Why: You could probably discern a first date’s political stance, sense of humor and quite possibly his or her sex life by the reaction to the sights at Venice Beach, one of the world’s great bohemian attractions.
What: Great street performers, an ocean view and a freewheeling collection of stores and restaurants await on this two-mile stretch of sand and skin.
Get a day pass ($10) to Muscle Beach, where Arnold Schwarzenegger first made a (very long) name for himself. Rent a bike or strap on roller blades and get rolling on the boardwalk, a.k.a. Ocean Front Walk.
Why: As SoCal traditions go, Pink’s Famous Chili Dogs ranks up there with the summer sun and Oscar night bling. Don’t go just for the grub. Go for the spectacle of a hundred drunks lined up at 2 a.m., all looking for one last decadent moment to end a weekend. Or go for lunch, where the crowd is different — and mostly sober — but the mustard and onions taste just as good.
What: All-beef wieners slathered with everything from slaw to pastrami, on undersized buns. Go classic with the legendary chili cheese dog ($4.95). Or go big with the Three Dog Night ($10.25) — three dogs in a giant tortilla, with cheddar cheese, bacon, chili and onions.
For a memorable Hollywood moment, order the Lord of the Rings ($5.75), topped with onion rings. It might be your last supper, but it’ll give the paramedics something to talk about.
Why: Back when the railroads had major money — and ruled the world the way the tech behemoths do today — they built grand palaces. One of the last was Union Station, a splendid transportation hub in an old corner of downtown Los Angeles.
What:Union Station is at the center of the city’s transit spiderweb, providing rail, subway, bus and bike connections to destinations as close as Chinatown and as far as Beijing (by way of shuttle bus service to LAX, of course). Buses also will zip you from here to a Dodger game, or a night at the Hollywood Bowl.
You can catch a high-end meal here, at the notable Traxx restaurant, while ogling the station’s amazing Mission Moderne-style architecture, which dates to its completion in 1939. The station also is a handy launch point for pub crawls along Hollywood Boulevard or at L.A. Live.
Why: Because even though Irish coffee wasn't invented here, it seems to have been reinvented. In any case, it's a fine place for a sip of something hot, especially on a foggy night.
What: The Buena Vista, a bar and grill that sits at the Hyde Street end of the city's most popular cable-car route, has been in business for more than a century.
Much of its fame has to do with a night in 1952, when co-owner Jack Koeppler and travel writer Stanton Delaplane set out to re-create a tasty coffee-and-whiskey drink that one of them had once been served at the airport in Shannon, Ireland.
Why: It's the oldest surviving Bob's Big Boy. And no matter when you're reading this, it's open right now.
What: This Bob's opened in 1949, a gleaming, swooping, loopily grinning example of Googie architecture. Architect Wayne McAllister did dozens of Western restaurants and hotels in the same spirit, most gone now.
But the building is just part of the fun. On Fridays (4 p.m. to 10 p.m.), its parking lot fills with classic-car loversand their vehicles, offering a great throwback view of California car culture.
Why: There's no better place to plot your Santa Barbara wine country adventure and -- if you're a carnivore -- sample steaks cooked Santa Maria style, over oak.
What: If you've seen the 2004 movie "Sideways," you might recognize this spot, a Buellton fixture since 1986. Besides a formidable list of local wines, the Hitching Post II features a long list of steaks, cooking according to Ostini family custom.
And outside, sprinkled between the horse farms and country-gentleman estates, more than 100 wineries and tasting rooms await. The region's wine boosters have organized nine routes for tasting that include Solvang, Buellton, Lompoc, Santa Ynez, Santa Maria, Los Olivos, Foxen Canyon and the Santa Rita Hills.
Why: Not only does this place feature both kinds of music (country and western), it reminds the world how much the gritty, twangy Bakersfield sound has contributed to country music.
What: Buck Owens, who scored more than a dozen hit songs in the 1960s and co-starred on TV's "Hee Haw" for 17 years, opened this place in the 1990s as a concert venue, theater, museum, bar and restaurant.
It's had ups and downs since then -- Owens died in 2006 -- but it endures as a freeway-friendly destination (don't miss the big, bold BAKERSFIELD sign over Sillect Avenue) for country diners and drinkers who don't want too much honky-tonk grit. Its Wild West-dinner-theater design includes a balcony level, dance floor and live music most nights. Cowboy hats and boots abound.
Why: Land and sea meet splendidly here, with jutting rocks, hanging fog, shrieking gulls and sometimes backstroking sea otters.
What: The 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach has been a tourist attraction since the 1880s. The drawback has always been that it's a private road, so you have to pay $10 to drive it. And motorcycles are banned entirely. But wait.
Pebble Beach management allows bicyclists to ride the same route at no cost. And so, astride a rental from Bay Bikes or Adventures by the Sea by the aquarium in Monterey, you'll glide past sights including the Pebble Beach golf course; plenty of tide pools; perhaps some deer; and the Lone Cypress, longtime icon of the resort. The tree has lasted at least 120 years with a sea-lashed rocky outcropping as its pedestal. It even has its own parking area and viewing platform.
Why: In 2008, this quintessential California hippie band put its history in the hands of UC Santa Cruz's McHenry Library, and the public is invited to look and listen.
What: The Grateful Dead Archive, also known as Dead Central, begins with an exhibition room, which in January featured scores of photos from the band's early days in the mid-'60s and a set of life-sized marionettes that starred in the band's first music video, "Touch of Grey" (1987). Don't miss the sculpture of the late guitarist Jerry Garcia's right hand, which is famously missing a finger.
Then head upstairs to the library's Special Collections department, where more Dead treasures (including a tie-dyed T-shirt and a plush dancing bear) take up an estimated 500 linear feet of shelf space.
Why: Some people come for the soup because they had it as kids 50 years ago. But you don't have to love the soup. Come, irony-loving millennials, for the classic kitschiness of it all. Or come, my fellow skinflints of all ages, for the adjacent inn's room rates starting at just $71 a night in the heart of pricey Santa Barbara wine country. In nearby downtown Los Olivos, you could probably spend that much on a bottle opener.
What: As California roadside attractions go, Andersen's Pea Soup is a beloved senior citizen. It opened in 1924. Beyond its original Buellton location, it has another (with a windmill) off Interstate 5 on State Route 33 at Santa Nella, and once there were restaurants in Carlsbad and Mammoth too.
The key elements here are the soup (waitress Tina Perez estimates 400 gallons are served on a busy day); the shiny copper-topped counters; the kid-oriented gift shop; and of course Hap-pea and Pea-wee, the chisel-and-mallet-wielding cartoon pea-splitters that personify the place.