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Awesome Stuff To Do In LA And Beyond -- Vacations In Southern California
California Vacation -- Stuff To Do In California
Mention "California," and several things probably come to mind: the beach, Valley Girls, surfer guys, earthquakes and actors. For me, the latter is pretty much my life at this point and definitely my main association with the state. When my husband and I decided to spend a week in CA, we were determined to see the parts of it that had nothing to do with entertainment -- and were very pleased with how much CA has to offer. We enjoyed the Los Angeles sightseeing, as well as seeing the rest of the state. There is plenty of stuff to do in LA and beyond.
Stuff To Do In LA
We did begin our journey in Los Angeles and were excited to see the stuff to do in LA. I've been there many times in the past, mainly on business, but during the last few visits I spent my days off at the nearby theme parks. We've also been through LAX airport en route to and from Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand. That said, it was a thrill simply to leave the airport! We were determined to some real Los Angeles sightseeing.
Once in L.A., we met up with friends and ended up spending the day driving past the Walk Of Fame, Chinese Theater and seemingly endless rows of Beverly Hills and Bel Air mansions. On nearly every corner people were selling "Star Maps" that supposedly tell you where various movie stars live, but we didn't bother purchasing one; the gorgeous homes -- many of which are precariously placed hanging over hilltops -- stood out on their own.
Later that evening, we went to Santa Monica where we dined in a fantastic vegan restaurant called RFD. We then walked over to the famous Santa Monica pier, just as the sun was setting. Chances are you've seen a shot of the pier and its attached amusement park in at least some TV show or movie (it's featured in The Lost Boys, for example, and was recently used as part of a location shoot for BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL). We wandered over to the very edge of the boardwalk which looked out into the ocean; as we watched the sky meld with the water, it felt as if we were at the end of the world.
Beverly Hills Mansions
Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier At Sunset
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Daytrips From Los Angeles: The Channel Islands
The next day we took a break from Los Angeles sightseeing and got up bright and early so we could drive up the coast to Oxnard and take a boat out to the Channel Islands. We decided to go to Anacapa, which is about an hour-long boat ride from Oxnard. I once saw a travel special which compared the Channel Islands to the Galapagos because so many different animal species thrive there. Sure enough, we encountered wildlife as soon as we headed into the ocean; en route, we were followed by sea lions, dolphins and various birds. As exciting as it was to see the animals, though, Anacapa is also a physically beautiful island with tall cliffs, lava tubes and arches.
Because the island is so high up, you can't simply embark onto it. Instead you have to climb up a ladder out of the boat and then 150 steps. Up top, we were greeted by panoramic views of the Pacific, rolling hills, sea lions louinging down below ... and thousands and thousands of angry, cawing seagulls.
We were fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it) to be there for the nesting season when the gulls give birth to their chicks. Though we had the privilege of seeing their eggs and their adorable, fuzzy babies, we also had to deal with their protective parents. In order to ward off their territory, the gulls will dive bomb at you to scare you away from their eggs. They never harmed any of us, but it was a bit unnerving to have so many pissed off birds swooping down toward us -- it kind of felt like we were in the Alfred Hitchcock film! Of course, I was the only one who a bird "got." I didn't mind too much, though, because it was such a memorable experience.
For dinner we returned to Beverly Hills, where we ate in an all-garlic restaurant called The Stinking Rose. That's right, every dish was made with garlic from the garlic bread to the garlic soup to the 40 cloves of garlic chicken (which was surprisingly mild). We even had garlic ice cream for dessert ... and it was quite good! I also have to say that the service was top-notch. I wasn't sure how we'd be treated in a BH establishment given that we were wearing shorts and T-shirts and obviously looked like tourists, but everyone was smiling and friendly, and not at all like the snooty clerks you always see in the movies.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park And Sequoia National Park
We escaped the L.A. scene by heading north to Yosemite. The drive itself was spectacular, especially since you travel through so many different environments in such a short distance. On the way, we passed by rolling golden savannah-like hills, lush forests and deserts. We stopped in the desert town of Fresno for lunch, where we met up with some more friends.
That evening, we finally made it to Yosemite. Over the next few days, we checked out the park, as well as the nearby Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon. We were were blown away by the beauty of the mountains, waters falls and rushing waters, but what impressed up the most were the imposing red-colored sequoia trees, many of which are over 200 feet tall and 30 feet across.
The largest, which were in nearby Sequoia Nat'l Park, were about 280 feet tall and 40 feet across. They're beautiful, but unfortunately can't grow in many places because they need just the right combination of sun, rain and soil. The Sierra mountains, though, seem to provide some kind of magic formula because ALL of the trees -- even the "ordinary" pines -- were ridiculously tall.
Most tourists spend time in the Yosemite valley, where you get some great views of the popular Half Dome rock. However, we drove up to 9000 feet so we could get away from the crowds and see the alpine meadows. There, we were lucky enough to encounter even more wildlife. We saw an entire family of deer, marmots (they're a little like prairie dogs, except they live in the mountains and are very cute) and even a wolf! No, we didn't get out of the car (we're not stupid) to greet him, but I did get a good look into Wolfie's sad, green eyes. I'm not sure why he was wandering around by himself, but I hope Wolfie found what he was looking for up in the mountain tundra.
One thing to note about the parks is that while there are plenty of hiking trails, in order to really see the area you need to do A LOT of driving. It took us hours to get from one end to the other, all along windy, steep, narrow roads that hug drops of several-thousand feet. The views were to die for, but the roads were a little frightening to travel on.
Also to keep in mind, Yosemite Park lodging can be expensive, plus you often have to make reservations months in advance. That said, there are less costly hotel and motel options about 15 miles outside of the park's southern gate.
Yosemite National Park
Madonna Inn - Misty Rock Room
Which do you most associate with California?
Coastal Drive And The Madonna Inn
As our trip came to a close, we ended our week with a stay at the Madonna Inn in the coastal town of San Luis Obispo. No, the inn is not named after the pop star; the late owner was Alex Madonna. However, I did get the idea for staying there because it was featured on an episode of The Girls Next Door. The Inn is comprised of 109 rooms, each with its own theme; there's the Western Room, for example, where the bed has wheels on it so it looks like a covered wagon, and the Sky Room, which is painted blue. We stayed in the Misty Rock room, which had a rock wall like a cave. The best feature, though, was the waterfall shower -- definitely the best shower I've ever taken!
The ride back to L.A. was amazing, too, as we drove down the coastal highway. As we passed by Santa Barbara and the ocean, it was a rare clear day, so we could see well into the distance. We even caught another glimpse of the Channel Islands as we made our way back down the coast.
Tour Of The Madonna Inn
Angry gull and chicks
From West To East
From there, we headed back to L.A., and then home to New York. Though there is still much of CA left for us to visit, we felt as if we'd seen a good chunk of it. More importantly, though, I got to experience a side of California which I wasn't as familiar with. I make calls to the state all the time, but I'm finally feeling that connection to it.