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Why: Sometimes, it’s like looking out at the North Sea. Montaña de Oro State Park is misty 1,400-foot bluffs, crashing waves and wildlife. If you’re looking to hike California's craggy jawline, or for a moody place to paint, pack your favorite old sweater and head off to this dramatic beach campground. 

What: Montaña de Oro State Park is a half day’s drive north of Los Angeles, near Morro Bay.  The park's main, 50-site campground offers primitive sites with picnic tables, fire pits, toilets and nearby drinking water for car campers. The park's hike-in environmental sites have pit toilets and picnic tables but no water. Spooner's Cove is the most popular beach, right across from the campground. Dogs are permitted in campsites and on park roads and must be on a leash no longer than six feet.  Except for Spooner’s Cove, dogs are not allowed on the trails or beaches.

Be sure to bring your own firewood or buy at the camp host site (campsite 22). Campsites 18, 19, 20 are closest to the beach; 40, 41 and 42 offer a little more privacy. Interested in having an RV delivered to your site? Paso Robles RV Rentals is the approved vendor: (888) 898-2267

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  • L.A. County
Central Library rotunda
Central Library rotunda (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Though some describe L.A.’s architectural aesthetic as “diseased,” there are pockets of taste and splendor. The Central Library, born in 1926, is such an oasis. It’s the sort of marbled cultural sanctuary where Aristotle might’ve wandered at will. You should too.  

What: The original Central Library is an early example of Art Deco, a popular style of architecture from the mid-1920s through the 1930s. It was designed by Bertram Goodhue, in the last project of a career that included the Nebraska Capitol. He died unexpectedly in 1924, and Carleton Winslow took over and completed the project in 1926. After a long renovation, the Central Library was reopened in 1993, with the landmark Goodhue Building restored and a new wing named for former Mayor Tom Bradley. During the renovation, most of the library’s collection was moved to the new Tom Bradley Wing, and the original library building is now given over primarily to exhibitions, reader services and administration.

Adding life and beauty to the facility is a series of sculptures, paintings, historical murals and a magnificent rotunda featuring the Zodiac Chandelier. The adjacent Maguire Gardens are one of downtown’s top outdoor spaces -- shady and thick with fountains.

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  • Family-friendly
  • High Sierra
Emerald Bay
Emerald Bay (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Feeling blue? Head to Lake Tahoe, where that color has so many shades -- from dark Levi to pale baby blanket – that it is sure to cheer you. Better yet, rent a kayak or a canoe and dip your toes in one of the most lovely lakes in the world. Amazing beaches ring the lake, but at some point head south to Emerald Bay, to my mind the most dazzling freshwater cove in California.

What: Lake Tahoe is a large Sierra lake resting between California and Nevada. The north shore is anchored by Tahoe City, a bustling resort town with an array of restaurants, inns and a launch point for Truckee River float trips. It also features marinas with boat rentals, some pretty pricey. But boat rental shops dot the lake. A wonderful pit stop for food and drink is the deck at Sunnyside Resort, on the west side of the lake.

On the southwest shore, Emerald Bay State Park contains the 1929 Nordic-style mansion Vikingsholm, and the "Tea House" on Fannette Island, the only island to be found in all of Lake Tahoe.

  • L.A. County
John Goodman.
John Goodman. (Associated Press)

Why: The Hollywood Walk of Fame is L.A.’s version of Times Square -- with more to do. A celebration of celebrities, it features sidewalk stars honoring entertainment legends and a series of entertainment-themed attractions: a wax museum, some wonderful vintage theaters and the site of the Oscars.

What: The Walk of Fame is a public sidewalk in the heart of Hollywood that runs on both Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. It also has come to complement a series of nearby attractions, such as Madame Tussauds wax museum, the Hollywood & Highland mall and a series of tourist-themed shops and kiosks. Jimmy Kimmel tapes his show across the street, near the gloriously restored El Capitan Theatre. If your timing is right, you can catch the unveiling of a new sidewalk star.  About two stars are added each month, and the Walk of Fame keeps a schedule on its website. Fans can view the free star ceremony from a public viewing area on a first-come, first-served basis. While you're here, you can catch almost any kind of tour, climb the stairs to the nearby mall for a keepsake photo of the Hollywood sign or see some stars' handprints and footprints at the Chinese Theater formerly known as Grauman’s (these days, it's officially the TCL Chinese Theatre). The walk features more than 2,600 stars now, from Bud Abbott to Adolph Zukor. So take your shoes off and stay a while.

Where: Corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, 8 miles northwest of downtown L.A.

  • L.A. County
Gin Ling Way, Chinatown.
Gin Ling Way, Chinatown. (Jay Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Why: L.A.’s Chinatown has a past. Transplanted from its original venue 80 years ago, the neighborhood northeast of downtown retains an authentic vibe, in a region otherwise threatened with mass gentrification. It is famously notorious in the classic Jack Nicholson movie "Chinatown," but today it is a relatively safe, wonderfully scented and an easy-to-navigate stretch of shops and vast dim sum houses.

What: Chinatown was bumped to its current location in the 1930s, to allow for the building of the opulent Union Station. Today, it features restaurants, groceries, herbal shops and galleries. Amid its various attractions are a jazz club; a Cajun deli; a growing number of art galleries; many Vietnamese restaurants; and L.A.’s favorite French dip sandwich shop, Philippe the Original.

It also features an even better lunch spot, Howlin’ Ray’s, a Nashville-style fried chicken joint that serves, to my mind, the best (and spiciest) sandwich in Los Angeles. Needless to say, it is hardly one thing.

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  • Central Valley
(Kern River Outfitters)

Why: Visitors can pack a lot into a raft trip. There’s adventure, sun, scenery and the exhilaration of whitewater runs driven by restive snow melt. From the Oregon border to the southern Sierra, California's rivers run mild to wild — and the Kern River has a little of everything.

What: The thrashing Kern resides just three hours north of Los Angeles. The water is chilly, the air dry and warm, and the scenery spectacular.

Beneath the water — or peeking out — are granite boulders not to be taken lightly. If you fall in, as the guides will warn repeatedly, point your feet down river to protect yourself from rocks. Your first dunk is scary. After that, it’s still scary but you learn the drill.

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

Why: Easy to overlook as just another tourist trap, Big Dean’s Ocean Front Cafe is far more than that. It’s a slice of life, SoCal style. It's also one of the great hangouts in the heart of the region and excellent for people-watching near Santa Monica Pier.

What: It's an open-air beach bar -- kind of a beer garden -- that serves good pub grub and a decent selection of brews (plus wine but no hard liquor). You’ll be relieved to find a place this jovial and affordable in a busy and often overpriced urban setting.

The laid-back staff looks as though they all just came in from surfing, making Big Dean’s a classic hangout since the '70s. Grab one of the picnic tables near the entrance. The front area is often busy, but don’t let a lack of tables deter you. Plenty of space awaits in the roomy courtyard in back.

The first family, as lampooned in "Steve Silver's Beach Blanket Babylon."
The first family, as lampooned in "Steve Silver's Beach Blanket Babylon." (Rick Markovich)

Why: Because this nightclub revue's hats and wigs put the "top" in topical humor. It's been amusing tourists (and the occasional local) in North Beach for more than 40 years.

What: To start, it's not about beaches, blankets or Babylon. Its wafer-thin plot, about Snow White seeking her Prince Charming, is an excuse to lurch from one parody song to another, lampooning pop personalities (and placing a series of ridiculous lids and rugs atop their heads).

The theater holds about 375 people. The production (formally titled "Steve Silver's Beach Blanket Babylon") has been regularly updated since its creation by producer Steve Silver in 1974. But the buoyant spirit that Silver started  remains. (He died in 1995.) Admirers have included New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood.

(Rick Markovich)
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  • Family-friendly
  • San Diego County
Orca, SeaWorld San Diego, 2014.
Orca, SeaWorld San Diego, 2014. (Los Angeles Times)

Why: Maybe because its marine-life presentations are a throwback to your childhood in the '60s and '70s. Or maybe because they aren't. After years of protests and boycotts over its treatment of killer whales, SeaWorld is changing. There's no killer whale breeding program and no Shamu show anymore, and there's a new emphasis on thrill rides.

What: In 1964, a group of fresh UCLA graduates came up with the idea of an underwater restaurant. That didn't happen, but one thing led to another, and that led to the creation of SeaWorld, which became a leading San Diego attraction with parks in Texas and Florida as well. The San Diego park's 190 bayfront acres include displays, rides and a Skytower with a rotating observation deck.

SeaWorld's popularity, however, began to suffer when criticism from animal-rights advocates grew louder and the 2013 documentary "Blackfish" had broad impact. The park's new approach is a bid to lure back lost audiences. It includes a new Orca Encounter presentation and an Ocean Explorer ride, both to debut in summer 2017.

The Wood Brothers on stage at the Fillmore.
The Wood Brothers on stage at the Fillmore. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: It's a piece of living rock 'n' roll history. And wait until you see the poster collection upstairs.

What: Born as a dance hall, this auditorium dates to 1912. Since then it's been many things, including a roller rink. From the outside it looks like a fortress. But in the late 1960s, under the leadership of impresario Bill Graham, it made its name as a rock concert venue. There have been a few detours since then, but that tradition continues now.  

(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

The hall, illuminated by 10 dramatic chandeliers, holds about 1,100 people, most of whom stand on the chairless dance floor. Others sit in the upstairs mezzanine area (better views, easier bar access). The poster collection filling the walls upstairs is a festival of boomer flashbacks: the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother and the Holding Company. Tom Petty. Los Lobos. And it's not all graybeards. Younger bands such as the Wood Brothers (who played in March) come, too.