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30 fun summer activities in Southern California

Fun summer activites Photo by Leslie Mieko Yap

You can find lots of one-of-a-kind experiences right here in Southern California, and there's no better time than summer. So get out and explore. 

Los Angeles County

1. Bungee jump off a bridge. Hike 5 miles into the Angeles National Forest to the Bridge to Nowhere, which was built in 1936 and abandoned two years later after a massive flood washed away the road leading to it. The bridge sits at the bottom of the majestic San Gabriel Canyon, where prospectors once mined for gold. Each year, up to 10,000 adventurers take the plunge with Bungee America. 310-322-8892.

2. Order a dry martini, two olives. At Musso and Frank Grill, one of Hollywood's oldest restaurants, octogenarian bartender Manny Aguirre has been mixing cocktails for many years. 323-467-7788.

3. Go cruising in a classic car. Be driven around in a 1940 Packard Darrin Victoria, a 1909 Ford Model T, or a 1982 DeLorean during the Sunday Rides program at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo. 310-909-0950.

4. Walk through a tunnel made of books. The Last Bookstore in downtown L.A. is a bibliophile's heaven on earth, with 22,000 square feet of space packed with 250,000 new and used books, as well as vinyl records and graphic novels. 213-488-0599. 

5. Get artsy at a world-class museum. The Getty Villa in Malibu offers free painting, drawing, and sculpting classes. 310-440-7300.

6. Ride a city treasure. Downtown L.A.'s 116-year-old Angels Flight funicular is once again shuttling passengers between Hill and Olive streets on Bunker Hill every day between 6:45 a.m. and 10 p.m. $1 for a one-way ride. 213-626-1901.  

7. Go back in history. Sleep aboard the Queen Mary. Luminaries such as Winston Churchill, Judy Garland, and Walt Disney have sailed on this former British luxury liner now docked in Long Beach. 562-499-1739. 

Orange County

8. Cruise Newport Bay. Grab some friends, a bottle of wine, and picnic foods and enjoy an afternoon cruising calm waters in a Lear or Duffy electric boat. You'll enjoy million-dollar views as you pass big yachts and fancy homes, but you'll be so relaxed you won't feel envious. Several companies rent boats. 

9. Dance at a 241-year-old mission. Each summer, Mission San Juan Capistrano raises preservation funds with its Music Under the Stars Summer Concert Series. Tribute bands play, while guests dance or picnic at tables in the mission's central courtyard garden. 949-234-1300. 

10. Slurp pho in Little Saigon. Sure, this Vietnamese noodle-soup staple is ubiquitous now, but it's best enjoyed in Orange County's Little Saigon, said to be home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. Try local favorite Pho 86 in Westminster and up your pho game by ordering xi quach, bone that's simmered for hours to make the broth. 714-839-4591. 

Inland Empire and the Desert

11. Tour an olive ranch. Learn how Temecula Olive Oil Company grows, harvests, and hand-presses its products. Guided tours include a tasting experience. 866-654-8396.

12. Fly in a vintage plane. Living History Flying Days are held the first Saturday of every month at the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino. Experts discuss each month's historic aircraft, then raffle off a seat for a flight that day. Past flights have included a B-25 Mitchell, an F-86 Sabre, and a P-51 Mustang. 909-597-3722.  You can also catch a ride in a classic war bird with the Southern California Wing of the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Camarillo (805-482-0064), the Palm Springs Air Museum (760-778-6262), and Air Group One in San Diego (858-242-2782). 

13. Soak in H2O and history. Two Bunch Palms resort in Desert Hot Springs, built in the 1940s, was once a discreet Hollywood celeb hideaway. Today, it bills itself as the nation's oldest mineral hot springs resort. 760-676-5000;

14. Take in the views. Ride the 10-minute, 2.5-mile trip on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world's largest rotating tramcar, which takes riders toward the top of the San Jacinto Mountains for nature walks, challenging hikes, or camping. Along the way, enjoy views of Palm Springs and, possibly, the Salton Sea. 888-515-8726. 

15. Take a hike. Take a leisurely woodland walk to Heart Rock, a heart-shaped rock formation next to a waterfall in the San Bernardino National Forest near Crestline. While on the 1-mile round-trip hike, watch for the "King's Chair," a burned-out stump in the shape of a chair. 909-382-2790. 

16. Visit Elvis' honeymoon hideaway. The Palm Springs Modern Tour highlights some of the area's best midcentury modern architecture, including the "House of Tomorrow," where Elvis and Priscilla Presley lived for a year. 760-318-6118.

17. Race on an oval dirt track. The Perris Auto Speedway holds races as part of its Night of Destruction, when fans can bring their own cars to compete against the clock. 951-940-0134.

San Diego County

18. Enjoy a free organ concert. The largest outdoor organ in the Western Hemisphere resides in San Diego's Balboa Park. Created for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, the Spreckels Organ Pavilion presents performances at 2 p.m. every Sunday.

19. Don a hat for the races. Every July at Del Mar Racetrack, many of the 40,000 people who attend opening day wear wild, whimsical, or elegant hats. The sartorial display recalls Del Mar's Hollywood heyday, when fashionable race days drew the likes of Bing Crosby, Ava Gardner, and Gary Cooper. 858-755-1141.

20. Time travel. At the annual Cabrillo Festival, held in September, see the dramatic reenactment of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's landing in San Diego Bay in 1542. He was the first European to set foot on the present-day U.S. West Coast. 

21. Fly off a cliff. The Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla offers tandem paragliding flights with trained instructors doing the flying while you enjoy views of the coastline. Many aviation pioneers, including Charles Lindbergh in the 1930s, have soared along this coastline. 858-452-9858.

22. Soar in a balloon. For a bird's-eye view of the San Diego County coastline and a serious thrill, climb into a wicker basket and soar 1,500 feet over Del Mar. Most hot-air balloon rides last about an hour and include views of area estates, the Del Mar Fairgrounds, and, on clear days, Mexico. A number of companies offer trips. 

San Luis Obispo County

23. Drive on the beach. Pismo State Beach offers motorists something not available anywhere else in Central California: the chance to drive on the sand. There are ATV rentals nearby to tackle the miles of dunes. The beach also offers hiking trails, horseback riding, and camping. 805-473-7220. 

24. Stay in a rock room. The Madonna Inn has 110 quirky guest rooms decorated in unconventional themes such as Carin, an all-pink Barbie-like room, and Rock Bottom, a room covered entirely by rocks. 805-543-3000;

25. Visit Hearst Castle in the dark. Perhaps you've already toured this San Simeon landmark by day. If so, take the 100-minute evening tour. Illuminated at night, the castle exudes a romantic and dramatic aura. 800-444-4445.

Santa Barbara County

26. Sip wine in a cave. At Sunstone Vineyards and Winery in Santa Ynez, more than 300 bottles are stored in a candlelit cave, where you can taste wine on a private tour. 805-688-9463.

27. Take in a concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. National acts go out of their way to play at this intimate (fewer than 5,000 seats) venue built in the 1930s as a WPA project. Sight lines and acoustics are sublime, and recent renovations have made a good thing even better. 805-962-7411. 

28. Get jazzed at Lobero Theatre. California's oldest continuously operating theater opened in 1873 and seats 600 people. Rebuilt in Santa Barbara's Mediterranean style after a 1925 earthquake, the Lobero is home to most of the city's major performing arts groups. 805- 963-0761.

Ventura County

29. Shuck oysters on the beach. Order raw oysters and clams from the Shuck Shack in Ventura's San Buenaventura State Park, then eat them fresh at one of the 20 or so beach-view picnic tables. Non-DIY types can order prepared shellfish from the Jolly Oyster Kitchen food truck just a few yards away. Weekends only. 805-798-4944.

30. Kayak into sea caves. In Channel Islands National Park, take a guided paddle (pictured at top) around Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island. The underwater kelp forest will amaze you, too. Channel Islands Adventure Company is the park's designated concessionaire. 805-884-9283.

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AAA travel alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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