Hidden Gems

Balboa, The Island Of Balboa, Island
Many tourists flock to well-known 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 is a bit off the radar, check out the following incredible destinations:
The Channell Islands
My husband and I have lived in California most our lives, but somehow overlooked these spectacular islands which are categorized as one of the U.S. National Parks. After viewing some stunning 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 excursion is for adventurous people in good physical shape. You will have to climb 157 stairs to the top of this rugged little island where there is no food, services, water, or flushing toilets. I HATE outhouses, but I’m telling you – the views of the rugged shoreline, enormous cliffs, and jagged peaks were worth it. It is simple to increase 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 adorable baby sea gulls were to be found around every corner. Just beware of their protective mamas who will swoop in your head if you get too near.
We returned a few years later and visited the larger Santa Cruz Island for an exciting kayak tour of the historical sea caves. The waters can be rough at certain points, but the caves were amazing. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Some folks consider that these islands desolate, but in case you have an adventurous spirit and love nature, the Channell Islands are considered the Galápagos of North America.
This is still another stunning place that we failed to see for decades. Located in Pasadena, the magnificent property is home to more than a dozen magnificent gardens spread across 120 acres.
We didn’t even get a chance 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 did not visit The Huntington Library itself, among the largest and most complete research libraries in america.
Next time.
Napa may get all of the attention as wine country in California, but my husband and I enjoyed sipping our way through the coastal rolling hills close to the seaside town of Ventura. We visited two of the nearly 20 wineries and tasting rooms.
You can reserve one of the numerous wine tours offered. But, we decided to find a map and explore on our own. Starting 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.
Incidentally, both Ojai and Ventura are rewarding stops with enchanting inns, luxurious spas, and bed & breakfasts together with a wide variety of outdoor activities. In the summertime, 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. With over 20 different scenic coves, this beach area offers everything from surfing, paddle-boarding, snorkeling, kayaking, and whale watching trips.
Just beware, the surf can be rough in places. As a teen, I decided to body surf despite the churning waters and wiped out on a enormous wave (think Beach Boys’ song: Heheheheheheee wipe oooout!) . Actually, I blame the Beach Boys for this whole mishap since they moved and romanticized this whole surfer chick thing with songs I grew up on like Surfer Girl. SO their fault.
However, the scenery can’t be beat. Add ultra-chic restaurants and stores and one-of-a-kind art galleries and you get the picture. There’s even 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 start, situated just north of the main shore, with an easy half-mile stroll along a paved path with breathtaking views of the coastline and the soothing sound of crashing waves. You can take one of the paths to the beaches and tide pools. Hubby and I had a picnic on one of the grass areas and it was excellent!
Treasure Island Park is another terrific place, located on the grounds of this five-star Montage Laguna Beach, where the truly rich remain. Exquisitely landscaped, several watch chairs 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 spot in the sand for sunbathing, and a large tide pool. In addition, there’s 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 neighboring Big Bear is a excellent mountain escape with its gorgeous 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 around 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 seat 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 offered.
El Matador Beach
Look no further than El Matador, located north of Malibu off the winding Pacific Coast Highway. It’s easy to miss the small, brown sign pointing toward the little parking lot at the trail-head, so watch carefully between Broad Beach and Decker Canyon Roads. Once you find it, be prepared to hike down a 150-foot bluff with the help of some steep stairs.
Not for small children or people who are physically challenged, but in case you can make it down the steps you’ll be treated with breathtaking views. The locals know about this beach 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 discover a hidden nook to enjoy a remarkably romantic setting.
Redondo Beach
By now, you’ve probably noticed that my husband and I are beach bums. We found this beach on accident while looking 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 did not 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 known as Georgette, on display in a large tank at Shark Attack on the Pier. In case you have grandchildren with you or are young at heart, you might like the semi-submersible yellow submarine (damn, now I’ve got the Beatles song stuck in my head) for underwater viewing of the local sea life.
Sure beats staying at an airport hotel if you are flying to or from Los Angeles.
Catalina Island
This island is much more well-known than a few of my previous recommendations, but a sentimental favorite. My husband and I spent our honeymoon there 40 years back 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 bike built for two.
On our honeymoon, we blissfully rode bikes around Avalon, went horseback riding, toured the famous casino, and sunbathed on the small beach. Snorkeling, parasailing, fishing, glass bottom boat rides, paddleboarding, Segway tours, golfing, and hiking are other popular activities.
Decades later, we sailed our boat to the island from Long Beach – that turned out to be one wild ride. My husband and grown children returned for our open-water dives to become scuba-certified amid the famous kelp forests surrounded by the bright orange Garibaldi fish. Next time we visit, I want to try out the new zip-line that is 600 feet above sea level with a single run that is 1,100 feet long with speeds up to 30 m.p.h. Wheee!
As you can tell, Southern California has so many terrific places to go to, it’s impossible to list them all. But hopefully I have given you a few ideas to get you started!

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