Why: You might as well stand somewhere gorgeous while hoping to see that elusive phenomenon as the sun dips beneath the horizon.
What: Sunset Cliffs, an upscale residential neighborhood in San Diego's Point Loma area, sits on crumbling bluff, the Pacific churning below. The advantages of this situation include some nice surfing, dramatic views of the Pacific and fascinating cliff formations as the sea gradually eats away at the earth.
The downside is that the sea never stops eating. Chain-link fencing cordon off the areas of most recent collapse. At some point, as the cliffs crumble, Sunset Cliffs Boulevard may need to be narrowed. As for long-term prospects of the houses closest to the ocean -- who knows?
What: Because most Californians live far from Sacramento, our public servants typically work without their direct supervision. If you like the idea of checking up on your ongoing investment or just strolling under a big dome, Sacramento's Capitol is the place.
The rotunda is 128 feet tall. The inside is full of murals and frescoes and marble statuary — and sometimes protesters (like the guy pictured here). Grizzly bears turn up frequently, too — most notably on the flag and the state seal. The building is surrounded by the 40-acre Capitol Park, which is full of shade trees (much prized in summer in Sacramento).
Why: If the legendary Musso & Frank Grill ever closes, I’m leaving L.A. A bastion of old-school waiters and a writers’ haven for almost 100 years, this period piece is one of the few reasons that locals venture to Hollywood Boulevard.
What: A clubby steakhouse under 50 coats of lacquer in the heart of Hollywood. Cool and dark, it sports a fine mahogany bar that serves the best martinis in town, perfectly proportioned at the exact right chill. F. Scott Fitzgerald purportedly proofed novels here, and was so comfortable that he’d duck behind the bar to mix his own mint juleps. William Faulkner, Dorothy Parker, T.S. Eliot and John Steinbeck were also among the literary legends who found inspiration here. The feel-good menu includes an assortment of steaks and chops, charred on an open-fire grill. Look for the daily specials, which include chicken pot pie ($23) and braised short ribs ($37). Musso’s closes too early on weekends — 11 p.m. — and isn’t easy to reach. But here’s hoping this esteemed old joint — young in spirit — is still up and running 100 years from now.
Where: 6667 Hollywood Blvd., three blocks east of the Red Line subway station at Hollywood/Highland, eight miles northwest of downtown L.A.
Why: The Original Farmers Market, has the murmur of a ballpark, the aura of an old family grocery and a faint underlying note of noir to keep you on your toes. In a city prone to scorn anything a little worn and charming, it's irresistibly both.
What: The Farmers Market is a collection of 100 restaurants, shops and food stores that dates to the Great Depression. Since 1934, it has drawn locals, TV stars, moms with strollers and visitors from around the world. (We've lost Carrie Fisher since the striking portrait above was shot there in the late 1980s, but the market looks just the same.)
Part of the magic is the confluence of so many cuisines – Cajun, barbecue, Brazilian, French, Japanese – in one location. My two favorites: Bob’s Coffee & Doughnuts, on the east patio, where cranks, know-it-alls, philosophers and other folks with too much time on their hands gather to gab and grab coffee. At the other end of the market is Charlie’s Coffee Shop, noted for old-school French toast ($6.25) and amazing cheeseburgers ($6.95). Ask for Charlie Sue herself, who has run the place since 1976.
Why: You don't find a great swimming pool or a good hotel value on every block in downtown Berkeley.
What: The Berkeley City Club is more than it seems. When star architect and UC Berkeley graduate Julia Morgan designed the 1930 club building, she gave it an indoor pool of startling beauty. (Already, she was working down the coast on media mogul William Randolph Hearst's castle at San Simeon.)
The best news for us is that over time, the City Club started operating its six-story building as a hotel -- one that stands a few blocks from the UC campus. Its restrained mien and 35 rooms are not for party animals, but if you're looking for someplace stately to practice your Australian crawl under Moorish arches, your search is over.
Why: In the kitchen of this converted arts-and-crafts home, owner-chef Alice Waters and her gang more or less launched the idea of California cuisine in 1971.
What: All these years later, Chez Panisse is still popular. If the downstairs fixed-price, dinner-only restaurant is too pricey (or already booked), try the more affordable upstairs cafe, which does lunch and dinner. The menu, seasonally tuned, changes nightly. Closed on Sundays, reservations are accepted up to a month ahead.
Where: 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, 375 miles northwest of downtown L.A.
Why: McCabe's is a guitar shop in the same way that the Seine is a river and Picasso was a painter.
What: By day, McCabe's has been selling stringed instruments since 1958. By night, McCabe's is one of California's most-loved, most intimate performance spaces, a garage-sized haven where performers face about 150 listeners in a room with walls full of strung and fretted inventory. The concerts have been happening since 1969. You can't beat the vibe.
Many acoustic and folk-influenced performers play here, including fiddler Peter Rowan, banjo player Noam Pikelny and singer-songwriters Greg Brown and Tom Paxton and children's performer Justin Roberts (to pluck five acts from the March schedule).
Why: Sonoma, just 45 miles north of San Francisco, has a bustling central plaza, the last Franciscan missions and a unique revolutionary history.
What: Sonoma and its mission were born just as Mexico was wrestling control of the Californias away from Spain in the 1820s. But in June 1846, about 20 English-speaking men staged the Bear Flag Revolt, arrested Mexican general Mariano Vallejo and declared Sonoma to be part of a new California republic -- all without firing a shot.
This attempt at independence lasted less than a month, but it showed Mexico's vulnerability. And it was time enough for somebody to design a flag featuring a grizzly bear that, unfortunately, looked a lot like a pig. By 1848, the U.S. had taken control of Alta California, including Sonoma, by prevailing in the Mexican War.
Why:South Coast Plaza, the first California megamall, opened its doors in 1967 in Costa Mesa, 10 miles south of Disneyland.
What: As might befit a fashion icon turning 50, the mall has had a lot of work done. The current count is about 250 stores and 30 restaurants. In the mall's early decades, tourists regularly flew in from Asia just to shop here, then an unheard-of idea. After decades of expansion and evolution, its annual sales still are said to be as much as $1.7 billion, putting it among the highest-grossing malls in the U.S.
Its first iteration was designed by mall pioneer Victor Gruen. If you're a visiting space alien seeking a quick primer on American consumer culture, this is a fine place to start. If you're a traveler seeking a souvenir that's uniquely local, you may be barking up the wrong tree — for all their opulence, most of these stores are chain brands. But there's plenty to buy and eat, and virtually next door you'll find the South Coast Repertory performance space and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts (formerly the Orange County Performing Arts Center), named to honor donor and South Coast Plaza developer Henry T. Segerstrom.
Why: Because with time, the churning Pacific turns our broken bottles, windshields and tail lights into pebbles again. How magical is that?
What: Fort Bragg, the workaday city 11 miles north of quaint Mendocino, used three of its beaches as dumps for decades, then in the middle of the 20th century decided that wasn't such a good idea. Workers have removed the big cast-off junk, and over the decades since, the sea has been grinding down the smallest stuff. Especially bottles. The result is a shoreline sparkling with unexpected colors -- glassy pebbles of frosty white, green, blue and occasionally "ruby red" (said to come from pre-1967 automobile tail lights).
Show up on a mild day and you'll find kids and parents with pails, patiently picking their way through the pebbles and snapping photos. It's a lesson in how the Earth can heal.