Hidden Gems in Southern California

Hot Air Balloon

Many tourists flock to Famous destinations in Southern California like 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 which are classified as one of the U.S. National Parks. After viewing some magnificent 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 people in good physical shape. You will have to climb 157 stairs to the peak of this rugged little island in which there is no food, water, services, or flushing toilets. I HATE outhouses, but I’m telling you – the views of the rocky shoreline, enormous cliffs, and jagged peaks were worth it. It is simple to 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 little island and thousands of cute baby sea gulls were available around every corner. Just beware of their protective mamas who will swoop in your head if you get too near.

We returned a couple of years later and visited the larger Santa Cruz Island for an exciting kayak tour of the historic 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 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 yet another stunning place that we neglected to visit for decades. Located in Pasadena, the magnificent estate is home to over a dozen spectacular gardens spread across 120 acres.

We didn’t even get an opportunity to check out the art galleries. The Huntington Art Gallery, homes 18th- and 19th-century British paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts, and includes the famous Blue Boy. And to my shame as a writer, we didn’t stop by The Huntington Library itself, among the largest and most complete research libraries in america.

Next time.

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 near the seaside town of Ventura. We visited two of the almost 20 wineries and tasting rooms.

You can reserve one of the numerous wine tours offered. However, we decided to get 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 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 folk and dogs welcomed us. We enjoyed our purchased bottle of wine and a picnic out on tables enjoying the Americana view.

By the way, both Ojai and Ventura are rewarding stops with charming inns, luxurious spas, and bed & breakfasts together with a wide array of outdoor activities. In the summer time, the Ventura Harbor Village is a hubbub of activity with festivals and live music on weekends.

Laguna Beach

This charming beach town is situated halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego.

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 tunes I grew up on like Surfer Girl. SO their fault.

However, the scenery can’t be beat. Add ultra-chic restaurants and shops and one-of-a-kind art galleries and you understand. There’s 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 good place to begin, located just north of the main beach, with a simple half-mile stroll along a paved path with breathtaking views of the coastline and the soothing sound of crashing waves. You may take one of the paths to the beaches 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 those grass areas and it was perfect!

Treasure Island Park is another great spot, situated on the grounds of the five-star Montage Laguna Beach, where the truly rich stay. Exquisitely landscaped, several lookout benches line the easy-to-walk winding route. Stairways and ramps lead you down to the beach, where you could walk through a gorgeous rock archway during low tide, find a place in the sand for sunbathing, and a large tide pool. Additionally, there is loads of grass areas for a picnic. I would 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 chair lifts to mountain bike down the paths, 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

Looking 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 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. As soon as 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 who are physically challenged, but if you’re able to make it down the steps you are going to be treated with breathtaking views. The locals know about this shore and you may see some photo shoots taking place – we did!

There is blissfully little to do on this small but glorious stretch of beach, so bring a picnic lunch or some wine and find a hidden nook to enjoy an incredibly romantic setting.

Redondo Beach

We found this beach on accident when 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 screen in a huge tank in Shark Attack on the Pier. In case you have grandchildren with you or are young at heart, then you may enjoy the semi-submersible yellow submarine (darn, now I have the Beatles song stuck in my mind ) for underwater viewing of the local sea life.

Sure beats staying in an airport hotel if you’re flying to or from Los Angeles.

Catalina Island

This island is more well-known than a few of my previous recommendations, but a sentimental favorite. My husband and I spent our honeymoon there 40 years ago and have returned several times. This is a small, quaint island, with no stoplights or fast food restaurants. 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 small beach. Snorkeling, parasailing, fishing, glass bottom boat rides, paddleboarding, Segway tours, golfing, and hiking are other popular activities.

Next time we visit, I wish to try out the new zip-line that’s 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 great places to visit, it is impossible to list them all. But hopefully I have given you a few ideas to get you started!

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