Hidden Gems in Southern California

Many tourists flock to known destinations in southern California such as San Diego, Disneyland, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. These are all great places to visit, but if you are looking for a different place that is slightly off the radar, check out the following amazing destinations:

The Channell Islands

My husband and I have lived in California for most of our lives, but somehow we miss these spectacular islands that are classified as one of the US National Parks. UU. After seeing some awesome photos on the Internet, we took a short boat trip to Anacapa Island from Oxnard as part of a weekend anniversary trip.

If you decide to go, get ready and bring supplies. This trip is for adventurous people in good physical shape. You will have to climb 157 stairs to the top of this small rugged island where there is no food, services, water or toilets. Now, I HATE the dependencies, but I'm telling you: the views of the rocky coast, the massive cliffs and the irregular peaks were worth it. You can easily walk along the edge of the island in just hours with Inspiration Point, a great reward for your efforts.

We visited in June when bursts of bright wildflowers covered the small island and thousands of adorable seagulls were in each corner. Just be careful with your protective mothers who will throw themselves in your head if you get too close.

We returned a couple of years later and visited the largest island in Santa Cruz for an exciting kayaking tour of the historic sea caves. On the boat ride we saw a whale and two large dolphin banks. The waters can be agitated at certain points, but the caves were incredible. This was a once in a lifetime experience.

Some people consider these islands desolate, but if you have an adventurous spirit and love nature, the Channell Islands are considered the Galapagos of North America.

The botanical gardens of Huntington

This is another awesome place that we couldn't visit for decades. Located in Pasadena, the magnificent estate houses more than a dozen spectacular gardens spread across 120 acres. It's hard to say which garden is the most dazzling, but the Japanese garden, the rose garden and the California garden are some of my favorites.

We didn't even have the opportunity to visit the art galleries. The Huntington Art Gallery houses British paintings, sculptures and decorative arts of the 18th and 19th centuries and includes the famous Blue Boy. And to my shame as a writer, we didn't visit the Huntington Library, one of the largest and most complete research libraries in the United States.

Next time.

Ventura County Wine Route

Napa can get all the attention as a wine country in California, but my husband and I enjoy savoring our way through the coastal hills near the coastal city of Ventura. We visited two of the almost 20 wineries and tasting rooms.

You can book one of the many wine tours on offer. However, we decided to get a map and explore on our own. Starting at Ventura at the junction of Highway 1 and Highway 101, we drove along Highway 33 towards Ojai.

Surprises await you on this somewhat lonely but charming road, from the "smallest Post Office in the USA." Until the last place where someone saw James Dean alive. Our favorite find was Old Creek Winery, which seemed to return to a simpler place and time, where friendly people and dogs welcomed us. We enjoyed our bottle of purchased wine and a picnic outside at the tables enjoying the American view.

By the way, both Ojai and Ventura are worthwhile stops with lovely inns, luxury spas and bed and breakfast along with a wide range of outdoor activities. During summer time, Ventura Harbor Village is an activity center with festivals and live music on weekends.

Laguna Beach

This charming beach town is located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. With more than 20 different scenic coves, this beach area offers everything from surfing, paddle surfing, snorkeling, kayaking and whale watching excursions.

Just be careful, surfing can be hard in some places. When I was a teenager, I decided to surf despite the rough waters and erased a massive wave (think of the Beach Boys song: Heheheheheheee wipe oooout!). Actually, I blame the Beach Boys for all this mishap since they went and romanticized this whole surfer thing with songs in which I grew up as Surfer Girl. So your fault.

However, the landscape cannot be better. Add ultra stylish restaurants and shops and unique art galleries and you will get the picture. There is even a Baby Boomer Club with dancing on Saturday nights. Every summer they organize the Woodstock Lagoon, where baby boomers celebrate as in 1969.

Heisler Park is a good place to start, located just north of the main beach, with an easy half-mile walk along a paved road with spectacular views of the coast and the soft sound of breaking waves. You can take one of the paths to the beaches and tidal pools. Benches, picnic tables and barbecues abound where you can enjoy the magnificent views. My husband and I had a picnic in one of the grassy areas and it was perfect!

Treasure Island Park is another great place, located on the grounds of the five-star Montage Laguna Beach, where the truly wealthy are staying. Exquisitely landscaped, several observation benches line the winding road that is easy to walk. Stairs and ramps lead you to the beach, where you can walk through a beautiful rock arch at low tide, find a place in the sand for sunbathing and a large tidal pool. In addition, there are many lawn areas for picnics. I would suggest bringing some wine and cheese to enjoy a romantic sunset.

Big bear lake

I live in the desert, so near Big Bear is a great mountain getaway with its beautiful lake and virgin forests. Boating, fishing and hiking are just some of the activities in this small and quiet town.

Last summer, my husband and I toured the lake by bike, enjoyed a picnic, went down an alpine slide, drove go-karts with speeds of up to 30 mph and took a ride in the scenic sky chair to enjoy the views incredible. After watching people take the ski lifts to ride a mountain bike on the trails, we put this on our to-do list for next time.

For the adventurous at heart, parasailing and zip lines are also available.

El Matador Beach

Looking for a spectacular coastline with white sands, cliffs, breaking waves and steep rock formations in a semi-hidden place?

Look no further, El Matador, located north of Malibu, along the winding Pacific Coast Highway. It's easy to overlook the small brown sign that points to the small parking lot at the beginning of the trail, so watch carefully between Broad Beach and Decker Canyon Roads. Once you find it, prepare to go down a 150-foot cliff with the help of steep stairs.

It is not for young children or for those with physical disabilities, but if you can go down the steps, you will be treated with stunning views. The locals know this beach and they may see some photo shoots, we did it!

There is very little to do in this small but glorious stretch of beach, so bring a picnic lunch or some wine and find a hidden corner to enjoy an incredibly romantic setting.

Redondo Beach

By now, you have probably noticed that my husband and I are beach bums. We found this beach by accident while we searched for a nearby place to spend the night before flying from LAX the next morning.

The Redondo Pier is a landmark with panoramic ocean views and water activities that include harbor cruises, seasonal whale watching, kayaks, rowing boards and pedal boats. In fact, we didn't try any of these, but we loved Tony's views on the pier where we enjoyed the happy hour.

The pier also houses a great 16-foot white shark affectionately known as Georgette, which is displayed in a large Shark Attack tank on the pier. If you have grandchildren with you or are young at heart, you can enjoy the semi-submersible yellow submarine (damn it, now I have the Beatles song in my head) to see the local marine life underwater.

Insurance is better than staying at an airport hotel if you fly to or from Los Angeles.

Catalina Island

This island is better known than some of my previous recommendations, but it is a sentimental favorite. My husband and I spent our honeymoon there 40 years ago and have returned several times. This is a small and picturesque island, with no traffic lights or fast food restaurants. A typical traffic jam involves two golf carts and a bicycle built for two.

On our honeymoon, we happily ride bicycles around Avalon, ride horses, tour the famous casino and sunbathe on the small beach. We also took a bus to Two Harbors, the only other town on Catalina Island. Snorkeling, parasailing, fishing, glass bottom boating, paddleboarding, Segway tours, golf and hiking are other popular activities.

Decades later, we sailed our ship to the island from Long Beach, which turned out to be a wild journey. My husband and older children returned again for our open water dives to obtain diving certification amid the famous seaweed forests surrounded by the bright orange fish Garibaldi. The next time we visit, I want to try the new zip line that is 600 feet above sea level with a 1,100-foot long run with speeds of up to 30 mph Wheee!

As you can see, Southern California has so many excellent places to visit, it is impossible to list them all. But I hope he gave you some ideas to get you started!