My Top 10 Activities in Southern California
I spent a fabulous summer in Los Angeles last year, interning at two PR agencies, taking evening classes about the entertainment industry, and of course, having tons of fun with my friends. And even though my heart was forever stolen by the East Coast, specifically Boston, I have to acknowledge the laid-back charm of Southern California. If you are thinking of visiting SoCal in the near future and looking for tips on what to do and where to go, here is a list of my top ten activities you cannot miss.
1. Take a stroll along Hollywood Boulevard
I know this may be the most typical tourist trap but I think it’s still worth walking along the Hollywood Walk of Fame to see which entertainment industry stars were talented enough to immortalize their names in the much desired five-pointed stars. Other important landmarks of Hollywood Boulevard include the famous Kodak Theater, home to the annual Academy Awards Ceremony, aka The Oscars; Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, where you can touch your favorite stars without being creepy; and multiple sidewalk cafes, conveniently located for celebrity sightings.
2. Take stunning pictures at the Hollywood Sign
Located in the Hollywood Hills area of the Santa Monica Mountains, these gigantic white letters have captivated the dreams of many young and talented newcomers trying to make it big in Hollywood. You can either drive or hike to the site, and once you’re there, the most incredible view of Los Angeles will open right up to you. And for a second you might feel like a dazzling movie star in the spotlight, with the wind blowing through your hair. This place feels especially magical at sunset.
3. Embrace a rigorous workout at Runyon Canyon Park
I think most people strive to become healthier once they move to California – I wasn’t an exception. The amount of skinny girls and vegan options make you reevaluate your lifestyle so that you subconsciously want to keep up with the healthy trend. One of my favorite acquired Cali habits was to wake up early over the weekend, grab a low-cal breakfast and drive to Runyon Canyon Park, which is most famous for its running/hiking trails and stunning views. Struggling against my breathless self, it felt amazing running under the burning California sun, overcoming obstacles and putting my thoughts together.
Don’t forget to devote at least one night to celebrating life at the various clubs on Sunset Boulevard. Perfect for celebrity spotting, the Sunset Strip is the center of nightlife in the Los Angeles area. Enjoy an overpriced but delicious drink at the posh Chateau Marmont and then dance the night away in one of the Sunset Strip clubs. My favorites were Skybar and Viper Room.
5. Observe the wildlife at San Felipe Valley
If you feel like getting away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, there are few better places to spend the day than at the San Felipe Valley Wildlife Area. Located just 30 miles outside of San Diego, outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the amazing views, unique wildlife and diverse landscapes — from the beautiful, sprawling desert to the dense hardwood forest and snowcapped mountain peaks. Hiking through the forest will give you ample opportunities to see a number of wildlife species in their natural habitats, including deer, mountain lions, quail, and much, much more. Adrenaline junkies, take note: it’s a great place to go deer hunting in the fall (but don’t forget to complete your California Hunter Safety Course first). Spring is the time to visit if you’re an avid birdwatcher, and if you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of the rare golden eagle. However, public access to the wildlife area is restricted from June-August, so you’ll want to double-check what parts are open before you head out there.
6. Shop for local crafts in Old Town San Diego
Located only two hours away south of downtown Los Angeles, San Diego can be a perfect day trip destination. Famous for its numerous beaches that are especially popular among local surfers, San Diego is a cozy and charming southern city. Its Old Town district has a special place in my heart. Known as the birthplace of California, this historic district will captivate you with its authentic 18th-century buildings, outstanding Mexican restaurants, and amazing hand-made souvenirs.
7. Unleash your inner child at the nearby theme parks
There are three major amusement parks in the Southern California area, and I highly recommend getting to at least one during your visit — if not all of them, as each one offers something different and fun for everyone. Disneyland is the most famous of the three, and as you probably know is a great place to bring your kids for some wholesome family fun where you can relive your childhood memories by saying “hi” to your favorite Disney characters. At the same time, it’s home to some terrific rides for the older crowd, including Thunder Mountain, the rickety-looking California Screamin’, and the most famous of the bunch, Space Mountain. As well known for its lines as its rides, I’d highly recommend getting a FastPass so you can skip the common two-hour lines for the big rides.
Universal Studios is a movie studio and theme park that’s targeted a little more to adults, especially avid moviegoers. One of my favorite rides there was the 360 King Kong 3-D experience, created by director Peter Jackson. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you will be impressed: King Kong battles the dinosaurs in an incredibly realistic, mesmerizing experience where the action happens all around — and on top — of you. The Studio Tour is also worth a ride for special effects aficionados, as you’ll visit parts of the sets of Jaws, War of the Worlds and Fast and the Furious.
For those who want more of a classic, adrenaline-pumping rush, I’d suggest a visit to Six Flags Magic Mountain, home to crazy, heart-attack inducing roller coasters such as Batman: The Ride, Viper, and the mother of them all: Goliath. Featuring a 255-foot climb, then an immediate plunge downward at a 61-degree angle, Goliath is three minutes of pure, unfiltered awesomeness.
If you’re a fan of scuba diving, Catalina Island would be your number one choice in Southern California. In addition to clear waters and therefore great visibility, the nearby dive sites offer mysterious cliffs and caves, a variety of shipwrecks, and vibrant marine life. Water temperatures vary seasonally, from 50s in the low season to 70s in the high season. I went scuba diving in May, and the water was pretty chilly, so a dry suit, gloves and a hood were a necessity.
9. Visit the art exhibitions at the Getty Center
The Getty Center is a snow-white architectural masterpiece sitting atop a picturesque hill in Brentwood, Los Angeles. It features various art galleries, an astonishing garden, and breathtaking views of the surrounding pinewoods. Whenever I had a chance, I would drive up to the Getty to wander from one exhibition to another, followed by a lovely stroll through the garden and perhaps a short nap on one of its hills.
10. Enjoy the rides at Santa Monica Pier and explore the artwork of Venice Beach
Santa Monica is a perfect place for lavish shopping and dining out. After hitting the luxury brand boutiques, indulge in fresh, delicious food on the Third Street Promenade or the nearby beachfront restaurants. Santa Monica Pier, with its trademark Carousel and other attractions, is also worth visiting.
Venice Beach features a beautiful promenade with street performers, unique-looking artists, and local vendors selling tourist knick-knacks. Here you can contemplate various kinds of graffiti and wall art.
A four-mile distance between Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier makes it a perfect evening run for sports nuts. Another cool place to run through would be Venice’s canals.
Bonus: Take a scenic drive along the Pacific Coast Highway
Driving a convertible along the PCH was one of the most memorable moments I experienced in Southern California. With the shimmering ocean on one side and the luxurious villas on scenic hills on the other, it felt incredible to just drive, with no specific destination in mind.