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The Los Angeles Times; Storyblocks

The 101 best California experiences

Look at us. Our mountains are snowier, our hills greener, our waterfalls wetter, rivers fuller and blooms bolder than they’ve been in years.

In this drought-paused, pandemic-restriction-lifted, spring-awakening moment, California needs a good head-to-toe inspection. I know we have plenty of worries, but in four decades of traveling the state, I’ve never seen the landscape looking quite like this.

That’s why I’m here with this year’s 101 best California experiences, your guide to what’s great and what’s different across the state as summer draws near.

For instance, downtown San Diego has a sleek waterfront music venue (No. 85). Cheech Marin has made Riverside (No. 16) a vital destination for Chicano art. And if you can manage a spring road trip between ever-livelier downtown Paso Robles (No. 23) and Cambria’s cool Moonstone Beach (No. 63), you’ll be cruising through Highway 46 hillscapes (No. 40) so verdant your jaw may drop.


In this list, which is in alphabetical order, you won’t find pop-up selfie spots, the Hollywood Walk of Fame or any theme parks (though we have plenty of fresh Disneyland tips over here). Instead, these are all places that speak loudly and deeply to me about what California is, has been and can be. They’re also places that left me wanting more — another visit at a different hour, a little more backstory, a longer conversation with the people involved. Though the big list is in alphabetical order, you’ll see that I’ve earmarked a top 10 among the 101 — couldn’t resist.

Many are gorgeous. Some seem thuddingly obvious yet hold secrets you never suspected. Who knew that California’s biggest sequoia (No. 30) was named after Karl Marx by a doomed group of communist lumberjacks? Or that Cary Grant gave the Norton Simon Museum (No. 70) its best-loved Diego Rivera painting? Or that the Hollywood sign is a year younger than the Hollywood Bowl (No. 41)?

Of course, some of our history is painful, but it’s vital to face up to that too, whether it’s in the barracks at Manzanar (No. 57), under the Coronado Bridge (No. 17) or at the mission cemetery in Sonoma (No. 91).

You may also notice that inflation is at work here. The cost of an Integratron sound bath near Joshua Tree (No. 48) is up. So is the fee at my favorite drive-through tree (No. 15) and dozens of other places. Still, if they’re here, I think they’re worth it. And I’ve tried to add budget options when possible. A few destinations are subject to spring and summer detours in the wake of landslides and floods, including Nepenthe in Big Sur (No. 67) and Yosemite Valley (No. 101).


So here’s to this vast, odd, flawed, spectacular, mutable, seismically unsound piece of real estate that we call California. Like those shiny pebbles slowly becoming sand at Glass Beach in Fort Bragg (No. 32), this state is nearly infinite, forever in transition and ours to explore.

Use our checklist to tick off the things you’ve done and let us know what treasures I missed. In the months ahead, I’ll be following your suggestions.

Now, away we go.

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River guide Kyle Brazil on the American River.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

1. Go with the flow on the American River's South Fork

El Dorado County Activity
If ever there were a year for river running in California — careful river running — this is it. The winter’s rains have given us green landscapes just about everywhere and currents to carry us through them.

The capital of river rafting in the state is California’s Gold Country and guides say the American River’s South Fork is a perfect spot for first-timers and a solid option for return customers, thanks to its evocative scenery and relatively mild Class II and III rapids. (I’ve done it at ages 11 and 57.) Whether you’re a rookie or not, it makes sense to sign on with a licensed, experienced company; there are more than a dozen, many based in the Coloma-Lotus area.

Family-friendly river floats typically begin north of Placerville, below the Chili Bar Reservoir. One-day floats usually cover 10 miles. Two-day trips, 20 miles. This year, it probably makes sense to let the seasoned river people book the spring trips, when the water will be at its most fierce, with the rest of us following in summer and fall as the flow eases.

Statewide, you’ll find plenty of rafting companies and thrills along the middle and north forks of the American (both more challenging than the south fork) and the Merced, Tuolumne, Stanislaus, Lower Klamath, Kern, Kaweah and Truckee rivers. On the American River’s South Fork, half-day and all-day rafting trips typically cost $125 to $175 per person. This year’s season is likely to run April through September or October.

Bonus tip: Less than 10 miles from the South Fork’s Chili Bar put-in, you’ll find Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where the Gold Rush began. Placerville, the nearest town to the rafting, has a pleasant selection of restaurants and shops along its historically outfitted Main Street.
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7-year-old Kayla LaMarche looks through a telescope with the San Francisco skyline in the distance behind her.
(Michael Macor / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

2. Hike to the outpost where immigrants waited on Angel Island

Marin and San Francisco counties Attraction
From the Marin County shore, it just looks like a great place for a picnic. But thousands of Asian American family stories start in Angel Island State Park.

To get to this 740-acre island, make your way to Tiburon — a handsome, upscale, waterfront Marin County town of about 9,000 — and catch a 10-minute Angel Island Ferry ride to the island’s Ayala Cove. (Be sure to check the schedule in advance. The ferries, $17.40 for adults round-trip, run four to five days a week in warmer months.)

Near the dock you’ll have a chance to rent a mountain bike and you’ll see the Angel Island Cafe, which usually serves lunch Thursday through Sunday in warmer months but has been reduced by winter storm damage to selling prepackaged snacks and drinks. (The Angel Island Cantina is closed indefinitely.)

To reach the history, start walking. From 1910 to 1940, this island was the U.S. entry point for about half a million Asian immigrants, including 175,000 from China, who typically spent weeks or months locked in barracks before being allowed to enter. Some etched poetry on walls. To see it and learn more at the Immigration Station and barracks, it’s a 1.5-mile walk from the Ayala Cove ferry landing.

You can enter the barracks, which are part of the Detention Barracks Museum, open Wednesday through Sunday ($5 per adult). In the same compound, you can also visit the fledgling (and free) Angel Island Immigration Museum in the island’s old hospital, open Wednesday through Sunday. Hours for both museums are 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Bonus tip: There are boats from the San Francisco Ferry Building too. The Golden Gate Ferry offers service daily, $14 each way; the ride takes 30-50 minutes.
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Visitors walk on a meandering path through fields of orange California poppies
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

3. Stop among poppies in Antelope Valley

Los Angeles County Attraction
The rolling hills of the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve go orange in spring, usually March to May. But the poppy bloom varies widely from year to year, and the storms of early 2023 meant snow on the reserve in February and a late, less-than-super bloom. By Mother’s Day, the season was done. In 2024, who knows?.

This 1,781-acre preserve ($10 per car to enter) includes seven miles of broad, smooth paths for walking among the flowers. (A portion, just west of the visitor center, is wheelchair-accessible.) No dogs, no drones, no poppy picking or off-trail tromping. But you can channel your inner flower child: Lead your friends to a high spot, such as Antelope Butte Vista Point to the east or Tehachapi Vista Point to the west, then casually mention that Eschscholzia californica has been the state flower since 1903.

Bonus tip: In years like 2019, when a superbloom attracted thousands of visitors, the reserve’s parking lot isn’t nearly big enough. In milder years like 2022, it’s not so bad. Bear in mind that many poppies bloom on roadside slopes outside the reserve. If you can do so safely, legally park on a shoulder along or near Lancaster Road and you might save $10.
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People walk through Badwater Basin, a dry lake bed, with mountains in the distance
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

4. Tiptoe across the dry bed of Badwater Basin in Death Valley

Inyo County Attraction
It’s 282 feet below sea level, but for me, Death Valley National Park’s low point is its greatest highlight.

Badwater Basin, a crusty old lake bed between forbidding mountains, is the lowest, driest and often hottest point in North America. It’s especially vivid and perplexing just after sunset when there’s a prominent moon — because how can there be a moon above and another lunar surface underfoot? Listen to the crystals crunch as you walk. Also, get up early for at least one sunrise, maybe at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, maybe Zabriskie Point. (Scotty’s Castle, once a favorite stop, is closed indefinitely after flooding and a fire.) If you’re ready to splurge, the Oasis at Death Valley resort’s Inn at Death Valley has 88 rooms and casitas and a spring-fed swimming pool that’s always 87 degrees.

Bonus tip: The road will rattle your bones, but if you take a four-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance on the 26-mile journey to the Racetrack, the rewards are great and strange. It’s another dry lake bed, but in this one, wind and low temperatures occasionally combine to mysteriously scoot rocks across the vast, white plain. The resulting tracks look like skid marks of the gods.
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The California Tower in Balboa Park, seen from the Alcazar Garden with a fountain and shaped hedges.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

5. Inspect the nooks and crannies of Balboa Park

San Diego County Park
Most Balboa Park rookies start with the San Diego Zoo ($69 per adult, $59 per child age 3-11). If you’ve been there and done that, it’s time to remind you that the zoo is less than 10% of Balboa Park, which covers 1,200 acres. Once you’ve checked that box, meander.

The park also is home to about 20 museums and cultural organizations featuring fine art, folk art, photography, natural history, anthropology, flight and all the imagined worlds that come with Comic-Con (which opened a museum here in 2021). The Old Globe theater complex includes three venues. Yet to feel the park’s full embrace, you don’t even need to go inside. Flop on the lawn at the big lily pond by the Botanical Building (which is due to reopen after renovation this year). Sip tea and linger in the Japanese Friendship Garden. Try lunch al fresco at the Prado restaurant. Chase butterflies in the Zoro Garden and try to imagine the “nudist colony” that boosters staged to lure more visitors into the park’s 1935 exposition.

Bonus tip: When you’re ready to go back inside, check out the miniature landscapes in the San Diego Model Railroad Museum — an underexamined treasure for decades — and the global reach of the Mingei International Museum, which focuses on global folk art and completed a $55-million renovation in 2021.
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A photograph from Bart's Books in Ojai, Calif.
(Lisa Boone / Los Angeles Times)

6. Forage for masterpieces at Bart's Books

Ojai Bookstore
Bart’s stands for Ojai the way Broadway stands for Manhattan. Since Richard “Bart” Bartinsdale opened this place in 1964 (and left town soon thereafter), Bart’s Books has beckoned bookish locals and visitors with a disarming layout: Most of it is open-air, with bits of tin roof to shield books from those rare occasions when Ojai gets rain.

Books lost in the wet winter of 2022-’23? “None,” said manager Matt Henriksen. “We’re set up to deal with all of that.” The indoor portion of Bart’s is a converted house, with cookbooks in the kitchen and art and design books in the former garage. (There’s a rare book section too.) The shop is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but you can browse anytime: Since long before the advent of the little free library, Bart’s has stocked hundreds of used books on shelves along its exterior walls, available for purchase on the honor system. The shop’s full inventory, currently about 130,000 books, once was all used, but now Bart’s stocks many new titles as well. The store also hosts occasional readings in its courtyard and sells cold beverages.

Bonus tip: On the used books, prices are marked in pencil on the upper right corner of the first blank page. Average price: about $8.
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A one-story building with "bakery" painted over the door and other vintage-looking signs on either side of the door
(Wesley Lapointe / Los Angeles Times)

7. Live well on Bell Street, Los Alamos

Santa Barbara County Shopping
Well, the secret seems to be out about Los Alamos. This tiny town in Santa Barbara wine country isn’t as expensive as Los Olivos, at least not yet, nor does it have the Danish enthusiasm of Solvang. But more and more people are realizing that Los Alamos, home to about 1,800 souls, about 15 miles beyond Buellton along the 101, is a great place for a slow, stylish, food-and-wine-based weekend.

Be warned that much of the town is closed Tuesday and Wednesday. But Bell Street, the main drag, has an Old West feel, several stylish restaurants, a handful of tasting rooms and a few antique shops. Bell’s Restaurant, whose bistro fare has won a Michelin star, offers wild snails and a $90 prix fixe dinner menu Thursday through Monday. (It also does lunch on those days.) Want to take a wine-tasting tour by motorcycle sidecar? Yes, somebody offers that.

Bob’s Well Bread Bakery and Plenty on Bell are popular for breakfast and lunch; Full of Life Flatbread does big dinner business. The menu at Pico (that’s the building with the “GENERAL STORE” sign out front) includes salmon tartare with seaweed and hanger steak with house chimichurri.

You could stay at a trendy motel (Alamo Motel) or a Victorian bed-and-breakfast with elaborately themed rooms (Victorian Mansion). If you’re splurging, the hilltop Skyview Los Alamos may be the answer. Several restaurants in town also rent cottages through Airbnb, including Bob’s Well Bread Bakery, Bodega Wine and Beer Garden and Pico.

Bonus tip: If it’s exclusivity you’re aiming for (or a destination wedding you’re planning), the 1880 Union hotel is a historic property that no longer rents out individual rooms. If you want in, you have to book all nine rooms for your group.
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A junk sculpture is seen in a desert landscape near the Salton Sea.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

8. Greet the end of everything at Bombay Beach

Imperial County Attraction
Try to arrive at Bombay Beach just before sunset. That way, it will seem that you and Armageddon have shown up together. The evidence will be all around: a ghostly collection of newly minted art, weather-beaten ruins and lived-in trailers. It’s Burning Man at water’s edge — the salty, still waters of the Salton Sea.

This was a mainstream vacation destination 70 years ago, when the sea (created by an irrigation canal mishap in 1905) was healthier. Now Bombay Beach is a grid of 32 square blocks with perhaps 300 residents. It has a single bar/restaurant, the Ski Inn (usually open 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.), a market and more than 20 Airbnb units, but not everyone will want to spend the night.

Anyone intrigued by the rebel spirit and raw creativity at nearby Salvation Mountain, East Jesus and Slab City will be right at home among the art and artists of Bombay Beach.

There’s a Bombay Beach Biennale every year (yes, that’s on purpose), which is really fancy talk for the January-March spell when artists and other part-time residents converge to make things and stage events. Don’t miss the plane standing on its nose at 1st and H (“Lodestar” by Randy Polumbo) or the painted televisions at 4th and H. Near sunset, cross the five-foot berm between the community and the seashore (5th and E) to behold the most dramatically sited sculptures and installations, baking and crumbling under that big desert sky.

Bonus tip: Several installations are lighted after dark.
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Closeup of the head of a large metal serpent sculpture
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

9. Stare down a serpent in Borrego Springs

San Diego County Attraction
Meander for more than an hour in Borrego Springs and you’re sure to encounter one of Ricardo Breceda‘s beasts. That’s good.

Breceda, a Southern California sheet-metal sculptor commissioned by local philanthropist Dennis Avery, has since 2008 placed about 130 metal works in the flatlands around the hamlet of Borrego Springs, a getaway for desert lovers who think Palm Springs and Joshua Tree are way too busy. Breceda’s works include dinosaurs, a scorpion the size of a Subaru and the artist’s magnum opus, a fearsome, whiskered, half-submerged serpent of the sand.

That 350-foot-long serpent — actually a medley of five segments rising from the sand — lies along Borrego Springs Road, 2.3 miles north of Christmas Circle. For a sculpture map, stop by the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Assn. store near Christmas Circle.

Before or after beast-hunting, lie low at Casa del Zorro, cruise along Palm Canyon Drive (Borrego Springs’ main drag), get a cool beverage at Carlee’s or see what’s on the walls at the Borrego Art Institute. Then take a hike.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest, surrounds Borrego Springs. Most hikers head first for the Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail (three miles round-trip), whose palm grove is handsome, though recovering from an arson fire in early 2020. There are campgrounds for tent people and RV people. Nonhikers browse the park visitor center and check out the desert pupfish in the pond at the Palm Canyon trailhead. Photographers rise early and take their four-wheel-drive vehicles up a four-mile dirt road to catch the sunrise badlands panorama from Font’s Point.

Bonus tip: The stars after dark may amaze you. Borrego is one of about 40 locales globally to be designated an International Dark Sky Community, a prime place for stargazing and night-sky photography.
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Waterfalls pour into a pool surrounded by greenery.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

10. Bathe in spray from Burney Falls

Shasta County Attraction
If you move fast on a spring or early summer day near the northern edge of California, you can see four waterfalls before dark. But don’t. Start with Burney Falls and linger. And do it on a weekday if you can, because the wait to get in can be an hour or more on spring and summer weekends.

The falls are 129 feet high, with a wide, thundering cascade. You find them at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, about 65 miles northeast of Redding ($10 to enter). First you confront the water from across a gorge, then descend by trail to feel the roar and mist from closer quarters.

The park includes several miles of trails (including a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail) — but after so much snow and rain this winter, some are likely to be closed by erosion.

Bonus tip: If you’re still wondering about the three other cascades in the area, continue to McCloud Falls. It’s a series of three cascades, all within easy hiking distance, about 45 miles northwest of Burney Falls along California 89.
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A cable car on a San Francisco street
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

11. Ride standing on a San Francisco cable car

San Francisco Attraction
The signature sound of San Francisco is the rumble and squeak of a cable car climbing a hill. This is not a ride you should take only once. You should take it, as the people are said to vote in Chicago, early and often.

For maximum thrills, you want pole position, standing on a running board with a hand-hold on the pole at the right front of the car. Unless, of course, you have the opportunity to give that spot to a bright-eyed kid.

The cable cars cover three routes: Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason and California Street. As a newbie, you’d want Powell-Hyde, beginning at Powell and Market streets (where there’s often a queue, along with buskers and panhandlers). Over hills and around corners you’ll ride to Fisherman’s Wharf. The brakes will squeal. Somebody over 60 will make a Rice-A-Roni joke. From the top, spy twisting Lombard Street and Coit Tower to the east, Alcatraz in the bay ahead.

On arrival, grab Irish coffee at the Buena Vista on Beach Street or venture into the tourist extravaganza that is Fisherman’s Wharf. Fare is $8 one-way in advance (which is a poor value) or $13 for a one-day Muni Visitor Passport through the MuniMobile app. Alas, that passport won’t work on BART. But it will give you a day of travel on cable cars, historic streetcars and other Muni and Muni Metro transit.

For the story on how your ride traces back to 1873 and a man named Andrew Hallidie, head to the free Cable Car Museum in the old Washington-Mason powerhouse and car barn on Nob Hill.

Bonus tip: For a mellower ride with fewer tourists and great views down to the Bay Bridge, try the California Street line. And if you get hungry, the Tadich Grill (240 California St.) calls itself the oldest continuously operating restaurant in California. It began as a coffee stand run by Croatian immigrants in 1849. Now it specializes in seafood, especially cioppino. Lunch and dinner on weekdays. Dinner on Saturdays. Closed on Sundays.
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A room at Carmel Mission with ceramic items, wooden furniture and a staircase, beamed ceilings and red wall designs.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

12. See how California Christianity and colonization got started in Carmel

Monterey County Museum
Nobody has shaped California more profoundly than the Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra, now St. Junípero, who founded the first nine of California’s 21 missions and is buried at the Carmel Mission.

The Carmel Mission, officially San Carlos Borromeo de Carmel Mission, includes a basilica, museums and a courtyard, and it’s still home to an active parish. The rooms include a reconstruction of the cell where Serra is said to have died in 1784. The Spanish missionaries brought Christianity, literacy, Mediterranean architecture and a new economy, but at great cost. Many historians now focus on how Indigenous Californians were exploited and violently repressed throughout the system’s rise and fall under Spain, Mexico and then the U.S. Many of these Indigenous people are buried in the mission cemetery.

Bonus tip: The first of the Alta California missions (founded 1769) still functions in San Diego; the last (1823) is part of a state historic park in Sonoma. The most-visited one might be Orange County’s Mission San Juan Capistrano, which has ruins, gardens and its own Amtrak stop. The one at La Purísima State Historic Park near Lompoc includes horses, steers and sheep.
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Aerial view of boats moored at Avalon Harbor, with the Catalina Casino in the distance.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

13. Cross the sea to Catalina

Los Angeles County Attraction
When you need an island escape with creature comforts and you need it within an hour or so, Catalina is your answer. On the ferry ride over (which does take about an hour from Long Beach), you may encounter playful dolphins or (in winter) a breaching whale. In the snug town of Avalon, the only traffic you’ll encounter is bikes and golf carts.

Back in the day, author Zane Grey wrote westerns here and chewing gum potentate William Wrigley Jr. built a mansion (Mt. Ada, with room rates at potentate prices). Nowadays there are just enough options in Avalon to fill a weekend, including hiking, biking and eco-tours through the nonprofit Catalina Conservancy. The Catalina Island Co., which dominates the island tourist trade, can point you to glass-bottom boat rides, submarine tours, snorkeling, miniature golf, cycling, the Descanso Beach Club, a ropes course and the Catalina Zipline Eco Tour, which will set you zinging above eucalyptus trees. Round-trip ferry rides with Catalina Express to Avalon from Long Beach, San Pedro or Dana Point cost $83.50 to $87.50 for adults.

Bonus tip: There’s more hiking and camping near Two Harbors, including a 38.5-mile, four-day adventure known as the Trans-Catalina Trail. You begin in Avalon and end at Two Harbors, the island’s second port. On your way, beware of bison.
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A statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe overlooks the graves of Cesar Chavez and his wife, Helen Chavez.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

14. Study César Chávez’s story in the Tehachapis

Kern County Historical Landmark
In the busiest days of César Chávez’s battles to gain rights for farmworkers in the Central Valley and beyond, he huddled with aides in the Kern County hamlet of Keene in the hills 30 miles southeast of Bakersfield. Chávez (1927-1993) and his wife, Helen (1928-2016), are buried there, at a site now known as César E. Chávez National Monument.

Chávez, born in Yuma, Ariz., might be the most influential labor leader in California history. The national monument’s visitor center — set in a hillscape that gets luminously green after substantial rains — is managed by the National Park Service and the Chávez Foundation, which runs the 187-acre compound that includes the center.

The visitor center offers biographical videos, a re-creation of the labor leader’s office, a memorial garden and exhibits detailing the many causes Chávez pursued. Admission is free.

For breakfast or lunch, try the Keene Cafe half a mile west of the monument on Woodford-Tehachapi Road. Or pause in the town of Tehachapi, about 11 miles southeast of the monument, for a stroll and a snack at Kohnen’s Country Bakery.

Bonus tip: Just 3.2 miles east of Keene, you can see a marvel of railway engineering that draws fans from around the world. From an overlook on Woodford-Tehachapi Road, you can see the Tehachapi Loop, a 3,800-foot section of railroad track built by Southern Pacific engineers and Chinese immigrant laborers in the 1870s and still used by freight trains daily. Employing bridges and tunnels, the route makes a spiral as it climbs a 2.2% grade. Any train 4,000 feet or longer will briefly pass over its own rear cars in the tunnel 77 feet below.
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A yellow VW bus drives through Chandelier Tree.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

15. Steer carefully at California’s foremost drive-through redwood

Mendocino County Attraction
Of course you’d like to drive through a tree. And of the three drive-through redwoods in California (I’ve tried them all), Leggett’s Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree is the standout. Since 1937, giddy Californians have been steering their vehicles through it. That makes it the star of privately owned Underwood Park in sleepy little Leggett. The tree is estimated at 315 feet tall. The price is $15 (up from $10 in 2022) and it’s open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, weather permitting. It is owned by John Stephenson, the fourth generation in a long family line of tree-tenders. Browse in the big gift shop. Bring a picnic, admire the chainsaw carvings, sniff the forest.

Then go deeper. About 30 miles farther north on U.S. 101, you’ll reach the 31-mile-long Avenue of the Giants, a corridor of natural wonder and roadside kitsch that includes Humboldt Redwoods State Park. There, you can inspect the magnificent 370-foot-long corpse of the Dyerville Giant, once thought to be the world’s tallest tree.

Bonus tip: Before you drive through the tree, tuck in your mirrors.
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People in an art gallery with colorful portraits hanging on the walls
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

16. See the Cheech

Art Museum
Officially, it’s the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano art & Culture, opened in 2022 as part of the Riverside Art Museum. Less officially, the Cheech is a grito in a hushed room, a celebration and lamentation of the Mexican American experience, and it’s in downtown Riverside. The updated 1964 building, once the city’s central library, makes a good home for art, especially the unnamed kaleidoscopic 26-foot-high installation by brothers Einar and Jamex de la Torre and Frank Romero’s 8-by-12-foot canvas “The Arrest of the Paleteros” (which shows police shutting down vendors in Echo Park).

Other artists here include Carlos Almaraz, Margaret Garcia, Wayne Alaniz Healy, Judithe Hernández, Gilbert “Magú” Luján and Patssi Valdez. Just about every piece was made since 1965, and scores were collected by actor-comedian Cheech Marin, who has lent and donated them to make the center possible. Many works address simmering social issues. And with their saturated colors and thick brushstrokes, many look like they’re still wet. Adult admission is $15.95, which also gets you into the Riverside Art Museum building across the street.

Bonus tip: Riverside has no original Franciscan missions, but it has the Mission Inn, a gargantuan Mission Revival hotel that dates to the 1870s and fills a city block, with 238 guest rooms, a spa, several restaurants, all manner of European architectural flourishes and an immensely popular winter Festival of Lights. Richard and Pat Nixon married here in 1940. Overnight stays start at $229.
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Painted murals on the underside of a bridge at Chicano Park
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

17. Gaze at the murals of a movement — beneath a bridge

San Diego County Park
Those bright murals beneath the Coronado Bridge in Chicano Park would be worth a look even if they had no underlying message. But they do. They’re a Mexican American demand for respect.

When state and local officials expanded Interstate 5 through San Diego and built the Coronado Bridge in the 1960s, they split the blue-collar neighborhood of Barrio Logan. Then in 1970, when the California Highway Patrol started building an office where a park was expected, the neighbors rose up, occupied the site for 12 days and at last got a 7-acre park set aside. Soon after came the murals, followed by restaurants, galleries and the barrio’s designation as a cultural district. Now there are more than 80 murals, some celebrating Mexican icons such as Pancho Villa and Frida Kahlo. In 2016, federal officials added the park to the National Register of Historic Places, crediting artists Salvador Torres, Mario Torero, Victor Ochoa and others. In October, the Chicano Park Museum debuted next door. It’s open Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Bonus tip: Within two blocks along Logan Avenue, you can get flautas at Las 4 Milpas, tacos at Salud! and beer at Border X Brewing.
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Chino Hills, CA - April 08: After multiple storms drenched Southern California, hikers viewing a patch of blooming California poppies are viewed through a windmill amid a lush scenic meadow as crowds hiked around to view the poppies and other wildflowers blooming at Chino Hills State Park in Chino Hills Saturday, April 8, 2023. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

18. Roam among blooms in Chino Hills State Park

Chino Hills Park
If you get to Chino Hills State Park early enough on a spring day, you might catch the morning mist just lifting, the flowers and weeds dripping with dew. If it has rained recently, then as the sun rises the hills of grassland, sage scrub and chaparral will turn a nearly neon green. Against that background, poppies truly pop. It’s a very easy place to hike, a 14,000-acre series of hills and valleys near the convergence of Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange counties.

Stay alert as you’re hiking — the park’s 90-some miles of trails are also open to equestrians and cyclists. We took Bane Canyon Road into the park, left our car in the lot at the day-use equestrian area and hiked about two miles out and back on the Bane Ridge Trail. Wide views, abundant flowers and grasses. The park opens at 8 a.m., closing at 7 p.m. from the first Sunday in April through Sept. 30, 5 p.m. from October through the first Saturday in April. Admission is $10 per car. There’s no flower-picking allowed. (And if that’s not enough discouragement, consider this before you reach down: There are rattlesnakes.)

Bonus tip: Barely two miles north of the park entrance, just off Highway 71, you may glimpse the towers and domes of a striking Hindu temple, known as the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. The building complex combines Italian marble and Indian pink sandstone. It welcomes visitors and has a tasty restaurant. Also, its shop sells all sorts of Indian spices and other ingredients.
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A person walks out of a quaint stone and wood building.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

19. Get your fill of country blues and hot chili at the Cold Spring Tavern

Santa Barbara County Attraction
They’re not making stagecoach stops like this anymore.

OK, no one is making stagecoach stops at all. Which is all the more reason to stop at the Cold Spring Tavern. It’s tucked along the roadside on San Marcos Pass above Santa Barbara, and for decades it has been uniting bikers and dressed-down upper-crusters. Built in the 1880s, it’s heated in part by four stone fireplaces. Lunch options include three distinct flavors of chili, all time-tested. Yes, you can order a sampler.

The fanciest part of the property is its dimly lit restaurant interior, where buffalo, venison, duck and boar often turn up on the menu for Friday and Saturday dinners (served 5-8 p.m., reservations required). Lunch is served Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The tavern’s Log Cabin Bar, a rustic indoor-outdoor operation, features live music and tri-tip sandwiches on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Bonus tip: Acoustic blues specialists Tom Ball and Kenny Sultan, who have the Sunday music slot most weeks, have been playing the Cold Spring for more than three decades.
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Wooden buildings with signs for Johnson's Livery and Feed Seed Tack, and a set of wagon wheels
(Aric Crabb / MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images)

20. Join the gold rush in a town out of time

Tuolumne County Park
Once a booming Gold Rush town about 90 miles southeast of Sacramento, Columbia is now the 272-acre Columbia State Historic Park, staffed by rangers and concession workers in period attire.

It’s the state park system’s largest collection of Gold Rush-era buildings, with restaurants, saloons (heavy on the sarsaparilla), retailers, a museum, hotels and cottages, a gold-panning operation (Wednesday through Sunday in winter, daily in summer) and stagecoach rides (Friday through Sunday in winter, daily in summer). There’s also a skating rink (synthetic ice) just outside town.

The town was born in 1850 when prospectors found gold. Its best days were over by 1860 as discoveries dwindled. By the 1930s, it was on the brink of collapse. The state acquired the land and made Columbia a park in 1945. It’s off California 49, the main thoroughfare of Gold Country.

Bonus tip: The towns of Murphys and Angels Camp are each within 15 miles of Columbia. Murphys is a lively wine-country village whose main street has a hotel dating to the 1850s. Angels Camp is where Samuel Clemens heard a story in a bar that he spun into “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” his first literary success under the name Mark Twain.
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The name of a restaurant is painted on the front of a building.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

21. Line up at Dad's Luncheonette

Half Moon Bay Reimagined American roadside
Dad’s Luncheonette in Half Moon Bay is a train caboose just off Highway 1 and there’s no dining room. Yet the 18-seat patio often fills up, with a line, because the food is tremendous. At least, my juicy, many-textured maitake mushroom sandwich was. And the eccentricity is part of the fun. Some weeks, without warning, there are rose pistachio lime cookies. Last Father’s Day, every dad was offered a free beer. Sometimes the kitchen runs out of ingredients and closes early. But the restaurant is usually open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, except from mid-December through mid-January, when the owners close it for “hibernation.”

The backstory is that chef and co-owner Scott Clark used to work in fancy restaurant kitchens (including San Francisco’s Saison, which has two Michelin stars), but chucked that after becoming, yes, a dad. He and his partner, Alexis Liu, opened Dad’s in 2017.

Bonus tip: While you’re in Half Moon Bay, take a stroll on its inviting Main Street or a longer hike on the 7.5-mile Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail (which includes four miles in Half Moon Bay State Beach) and top it off with a drink or dinner at Sam’s Chowder House, which has a big deck overlooking the ocean.
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Two travelers sit at a bench in front of a rustic wooden inn.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

22. Travel from '20s to '30s at Deetjen's in Big Sur

Monterey Hotel
As you follow Highway 1, twisting and turning northbound into Big Sur, Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn pops up on the right like a redwood mirage. This rustic 20-room lodging and restaurant is the work of Helmuth Deetjen, an immigrant from Norway, who built the compound in the early 1930s.

Before Highway 1 was completed in 1937, this was where the pavement stopped in Big Sur — the end of civilization if you were southbound. It still feels tenuously civilized (perhaps because mudslides to the south so often close Highway 1, forcing northbound L.A. drivers to delay travel or take a long detour via 101). The old Deetjen barn is now the dining room. Though Deetjen died in 1972, he bequeathed the place to a nonprofit entity designed to keep things as is. That’s why the five units in the Hayloft Hostel building share two bathrooms and there are no televisions, phones or Wi-Fi in guest rooms. Reservations, $100 to $435 per night, are taken by phone only.

But Highway 1 is a problem right now. Early this year, landslides forced closure of the road south of Deetjen’s and north of Ragged Point, forcing travelers from Southern California to take a long inland detour via Highway 101. Caltrans has been reopening portions of the road, but as of early May northbound traffic stopped at Ragged Point, and Caltrans was predicting a reopening no sooner than July 14.

Bonus tip: The restaurant serves breakfast daily, dinner Friday through Tuesday. If you have breakfast in the dining room, Mr. Deetjen’s favorite classical music will be playing, and the old man himself, sporting a beret and a skeptical expression, will be looking down at you from a portrait on the wall.
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Downtown City Park, Paso Robles.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

23. Savor the shade in Downtown City Park, Paso Robles

Paso Robles Park
The wine country around Paso Robles just keeps gaining — in quality and quantity. In between forays to tasting rooms in the countryside, make time for downtown, beginning with Downtown City Park. You’ll find farmers markets on Saturday and Tuesday mornings, special events throughout the year, a playground, picnic-ready grass and a statue of Polish pianist, composer, politician and Paso pioneer Jan Paderewski alongside a 1908 Carnegie library, now a local history museum.

Just across Spring Street stands the landmark Paso Robles Inn, which last year redid its upstairs Cattlemen’s Lounge (where several steer horns are mounted and a marble bar glows eerily). There’s plenty of shopping, eating and drinking in the blocks around the park, including more than a dozen tasting rooms, plus the varied artworks (and monthly opening receptions) at Studios on the Park.

Bonus tip: A block off the park, the self-consciously chi-chi Piccolo hotel (Champagne vending machine in lobby) has a rooftop bar, Tetto, with pleasing views and springtime breezes. Also near the park, BL Brasserie (formerly Bistro Laurent) is a longtime dinner favorite, but on the last trip we tried Thomas Hill Organics with excellent results.
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People eat corn on the cob outdoors under strings of lights at the weekly Downtown SLO Farmers' Market
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

24. Amble, nibble and tipple at SLO’s farmers market

San Luis Obispo County Farmers' market
It’s a street party and market in one of California’s greatest college towns. Isn’t that enough?

Since 1983 (with a pandemic hiatus), the Downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market has been taking over Higuera Street on Thursday nights, giving pedestrians free rein to nibble, sip, shop and hang out in the heart of downtown. It happens from 6 to 9 p.m. from March through October, 6-8:30 in cooler months.

The market fills five blocks with more than 100 vendors, including produce sellers, street food makers, assorted artisans and live music. You can get ribs here, and pulled pork, corn on the cob, kombucha, soap, tamales, honey, mushrooms and that particular secular sacrament (a crescent-shaped bit of beef, grilled over red oak) that SLO folk call tri-tip. Bring the family (but not your dog). And be reassured: The lines may be long for barbecue from F. McLintocks Saloon and cold-brew boba tea from Sequel Cold Brew Tea, but they move fast.

Bonus tip: Cal Poly students are a key part of this operation, making up an estimated 60% or more of the workers and a large chunk of the browsers. For further proof of collegiate influence, have a look at downtown’s Bubblegum Alley between Garden and Broad streets along Higuera.
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Aerial view of Emerald Bay State Park
(Yury Zaryadov / EyeEm/Getty Images)

25. Find the island at Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay

El Dorado County Park
Because it’s a seven-hour drive from Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe gets more visitors from up north than down south. But the big, blue lake at the California-Nevada border deserves our attention. Not only the winter skiing and boarding at the South Shore’s Heavenly Ski Resort or Palisades Tahoe to the north, but the raw spectacle of Emerald Bay State Park. All year ’round.

Whatever the season, the views from Emerald Bay Overlook, the rocks next to the main parking lot and Eagle Falls Vista Point are wraparound wonderlands of lake and forest, with tiny Fannette Island and its stone teahouse ruins completing the scene. In warmer months there’s camping. Closer to the water’s edge (at the end of a fairly steep one-mile trail) is Vikingsholm Castle, a Scandinavian-style mansion from the 1920s. There also are kayaking options. And if neither the lake, mountains nor mansion does it for you, go home. Or go play the slots in Stateline, 14 miles east across the Nevada border.

Bonus tip: It’s a 72-mile drive around the lake — highly recommended. And by the way, a new study says the lake is clearer now than it’s been since the 1980s, thanks to resurgent native zooplankton.
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Bishop, CA - June 22: Customers shop at Erick Schat's Bakery in Bishop Wednesday, June 22, 2022. .(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

26. Break bread at Erick Schat's in Bishop

Bishop Restaurant
If you’re driving between Southern California and Mammoth or anywhere else in the eastern Sierra, chances are good you’ll stop in Bishop. To join a long history of hungry and road-weary family travelers, pull over and step into Erick Schat’s Bakkery. You can’t miss the two-story Schat’s building on Main Street. (Erick Schat died in 2021.) The bakery’s most famous fare is its sheepherder bread ($6.75 a loaf), which was introduced to the West more than a century ago by Basque sheepherders. Bread lovers will appreciate the wide variety of loaves on the bakery racks (I favor the olive and date-walnut breads). Kids will appreciate the big inventory of sweets. Road warriors can grab sandwiches to go. One Yelp fan of the place calls it “a bit tourist-trappy, but in the best way. The buttery, flakey, homemade-y way.” Exactly. The bread and pastry departments open at 6 a.m. daily (and close at 5, 6 or 7 p.m. depending on the day). The sandwich counter opens at 8:30 a.m. and closes between 3 and 5 p.m., depending on the day.

Bonus tip: If you’re spending the night, the Creekside Inn nearby has 87 rooms, rates that start around $160 and a location alongside Bishop Creek. You’ll find fire pits outside and bold Sierra images inside by Bishop-based photographer Galen Rowell, who died in 2002.
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The Exposition Park Rose Garden with the Los Angeles County Historical and Art Museum in the back.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

27. See butterflies hover at Exposition Park

Los Angeles County Park
Think of the USC-adjacent Exposition Park as a sampler, with about as much culture, science and beauty as you can absorb in the space of a few hours — and one big new neighbor coming soon.

Start with the California African American Museum, which wins praise for thoughtful, lively shows. A few steps away, the California Science Center awaits, with its kid-captivating display of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The Natural History Museum of L.A. County offers all the skeletons, dioramas, insects and butterflies (the latter through Aug. 13) you can handle. The rose garden does what rose gardens do.

A few steps away, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is the only venue anywhere to host two Summer Olympics (1932 and 1984) and BMO Stadium (formerly Banc of California Stadium) is the site of L.A. Football Club soccer and many a pop concert.

As for the neighbor who’s due, it’s the $1-billion George Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, once scheduled to open this year, now targeted for 2025, just west of the Natural History Museum. As the sinuous exterior and its 11-acre site make clear, this will be no modest enterprise: a museum dedicated to the art of storytelling through images.

Bonus tip: More than 300 Kobe Bryant murals have sprung up in Southern California since the 2020 helicopter crash that killed him and his daughter Gianna. As this mural map shows, Exposition Park is surrounded by them.
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A person walks on a wet road between tall canyon walls covered in ferns
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

28. Creep between weeping walls in Fern Canyon

Coastal Trail
Your feet will get wet, your car will need washing and you won’t mind. That’s what awaits on the short, scenic hike through Fern Canyon in Humboldt County’s Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

The Fern Canyon Loop Trail, which neighbors Gold Bluffs Beach, measures barely a mile. But the path takes you up a narrow canyon into primordial greenery between walls that rise 50 to 80 feet on each side. Parts of “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” were shot here 25 years ago, as were parts of the BBC’s “Walking With Dinosaurs.” The walls weep. The fronds drip. Home Creek riffles underfoot. Bring water shoes.

And book it a week or two ahead. In 2022, rangers imposed a May-to-September requirement that hikers reserve permits for their canyon-adjacent parking in advance. (The alternative: Hike into the canyon from the park visitor center, a 10-mile round trip on the James Irvine Trail.)

Also this year, spring and summer hikers in Fern Canyon and the Gold Bluffs Beach area will need to reserve permits up to two weeks in advance, with a limit of 250 reservations per day, thereby easing backups and wear and tear on the narrow, muddy road to the trailhead. The day-use fee is $12 cash at the entrance. No dogs. The second half of the loop hike is a less interesting route through Sitka spruce forest. When done, you might want to do what I did: Hike the wet bit a second time.

Bonus tip: Leave time to drive the 10-mile-long Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, which is flanked by massive redwoods. It’s free. (Like Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, it’s also part of Redwood National and State Parks.)
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San Francisco's Ferry Building sits along the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

29. Feast at the Ferry Building and roam the waterfront in San Francisco

San Francisco Attraction
In San Francisco, no venue is foodier than the Ferry Building and no view beats the Golden Gate Bridge. The real estate that connects them is the waterfront, a stretch of more than five miles that will feed you, teach you, entertain you and muss your hair (thanks to the stiff breezes). It also includes Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero.

Start at the foot of Market Street in the 1898 Ferry Building, with its restaurants, food-focused retailers and farmers market (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). Blue Bottle coffee! Hog Island oysters! Acme bread!

Take a moment to mourn the demise (in March) of the 10-year-old nightly Bay Bridge Lights Show and hope that something worthy arises in its place. Working your way north and west on the Embarcadero (by foot, bike or throwback streetcar), you’ll find food and booze at the snug, old Pier 23 Cafe; (open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday); hands-on science at the Exploratorium (closed Monday); a tourist-driven shopping scene (with sea lion soundtrack) at Pier 39; and a whole lot of T-shirt vendors, seafood restaurants and the Boudin Bakery at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Bonus tip: If you rent a bike at Blazing Saddles, Sports Basement or San Francisco Bicycle Rentals (about $30 to $80 daily), you can pedal to Golden Gate views at Crissy Field, the Warming Hut and Fort Point. Many visitors ride across the bridge to Sausalito (1.7 miles) and catch a ferry back, but I prefer the bike ride to Fort Point and back: no cars roaring past, less wind and more pleasant places to stop.
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Trunk of the General Sherman tree located in Sequoia National Park, California, USA, by volume, it is the largest known living single stem tree on Earth
(JHVEPhoto / Getty Images / iStockphoto)

30. Meet Sequoia’s big trees and their boss, General Sherman

Tulare and Fresno counties Attraction
General Sherman, the biggest tree on Earth (by volume), stands within the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park. It’s 275 feet high and 102 feet around at its base, inspiring awe and frustration all around.

The awe is simple. This is an epic living thing, about 2,200 years old, surrounded by legions of other epic trees. The frustration is usually because the general’s stature resists camera capture. It’s too tall to shoot.

And there’s more frustration lately. Sequioa and Kings Canyon parks have been menaced by six major fires in eight years. Then came the storms of early 2023, which forced closure of all roads into both parks. Kings Canyon’s Grant Grove has reopened and several other areas were expected to reopen by late May. But General Sherman and the Giant Forest area of Sequoia remained closed. Rangers plan to have them accessible by Highway 180 (the Kings Canyon park entrance) by June 9 and accessible by Highway 198 (the Sequoia park entrance) by July 1.

If you go, expect a crazy quilt of blackened trees, new growth and flood damage. In the Sequoia gateway town of Three Rivers, you can get a good burger at Buckaroo Diner, a cold beer at the Gateway Restaurant, a cabin at the Buckeye Tree Lodge.

Bonus tip: In the 1880s, before Sequoia was a national park, a Utopian commune called the Kaweah Colony occupied the area. The communists, who planned to log the area, had their own name for the biggest tree. They called it Karl Marx.
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The central garden with the Getty Museum in the background
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

31. Feed your imagination and feast your eyes at the Getty

Los Angeles County Museum
Why climb this hill in Brentwood? Maybe to behold works of Van Gogh, Cezanne, Hockney and others at the world’s wealthiest art institution. Or maybe just to admire a cactus garden that seems to hover over the Pacific Ocean.

Even by Los Angeles standards, the Getty Center in Brentwood is a young landmark (completed in 1997). But this 110-acre museum campus of bright, spare buildings has a spectacular location and is backed by an $8.6-billion endowment.

The galleries include Van Gogh’s “Irises,” Cézanne’s “Still Life With Apples” and David Hockney’s “Pearblossom Highway” photocollage, along with thousands of other paintings and sculptures, a renowned photography collection, a boldly modern garden and a set of jaw-dropping views toward the Pacific. One temporary exhibition through Sept. 17 looks at pastel portraits from 18th century Europe.

Admission is free but you must reserve a timed-entry spot and parking is $20. (It’s closed on Monday.) Take the tram up the hill and head for the West Pavilion, which houses photography and Impressionists. Check out the cactus garden (between the east and west pavilions) along with the larger, lower Central Garden designed by artist Robert Irwin. Also, spare a few minutes to read up on the notoriously tight-fisted oilman who endowed this place even though he left California in 1951 and never returned.

Bonus tip: If antiquities are more your style, spend a day at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, which specializes in ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan art and is closed Tuesdays.
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Seaglass covers the sand, with large boulders jutting out of the nearby Pacific Ocean.
(David Pu’u / Getty Images)

32. Grab a handful of nature (or is it junk?) at Glass Beach

Mendocino County Beach
Given enough time, the churning Pacific can turn our broken bottles and car parts into something like nature. Glass Beach is proof of that. Fort Bragg, the workaday city 11 miles north of quaint Mendocino, used three beaches as dumps for decades, then in the 1960s began a cleanup. Workers removed most castoff junk, and the tides keep grinding away at the rest, especially old bottles. Now the shoreline sparkles with pebbles of frosty white, green, blue and occasionally ruby red (from old auto taillights).

Visitors, including many families, comb the shore and snap photos. But remember: Parks officials forbid visitors from carrying bits away. The best-known Glass Beach is at the west end of West Elm Street. Others are slightly north in MacKerricher State Park.

Bonus tip: Speaking of gems in the rough, Fort Bragg’s Noyo Harbor is a lively, gritty spot at the water’s edge. For an upscale overnight, try the Noyo Harbor Inn, built in the 1860s, rebuilt in the 2010s. For fresh food by the water, try the Noyo River Grill (opened in 2018) or the neighboring Princess Seafood restaurant (Thursdays-Sundays, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.). The Princess menu features sablefish and crab caught by an all-woman local crew on a 42-foot boat whose name is ... Princess. Live music on weekends.
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The SkyStar Wheel ferris wheel among palm trees and other greenery in Golden Gate Park.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

33. See Golden Gate Park from the de Young Museum's view tower

San Francisco Park
Golden Gate Park has all sorts of cultural, natural and not-so-natural wonders in its 1,017 acres, including the waters of Stow Lake, the heights of Strawberry Hill, the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden and San Francisco Botanical Garden. There’s also the California Academy of Sciences, which has a white alligator named Claude and a “living roof” covered with local native plants; and the de Young Museum.

The de Young’s an art collection that includes a little bit of everything, including site-specific works by Andy Goldsworthy and James Turrell and a Kehinde Wiley show through Oct. 15. But the bold, angular de Young building also has something else: Upstairs at the east end of the building, you’ll find its 144-foot-high Hamon Tower, whose observation level has glass walls and staggering wraparound views. Though adult admission to the museum is $15, you can head up to the tower for nothing. (The museum is closed on Mondays, though.)

Bonus tip: It’s hard to imagine this green park as sand dunes, but that was the lay of the land when park construction began in the 1870s. Look closely at many rocks and you’ll realize they’re colored concrete, deployed by the same long-ago superintendent, John McLaren, who devised the park’s fake lakes and man-made waterfalls.
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People stand outside Walt Disney Concert Hall.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

34. Choose among art, architecture, music and drama on Grand Avenue

Los Angeles County Attraction
You’ve come a long way, Charity Street. That was Grand Avenue’s name until 1887, when city leaders realized that a little rebranding was in order. Now Grand is the cultural capital of Los Angeles.

Walt Disney Concert Hall, the curvaceous home that Frank Gehry designed for the L.A. Philharmonic, shimmers at age 20. (Catch a concert or do a self-guided tour there.) The Broad museum, now age 7, looms like a white hive of contemporary art. (Admission for most exhibits is free, but you must book in advance; closed Mondays.)

There are so many more arts options close at hand, including the Music Center‘s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Ahmanson Theater and Mark Taper Forum, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Colburn School (for performing arts), you could spend three days exploring this territory. Meanwhile, across the street from Disney Hall, a pair of mixed-used skyscrapers known as the Grand L.A. (also designed by Gehry) opened in 2022 with apartments, retail, restaurants and a swanky hotel, the 28-story Conrad Los Angeles. (Rooms start at about $370 nightly.)

Bonus tip: Between jolts of culture, recharge at Gloria Molina Grand Park, a 12-acre rectangle of grass and foliage (with fountain, Starbucks and playground) that descends from Grand Avenue down Bunker Hill to Spring Street. L.A. County’s Board of Supervisors voted in March to rename Grand Park in honor of Molina’s long service in city, county and state government. She died May 14.
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People blur in front of vegetable and fruit stands at an indoor market.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

35. Eat with abandon at Grand Central Market

Los Angeles County Food market
Grand Central Market, L.A.’s original food hall, gives you a tastier, more condensed view of L.A. diversity than just about any address in town. Opened in 1917 and gentrified in recent years, the space offers quick food from around the world, giving visitors a chance to rub elbows with downtown regulars. Need some Michoacan-style carnitas? Tacos Tumbras a Tomas is your place (and has been in the market for more than 50 years). Need a selfie? Head for the neon display near Hill Street. In all, there are about 40 food stalls and several craft vendors in the less-trafficked bazaar downstairs. If you can make only one stop in DTLA, this should be it.

Bonus tip: Across Hill Street, you’ll find the Angels Flight Railway, a funicular that dates to 1901. Its two orange cars charge $1 for a short, steep ride (298 feet) to California Plaza atop Bunker Hill.
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Hikers on a trail leading to Griffith Observatory, with downtown Los Angeles visible in the distance.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

36. Guess your Martian weight at Griffith Observatory

Los Angeles County Attraction
For my money, the most L.A. building in L.A. is Griffith Observatory.

Since 1935, Angelenos have embraced this Hollywood Hills landmark as “the hood ornament of Los Angeles,” as observatory director E.C. Krupp calls it. It’s the architectural star of 4,210-acre Griffith Park, with three copper domes hovering above a startling amount of subterranean space (thanks to a major expansion completed in 2006).

Looking west from the lawn, you see the Hollywood sign. Looking south at sunrise or sunset, you see Los Angeles as a tidy, twinkling grid, with Western Avenue stretching to infinity or maybe San Pedro. Inside, you can scan distant stars or check your weight on other planets. It’s free (except for shows in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium). For snacks, you’ll have the Cafe at the End of the Universe. From its patio tables you can recall “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955), “La La Land” (2016) and the live concert video Adele made in 2021 — all of which had key scenes here.

Remember it’s closed Monday. And don’t park here if you can avoid it — it’s $10 an hour and the most convenient lot is basically always full. Take a rideshare or catch a DASH bus from the Greek Theatre or the Sunset/Vermont Metro station.

Bonus tip: You can hike from the observatory to the Tom LaBonge Panorama atop Mt. Hollywood, a roughly 2.6-mile round-trip journey. And be sure to read up on the philanthropist-felon who made all this possible, Griffith J. Griffith.
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A path next to a massive tree at Grove of Titans.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

37. Look up and step lightly in the Grove of Titans

Del Norte County National Park
Step by step, you seem to be shrinking. No, wait. The trees are getting taller. You’re hiking into the Grove of Titans. These redwoods, many of them 300 feet tall and 1,300 or more years old, are some of the tallest trees on Earth. They’ve been part of Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park since 1929. (They’re part of Redwood National and State Parks too.) But this 3-acre grove was unknown to modern experts until 1998. As recently as four years ago, it was rarely acknowledged by rangers, who were worried about damage from overzealous hikers. Then in 2022 a park construction crew completed the rerouting of Mill Creek Trail, adding a quarter-mile elevated metal walkway that protects the forest floor and root systems. The result is a remarkable three-mile path to the Grove of Titans. Earlier hikers have given some of the trees nicknames that will set your imagination in motion: Screaming Titans. Lost Monarch. El Viejo del Norte. The trailhead is about seven miles east of Crescent City via the narrow, winding, rugged 10-mile Howland Hill Road, once a stagecoach route.

Bonus tip: I slept in Crescent City’s Curly Redwood Lodge and had breakfast at the Good Harvest Cafe, both recommended. And save an hour or two for the 1856 Battery Point Lighthouse, which stands on a tidal island along a gorgeous stretch of coastline. If you get to the parking lot at Battery and B streets at low tide, you can walk to the lighthouse.
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An exhibit at Hammer Museum.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

38. Examine the Hammer Museum and UCLA

Westwood Art Museum
If you’re out to explore the most sought-after four-year university in the country, where do you start? Since we’re talking about UCLA, you can begin with the yarn, lasers, paint and wit deployed at the just-expanded, university-affiliated Hammer Museum. In less than 35 years, the Hammer has morphed from an oilman’s vanity project into an esteemed contemporary showcase. In March, Director Ann Phlbin unveiled a $90-million expansion. Step inside (it’s free) and you are surrounded by a red yarn installation by Chiharu Shiota (through Aug. 27). Approach Rita McBride’s laser beam array “Particulates” (through Nov. 5) and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a James Bond title sequence. Provocative works from the Hammer permanent collection (through Aug. 20) include artists Mark Bradford, Noah Purifoy, Chris Burden and John Baldessari. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday with parking underground.

For a sense of the UCLA campus (which has 31,600 undergrads and drew about 145,900 freshman applications in 2023), I suggest walking a two-mile loop from the Hammer. Head north on Westwood Boulevard to Bruin Plaza (where a big, bronze Bruin bear statue awaits your selfies). Climb Election Walk (if it’s a warm day, legions of students will be sprawled on the lawn) to Shapiro Fountain. The big brick behemoth to your right will be Powell Library. To your left: Royce Hall, host to many a concert. Now circle back. You’ll pass the Fowler Museum (which explores global arts and cultures) on your right. Need merch? Try the student store in Bruin Plaza. Whether you’re an alumnus or not (I’m not), you must admit UCLA may be the prettiest, liveliest California campus this side of Palo Alto. Just be careful not to bump into one of its “#1 Public University” banners. They’re everywhere.

Bonus tip: In the Hammer Museum courtyard, Lulu, a restaurant by California cuisine pioneer Alice Waters and David Tanis, serves lunch (Tuesday through Sunday) and dinner (Wednesday through Sunday) under orange lanterns. Thumbs up on the $17 mozzarella, prosciutto and arugula sandwich.
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A rock formation.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

39. Climb, hike or recline in Joshua Tree's Hidden Valley

San Bernardino County National Park
It’s a simple formula: trees, rocks, dirt and sky. Yet those elements come together in the most extraordinary way at Joshua Tree National Park, inspiring climbers, boulderers, campers, stargazers and tourists who can’t help imagining that Dr. Seuss daydreamed it all. More than 3 million visitors came in 2022. Among the park’s several campgrounds, I like its Hidden Valley area most. It has 44 campsites and no water — but those rocks! They look even bigger when you notice the climbers dangling from them. There’s also a thriving art scene and a growing number of funky shops, restaurants and vacation rentals in the nearby communities of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms on Highway 62.

Bonus tip: If you’re eager to learn more about singer-songwriter Gram Parsons’ life and death, or you just want to hear the saddest, creepiest desert misadventure story ever, you could book the Joshua Tree Inn, where Parsons spent his last night (before the unfortunate cremation attempt at Cap Rock). If you’d rather try a quirky desert Airbnb, you’d better start paging through them now — there are hundreds of them.
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Along Highway 46 and Vineyard Drive, west of Paso Robles on the way toward Cambria.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

40. Enter a green dream on Highway 46

San Luis Obispo Experience
After a wet spring, driving Highway 46 between Paso Robles and the San Luis Obispo County coast is 22 miles of scenery so green and gorgeous, it’s a traffic hazard. Verdant hills. Grizzled oaks. Vineyards lined up like troops about to march. Country roads that will take you to tasting rooms. Oh, and as you get further west, you’ll see growing hints of Morro Rock and the blue Pacific in the distance. When you reach the traffic circle at Vineyard Drive, about 4.6 miles west of the 101, you may be tempted to wander off on Vineyard for a few miles of low-speed bucolic splendor. Do it (and keep an eye out for tasting rooms). When you’re westbound on 46 again, you’ll find several scenic turnout spots as it twists and swoops to its end at Highway 1. From there, the fun will continue. You just need to choose between Cambria (4 miles north) or Cayucos (11 miles south, with the hamlet of Harmony on the way).

Bonus tip: If you’re heading west-to-east on 46, there’s an extra possibility in the hills just east of Paso Robles: Sensorio, a walk-through display of ever-changing lights by artist Bruce Munro. Imagine electric flowers with a dimmer switch, the changing colors set to music. It’s generally open Thursday through Saturday nights in April and May, Thursday through Sunday nights from June through December. Tickets start at $49 for adults, $28 for children.
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Hollywood Bowl at night.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

41. Picnic at the Hollywood Bowl

Los Angeles County Venue
The Hollywood Bowl, summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, turned 100 in 2022. That makes it older than the Hollywood sign (by a year) and helps explain why so many Angelenos are so fond of it.

Or maybe it’s just the picnics. Most venues would scream bloody murder if you tried this, but at the county-owned bowl, the tradition is that you’re allowed to bring your own food into most shows. If the Phil is playing, you can usually bring wine and beer, too. (Though alcohol is forbidden at some shows.)

Aaron Copland, Deep Purple, Igor Stravinsky, Ella Fitzgerald, the Beatles, Kamasi Washington and Phish have played here. There’s a jazz festival and a mariachi festival every June and around July 4 there are a few fireworks shows (this year featuring the Beach Boys). The 2023 “Sound of Music” sing-along will be Sept. 16.

The venue holds about 18,000 and parking is messy. Try to get dropped off at Lot B or use a shuttle bus. If you like outdoor shows in smaller venues, remember the Greek Theatre (capacity: about 5,900) in Griffith Park; and the Ford Amphitheatre (capacity: about 1,200) at Cahuenga Pass. Both run summer seasons.

Bonus tip: Some morning rehearsals for classical concerts at the Hollywood Bowl are open to the public, typically on summer Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m., always subject to change. For the latest information, email or call (323) 850-2000.
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The mausoleum at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

42. Stretch among stars at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Los Angeles County Attraction
The liveliest cemetery in California is wedged between Paramount studios and one of the ugliest strip malls you’ll ever encounter. Hollywood Forever, which goes back 125 years, hosts summertime film screenings on the Fairbanks Lawn (with partner Cinespia), yoga classes, sound baths, rock concerts and stand-up comedy (often in the Masonic Lodge next door). Those who repose here include Judy Garland, Mel Blanc, Cecil B. DeMille, Rudolph Valentino, Burt Reynolds, Chris Cornell and Valerie Harper. Hattie McDaniel, Jayne Mansfield and Toto (the dog from “The Wizard of Oz”) have markers but aren’t buried here. Johnny Ramone’s marker is one to remember, a sculpture of the leather-jacketed guitarist leaning back and blasting a power chord. Meanwhile, Hollywood Forever’s yoga sessions (pay by donation) are held six mornings per week. (The cemetery is still doing interments and cremations.)

There are, of course, many more celebrity graves in town, including the sprawling Forest Lawn in Glendale (where Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor are) and Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park (where Marilyn Monroe is). There’s also a tour company, Grave Line (“we put death on the map”), that specializes in celebrity-death-based itineraries.

Bonus tip: The cemetery’s Day of the Dead celebration, a spectacle for more than 20 years, features hordes of costumed visitors, live bands, Aztec dancers and ofrendas (altars) honoring departed loved ones.
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The Hollywood sign.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

43. Read the Hollywood sign, frontward and backward

Los Angeles County Attraction
You and your out-of-town visitors don’t want to look like tourists, but you want Hollywood sign selfies. After all, it turns 100 this year.

We can do this. One option is Lake Hollywood Park at 3160 Canyon Lake Drive, a grassy, dog-friendly spot with room for a picnic, the sign’s letters looming about 2,000 feet away. (There’s parking on the street, but you may need to walk a few blocks.)

If you’re headed to Ovation Hollywood, the mall at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, you could just head up to the fourth level bridge, which was placed to look straight at the sign, 3.2 miles to the north.

Or maybe you must have the view from above, with the letters backward. The shortest route to that is the Burbank Peak Trail (2.8 miles round-trip), but it’s steep, rocky and requires parking curbside on Lake Hollywood Drive, then walking a quarter-mile uphill to the trailhead on Wonder View Drive. I’d rather take the longer, flatter hike from Griffith Observatory, an 8.8-mile round trip that might take five hours. (There are other options too.)

Bonus tip: Like horses? Take a two-hour, $125 evening ride in the Hollywood Hills with Sunset Ranch at the north end of Beachwood Drive. You won’t get above the sign, but you’ll be on horseback in Hollywood. You win.
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Exterior of the Hotel del Coronado, fronted by a large oval lawn with palm trees
(Hotel del Coronado)

44. Make tracks in the white sand at the Hotel del Coronado

San Diego County Hotel
The seaside red-roofed turrets. The fussy Victorian woodwork. That old movie with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Thanks to all these things, the Hotel del Coronado needs little introduction. It’s one of the few grand resorts from the 19th century (1888, in fact) that didn’t burn down. Featuring a family-friendly beach, spa, grand lobby, enormous pool and an ice rink in winter, it includes several “neighborhoods” that have been added over the decades. The most recent addition, completed in September, is the Shore House at the Del. It’s billed as a separate hotel from the Del, with 75 rooms and suites, pool, bistro and rates beginning at $1,299 a night.

Suddenly, the old building, where rates might dip as low as $600 on off-season weekdays, seems like a bargain. Stay there. Or just pop in for a meal, a drink or ice cream. Or head straight to that wide, sandy beach. And if you spot a bunch of really fit guys doing weird exercises along the shore, those will likely be Navy SEALs, whose training base is nearby. (Later, if you like, you can find “Some Like It Hot” — the 1959 movie with the Del, Monroe, Lemmon and Curtis — on Netflix.)

Bonus tip: Coronado is pricey. But its ferry service is not. Take a 15-minute ferry between downtown San Diego (5th Avenue and Convention Way) and the Coronado Ferry Landing (at the foot of B Avenue). You’ll get an eyeful of skyline and you’ll pay just $7 each way.
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A person standing in a Chinese-style pagoda takes a photograph of the Chinese Garden at the Huntington Library.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

45. Browse among blossoms, books and a Blue Boy at the Huntington

Los Angeles County Museum
Who has the stamina to take the full measure of the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in a single visit? This institution, steeped in nature, art, literature and wealth, fills 130 acres. Depending on where you roam, the estate’s gardens evoke the desert, the jungle, China, Japan and Europe.

Also, the Rose Garden Tea Room, a longtime local favorite that closed in March 2020, is set to reopen May 24 after a renovation.

Meanwhile, the museum and library, underwritten by a railroad fortune, have been diversifying energetically. “Blue Boy,” Thomas Gainsborough’s emblematic 18th century portrait of a rich British kid, returned in 2022 from London’s National Gallery, and now shares a gallery with “Portrait of a Young Gentleman” by American artist Kehinde Wiley (who painted Barack Obama’s presidential portrait). Other exhibits include quilts from Gee’s Bend (through Sept. 4) and the long-term installation “Borderlands,” which shows how artists probe political and personal boundaries.

Meanwhile, the Huntington’s library Exhibition Hall displays include a 15th century manuscript of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and a typed draft of Pasadena’s own Octavia E. Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” (1993). And through Dec. 4, the Library West Hall will display the oldest printed book in the Huntington’s collection, “The Scripture of the Great Flower Ornament of the Buddha,” created in 1085. Adult admission is $25-$29 for nonmembers. Closed Tuesday.

Bonus tip: There’s more Octavia Butler, and more books by people of color generally, three miles north of the Huntington at Octavia’s Bookshelf on North Hill Avenue in Pasadena. The bookshop opened in February.
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In-N-Out Burger sign
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

46. Order Animal Style at the flagship In-N-Out

Los Angeles County Fast food
A burger is a burger. Unless, of course, you belong to the vast cult of In-N-Out. If you do, then a visit to the flagship In-N-Out is in order. It’s in Baldwin Park, 18 miles east of L.A. City Hall. You can drive through, as most customers do. Or you can eat inside, then browse mountains of merch at the company store (open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday) and perhaps matriculate at In-N-Out University, where managers train.

You might also head to the nearby replica of the chain’s first tiny, red-and-white burger shack, open for photo ops 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday-Sunday at 13766 Francisquito Ave., Baldwin Park.

Harry and Esther Snyder opened the first In-N-Out burger shack in 1948, which put them among the first to try a drive-through restaurant. (The kitchen was about 10 square feet.) The company’s ties to car culture have remained strong through the decades, but fans say the burgers are what matter most. To taste what the fuss is all about, order a Double-Double, Animal-Style — a double cheeseburger with extra spread and grilled onions, basically — which has fueled the company’s growth to more than 330 outlets in seven western states. (The first outlets in Colorado opened in 2020, but there are still no In-N-Outs east of Texas.)

Bonus tip: About that Bible verse on the bottom of your cup: The In-N-Out chain’s owner is its founders’ granddaughter, Lynsi Snyder, an evangelical Christian whose Slave 2 Nothing Foundation fights substance abuse and human trafficking.
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A narrow sandy foot trail between palm trees and dramatic rock formations.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

47. Roam Indian Canyons and take native waters

Riverside County Hike
Most of California’s palms are imported species. But when you hike into the Coachella Valley’s Indian Canyons — owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians — you see the real thing.

In Andreas Canyon, you follow a path along the year-round Andreas Creek, which is lined by Washingtonia filifera, the California fan palm. This is a genuine oasis, reached by an easy hike — a 1.2-mile round trip.

In Palm Canyon, a few miles away, the looping 2.7-mile Victor Trail drops into a shady, boulder-strewn fold in the desert hills (more native palms here), then returns along a higher ridge. Those canyons, along with Murray Canyon and Tahquitz Canyon (which has a seasonal waterfall and history that includes ancient myth and Jim Morrison), are all part of the Indian Canyons network of open space managed (and named) by Agua Caliente leaders.

Adult admission is $12; open daily Oct. 1 through July 4; on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in summer. No pets.

Bonus tip: To soak in the waters for which Palm Springs is named, head to the Agua Caliente Band’s Spa at Séc-he, which opened in April after a five-year reconstruction of the ancient mineral baths. Day passes cost $145 and treatments include a quartz bed, salt cave, 15 treatment rooms and 22 private mineral baths. The spa is part of Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza, where a cultural museum is due to open by year’s end.
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