California, United States of America

I lived for two years in Southern California some time ago and had a fantastic time (revisited twice afterwards). California has everything: great beaches, nice weather, laid-back atmosphere, food variety, shopping, arts, events, concerts and tons of things to do and see.

Where do I start? Some of the iconic cities and towns come first: Hollywood - take a walk around Hollywood & Highland and check out the Hollywood sign, the Chinese Theatre (watch a movie there) and the Walk of Fame; Beverly Hills - class and luxury on Rodeo Drive, nice houses and neighborhoods; Universal City - have fun at the Universal Citywalk and visit the Universal Studios Amusement Park; Malibu - quiet and beautiful community with nice beaches and relaxing drives (the campus of Pepperdine University is beautiful); Santa Monica for the pier and the 3rd Street Promenade; Santa Barbara for the visitor-friendly atmosphere and fine dining; the scenic "beach cities" of Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach; finally - San Diego to the South, Palm Springs inland and Solvang, the "Danish Village" are also well worth a visit.

In Los Angeles don't miss the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, L.A.'s historic center (El Pueblo de LA) around Olvera Street where it all got started in 1781, and the beautiful UCLA Campus; for good shopping check out The Grove and the The Howard Hughes Promenade.

Some of the nicest beaches in SoCal were in Malibu (Zuma and Point Dume), Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Laguna Beach and La Jolla.

There are tons of places for having fun: besides Universal Studios, there's the world-famous Disneyland (don't miss the hyper-reality experience at The Void) and Seaworld San Diego for marine life lovers.

Good museums and attractions include the Getty Center with its striking architecture, impressive art collection and nice gardens, the Huntington Library with its gorgeous botanical gardens, the L.A. Natural History Museum, La Brea Tar Pits with well-preserved fossils of ancient beasts, the beautiful Japanese Garden in Van Nuys and the futuristic Crystal Cathedral. The Griffith Observatory is very nice, while the California Science Center has the Space Shuttle Endeavour and other cool exhibits on display.

I also toured NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena (no longer available for public visits, unfortunately) and checked out the office building of SpaceX in Hawthorne with the first recovered rocket stage on display (SpaceX offices cannot be toured).

Nature lovers will also enjoy the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, the L.A. Zoo, Seaworld San Diego - already mentioned, and the various small aquariums in places such as Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach (the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Northern California is also good). There's wildlife all around - you may bump into racoons, deer, coyotes, skunks, wild rabbits, pelicans and many more. If you're lucky, you'll see dolphins, seals and even whales while relaxing at the beach (you can get a whale watching cruise in Redondo Beach).

There's lots of other stuff to do in Southern California: hike to the Hollywood Sign, one of California's most well-known landmarks; go to a concert or a book reading by your favorite band or author, be an extra in a movie or take pictures of movie stars at Hollywood Walk of Fame Ceremonies.

Scenic drives in Southern California include the canyon roads around Malibu, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Mulholland Drive.

Driving from Santa Monica to San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1) is very scenic, and San Francisco in Northern California is another great destination. In SF check out Lombard Street ("the most crooked street in the world"), Fisherman's Wharf (don't miss the sealions on Pier 39 and the USS Pamponito WWII submarine), Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Park and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

Don't forget to check out Mexican food - it's absolutely delicious (don't miss a burrito at Chipotle while you're at it).

Note: most of the pictures are scanned from film.

Additional info:
- entry on Wikipedia
- profile on Wikivoyage

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