Advertisement
368 posts
  • 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.

Advertisement
  • 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.

Advertisement
  • 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)
Advertisement
  • 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.)

  • Family-friendly
  • Gold Country
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: This was the place. Without the discovery of gold in Coloma in January 1848, our state wouldn’t be what it is. And nearby Placerville will give you a taste of how fast things changed. 

What: Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is a big, rambling place, with a hilltop memorial, a bunch of replica buildings, a museum, frequent gold-panning, blacksmithing and other activities, and paths along a stretch of the American River (South Fork) where Sutter’s Mill stood before it burned in the 1860s. (You may be shocked to learn how rich Mr. Sutter didn't get, by the way.)

But temper your expectations.

Advertisement
  • Family-friendly
  • High Sierra
Olmsted Point, off Tioga Road, Yosemite.
Olmsted Point, off Tioga Road, Yosemite. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times)

Why: This is the back door to Yosemite National Park, open only in warmer months. It takes you from the Owens Valley and Mono Lake into Sierra backcountry that's free of the summer crowding that sometimes afflicts Yosemite Valley.

What: This route gives you a chance to savor Tuolumne Meadows, Olmsted Point and Tenaya Lake, among other highlights in Yosemite's high country. The road usually opens in May and closes in November. But there was so much snow in the winter of 2016-2017 that the road didn't open until June 29, 2017 -- the latest date in 19 years. For road status, check with the park to be sure.

Where: Tioga Road (also known in the park as Highway 120) runs 59 miles from its eastern terminus at U.S. 395 in Lee Vining to its intersection with Big Oak Flat Road at Crane Flat. From there, many travelers take Big Oak Flat Road 16 more miles to Yosemite Valley. The intersection of Tioga Road and big Oak Flat Road is 347 miles north of downtown L.A.

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

Why: Gold Rush nostalgia has never looked so prosperous.

What: Nevada City (population: about 3,000) was once a gritty Gold Rush town, but nowadays it’s a spiffy wine-country town. The downtown historic district is full of Victorian-era buildings -- 93 of them, to be exact, including the Nevada Theater, where Mark Twain lectured in the 1860s. These days it offers movies and live performances and collaborates with the local public radio station, with which it shares a wall. Broad Street teems with independent restaurants and shops, and three local wineries have tasting rooms in town.

(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

In general, Nevada City seems to have more than its share of folk music, and there's an annual bluegrass festival in neighboring Grass Valley.