Many tourists flock to Famous destinations in Southern California Such as San Diego, Disneyland, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara. These are all great places to visit, but if you’re looking for somewhere different that’s a bit off the radar, check out the following incredible destinations:
The Channell Islands
My husband and I have lived in California most our lives, but somehow overlooked these spectacular islands which are classified as one of the U.S. National Parks. After viewing some stunning photos on the Internet, we took a brief boat ride to Anacapa Island from Oxnard as part of a weekend anniversary trip.
If you choose to go, be prepared and bring supplies. This trip is for adventurous individuals in good physical shape. You will need to climb 157 stairs to the top of this rugged little island in which there is no food, water, services, or flushing toilets. Now, I HATE outhouses, but I’m telling you – the views of the rugged shoreline, massive cliffs, and jagged peaks were worth it. You can easily hike around the rim of the island in only hours with Inspiration Point a grand reward for your efforts.
We visited in June when bursts of bright wildflowers covered the small island and thousands of cute baby sea gulls were to be found around every corner. Just beware of their protective mamas who will swoop at your head if you get too near.
We returned a few years later and visited the larger Santa Cruz Island for an exciting kayak tour of the historical sea caves. The waters can be rough in certain points, but the caves were amazing. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Some people believe that these islands desolate, but if you have an adventurous spirit and love nature, the Channell Islands are considered the Galápagos of North America.
The Huntington Botanical Gardens
This is still another stunning place that we failed to see for decades. Located in Pasadena, the magnificent property is home to more than a dozen magnificent gardens spread across 120 acres.
We did not even get an opportunity to check out the art galleries. And to my shame as a writer, we did not stop by The Huntington Library itself, one of the largest and most complete research libraries in america.
Napa may get all the attention as wine country in California, but my husband and I enjoyed sipping our way through the coastal rolling hills close to the seaside town of Ventura. We visited two of the almost 20 wineries and tasting rooms.
You can book one of the many wine tours offered. But, we decided to find a map and explore on our own. Beginning in Ventura at the junction of Highway 1 and Highway 101, we drove up Highway 33 toward Ojai.
Surprises await on this somewhat lonely but charming road – out of the”USA’s Smallest Post Office” into the last place anyone saw James Dean alive. Our favorite find was Old Creek Winery which felt like returning to a simpler place and time where friendly dogs and folk welcomed us. We enjoyed our purchased bottle of wine and a picnic outside on tables enjoying the Americana view.
By the way, both Ojai and Ventura are worthwhile stops with charming inns, luxurious spas, and bed & breakfasts along with a wide array of outdoor activities. In the summertime, the Ventura Harbor Village is a hubbub of activity with festivals and live music on weekends.
This charming beach town is situated halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. With over 20 different scenic coves, this beach area offers everything from surfing, paddle-boarding, snorkeling, kayaking, and whale watching trips.
Just beware, the surf can be rough in places. As a teenager, I decided to body surf despite the churning waters and wiped out on a massive wave (think Beach Boys’ song: Heheheheheheee wipe oooout!) . In fact, I blame the Beach Boys for this whole mishap since they went and romanticized this entire surfer chick thing with songs I grew up on like Surfer Girl. SO their fault.
However, the scenery can not be beat. Add ultra-chic restaurants and shops and one-of-a-kind art galleries and you get the picture. There is a Baby Boomer Club with Saturday Night dances. Every summer, they host the Laguna Woodstock where baby boomers party like its 1969.
Heisler Park is a fantastic place to begin, situated just north of the main shore, with an easy half-mile stroll along a paved route with breathtaking views of the coastline and the soothing sound of crashing waves. You can take one of the paths to the beaches and tide pools. Hubby and I had a picnic on one of those grass areas and it was excellent!
Treasure Island Park is another great spot, located on the grounds of the five-star Montage Laguna Beach, where the truly rich remain. Exquisitely landscaped, several watch chairs line the easy-to-walk winding route. Stairways and ramps lead you down to the shore, where you can walk through a gorgeous rock archway during low tide, find a spot in the sand for sunbathing, and a large tide pool. Additionally, there’s plenty of grass areas for a picnic. I’d suggest bringing some wine and cheese to grab a romantic sunset.
Big Bear Lake
I live in the desert, so nearby Big Bear is a excellent mountain escape with its stunning lake and pristine forests. Boating, fishing, and hiking are just a few of the activities in this little, laid-back village.
Last summer, my husband and I cycled round the lake, enjoyed a picnic, zipped down an alpine slide, drove go-karts with speeds up to 30 m.p.h., and took a ride on the scenic skies chair for terrific views. After watching people take the seat lifts to mountain bike down the trails, we place this on our to-do list for next time.
For the adventurous at heart, parasailing and ziplining are also available.
El Matador Beach
On the lookout for a spectacular shoreline with white sands, towering cliffs, crashing waves, and craggy rock formations in a semi-hidden site?
Look no further than El Matador, situated north of Malibu off the winding Pacific Coast Highway. It’s easy to miss the little, brown sign pointing toward the little parking lot in the trail-head, so watch carefully between Broad Beach and Decker Canyon Roads. As soon as you find it, be prepared to hike down a 150-foot bluff with the help of some steep stairs.
Not for small children or those that are physically challenged, but if you can make it down the steps you are going to be treated with breathtaking views. The locals know about this beach and you may see some photo shoots taking place – we did!
There’s blissfully little to do on this small but glorious stretch of beach, so bring a picnic lunch or some wine and discover a hidden nook to enjoy a remarkably romantic setting.
By now, you’ve probably noticed that my husband and I are beach bums. We found this shore on accident while searching for a nearby place to stay the night before flying out of LAX the next morning.
The Redondo Pier is a landmark with scenic ocean views and water activities that include harbor cruises, seasonal whale watching, kayaks, paddleboards, and pedal boats. Truth be known, we didn’t try any of these out, but we loved the views from Tony’s on the Pier where we enjoyed Happy Hour!
The pier is also home to a 16-foot great white shark affectionately known as Georgette, on display in a large tank in Shark Attack on the Pier. In case you have grandchildren with you or are young at heart, you might like the semi-submersible yellow submarine (damn, now I have the Beatles song stuck in my head) for underwater viewing of the local sea life.
Sure beats staying at an airport hotel if you are flying to or from Los Angeles.
This island is more well-known than some of my previous recommendations, but a sentimental favorite. My husband and I spent our honeymoon there 40 years back and have returned several times. A typical traffic jam involves two golf carts and a bicycle built for two.
On our honeymoon, we blissfully rode bikes around Avalon, went horseback riding, toured the famed casino, and sunbathed on the little beach. We also took a bus to Two Harbors, the only other village on Catalina Island.
Next time we visit, I wish to try out the new zip-line that is 600 feet above sea level with one run that’s 1,100 feet long with speeds up to 30 m.p.h. Wheee!
As you can tell, Southern California has so many terrific places to go to, it is impossible to list them all. But hopefully I’ve given you a few ideas to get you started!