Why: Think of these night markets as the Comic-Con of street food. For 20 bucks, you can nibble your way through some of the most delicious, and occasionally outlandish, Asian dishes you've never seen. I guarantee you'll walk out full.
What: Held during summer weekends beneath billowing clouds of barbecue smoke, Asian night markets at Santa Anita Park and now in Orange County feature more than 150 vendors under pop-up tents, serving mostly Asian-themed street food.
They are modeled on a craze that began in Taiwan, and now, with games, entertainment and all sorts of creative dishes, feel like a traditional county fair on steroids. It is also evidence that no American could ever resist something that is both deep-fried and skewered on a stick.
Why: This territory, in California's northernmost national park, is this state’s own Yellowstone.
What: Bumpass Hell, a 3-mile round-trip trail full of steam-belching scenery, is the marquee hiking attraction of Lassen Volcanic National Park. But Lassen gets just one tourist for every 11 who reach that other Yellowstone. So you'll probably have the trail to yourself.
Instead, enjoy the most geothermally active corner of the state, its slopes and meadows dotted with boiling creeks, steaming lakes and bubbling mud pots. It's only open in warmer months, and because of the big snows last winter, park rangers say the trail probably won't open until mid-July in 2017. (Lassen National Park Highway, the 30-mile-long main route through the park, was expected to open in early July. Check with rangers for updates.)
Why: Maybe you've always wondered about the nature of the universe, or maybe you just wanted to be a rock on Mars. Either way, here’s your chance.
What: You can visit the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a weekday tour or through its annual open house, the “Explore JPL” weekend. (In 2017, it was May 20-21.) In one Explore JPL event this year at the well-guarded campus in the foothills La Cañada Flintridge, visitors got down low and imagined they were pebbles and boulders on faraway Mars while a remote-controlled “prototype” rover slowly climbed over them. Wicked-smart engineers and scientists explained their projects, which entailed studying the poles of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn and Earth's atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, as measured from space.
Can't make the open house? Sign up in advance for a weekday tour, where you'll visit key sites like Mission Control and the Spacecraft Assembly Building. Or, in the von Kármán Visitor Center, read and dream about where the golden record aboard Voyager (packed with Earth's sounds and images) is now: far, far away.
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.