Southern California, or ‘SoCal’ as I call it, has always been my home. It has a very rare reputation of being a place where you can ski and surf in the same day. We all know the main sites; Disneyland, the Hollywood sign, PCH. But what about the local secrets? Here are some must-see spots for people who want to go off the beaten track in Southern California:
1. Griffith Park
The Greek Theatre, North Vermont Avenue, LA
You know that famous date scene from La La Land, where they dance amongst the stars? Well that’s the Griffith Observatory, which is a very popular destination. But don’t forget that there’s a whole park to explore! Hike through the Hollywood hills, or go and see a show at the Greek Theatre, a stunning venue that was carved into the side of the mountain.
2. Slot Canyon in Anza Borrego
Borrego Springs, 92004
Another expansive state park, Anza Borrego is in the middle of the desert, about a two-hour drive inland from Orange County. You can spend a few hours cruising around and exploring, before heading over to Slot Canyon. For dinner, drive down to Julian for their famous pies!
3. Food Trucks at LACMA
5905 Wilshire Blvd, LA, 90036
LACMA has always been one of my favorite spots in SoCal, with a combination of free and ticketed exhibitions, there’s always something to see. A local secret is that just across the street, between 10am and 3pm daily, LA’s best food trucks line up to feed the museum goers. There’s everything from tacos to dumplings, so be sure incorporate this into your museum trip.
4. Salvation Mountain
Beal Rd, Niland, 92257
Whether you define yourself as religious or not, Salvation Mountain is a sight for all. The vibrant colors are a sharp contrast to its brown desert surroundings, so don’t miss out on an amazing photo opportunity.
5. Sawdust Festival
935 Laguna Canyon Rd, Laguna Beach, 92651
A local treasure is the Sawdust Festival which runs all summer in Laguna Beach. There are glass blowers, artists, food, music, and an eclectic mix of people. My tip is to go at night, the fairy lights and beach breeze create a great atmosphere.
6. Coronado Island
Hotel del Coronado wasn’t well known until Marilyn Monroe stayed there to shoot the comedy Some Like It Hot. To this day, the hotel still feels like a 60s resort, with a beautiful beach attached to it. Drive across a scenic bridge from San Diego to reach the small and quiet island. Then rent some bikes to explore the boutique shops and scenic spots!
7. Huntington Beach Surf Competitions
Main Street, Huntington Beach
A lesser known OC beach town, Huntington Beach has a great scene for university students, with lots of fun bars and parties always going on. All year round there are whale and dolphin watching tours. And in July and August the surf competitions bring in over half a million people for endless beach partying and sun lounging.
8. Santa Barbara Backyard Bowls
331 Motor Way, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
This chill beach town is just a two-hour drive North from LA. So take PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) for some beautiful ocean views! The local hangout is Backyard Bowls, where Instagram-able and refreshing acai bowls are sold. Grab a bowl and find a bench on State Street to enjoy an afternoon of people-watching before you hit the shops.
Idyllwild, Idyllwild-Pine Cove
While tourists head to Big Bear Lake for a one-night getaway, the locals go straight to Idyllwild. Rent a cabin and delve into the charming mountain town with some of the kindest people you will meet in SoCal. If you go to Café Aroma for dinner, you might get to see a live performance from a special famous musical guest…
10. Old Town San Diego
Old Town, San Diego
Old Town is just minutes away from San Diego Airport. The quaint historical park has a rich history and delicious Mexican food. Some say that the food at Olvera Street in LA is better, so why not try both and decide for yourself.
Whether you’re from another country, state or from the OC, there is always something new to be discovered in SoCal. So when visiting, take the time to see the important sites, but don’t miss out on some of these lesser-known spots – you won’t be disappointed.