It occurred to me that since I spent the first 66 years of my life in California, I have a lot of useful information about California that I should impart to my readers, many of whom are dreaming about visiting the Golden State. This is the first in a multi-part series of posts about what to see when you visit California. For this purpose I’m going to divide the State into six areas: south of Los Angeles, Los Angeles area, south central, north central, Bay Area, and north of Bay Area.
South of Los Angeles.
California is a big state with numerous sites worth visiting. You couldn’t possibly visit them all unless you were in the State for a year with nothing else to do. So I am going to try to rank the sites I mention into “must sees” and “worth seeing.” This isn’t easy for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that different people have different tastes. For instance, some people are most interested in beautiful scenery, while others are most interested in historical sites, art and music, shopping or night life. I like it all, and I will do the best I can. Let me give one piece of advice from the outset: You will need to rent a car and a GPS device, as well as purchasing maps for a view of the overall picture.
The area south of Los Angeles for purposes of this article includes from the south, San Diego and Imperial Counties, and San Bernardino and Riverside Counties to the north. I’ll cover Los Angeles County separately.
Coastal San Diego County, in my opinion, has the best weather in the world. In winter the daytime temperatures are typically in the 60’s, while summer temperatures are in the 70’s with occasional spikes to the 80’s. On or near the coast the lows are rarely below 40. Rain, except in January and February is rare. Traffic, especially on I-5, in the main north-south artery is terrible. (Keep in mind that in the summer temperatures inland, even in non-desert areas often rise to the 90’s or even above 100, though it is dry heat.) The “must sees” in the coastal area are downtown San Diego with its plethora of fine restaurants, Performing Arts Center and the Gaslight District, not to mention the harbor area and beaches. Another “must see” is the famous San Diego Zoo, one of the great zoos of the world. “Worth seeing” are Wild Animal Park, Sea World, the San Diego Mission and lovely beach towns in the north county—starting with Del Mar (if you’re there in August, take in the horse races), Solono Beach, Cardiff By the Sea, Encinitas and Carlsbad.
There is not a lot to see inland in San Diego and Imperial Counties, unless you like the desert and you are not visiting in June through September. Other than those months, my favorite desert area in California is Anza Borrego National Park, which has been left relatively unspoiled (rare in California) and is especially stunning April and May, when the wild flowers are in bloom.
Farther north, but still south of Los Angeles (and east) are the majestic San Bernardio Mountains towering up to 9,000 feet and a gorgeous example of mountains in a high desert area. The prettiest mountain town in there is Big Bear Lake, which, if you venture that far inland in California, I rate as a “must see.”
Palm Springs, Ranch Mirage and environs are not far from the mountains and “worth seeing” if you are in the area. Note that I wouldn’t go in June through September.
Back toward the coast is the famous Orange County (once known among political liberals as “the hotbed of the radical right,” but not so much anymore). As you probably know, Disneyland is there (in the City of Anaheim). I suppose I have to rank it as a “must see,” although, since I had four children, I have been there so many times, the thought of going now is not exciting, to say the least. The beaches of Orange County, especially Laguna Beach and Newport Beach are “must sees.” Huntington Beach is worth seeing if you are already going to Laguna or Newport. The Richard Nixon Presidential Library is “worth seeing,” and a must if you are a history buff.
You could easily spend two weeks just in this area south of Los Angeles, but if you have less time, at least visit downtown San Diego, Laguna and Newport Beaches and Big Bear Lake. Those places will provide a picture of the great diversity of this area.