How Old Were The Beach Boys When They Got Started Hidden Gems in Southern California

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Hidden Gems in Southern California

Many tourists flock to well-known 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 little off the radar, check out these incredible destinations:

Channel Islands

My husband and I have lived in California most of our lives, but we somehow missed these spectacular islands that are classified as one of America’s National Parks. After seeing some stunning photos online, we took a short boat ride to Anacapa Island from Oxnard as part of an anniversary weekend trip.

If you decide to go, be prepared and bring supplies. This trip is for adventurers in good physical shape. You will have to climb 157 steps to the top of this rugged little island where there is no food, service, water or flushing toilets. Now, I HATE outhouses, but I’m telling you – the views of the rocky coastline, massive cliffs and jagged peaks were worth it. You can easily walk around the perimeter of the island in just a few hours with Inspiration Point, a great reward for your efforts.

We visited in June when bursts of bright wildflowers covered the small island and thousands of adorable baby seagulls could be found around every corner. Just beware of their protective mothers who will pounce on your head if you get too close.

We returned a few years later and visited the larger island of Santa Cruz for an exciting kayak tour through the historic sea caves. On the boat ride we saw a whale and two large schools of dolphins. The water can be rough in certain places, but the caves were amazing. This was a once in a lifetime experience.

Some people consider these islands to be deserted, but if you have an adventurous spirit and love nature, the Channel Islands are considered the Galapagos of North America.

Huntington Botanical Garden

This is another amazing place that we haven’t been able to visit in decades. Located in Pasadena, the magnificent estate is home to more than ten spectacular gardens spread over 120 acres. It’s hard to say which garden is the best, but the Japanese garden, the rose garden, and the California garden are some of my favorites.

We didn’t even have a chance to look at the art galleries. The Huntington Art Gallery contains British paintings, sculptures and decorative arts from the 18th and 19th centuries, including the famous Blue Boy. And to my shame as a writer, we did not visit the Huntington Library itself, one of the largest and most complete research libraries in the United States.

Next time.

Ventura County Wine Trail

Napa may get all the attention as California’s wine country, but my husband and I enjoyed sipping our way through the coastal rolling hills near the seaside town of Ventura. We visited two of almost 20 wineries and tasting rooms.

You can book one of the many wine tours on offer. However, we decided to grab a map and explore on our own. Starting in Ventura at the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 101, we drove Highway 33 towards Ojai.

Surprises await on this somewhat lonely but charming journey – from “the smallest US post office” to the last place anyone saw James Dean alive. Our favorite find was Old Creek Winery which felt like stepping back into a simpler place and time where we were greeted by friendly people and dogs. We enjoyed a purchased bottle of wine and a picnic outside at the tables enjoying the view of the Americana.

Otherwise, both Ojai and Ventura are worthwhile stops with charming inns, luxurious spas and bed and breakfasts, along with a wide variety of outdoor activities. In the summer, Ventura Harbor Village is a hive of activity with festivals and live music on the weekends.

Laguna Beach

This charming beach town is located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. With over 20 different picturesque coves, this beach area offers everything from surfing, paddle boarding, snorkeling, kayaking and whale watching trips.

Just be careful, the surf can be rough in places. As a teenager, I decided to body surf despite the choppy water and got wiped out on a huge wave (think Beach Boys song: Heheheheheheee wipe oooout!). Actually, I blame the Beach Boys for this whole debacle because they romanticized this whole surfer girl thing with the songs I grew up listening to as a Surfer Girl. So it’s their fault.

However, the scenery cannot be beat. Add ultra-chic restaurants and shops and unique art galleries and you get the picture. There’s even a Baby Boomer Club with Saturday night dances. Every summer they host Laguna Woodstock where baby boomers party like it’s 1969.

Heisler Park is a good place to start, located just north of the main beach, an easy half-mile walk on a paved path with spectacular views of the shoreline and the soothing sound of crashing waves. You can take one of the trails to the beaches and tide pools. It is abundant with benches, picnic tables and barbecues where you can enjoy the magnificent views. Hubby and I had a picnic on one of the grassy 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 wealthy reside. Exquisitely landscaped, several lookout benches line the meandering, easy-to-walk path. Steps and ramps lead you down to the beach, where you can walk through a beautiful stone arch at low tide, find a spot in the sand to sunbathe, and a large tide pool. In addition, there are plenty of grassy areas for picnics. I suggest you bring some wine and cheese to catch a romantic sunset.

Big Bear Lake

I live in the desert, so nearby Big Bear is a great mountain getaway with its beautiful lake and pristine forests. Boating, fishing and hiking are just some of the activities in this small, relaxed village.

Last summer, my husband and I biked around the lake, enjoyed a picnic, went down an alpine slide, went go-karts at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, and rode the scenic sky chair for an amazing view. After watching people zipline down the slopes, we put 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 coastline with white sand, towering cliffs, crashing waves and craggy rocks in a semi-hidden location?

Look no further than El Matador, located just north of Malibu off the winding Pacific Coast Highway. It’s easy to miss the small, brown sign pointing to the small parking lot at the trailhead, so follow carefully between Broad Beach and Decker Canyon Roads. Once you find it, be prepared to descend a 150-foot cliff with the help of some steep steps.

Not for small children or the physically challenged, but if you can make it down the stairs, you’ll have breathtaking views. Locals know about this beach and you might see photos being taken – we did!

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

Redondo Beach

By now you’ve probably noticed that my husband and I are beach bums. We found this beach by accident while looking for a nearby place to spend the night before flying out of LAX the next morning.

Redondo Pier is a landmark with panoramic ocean views and water activities that include harbor cruises, seasonal whale watching, kayaks, paddle boards and pedal boats. True, we didn’t try any of these, but we loved the view 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 aquarium at Shark Attack on the Pier. If you have grandkids with you or are young at heart, you might enjoy a semi-submersible yellow submarine (damn, now I have a Beatles song stuck in my head) for underwater viewing of the local marine life.

It’s definitely better to stay at an airport hotel if you’re flying to or from Los Angeles.

Catalina Island

This island is more famous than some of my previous recommendations, but a sentimental favorite. My husband and I honeymooned there 40 years ago and have been back several times. This is a small, quaint island, with no traffic lights or fast food restaurants. A typical traffic jam includes two golf carts and a bicycle built for two.

On our honeymoon, we blissfully biked around Avalon, went horseback riding, toured the famous casino, and sunbathed on a small beach. We took a bus to Two Harbors, the only other village on Catalina Island. Diving, parasailing, fishing, glass-bottom boating, stand-up paddleboarding, Segway tours, golf and hiking are other popular activities.

Decades later, we sailed our boat to the island from Long Beach – which turned out to be one wild ride. My husband and grown children returned again for our open water dive to get certified to dive amidst the famous kelp forests surrounded by bright orange Garibaldi fish. Next time we visit I want to try the new zip line that is 600 feet above sea level with a single ride 1100 feet long with speeds up to 30 mph Wheee!

As you can see, Southern California has so many great places to visit that it’s impossible to list them all. But I hope I’ve given you some ideas to get you started!

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