When I was 16, my family loaded up in a rental car and road tripped across the whole state of California in a little less than two weeks. While it was a great trip, filled with everything from beaches to Yosemite, I remember seeing a lot more of the inside of the car, and a lot less of California than I would have liked. When I decided to take David on his first trip out West, we flirted with the idea of traveling the whole state by car, much like my family had done. Eventually we settled on breaking the state up into two different trips — with a focus on Southern California on the first trip, and Northern California on a later trip. I think most of our desire to begin in Southern California came from a want to tour Disneyland (is there a cure for loving the mouse and his kingdom this much?), and my pop culture laden youth (anyone onboard for an O.C. marathon?). We based ourselves in Laguna Hills, since it was a short drive to Disneyland, the beach, only about an hour from Los Angeles, and less than twenty minutes from the airport. It ended up being the perfect location — we stayed at the Laguna Hills Lodge, which was beautiful, affordable, and close to everything we needed it to be. This ended up being one of our favorite trips we’ve taken, so we compiled a list of a few of our favorite things we found in Southern California that you need to make sure to check out.
1) Treasure Island Beach, Laguna Beach
We found Treasure Island Beach after talking to a local man (actually we were more interested in petting said locals golden retriever at first, but the man ended up being a storehouse of knowledge). He suggested we park across the street from the Montage Resort, and walk over to use the stairs they had to Treasure Island Beach. We followed his sage advice, and after stocking up with drinks at the CVS conveniently located across the street, started our trek across the Montages property. We soon found that Treasure Island Beach was not really one beach, but several beaches connected by tide pools, and awesome rocks to explore and climb on. The beaches were surprising deserted of people, but full of things to see and do. David and I spent most of the afternoon climbing back and forth over the rocks that jutted out in the ocean, going from one beach to the other, looking into tide pools at ocean creatures, and having a great day. This was probably the most naturally beautiful beach we found, and we can not highly recommend it enough.
2) The Crab Cooker, Newport Beach
The Crab Cooker has been an Orange County staple since 1951, claiming to have the best clam chowder in the world. While the clam chowder wasn’t to my taste, they do however have some of the BEST crab cakes I have ever had, and I consider myself to be somewhat of a crab cake expert. The great food, combined with old school decor that managed to be retro without seeming kitsch, really worked its magic on us. Oh, and did we mention that instead of a traditional free mint when you leave, you get salt water taffy? Nice touch, Crab Cooker. Its only about a five minute walk over to the Newport Pier, so meander on over and take in the sunset after dinner like we did. Go ahead and copy our whole trip if you want, we won’t be offended.
3) Dad’s Donut & Bakery Shop, Balboa Island
Balboa is charming whether you chose to take the ferry or go ahead and drive over while in search of a now famous Balboa Bar. What is this deliciousness, you ask? A Balboa Bar is a rectangular square of creamy vanilla ice cream that is then quickly dunked in fast drying chocolate, and your choice of delicious toppings. While there are many places in Balboa to get said Balboa Bar, the original and best are supposedly found at Dad’s Donut & Bakery Shop. After our first taste, we found that we were in complete agreement! My personal favorite Balboa Bar combination ended up being almonds on one side, and coconut on the other, like an Almond Joy.
4) Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Los Angeles
Stumptown is like an oasis for the avid coffee drinker surrounded by so-so coffee. Just one step through the doors, and you know that these people don’t just know coffee, they live coffee. Behind the counter, a window looks into their roasting room where the magic happens. I could probably write a sonnet about their coffee, but I’ll save your ears and just tell you that you need to check Stumptown out. Just order a cortado and you’ll understand. Disclaimer: this shop in the Arts District of LA is pretty incognito, and the only sign outside is an A-frame. Just trust Google Maps and enjoy some delicious coffee.
5) Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles.
This Art Deco observatory was one of my favorite places to visit. Perched on the side of Mount Hollywood, this observatory gives a spectacular view of Downtown LA and Hollywood. It’s open late too, so you can watch the city fade at sunset and glow in the twilight. And just to add to the romance of it all, the Hollywood sign is just over the hill in the distance. They have all sorts of events and great stuff that we didn’t have time to do, and you could even make a day out of it by photo jogging around Griffith Park.
6) The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles.
Part used bookstore, part walk-through art museum that showcases the creativity of what people can do with book, this is a treasure trove in downtown LA.
Whether is sparkling beaches flanked with rugged cliffs you’re after, or big city lights – Southern California doesn’t disappoint for either a short getaway or a longer stay. Check out our favorite things, and make some memories of your own.