368 posts
  • High Sierra
Half Dome cables, 2015.
Half Dome cables, 2015. (Marc Martin/Los Angeles Times)

Why: This is the ultimate day hike — not just in Yosemite, but in all of California. The grueling trek to Half Dome is stunning from start to end: Along the way, you'll pass rushing waterfalls, towering granite cliff faces and quiet wooded dells, and possibly spot the occasional black bear. All of that culminates in a nail-biting final ascent up 400 feet of metal cables, a harrowing endeavor that will challenge your arm strength, endurance and nerves. 

What: There are two main ways to summit Half Dome: the Mist Trail (14 miles round trip) or the John Muir Trail (16 miles round trip). When I did the hike last June, the plan was to go up the Mist Trail and down the JMT, but after hours of hiking, the thought of tacking on additional mileage — even if it was less steep — became less appealing.

Either way, you're looking at a gnarly 4,800 feet of elevation gain. For most hikers, the round trip takes 10 to 12 hours.

  • Family-friendly
  • High Sierra
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Everyone needs a pit stop or two along Highway 395, the often-drab drive from L.A. to the Eastern Sierra. Could be a beef jerky joint or a tackle shop. My latest favorite is Frosty Chalet, a slice-of-life fast food stop in Lone Pine featuring some of the best milkshakes in the Owens Valley.

What: The charming, family-friendly Frosty Chalet has had a life. Born in the late '40s, with timber reportedly salvaged from a train depot, it was saved from ruin fairly recently after being dormant for eight years. 

“It’s a nice old piece of Americana.” 

Repurchased five years ago by Freddie Brown, who’d owned it previously with her late husband, it is now run by her son, Fred, and his wife, Jaynie. “It’s a nice old piece of Americana,” said Fred Brown.

  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
Starline tour at the late Carrie Fisher's gate in Beverly Hills.
Starline tour at the late Carrie Fisher's gate in Beverly Hills. (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Why: Admit it-- you're a little curious about Sir Paul McCartney's chimney, or Justin Timberlake's hilltop or just which L.A. houses Justin Bieber has been obliged to vacate. Since its founding by Sid Grauman's chauffeur in 1935, Starline Tours has traded on our curiosity about these places.

What: Bud Delp (Grauman's chauffeur) built the tour company, then sold it in the 1960s to protege Vahid Sapir, who had come to the U.S. as an exchange student from Iran. These days Sapir's Starline competes with many other tour companies (including Gray Line and TMZ) and covers many itineraries beyond stalking the stars' homes, but it was the first of its species.

Sign on to the two-hour celebrity home tour and before your minivan has finished climbing Outpost Drive into the Hollywood Hills, you'll have gawked at the front-gate gargoyles of the late Bela Lugosi, glimpsed properties attributed to Bob Barker; William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman; and heard all about the "Bling Ring" thieves who stole Orlando Bloom's Rolex collection in 2009.

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

Why: There must be thousands of California Mexican restaurants where mariachi musicians roam the tables. But only at La Fonda are they in charge.

What: From 1969 until 2007, La Fonda served as headquarters to Nati Cano and Los Camperos, an esteemed mariachi group that collaborated on Linda Ronstadt's 1987 album "Canciones de mi Padre."  Then the restaurant closed. And Cano died.

But in 2016 the restaurant reopened in its original location -- a two-level Spanish Colonial space on Wilshire Boulevard near MacArthur Park -- offering dinner shows directed by longtime Campero Jesus "Chuy" Guzman. The musicians (who won a 2008 Grammy for Mexican regional music) do two hourlong shows nightly, Thursday through Sunday.

Los Camperos in rehearsal.
Los Camperos in rehearsal. (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)
  • Family-friendly
  • High Sierra
(Chris Erskine Jr. / Los Angeles Times)

Why: You’ll find Longfellow's forest primeval in the quivering aspen of the Eastern Sierra. The June Lake Loop passes mountain lakes, granite bluffs and trees so golden they look to be on fire.

What: If you need a dose of fall color, and a hike or kayak trip, it’s tough to beat this uncrowded stretch of highway five hours from Los Angeles.

(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

Expect a small slice of Switzerland, with the colors from the mountains and lakes adding to the palette. Great tunnels of aspen ring the lakes.

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

Why: It's the shortest, steepest train trip you'll ever take.

What: Angels Flight is a railroad in downtown Los Angeles with two orange cars and a 298-foot route. The cars climb at a 33% grade (steeper than Lombard Street in San Francisco) from the bottom of Bunker Hill to the top. And the railway dates to 1901, when Bunker Hill was a neighborhood of Victorian houses, not skyscrapers.

Going down.
Going down. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Over the last 116 years, the railway has failed at least twice, moved once, spent years out of commission, yet somehow always reopened -- most recently on Aug. 31, 2017, drawing healthy crowds despite beastly heat. Now it's well positioned to capitalize on the surging popularity of the Grand Central Market just across Hill Street, not to mention the urban views from the uphill end, next to the fountains of California Plaza.

Cinespia screening.
Cinespia screening. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: The palm-shaded, Paramount-adjacent Hollywood Forever Cemetery combines film screenings and other cagey programming with a long roster of show-business gravesites.

What: Cecil B. DeMille, Judy Garland,  Jayne Mansfield, Johnny Ramone and Rudolph Valentino repose here and so can you, on a more temporary basis. On selected weekend nights every summer, Cinespia screens cult and classic movies on the Fairbanks Lawn, a grave-free corner of the 62-acre cemetery.

(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Audiences spread blankets, picnic, buy popcorn and candy and groove to a pre-movie DJ. (Before the Aug. 26 showing of "Ghost World" (2001), director Terry Zwigoff and actors Thora Birch and Illeana Douglas turned up to offer greetings.)

  • Family-friendly
  • Orange County
Henry Kissinger visits the Nixon Library, 2016.
Henry Kissinger visits the Nixon Library, 2016. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

 Why: One of the darkest eras in U.S. history stands as a potent reminder that daylight will come again.

What: A $15-million redesign in 2016 brought more than five dozen new exhibits to the 9-acre Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum, presenting a fuller picture of the man who won election in 1968, negotiated U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, established the Environmental Protection Agency, opened China to the Western world, then became the only U.S. president to resign.

Visitors now can eavesdrop on White House recordings that round out the portrait of Richard Nixon (1913-1994) as a human being. In a 1973 phone call, daughter Julie asks her father whether they can dine at Trader Vic’s and he says yes but that she should also check with Mommy and sister Tricia. Julie Nixon Eisenhower would have been 24 at the time.

  • Family-friendly
  • Central Coast
(Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Because debating the topic of greatness is almost as fun as discovering something that is truly great.

What: Revered chef Julia Child was wrong, wrong and triple-dog wrong about Santa Barbara’s La Super-Rica Taqueria. Or else Julia Child was right, right and triple-dog right about La Super-Rica Taqueria.

You have to judge for yourself.

  • S.F. Bay Area
Farmland at Point Reyes National Seashore.
Farmland at Point Reyes National Seashore. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
The fences show how the earth moved in 1906.
The fences show how the earth moved in 1906. (National Park Service)

Why: Below the green hills and muddy shores of the Point Reyes Peninsula, the San Andreas fault lurks. Meanwhile, above ground, cows graze and cyclists zoom down two-lane roads. In its beauty, fragility and increasing wealth, this is an emblematic piece of the Bay Area.

What: Seismologists say the peninsula sits atop the Pacific plate, which slowly lurches to the northwest while the North American plate (on the other side of Highway 1) lurches to the southwest. The seam between those plates is the San Andreas fault , California's most notorious physical flaw, stretching about 800 miles north and up to 10 miles deep from the Salton Sea to Mendocino County. Consider its disastrous potential as you walk the Point Reyes National Seashore's 0.6-mile Earthquake Trail (wheelchairs and dogs welcome), which starts near the seashore's Bear Valley Visitor Center and leads to a reconstructed fence that was displaced 16 feet in 40 seconds in the quake of 1906.  

Or just look at Tomales Bay, which follows the path of the fault.