The Game of California

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illustrated by Christina Carlson

San Francisco // written by: Annika Olives, Lifestyle Associate Editor 

Nestled between ocean and bay, San Francisco is an incredibly popular tourist destination famous for its orange-red (not golden!) bridge, sloping hills and year-round fog. The city prides itself on accepting and celebrating all kinds of people, no matter your race, culture or sexuality, and San Franciscans build a strong community around this idea.

After hitting the usual spots, like shopping at Union Square, walking the Golden Gate, sampling food at the Ferry Building or seeing the walruses at Fisherman’s Wharf, try these lesser-known places for a different look into my favorite city.

Journey to the newly renovated SF MOMA to enjoy seven floors filled with art. Youth ages 18 and under get in for free every day. Bernal Heights offers a beautiful, sweeping view of the city — visit it during the day to walk around the green hills or take a ride on the swing, or at night to admire the bright skyscrapers and sparkling Bay Bridge. Grab a burrito from one of the taquerias on Valencia Street and enjoy it while you scrounge for treasures in thrift shops and used bookstores, or pop into boutiques to see their new stock. Sutro Baths, located at one end of Ocean Beach, offers remnants of a historic bathhouse. Hike down to the reflection pool or hike north and you’ll eventually hit Land’s End, a rock formation with a nice view of the Golden Gate. The Moraga street steps offer a perfect photo-op for any Instagram fiend, and any hipster will find their fair share of good coffee with Philz, Blue Bottle, Sightglass, The Mill, Ritual Roasters and many more cafes. While there are hundreds of restaurants in San Francisco, enjoy the temperate night and choose a cuisine from over 30 food trucks at an Off the Grid event, especially on Friday nights at Fort Mason or Sunday Presidio Picnics.   

Consider checking out websites like SFGate, FunCheap or Eventbrite to search for different events (most of them free) going on in the city that week, ranging from outdoor exercise sessions, comedy nights, film panels and a variety of art exhibits and shows.

If nothing on this list catches your fancy, wander. The city is small, spanning only seven-by-seven miles, so plant yourself in a district and start walking — you’re bound to run into something you like.

Santa Cruz // written by: Annika Olives, Lifestyle Associate Editor 

At its core, Santa Cruz is first and foremost a surf town.

In the late 19th century, Hawaiian royals introduced surfing to the mainland of the United States. The city has kept its laid-back vibe since then, but its mix of picturesque beaches and tall forests makes for an interesting NorCal-meets-SoCal blend.

People usually stop here for the famous beach boardwalk, a seaside amusement park featuring rides, a full arcade, mini golf, laser tag and tons of carnival food. Admission to the boardwalk is free, and attraction tickets aren’t too pricey. Plenty of people also come for the beach, where the water is sometimes warm enough that you can get in without a wetsuit.

Or if you’re turned away by the crowds, visit the Mystery Spot to get a different kind of dizzy. Advertised as a “gravitational anomaly,” the spot defies the laws of physics and is likely to be a fun experience for anyone, of any age.

For nature enthusiasts, Santa Cruz’s unique ecosystem offers some beautiful views. Henry Cowell State Park has over 15 miles of hiking trails through evergreen and across creeks, some leading to quiet beaches and others leading to sights from the Santa Cruz Mountains. “The loop,” one of the park’s more popular trails, is a short hike filled with towering old-growth coast redwoods, some over a thousand years old. On the flip side, Natural Bridges State Beach is a good spot to observe wildlife on the land, in the sea or in tidepools. Spot some whales if you’re lucky, but you’re more than likely to see a few butterflies — this location is renowned for its monarch butterfly migration. Or head to Shark Fin Cove — you’ll know you’re at the right beach when you see the massive fin-looking rock formation rising out of the water. If the tides are low enough, you can even venture into the sea cave.

Danger seeker? Cliff dive from the “Toilet Bowl,” but make sure you don’t hurt yourself on the rocks if the waves are swelling. Or jump into a swimming hole in the secluded Garden of Eden, if you can find it.

Santa Cruz may not be your first choice of city for a day trip, especially if you’re coming from the North and having to drive on the infamous Highway 17. However, the town’s chill atmosphere and natural wonders will keep you coming back for more.

Central Valley Woes // written by: Brittney Lu, Lifestyle Editor 

Be like the Joads, hop in the jalopy and make your way up the Grapevine into the heart of California. Don’t let the smog and dairy farm s deter you from hitting the valleys of what-used-to-be green and plenty. Not to be passed by like a rest stop on your way to self-proclaimed “real” cities of California, try spending a few hours in this Texas-Oklahoma transplanted region and pay homage to the place that gives you the staples of a Cali diet.

Driving up the Interstate 5 can be a real pain — trust me, I do this multiple times a year to get home in the fiery pit known as Bakersfield — and the Pacific Coast Highway seems much more appealing on your way up to San Francisco, but don’t be the stereotypical spring-breaker. Before you hit Bakersfield, stop by Murray Family Farms and get in touch with your inner gardener; pick your own bucket of berries or basket of peaches to snack on on your ride up. Looking for something to keep you from melting in the 90-degree spring weather Central Valley has to offer? Dewar’s Ice Cream Parlor or Rosemary’s Diner in downtown Bakersfield has the scoop to keep you cool.

Catch a sunset at Panoramic Vista Point, overlooking the oil fields, and perhaps start a conversation on how to fight big oil corporations when “10 questions” starts to lose its charm. Or maybe do a little hike (if you beat the heat of noon) at Wind Wolves near Tehachapi, take a stroll through Hart Park and if all else fails, drive further up to Fresno because at least there’s a Cheesecake Factory.

True, the Central Valley may not have the most to see or do and is not even remotely desired as a destination for spring break, but hey, it’s still home to many for some reason or another. And at least you can say you’ve been to the place that grew the avocado for your toast at some bougie La Jolla brunch hotspot.

Peaceful Palos Verdes // written by: Tara Nejad, Lifestyle Staff Writer 

Looking for somewhere more low-key to spend a couple days of break? Palos Verdes is a small, secluded, coastal city outside of Los Angeles. With no direct access from the freeway, PV is considered a hidden gem in comparison to its more well-known and crowded neighboring suburbs. Because of its quiet streets and unbeatable views, it’s the perfect place to relax this spring break, and be sure to stick around long enough to catch an amazing sunset view!

Things To Do:

  1. Hiking: PV is known for the amazing hikes. Take a stroll at Del Cerro Park for an amazing panoramic view of the peninsula. Or head over to Pelican Cove Park for a steep hike down a cliff that leads you to the edge of the ocean.
  2. Terranea: Terranea resort is the ultimate relaxation spot. Sneak into the huge pool area or head down to the water edge to play some tetherball. The massive resort is also a great place to walk around and spot some nice cars or maybe even an extravagant wedding.
  3. Sunken City: Head over to the famous Sunken City in San Pedro for an unbeatable photo shoot opportunity. On a cliffside elevated above the ocean, this cluster of rocks is known for beautiful locally sourced graffiti art.
  4. Abalone Cove Tide Pools: Have you been itching to interact with a sea anemone ever since Finding Nemo came out? Now is your chance. The tide pools at Abalone Cove are a super fun and active way to spend your afternoon. After a short hike down to the water’s edge and some looking around, you have the chance of finding anything from sea slugs and crabs to star fish.
  5. Wayfarers Chapel: Last but definitely not least, the must see Wayfarers Chapel, also known as “The Glass Church.” The beautiful glass building was constructed by the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and has a beautiful rose garden in addition to its amazing view.

Strolling in Santa Barbara// written by: Tara Nejad, Lifestyle Staff Writer 

If you’re looking for a more lively spring break destination, Santa Barbara is a great pick. With easy beach access and an outstanding amount of young locals and delicious eateries, you’ll be sure to have a good time.

Things To Do:

  1. Cruise Down State Street: Whether you actually want to shop or just want to people-watch, State Street is the perfect place to do so. While it may take a while to find parking, the street is lined with cute little shops, restaurants and art work.
  2. Stearns Wharf: The wharf offers a great view of the Santa Barbara shoreline. With mini shops and restaurants along the walk, there is plenty to do. There is also a small museum, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, where you can learn more about all of the resident sea creatures. Whether you just want to walk, have some fresh seafood, grab a cone of ice cream or catch the sunset, the wharf is a great place to visit.
  3. Zoo: The Santa Barbara Zoo has over 500 animals that you can visit. In addition to the animals, there are also beautiful botanical gardens available for visitors.
  4. Farmers Market: With over 130 vendors, the farmers market is a great way to support and familiarize with local businesses in Santa Barbara. The market can be found in downtown on both Tuesdays and Saturdays and has a wide variety of specialty items that can make for great souvenirs for friends and family.
  5. Los Agaves: With over 2,000 reviews on Yelp and a 4.5-star overall rating, Los Agaves is a must-try, but be sure to come hungry! The menu has a lot to choose from and portion sizes are quite generous. Ever since my first bite of the delicious oven-baked nachos, I have never looked at tortilla chips the same way.

A Danish City in California // written by: Brittney Lu, Lifestyle Editor 

No need to take a Viking riverboat to peruse the Scandinavian coastline when Solvang is just a short drive away from Santa Barbara. A little tourist city with a charming personality, Solvang is a displaced Danish village, home to small wooden toy stores, ebelskiver pancakes dusted with powdered sugar, sunflower fields and, of course, iconic Danish pastries filled with jams and cream cheese. And remember those Danish cookies, with a crunchy sugar exterior that filled those industrial-sized tins? Solvang sells them by the bucket.

If you’re a self-proclaimed eighty-year-old trapped in a twenty-year-old college student’s body, Solvang is your time to shine. This city collectively sleeps at 8 p.m. and rises with the sun, with most shops closing early, so be sure to make this stop during the bustle of the mid-morning or late afternoon. If the early-bird special is not quite your style, this small town is still aglow at night by Tumblr-esque Christmas lights, making the late evening stroll seem like something out of a European fairytale. And if you’re lucky, a pub or two will be open for you wild late-night owls who are in need of a good beer while your tuckered-out grandmother of a friend (me) takes a nap.

Pasadena // written by: Jocelyn Yang, Lifestyle Staff Writer 

Pasadena is an old treasure mine that is too often slept on. Established in 1847, it’s easy to find hidden gems within hidden gems such as the Rose Bowl Flea Market. Or if you prefer not to rifle through eclectic vintage collections, then spend your morning picking out fresh produce and meeting new people from Pasadena’s Certified Farmers Market.

The sunny days might even inspire you to hit one of the sweetest spots for ice cream: Carmela. Besides offering delectable artisan flavors like mint cacao nib, rosemary with toasted pine nuts and white peach vanilla bean, Carmela also boasts winning titles, such as LA Weekly’s “#1 Ice Cream Place,” Bon Appetit‘s “#1 Artisan Ice Cream in America,” Tastemade’s “Top 10 Best Ice Cream Shops in America,” LA Magazine’s “Best of LA” twice and Pasadena Weekly’s “Best of Pasadena” five years in a row.

After you’ve had a bit of pear-champagne sorbet or brown-butter sage, burn off some of that sugar and head on over to Eaton Canyon Falls for an easy three-mile hike to a crashing 40-foot waterfall and clear pools. The path is relatively flat and the best part is arguably the cool, dribbling natural streams keeping you company throughout the first mile.

Before the sun goes down, make the drive over to Norton Simon Museum, which not only offers free admission to students but also free parking. Check out its amazing collection of classic world-renowned artists like Edgar Degas, Francisco de la Goya, Rembrandt, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Pablo Picasso. This is the place to experience multiple centuries’ worth of art from many different countries — all in one place!

If you’re not feeling the free admission, free parking and free views at Norton Simon Museum, be sure to drop by Old Town Pasadena. This is not a spot to miss: the night-life is bustling, the live music is loud, the street performers are engaging and the food is fresh. The whole commercial area is kid and pet-friendly, so you’re almost guaranteed to get in a few good dog pats while you’re there.

West Hollywood // written by: Jocelyn Yang, Lifestyle Staff Writer 

West Hollywood houses some of the best sights of California that almost beg its visitors to showcase every mural from Melrose walls on your Facebook walls. It is also home to a variation of the top-notch.

But before you get all the way to West Hollywood, stop by Venice for a lovely boulevard called Abbot Kinney. This little strip includes eateries and shops sitting comfortably side-by-side down the street. Notable food places to visit are Gjelina for pizzas, plates and salads, The Butcher’s Daughter for a bright brunch, Zinque for colorful flavors and Plant Food + Wine for an open-air experience with fresh foods. If you’re feeling a little thirsty, check out Blue Bottle Coffee, Intelligentsia Coffee and Kreation Juicery for customized pressed juices. And to the convenience of your hungry belly, even dessert at Salt & Straw — with new ice cream flavors every so often — is right around the corner!

Arguably one of the best parts about these dense cities is that good food spots cluster together on the same street. Once in West Hollywood, go down Sunset Boulevard for Daikokuya’s famed noodles or The Griddle Cafe’s overwhelmingly flavorful breakfast and brunch orders in copious portions. Then prepare yourselves for Melrose, the celebrated avenue for its many pit stops for food and pictures. Check out Urth Caffé for its salads and sandwiches, Le Pain Quotidien for bakery goods and fine wines, Gracias Madre for clean eating and vegan delights and Blu Jam for hearty brunches. You’re bound to find at least a few good large-scale art pieces on the walls of Melrose. And in case you missed it back in Pasadena, Carmela ice cream is also available in West Hollywood. It’s not too late to pick up a scoop of cranberry orange thyme sorbet or watermelon mint!

Finally, if you manage to make it out of there without getting stuck in a food coma or in traffic, be sure to take the Pacific Coast Highway on your way out to the next destination.

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