The best California experiences, according to Californians

An artwork in the desert with letters that spell "welcome" and illustrations of a car and a smiling sun.
“Untitled (Welcome Sign), 1998,” at the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum.
(Philip Cheung / For The Times; illustrations by Grace Danico / For The Times)

This is part of “California 101,” our guide to the best experiences across the state.

Go east, Californians.

This is a message I heard after we published the 101 best California experiences, my big list of things to do across the state.

Many readers shared with me their own favorite places. And whether it was nature or culture they were thinking of, most pointed east of I-5, away from the beaches that dominate so many California stereotypes.


But beyond that, their recommendations were about as diverse as you’d expect in a state of 39 million people. Here’s a handful of destinations that readers believed should have made the list.

Bodie State Historic Park
Mono County

Bodie is a ghost town whose busiest days were in the 1870s and 1880s, when its population neared 10,000. By the 1960s, the town had emptied. That’s when the state stepped in and made it a park. “Time has been suspended. It has been many years since we visited. Our children loved it, as did we,” writes Carol Vyn of Newport Beach.

Almost all visitors come in summer because the park’s altitude (8,375 feet) makes it inaccessible by car in winter.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Bishop
Inyo County

This forest, Bryan Mack of Bishop writes, “has the oldest living things in the world. It’s an amazing, desolate hike, and the old groves are full of trees that are over 3,000 years old. [Actually, the U.S. Forest Service thinks some are more than 4,000 years old.] Unlike the redwoods, these trees look their age, gnarled and twisted by the rough terrain and climate. It’s a beautiful and unique sight you quite literally cannot experience anywhere else.”


The forest’s main attractions, Schulman Grove and Patriarch Grove, are part of Inyo National Forest.

Laguna Bowl and Water Tank Road Loop, Laguna Beach
Orange County

Marc Smith of Aliso Viejo spoke up for this spot, calling it a “strenuous hike with incredible views of the snow-capped mountains” in winter and the Pacific year-round. “The steep first section is worth the payoff of this view.” The route is 3.9 miles round-trip, by the count of hiking site, with an elevation gain of 918 feet. (No dogs.)

Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum, Joshua Tree
San Bernardino County

Leslie Kelly, currently on the road in a 23-foot motorhome, writes that Purifoy’s work in this Joshua Tree compound “makes the desert landscape part of its canvas, the rambling work of ‘found objects’ turned into art that shows us how much junk there is in our cluttered world. It’s haunting and beautiful.” It’s open daily, sunrise to sunset, and free.

The Ramona Pageant, Hemet
Riverside County


“It’s historically inaccurate, though beautiful,” writes Kay Gilbert of Manhattan Beach, “but the Ramona Pageant is a time capsule of the romantic, mythic California that was sold to generations of people ‘back East,’ and to Californians themselves.” This annual ritual, which has its own amphitheater, the Ramona Bowl, grew out of the 1884 California historical romance “Ramona,” written by Helen Hunt Jackson. This year’s performances took place April 23, 24, 31 and May 1. Next year’s edition will mark 100 years since the first Ramona Pageant.

Virginia Robinson Gardens, Beverly Hills
Los Angeles County

The Robinson mansion went up in 1911 — among the first in Beverly Hills. (If you remember Robinsons department stores, then you know where the family fortune came from.) When Virginia Robinson died in 1977, she left the 6-acre property to Los Angeles County. Nancey Kredell of Seal Beach writes that the gardens “have great docents with loving stories to tell about Virginia. One side of the property has ferns and palms and is 15 degrees cooler than the west side.” It is open for docent-led tours ($15 for adults, $11 for seniors 62 and up).