Why: Even with no social context, this would be a striking set of murals, improbably arrayed beneath the Coronado Bridge. But the context makes it doubly special.
What: When state and local officials expanded Interstate 5 through San Diego and built the Coronado Bridge in the 1960s, they split the longstanding blue-collar neighborhood of Barrio Logan. Then in 1970, when the California Highway Patrol started building an office where a park was expected, the largely Mexican American neighborhood rose up, occupied the site, staged demonstrations -- and eventually a park was built. Soon after came the first murals, converting the shady park's forest of concrete bridge pillars into a gallery of broad canvases.
Now there are 49 murals, some celebrating Mexican icons like Pancho Villa and Frida Kahlo, some celebrating the park's own history. On a Saturday morning, the 7.4-acre park is busy with kids on bikes, adults practicing ballroom dancing, skateboarders, tai chi lessons, old guys in cowboy hats, and the elevated hum of bridge traffic far above. Within two blocks, you can get flautas at Las 4 Milpas (frequently long lines) or tacos at Salud! (Both eateries are on Logan Avenue, which also has several galleries, studios and bars.) You won't find any fancy ocean views. But the evidence of the neighborhood's resilience is abundant. In early 2017, federal officials added the park to the National Register of Historic Places, crediting artists Salvador Torres, Mario Torero, Victor Ochoa and others.
Why: Gently, this big balloon will take you 400 feet above Great Park in Irvine, giving a 40-mile view on a clear day.
What: The balloon, which opened in 2007, is 118 feet, top to bottom. The gondola that hangs beneath it is perpetually tethered to the ground by a steel cable. It carries up to 30 passengers at a time.
Great Park as a whole has gone through many delays and changes over the last decade, but its 76 publicly accessible acres are due to grow to 764 this year as sports facilities open. And the balloon is simple fun.
Why: Country scenery and hippie echoes dominate Topanga Canyon, which feels far away from the city but really isn't.
What: Topanga is a haven of bucolic scenery and rustic, tucked-away homes near a handful of restaurants and attractions, all strung together along a single main road, Topanga Canyon Boulevard, which follows a winding creek. Neil Young lived here for a while, and Jim Morrison is said to have written "Roadhouse Blues" about the long-gone Topanga Corral. You can hike Topanga State Park (36 miles of trails and ocean views), take in the green panorama from the Top of Topanga Overlook (parking limited) or catch an open-air show at Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum, whose 2017 summer season includes "The Merchant of Venice," "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and three more contemporary works. (This company has a long, strong track record, and the Geer family story is a piece of compelling, thorny Hollywood history.)
You could book a special-occasion meal at the Inn of the Seventh Ray (dinner main dishes $22-$44), which has been serving mostly organic meals since the 1970s. Also, bear in mind that the Pacific end of the canyon is within a mile of the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades.
What: To reach Jalama Beach County Park, you follow a twisting, two-lane highway from Lompoc to the edge of the continent and confront a horizon full of rough surf and raw, windy coastline. This campground (better for beachcombing than swimming) feels solitary, but there's a general store where they'll make you a Jalama Burger (carnivores, say yes) and sell you firewood or groceries or beer. There are 109 campsites, some cabins, hot showers, a playground and a set of railroad tracks.
Where: 9999 Jalama Road, Lompoc — which is actually 18 miles southwest of Lompoc, 170 miles northwest of downtown L.A.
Why: If celebrity had its own planet, it would look like the Beverly Hills Hotel. There is enough showbiz lore here – trysts, honeymoons and naked sunbathing – to be a movie in itself, a “Caddyshack” for the rich and resplendent. Still, the old hotel retains a dignity and opulence. For most of us, the best way to sample that is a leisurely lunch at the Polo Lounge.
What: Sure, it’s open almost all the time (7 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.) but the time to go is at lunch. Make your reservation for 1, on the patio (not inside) and draw the afternoon out on the sun-dappled brick, where bougainvillea petals will butterfly down into your salad or soup, as if a special effect. The Polo Lounge is not cheap, and it’s probably not the best meal in town, but it might be the grandest and most memorable. A grand piano plays at just the proper volume, and the service is attentive, not fussy.
Closer to the coast, you’d be cold; closer to downtown, a little too warm. Here, the air is so sublime it’s almost carbonated. There are Polo Lounge offshoots too: a Sunday jazz brunch and afternoon teas, from 3-5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. But before you try anything else here, go for lunch, which is casual and relaxed. A decent pair of jeans is fine.
Why: Its peak might be a mere 2,571 feet above sea level, but modern mountain biking wouldn't be what it is without Mt. Tamalpais.
What:Mt. Tamalpais State Park, cradle of mountain-biking innovation in the 1970s, is full of options, including fire roads and multi-use trails (and neighboring public lands have even more). Two favorite paths (open to bikers, hikers and horses alike) are the Coast View and Dias Ridge (sometimes spelled Diaz) trails. If you ride Dias Ridge, you'll end at Muir Beach by the Pelican Inn, a facsimile of a 17th century English pub that serves refreshments and hearty meals.
Non-cyclists, don't worry. The park has plenty of cyclist-free trails. At least one is wheelchair-accessible: the Verna Dunshee Trail (0.75 mile) at East Peak, known for big views. (Accessible tables, restrooms and drinking fountains are nearby.)
Why: In a world of conspicuous consumption, there is no place more conspicuous to do your consuming.
What: The Rodeo Drive shopping experience — which became a globally recognized thing around the time Judith Krantz's book "Scruples" came out in 1978 — boils down to about three blocks. Start at Beverly Gardens Park, at Rodeo and South Santa Monica Boulevard. Next make your way southeast on Rodeo (say Ro-Day-O, as locals do), past Brighton and Dayton ways, to Wilshire Boulevard. This gives you a good look at Cartier, Gucci, Prada, Harry Winston, Burberry and their well-heeled neighbors. Near Brighton Way, look for the late designer Bijan's yellow Rolls-Royce convertible, semi-perpetually parked near the House of Bijan at 420 N. Rodeo Dr.
Do this and you'll wind up facing the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where Warren Beatty once lived and Esther Williams taught 14-year-old Elizabeth Taylor how to swim and Richard Gere brought Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman."
Why: These two museums are on the front lines of contemporary art worldwide, focusing on works made since 1945. They stand within a stone's throw of each other on Grand Avenue.
What: The Broad Museum (opened in September 2015 and bankrolled by L.A. art maven Eli Broad) is free for general admission, but you have to reserve in advance or in the stand-by line, which can last more than an hour. The Museum of Contemporary Art (born in 1979) isn't free, and isn't getting so much buzz since the Broad opened. But both can startle, enlighten, disgust and amuse you.
Within the Broad, art stars like Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Andy Warhol, Edward Ruscha and Andreas Gursky dominate the two levels of galleries, and visitors queue up to spend 45 seconds alone in Yayoi Kusama's "Infinity Mirrored Room" (which will remain through Sept. 30. Just outside the museum, there's a patch of grass under several gnarled old olive trees, and the restaurants Otium (seafood) and Vespaio (Italian).
Why: It's ancient and lunar. It impressed Mark Twain in the 19th century (he put it in his book "Roughing It") and Pink Floyd in the 20th (they put it on the sleeve of their album "Wish You Were Here").
What: Mono Lake goes back at least 760,000 years, covers about 70 square miles and feeds no rivers, which makes it salty and strange in many ways. The shoreline, more than 6,300 feet above sea level, is crawling with alkali flies, packed so densely that you may at first mistake them for a black-sand beach. In the water are legions of brine shrimp, fingernail-sized creatures that float at all depths. Protruding from the water are the tufa towers, which look like irradiated anthills but are really calcium-carbonate mounds formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water.
If there were a lake on the moon, I'm pretty sure it would look like this. (And if the lovers of the lake hadn't waged a sustained political fight to save it from the thirst of Los Angeles, it would probably be a smaller, sadder spectacle now.)
Why: From the observation deck atop the clock tower, you can scan a panorama of Santa Barbara's many red-tiled roofs. In the mural room below, you'll see enormous, evocative depictions of early California history.
What: In a city full of mansions, the Andalusian-style Santa Barbara County Courthouse is among the prettiest buildings of all. It was completed in 1929, four years after an earthquake damaged much of downtown and set off a boom in Spanish-style construction.
Beginning in the second-floor mural room, docents give free, hourlong tours on weekdays at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., weekend days at 2 p.m. But you can climb the clock tower stairs on your own, and nose around the mural room too — if there isn't a wedding happening.