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 these incredible destinations:
The Channell Islands
My husband and I have lived in California most our lives, but somehow missed these spectacular islands that are categorized as one of the U.S. National Parks. After viewing some stunning photos on the world wide web, we took a short boat ride to Anacapa Island from Oxnard as part of a weekend anniversary trip.
If you decide to go, be prepared and bring supplies. This excursion is for adventurous individuals in good physical shape. You will need to climb 157 stairs to the peak of this rugged little island where there isn’t any food, water, services, or flushing toilets. Now, I HATE outhouses, but I am telling you – the views of the rugged coastline, enormous cliffs, and jagged peaks were worth it. It is simple to increase 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 little island and thousands of cute baby sea gulls were available around every corner. Just beware of the protective mamas who will swoop in your head if you get too near.
We returned a couple of years later and seen the larger Santa Cruz Island for an exciting kayak tour of the historical sea caves. The waters can be rough at certain points, but the caves were amazing.
Some folks consider that these islands desolate, but in case you have an adventurous spirit and love nature, the Channell Islands are considered the Galápagos of North America.
This is still another stunning place that we failed to visit for decades. Located in Pasadena, the magnificent estate is home to more than a dozen spectacular gardens spread across 120 acres.
We didn’t even get a chance to check out the art galleries. And to my shame as a writer, we didn’t stop by The Huntington Library itself, one of the largest and most complete research libraries in the United States.
Napa may get all of the attention as wine country in California, but my husband and I enjoyed sipping our way through the coastal rolling hills near 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 intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 101, we drove up Highway 33 toward Ojai.
Surprises await on this somewhat lonely but charming street – 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 bought bottle of wine and a picnic out on tables enjoying the Americana view.
Incidentally, both Ojai and Ventura are rewarding stops with enchanting 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.
As a teenager, I decided to body surf despite the churning waters and wiped out on a enormous wave (think Beach Boys’ song: Heheheheheheee wipe oooout!) . Actually, I blame the Beach Boys for this whole mishap since they went and romanticized this whole surfer chick thing with tunes 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 sponsor the Laguna Woodstock where baby boomers party like its 1969.
Heisler Park is a good place to begin, situated just north of the main beach, with an easy half-mile stroll along a paved route with breathtaking views of the coastline and the soothing sound of crashing waves. You may take one of those paths to the shores and tide pools. Benches, picnic tables, and barbecues abound where you can enjoy the magnificent views. Hubby and I had a picnic on one of the grass areas and it was perfect!
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 lookout benches line the easy-to-walk winding path. Stairways and ramps lead you down to the shore, where you could 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 catch 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 some of the activities in this small, 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 rates 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 offered.
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 location?
Look no further than El Matador, situated north of Malibu off the winding Pacific Coast Highway. It’s easy to overlook the small, brown sign pointing toward the little parking lot at the trail-head, so watch carefully between Broad Beach and Decker Canyon Roads. Once you find it, be prepared to hike down a 150-foot bluff with the support of a steep stairs.
Not for small children or people that are physically challenged, but if you’re able to make it down the steps you’ll be treated with stunning 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 when looking 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 did not try one 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 screen in a large tank at Shark Attack on the Pier. In case you have grandchildren with you or are young at heart, then you might enjoy the semi-submersible yellow submarine (damn, now I have the Beatles tune stuck in my head) for underwater viewing of the local sea life.
Sure beats staying in an airport hotel if you’re 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 ago and have returned several times. A normal 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 famous casino, and sunbathed on the little beach. We also took a bus to Two Harbors, the only other village on Catalina Island.
My husband and grown children returned again for our open-water dives to become scuba-certified amid the famous kelp forests surrounded by the bright orange Garibaldi fish. Next time we visit, I want to try out the new zip-line that’s 600 feet above sea level with one run that is 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 visit, it is impossible to list them all. But hopefully I have given you a few ideas to get you started!