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Grace Danico/For The Times; Animations by Tomasz Czajka, Li Anne Liew

The 101 best California experiences

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Hey, California people: Imagine an iceberg.

There’s the tip, and then there’s the best part: the 87% that’s hidden below the waterline.

OK, maybe it’s not so great if you’re the Titanic. But to me, after decades spent up and down California reporting on travel, the arts and the outdoors, the unseen 87% represents immense possibilities. It’s where the gold is, beyond the selfie spots, the mouse ears, the Golden Gate Bridge and the postcard vista from the Tunnel View parking lot in Yosemite.

Right now, many of us are itching to explore. We’re looking for new places and new ways of seeing old places.

That’s why I’m offering up my guide to the 101 best California experiences, made of the most resonant spots I’ve found across the state — including many I’ve come across in the last few months. A hike through Sequoia National Park’s biggest trees, now flanked by last year’s ashes and this spring’s flowers. A taste of the 626 Night Market. The eerie shapes in San Luis Obispo’s Poly Canyon. A bowl of ice cream in Strathmore. The wordless grace of Bob Baker’s marionettes. On this list, which is numbered but not ranked, there are no theme parks (but plenty of kid-friendly destinations), not many museums (because the best are easy to find), no made-for-Instagram “pop-up experiences.” It’s a peek into my travel notebook through the Golden State, a place that’s easily glimpsed and poorly understood.


So take this list, listen to the experts as the pandemic ebbs and flows, and go when you can. Use our checklist (black and white version here) to check off the things you’ve done, the destinations you’ve explored. And let us know what would have been on your list, and maybe we’ll get there in the months ahead. If these pages help push you to see anyplace or meet anyone new in the vast backyard we share, that’s a win.

Can we start summer now?

Showing  Places
A view of Alcatraz sitting on an island in San Francisco Bay.
(Caroline Purser / Getty Images)

1. Escape to Alcatraz

San Francisco Attraction
From 1934 to 1963, Alcatraz was our nation’s most dramatically sited penitentiary, home to gangsters from Al Capone to Whitey Bulger. But it has important civil rights history too.

When you reach the island aboard the 15-minute Alcatraz Cruises ferry from San Francisco’s Pier 33, one of the first things you see is graffiti from 1969-71, when Native American protesters occupied the island. The National Park Service opened the site, including the cellhouse, to the public in 1973. A current exhibition, “The Big Lockup,” examines the culture of incarceration in the U.S., where some 2.3 million Americans are behind bars. Tour prices start at $41 for adults, $25 for children (ages 5-11). Night tours are slightly pricier.

Bonus tip: For decades Alcatraz has been a tough ticket, with tours selling out weeks in advance. But now, with tourism to San Francisco still down dramatically, booking an Alcatraz visit is easy. If you’ve never done it (I never got around to it until 2017), this might be the time.
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River guide in a whitewater raft on the water
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

2. Raft the American River

El Dorado County Activity
Running a river is a signature thrill in California’s Gold Country — and if it’s early summer you can expect a few splashes of cold water on your face. Guides say the south fork of the American River is a perfect introduction to river rafting, thanks to its evocative scenery and relatively mild Class II and III rapids. Rookies should 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. (Since there’s a dam upstream, water releases are steady and predictable.)

Once you are more experienced, there’s whiter water — Class IV — waiting along the middle and north forks of the American. Half-day and all-day rafting trips typically cost $120-$190 per person. Some companies offer two-day, 20-mile trips with a night of camping.

Bonus tip: Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where the Gold Rush began, is less than a mile from many of Coloma’s river outfitters along California 49. Placerville, handy to the river, is the nearest town with a selection of restaurants along its Main Street. I liked Heyday Cafe.
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People read a sign at the bottom of stairs leading up to a building.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

3. Ferry to Angel Island, where immigrants waited

Marin and San Francisco counties Attraction
It doesn’t get massive crowds but Angel Island State Park (served daily by the Golden Gate Ferry from San Francisco’s Ferry Building, Gate B, $14 each way) is a key landmark in Asian American history. Today, many visit the 740-acre island just to hike or ride bikes; it’s a verdant spot just off the coast of Tiburon in Marin County.

But from 1910 to 1940, it had another identity entirely. This 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 in the Immigration Station and barracks, a 1.5-mile walk from the Ayala Cove ferry landing. You can walk through the barracks (a.k.a. the Detention Barracks Museum, open Wednesday through Sunday), though guided tours have not yet resumed. In the same compound, you can also visit the fledgling Angel Island Immigration Museum, housed in the island’s old hospital and open on weekends from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Bonus tip: Instead of lining up at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, think about driving out to Tiburon — a handsome, upscale, waterfront town of 9,200 — and catching a 10-minute Angel Island Ferry ride from its downtown.
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Visitors walk on a meandering path through fields of orange California poppies
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

4. Enter a world of 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. The poppy bloom, which varies widely from year to year, can blanket the slopes. Purple lupine and other wildflowers may show up too. This 1,781-acre preserve ($10 per car to enter) includes 7 miles of broad, smooth paths for walking among the flowers. (A portion, just west of the visitor center, is wheelchair-accessible.) Don’t pick any poppies or go tromping off-trail. But you can 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. Congratulations. You’re now a flower dork.

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
(Andia / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

5. Crunch the crusty plains of Badwater in Death Valley

Inyo County Attraction
Death Valley National Park’s low point is also a highlight.

And Badwater Basin, a crusty old lake bed between forbidding mountains, isn’t just Death Valley’s low point. It’s the lowest, driest and often hottest point in North America, 282 feet below sea level. It’s especially vivid and perplexing just after sunset when there’s a prominent moon — because how can there be a moon in the sky, when you seem to be standing on its surface already? The salty valley floor crunches underfoot. Also, don’t miss the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes or Zabriskie Point, both sunrise hot spots. (Scotty’s Castle, another longtime favorite, will be closed for repairs until at least April 2023.) 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: If you’d rather rattle your bones on a rugged road, take a four-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance on the 26-mile journey to the Racetrack, another dry lake bed, where wind and low temperatures combine to mysteriously scoot rocks across the vast, white plain. It’s terrific and an eerie photo op.
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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)

6. Flop by the lily pond in Balboa Park

San Diego County Park
Most Balboa Park newbies start with the San Diego Zoo, which is, let’s face it, the park’s 800-pound gorilla. It houses 3,700 animals on 100 acres and its fame is global for good reason. New in ’22 is the zoo’s Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, a 3.2-acre kid-focused interactive space where the old petting zoo used to be. Zoo admission is $67 for an adult, $57 for kids 3-11.

But wait a minute. Consider that the zoo is less than 10% of Balboa Park, which covers 1,200 acres. The park also is home to about 20 museums and cultural organizations featuring fine art, photography, global folk art, natural history, science, flight and more, plus a new Comic-Con Museum. The Old Globe theater complex includes three venues. To feel the park’s full embrace — at no cost — flop on the lawn at the big lily pond by the Botanical Building. The building’s interior is closed for repairs, but you can enjoy the koi in the pond and stroll up the Prado. Try lunch at the Prado restaurant.

Bonus tip: The miniature landscapes in the San Diego Model Railroad Museum will knock you out.
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Aerial view of the Battery Point Lighthouse
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

7. Walk to Battery Point’s lighthouse at low tide

Del Norte County Attraction
There are dozens of lighthouses and light stations in California but my favorite is the state’s northernmost, which is the only one you can walk to at low tide. Battery Point Lighthouse, pride of Crescent City, presides over a little hill that’s an island at high tide. “It’s been here since 1856,” keeper Rhonda Reeves told me, “and you can’t beat the views.” This stubborn little building survived the tsunami of 1964, when an Alaska quake sent massive waves pummeling the shore, killing 11 people while the lighthouse keepers held tight as chaos swirled around them. You can tour the lighthouse interior daily April through September (tides permitting) and on weekends in colder months.

Bonus tip: Sixteen miles south of Crescent City waits a classic roadside attraction: the Trees of Mystery, which includes trails through a redwood forest, an elevated canopy walk, a gondola and a 49-foot-high Paul Bunyan standing out front with his 35-foot blue ox, Babe. Don’t be surprised when Mr. Bunyan says hello — there’s a hidden sound system and live narrator helping the big man make small talk.
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Welcome to Los Alamos sign at the side of the road
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

8. Eat well on Bell Street, Los Alamos

Santa Barbara County Shopping
This tiny town between Buellton and Santa Maria gets less press than the rest of Santa Barbara County’s wine country. But Los Alamos (population 1,600) has an unpretentious, serious-about-food vibe and just enough going on to fill a pastoral weekend. (Much of the town is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.)

Bell Street, the town’s 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 won a Michelin star last year, offers a $75 prix fixe dinner menu, Thursdays through Mondays. (It also does lunch on those days.) 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 Skyview Los Alamos may be the answer.

Bonus tip: Several restaurants in town also rent cottages through Airbnb, including Bob’s Well Bread Bakery, Bodega Wine and Beer Garden and Pico.
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Bixby Creek Bridge, which spans Bixby Canyon on the Big Sur coast, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

9. Munch a burger with Big Sur at your feet

Monterey County Attraction
In all the California coastline, there is no more dramatic meeting of land and water than Big Sur. Also, possibly no more dramatic confluence of land, water and lunch than Nepenthe.

At this clifftop compound of two restaurants and a gift shop, diners since 1949 have gaped at the surf and rocks 800 feet below. Nepenthe restaurant does lunch and dinner indoors and out, including its celebrated Ambrosia burgers and vegetarian burgers. Café Kevah, on a terrace, does breakfast and lunch.

Once you’re full of calories, there’s plenty of hiking. In Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, you’ll find the half-mile trail overlooking McWay Falls. In Andrew Molera State Park, the Creamery Meadow Trail will take you across the Big Sur River. At Bixby Creek Bridge, you’ll find a familiar view and distracted drivers jockeying for parking spots.

Overnights can be challenging, because affordably priced public campgrounds often book up months in advance. At the private Ventana Campground, summer sites start at $80. At Big Sur Campground and Cabins, campsites this summer are fetching $190 a night and cabins are priced at $430 and more. If your pockets are even deeper than that, the Post Ranch Inn and Ventana Big Sur (where $1,000 a night is routine) stand ready.

Bonus tip: Be warned that mudslides (and sometimes fires) often force California 1 to close, so check its status on the Caltrans website before any journey.
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Children seated on the floor watch a performer manipulate a clown marionette puppet.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

10. Let Bob Baker’s people pull your heartstrings

Los Angeles County Attraction
If you have kids, great. If you don’t, it’s still a treat to take a seat in the Bob Baker Marionette Theater and submit to the utterly analog charm of puppets on strings.

Bob Baker founded the theater in 1963 with partner Alton Wood, created thousands of marionettes and ran the outfit for decades in a rustic cinderblock-walled space near the edge of downtown Los Angeles. Legions of pint-sized Angelenos passed through, many of whom are now grandparents.

Now comes a new chapter. Since Baker’s death in 2014 at age 90, the troupe has moved to a splendid (and very red) space on York Avenue at the border of Highland Park and Eagle Rock.

The venue holds fewer than 100 people and most kids sit “criss-cross applesauce” style on the carpet in front. Weekend shows (“Something to Crow About” is a perennial) typically begin with jaunty organ intro music by Mr. Ed Torres, followed by about an hourlong presentation that features 100 or more marionettes, which waltz madly, sing operatically, bat eyelashes and operate right at a kid’s eye level. One Saturday per month, there’s a Sabados Animados cartoon morning. At the end of the regular shows (don’t tell the kids) there’s surprise ice cream. Tickets $22 for adults and children, advance reservations required.

Bonus tip: This stretch of York includes plenty of treats for grown-ups. The Highland Cafe oozes cool (avocado toast, $10), the York serves gastropub fare and the Pop-Hop sells books and offers arts workshops.
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A junk sculpture is seen in a desert landscape near the Salton Sea.
(David McNew / Getty Images for Lumix)

11. Anticipate the apocalypse at Bombay Beach, where art and nature collide

Imperial County Attraction
Stop worrying about the end of the world and come see what it might look like. When you spend a sunset on Bombay Beach, Armageddon seems to have arrived already, leaving a ghostly collection of newly minted art, weather-beaten ruins and lived-in trailers, tidy and otherwise. It’s Bodie meets Burning Man on 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 it’s 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.

It’s edgy but beloved. Especially by migrating birds, frugal retirees and a gaggle of artists. There’s even a Bombay Beach Biennale (which denotes the January-March spell when many part-time residents converge to stage events, make things and build community). 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 5-foot berm between the community and the seashore (5th and E) to behold the most dramatically sited sculptures and installations, baking and crumbling amid the miles of gritty sand, salty water and empty sky. Anyone intrigued by the rebel spirit and raw creativity at nearby Salvation Mountain and Slab City will be right at home at Bombay Beach.

Bonus tip: Drive through town again once the sun is down, because several installations are lighted after dark.
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Waterfalls pour into a pool surrounded by greenery.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

12. Soak up the mist from Burney Falls

Shasta County Attraction
On a spring or early summer day near the northern edge of California, you can easily see four waterfalls before dark. Start with Burney Falls. It’s 129 feet high, with a wide, thundering cascade. And it is the headliner 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. The secret is out about Burney Falls. Rangers say the place jams so full of tourists on some summer weekends and holidays that traffic on Highway 89 is backed up for an hour. Get there on a weekday if you possibly can.

Bonus tip: For more falling water, continue to McCloud Falls, a series of three cascades about 45 miles northwest of Burney Falls along California 89.
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A cable car turns a corner on a San Francisco street
(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

13. Grab pole position on a San Francisco cable car

San Francisco Attraction
Nothing says San Francisco more distinctly than a cable car rumbling and squeaking up a hill. 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 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 50 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. That will give you a day of travel on cable cars, historic streetcars and other Muni and Muni Metro transit. For a mellower ride with fewer tourists and great views down to the Bay Bridge, try the California Street line.

Bonus tip: For the fuller story on how your thrill ride traces back to 1873 and a man named Andrew Hallidie, head to the Cable Car Museum (it’s free) in the old Washington-Mason powerhouse and car barn on Nob Hill.
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People in front of a train car at the California State Railroad Museum
(Nick Otto / Getty Images)

14. Inspect cabooses at the state railroad museum

Sacramento County Museum
A train-spotter’s haven, the California State Railroad Museum houses 19 steam locomotives and explores the outsize role of railroads in the state’s history. It stands beside the Sacramento River, next to the touristy, kid-friendly Old Sacramento State Historic Park and the Delta King (a 1927 paddle-wheel riverboat that’s now a hotel).

The rail museum, open daily, includes sleeping cars, dining cars, cabooses and exhibits covering subjects from the harsh lives of exploited Chinese rail workers to the luxurious accommodations of high-end railroad photographers Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg. On weekends, there are 50-minute excursion rides along the Sacramento River (adult tickets $15-$25). Adult admission is $12.

Bonus tip: The 4.2-mile Sacramento River Bike Trail runs right past the museum, and Amtrak’s Sacramento Valley Station is a five-minute walk away.
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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)

15. See how California Christianity and colonization began at the Carmel Mission

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, still home to an active parish. Check out 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 native 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 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 prettiest might be Santa Barbara (big, pink facade). The kid-friendliest might be the one at La Purísima State Historic Park near Lompoc, which includes paddocks full of horses and livestock.
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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)

16. Sail to Catalina Island (and watch for dolphins)

Los Angeles County Attraction
When you need an island escape with creature comforts and Hawaii is too far, Catalina is the answer. The ferry ride is about an hour and you may encounter playful dolphins or a breaching whale on the way. 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: boat rides, submarine tours, snorkeling, miniature golf, cycling, Descanso Beach Club 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 $77 to $81 for adults.

Bonus tip: There’s hiking and camping near Two Harbors and beyond, 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 monochrome white statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

17. Find César Chávez’s legacy tucked into 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, about 30 miles southeast of Bakersfield. Chávez (1927-93) and his wife, Helen (1928-2016), are buried there, at a site now known as César E. Chávez National Monument, tended by the National Park Service.

Chávez, who was born in Yuma, Ariz., might be the most influential labor leader in California history. The national monument’s visitor center, part of a 187-acre compound managed by the Chávez Foundation, includes biographical videos, a re-creation of his office, a memorial garden and exhibits detailing the many causes he 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 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 a roadside overlook, 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 dozens of freight trains daily. Employing an array of bridges and tunnels, the route makes an elegant spiral as it climbs at 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)

18. Roll slowly through California’s foremost drive-through tree

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 handsomest. 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 $10. It is owned by John Stephenson, the fourth in a long family line of tree-tenders. Browse in the big gift shop. Bring a picnic. Admire the chainsaw carvings and the smell of the damp forest.

Then go deeper. About 75 miles farther north on U.S. 101, near Garberville, you’ll reach the 31-mile-long Avenue of the Giants. At Humboldt Redwoods State Park, stop to inspect the magnificent corpse of the Dyerville Giant, once thought to be the world’s tallest tree at 370 feet.

Bonus tip: Tuck in your mirrors.
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A sign reading "Chez Panisse" arches over a doorway into a wooden building.
(Jessica Christian / Getty Images)

19. Sample something fresh in the dining room where California cuisine took off

Alameda County Restaurant
In the kitchen of this converted Arts and Crafts home, owner-chef Alice Waters and her gang more or less launched the modern idea of California cuisine in 1971.

Half a century later, Chez Panisse is still popular — so popular that its high-toned downstairs restaurant can charge $175 per person for a four-course set-menu dinner (before taxes, tip and beverages) and still book up weeks ahead. After offering takeout meals through the pandemic, the restaurant and more casual upstairs cafe both reopened for dinner in March, with the cafe expected to reopen for lunch soon. The menu, seasonally tuned, changes daily in the cafe, weekly in the restaurant. Reservations are accepted up to a month in advance. The restaurant and cafe close on Sundays and Mondays.

Bonus tip: This stretch of Shattuck Avenue, known as the “gourmet ghetto,” also includes the Cheese Board Collective, just across the street from Chez Panisse and founded in the same year. It’s a worker-owned co-op that’s become an empire, with a bakery and cheese shop (both open Tuesdays through Saturdays), along with a pizzeria that serves pizzas and salads Thursdays through Saturdays.
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A person walks past a mural painted on the underside of a bridge at Chicano Park
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

20. Gape at the murals of a movement — on the underbelly of a bridge

San Diego County Park
Even with no social context, the murals — improbably arrayed beneath the Coronado Bridge in Chicano Park — would be striking. But context matters. When state and local officials expanded Interstate 5 through San Diego and built the Coronado Bridge in the 1960s, they split the long-standing blue-collar neighborhood of Barrio Logan.

Then in 1970, when the California Highway Patrol started building an office where a park was expected, the largely Mexican American neighborhood rose up, occupied the site for 12 days and at last got a 7-acre park built. Soon after came the murals, followed by restaurants, galleries and the barrio’s designation as a cultural district. Now there are about 80 murals, some celebrating Mexican icons Pancho Villa and Frida Kahlo. In 2017, federal officials added the park to the National Register of Historic Places, crediting artists Salvador Torres, Mario Torero, Victor Ochoa and others.

Bonus tip: Within two blocks, you can get flautas at Las 4 Milpas, tacos at Salud!, beer at Border X Brewing or coffee at Por Vida Barrio Logan, all along Logan Avenue.
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Buildings in Chinatown with a Bruce Lee mural, and red paper lanterns strung across the street.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

21. Catch the dawn of a new era in Chinatown

San Francisco Attraction
San Francisco’s Chinatown was the first neighborhood of its kind in North America. It’s where journalist Sam Brannan showed off a piece of gold from the American River to a crowd on May 12, 1848, setting off the Gold Rush. And it’s going through big changes — fancy restaurants coming in, old-school souvenir vendors fading away.

So get yourself to Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square, where Brannan flashed his nugget and lots of locals now play cards and ride skateboards. Walk among the dangling lanterns of Grant Avenue — the oldest street in the city — and Stockton Street, where markets are filled with Asian produce and browsing Chinese seniors. Pause beneath the brightly painted balconies of Waverly Place. This might be the most densely populated neighborhood in California.

For a taste of its possible future, check out the China Live food bar-and-retail complex on Broadway (opened in 2017), which often gets called “the Eataly of Chinese food.” Drop in on Mister Jiu’s on Waverly Place (opened 2016) or Empress by Boon (opened 2021, with wraparound views of the city and bay).

Bonus tip: The tiny Golden Gate Fortune Cookies factory (on Ross Alley since 1962) and the Chinatown Kite Shop (on Grant Avenue since 1969), prime stops for families with young children, are hanging in there. Also, neighborhood organizations have been staging lion and dragon dances every Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m.
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People take photos of a quaint stone and wood building with people sitting out front on benches.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

22. Spoon 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. But still, the Cold Spring Tavern is a special spot, tucked along the roadside on San Marcos Pass above Santa Barbara, where it has been uniting bikers and dressed-down upper-crusters for decades. Built in the 1880s, it’s heated in part by four stone fireplaces. Lunch options include three distinct flavors of chili, all time-tested (and yes, you can order a sampler).

The fanciest part of the property is its dimly lit restaurant interior, where venison and rabbit often turn up on the menu and dinner is served on Fridays and Saturdays (reservations required). 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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Wood buildings with signs for Johnson's Livery and Feed Seed Tack, and a set of wagon wheels, at Columbia State Historic Park
(Aric Crabb / Getty Images)

23. Chase the gold rush in a town time forgot

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, museum, hotels and cottages, a gold-panning operation and stagecoach rides. 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 stepped in to acquire land and make 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 — both of which claim visits by Mark Twain when he was still Samuel Clemens — 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 Clemens/Twain heard a story in a bar that he spun into “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” his first literary success as a writer.
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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. Nibble and sip at SLO’s farmers market

San Luis Obispo County Farmers' market
Since 1983, the Downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers Market has been taking over the heart of that college town, giving pedestrians free rein to nibble, sip, shop and generally spread out on Higuera Street. It happens Thursday nights from 6 to 9 p.m.

At full strength, the market fills five blocks with close to 100 vendors, including produce, street food, assorted artisans and live music. You can get ribs here, and pulled pork, corn on the cob, kombucha, soap, tamales, home loans (yes, a lender has a booth) and that particular Central California secular sacrament (a crescent-shaped bit of beef, grilled over red oak) that we 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: This market isn’t on campus but Cal Poly students are a key part of it, making up an estimated 60% or more of the workers and a large chunk of the browsers. For even more proof that they’re a big constituency here, have a look, and maybe a selfie, at downtown’s Bubblegum Alley (it’s just what it sounds like) between Garden and Broad streets along Higuera.
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Stage and seats inside the El Capitan Theatre
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

25. Connect your kid to Hollywood at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre

Los Angeles County Venue
Hollywood Boulevard still houses more blight and desperation than any visitor or resident wants to see. Yet there is showbiz history here, and if you pick spots carefully, the boulevard is doable and rewarding for grownups and kids alike. The kid-friendliest address on the boulevard is El Capitan Theatre, built for live stage shows in 1926, used for the premiere of “Citizen Kane” in 1941, revived in the 1990s by Disney, which opens many new films here. Keep an eye (and ear) out for the venue’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ, which rises from beneath the stage, gleaming like gold, and sends its sound through more than 2,500 pipes.

Just across the street are the TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly known as Grauman’s); the Dolby Theatre (home to the Oscars); and the mall at Hollywood & Highland (now being rebranded as Ovation Hollywood). Underfoot you’ll find stars from the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

See the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel about a block to the west? That’s where the first Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1929. Leading upstairs from the lobby is a tiled staircase where Shirley Temple tap-danced with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in “The Little Colonel” (1935).

Bonus tip: If you want to strike a blow against misery on the boulevard, local efforts include My Friend’s Place, which serves homeless youths, and the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic.
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Aerial view of Emerald Bay State Park
(Yury Zaryadov / EyeEm/Getty Images)

26. Stand high above Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay

El Dorado County Park
Because it’s a seven-hour drive from Los Angeles, the big, blue lake at the California-Nevada border gets more visitors from up north than down south. But Lake Tahoe demands our attention — not only the winter skiing and boarding at the South Shore’s Heavenly Ski Resort and its neighboring slopes but 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 (all on the slopes above the bay) are wrap-around wonderlands of lake and forest, with tiny Fannette Island and its stone teahouse ruins completing the scene. It’s one of my two favorite views on the lake (the other is the stony shallows of Sand Harbor Beach on the North Shore’s Nevada side). 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, my condolences. Maybe it’s time to 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. For a bite or drink (or an overnight) on the western shore, try Sunnyside Lodge, 17 miles north of Emerald Bay.
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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. Smell roses, inspect insects and enjoy Endeavour at Exposition Park

Los Angeles County Park
Think of the USC-adjacent Exposition Park as a sampler, with all the culture, science and beauty you can absorb in the space of a few hours. 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 Sept. 5) you can handle. There’s also a rose garden.

Oh, and there’s sport here too: The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is the only venue anywhere to host two Summer Olympics (1932 and 1984) and Banc of California Stadium is the site of L.A. Football Club soccer and many a pop concert.

Bonus tip: More than 300 Kobe Bryant murals have sprung up throughout Southern California since the 2020 helicopter crash that killed him and his daughter Gianna. Check out this mural map and you’ll find that Exposition Park is surrounded by them.
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Sea lions sunbathe on a dock at Pier 39.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

28. Cover the Ferry Building and waterfront in San Francisco

San Francisco Attraction
In food-and-view-obsessed San Francisco, no venue is foodier than the Ferry Building and no view beats the Golden Gate Bridge. The real estate that connects them — and Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero — 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). Start at the foot of Market Street in the 1898 Ferry Building, with its restaurants, retailers, a farmers market (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) and prime views of the nightly Bay Bridge Lights Show. 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; hands-on science at the Exploratorium; a tourist-driven shopping scene (with sea lion soundtrack) at Pier 39; and a whole lot of T-shirt vendors and seafood restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Bonus tip: If you rent a bike at Blazing Saddles, Sports Basement or San Francisco Bike Rentals ($25-$75 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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A tourist takes a photo of the Forever Marilyn statue
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

29. Spot Marilyn mooning the Palm Springs Art Museum

Riverside County Attraction
The hoteliers of Palm Springs paid to put up the 26-foot-tall sculpture “Forever Marilyn” — which some love and some hate. She’s positioned on Museum Way to face busy Palm Canyon Drive, flashing her backside at the city’s art museum. If you like this Marilyn, go ahead and grab a few selfies and try to remember the film in which Monroe’s white skirt billowed like this (it rhymes with “Devon Ear Witch”). As a note by the sculpture says, Monroe was a frequent visitor to the desert; she was spotted in 1949 at Charlie Farrell’s Racquet Club and signed by a William Morris talent agent.

If you’re not so fond of this work by Seward Johnson, get in line behind Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight, who calls it “adolescent sculptural trash.” Or stride ride past Marilyn to the Palm Springs Art Museum (open Thursday through Sunday), which has placed a few outdoor works of its own. One of them (also selfie fodder) is a 1968 Chevy Malibu balanced on its nose above a reflecting pool. (It’s called “History of Suspended Time (A monument for the impossible),” by Gonzalo Lebrija.)

Bonus tip: The Palm Springs Art Museum also has a 4-acre Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden in Palm Desert and an Architecture and Design Center, headquartered in a converted 1961 bank building on South Palm Canyon Drive. The design center store is in the old vault.
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Tourists stand by the General Sherman Tree
(miroslav_1 / Getty Images)

30. Salute General Sherman and Sequoia’s other big trees

Tulare and Fresno counties Attraction
Why salute? Because General Sherman is the biggest tree on Earth (by volume). It stands within the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park, 275 feet high, 102 feet around at its base, inspiring awe, frustration and relief among just about all who arrive with phones or cameras.

The awe is simple. This is an epic living thing, about 2,200 years old. The frustration is because its stature resists capture. And the relief is because it lives at all.

Sequioa and Kings Canyon parks have been menaced by six major fires in the last seven years, including the KNP Complex fire and Windy fire, both sparked by lightning in September. On the way in, you’ll see thousands of blackened trees, interspersed with early regrowth. And you may remember that firefighters wrapped Gen. Sherman in fire-resistant material that looked like aluminum foil.

To reach the general, head north via highways 99 and 65, pass the gateway town of Three Rivers, then enter Sequoia National Park and follow Generals Highway (weather permitting) to the Giant Forest. Take your selfie. Then spend time on the nearby Big Trees or Moro Rock trails, which usually have a better trees-to-people ratio.

Back in the car, if you stay on Generals Highway bearing north, it will take you deeper into fire-damaged areas (beginning just north of the still-closed Lodgepole Visitor Center) and eventually deliver you to the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park, another haven of surviving sequoias. (The highway opened for the season on March 18.)

Bonus tip: In Three Rivers, you can get a good burger at Buckaroo Diner, a cold beer at the Gateway Restaurant or a rustic room or cabin at the Buckeye Tree Lodge.
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The central garden with the Getty Museum in the background
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

31. Ascend to the Getty

Los Angeles County Museum
This way, please, to Van Gogh, Cezanne, Hockney and the world’s wealthiest art institution.

Even by Los Angeles standards, the Getty Center in Brentwood is a young landmark (completed in 1997). But this 110-acre hilltop museum campus of bright, spare buildings is backed by a $9.2-billion endowment. And it gives us access to 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 fairly spectacular views toward the Pacific.

Admission is free but parking is $20, and you must reserve a timed-entry spot. (It’s closed on Mondays.) Take the tram up the hill and head for the West Pavilion, which houses photography and Impressionists. Check out the cactus garden, which seems to float in the sky. And spare a few minutes to read up on the strange life of 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. Trace the line between junk and nature at Glass Beach

Mendocino County Beach
Here’s proof that with time, the churning Pacific can turn our broken bottles and car parts into something like nature. Fort Bragg, the workaday city 11 miles north of quaint Mendocino, used three beaches as dumps for decades, then in the 1960s decided that was unwise. 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 pre-1967 automobile taillights).

Families comb the shore and snap photos. It’s a lesson in planetary healing. And it’s a catch-and-release situation: Parks officials forbid visitors from carrying away a natural resource. 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, the city’s Noyo Harbor has some new energy lately. For an upscale overnight, try the Noyo Harbor Inn, built in the 1860s, reopened in 2017 after a big rehab. For fresh food on the water, try the Noyo River Grill (opened in 2018) or the neighboring Princess Seafood restaurant (Friday-Monday lunch, opened in 2021). The Princess menu features sablefish and Dungeness crab caught by an all-woman crew on a 42-foot boat whose name is ... Princess. Live music on weekends, too.
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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. Hover over Golden Gate Park in a semi-secret museum tower

San Francisco Park
Golden Gate Park has all sorts of cultural, natural and not-so-natural wonders, including the waters of Stow Lake, the heights of Strawberry Hill, the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden and San Francisco Botanical Garden. On the museum front, it offers the California Academy of Sciences (the building with the “living roof” covered with local native plants) and the De Young Museum (with an art collection that includes a bit of everything, including an Alice Neel show through July 10).

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 Observation tower with 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.)

Then head out again and go look for the bison paddock and the golf course. Or just wander the park’s network of paths and car-free roads among all the other walkers, runners, skaters, cyclists and Segway riders.

Bonus tip: It’s hard to imagine the green park expanse 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, placed at the direction of pioneering park superintendent John McLaren, who also devised fake lakes and fake waterfalls.
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People stand outside Walt Disney Concert Hall.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

34. Savor the arts on Grand Avenue in DTLA

Los Angeles County Attraction
Downtown Los Angeles, having slumbered, awakened and stumbled through these last decades, now staggers from pandemic toward prosperity. And Grand Avenue, the city’s cultural capital, leads the way. Walt Disney Concert Hall, the curvaceous home that Frank Gehry designed for the L.A. Philharmonic, shimmers. Catch a concert or do a self-guided tour. The Broad museum looms like a great white hive of contemporary art. (Admission is free but you must book in advance; closed Mondays and Tuesdays.)

There are so many more arts organizations close at hand, including the Music Center and Center Theatre Group, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Colburn School (for performing arts), you could easily spend three days and nights exploring this territory. And now there’s something else. Across the street from Disney Hall, a pair of mixed-used skyscrapers known as the Grand L.A. (also designed by Gehry, but more angular) will open in coming weeks and months with apartments, retail, restaurants and a swanky hotel, the 28-story Conrad Los Angeles (which is taking bookings for stays beginning June 1). If the idea of parking in this ever-denser district alarms you (as it does me), take a Metro train to the Civic Center/Grand Park station at South Hill and West 1st streets.

Bonus tip: Don’t forget the green bit. Between jolts of culture, recharge at Grand Park, a 12-acre rectangle of grass and foliage (and a playground) that flows from Grand Avenue down Bunker Hill to Spring Street. There’s a fountain and Starbucks near the top, City Hall at the bottom.
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People blur in front of vegetable and fruit stands at an indoor market.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

35. Nosh and schmooze at Grand Central Market

Los Angeles County Food Market
Grand Central Market, which dates back more than a century, gives you a quicker, slicker view of L.A. diversity than just about any address in town. Gentrified in recent years, the space offers quick food from around the world and hipster takes on favorites like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich ($5.50 and up), 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). In all, there are about 40 food stalls and several craft vendors in the less-trafficked bazaar downstairs. If you told me I had one hour to give a newcomer a first taste of Los Angeles, we’d spend at least 10 minutes here.

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. Spy sun, moon and stars at Griffith Observatory

Los Angeles County Attraction
Before you even enter Griffith Observatory on its perch in the Hollywood Hills, it lavishes gifts upon you. Looking west from the lawn, you see the Hollywood sign from a fetching angle (with James Dean’s bust in the foreground). Looking south at sunrise or sunset, you see Los Angeles at its most orderly: a tidy, twinkling grid of city lights, with Western, Normandie and Vermont avenues stretching straight to the horizon (or so it seems). And on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, when you’re allowed inside (it’s free), you can scan distant stars and check your weight on Mars. For snacks on those days, you’ll have the Cafe at the End of the Universe, whose patio tables have commanding city views.

Since 1935, Angelenos have embraced Griffith Observatory as “the hood ornament of Los Angeles,” in the words of observatory director E.C. Krupp. It’s the architectural star of 4,210-acre Griffith Park, with three green copper domes, a startling amount of subterranean space (thanks to a major expansion completed in 2006) and parking — well, the parking isn’t pretty. The lot fills fast, as does nearby curbside parking (metered at $4 hourly). You might want to catch a DASH bus from the Greek Theater or the Metro station at Sunset and Vermont. Or hike up from the Greek Theatre parking lot.

Bonus tip: Hike from the observatory’s Charlie Turner Trailhead to the Tom LaBonge Panorama atop Mt. Hollywood, a roughly 2.6-mile round-trip journey with big views of the Hollywood Hills and San Fernando Valley. And be sure to read up on the philanthropist-felon who made all this possible, Griffith J. Griffith.
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The exterior of Harris Ranch Inn
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

37. Refuel (or dodge taxes) at Harris Ranch

Fresno County Attraction
The road is long. The grills are hot. The restrooms are clean.

Thus Harris Ranch, which is neither scenic nor historic and stands in Coalinga, has become indispensable to California travel. The ranch dates to the 1930s but didn’t become relevant to travelers until 1977. That’s when the Harrises, already busy with cattle and crops, opened a burger stand to serve Central Valley drivers on the just-completed Interstate 5.

Then the burger stand became a steakhouse. And hotel. Now, though they sold their beef operation in 2018, the Harris people have a diversified roadside citadel. Its Ranch Kitchen, Prime Steakhouse and Horseshoe Lounge seat more than 450 people. There’s a bakery and a boutique. The hotel has 153 rooms and an Olympic-style pool. The gas station is neighbored by Harris Ranch Express BBQ.

Full disclosure: You may catch a whiff of the neighboring feedyards. (In fact, author Michael Pollan says the ranch led him to change the way he eats.) Still, if you find yourself hungry or sleepy or desperate for a clean bathroom between San Francisco and Los Angeles, this place may be your refuge.

Bonus tip: Fresno County is one of the few California jurisdictions that charge no hotel room tax, and Harris Ranch Inn charges none of the half-hidden resort fees increasingly common at vacation hotels. As a result, a $169 room at the Harris Ranch Inn front desk will actually cost you $169. Breathtaking.
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The Roman Pool at Hearst Castle has blue mosaic tile walls and white statues
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

38. Count rooms and whisper ‘Rosebud’ at Hearst Castle

San Luis Obispo County Attraction
In a state known for its outlandish mansions, this is the boondoggle that set the standard a century ago. Though construction began in the 1920s, it continued into the ’40s.

There are 165 rooms in Hearst Castle, which was designed by Julia Morgan according to the whims of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (who died in 1951). Now owned and operated by the state park system, the castle closed in 2020 because of the pandemic, then suffered storm damage to the road between the visitor center and the castle. Repairs kept the castle closed until just this month.

Returning visitors will find the castle is still surrounded by three guest houses, one elaborate tiled indoor pool, another pool outdoors, all on 127 hilltop acres of gardens and grounds and the occasional roaming zebra.

The rooms are festooned with hundreds of artworks and artifacts Hearst collected abroad. And if this all seems vaguely familiar, it’s because writer-director-actor Orson Welles was thinking about Hearst when he made the 1941 movie “Citizen Kane.”

Five different public tours are offered (some wheelchair-accessible, some not), plus evening tours in spring and fall. Tickets start at $30 per adult, $15 for children ages 5 to 12.

Bonus tip: If you’re not spending the night in Cambria, as many travelers do, the Cavalier Oceanfront Resort, fronting the ocean in San Simeon, is a good option.
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A dramatic red sunset silhouetting Joshua trees.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

39. Hop on rocks at Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree National Park

San Bernardino County National Park
The strange trees, innumerable rocks and wide sky of Joshua Tree National Park bring climbers, boulderers, desert campers, stargazers and geology geeks from all over — more than 3 million visitors in 2021. I like its Hidden Valley area, which 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 stretch out in a luxury-fitted Airstream trailer and you’ve got $300 a night to spend, check out AutoCamp Joshua Tree.
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Music & Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Gustavo Dudamel conducts the LA Phil during rehearsal
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

40. Pack a picnic for the Hollywood Bowl

Los Angeles County Venue
The Hollywood Bowl, summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, turns 100 this year. 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 bring wine and beer. Note that bringing in alcohol is forbidden at some shows.

Aaron Copland, Deep Purple, Igor Stravinsky, Ella Fitzgerald and the Beatles have played here. There’s a jazz festival and a mariachi festival every summer and around July 4 there are a few fireworks shows (this year featuring Steve Martin and Martin Short). The 2022 “Sound of Music” sing-along will be Sept. 17.

The venue holds about 18,000 and parking is as messy as you’d suspect. (Try to get dropped off at Lot B or use a shuttle bus.)

And speaking of beloved traditions: Some morning rehearsals at the bowl are open to the public, typically on summer Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. (seating on side benches in Section D). Rehearsals were closed because of COVID in 2021, but the hope is to open in summer 2022. For the latest information, email or call (323) 850-2000 (the “hold” music is Holst).

Bonus tip: There are two other summer outdoor music venues in these hills: the Greek Theater (capacity: about 5,900) in Griffith Park; and the Ford Amphitheater (capacity: about 1,200) at Cahuenga Pass.
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A life-size guitar-playing man marks a grave at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, with a white mausoleum in the distance.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

41. Stretch out below (and above) the stars at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Los Angeles County Attraction
This 124-year-old graveyard — wedged between Paramount Studios and one of the ugliest strip malls you’ll ever encounter — might be the liveliest cemetery in California. Hollywood Forever 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, Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone, Rudolph Valentino, Burt Reynolds, Chris Cornell and Valerie Harper. Johnny Ramone’s grave marker — a sculpture of the leather-jacketed guitarist leaning back and blasting a power chord — is one you won’t forget. Hollywood Forever’s yoga sessions (pay by donation) are held six mornings per week. (The cemetery is still doing interments and cremations.)

Devoted seekers of celebrity graves could head from here to the sprawling Forest Lawn in Glendale (where Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor are) or Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park (where Marilyn Monroe is). But for most of us, this is plenty.

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. If you think Southern California lacks fall color, you’ve never seen Hollywood Forever festooned with Día de Los Muertos finery.
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People take selfies in front of the Hollywood
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

42. See the Hollywood sign in myriad ways

Los Angeles County Attraction
So you want to get personal with the Hollywood sign. First, you should know it’s on Mt. Lee, not Mt. Hollywood. Next, you can either pick a selfie spot down below or hike to the summit of Mt. Lee and look down at the sign’s big, white letters (which will be backwards from that vantage).

I recommend the down-below option: Lake Hollywood Park at 3160 Canyon Lake Drive. It’s a grassy, dog-friendly spot with a kids’ play area and plenty of room to lay out a picnic and snap a thousand selfies with those famous letters looming above to the northeast. Unlike the residential streets all around (where homeowners make repelling sign-seekers a top priority), it’s got ample parking along the curb.

Still, a lot of people want that view from above. So here are two other options: The shortest hiking route to the summit, the Burbank Peak Trail (2.8 miles round-trip), is steep and rocky and requires parking in a neighborhood where sign-seekers are scorned. The route I’d rather take is a longer, gentler, wilder, five-hour journey. You start at Griffith Observatory (the Charlie Turner Trailhead) and do an 8.8-mile round trip on wider, flatter trails with stops atop Mt. Hollywood and Mt. Lee and views of Lake Hollywood, the Los Angeles Basin and the San Fernando Valley.

Bonus tip: Like to ride? Take a two-hour, $125 evening horseback ride in the Hollywood Hills with Sunset Ranch at the north end of Beachwood Drive. (There are daytime rides too.) You won’t get all the way up to the sign, but hey, you’re on horseback in Hollywood. You’re winning.
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Exterior of the Hotel del Coronado, fronted by a large oval lawn with palm trees
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

43. Wiggle your toes in the white sand at the Hotel del Coronado

San Diego County Hotel
Here’s a red-roofed seaside hotel that doesn’t need much introduction. The Hotel del Coronado is 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 (recently restored) and enormous pool, it includes several “neighborhoods” that have been added over the decades. For more space, brighter rooms and better views, you may want to avoid the oldest rooms and explore the Cabanas and the Views. Wherever you sleep at the hotel, it will cost plenty — probably north of $700 per night.

So maybe you’ll just pop in for a meal, a drink or ice cream at one of the several restaurants on-site. (Or in December, you could skate on the temporary ice rink while gazing at the Pacific. That’s a pretty California thing to do.) There’s also the simplest, cheapest option: Stake out a spot on the wide, sandy beach next to the hotel — one of the kid-friendliest beaches anywhere. And if you spot a large group of really fit guys doing weird exercises along the shore, those will likely be Navy SEALs, whose training base is nearby.

Bonus tip: For more Coronado fun, head to the north end of Coronado’s B Avenue (about 1.5 miles from the Del) and browse around the Coronado Ferry Landing, which has shops and eateries. You could splurge on a meal at Il Fornaio or the even fancier Peohe’s. Or just take a 15-minute ferry ride to downtown San Diego and back, $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)

44. Surround yourself with blossoms, books and a Blue Boy at the Huntington

Los Angeles County Museum
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens is a triple threat: nature, art and literature. Depending on where you roam, the estate’s gardens evoke the desert, the jungle, China, Japan and a dozen other themes on 130 acres.

Meanwhile indoors, 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 May from London’s National Gallery, and now shares a gallery with a specially commissioned “Portrait of a Young Gentleman” by American artist Kehinde Wiley (who painted Barack Obama’s presidential portrait). Some of the museum’s American galleries are closed (as is the Rose Garden Tea Room until late 2022), but the installation “Borderlands” is open, showing how artists grapple with political and personal boundaries. Adult admission is $25-$29 for nonmembers.

Also, if you’re visiting in May or June, you can enjoy a little bonus botany by hunting for blooming violet jacaranda trees on the streets near the Huntington. (Just don’t park under those trees — the sap is a nightmare.)

Bonus tip: A lot of visitors run out of steam before visiting the Huntington’s library displays, but they’re remarkable. The library holds more than 11 million items and is rapidly acquiring personal archives (recent additions include the late Eve Babitz and living Pico Iyer). Its Exhibition Hall displays include a 15th century manuscript of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and a typed draft of Octavia E. Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” (1993).
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In-N-Out Burger sign
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

45. Order off the menu at the flagship In-N-Out

Los Angeles County Fast food
For certain carnivorous Californians, a visit to In-N-Out is like church, but with more flexible hours. At the flagship location in Baldwin Park, you can drive through, as most customers do. But you can also 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.

If you’re selfie-hungry, 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. Thursdays-Sundays at 13752 Francisquito Ave., Baldwin Park.

Harry and Esther Snyder founded 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 the works, basically — which has fueled the company’s growth to more than 300 outlets. (There are 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)

46. Roam Coachella Valley canyons under native palms

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 (and more demanding) 2.7-mile Victor Trail drops into a shady, boulder-strewn fold in the desert hills where more native palms congregate, then returns along a higher ridge. There’s a “trading post” gift shop at the trailhead.

Those canyons, along with Murray Canyon and Tahquitz Canyon (which has a 60-foot seasonal waterfall), are all part of the Indian Canyons network of open space managed (and named) by Agua Caliente leaders.

Bring a good map and plenty of water. Adult admission is $12; open daily Oct. 1 through July 4; on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in summer. No pets allowed.

Bonus tip: Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes underfoot and desert bighorn sheep on the slopes above.
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The wood-beamed interior of the Integratron dome, with white cots in a semicircle.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

47. Bathe in sound at the Integratron

San Bernardino County Attraction
Are you sonically unclean? Maybe, right? Well, at the Integratron, sound baths are a way of life, and the acoustics are amazing. It’s a domed, bright white building on the fringe of Landers about 20 miles north of Joshua Tree National Park. In the 1950s, it was supposed to be about time travel, geomagnetism and extraterrestrial life. Its creator, George Van Tassel, said he was influenced by Moses’ tabernacle, the work of Nikola Tesla and a visitor from Venus in 1953.

But times and ownership change. Now family-owned, the Integratron is mostly about sound baths, offered to private and public groups by appointment only. A typical group bath includes up to 28 people, lasts an hour and starts with your host telling Van Tassel’s tale. Then the mallets come out, and the host taps at 20-quartz crystal “singing bowls” that can sound like church bells, elegant feedback or a planetary dial tone.

The Integratron offers group sound baths Thursdays-Sundays at $50 per person (age 14 and older). Private sound baths are $1,300 and up.

Bonus tip: No soap, water or disrobing is involved but you do have to take off your shoes and turn off your phone.
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Guides paddle tourists along the Klamath River in traditional canoes
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

48. Paddle the Klamath in a Yurok dugout canoe

Del Norte County Activity
Redwood Yurok Canoe Tours, a venture by the Yurok tribe, offers summertime visitors a chance to spend two hours on the Klamath River in a dugout redwood canoe — the same sort of vessel in which Yurok members have been navigating for perhaps thousands of years. The tours ($157.50 per adult, June 2-Sept. 1) begin and end in Klamath. They’re led by Yurok guides who talk about nature and culture, how the canoes are carved and how the tribe hopes for a river renaissance once four upstream dams are removed in the next few years. Want to see and hear more? There’s also a four-hour tour.

Bonus tip: Klamath River Overlook, at the end of Requa Road in Klamath, offers the region’s best view of the river from up high. From that overlook, you can hike a steep trail (a mile down and back) that takes you toward the water. After that, head for the south side of the river at the end of Klamath Beach Road. That’s Klamath Beach, where at low tide you can walk past traditional Yurok sweat houses to a sand spit where the river and sea meet, anglers cast between rock formations and seals play in the current.
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Jacuzzis at Wi Spa under a translucent ceiling.
(Bryan Yang / WiSpa)

49. Sweat in a Koreatown spa

Los Angeles County Spa
If you need to sweat, shiver, shed skin or just mellow out, Koreatown may be calling you. No, not the barbecue joints and karaoke bars, not this time. The spas.

The spas in and near that neighborhood offer baths; saunas involving salt, clay, jade and ice; facials; manicures and pedicures; massages; and more. Body scrub? Sure. You’ll feel clean and tender as a piece of lumber that’s just been planed and sanded. A 30-minute session usually costs about $50.

Every spa does things its own way, but nudity in gender-segregated areas is a common feature. Co-ed and family areas are known as jimjilbang, and there’s usually a food option. The Crystal Spa (open daily, $30 a day) serves men, women and children over age 10. The Olympic Spa (closed Wednesdays) serves only women 18 and over. Aroma Spa & Sports includes yoga, aerobics, an Olympic-style swimming pool and a driving range. Wi Spa, a few blocks east of Koreatown on Wilshire, invites families and has a gym, restaurant, computer area, kid zone, an area for sleeping on the floor and a rooftop terrace with shade and misters. (It’s also open around the clock, charging nonmembers $30 per adult.)

Bonus tip: Koreatown, which begins about four blocks west of Wi Spa, was born in the 1970s as Korean immigrants moved in along Olympic and Wilshire boulevards between Vermont and Western avenues. The multiplication of restaurants and bars has transformed it into perhaps the city’s busiest nightlife zone, with heavy participation by college students and 20-somethings. Among restaurants, one dinner favorite is Sun Nong Dan. (If there are at least two of you, get the galbi jjim, short ribs in a spicy stew.) Among bars, you’ll get an old-school feel from the nautically themed H.M.S. Bounty, which dates to 1962. But for noraebang, or Korean-style karaoke, you’ll need to head elsewhere, maybe (if you’re sticking with an old-school theme) Cafe Brass Monkey.
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