California is a hot spot, both literally and metaphorically. Sure, the heat is notable but so are the places. It’s the state that attracts tourists from all over the world. Pretty much everyone wants to visit Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. But tourists don’t always know the best places to go to – they go to where all the other tourists go. And you know what? Let them! This article isn’t for the tourists. This one’s for the Californians.
There are the hot spots that only locals know about. This list is what California has to offer that Californians don’t necessarily want tourists to know about. Here are non-touristy, non-cliché, actually cool things to do in the Sunshine State. And some little unknown facts about the biggest cities.
San Diego: The Secret Swings
The “secret swings” on the La Jolla hillside above Scripps Pier near UC San Diego are just that: a secret. Well, at least locals want them to remain a secret. Hidden in the trees are a few sets of swings. Those who hike up from Expedition Way, get this sweet surprise when they reach the top.
The coolest part about the secret swings is that the location, as well as the swings, are ever-changing. There have been all kinds of handmade swings, from a bench chair to a tire swing. If you’re looking to find them, the hashtag #secretswings (on Instagram) might help get you in on the mystery, which is all the fun.
LA: The Comedy Store
The Country’s best comedy club was founded in 1972 by comedian Sammy Shore and his wife Mitzi. The club sits on the famous Sunset Strip and it was the first all stand-up comedy nightclub in the world. The club became a family-like community for well-known and up-and-coming comedians alike.
The three stages of the comedy club have featured comedians such as George Carlin, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Joe Rogan, David Spade, Kumail Nanjiani, Kevin Nealon, and too many more names to count. It’s the perfect spot to get guaranteed laughs.
Next, one of the sweetest spots in San Diego…
LA: Hidden Tunnels
If you want to impress your friends the next time they come to visit, take them to the underground maze of tunnels under Downtown Los Angeles. The tunnels run from Temple and Spring streets to 1st Street and Grand Avenue. Some are actually abandoned subway underpasses but others date back to the Prohibition era.
The tunnels were used to supply liquor to some of the devious establishments in the city. Rumor has it that the tunnels were also where mobsters stored bodies and some say that the police used them to transport prisoners. Although many are now mostly closed off, some are still open and even used as film locations.
Bakersfield: Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace
This one’s for the country fans who just love hearing and dancing to live country music at a real honky-tonk venue. It’s about 110 miles north of Los Angeles and it’s the perfect spot to put on your cowboy boots and practice your moves to live Country music.
Country star Buck Owens opened the Crystal Palace in 1996, and the calendar is always full of music and events. The Palace is one of many historic music venues in California. There’s also the honky-tonk spot Trout’s, which is good but not quite as lively as Buck Owen’s spot.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Perfect for Stargazing
Borrego Springs sits about 90 miles northeast of San Diego and it’s a place you definitely want to be if you’re on a mission to find the best spot to gaze at the stars. You haven’t really seen a night sky until you’ve seen been to the remote Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
The park is surrounded by mountains and the local focus on eliminating light pollution makes it a prime spot for stargazing. During daylight, it’s great for exploring the town of Borrego Springs.
LA: Eight Korean BBQ
“Palsaik Samgyupsal” in Korean means “Eight Colors of Pork.” The top-rated restaurant is for meat lovers alone. How many restaurants do you know specialize in flavored bacon? Just reading the menu is a mouthwatering experience.
And watching the marinated slices of pork sizzle and pop on a grill in front of you is truly enticing. The eight flavors are Original, Wine, Ginseng, Garlic, Herb, Curry, Miso Paste, and Red Pepper Paste. You taste buds go on a journey as K-Pop music plays in the background.
LA: The Varnish Bar
The city’s coolest bar is tucked away discreetly in the core of downtown L.A. It’s a speakeasy lounge that has the classically sophisticated Depression-era atmosphere, with a vintage-style bar, wood-paneled booths, and soft candle lighting.
Oh, and not to mention the perfectly handcrafted drinks made by the best bartenders and from the finest ingredients (real juices, berries, and herbs). This is the true example of “cocktail culture” and a spot locals hope tourists won’t invade!
Murphys: Under-the-Radar Wine Tasting
Murphys is a quaint little town in California’s Gold Country, which is about 85 miles southeast of Sacramento. And it’s home to some of the lesser-known spots for sipping wines. The town has more than two dozen boutique wineries open all year for wine tasting.
Gold Country also has a deep history and impressive natural landscapes, like Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Moaning Cavern, the biggest cavern in the state. Murphys is one of those places that tourists wished they knew about.
Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands: Perfect for Whale-Watching
About 140 miles north of San Francisco lies a rugged coastline that locals love to hang around and hopefully see some whales jump out of the sea. Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands has 1,700 acres of dramatic seascapes.
The lands are protected and thus special. There’s a 115-foot historic lighthouse at the top of Point Arena and it’s the tallest of its kind on the Pacific Coast. And depending on the time of year, you can get glimpses of humpback, blue, or gray whales as they migrate between Alaska and Mexico.
When’s the last time you’ve been to a drive-in theater? There’s one in L.A….
LA: Vineland Drive-In Theater
Do you remember drive-in theaters when you were a kid? Drive-in theaters are one of those nostalgic things that you wish were still around. And luckily for LA-ers, it’s a short drive from downtown, in the City of Industry.
It’s a funky drive-in that stuck around and always has awesome nostalgic movie showings for young couples on their first date to enjoy from the comfort of the backseat of the car. And it’s open all seven days of the week. Nine bucks at sundown for one or even two movies back to back while sitting in your car? Yes, please!
LA: The Chandelier Tree in Silverlake
One of the most subtle yet enchanting sights in Los Angeles is in Silverlake where the Chandelier Tree sits in its illuminated beauty. The tree, filled with actual chandeliers is something so uniquely endearing that visitors only wished they knew to look for it.
What’s more remarkable than its loveliness is the communal involvement poured into the appreciation and love for the sight. Locals never get tired of seeing it on their way to wherever they’re going.
LA: Motown Mondays
The Shortstop in Echo Park on Sunset Boulevard has Motown on Mondays. The bar has DJs that come and play the coolest tunes from the Motown era. So if you’re looking to get your groove on, this is the spot to practice your dad moves (or mom moves of course).
So we got you covered, Californians. if you’re in the mood for a fun night of fantastic music and the chance to get your groove on, you need to check out this spot on Monday nights.
Next, the perfect spot for teat time!
LA: The Tea Room at the Huntington Library
Are you up for a tea party? Here’s a place most people don’t know about. And who said the British are the only ones who appreciate tea culture? The Huntington Library is home to a buffet-style array of finger sandwiches, gourmet cheeses, crisp scones, and fresh-from-the-pot teas.
There’s also a 3-acre rose garden around the corner and some traditional Chinese and Japanese botanical gardens on site. So if you want to sip tea with your pinky finger up while going on a pleasant stroll, this is the place to be. It’s a perfect brunch spot for the ladies.
Glendale: Roller skating at Moonlight Roller Way
Moonlight Roller way is the ultimate disco and roller skating experience for anyone who feels like venturing out into Glendale for a hip and funky kind of night. Then, of course, if you live in Glendale, you already know it exists.
But for the others who live in the general vicinity, it’s a fun place to try out, whether it’s on a date or a family fun night with the kids. They’ve had David Bowie Tribute nights, so you know it’s going to be fun.
LA: The New Beverly Cinema
Although the theater has been around forever, with its roots dating back to Vaudeville Theater and hosts like Dean Martin., it’s recently been marked by the one and only Quentin Tarantino, who saved the property from being redeveloped.
He bought the cinema and often organizes screenings himself, almost always in 35mm film from his personal collection. And who knows, maybe you’ll even find yourself sitting next to him!
If you want to know more about Hollywood’s legendary filmmaker, check this out.
San Francisco: The Best Burrito
San Franciscans take burritos very seriously. If you ask a local where the best Mission-style burrito is, you’ll get all kinds of answers and opinions on whether or not lettuce or fries or rice belong in a burrito. Here are some of the best-rated burrito places in San Francisco…
Rico’s Taco Shop, El Castillito, Colima’s Mexican Food, Humberto’s Taco Shop, Lolita’s Mexican Food, Don Carlos Taco Shop, La Puerta, and El Azteco Taco Shop are some of the best-rated places to get the best burritos in California.
LA is home to the coolest bookstore in the state…
LA: The Last Bookstore
This may be a tad “hipster,” but it’s the ideal combination of books and art. There’s a huge array of unique decorations and comforting aesthetics hanging around the book shop, and the vibe is perfectly calm.
The science fiction section is literally hole-filled there’s a real-life crime-book-filled bank vault. Ever seen a maze of books to get lost in? Well it exists on the second floor. And if you’re a sucker for used books, there’s a quality bargain section with books and vinyl records under a dollar.
Starbread is a petite Filipino bakery that serves a limited number of items, mainly senorita bread, a treat made with bread dough, sugar, sweetened breadcrumbs and lots of butter. The small, baked rolls are deceptively simple yet highly addictive. And it’s a local favorite.
For $8, a customer can get 20 pieces of the hot and buttery senorita bread. The bakery only has one oven, by the way, so you might have to wait a bit for a fresh batch to come out. But no one gets upset about that because they know it’s worth the wait.
The next sweet spot in Sacramento has a specifically designed section for blind visitors…
San Bernardino and Riverside Counties: Hidden Valley
Granite formations like you’ve never seen before and unique desert plants are what make Joshua Tree National Park an unforgettable place to spend time at. Climbers, hikers, campers, nature lovers and families alike love to visit.
Hidden Valley is an area concealed by gigantic boulders. The landscape is popular for climbing during the day and stargazing at night, which is the perfect ending to a spectacular day.
Have you been to the Sea Ranch in Sonoma? See why you need to…
Sonoma County: Sea Ranch
Sea Ranch was established in 1965, 110 miles north of San Francisco near Gualala. It’s something of a utopian experiment where top-notch architects build low-key homes in harmony with the Northern California coast.
All the fences, lawns and showiness of the ranch are off limits but the chapel is pretty wild, letting the landscape take over. The ranch is also there for you to hike, bike, ride a horse, golf, or kayak. So there’s no shortage of things to do and see.
San Francisco: St George Spirits
Inside a huge hangar on the retired Alameda Naval Base sits St. George Spirits, a liquor distillery. You can learn all about alcohol production while you taste all-natural vodkas, gins, Eau de Vie, whiskeys, and more.
There are tours that last an hour, but the tastings last as long as you want. What a way to spend a sunny day and the views of the bay are envious. Paul, one of the tour guides is downright hilarious.
LA: Sushi of Angels
We all know how much Californians love their sushi, but Los Angeles is a sushi mecca of its own kind. There is no shortage of sushi restaurants, but that doesn’t mean that all of them are worth the money you’re going to spend.
The following are by far, the best sushi spots in the City of Sushi Angels: Nozawa Bar, Q, Mori Sushi, Sushi Zo, Sushi Tsujita, Urasawa, Matsuhisa, and we can go on and on. But those should be on your sushi bucket list. And make sure to reserve a table!
San Francisco: Gracias Madre
This one’s for the vegans because we can’t forget about or mother nature-loving populace. California has its fair share of vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants, but there are some that stand out above the rest. Gracias Madre is rated as one of the best in the state.
Gracias Madre has two locations in California (San Francisco and Los Angeles), proud of their organic, farm fresh, and locally sourced plant-based Mexican food. Although a little pricey, trust us, it’s well worth the dough you’re cashing out.
Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park
160 miles north of Sacramento, in California’s Shasta Cascade is a beautiful lake and a volcano that not many are aware of is actually active. It’s tucked away in California’s northeast region as though it was made for the real outdoors lovers. Lake Almanor is what bliss means: water sports, family-friendly activities, and a serene ambiance.
It’s next to one of California’s coolest spots: Lassen Volcanic National Park. With bubbling mud pots and steaming vents, the most popular time to go is during the summer. But the fall brings incredible autumn leaves. It’s a wonderful place to stop on a road trip.
San Diego: Balboa Park
Balboa Park is a wonderful spot for a family-friendly day of fun and has a playground for kids of all ages. Even if you’ve been there before, there’s always something new to see and do in the 1,200-acre urban park.
See what’s in bloom at the Japanese Friendship Garden, or explore the new exhibits at the Natural History Museum, or you can see what’s playing on the IMAX at the Fleet Science Center. It’s perfect for families that want to have an activity for each and every member of the family.
LA: Secret Stairs
Believe it or not, people still walk in and around Los Angeles. You can choose to spend one-third of your life in a car, commuting, or you can get out there and walk. And take the stairs. And the stairs worth taking are the “Secret Stairs.”
Get a copy of Charles Fleming’s “Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles” and you’ll find one of L.A.’s hidden gems. The stairs give you a unique and quirky glimpse of the unseen parts of Los Angeles that you’ve never seen before!
Sacramento: Jensen Botanical Garden
A small sign on Fair Oaks Boulevard is the only notification you’ll get that this little serene garden exists. And that’s what makes it all the more special. It’s meant for peaceful contemplation and appreciation of nature rather than the obnoxious park goers.
The 3.5-acre garden is full of coastal redwoods, blackberry brambles, magnolias, tulips, daylilies, roses, and other botanical beauties. There’s even a Nature Path for the Blind, specially designed for the visually impaired visitors to explore the textures and aromas of the garden.
LA: Any Hike That isn’t to the Hollywood Sign
California as a state has countless hiking spots with to-die-for views. And Los Angeles alone is filled with an abundance of landscapes and hiking trails for the outdoorsy types! Here are some that don’t involve hiking along a mountain in a line of tourists, making you feel as though you’re in line to order a meal at the summit.
Some great hiking trails are in: Palos Verdes, the cliffs of Malibu, the Santa Monica Mountains, Eaton Canyon, Chantry Flats, the Angeles National Forest, Monrovia Canyon, Rubio Canyon, Santa Ynez Falls, Los Liones, and there are so many more…
Santa Barbara: Sandpiper Golf Club
America has its share of golf courses, but none compare to the Sandpiper Golf Club which even charges less than a third of what Pebble Beach (the famous golf course) does. The course is lined by mountains and views of the Pacific.
The course has a challenging 7,000-yard track that has hosted to PGA and LPGA events. After playing Sandpiper, you might enjoy a glass of Pinot and look out at the landmark windmill which might just hit the spot.
Did You Know?
Not everyone, even Californians, know that Los Angeles wasn’t always the home of the film industry. The City of Angels has become known as the land of show biz, but it wasn’t always so. The original location of the entertainment industry was in Atlantic City in the late 1800s, early 19th century. Perhaps a fan of “Boardwalk Empire” might already know that.
So how did the biz get to L.A.? Apparently, the idea was to get away from Thomas Edison. At the time, Edison held most of the country’s film patents and established a monopoly on all phases of filmmaking. In Los Angeles, filmmakers had freedom from his claims, and most importantly cheap land and labor.
Calico: A Ghost Town
One of the most notable historical facts about California is the Gold Rush of 1848, but it also had a Silver Rush in the Calico Mountains from 1881 to 1896. And the town of Calico is the epitome of what a real ghost town is.
Calico was near the site of a major silver strike in 1881. But in the mid-1890s, the price of silver dropped and by the early 1900s, Calico became a deserted ghost town. It’s an eerie yet really cool place to stop at on your next road trip.
Throughout California are random spots known as “gravity hills,” where it seems as though gravity just doesn’t want to abide by the same laws of physics that the rest of the planet follows. These gravity hills have optical illusions which make you feel like you’re falling when you’re not and that you’re rising when you’re actually descending.
At some points, if you put your car in neutral, it’ll seem to start rolling uphill. This has led to some urban legends and ghost stories from creative people throughout the state. Apparently, there have been car accidents, so be careful!
Home to Death Valley
Death Valley is located in Eastern California, in the northern Mojave Desert along the border of the Great Basin Desert. Tourists don’t necessarily know about California’s Death Valley, which is the hottest and driest place in America.
It’s not unlikely for summer temperatures to reach above 200 °F. Death Valley was given its name by a group of pioneers who were lost there in the winter of 1849-1850. But as far as we know, only one of the group died there.
Los Angeles Wasn’t Always “Los Angeles”
This is something even Los Angelens don’t know about. But it’s true: when Los Angeles was founded, the city’s full name was “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciúncula.”
That would directly translate to “The Town of Our Lady Queen of the Angels on the Porciuncula River.” The name was officially changed in 1850 when Los Angeles became an American city.
It’s Legal to Be Naked in San Francisco
It’s true, and yes, people exercise this right. Not just the designated nude beaches – there are naked people in parks and malls, too. Locals and the lucky (or unlucky) speechless tourists to have witnessed the nudity know that San Francisco has no problem with nudity.
Naked people casually doing their shopping or sitting on a bench to read the morning newspaper. But here’s the good news: they’re required by law to place something underneath them if they sit down. Phew…
San Bernardino: The World’s First McDonald’s
Californians can go ahead and say they were the luckiest people on the planet because they were the first to taste McDonald’s first-of-its-kind burgers. The world’s first McDonald’s restaurant was opened by brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald.
The McDonald brothers opened their first restaurant next to the Monrovia Airport in 1937. The tiny octagonal building was called “The Airdrome.” But the building was later moved to 1398 North E Street in San Bernardino, California, in 1940. It started out as a barbecue drive-in, but the brothers discovered that most of the profits came from hamburgers. And the rest is history…
San Francisco: Bridge Temperature
Something that tourists may not know about the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is that it not only serves as a way to cross the river, it also now serves as a thermometer.
This is simply because the bridge is especially good at indicating the temperature, due to its metallic nature. When the metal contracts and expands with temperature change, the deck level can transform by up to 16 feet.