: Grosso, which goes into all of the farm's products (including many soaps and bath items); and Provence, which goes into culinary products such as pepper, salt, honey and tea. A little lavender tea, owner Meryl Tanz said, can enhance the flavor of beer, wine, martinis or margaritas.

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  • L.A. County
(Elisa Parhad)

Why: You'll find a feast for the eyes and a fascinating glimpse into the business of flowers at the largest wholesale floral district in the country. 

What: Anchored by two large markets (the Original Los Angeles Flower Market and the Southern California Flower Market) and flanked by independent vendors, the historic Los Angeles Flower District is awash in beautiful blooms. More than 100 years ago, Japanese farmers began to offer their floral goods in this spot. Today, many offerings are still grown in Southern California—an area that reigns supreme in the national billion-dollar industry of flower farming. (Until the 1960s, Californians supplied the entire nation with all of its cut fresh flowers.) Plan for a morning visit—public hours start as early as 6 a.m., and many vendors are gone by noon.

(Elisa Parhad)

Where: 766 Wall St. (between 7th and 8th streets), downtown Los Angeles. 

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  • Family-friendly
  • North Coast
(Agatha French)

Why: It’s like traveling back in time — way back. Steven Spielberg chose it as a location for “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” because the whole place looks prehistoric. And it is.

What: Fern Canyon is exactly as its name describes. Feathery ferns sprout from nearly every square inch of the 30-plus-foot cliffs lining this narrow ravine. The effect is like fluffy, 3-D wallpaper. If it doesn't bring Spielberg to mind, it might bring Jim Henson. Some fern species found here can be traced back 325 million years, with gallant names like the dark green sword and the delicate lady. As you hike deeper into the shadowy canyon, the ferns take over your field of view — it’s green tunnel vision. Scan the environs for mini-waterfalls trickling through moss as well as shy amphibians, and be sure to take a good, deep sniff. It smells like the Industrial Revolution never happened.

The Fern Canyon Loop is a flat path of 0.7 miles, easy enough for young children or road-trippers stiff from the bumpy drive in. (It’s about 9 miles from the highway on a dirt road that plows straight through a few small, stony streams.) In summer, rangers place foot bridges (read: slippery wooden planks) on the trail. Wear hiking boots if you have them, rain boots if you don’t, or sneakers if you don’t mind spending the day with wet socks. For avid hikers eager to tack on a few extra miles, the James Irvine Trail, which begins at the visitors center, is an alternate route to the canyon. If you brought lunch, stop at the Elk Meadow picnic area, where you’re almost guaranteed to see a grazing elk or two.

P L A N E T 🌏 E A R TH

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  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County

Why: Heavy metal has an exquisite headquarters in the Petersen Automotive Museum. Cars and California have always been a dream couple. After all, the Golden State inspired such brands as the Malibu and the Laguna.

What: For auto buffs, it’s like a trip to the candy store. Across three themed floors, the Petersen pays tribute to the influence and fun of classic automobiles. Perhaps no other invention, save the light bulb, has so influenced American culture.

History has a floor of its own, as does industry, which tells the stories of the inventors and visionaries. But save the bottom floor, devoted to artistry, for last.

  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Long before Starbucks turned coffee into its own food group, there was Fosselman’s Ice Cream Co. Since 1919, the same year the Green Bay Packers were founded, the Fosselman family has turned out handmade ice cream in dozens of flavors, plus candies and desserts, from a timeless shop in Alhambra, 30 minutes from downtown Los Angeles.   

What: The family ice cream company has changed through the years, but not dramatically, and not without the attention to

(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

detail and customers that have made it a local landmark. These days, it sells to restaurants and hotels, but still does a brisk business out of the little shop on Main Street.

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  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Why: This isn't just an access road, it's a zigging, zagging path to a galaxy far, far away. On the way up, your belly begins to bark. Kidneys become spleens. You’re driving to Mt. Wilson, a top-of-the-world observatory that once revealed several significant secrets of the universe.

What: Mt. Wilson Observatory, 90 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, belongs in the astronomers’ hall of fame.

It is where Harlow Shapley discovered that we’re not in the center of the Milky Way; actually, far from it. It’s where Edward Hubble and others confirmed that the universe is expanding, key evidence in support of the Big Bang theory.

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

Why: A Rivera mural anywhere is worth attention. This one, painted in the heart of the city's financial district during the early days of the Great Depression, is doubly worth it.

What: In 1931, Rivera painted "Allegory of California" on the wall and ceiling above the stairs to the Pacific Stock Exchange Lunch Club, now the City Club. The model for the archetypical California woman, presiding over the oil business, agriculture, shipbuilding, logging and other regional industries, was Helen Wills Moody, a homegrown tennis champion. It was Rivera's first mural in the U.S. (with many more controversial projects to follow). Though the City Club is private, it allows San Francisco City Guides (a nonprofit group) to bring in tour groups on the first and third Mondays of every month at 3 p.m. (excepting holidays).

Where: City Club, 155 Sansome St., San Francisco,  381 miles northwest of downtown L.A.

  • Family-friendly
  • North Coast
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Why: These vacation homes and lodge hug a splendidly rugged stretch of the northern Sonoma County coast. And many of the buildings are designed to mimic the organic forms of the landscape.

What: From its controversial birth in 1965, Sea Ranch has been a utopian experiment: top-drawer architects building low-slung homes and a 20-room lodge in hopes that they'll all but disappear into the larger seascape. Many environmentalists fought this project, lost and  went on to spur creation of the California Coastal Commission in 1972. Meanwhile Sea Ranch's first residential building, Condominium 1, has won many prizes from the American Institute of Architects and others.

Though the compound take up about 10 miles of coast, individual fences, lawns and most ornamentation are basically banned. There's plenty of hiking, biking and kayaking, along with a links-style golf course. Celebrated landscape architect Lawrence Halprin was a key player in the resort's development.

Chapel by James Hubbell, Sea Ranch.
Chapel by James Hubbell, Sea Ranch. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
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  • Family-friendly
  • North Coast
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Any sensible dictionary would have a picture of Mendocino next to the word "quaint." And Angela Lansbury might be in the picture.

What: It's an eerily attractive little town -- perhaps because it looks so much like a misplaced corner of Maine. In fact, it stood in for Cabot Cove, Me., on the Angela Lansbury TV mystery "Murder, She Wrote" (1984-1996). 

Built on bluffs overlooking the Pacific, Mendocino (population: about 900) grew with the region's logging boom in the late 19th century, revived with an influx of artists in the 1950s, and nowadays is dominated by galleries and B&Bs with nary a franchise in sight. Need a restaurant for a special dinner? For years, Cafe Beaujolais has been a favorite.

  • S.F. Bay Area
Critical Mission, S. F. Mission District, 2012.
Critical Mission, S. F. Mission District, 2012. (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Why: San Francisco's Critical Mass cyclists ride the streets on the last Friday night every month. Their numbers, appearance and attitude will tell you volumes about the city's culture and the evolving state of the cycling class.

What: Critical Mass is a global movement, with rides in Buenos Aires, Karachi, Zagreb -- the list is almost endless. (The main Los Angeles ride, not to be confused with the less-frequent Ciclavia events on streets closed to other traffic, bills itself as "the largest community bicycle ride in the United States." ) But San Francisco is where Critical Mass was born in 1992.

Though the rides always begin at the same place, this is a ritual without official leaders, and there's no telling exactly where the ride will go. (But since the city is roughly seven miles by seven miles, you probably won't end up too far afield.)