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Southern California

Travel Guide North America USA Western United States California Southern California

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Introduction

Southern California is more than just Los Angeles!

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Counties

Southern California consists of the following counties:

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Cities

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Sights and Activities

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley Road, California

Death Valley Road, California

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Death Valley is located in the Mojave Desert of California in the United States. Although Death Valley basically refers to the valley floor itself, it's actually part of the much larger Death Valley National Park. It is a place of extremes with the driest, hottest, and lowest place in North America. Oddly enough, it is not that far from Mount Whitney, which is the highest point in the lower 48 states. It is a popular camping destination and features many great hiking trails and natural wonders. Though these activities surely are not recommended in the hot summer months unless you plan to hike early in the morning.

Joshua Tree National Park

Located deep in the southern Californian desert is Joshua Tree National Park. Designated as a National Park in 1994 this area is one of the best preserved desert areas in the country. The park covers two different deserts that have their own ecosystem that are determined by different elevations. The area below 900 metres, is in the Colorado Desert and the plant life is creosote bush, ocotillo and cholla cactus. The Little San Bernardino Mountains cut through the southern park of the park.

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

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The higher, and therefore moister, part of the park is in the cooler Mojave Desert. This part of the park is home to the namesake of the park the Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia), which is related to the yucca plant. There are also several bird species to watch for in the park, with the best place to watch being Barker Dam. The dam is a also a good spot to watch for Big Horn sheep. The Mojave Desert part of the park, in the western part, is also home to amazing geologic formations. These bare rocks are broken up into loose boulders that are home to the parks most popular activity of rock climbing. Many people descend upon the park during the fall and spring, which is the high season, in order to take part in some of the best rock climbing in the world.

Santa Monica

Rollercoaster, Santa Monica

Rollercoaster, Santa Monica

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Although Santa Monica is a city itself rather than part of the city of Los Angeles, it basically is the playground for the beach bums in the LA. Most of the action in Santa Monica is centred around the Santa Monica Pier, where the official end of Route 66 is located. The pier, with its activities like rollercoasters and all sorts of shops, splits the beach into two halfs. The northern one is less attractive and most parking takes place there. The southern half, towards Venice Beach, is more attractive, with cycle- and foothpaths and palmtrees. The water here is pretty cold like most of the Californian coast, and watch out for riptides or strong currents at times. There are lifeguards patrolling around the waters, but better safe than sorry!

Venice Beach

T-shirt shop, Venice Beach

T-shirt shop, Venice Beach

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

While Santa Monica Beach is more of a family style beach, Venice Beach is more the beach for the young and the ones that like to see and to be seen. Apart from the beach, there is also lots of sport grounds, including the famous Muscle Beach, where you'll find the big guys pumping their iron. Next to the beach runs the Ocean Front Walk, or just boardwalk, full with souvenir shops, snacks, drinks and even 'legal' (as in 'good for health problems') marihuana shops. Things can feel a bit worn down and downright shabby after the sun sets, but most of the times it's nothing more than a feeling and certainly not an unsafe place!

Other Sights and Activities

  • Disneyland Resort
  • Knott's Berry Farm
  • Sea World
  • Universal Studios - Los Angeles
  • San Diego Zoo - The world-famous San Diego Zoo is divided into two parks; one located in Balboa Park is a traditional Zoo, and the other is a Wild Animal Park located north of the city. Expect to spend a full day exploring the zoo. The entire San Diego zoo accommodates more than 4,000 creatures ranging from giant pandas, kangaroos, and gorillas all housed in natural environments.

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Events and Festivals

January

April

July

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Weather

Southern California is typically hot and dry during the summer with cool to warm winters. The rainy season is usually light during the winter, unless you are there during an El Nino season, which occurs every few years. The sunny weather in southern California is so infamous, it inspired the annual Rose Parade that takes place every New Years Day. The Valley Hunt Club created the parade in 1890 by decorating their horse-drawn carriages with flowers to show off how beautiful the winter weather was at the time.

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Getting There

By Plane

By Train

Several trains operated by Amtrak travel to and from Southern California. These are:

  • The Coast Starlight between Los Angeles and Seattle.
  • The Pacific Surfliner between Paso Robles and San Diego.
  • The Southwest Chief between Los Angeles and Chicago, via Albuquerque.
  • The Sunset Limited between Los Angeles and New Orleans.
  • The Texas Eagle between Los Angeles and Chicago, via San Antonio, Texas. The Los Angeles to San Antonio train travels only three times a week, but San Antonio to Chicago goes every day.

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Getting Around

By Car

It can be convenient but incredibly frustrating traveling around Southern California by car. Public transportation is severely lacking, so often travel by car is the only option, unless you want to change buses numerous times and walk part of the way yourself. Likewise, freeways in Southern California are plentiful and reach out to almost every major attraction in the region. Parking lots can be huge and many major attractions have multi-story parking garages to accommodate large numbers of vehicles.

However, Southern California drivers have a well-deserved reputation for aggressive driving. Those of you not used to driving on congested freeways and highways may find it safer to use public transportation and shuttle services offered by your hotel.

Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.

For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.

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Sleep

Contributors

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Southern California Travel Helpers

  • Toponym

    I'm a California native and have lived in Southern California most of my life. With a background in law enforcement, I am very familiar with the places to see as well as how to do so safely with your family.

    Ask Toponym a question about Southern California
  • dmstirling

    I've lived here 19/20 years of my life. I know what the weathers like and most things to do in or around Orange County. Feel free to ask me anything, if i can't answer it I'll try and look it up for you :)

    Ask dmstirling a question about Southern California

This is version 29. Last edited at 9:42 on Mar 10, 15 by Utrecht. 16 articles link to this page.

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