Why: This stretch of Humboldt County highway is a journey to the heart of redwood country, the largest remaining expanse of old-growth redwoods in the world.
What: The Avenue of the Giants, which follows alongside the Eel River and U.S. 101 for 31 or 32 miles, depending on who's counting. It takes you past legions of majestic trees and a great collection of roadside redwood kitsch, including restaurants, lodgings and souvenir shops with treehouses, drive-on logs, chainsaw art and so on. If you're heading south to north, the avenue will take you through the 53,000-acre Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Be sure to park and stroll a 1.3-mile trail (it's flat) through Founders Grove to appraise the magnificent corpse of the Dyerville Giant, once thought to be the world's tallest tree. In March 1991, the roughly 370-foot-tall tree crashed to the ground after a storm, making a boom that was heard for miles.
The park's Rockefeller Forest has more trails, and there are swimming holes along the river.
Why: There is surf (just outside the Del Mar Fairgrounds). There is turf. There are beautiful people and fancy hats (especially on opening day). And Del Mar's summertime horse-racing scene goes back to the 1930s, when Seabiscuit sprinted to one of his biggest wins here.
What: Del Mar's 78th season of horse racing opens July 19. The action continues Wednesdays through Sundays, and the final day of the season will be Labor Day, Sept. 4. First post time is 2 p.m. most days, 4 p.m. on Fridays, and 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 25 and Sept. 1. Later in the year, Del Mar will also host the coveted Breeders' Cup competition, Nov. 3-4.
Singer Bing Crosby and friends got this enterprise started in 1937. It got a big boost two years later when Seabiscuit won a match race that sparked national headlines. Then, after shutting down for much of World War II, the track began to attract a big show-business crowd. (It didn't hurt that this is the nation's only seaside racetrack.) All these years later, there aren't so many crooners booked for the Friday night concert series, but there's certainly plenty of music, and if you've already paid admission to the track, the concert is free. (If you haven't, the cost is $20, age 18 and over.)
Why: The Strip, a 1.5-mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard between Hollywood and Beverly Hills, is as loud and glitzy as Sunset Boulevard gets. It's got bright lights, bold signage, live music and generations of celebrity highlife, misbehavior and tragedy underfoot.
What: Before the actors, musicians, models and assorted party people and fame-seekers arrived, this neighborhood was a hangout in the 1920s for gangsters (perhaps because it's just outside Los Angeles city limits). Nowadays it's part of West Hollywood and raucous nights continue at venues including the following:
The Whiskey-a-Go-Go, a famed rock music venue, goes back to 1964. The Roxy Theatre has been staging live shows since 1973. The Viper Room, which opened in 1993 and saw actor River Phoenix's overdose death that same year, still offers live music. The Comedy Store goes back to 1972. The Chateau Marmont (just inside the L.A. city limit), opened in the 1930s,and continues to flourish as a hotel, restaurant and bar, despite John Belushi's drug death there in 1982 and Helmut Newton's fatal car accident there in 2004.
Why: Its cypress lane, gargoyle fountains, rectangular ponds, and Gothic and neoclassical architectural details make Greystone Mansion a gem. Once there, you’ll be able to walk through a tycoon’s manor with L.A. history and a murder mystery attached.
What: In 1892, Edward Doheny and his friend Charles Canfield were the first to strike oil in Los Angeles. They later went on to become the largest producers of oil in the world at the time. By the late 1920s Doheny’s son Ned had started construction of the mansion. But just five months after moving in with his family, Ned Doheny was found shot to death there. It is believed Ned was the victim of a murder-suicide perpetrated by his longtime friend Hugh Plunkett, but people are still speculating over motives.
In 1965, the city of Beverly Hills bought the mansion and until 1982 leased it to the American Film Institute. Since then it has served as a hot destination for not only tours but legions of TV and movie shoots -- including “There Will Be Blood,” a 2007 California oil-boom story that was at least partially inspired by the Doheny tale. Some others: TV’s “Gilmore Girls” and “General Hospital” and the films “The Big Lebowski,” “Ghostbusters” and “The Witches of Eastwick.”
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.)