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368 posts
  • Family-friendly
  • Central Coast
Morro Rock in the early morning.
Morro Rock in the early morning. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Morro Rock looms lovably over Morro Bay. Usually it's a dark landmark in a sunny landscape. But not at sunrise.

What: More than 570 feet tall and 23 million years old, the rock is one of nine sisters -- nine volcanic peaks in San Luis Obispo County. Some can be climbed for nice views (including Black Hill and Cerro Cabrillo in Morro Bay State Park) -- but not this sister. You can't even walk all the way around her.  

Admire this great, rounded rock, preferably at dawn, from the nearby Morro Bay embarcadero. Or the beach. Or the dunes. Or a kayak. 

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(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)
Upstairs, City Lights
Upstairs, City Lights (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles)

Why: This is the Beat haven that brought us Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" (1956) and Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "Coney Island" (1958), both poetry classics.

Ferlinghetti — whose 99th birthday is March 24, 2018 — is the guy who co-founded the City Lights bookshop in 1953, later took it all over, built City Lights as a publisher and kept the whole enterprise stark-raving solvent through the decades.

What: Ferlinghetti has built a literary destination with as much soul as North Beach has pasta. Plenty of people love Ferlinghetti for that, but not that many have read him. Here's your chance. The poetry room is upstairs. (You can hear him here.)

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  • Family-friendly
  • Gold Country
Fourth-graders at Sutter's Fort.
Fourth-graders at Sutter's Fort. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Because we forget that California had multiple lives before statehood in 1850. And because we like covered wagons.

What: John Sutter's Fort, built by a Swiss immigrant in 1839 when Mexico still owned California, is now a state historic park, often enlivened by docents and reenactors, almost always occupied by visiting school groups.

The fort is a sort of 19th century island in Midtown Sacramento, with walls more than 15 feet tall and more than 2 feet thick. Its exhibits and docents aim to create the atmosphere of a frontier fort in 1846: a stagecoach, oven, blacksmith shop and so on.

  • L.A. County
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Canter's Deli, long beloved and besieged by the nighthawks of Fairfax Avenue, is a singular place to eat and debrief after a long, lively Los Angeles night. (Or any time. It's open 24 hours, except for Jewish high holidays.) 

What: As most customers here know, "kvetching" is a Yiddish word for complaining and knishes are filling-stuffed dollops of dough, a recipe that comes Eastern Europe.

Canter's Kibitz Room.
Canter's Kibitz Room. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

You'll find the entrance under a cinema-style marquee. As you nosh, remind your fellow diners that Canter's first opened on Brooklyn Avenue in Boyle Heights in 1931 (an operation that closed after most of the Jewish families in Boyle Heights moved out and Latino families moved in). 

  • Family-friendly
  • North Coast
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Why: You're hungry. And these people have been in the business of feeding lumberjacks for about 100 years.

What: The Samoa Cookhouse is a smorgasbord that dates back more than a century and still feeds off-duty timber industry workers now and then. Pancakes, sausages, eggs, biscuits, gravy -- it's all here. 

Besides its family-style tables and checkered tablecloths, the dining room's walls are lined with vintage photos of brawny men and toppled trees. In one corner, a Historic Logging Museum waits, full of saws and boots and other artifacts. 

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  • Family-friendly
  • Central Coast
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Why: It's the state's foremost aquarium, in a neighborhood full of Steinbeckian marine biological history.

What: From its opening in 1984, the Monterey Bay Aquarium immediately became the state's go-to aquarium, with tanks that open on to Monterey Bay and all sorts of technical breakthroughs. (It turns out jellyfish enclosures are hard to design.)

Give your family several hours here among the sharks, otters, penguins, tuna and seabirds -- more than 40,000 plants and animals, many of which get extra frisky at feeding time. (When you get hungry, feel free to order fish for lunch at the aquarium's sit-down restaurant, Cindy's Waterfront. Or not. Weird, right?)

  • Central Valley
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: The road is long. This grill is hot. These restrooms are clean.

What: The now-sprawling Harris Ranch operation dates to the 1930s, but it didn't become relevant to us travelers until the 1970s. That when the management hit on the idea of opening a burger stand to capitalize on all the drivers passing by on the just-completed Interstate 5.

Then the burger stand became a steakhouse. And store. And hotel.

(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
  • L.A. County
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Because this building begs to be touched.

What: Gleaming, silvery, curvaceous Walt Disney Concert Hall stands along Grand Avenue, the cultural corridor at the edge of downtown L.A.'s government quarter. When Frank Gehry's hall was going up, some local highbrows scoffed that it would be a secondhand landmark; the architect had already unveiled a similarly sheathed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. But since the L.A. venue's 2003 opening, Southern California has embraced Disney Hall in a big way. Up close, you can see yourself in it.  

If you can catch the L.A. Philharmonic or another performer from one of the 2,265 seats here, do it. (Be prepared for great sightlines but scant leg room.) 

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  • Central Coast
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: It has 109 rooms, no two alike; a preponderance of pink (because the owner loves the color); and a long history of satisfying newlyweds. If you spell kitsch with a capital K, this is your place. On Valentine's Day? Even better.

(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

What: The Madonna Inn, a family operation since its opening in 1958, has always been an irresistible hot pink mess. Maybe you've heard of its splashes of pink paint high and low, or the waterfall in its men’s room, or the plastic flowers in the dining room, or its thematically customized guest rooms, which feature zebra-pattern carpets, poppy wallpaper, merry-go-round, etc.

Lately, the place has been getting horsier and the decor perhaps a tad more restrained. These are alarming signs.

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

Why: Because these critters, like creationism and evolution, demand closer inspection.

What: In Cabazon, on the road to Palm Springs, a pair of massive dinosaurs lurks by Interstate 10, eager to lure children. Rex and Dinny are their names.

If you're tight on money, just admire them from the parking lot. If the kids insist on a close encounter, pay the admission fee and they can clamber up inside a dinosaur's neck and look out at the world through his teeth (as Pee-wee Herman did in the 1985 film "Pee-wee's Big Adventure").