San Diego, A Bustling Wine Country & At Home In Hermosa Beach
From one end to the other, California is a true golden state with incredible coastlines, diversity from flat sand beaches to massive cliffs where waves crash into the base, and fun destinations teasing even the most seasoned traveler.
But where to start? One way is to begin one one end and make your way to the other, but that’s only practical from a time and money standpoint for lottery winners. So I’m giving you my five top places, based on years of living and California Dreaming.
1.) San Diego
This is the best place in California. It has it all: great beaches, lots of open space, super-friendly people with a small-town mentality who say say “hi” as they pass you on the street. And even a novelty in Southern California – reliable public transportation. It even has a ferry that takes you to Coronado Island and the world-famous Hotel Del, plus good beach bars, dynamic nightlife in the Gaslamp, a good mixture of locals and tourists to always keep things lively and a number of festivals and events that make it one of the top spots for singles in all the USA.
2.) Manhattan, Hermosa & Redondo Beach – The Los Angeles South Bay
I’m a bit partial here because I live here but really, what’s not to like? There’s a bike path that runs parallel to the beach which I take for exercise, errands and even bar-hopping. There’s a lot of single people who live to go bar-hopping and fun events such as beer festivals and free summertime concerts on the beach. Were it not for San Diego, this would be the ultimate California lifestyle utopia.
Being in Carmel and Monterey is like being in a dream. Carmel is a charming, walkable European-style village (albeit a very upscale one; it would be nice to be able to afford just one of those paintings or sculptures for sale in the many galleries) while Monterey is a peaceful slice of heaven. The water is a deep blue color and is dotted with sea otters, kelp and barking sea lions (okay, I could do without the barking of the sea lions). There are great restaurants, incredible coastal scenery – Pacific Grove, between Monterey and Carmel is one of the most spectacular sections of the California coast – and a recent bonus of being a big wine producing area. No need to go to the wineries, either, for there’s a dozen wine tasting rooms in Carmel and another half dozen in Monterey.
4.) Del Mar
I’m putting this separate from San Diego because it’s a bit too far north to reach by local transport. Plus, it is its own little town anyway. The centerpiece is the Del Mar Fairgrounds, with its Kentucky Derby of the West Coast Opening Day and huge music festival known as KAABOO. But Del Mar is also a cool little beachside town with some good bars – En Fuego is on fire on Tuesday nights, the best bar in the entire area – and just up the coast is the funky Solana Beach with one of the best dive bars in California, The Kraken. There’s a running/bike path, good swimming and surfing and incredibly beautiful coastline. And as a bonus, the Amtrak train is right there to whisk you north or south to other California beach towns.
5.) PCH Drive
The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most gorgeous, pull-over-again, jaw-dropping, scenic drives in all the world. You can drive it in a day (a long day) or take a week. Perhaps years. The road hugs cliffs that plunge deep down into the sea, there are scenic bridges like the iconic Bixby Bridge and back-to-nature Big Sur.
What, no Santa Barbara, you ask? Hey it’s beautiful and I had one of my best Jimmy Buffett experiences there, but with so many other great places it’s on the outside looking in on this list. Maybe #6!?
And #7 would be Santa Cruz. I’ve cruised just the pier with a friend who lives there, hitting every restaurants’ bar on the pier. What a fun time!