California (USA)

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 cities are must-see: Hollywood - take a walk around Hollywood & Highland and check out the Hollywood sign, the Chinese Theatre (where you can watch a movie) 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 where "L.A. comes to play" 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, the 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.

The nicest beaches I've found 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.

Spectacular 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, the 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 Californai Science Center has the Space Shuttle Endeavour on display.

I also toured NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena 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 and even seals and whales 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/author, be an extra in a movie or take pictures of movie stars in Hollywood Walk of Fame Ceremonies.

Driving from Santa Monica to San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1) is amazing and San Francisco in Northern California is a 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. Scenic drives in Southern California include the canyon roads around Malibu, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Mulholland Drive.

Lastly, check out Mexican food - it's delicious (don't miss a burrito at Chipotle while you're at it).

Note: some of the pictures are scanned from film.

Additional info:
- entry on Wikipedia
- profile on Wikivoyage

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