Why: The rolling hills around Paso Robles, once known for cattle, grain and almonds, are all about assiduously pampered grapes now, and the reputation of these vineyards and wineries keeps growing.
What: More than 200 wineries dot those hills, so you could spend days tasting. (Preferably not August days, which often approach 100 degrees.) The Paso Robles viticultural area is known for Bordeaux, Rhone and Zinfandel varietals.
Why: The shop at Apple's corporate headquarters carries goods you don't see in every other Apple store. Your geeky friends may go green with envy.
What: Apple headquarters in Cupertino -- an oval-shaped constellation of buildings known as Infinite Loop -- is closed to the public, except for its retail shop. But that shop carries a special reward for the free-spending, brand-loving faithful: Apple-branded shirts, mugs, pens and thermoses that other Apple stores don't carry. The style: sleek and minimalist, of course.
This store has continued to stock these items since a redesign in 2015 that substantially slimmed down its inventory. There's no word on what will happen when the company opens its new circular Campus 2, a mile east. It's due for completion in 2017 and is expected to complement the existing campus at 1 Infinite Loop.
Why: A tennis-ball size dollop of dough. Some raspberry jam. And outside, a dusting of powdered sugar. This is no mere collection of calories. It's cultural.
What: Arne's Aebleskiver, the dessert described above, is a big draw at the Solvang Restaurant (and elsewhere in Solvang) because it's tasty and because it's an emblem of Solvang's enduring Danish history.
This dates to 1911, when immigrant Danish educators put down stakes. Over time, the theme proved a big lure for tourists.
Why: If you've ever wondered if, how or why the computer has changed the face of civilization, this place will set you straight. It'll also make clear the role of California, specifically Silicon Valley, in the revolution.
What: The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, opened since 1996, has a staggering collection of hardware. But what really makes the place valuable is the wide perspective and clear explanations it gives, so that somebody who has never written code can still grasp the broad outlines of computing history, from the abacus to the punch card (which computers once relied upon) to the silicon chip and the smartphone.
Along the way, you get insights into not only familiar characters such as Bill Gates (who started programming computers at 13) and Steve Jobs (who sold his VW van to fund one of his first ventures), but unfamiliar ones such as Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace (who sparred over proto-computer designs in the 1830s).
Why: Because they're not making stagecoach stops like this anymore.
What: The Cold Spring Tavern is tucked along the roadside up on San Marcos Pass above Santa Barbara. This rustic joint has been uniting bikers and dressed-down upper-crusters for decades. The tavern serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with live music and tri-tip on weekends and cheap chili during happy hour. Visit on a Saturday or Sunday. The earlier you arrive, the easier parking will be, and the sooner city life will recede.
Born as a stage stop in the 1880s and owned by the same family since the 1940s, the Cold Spring and its four fireplaces are half an hour's drive from Santa Barbara. The fanciest part of the property is its dimly lighted restaurant interior (where game meats like buffalo, lamb, duck, rabbit and venison are specialties). The folksiest is the patio, where tri-tip sandwiches and beer are often found.
Why: Step back in California history a few thousand years in a desert canyon bursting with Paleolithic-era petroglyphs, and you may be a bit humbled.
What: Thousands of remarkably well-preserved etchings created by long-ago hunter-gatherers in Little Petroglyph Canyon (officially Renegade Canyon on the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake) are vividly on view.
Not far from the active naval base operations, vetted visitors can clamber down into the restricted canyon. Once your eyes adjust to the dark, you see that you’re face to face with stylized bighorn sheep, hunters with bows, artistic patterns and anthropomorphic designs carved all over the ancient basalt canvasses. Wow.
Why: A morning mingling with horsemen at Clockers’ Corner at Santa Anita Park, the thoroughbred track near Los Angeles, is one of the area’s best under-the-radar sports experiences. Coffee and admission are free. So is the advice.
What: The historic track, set against the rosy San Gabriel Mountains, holds workouts year-round from dawn till 10 a.m. almost every day. The thoroughbreds will show off right in front of you.
Trainers and owners are approachable, and mostly eager to chat. Most of the action takes place between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. On weekends, the free Seabiscuit Tour visits the stables, paddock gardens, jockeys room and carriage horses housed under the grandstands. The tours are at 8:30 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. It all makes for a magical setting for anyone who loves the sight of great athletes in action.
Why: Parking is free, and so are summer rehearsals for the L.A. Phil and other groups. After the Hollywood sign, the Bowl is probably L.A.’s greatest landmark, and this is a great way to see it in action.
The County of Los Angeles, which operates the Bowl, opens it to the public for summer Philharmonic rehearsals on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Rehearsals on other days are also open, but only at the discretion of the scheduled artist. The lineups are released on Mondays, and you can call in for schedules. The practices start at 9:30 a.m. and go to noon or later. After surfing, a morning spent listening to the city’s best musicians play Brahms might be the best free activity in L.A.
Why: Because it’s a bit of a time machine, a low-key throwback to the sorts of simple amusement parks that used to dot the California coast in the pre-Disney days. The Fun Zone has been a part of SoCal summers for 75 years and has stayed charming and affordable through the decades.
What: The Fun Zone is a great place to spend a half day, or use as a launch point for Catalina trips, whale watching or harbor cruises. A ride on the vintage Ferris wheel goes forever, it seems, and offers stunning views of the island and peninsula. There are other more contemporary rides that will appeal to teens and young adults, and a simple merry-go-round for youngsters.
Arcades, shops and county fair food are seemingly everywhere, including New York-style pizza and some pretty respectable gyros, at New York Pizza, on the corner of East Bay Avenue and Palm Street.
Why: They're just sunsets, really. But in artsy, spiritually inclined Ojai, locals like to call them pink moments. And Ojai is a fine place for unplugging from city life. Good for oranges and classical music, too.
What: The pink sunsets have something to do with the way the light filters down into Ojai (population: about 7,600) through the surrounding Topatopa mountains. (The Ojai Valley runs east-west, which is unusual in these parts.) Stroll the arcade shops on Ojai Avenue, pedal the 9-mile Ojai Valley Trail, frolic in Libbey Park (home to the Ojai Music Festival every June). Browse Bart's Books. Mention to your friend that the town was named Nordhoff until 1917 when locals redubbed it Ojai. (Much of the town's Spanish Revival architecture dates to that year, too -- there'd been a fire, and there was a lot of rebuilding.) Pick up some fruit from Friend's Ranch. Get spa treatments at the Ojai Valley Inn. Book into a boutique hotel.
Or, to double down on the peace and quiet, you might prefer the Krishnamurti Foundation's 11-acre Pepper Tree Retreat, where guests can rent 10 rooms and suites in an updated 1910 farmhouse. The foundation's history stems from J. Krishnamurti, the philosopher who lived in Ojai from the 1920s to the 1980s, receiving visitors who were said to include Aldous Huxley, John Barrymore, Greta Garbo, Dr. Jonas Salk, D.H. Lawrence, Jackson Pollock and Igor Stravinsky.