Having grown up in Southern California, it is a place close to my heart, although every time I go back to visit, it becomes more foreign to me, with all of the growth and expansion happening every day. Disneyland is a given as a must see if you are visiting Southern California, but theres more to do than just visit a famous mouse
Here are a few things that are worth taking the time to see, while some may transform over time, others are sure the preserve their state for years to come.
10. Hollywood Walk of Fame
No matter who you are, this is something practically everyone has either seen or heard of. Along Hollywood Boulevard, the sidewalks are full of tourists snapping pictures of the stars, squares with stars in the center of them, with names of celebrities. These stars cover the sidewalks for several blocks. In front of Graumans Chinese Theater are cement handprints and footprints of some of the most famous Hollywood stars. The Kodak Theater, which is the new home for the Academy Awards is also on Hollywood Boulevard, making this a great tourist stop for any movie buff.
9. Buy a star map in Beverly Hills
Drive by O.J. Simpsons former Brentwood home, see Aaron Spellings last home. Dean Martin owned a cool brick mansion back in his day. If youre lucky, maybe you will even see a celebutante get pulled over for an early morning DUI. Just driving by these multi-million dollar mansions will give you a beautiful view of Los Angeles County and you may understand better why Southern California is a sort of Mecca for so many.
8. See the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano
Every year on March 19th, the famous tiny blackbirds, otherwise known as Cliff Swallows, return to their summer home in the southern Orange County town of San Juan Capistrano (and where I happened to spend my childhood years growing up). Even if you cant make it on this festive day, theres still plenty to do and history to see in this old Mission town. One of the oldest and the largest Missions in California, San Juan Capistrano has much history. Although it is becoming a quickly overpopulated community, downtown San Juan Capistrano is a very quaint little town with cool gift shops and great Spanish and Native American influence. Just walking around the gardens of the Mission (guided tours are also offered) is a really neat part of American history. And if youre still into the whole Hollywood thing, Laguna Beach is only a few towns over, so you can check out where MTVs Laguna Beach is filmed.
7. Check out the surfers in San Clemente
Many a pro surfer has surfed the beaches in San Clemente. With the mild waters and big waves, San Clemente is the perfect place to relax, hit the beaches, get some sun and watch world class surfers all in the same day. The Rainbow Sandal factory is in San Clemente, so if youre in need of some quality flip flops, you can get a good deal on some here! Although you wont find many four star hotels here, there are plenty of beach motels that will give you good, clean lodging. Youll find unique shopping and dining experiences along Avenida del Mar, a street that has remained virtually the same for the last 30 years. Its practically the part of Orange County that time forgot. You wont find too many Prada wearing, Louis Vuitton carrying stars walking along the streets here. Its more about getting the good waves early in the morning and having the best fish tacos in town at Pedros Tacos. The gorgeous beaches go for miles, so if you are looking to soak up some real beach culture, look no further.
6. San Diego Zoo/Balboa Park
San Diego in itself is a beautiful city. As a child, I always enjoyed trips down to San Diego and the zoo holds a special place in my heart. This is a place that all ages can enjoy. Pandas and Koala Bears are cuddly, Orangutans are cute and Polar Bears are furry here! Not only is the park filled with amazing animals from all walks of the planet, but the views are breathtaking and theres plenty to do. Located in Balboa Park, if animals arent suited for you, there are plenty of other restaurants, walking paths and gardens to check out. There are plenty of performing arts venues to take as well. If you feel you need a dose of culture, it is not lacking here!
5. Amtrak Pacific Surfliner
If you are spending some time in San Diego but also plan on going up to Los Angeles, a trip up the coast on the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner is a great way to do it and take in the coastal scenery at the same time. Theres even room for a bicycle or surfboard on your petit voyage. There are twelve round-trips scheduled every day, with several stops along the way, including San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano, should you feel the need to make a stop along the way. Disneyland is also on the same route.
4. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Located in Simi Valley, just north of Los Angeles is the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. For a fascinating look into recent history, you will certainly get your fill here. If youve ever wondered what its like aboard Air Force One, you can get your chance at the Presidential Library and Gallery. As well, there is the memorial for President Reagan where he has been laid to rest. Not only is the Presidential Library and Museum full of history and never-before seen exhibits, but its also in a gorgeous area, and is a perfect family outing.
3. The OC South Coast Plaza
This was my favorite shopping mall as a kid because the parking lot has carousel horses all long the perimeter of the lot. South Coast Plaza even has a full, antique style working carousel. Although it is not as big as the Mall of America, South Coast Plaza sure does a pretty good job of representing the wealth and prestige that exists in Orange County. Youll find some pretty cool items in stores such as Barneys New York, Armani Exchange, Salvatore Ferragarno, Gucci, Sephora, Jacadi and Benetton. The usual mall stores are still present, such as Gap, Banana Republic, J.Crew, Abercrombie &Fitch and Pottery Barn. Anchor stores include Macys, Bloomingdales, Sears, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. You can even buy Disneyland tickets here at one of the center kiosks. With over 35 restaurants, you wont be hungry here. Mortons Steakhouse should fill you up, as will the Rainforest Café or Rubys Diner- you will find pretty much whatever you happen to be in the mood for here. Even though it doesnt rain much in Southern California, this is the perfect place to spend your day if it does happen to downpour during your vacation.
2. Santa Monica Pier
If you happen to drive to California on Route 66, you will end up here, at the famous Santa Monica Pier. With amusement park entertainment value, a vintage carousel, giant Ferris wheel, roller coaster and bumper cars, the kids will be glad you brought them. The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium will give a little more educational value to your day. You will also be able to pick up your favorite California souvenirs here. If you prefer to relax and through out a line, you can fish to your hearts content, or just eat some seafood at one of the many restaurants nearby. A little less refined than shopping at South Coast Plaza and Rodeo Drive, the piers vibrant history still makes this a must-see.
1. Pageant of the Masters and Sawdust Festival, Laguna Beach
From the beginning of July to the end of August, the Pageant of the Masters is one of the most amazing performing arts shows you will ever see. For an hour and a half, many different famous works of art will be displayed, however not in the traditional sense. Instead, life-size replicas of famous paintings/works of art will be shown, one at a time with actual people as part of the display. For example, da Vincis Last Supper would have a painted background with real live people posing to look like the real deal. From far away, and without prior knowledge that this is what Pageant of the Masters is all about, you most likely not know real people are on display. The make-up and effects is beyond amazing. A live orchestra will accompany the performance which is actually in an outdoor theater setting. There is also art on display by local artists to purchase and browse after the performance. Tickets range in price from $20 to $300 and advance purchase is recommended as the show sells out pretty much on a nightly basis. You can browse the art show separately and admission is considerably less at $7.
The Sawdust Festival is practically across the street from the Pageant of the Masters festival and was created for those who werent actually able to gain admittance into the Art Festival at the Pageant of the Masters, as it is a nonjuried festival. With artist built booths amidst eucalyptus trees on a sawdust covered ground, youll find amazing art and other such creations by local artists. Jewelry, unique clothing, photography, sculptures, pottery and paintings are all on display and for sale. Enjoy a glass of wine as you browse the booths or snack on locally made food. Admission is only $7 and is worth the price paid just to see some really amazing works and possibly bring some home too. The summer festival is during the same time period as the Pageant of the Masters, so this would make a good excuse to spend a weekend in Laguna Beach.
The Queen Mary in Long Beach has long been rumored to be a haunted location, which is actually a hotel, but admission is also permitted on this famed ocean liner to the public. You can also purchase combination tickets for admission to both the Queen Mary and the Aquarium of the Pacific, which is also in Long Beach.
Griffith Park has been seen in many a Hollywood movie. Recently re-opened after undergoing renovations, the Griffith Park Observatory is high up in the hills and on a clear day, is visible from Los Angeles. Definitely an educational experience, the sheer novelty of seeing a Hollywood icon is also worthy of being a must-see in Southern California.
An L.A. Dodgers game is always fun worth visiting for any sports fan, but be sure to grab an In N Out Burger on your way to the game, you may also hit that famous L.A. traffic
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