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California’s best: honorable mention

After the haggling subsided and the L.A. Times’ Travel staff settled on 15 essential sites for the advanced California traveler, we thought these notable runners-up deserved a nod.

Shields Date Gardens,
Indio, Riverside County

This spot has delicious date shakes and free screenings of that California blockbuster “The Romance and Sex Life of the Date.” (760) 347-7768, Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Museum of Jurassic Technology,
Los Angeles

An oddball assortment of pseudoscience, science, arts and crafts inhabits this dark warren of rooms behind a Venice storefront near downtown Culver City. Venture upstairs to view an adoring gallery of Soviet dogs sent into space, then grab a cookie at the crepuscular Tula Tea Room. It doesn’t get much weirder than this. (310) 836-6131, Kively / Los Angeles Times)
Borrego Palm Canyon,
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, San Diego County

Borrego doesn’t get the attention that desert areas farther north do, but it’s the biggest state park in California. Borrego Palm Canyon (a three-mile hike, round-trip) is a testament to the violence of desert life -- it lost about 80% of its palms in a 2004 flood -- and it’s the park’s star hike. Also a good place for spotting bighorn sheep. (760) 767-5311, Wells / Los Angeles Times)
The beach, Cayucos,
San Luis Obispo County

Thanks to the path of the Coast Highway and the charms of Cambria (north) and Morro Bay (south), a lot of people leave Cayucos alone. But families, pay heed: Here’s one of the state’s last remaining old-fashioned middle-class beach towns. Homegrown motels, a public pier, a deep inventory of vacation rental houses, inviting bakery, raffish saloon and swing sets on the beach. Classic Independence Day parade too. Eckel)
Ojai Avenue,
Ojai, Ventura County

It’s only 16 miles from the coast, but Ojai feels farther than that. Its main drag features Libbey Park on one side, high-toned shops along an arcade on the other. Before or after a hike in the surrounding Topa Topas or a 15-mile bike ride on the paved Ventura-Ojai path, come here for a bite or a retail stroll. Chan / Los Angeles Times)
The Gamble House in Pasadena

This is where genius and ingenious live. This masterpiece of Arts and Crafts style, built in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble, the Gamble of Procter & Gamble, shows attention to the most minute detail while not losing sight of the big, beautiful, wood-drenched picture. Even on a sunny day, the interior of the house can seem dark, but the rich woods and custom furniture inject a warm glow into the gloom that suggests this is the real magic castle. 4 Westmoreland Place, Pasadena; (626) 793-3334, Kively / Los Angeles Times)
Harris Ranch Inn and Restaurant,
Coalinga, Fresno County

It’s heaven halfway between L.A. and San Francisco on Interstate 5, with comfy rooms starting at $135 a night, an Olympic-sized pool and the ranch’s own mouth-watering tri-tip. (800) 942-2333, Kazanjian / For The Los Angeles Times)
Mono Lake,
Mono County

If you haven’t seen a tufa tower (or don’t know what one is), proceed immediately to Mono Lake, rent a kayak and paddle out to these bizarre turrets in this inland salt lake. Insiders know that this lake northeast of Yosemite is a perfect example of one of California’s more extreme forces of nature. Forest Service Visitor Center, (760) 647-3044; the Mono Lake Committee, Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace,
Yorba Linda, Orange County

No matter your feelings about the 37th president, the displays on his life and times, including a Watergate Gallery with a recording of the infamous 1972 “Smoking Gun” conversation between President Nixon and John Dean, are fascinating. The president and his wife, Pat, are buried here. (714) 993-5075, Koenig / Los Angeles Times)
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library,
Simi Valley, Ventura County

Never mind that 80,000 items that belong in the Reagan Library can’t be accounted for; there’s still plenty to see in this repository, said to be the most popular of the nation’s 14 presidential libraries. The story of the transformation of “Dutch” Reagan from radio broadcaster to movie star to skillful politician to the 40th president unfolds like, well, a movie script. (805) 577-4000, DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Glass Beach,
Fort Bragg, Mendocino County

It’s hard to believe, but for decades this city dumped trash on the beach at the end of Elm Street, including many, many bottles. Then in the 1960s, people wised up and cleaned up, allowing nature to transform that embarrassing history into a striking attribute. The beach is now part of MacKerricher State Park (with a bridge across Pudding Creek to be completed in coming weeks) and boasts some of the shiniest sand you’ll ever see -- all those old bottles in various hues ground to smooth bits. California Parks Mendocino County District Office, (707) 937-5804, Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
The Café at Chez Panisse (upstairs),
1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, Alameda County

It may be enough to drop a name: Alice Waters. The eat-local-and-fresh movement got its start here. And, yes, this place really does live up to its hype. Upstairs, the vibe is casual, and the menu, which changes daily, is a la carte and cheaper than downstairs. Reservations are essential: (510) 548-5525, Seib / Los Angeles Times)