Why: Vast meadows of orange poppies were once a common sight in the California springtime, inspiring Spanish conquistadors to call the San Gabriel foothills the "Land of Fire." The Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve is one of the last remaining places in the state to experience a large-scale—and predictably magnificent—display. Wildflower season at the reserve typically begins in mid-February and lasts until May.
What: The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is a beautiful showcase of the state’s beloved golden flower. In good years, bright orange covers the earth as far as the eye can see. Legends of these sunny blooms are woven into the myths of native tribes, Spanish conquistadors and 49ers.
Not surprisingly, the California poppy became a state flower in 1903. Around this time, residents cherished the springtime tradition of picnics among poppy fields, much like cherry blossom gazing in Japan. Today, the flowers have few open places to create such spectacles. Peak bloom falls around California Poppy Day on April 6, but the timing, intensity, and duration of poppy blooms vary from season to season, depending on the season's temperatures and rainfall.
Why: With its oceanfront setting, gritty pedigree and a vibe like no other, this skate park rules—for shredder and spectator alike.
What: The Golden State is home to nearly 450 skateboard parks. Some are vast, like the 68,000-square foot Lake Cunningham Regional Skate Park in San Jose. Others offer monstrous terrain, like the eye-popping, stomach-dropping MegaRamp at Woodward West in Tehachapi. But for those seeking the soul of skateboarding: Venice.
This 18,000-square foot concrete playground, built on a rise of sand in the heart of Venice Beach, attracts skate-travelers from around the world. The park's compact design—including two bowls, a street area and a classic, 1970s-style snake run—offers something for every level.
Why: Consider the tyranny of too much clothing. Or study the topography of clouds. Rustic Rincon Beach invites such reflection. It also lures surfers near and far for long runs on legendary, well-formed waves.
What: Just off the 101, near Carpinteria, Rincon is a worthy escape whether you surf or not.
Don’t be put off by the gated community that’s front and center as you arrive. Take a right into Rincon Beach Park, which features well-kept picnic areas lining the bluff and a set of wooden stairs leading to the beach. Or hang a left instead to the spot where the surfers congregate at three subsections of Rincon: Indicator, Rivermouth and the Cove.
Why: The museum and research center is the only memorial dedicated to Abraham Lincoln west of the Mississippi River.
What: The shrine was presented to Redlands in 1932 by civic leader and philanthropist Robert Watchorn and his wife, Alma, as a tribute to Lincoln and a memorial to their son who had died years earlier from injuries suffered in World War I.
Step into the dimly lighted rotunda, where a handsome white marble bust of Lincoln will command your attention. Then gaze at the dome, which is adorned with allegorical figures — perhaps the “better angels of our nature” — painted on canvas. Under each is a word — Loyalty, Strength, Justice, Wisdom, Patience, Tolerance, Courage and Faith — attributes ascribed to Lincoln.
Why: Who’d have guessed that the future would be figured out at a strip mall? Yet here's Buck’s of Woodside. Elon Musk hangs out here, and PayPal was formed at that little booth in the corner. Think of it as an incubator of the digital future. It also serves a pretty mean omelet.
What: Buck’s benefits from its Silicon Valley location and address in the town of Woodside, a forested and hilly enclave where rich investors are plentiful.
The diner draws clusters of visionaries for breakfast, lunch and dinner, though morning is prime time for digital deal-making.
What: OK, admittedly, I haven’t tried every fish taco stand in the state, or even Los Angeles, though I’ve tried. That’s a bucket list all its own.
But in Cayucos, just north of Morro Bay, rests a beloved little taco stand that elevates the art by smoking its fish, and serving it chilled with chunks of apple. Sure, you fish taco purists will scoff. Don’t knock it till you try it -- and try it and try it some more.
Why: Though technology has overtaken them, there is something romantic and reassuring about lighthouses. About 20 still dot the California coast. One of the most fetching is Pigeon Point's, a 115-foot tower that includes a hostel, on a thumb of land halfway between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.
What:Pigeon Point Light Station has been protecting ships since the 1870s. Though mostly for show in an era of satellite-guided navigation, it provides back-up beacons on dishwater-dark days and murky nights along this stretch of skyscraper seas and rocky coastline.
The hostel here makes it a terrific weekend escape that could include whale-watching or exploring and hiking along Highway 1. Accommodations include separate-sex or coed bunkrooms and private rooms for individuals, couples or families.
Why: You want history? There used to be a caged monkey behind the bar. But forget history. Concentrate on that insanely large slab of beef they just snow-shoveled off the grill and rushed to your table at the famed Jocko’s, in no-frills Nipomo, Calif.
What:Jocko’s is a Central Coast institution with cinderblock walls and local ranch brands burned into the paneling. Yep, this is farm country all right, a little dusty and proudly working class.
“Come in an monkey ’round,” the sign outside says, a nod to its former mascot.
Why: The Bob Baker Marionette Theater is an icon of family entertainment in Los Angeles, beloved for its charming retro performances. As the longest-running puppet theater of its kind in the U.S., the venue has stood the test of time.
What: Founded by Bob Baker and Alton Wood in 1963, the theater is housed in an unassuming building on the edge of downtown L.A. Not much has changed in the last 50 years. Coffee-can stage lights illuminate handmade puppets that dance and sing to a vintage soundtrack on a carpeted stage. Catch a seasonal production — “Halloween Spooktacular" is playing through Nov. 5 — to witness the company's unique brand of whimsy, complete with vampire lovebirds, dancing skeletons and a glow-in-the-dark alien takeover. After the show, join the cast in the adjoining salon for complimentary ice cream.
Baker served as a puppeteer and animator for hundreds of Hollywood movies and TV productions. He also made puppets for clients around the globe and was a rare mentor in a fading profession.
Why: Admit it. Sometimes you don’t want to be around other people. All you crave is a country road and an epic piece of pie. For all that, come to Duarte’s Tavern in tiny Pescadero, near Half Moon Bay, for a simple yet memorable dinner and a frosty drink. Make this rustic jewel your hamlet, your hideout, your Walden Pond.
What:Duarte’s (pronounced Doo-arts) has been serving up generous plates of no-nonsense, straight-from-the-garden food for almost 125 years. Since 1894, when the founder tapped a keg of cheap whisky to today, when it serves up to 10,000 customers a month, this farm country landmark has delivered memorable meals at affordable prices.
The glow-stick exterior dominates the little town of Pescadero, in rolling, sparsely populated farm country two miles from the coast. Inside, you’ll realize that the Duarte family was ahead of their time, with a reliance on locally sourced vegetables, beef and fish.