Get the most out of life in Southern California and beyond with this curated collection of places to go and things to see.
Pointing the way
By Sean J. O’Connell
In sleepy Pescadero, about 50 miles south of San Francisco, the 115-foot-tall Pigeon Point Lighthouse—one of the tallest in the U.S.—marks 150 years of guiding mariners this fall. Although the original Fresnel lens is no longer in use, the lighthouse is still an active U.S. Coast Guard navigational aid, using an automated LED beacon. With tide pools, a secluded beach, and lookout areas to view migrating birds, whales, and seals, the lighthouse makes a great day trip or even overnight trip. Three vacation-rental units are available on-site, and each house can accommodate up to 15 people. Overnight rates in the fall and winter start at $400.
Walt Disney’s French connection
By Mimi Slawoff
Walt Disney’s fascination with European art and architecture—cultivated when he was an ambulance driver in France after World War I—inspired fairy-tale castles and other whimsical creations for his theme parks and films. “Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts,” on display December 10 through March 27 at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, shows how 18th-century French and other European decorative arts influenced the master animator.
The international traveling exhibit features more than 250 objects, including porcelain figurines, gilt bronze clocks, candelabras, and Sèvres tower vases. Hand-drawn production artworks, including pages of the restored Sleeping Beauty prop book, are also on view. “This exhibit is a fun way for visitors to learn about decorative art while gaining a deeper understanding of the Disney films they grew up with,” says Melinda McCurdy, The Huntington’s curator of British art. Adults, $25–$29.
Fire and ice
By Judd Spicer
The Coachella Valley is readying for a serious cooldown. A beloved, sun-washed escape for respite, golf, and annual music and arts festivals, this desert destination is adding some icing to its cake this winter: professional hockey.
In December, the region will debut the $300 million, privately funded Acrisure Arena, located on unincorporated land adjacent to Palm Desert. The unveiling comes along with the arena’s much-anticipated tenant, the Coachella Valley Firebirds.
A minor-league affiliate of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, the Firebirds (playing in the American Hockey League) will be the valley’s first full-time professional sports franchise. “It’s an exciting opportunity to become the valley’s team and bring the region to a new level,” says Troy Bodie, director of hockey and business operations for the Firebirds.
After playing their first 22 games away from Acrisure, the Firebirds will make their home debut on December 18. With hockey seating for 10,000, the arena will also offer about 11,000 seats for Live Nation events and concerts.
By Jim Benning
Most of us take our passports for granted. But in his intriguing new book, License to Travel: A Cultural History of the Passport (University of California Press, 2022, $24.95), Arizona State University English professor Patrick Bixby explores the evolution of these amazing documents, from Old Testament references to their depictions in film and literature. Novelist Salman Rushdie called his passport “the most precious book I possess.” Like-minded travelers might find Bixby’s book nearly as precious.
By Paul Zieke
If modern life is stressing you out, consider an ancient solution. Spas at several SoCal tribal resorts offer Native American–inspired treatments using traditional ingredients that are said to have healing properties. “Our world goes so fast; people are looking for a space to slow down, for their spirits to relax,” says Myra Maisel, cultural curator and archaeologist at Pechanga Resort Casino. Check out these treatments.
Spa Pechanga, Pechanga Resort Casino, Temecula
Lavender Tranquility Pedicure ($95): Enjoy a lavender-scented neck pillow during a heated-stone massage for your feet and hands, and a lavender walnut scrub on your feet and heels. “Lavender, though not native to Southern California, was commonly used by Native people as a natural healing element to aid with sleeplessness, eczema, dry skin, and skin blemishes,” says Spa Pechanga Manager Rachel Patane. After applying the nail polish of your choice, the pedicure ends with lavender shea butter massaged onto your toes and feet.
Journey of the Payómkawichum (“People of the West”) soundscape treatment (can be added to massages and facials): As you relax in a zero-gravity massage chair, listen to sounds that the Pechanga people would have encountered on their trade route to the ocean and back—flowing creeks, crackling campfires, and crashing waves.
Sunstone Spa, Agua Caliente Resort Casino, Rancho Mirage
Desert Rain Massage ($180 for 60 minutes; $240 for 90 minutes): This light-to-medium-pressure massage incorporates aromatic desert sage, lavender, and chaparral. “For the Agua Caliente people, chaparral is known as the ‘medicine cabinet,’ as the leaves contain the most antioxidants of any desert plant,” says Spa Director Daniel Spencer. “It helps support immune function, reduce stress levels, and fight fatigue.”
Parade of lights
By Dinah Eng
On December 10, the Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade will celebrate 60 years. The event started in 1963 with 50 boats; this year, more than 100 boats of all sizes will show off their holiday spirit with lighted displays and music as they round the main channel of Marina del Rey Harbor. We spoke to parade President David Ross about this dazzling annual tradition.
Q: How long have you been involved with the parade?
David Ross: I remember being 8 years old, dressed up as an elf, singing Christmas carols on my parents’ boat in the parade.
Q: How large does the parade get?
DR: We’ve had close to 120 boats and about 25,000 to 30,000 spectators, watching from both land and sea.
Q: What’s your favorite part of the parade?
DR: I ride on one of the judging boats, so I love seeing kids on land or on other boats react to all the decorated entries.
Q: What are the best viewing spots?
DR: Burton W. Chace Park or Fisherman’s Village. Parking is a challenge, so I recommend getting dropped off.
By Amy Tenowich
During the height of the pandemic, pet adoptions soared as many people started spending more time at home. Kristi Labrenz, founder of CatCafé Lounge in Los Angeles—the only nonprofit cat café in L.A.—hopes to keep the trend going, noting that all their resident rescues are available for adoption. She says spending time with cats can also boost moods: “Guests always comment that they feel less stress and anxiety after the visit. Cats are so calming.”
The benefits go both ways. Whether your love language is sharing a floor pillow with a kitty under the giant overhead catwalk or going wild with a feather toy on the outdoor “catio,” a feel-good perk is that proceeds from admission, drinks, and swag go directly to saving more cats. And even if you’re not able to provide a forever home, offering a little TLC while sipping a latte at the café helps the cats; many come from traumatic situations and are learning to be social companions again. Online reservations encouraged; $35 for 70 minutes.
An offer you can’t refuse
By Sean J. O’Connell
Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather was released in theaters 50 years ago. With instantly quotable dialogue about family and loyalty, and impeccable midcentury design re-creations, the epic film became better with each viewing. The fictional Corleone family’s tumultuous journey from novel to 3-film arc has always served as a lesson in perseverance and confidence in one’s cinematic vision. Through March 17, 2024, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles celebrates a half-century of Al Pacino and Marlon Brando impressions with “The Art of Moviemaking: The Godfather,” an exhibition of rare artifacts from the movie, including scripts, props, costumes, and ephemera that helped create one of the most iconic film series of the 20th century. Adults, $25.
Riding the wave in ‘South O’
By Ashley Burnett
With new hotels, restaurants, and retail spaces, South Oceanside—affectionately called “South O”—has recently been revitalized. Here’s a sampling of what’s new, as well as what’s worth seeing again in Oceanside.
After making its debut last year, the Green Room Hotel has become an Instagram darling with its retro furnishings, cedar hot tub, and complimentary coffee and doughnuts from local bakeries. This refurbished 1950s motel’s 2-bedroom suite with kitchenette is a perfect choice for families who want to be able to walk to the beach in 10 minutes. Rates start at $140 for a standard room.
While the Oceanside Museum of Art (OMA) and the California Surf Museum (CSM) are Oceanside mainstays, their rotating exhibits keep guests coming back. Visit the art museum for special kids’ events and tours; if you can tear yourself away from the surf and sand, head to the nearby surf museum to learn about the history of wave-riding. Adults, $10 at OMA and $7 at CSM.
Tremont Collective took over an old warehouse building and filled it with a craft-beer bottle shop and bar (pictured), an indoor cycling studio, a poke café, a charcuterie company, and other shops and restaurants. Stop by Communal for coffee, tea, pizzas, and pastries, then meander to check out the rest of the offerings, including Atacama Surf Shop and a Brixton boutique.
For more places to go and things to see in Southern California, check out our editor-curated list of the best fairs, festivals, events, and more.
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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