Discover the Hidden Gems of Southern California


Hi! I am Lois of and I am so excited to share some of my favorite places to visit in Southern California near where I live. I love exploring the world through travel because of the amazing places I get to see, the fantastic people I get to meet, and the fabulous food and wine I get to savor.

Greece was the last place I traveled to before worldwide travel restrictions due to COVID-19 limited our ability to journey beyond our home regions. I absolutely loved exploring and experiencing Greece (Athens, Meteora, Corinth, Santorini) and can't wait to get back to see more. In the meantime, I am reacquainting myself with the wonders and beauties of my current home state of California in the United States.

The great attraction of Southern California is the variety of landscape to see and experience in one area; you can surf the ocean waves in the morning and ski the mountain slopes in the afternoon. All within a one-hour drive of my home is ocean beaches, quaint mountain towns, wine country, and the desert.

If you find yourself in Southern California and want to explore beyond Los Angeles and San Diego, here are some of my favorite places to visit because of the scenery, people, and food. Each of the destinations described below is about an hour drive from San Diego, or two hours from Los Angeles (if traffic isn't too heavy), making them perfect for day trips or quick getaways while in either San Diego or Los Angeles.

La Jolla - My favorite beach town in Southern California

La Jolla is a seaside beach town just north of San Diego on the southern California coast. This city has it all - gorgeous beaches, a plethora of sea life, restaurants for every taste, shopping ranging from beachy trinkets to high-end boutiques, and an endless list of activities on the water or on land.

La Jolla is famous for many things, including being home to Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, famous children's author. He loved La Jolla and spent much of his time writing by the windows of a friend's beach front home where the Monterey Cypress trees became the inspiration for the Lorax Tree. When not writing by the ocean, he could be found in his hilltop home on Mount Soledad where he lived with his wife, overlooking the city below, much as the Grinch lived looking over Whoville. Dr Seuss loved La Jolla, and La Jolla loves the famous author.

The beachside town is also known for its many beaches with varying terrain and resident seals. There are plenty of flat swaths of sandy beach to enjoy in La Jolla, but there are also many beach areas with dramatic cliffs, large boulders, and sunbathing seals. Some of the beaches can be seen from the cliffs above but are not accessible except by water, and these are the places the seals love the most. Seal watching is a sure thing in La Jolla and there are many vantage points from which to see and photograph them.

The La Jolla Sea Caves are another amazing part of this region of the coast. Cut by wind and water into the high cliffs, all but one of the caves is accessible only by water despite being right on the edge of town. Only one cave is accessible by land as it used to be the hub of smuggling in Southern California. A very industrious entrepreneur tunneled from his kitchen down into one of the caves during the prohibition years in the early 1900s and built a fortune bootlegging alcohol through this cave. Today a store sits above the cave and allows self-guided tours from their shop down the steep stairway into the cave. But to get the best view, and to see all the caves, I highly recommend taking one of the many kayak tours out to the caves. There are many tour companies providing kayaks and guides to take you to the caves, and the guides are amazingly knowledgeable about the entire region.

This waters right off the shores of La Jolla are a mecca for snorkelers and scuba divers alike. The La Jolla Cove is an ecological reserve and is teeming with underwater plant and wildlife. You may even catch a glimpse of one of the reserve's resident sea turtles! The Garibaldi, which is the California State Fish, can be seen even from the kayaks as you float over the reserve due to their bright orange coloring which makes them look like giant goldfish.

The sandy beaches of La Jolla are perfect for basking in the sun, going for long walks along the water, surfing, swimming, and enjoying the typical sunny Southern California weather. The sand at La Jolla Shores beach on the north end of town is the softest sand I've ever experiences (and I've been to many beaches around the world!). You will want to sink your toes into this powdery beach and never leave.

But the beach is not the only attraction in La Jolla. This beach side town has fantastic shopping offering everything from eclectic beach shops to high-end boutiques. There are several regions around La Jolla to shop but my two favorite are the five blocks of Avenida de la Playa that ends at La Jolla Shores Beach. This stretch of shops includes funky beach stores, coffee and sweet shops, surf and swimwear stores, adventure rentals (book your kayak tour here!), and fantastic restaurants. A long block of the street is cut off from motorized traffic and seating for dining is set up on both sides of the street, giving it a very European sidewalk café feel.

If you prefer to shop at high-end boutiques, art galleries, and specialty stores, then Girard Street is the place for you. Even for the person who does not normally like shopping, this street is still worth strolling it's blocks of shops and cafes because of the amazing sculptures, photography, and artwork to be seen in many of the shop windows along the way. Definitely stop by Girard Gourmet Café and Bakery and enjoy the homemade quiches, fabulous desserts, and perfect iced tea. They also have great coffee, but any place that does a fantastic iced tea will always get high praise from me.

Temecula Valley Wine Country - A hidden gem in Southern California

Temecula Valley Wine Country is not as well-known as Napa or Sonoma in California, but it is quickly gaining attention world-wide. The first winery in this area opened in 1974, and though it took a while for the wine making industry to boom in Temecula, in the last 20 years the area has exploded with wineries. Temecula Valley Wine Country now has over 40 wineries that are easily accessible and amazingly beautiful. Temecula Valley wines are not be as famous as other California wines, but don't be fooled into thinking they are not as good as what Napa or Sonoma has to offer. Temecula wines are now winning national and world-wide contests and quickly gaining recognition because of their quality wine makers and wines.

One day is not near enough to see everything there is to see in Temecula Valley Wine Country, but even if one day is all you have, it is worth the trip. With so many wineries to choose from, you will definitely find one with the style of wines you love in a beautiful setting. Every time we venture out to wine country, we discover a new winery that quickly becomes a favorite. We live just 20 minutes away by car from Temecula Valley Wine Country, so it is a favorite and frequent destination when we want a little getaway with great wines, great food, and great views.

Here are some of my favorite wineries in Temecula Valley Wine Country:

Vitagliano Winery: Fairy tale setting with expansive gardens and fabulous wines for both the red and white wine lovers.

Lorimar Winery: This funky winery is a music lover's haven. They have live music every weekend on the outdoor patio and many of their wines have musical names. Great place to open a bottle of wine and dance the night away.

Wilson Creek Winery: One of the more popular wineries in the area for good reason! This winery offers a huge variety of reds, whites, and sparkling wines including their famous Almond Sparking Wine. Lots of indoor and outdoor seating and a fabulous restaurant on site.

Julian - Cozy and quaint mountain town in Southern California

Any town that has three pie bakeries within a stretch of two city blocks is a must-see in my book. Julian is my favorite destination in the autumn when the crisp scent of apples lingers in the air from the nearby orchards and the stores and bakeries are overflowing with fresh apple products - apple pies, apple butter, caramel apples, apple cider.

This quaint mountain town stretches for only a handful of blocks, but you can easily spend an entire day exploring the town and still not see everything. This is a shopper's dream town as there are dozens of one-of-a-kind stores to browse through, each with its own array of products, many of which are handmade by local artisans including luxurious soaps, hand-knit outerwear, organic home-blended cleaning products, paintings and pottery. One of my favorite bookstores is in this little town: The Book House is just that - a house full of books! This is the best used bookstore I've ever encountered with room after room filled with every book you can imagine, even hard-to-find titles and rare books.

One of my favorite things about small towns is the home-style restaurants that are unique to the character of the town. I love that you won't find any chain restaurants or fast-food drive-throughs in towns like Julian. In fact, many of the restaurants here have whimsical messages posted reminding patrons that home-cooked meals made with fresh ingredients take time, so sit back and relax while they prepare a truly memorable meal for you - it will be worth the wait! There are enough restaurants in Julian to fill several days of eating out for every meal, from coffee shops offering hearty breakfasts and specialty coffees to Italian eateries and American grilles offering dinner menus and specialty drinks. Don't miss high tea at the local tea shop for an afternoon pick me up.

After exploring main-street Julian, venture out of town in any direction to find more hidden gems, such as wineries, breweries, cider distilleries, more restaurants and bakeries, rustic barns turned into quaint gift shops and art galleries, and apple orchards.

Visit Southern California!

I feel very blessed, especially during this time of limited travel, to live in an area that offers so much variety within a short drive from my home. Southern Californians often boasts that what makes it so special is that a person can surf the beach towns in the morning and ski the mountains in the afternoon. There's truth to this boast, and it is what I like best about the region where I live, and why you should add Southern California to your list of must-see destinations.

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