Southern California

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Travel Guide North America USA Western United States California Southern California

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Introduction

Southern California Southern California is a megapolitan area in the southern region of the U.S. state of California. The large urban areas containing Los Angeles and San Diego stretch all along the coast from Ventura to the Southland and Inland Empire to San Diego.

To the west of Southern California lies the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands. To the south is the international border between the United States and Mexico. Towards the Arizona state border in the east lies the Colorado Desert and the Colorado River, and towards the Nevada state border lies the Mojave Desert. Though there is no official definition for the northern boundary of Southern California, most include all the land south of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Tehachapi Mountains.

Southern California is a culturally diverse and well known area worldwide. Many tourists frequently travel to South Coast for its popular beaches, and to the eastern Desert for its dramatic open spaces. Southern California, along with the San Francisco Bay Area, is a major cultural and economic center for the State of California and beyond.

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Geography

Southern California is divided into:

  • The Coastal Region, which is densely populated and includes the coastal interior valleys west of the coastal mountains with all of Orange County and portions of San Diego, Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties A related florist province term is the Cismontane Region on the coastal side of the Transverse and Peninsular mountain ranges, with the term "southern California" popularly referring to this more populated and visited zone.
  • The Desert Region, which is larger and sparsely populated with portions of Kern, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Imperial, and San Diego counties. The division between the Coastal Region and the Inland Empire/Imperial Valley winds along the backs of coastal mountain ranges such as the Santa Ana Mountains.

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Counties

Southern California consists of the following counties:

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Cities

  • Burbank
  • Fresno
  • Gardena
  • Laguna Beach
  • Long Beach -
  • Los Angeles - The state's largest city, and 2nd-largest in the nation. L.A. is home to Hollywood, Venice, The Getty Center, and Griffith Park.
  • San Clemente
  • San Diego - Most southern city in California. Balboa Park, Old Town, SeaWorld, San Diego Zoo, and nearby Tijuana, Mexico.
  • Santa Monica - Beachside city near LA.
  • Ventura
  • Anaheim - The most populous city in Orange County, home of the famous Disneyland theme park and two major sports teams: the Anaheim Ducks hockey team and the Los Angeles Angels baseball franchise.
  • Buena Park - A gateway to Los Angeles known as the home of the popular Knott's Berry Farm amusement park and lots of used car lots.
  • Fullerton - Home to Cal State Fullerton, the Fullerton Arboretum, and the shopping district of Downtown Fullerton.
  • Huntington Beach - The most popular stretch of beach in Orange County, with a long surfing tradition and famous beaches.
  • Irvine - A somewhat gentrified community with a significant Asian-American heritage, this is one of youngest and largest cities in Orange County. Home to UC-Irvine university and the large Irvine Spectrum shopping and entertainment complex.
  • Newport Beach - One of the wealthiest communities in the nation, with a popular nightlife scene and one of the busiest beaches and boardwalks in the area, as well as a marina where you can go on a whale watching tour or take a ferry to Catalina Island. Within the city is Balboa Island, a community with its own unique beachfront vibe and a vibrant boardwalk.
  • San Juan Capistrano - A charming and historic settlement that's home to the picturesque remnants of the only Spanish mission in Orange County.
  • Santa Ana - One of the oldest and largest cities in Orange County, with a large Mexican-American population and cultural influences.
  • Seal Beach - A small beach town with a host of cute shops, awesome local restaurants, and a handful of Irish pubs mostly situated on Main Street.

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Sights and Activities

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park is a United States national park that consists of five of the eight Channel Islands off the coast of the U.S. state of California, in the Pacific Ocean. Although the islands are close to the shore of densely populated Southern California, their isolation has left them relatively undeveloped. The park covers 100,994 ha of which 31,978 ha are owned by the federal government. The Nature Conservancy owns and manages 76% of Santa Cruz Island, the largest island in the park. Channel Islands National Park is home to a wide variety of significant natural and cultural resources. It was designated a U.S. National Monument on April 26, 1938, and a National Biosphere Reserve in 1976. It was promoted to a National Park on March 5, 1980. Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary encompasses the waters six nautical miles around Channel Islands National Park.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley Road, California

Death Valley Road, California

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

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

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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

Holidays

  • New Year’s Eve - The US celebrates the outgoing of the old year and incoming of the New Year quite dramatically. Every state boasts its own parties to ring in the New Year, but none is more extravagant than New York’s Time Square, which sees people overflowing into the neighboring restaurants, bars, parks, beaches, and neighborhoods.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (officially Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and sometimes referred to as MLK Day) is an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around King's birthday, January 15. The holiday is similar to holidays set under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The earliest Monday for this holiday is January 15 and the latest is January 21. King was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law.
  • St Patrick’s Day - March 17 celebrates the US’s large Irish population. Many cities around the country boast boisterous parades and Irish-themed parties, especially New York and Chicago, where the river is dyed green. Be wary of the drunkenness that dominates as this is definitely a party-day.
  • Memorial Day - Memorial Day is an important holiday throughout the United States, but not for crazy festivities. Parades commemorating wartime heroes are often held and the day is also the ‘unofficial’ start of summer. Most visitors follow the crowds to parks and beaches, which are capped off with informal BBQs.
  • Independence Day - Also known as the Fourth of July, Independence Day celebrates the US’s break from the British during the 18th century. Barbecues, street parties, beach trips, and weekend getaways are commonplace to appreciate freedom.
  • Labor Day is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend. It is recognized as a federal holiday. Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor.
  • Halloween - Halloween is a fun holiday on October 31 for all generations to dress up in costumes and relive their youth. Children walk around the neighborhood trick-or-treating for candy, while adults attend parties. Other seasonal events include haunted houses, pumpkin farms and carving, and corn mazes.
  • Thanksgiving - On the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving is held in almost every home in the US. Tourists will have a hard time finding anything to do as the country essentially shuts down in observation. A typical Thanksgiving meal consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie commemorating the original Pilgrim’s feast at Plymouth Rock.
  • Christmas - On December 25, Christians celebrate Christmas as the pinnacle of their calendar by attending church and opening gifts from Santa Claus. Almost everything shuts down to promote family togetherness. The northern regions hope to experience a “white Christmas,” with trees and festive lights blanketed by snow.

Sport

  • Super Bowl Sunday - the world’s most watched sporting event and one of the highest grossing TV days of the year, Superbowl Sunday is a spectacular extravaganza. Held the first Sunday in February, the Superbowl is the final playoff game between the NFL’s top two teams. The venue rotates every year around America, yet the local parties seem to remain. Pubs, bars and restaurants are great places to enjoy the Superbowl or locals throw their own parties with different variations of betting.
  • The World Series is the annual championship series of Major League Baseball (MLB) in North America, contested since 1903 between the American League (AL) champion team and the National League (NL) champion team. The winner of the World Series championship is determined through a best-of-seven playoff, and the winning team is awarded the Commissioner's Trophy. As the series is played during the fall season in North America, it is sometimes referred to as the Fall Classic.

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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.

By Car

Southern California is perhaps the most car dependent region in the US if not the world. As such a car is usually the most convenient but sometimes also the only way to get around. However congestion is frequent and during rush hour freeways and highways become parking lots. If you can arrange it try driving in off-peak hours and getting a small group together to travel in the (usually less congested) car pool lane.

By Bus

Most of the buses are routed with Los Angeles as the hub or core with frequent services from San Francisco Bay Area (via Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and/or Oxnard); Sacramento (via Modesto, Stockton, Merced and/or Bakersfield); Las Vegas (via Barstow, San Bernardino); Mexicali and Tijuana (via San Ysidro, San Diego, and/or Santa Ana) with multiple companies. There are also other buses originating from El Paso (via Phoenix & Tucson), Seattle, Salt Lake City, Chicago and New York that go contiguously to Los Angeles with minimal layover or transfers in between.

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Getting Around

Transportation in Southern California consists of public transit, rail transit, airports, shuttle services, highways, roads and bike paths.

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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Eat

Most major cuisines can be found in the towns and cities of Southern Californian, with especially popular ones including Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Salvadoran, Korean, Indian, Pilipino, and Armenian, owing to the large numbers of immigrants from these regions to Southern California.

Mexican food is particularly prominent, with taco shops being a ubiquitous feature of SoCal's urban landscape and offering some uniquely regional takes on Mexican staples like burritos and tacos. Unlike the Mission burrito, brought to prominence up north in San Francisco and spread across the nation, regional burrito varieties in SoCal tend to eschew rice as a filler ingredient; Los Angeles burritos tend to use some combination of refried beans, meat, chili, and cheese, while San Diegans embrace the meat-packed carne asada burrito along with its variant, the California burrito, which includes French fries and cheese in addition to carne asada. A lot of overlap between these two styles exists and you're likely to find both throughout Southern California. Another local specialty is rolled tacos, which consist of beef or chicken tightly rolled into a corn tortilla and fried until crispy, then served with guacamole and shredded cheese piled on top.

Southern California is the birthplace of modern day American fast food, with many drive-thru chains such as McDonald's (now headquartered in the Chicago metropolitan area) getting their start in the L.A. region. One should not miss out on In-N-Out Burger, a predominantly California chain with multiple locations throughout the SoCal region serving burgers and milkshakes; the menu is pretty short and straightforward, but a "secret" menu allows you to customize by ordering "animal style" fries and burgers.

For a taste of locally-grown food, you can visit a farmers' market and rub shoulders with celebrity chefs and foodie insiders picking out the finest organic produce. You can also step into sleek restaurants serving innovative, ultra-fresh fusion cuisine. You can taste gelato made with locally produced chocolate and toasted hazelnuts, or handmade cheeses from local farms. Drive down a tree-lined lane to wineries in grand chateaus, or relaxed, family-run vineyards where the guy pouring and chatting in the tasting room is a world-class winemaker.

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Contributors

as well as slugtrek (4%), dr.pepper (2%), Toponym (2%), Hien (1%)

Southern California Travel Helpers

  • 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 37. Last edited at 10:01 on Jun 12, 19 by Utrecht. 25 articles link to this page.

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