Southern California (SoCal to the locals) inhabits a dreamlike otherworld – a place where breathtaking natural beauty merges with modern mythology.
SoCal is Valhalla for pop-culture fiends. Where else can you sip martinis in Jack Nicholson’s favorite booth, hike your way to Batman’s cave and gaze up at the stars just like Jimmy Dean in Rebel Without a Cause? Start with a tour of LA’s movie studios, attend a live TV taping, then join the paps in Malibu. Not that LA gets all the glory: wine and dine at Cary Grant’s former party pad in Palm Springs, a desert resort laden with Rat Pack anecdotes; or hit Orange County for TV-famous beaches and stars of the cartoon realm at Disneyland, the world’s best-loved theme park.
Iconic beaches, snowcapped crags, sculpted deserts: in case you hadn’t noticed, Mother Nature plays favorites with SoCal. Whether you’re a punk surfer, aspiring pro-volleyball nut or new-school bohemian, there's an idiosyncratic SoCal beach and adjacent beach town just for you. Offshore, the Channel Islands are a jewel-like archipelago and part of what is one of the planet’s richest marine ecosystems. Back on the mainland, escape to Big Bear Lake's cooler alpine climes or turn up the heat in Death Valley, Joshua Tree or Anza-Borrego, where dusty 4WD roads and hiking trails lead to hidden canyons and mirage-like oases.
Think of SoCal as one huge, heavily laden table, passionately prepared by forward-thinking chefs and artisan purveyors. At one end is San Diego and its incomparable fish tacos, at the other Santa Barbara and its luscious bottles of red. In between is a cornucopia of flavors, textures and thrills: decadent red-wine burgers in a pocket-sized Hollywood bistro, freshly steamed crab by the South Bay surf, fragrant pho (Vietnames noodle soup) in a loud, proud OC throwback. Whether you’re hankering for freshly made tamales at a proper panaderia (Mexican-style bakery) or cognoscenti pastas in a slinky downtown warehouse, SoCal delivers. Dig in!
Arts & Architecture
A bull's-eye for many of the world's leading actors, writers, musicians, artists and designers, SoCal explodes with inimitable creative energy. Heart of the action is LA, home to many of America's richest, riskiest and most innovative art collections, influential live-music venues and comedy clubs, and a slew of laterally thinking neighborhoods jammed with grassroots galleries, artisan studios and street art. Not enough inspiration for you? Turn your attention to SoCal’s architecture. Spanning everything from Spanish-flavored missions and art-deco theaters to modernist prototypes and cutting-edge concert halls, it’s an eclectic mash-up unmatched anywhere in the country.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Southern California.
With eyes on both the galaxy above and palm-flanked boulevards below, the Griffith Observatory hovers above LA like a hulking spacecraft. This is one of the city’s true icons, an art deco behemoth flaunted on both the small and silver screen. Yet the place is more than its architectural good looks and epic panoramas, with spectacular planetarium shows, intriguing exhibits and handsome murals. The 1935 observatory opens a window onto the universe from its perch on the southern slopes of Mt. Hollywood. Its planetarium claims the world's most advanced star projector, while its astronomical touch displays explore some mind-bending topics, from the evolution of the telescope and the ultraviolet and x-ray techniques used to map our solar system to the cosmo itself. Griffith Observatory Views On clear days, the views at the Griffith Observatory take in the entire LA Basin, surrounding mountains and Pacific Ocean. From the building's rooftop viewing platform, you can see the city skyline, the Hollywood Hills and even the city's most famous sign. Head out on a clear day just before dark, you'll have gorgeous sunset views of the gleaming city below and spectacular star gazing. But if you're only interested in the daytime views, head up on a weekday before noon (when the observatory opens) for easier parking. Samuel Oschin Planetarium Grab a seat in the Planetarium – the aluminum-domed ceiling becomes a massive screen where lasers are projected to offer a tour of the cosmos or show the search for water, and life, beyond Earth. This planetarium is one of the finest in the world. The state-of-the-art Zeiss star projector, digital projection system make for impressively realistic shows. Three are on offer; Centered in the Universe, which takes visitors back to the Big Bang, Water is Life that will have you searching for H2O in the solar system and Light of the Valkyries which explores the phenomenon of the Northern Lights. All three shows are offered daily, though times vary. Check the website for specific screening times if you're set on seeing a particular show. Note that children under five are only permitted to attend the first showing of the day. Zeiss Telescope Over 7 million people have gazed at the heavens through Griffith Observatory's original 12-inch Zeiss refracting telescope. The telescope is designed so that light is collected and focused by a 12-inch diameter glass lens at the front of the 16-foot-long telescope tube. The main telescope tube carries a smaller 9-inch refracting telescope piggyback, which permits two different views of a single object. Housed in a recently updated copper dome, the 1935 telescope is in excellent condition. In addition to repairs to the dome, Griffith Observatory also added a new exhibit station in the Hall of the Eye exhibit hall that provides live video and audio feeds from the telescope in order to allow visitors unable to climb the stairs to have an observing experience. Most nights the telescope serves up to 600 visitors. It is free to the public every night the Observatory is open and the sky is clear. It can be especially busy and festive during major celestial events. An experienced guide will help you look through the eyepiece and there are additional telescopes wheeled onto the lawn most nights. Exhibitions Both the upper and lower levels house exhibits, delving into some mind-bending topics. If you ever wondered about the mechanics behind eclipses, moon phases, tides, seasons or the sun's fiery antics, this is a good place to get the lowdown. Learn about the evolution of the telescope and the ultraviolet x-rays used to map our solar system. While elsewhere see what happens when light is also broken into its technicolor spectrum courtesy of a sepectroscope. Downstairs, existentialist crises are likely at the interactive Gunther Depths of Space exhibit, whose 'Big Picture' focus includes a massive photo mural of the universe itself.... enough to shrink the biggest of earthly egos. Griffith Observatory central rotunda and Foucault's Pendulum Tickets to the planetarium are sold in the main lobby, itself a highlight of the observatory. Look up to enjoy Hugo Ballin's striking murals. The eight rectangular murals just below the dome depict the 'Advancement of Science,' from time, geology and biology, mathematics and physics, to astronomy, aeronautics, navigation, civil engineering, and metallurgy and electricity. Upstaging them all is the dome's own mural, its protagonists including an athletic Atlas holding up the world, the four winds, the 12 constellations of the zodiac, and the planets depicted as classical gods. Although the murals were meticulously restored more than 10 years ago, workers left a small patch of the dome untouched (hint: look above the main entrance). Suspended from the dome is Foucault's Pendulum, its 240lb bronze ball demonstrating the Earth's rotation. What to eat near Griffith Observatory There is a little cafe at the observatory, but a better option is to follow the signposted 0.6 mile hike down to Fern Dell Dr for freshly baked goods at outdoor, counter service cafe Trails. Almost everything from its tiny timber-cabin kitchen is made from scratch, from the popular egg-salad sandwich to the quiche and chunky apple pie. Order at the counter then devour at one of its picnic benches, under the shade of sycamores, Chinese elms and carob trees. How to get to Griffith Observatory You can drive of course, but parking can be challenging, especially on weekends. Consider catching the DASH Observatory shuttle bus from Vermont/Sunset metro station (Red Line) to Griffith Park Observatory. Alternatively, hike up from Los Feliz below which is a great option.
National ParkDeath Valley National Park
The very name evokes all that is harsh, hot and hellish – a punishing, barren and lifeless place of Old Testament severity. Yet closer inspection reveals that in Death Valley nature is indeed putting on a lively show: sensuous sand dunes, water-sculpted canyons, rocks moving across the desert floor, extinct volcanic craters, palm-shaded oases, stark mountains rising to 11,000ft and plenty of endemic wildlife. This is a land of superlatives, holding the US records for hottest temperature (134°F/57°C), lowest point (Badwater, 282ft below sea level) and largest national park outside Alaska (more than 5300 sq miles). Does anyone live in Death Valley? The Timbisha Shoshone tribespeople have lived in the Panamint Range for centuries, visiting the valley every winter to gather acorns, hunt waterfowl, catch pupfish in marshes and cultivate small areas of corn, squash and beans. After the federal government created Death Valley National Monument in 1933, the tribe was forced to move several times and was eventually restricted to a 40-acre village site near Furnace Creek, where the Timbisha Shoshone still live. In 2000 President Clinton signed an act transferring 7500 acres of land back to the Timbisha Shoshone tribe, creating the first Native American reservation inside a US national park. Today, a few dozen Timbisha live in the Indian Village near Furnace Creek. Pop by to sample the filling and tasty Timbisha Taco ($10 to $12), made with fry bread in place of a tortilla. Highlights of Death Valley Zabriskie Point Early morning is the best time to visit Zabriskie Point for spectacular views across ethereally glowing, golden badlands eroded into waves, pleats and gullies. The spot was named for a manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company and also inspired the title of Michelangelo Antonio's 1970s movie. The cover of U2's Joshua Tree album was also shot here. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes The most accessible dunes in Death Valley are a gracefully curving sea of sand rising up to 100ft close to the highway just east of Stovepipe Wells Village. They are at their most photogenic at sunrise or sunset when bathed in soft light and accented by long, deep shadows. Keep an eye out for animal tracks. Full-moon nights are especially magical. With luck and good hearing, you can witness the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes emit a low humming sound when standing at the top. Badwater Basin The lowest point in North America (282ft below sea level) is an eerily beautiful landscape of crinkly salt flats. A boardwalk takes you out over a constantly evaporating bed of salty, mineralized water that’s otherworldly in its beauty. It's about 17 miles south of Furnace Creek. Dante's View Negotiate a vertiginous mountain road to simultaneously see the lowest point and highest points in the continental US. At 5475ft, the view of the entire southern Death Valley basin from the top of the Black Mountains is absolutely brilliant, especially at sunrise or sunset. On very clear days, you can simultaneously see the highest (Mt Whitney) and lowest (Badwater) points in the contiguous USA. Allow about 1½ hours for the 26-mile round-trip drive from the turnoff at Hwy 190, east of Furnace Creek. Amargosa Opera House The Timbisha aren't the only ones who have called Death Valley home. New York dancer Marta Beckett fell in love with a 1920s colonnaded adobe building when her car broke down in Death Valley Junction in 1967. Until her death at age 92 in 2017, she entertained the curious with dance, music and mime shows at the Amargosa Opera House. Visiting performers, inspired by Marta, continue to keep her legacy alive in fall and winter. A simple roadside memorial stone honors the accomplishments of this intrepid woman. Artists Drive About 10 miles south of Furnace Creek is the turn-off for Artists Drive, which offers 'wow' moments around every turn. About 5 miles in, you'll pass the main stop called Artists Palette, where oxidized metals tinge the mountains into hues from rose to green and purple; view them at their luminous best right before sunset. The road is well paved but windy with the occasional fun rollercoaster-style dip, and is nine miles one way. Racetrack Playa Beyond the northern end of Hwy 190, it's slow going for 27 miles on a tire-shredding dirt road (high-clearance and 4WD usually required) to the lonesome Racetrack Playa. Here, hundreds of sizeable rocks have etched tracks into the dry lake bed. In 2014, a group of researchers finally lifted the mystery when they observed the stones being pushed by winds across thin sheets of ice that had formed overnight. Read all about it at www.racetrackplaya.org. Ryholite Rhyolite epitomizes the hurly-burly, boom-and-bust story of Western gold-rush mining towns. After the first nugget was discovered in 1904, the population soared to 8000 by 1908, only to plummet a couple of years later when the mines began petering out. The remaining ruins, including a school, store, bank and railway station, reflect the high standard of living created for such a short period. A much photographed curiosity is a house made of thousands of beer bottles. Death Valley Weather Death Valley is sunny, dry and clear year-round, but don't assume it's always hot: temperatures fluctuate hugely, from 38°F/3°C in December to 116°F/43°C in July. Dress accordingly. Peak visiting seasons are winter and the springtime wildflower bloom. In summer, a car with reliable air-con is essential and outdoor explorations in the valley should be limited to the early morning and late afternoon. Escape the heat by heading to the mountains. Winter rains are a possibility and flash flood damage or snow in the mountains regularly leads to road closures. Hiking The best time for hiking is November to March. Stay off the trail in summer, except on higher-elevation mountain trails, which are usually snowed in during winter. Constructed paths are rare in Death Valley and all but the easiest hikes may require some scrambling or bouldering. An adequate water supply is essential; one gallon per day per person in summer and half a gallon in winter are recommended. Golden Canyon Whether a short stroll or strenuous trek – don't miss a spin around this winding wonderland of golden canyons between Badwater Rd and Zabriskie Point. The most popular route is a 3-mile in-and-back trek from the main trailhead off Badwater Rd to the oxidized iron cliffs of Red Cathedral. Combining it with the Gower Gulch Loop adds another mile. Alternatively, kick off at Zabriskie Point for the 2.7-mile Badlands Loop. Mosaic Canyon Trail West of Stovepipe Wells Village, a 2.3-mile gravel road deadends at the mouth of Mosaic Canyon, from where a 4-mile in-and-out trail meanders past polished marble walls carved from 750 million-year-old rocks. About 0.25 miles past the trailhead, the canyon narrows dramatically; about 1.3 miles in, a pile of boulders blocks the passage but it's possible to squeeze by on the left and continue the trek. Telescope Peak The park’s highest summit is Telescope Peak (11,049ft), with views that plummet to the desert floor, which is as far below as two Grand Canyons deep! The 14-mile round-trip trail clocks a 3000ft elevation gain from its trailhead at the Mahogany Flat campground. Summiting in winter requires an ice-axe, crampons and winter-hiking experience. By June, the trail is usually free of snow. Wildrose Peak This 8.4-mile round-trip hike with a sweat-inducing 2200ft elevation gain begins near the charcoal kilns off Wildrose Canyon Rd and threads past piñon pines and juniper to a lofty 9064ft. Grand views of the Panamint Valley, Badwater Basin and all of Death Valley National Park starting about halfway. It's best in spring or fall.The final mile below the summit is the toughest stretch. Visiting Death Valley National Park Park entry permits ($30 per vehicle) are valid for seven days and available from self-service pay stations along the park's access roads and at the visitor center. Cell towers provide service at Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells Village but there's little to no coverage elsewhere in the park. The park's main roads (Hwys 178 and 190) are paved and in great shape, but if your travel plans include dirt roads, a high-clearance vehicle and off-road tires are highly recommended and essential on many routes. 4WD is often necessary after rains. Always check with the visitor center for current road conditions, especially before heading to remote areas. Furnace Creek Furnace Creek is Death Valley’s commercial hub, home to the national park visitor center, a gas station, ATM, post office and lodging. There's also a Mission–style 'town square' with a general store, restaurant, saloon and ice cream and coffee parlor. Facilities at Stovepipe Wells Village and Panamint Springs also include gas, food and lodging. Gas is available 24/7 at Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells Village and from 7am to 9:30pm in Panamint Springs. Prices are much higher than outside the park. Beatty Around 40 miles north of Furnace Creek, the historic mining town of Beatty (population 1000) across the Nevada border has certainly seen better days but makes a less-expensive launchpad for visiting Death Valley. It also has an ATM, gas station and a general store. Shoshone On the southern stoop of Death Valley, about 60 miles from Furnace Creek, blink-and-you-miss-it Shoshone stakes its existence on being an early-20th-century railroad stop. The railroad disappeared in 1941, but the village still caters to travelers with a gas station, general store, restaurant, lodging and small tourist office. Tecopa The old mining town of Tecopa was named after a peacemaking Paiute chief. Its desolate looks belie an artistic undercurrent and an unexpected number of fun spots. Soak in hot natural mineral springs, explore a hidden date-palm oasis, fuel up at excellent restaurants and get toasted at not one, but two craft breweries. It's about 70 miles from here to Furnace Creek. Death Valley hotels In-park lodging options that aren't a tent are limited, pricey and often fully booked in springtime. Alternative bases are the gateway towns of Beatty (40 miles from Furnace Creek), Lone Pine (40 miles), Death Valley Junction (30 miles), Shoshone (60 miles) and Tecopa (70 miles). Options a bit further afield include Ridgecrest (120 miles) and Las Vegas (140 miles). That said, there are two especially well-regarded options, one in the park proper and the other in Death Valley Junction. The Oasis at Death Valley The Oasis at Death Valley is so well located you can roll out of bed, pull back the curtains and count the colors of the desert. This 1927 Spanish Mission–style hotel is brimming with all the expected 21st-century comforts. After a day of sweaty touring, languid valley views await as you relax by the spring-fed swimming pool with a spa and pool bar, in the warmly furnished lounge or in the library. A class act throughout. The Amargosa Hotel Meanwhile, adjacent to the Amargosa Opera House is the Amargosa Hotel. With no TV or wi-fi, sunsets and starry skies are the only nighttime entertainment provided by the 16-room lodge built in 1925 by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. Today, the vintage gem delivers buckets of kookiness thanks to eccentric staff, muraled rooms and a resident ghost or two. New mattresses have raised comfort levels, and all guests are welcome to use the communal kitchenette – bring supplies as there is no store. The attached farm-to-table cafe serves scrumptious breakfasts, strong coffee and healthy sandwiches but has limited hours. Camping near Death Valley The National Park Service operates nine campgrounds, including four tucked into the Panamint Mountains. Only Furnace Creek accepts reservations and only from mid-October to mid-April. All other campgrounds are first-come, first-served. At peak times, such as weekends during the spring wildflower bloom, campsites fill by midmorning. On those days, vast Sunset campground is your best bet for snagging a last-minute spot, plus there's always the option of free backcountry camping. Backcountry camping is allowed along dirt roads at least 1 mile away from paved roads and developed and day-use areas, and 100yd from any water source, and no fires are allowed. Park your car next to the roadway and pitch your tent on a previously used campsite to minimize your impact. For a list of areas that are off-limits to backcountry camping, as well as additional regulations, check the official National Parks Service website or stop by the visitor center where you can also pick up a free voluntary permit. Private campgrounds catering mostly to RVers can be found in Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells Village and Panamint Springs. Stovepipe Wells Village offers public showers ($5, including swimming-pool access). Pay at reception. Mesquite Springs Campground and Thorndike Campground are two other popular options.
Amusement ParkKnott’s Berry Farm
What started as a simple berry farm is now a sprawling 160-acre operation with rides, live shows and lovable Peanuts characters roaming the grounds. Knott’s Berry Farm is California’s oldest theme park and it might take the title for best food, too. The fried chicken dinners that made the farm a sensation back in the 1930s are still served today. As for the berries, they’re around too, and you’ll find them in surprisingly scrumptious dishes throughout the park. Come for the coasters, stay for the boysenberry confections. History of Knott’s Berry Farm The name of the game was originally berries when Walter and Cordelia Knott moved to Buena Park, California in 1920 to farm. But when Cordelia started a fried chicken restaurant as a side business in 1934, the focus began to shift. Word spread about the delectable dinners and soon visitors flocked to the farm, sometimes waiting three hours to eat. Walter added attractions to entertain the poultry patrons and the seeds of a theme park began to take root. By 1947, Walter had built a Ghost Town, and the name Knott’s Berry Farm was official. The attractionsl—a saloon, railroad, log ride, roller coaster and much morel—kept coming. Snoopy and his Peanuts friends entered the picture in the 80s, giving the park family-friendly characters. The 90s brought more thrilling rides, as well as the sale of the farm by the Knott’s children to Cedar Fair, who continues to operate the park today. Tickets and practicalities Tickets Daily admission tickets and season passes are available online at knotts.com/daily-tickets, as well as in person at the park’s front gate. Discounts are available for both active and retired military personnel, plus their immediate family members. Upgrades Purchasing a Fast Lane wristband gives you priority boarding on select rides, and FunPix passes provide unlimited digital photos from certain rides and character meet-and-greets. Budget-friendly dining passes are also available. Choose from all-day drink refills in a souvenir bottle, a single meal deal, all-day dining (an entree and a side every 90 minutes!) and all-season dining. Park hours Knott’s Berry Farm is open every day except Christmas. Hours vary depending on the day and season (closing is sometimes 5pm, while Knott’s Scary Farm stays open as late as 1am). Always check the park’s calendar before your visit. Location In Buena Park (Orange County), Knott’s is 20 minutes from John Wayne Airport and 30 minutes from LAX. Parking Daily parking is available for a fee, plus parking can be purchased for season passes. For guests heading to the California Marketplace, which is outside the park, there’s complimentary parking for up to one hour in the Shopping and Dining Lot. Lay of the land Knott’s is divided into four themed areas: Old West Ghost Town, Camp Snoopy, Fiesta Village and the Boardwalk. Head to knotts.com/directions for a detailed park map. Popular rides at Knott’s Berry Farm When it comes to legendary amusements, Timber Mountain Log Ride, which originally opened in 1969 and takes thrill seekers up an 85-foot mountain, tops the list. Even more extreme, the Xcelerator roller coaster rockets riders from 0-82 mph in 2.3 seconds. But if kid friendly is more your speed, the Linus Launcher gives little ones the sensation of soaring on the comic-strip character’s blanket. Entertainment at Knott’s Berry Farm Live shows are half the fun at Knott’s and highlights include can-can and comedy in the Calico Saloon, as well as the action-packed Wild West Stunt Show. For a real California classic, Bob Baker Marionette Theater, founded in LA in 1963, brings puppetry to the park in the Birdcage Theatre. Food at Knott’s Berry Farm All-day and all-season dining plans are available so that you can feast on everything from a gourmet berry salad (Boardwalk BBQ) to tamales (Cantina) and chili-cheese tater tots (Calico Tater Bites). Overall, Knott’s has about three dozen different dining options for meals, snacks and drinks (the Starbucks in the California Marketplace is the only location in the world to serve boysenberry Frapuccinos). But if you have time for just one meal, let it be at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant (also in the Marketplace). Though the setting has changed, the recipes haven’t. The classic chicken meal is the same as what Mrs. Knott served back in 1934. Best time to visit Knott’s Berry Farm Thanks to Southern California’s warm weather, the park is open year round. Weekends tend to be busier, so visit midweek for shorter lines. Generally, you’ll beat the crowds any time California kids are in school. Also, keep an eye on the calendar for seasonal attractions. The year kicks off with Knott’s Peanuts Celebration, an ode to Charles Schultz’s comic strip that takes place weekends in winter (January-March). Boysenberry Festival happens each spring, and summer brings nighttime music events. Autumn is all about Knott’s Scary Farm, a terrifyingly transformed version of the park (special admission required), and Knott’s Spooky Farm, which is more fun than freaky. Finally, the park becomes Knott’s Merry Farm between November and January. ‘Tis the season for holiday decor, a Snoopy ice show and a Christmas crafts market. Hotels near Knott’s Berry Farm You can’t get any closer to the park than its very own Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel, which is just a five-minute stroll to the main gates. In addition to convenience, the hotel features a Snoopy-themed wing, outdoor pool, restaurant, vacation packages and a complimentary shuttle to the Disneyland Resort, which is only seven miles away. Other hotel options include Radisson Suites Hotel Anaheim - Buena Park, Holiday Inn Buena Park and Courtyard Anaheim Buena Park —all within a mile of Knott’s and all with outdoor pools. Did You Know? The world’s first commercially grown boysenberries—a cross between red raspberries, blackberries and loganberries—were cultivated here on the farm by Walter Knott. That’s why you’ll see the fruit in everything from pork shawarma to kimchi and quesadillas.
Amusement ParkUniversal Studios Hollywood
Dodge dinosaurs, hang with Homer Simpson and morph into a Minion on the sometimes hair-raising, always entertaining attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood. More than an amusement park, this is a multisensory immersion into the world of TV and movies on the grounds where filmmaking still takes place. Hop on a ride that drops you inside an iconic flick, explore movie magic at a Special Effects stage show and feast on the same food as your favorite characters. (Chocolate frog, anyone?) Universal Studios parks now exist in other parts of the world, but Hollywood is the original. History of Universal Studios Hollywood How did a working production facility become a major tourist destination? That answer dates back to 1915, when Carl Laemmle opened the studios at Universal City and, for a fee, invited the general public to watch as movies were made. Spectators gathered in stands above the actors’ dressing rooms and cheered for the stars while they worked. A rowdy crowd was no problem for production as this was the silent film era. Though once sound was introduced to movies in the late ’20s, the spectators had to go. The studios once again invited the public in 1964 with the opening of Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. Though visitors today aren’t allowed to hoot and holler during active filming, they are given a peek at real production sites on the Studio Tour. Tickets and practicalities Save time and money by purchasing tickets in advance through Universal’s online ticket store. This is also where California residents can buy discounted tickets. Annual and season passes are available online at a lower price, too. Want to make sure you hit every ride in one day? Invest in a Universal Express ticket, which includes one-time express access to each attraction. Want to hit rides more than once? A VIP Experience ticket will give you unlimited express access, plus an exclusive set tour, valet parking, snacks and a meal in the VIP dining room. Universal is open 365 days a year. (Yes, you can spend Christmas with King Kong.) Hours vary depending on the day and season, but opening is generally either 9 or 10am and closing is often 6 or 7pm. Check the park’s calendar before your visit. Maximize your day by arriving about 20 minutes before opening. That’s about how long it will take to walk from general parking to the front gate. General as well as preferred parking are available for a fee. Located in LA, Universal is about 25 miles from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The park is divided into two areas: the Lower Lot and the Upper Lot. For a more detailed lay of the land, check out the map on Universal’s website. Exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hollywood’s ode to Harry Potter is a themed area of the park featuring two rides – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff – plus special entertainment, souvenir spots, snack stands and a restaurant. Top rides at Universal Studios Hollywood With 11 rides (and two play areas for little ones) the park is doable in a day, especially if you splurge on a Universal Express ticket. But if you're pressed for time, here are three top rides to keep on your radar: The World-Famous Studio Tour A must-do, this one-hour tour, video-hosted by Jimmy Fallon, gives you access to four acres of studio backlots. For the finale, you’ll cruise into the world of the Fast & Furious franchise for a high-speed chase. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, this ride mixes motion simulations and 3-D projection to make muggles feel like they’re truly at Hogwarts. Lines tend to be longest for this ride, but even the queue keeps guests engaged with castle scenery. Jurassic World - The Ride As your raft winds through Jurassic World and takes on the occasional dip and splash, you’ll come face to face with the aquatic Mosasaurus, plus see Indominus rex and T-Rex in action. Entertainment One of the biggest shows here is WaterWorld, which includes acrobatic Jet Ski maneuvers, firefights and cinematic explosions. At Universal’s Animal Actors demonstration, furry stars flaunt their talents, and the Special Effects Show spotlights more tricks of the trade. Food Like most theme parks, Universal has both snack stands and sit-down restaurants. But what makes dining here exciting is that much of it is inspired by beloved movies and TV shows. For example, lunch at Krusty Burger will transport you to Springfield and a snack at Minion Cafe might make you feel mischievous. Though piña coladas didn’t really factor into Steven Spielberg’s vision, nobody’s complaining that they’re served at Isla Nu-Bar, a tiki spot in Jurassic World. Best time to visit Midweek visits are best for shorter lines and cheaper tickets. While holidays bring larger crowds, they also include extras, like fireworks on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. But the biggest seasonal draw is Halloween Horror Nights, which takes place on select dates in September and October. Haunted mazes, live entertainment and spooky character encounters are all part of the frightful festivities. Plus, this specially ticketed event is open late, sometimes till 2am. Hotels nearby There are two hotels within Universal City (the area that includes the theme park, studios and CityWalk): Sheraton Universal Hotel and Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City. Both have outdoor pools and free shuttles to the park (which is walkable, but travel-weary feet might appreciate a ride). Outside Universal City, hotels in North Hollywood (like The Garland) and Burbank (like Residence Inn Los Angeles Burbank/Downtown) are still conveniently close. Universal CityWalk Covering three blocks, Universal CityWalk is a pedestrian-only shopping and dining zone just outside the park. That means you’re free to visit, plus catch a movie at the 18-screen IMAX Universal Cinema, regardless of whether you have a ticket for the park.
Prepare for a sensory overload on Venice's Boardwalk, a one-of-a-kind experience. Buff bodybuilders brush elbows with street performers and sellers of sunglasses, string bikinis, Mexican ponchos and cannabis, while cyclists and in-line skaters whiz by on the bike path and skateboarders and graffiti artists get their own domains. History Venice, SoCal’s quintessential bohemian playground, is the legacy of Abbot Kinney (1850–1920). A tobacco mogul by trade and a dreamer at heart, Kinney in 1905 dug canals and turned fetid swampland into a cultural and recreational resort he dubbed the ‘Venice of America.' For nearly two decades, crowds thronged to this ‘Coney Island on the Pacific’ to be poled around by imported gondoliers, walk among Renaissance-style arcaded buildings and listen to Benny Goodman tooting his horn in clubs. But time was not kind to Kinney’s vision. Venice was incorporated into the city of LA in 1926, most of the canals were filled and paved over in 1929 and Venice plunged into a steep decline until its cheap rents and mellow vibe drew first the beatniks then hippies in the '50s and '60s. A decade later Venice and Santa Monica's Ocean Park neighborhood along Main St turned into ‘Dogtown’ as modern skateboarding hit the big time. These days, tech and entertainment dollars have fueled a hard-charging gentrification that is changing this once-low-key enclave with a strong sense of community. As rents have risen, many long-term businesses have been forced out and locals speak of an 'old Venice/new Venice' divide. The year 2017 saw a further influx of cash as locally headquartered Snap Inc (parent company of Snapchat) went public, creating multiple millionaires. Paradoxically, along with these new millionaires and long-time-resident surf rats, skate punks, string bikinis, yogis, psychics and street performers, you'll also find a prodigious and entrenched houseless population. Venice Beach's houseless community has long been part of the fabric of the neighborhood, despite routine attempts by the city to uproot them. Things to do on Venice Boardwalk Murals Venice Beach has long been associated with street art and for decades there was a struggle between outlaw artists and law enforcement. Art won out and the tagged-up towers and the free-standing concrete wall of the Venice Beach Art Walls, right on the beach, have been covered by graffiti artists from 1961 to the present. To really get into the art around Venice stroll past murals by famous Rip Cronk, including Venice Reconstituted, Jim Morrison and the Homage to Starry Night. Abbot Kinney Blvd, not far from the boardwalk, has wonderful art galleries. Probably the best art gallery in the area, and maybe the city is the LA Louvre. It's housed in a landmark building designed by Frederick Fisher. It's a modern and contemporary art gallery featuring rotating, museum-quality exhibitions that show for five to six weeks. Muscle Beach Gym rats with an exhibitionist streak can get a tan and a workout at this famous outdoor gym right on the Venice Boardwalk, where Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu once bulked up. Its fun to meander past and gawk, because the body builders totally want you to gawk. Venice Skatepark When Angelenos drained their swimming pools during a 1970s drought, board-toting teens from Venice and neighboring Santa Monica made their not-quite-welcome invasion and modern skateboarding culture was born. Well, as the bumper sticker says, 'skateboarding is not a crime,' at least not anymore, and if you needed further proof, this public, 17,000-sq-ft, ocean-view skate park is now a destination for both high flyers and gawking spectators. Look for great photo ops, especially as the sun sets. Brave the bowls if you dare. Saturday & Sunday drum circle On weekend evenings at the end of Brooks Ave. on the beach, hundreds of people gather with drums, shakers, congas – anything that keeps a beat and fills the air with rhythms. Dancers come in hoards to feed off the energy and move their bodies to the impromptu music. Its high vibe fun, completely unofficial and totally amazing. It usually starts around noon and lasts well past dark. When to go to the Venice Boardwalk Late nights and early mornings are the quietest times on the boardwalk, but quiet is not really why people come to Venice Beach. Busiest times are summer weekend afternoons, especially when the drum circle is beating its resounding beats. During the off season, local crowds tend to gather at the cafes around sunset. Where to eat and drink No place melds Old Venice and New Venice like the Rose. This airy institution dates from 1979 yet remains current, serving a diverse, all-day menu (sophisticated pastries to gourmet feasts) to laptop-toting writers, tech geeks and Venice locals. Where to stay Hotel Erwin near the canals and the boardwalk, this one-time motor inn has been dressed up, colored and otherwise funkified in retro style. Think eye-popping oranges, yellows and greens, framed photos of graffiti art and ergo sofas in the spacious rooms. Book online for the best deals. Whether or not you stay here, the High rooftop lounge is wonderful for a sundowner. Valet parking is $42. Getting to the Venice Boardwalk, parking and other practicalities Traffic is bumper to bumper in Venice on busy weekends, especially in summer near the beach. Instead, try parking inland, ride-sharing or do as the locals do and get around by bike. Rentals are available in Venice at Venice Boardwalk Bike Rental or in neighboring Santa Monica. The Expo Line train opened in 2016 in Santa Monica; the station is about 1.5 miles from the Venice border.
ChurchMission San Juan Capistrano
Famous for its swallows that fly back to town every year on March 19 (though sometimes they’re just a bit early), San Juan Capistrano is home to the ‘jewel of the California missions,' Roman Catholic outposts established in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Amid that photogenic mission streetscape of adobe, tile-roofed buildings, and historic wood-built cottages, there’s enough history and architectural appeal here to make almost a day of it. Plan on spending at least an hour poking around the sprawling mission’s tiled roofs, covered arches, lush gardens, fountains and courtyards – including the padre’s quarters, soldiers’ barracks and the cemetery. Admission includes an audio tour with interesting stories narrated by locals. Check out the towering remains of the Great Stone Church, almost completely destroyed by a powerful 1812 earthquake. Mission San Juan Capistrano history Padre Junípero Serra, considered the father of California's missions, founded nine out of 21 including this one, on November 1, 1776. The Serra Chapel – whitewashed outside with restored frescoes inside – is believed to be the oldest existing building in California, dating to 1782. It’s certainly the only one still standing in which Serra gave Mass. Before Serra's arrival, this region was home to the Acjachemen people, who the missionaries soon set about converting. Indeed, the cemetery at Mission San Juan Capistrano includes the graves of dozens of Acjachemen who were part of the community here. The padres brought not only the Catholic faith, but also criollo grapes for making sacramental wine. The first vineyards were planted in 1779, making San Juan Capistrano the cradle of California's now world-famous wine industry. The Great Stone Church that was one of the first buildings in the Mission complex was destroyed by a series of successive earthquakes in 1800 and 1812. Over the decades that followed, the secularization of Mexican missions (for California was not yet part of the United States) led to the decline of San Juan Capistrano and pillaging by locals, former priests, and even pirates. Today the Mission honors its history with displays of art and artifacts that include a Native American Museum and Interpretive room, landscape paintings, and religious paraphernalia. The swallows of Mission San Juan Capistrano The famous swallows return to nest in the walls of Mission San Juan Capistrano every year around March 19, the feast of Saint Joseph, after wintering in South America. Their flight covers about 7500 miles each way. The highlight of the month-long festival is one of the largest non-motorized parades in the country, which first took place in the 1930s. Just off the parade route, visitors gather to eat, drink and listen to music at the outdoor mercado (market), held on a Saturday in mid-March. Arriving at Mission San Juan Capistrano The mission is at the corner of Ortega Hwy and Camino Capistrano, and can easily be reached by car. Free public parking abounds around the mission, though one of the best located parking lots is on the south side of Ortega Highway and El Camino Real. The Mission can also be reached by train, using both Amtrak and southern California's MetroLink train network. The train station is at 26701 Verdugo Street, a two minute walk from the Mission. The nearest hotel is directly across El Camino Real by the Sera Chapel East Gate. The Inn at the Mission San Juan Capistrano is an Autograph Collection Hotel heavily influenced by the Mission's architecture. It opened in September of 2020, with a restaurant, spa, pool, and outdoor areas overlooking the ruins of the Great Stone Church.
Wildlife ReserveChildren's Pool
Built in the 1930s behind a wave-cutting seawall, La Jolla’s Children’s Pool was created as a family beach but has since been invaded by herds of seals and sea lions. Tourists come in droves to see them larking around, swimming, fighting and mating, viewed from the plaza above the cove. The pinnipeds don't seem to mind – but there's strictly no touching, feeding or selfies to be taken with the residents. The future of the seals remains in debate: divers and swimmers claim the mammals' presence increases bacteria levels in the water; animal-rights groups want to protect the cove and make it an official seal rookery. Except during pupping season (December 15 to May 15) swimming is technically allowed but not recommended because of the water quality and potentially aggressive animals. History The idea of the Children’s Pool was first mooted in 1921 by the local journalist and philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. A strong cross current along La Jolla’s coastline had caused a spate of drownings in the area and Scripps – who also founded the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and built the La Jolla Public Library – wanted to create a safe haven where families, and in particular children, could swim safely. Scripps funded the Pool herself and asked Hiram Newton Savage to design and build the breakwater. The project took 10 years to come to fruition but on the day of its grand unveiling, Scripps was too unwell to see it officially open. For decades, the Children’s Pool was used as intended – it even got a brief cameo in the 1977 Peter O’Toole movie, The Stunt Man, where the beach was repurposed as a WWI battlefield – but in 1992, concerns began to be raised about the number of seals to take up residence on the sands. The Children’s Pool became a Marine Mammal Reserve in 1994 and the first seal pups were born on the beach five years later. It is estimated that around 200 seals now call the Pool home. In 2013, a 'Seal Cam' was installed at the beach. It was meant to promote tourism by allowing people to watch the seals live on the internet. However, some locals complained that the webcam was filming people in areas where there were never any no seals. The camera was removed the same year, but in 2021 the La Jolla Village Merchants Association was said to be exploring it returning. Nearby restaurants Gourmets and gourmands alike love Whisknladle 's ‘slow food’ preparations of local, farm-fresh ingredients, served on a breezy covered patio and meant for sharing. Else head to the fabulous Puesto La Jolla, a colorful warehouse-style restaurant doused in Californian spray-paint artist Chor Boogie designs, that serves Mexican street food in the form of tacos, freshly made guacamole (in three varieties) plus Baja fish, lime-marinated shrimp ceviche and carnitas. How to get to La Jolla’s Children’s Pool The stairway down to the Pool is next to 850 Coast Blvd. Other practicalities The Children’s Pool is free to visit and is open 24 hours a day.
AquariumBirch Aquarium at Scripps
This state-of-the-art aquarium is a wonderous underwater world home to 5000 fish. Visitors can watch sharks dart, kelp forests sway, and even meet a rescued loggerhead turtle. The Hall of Fishes has more than 60 fish tanks, simulating marine habitats from the Pacific Northwest to tropical seas. The Tide Pool Plaza, with its fabulous ocean views, is the place to get touchy-feely with sea stars, hermit crabs, sea cucumbers, lobsters and tidal-zone critters. Don't miss the new Seadragons & Seahorses exhibit. Marine scientists were working at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) as early as 1910 and, helped by donations from the ever-generous Scripps family, the institute has grown to be one of the world’s largest marine research institutions. It is now a part of University of California (UC) San Diego. Tickets and other practicalities Birch Aquarium at Scripps is open daily from 9am-5pm (September to June) and until 6pm (July and August). Tickets, which currently must be reserved in advance, are priced at $19.50 for adults and $15 for children aged 3-17 years. Children under two go for free. Discounted tickets and promo codes regularly appear online at websites like Groupon. Exhibits There are eight permanent exhibits at the aquarium, including Seadragons & Seahorses, where several species of seahorses and pipefish are on show including Weedy Seadragons bred at the museum, and Oddities which shows visitors some of the ways that marine life has developed to survive. There is also Research in Action: 100 Island Challenge, an experimental reef that helps scientists develop their research techniques. Other exhibits include the Hall of Fishes, which has 60 Pacific habitats on show, a Giant Kelp Forest that's home to Giant Black Sea Bass and Moray Eels, and Expedition at Sea: R/V Sally Ride Gallery, which recreates the experience of being on a ocean research boat. There are local Leopard Sharks on show at the Shark Shores section outside as is the Tidepool Plaza, where hermit crabs and lobsters can be found beneath the living tide pools. Restaurants and food Open 10am-3pm, the Splash! Café is the Birch Aquarium's onsite restaurant, serving burgers, baguettes and salads. Visitors are also allowed to bring their own food as well, provided it's eaten in the designed eating areas. Alternatively, Pinpoint Cafe and Caroline's Seaside Cafe are both a short walk from the aquarium. Simply head downhill and towards the sea. Otherwise, we recommend Shore Rider Cafe, a little further south, which serves great fish and chips, Baja chicken and cheese melts and seafood ceviche.
Palm Springs has long been famous a celebrity playground, but few destinations in the valley better exemplify that pedigree than Sunnylands, the retreat of publishing giant, diplomat, and philanthropist Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore. The not-so-little pink roofed house is part of a sprawling 200 acre estate that includes lush guest quarters, cottages, entertaining spaces, and even a golf course. Like many of the mid-century rich and famous, the Annenbergs chose greater Palm Springs for their modernist winter home in Rancho Mirage. Nicknamed the "Camp David of the West", the Annenbergs entertained eight US presidents, royalty, heads of state, and Hollywood celebrities, including the Shah of Iran, the Queen of England, Bing Crosby, Truman Capote, and Barack Obama. Frank Sinatra married Barbara Marx at Sunnylands; the Reagans spent ever New Years here for nearly two decades. The estate's art-filled main home, a 1966 mid-century-modern masterpiece by A Quincy Jones, is accessible only by 90-minute guided tour; book online far in advance. No reservations are required for the exhibits and documentary on view at the architecturally stunning visitor center or to stroll the magnificent, sustainably designed gardens, inspired by impressionist paintings. The gardeners didn't have to go far to find their references, either. While the Annenbergs were alive (Walter passed in 2002, Leonore in 2009), they kept their extensive collection of works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Andrew Wyeth, and Monet here. Those paintings were largely donated the Metropolitan Museum of Art, however, in the early aughts. Tickets for the Historic House Tour ($48, no children under 10) and Birding on the Estate ($38) are released at 9am on the 15th of the preceding month and sell out quickly. Tickets for the 45-minute Open-Air Experience, a shuttle tour of the grounds and golf course that runs from September to April ($21), are sold first-come, first-served at the visitor center (credit cards only). Neither the Birding nor the Open-Air tour give access to the house.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Southern California.