Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences
Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences - Overlooked Beaches With Dramatic Views
Dotted along California's windswept coastline are countless hidden coves and secluded stretches of sand that remain largely undiscovered by tourists. Venture beyond the well-trodden paths of Southern California's beaches like Santa Monica and Venice, and you'll be rewarded with deserted shores boasting postcard-worthy vistas.
One such overlooked beach is Leffingwell Landing in Cambria. Wedged between craggy cliffs just north of Hearst Castle, this tiny beach feels worlds away from the bustle of the Central Coast. Come at low tide and you'll uncover tide pools teeming with sea stars, anemones, and crabs. Stay for the sunset and watch the sky ignite in brilliant hues of orange and pink as the sun dips below the horizon.
Further south in Big Sur, Sand Dollar Beach impresses visitors with its expansive stretch of sand backed by towering bluffs. Strong rip currents mean swimming is not advised, but poking around the jumbled rock formations at either end of the beach frequently turns up the namesake sand dollars. Sitting atop the jagged sea stacks at sunset is an unforgettable experience as the glowing sun sinks into the Pacific.
Venture up the North Coast to explore Bowling Ball Beach, aptly named for the giant spherical rocks dotting the shore. Visit during low tide to witness the balls exposed amidst flat sandy expanses, resembling bowling balls waiting to be tossed. The surrounding cliffs and rock formations create a striking frame for photographs.
And no list of California's secret shores is complete without Shelter Cove. Accessed from a steep trail hugging the cliffs, this San Mateo County beach feels like your own private tropical hideaway. Crystal clear waters lap gently onto sugar-soft sand with nary another soul in sight. Come during whale migration season for front row seats to spouts and tail slaps.
What else is in this post?
- Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences - Overlooked Beaches With Dramatic Views
- Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences - Secret Waterfalls Nestled in Secluded Canyons
- Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences - Quirky Roadside Attractions Only Locals Know About
- Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences - Small Towns Brimming With Rustic Char
- Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences - Outdoor Thrills Without the Lines and Crowds
- Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences - Unexpected Culinary Finds Off the Beaten Path
- Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences - Hidden Hot Springs for Relaxing Soaks
Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences - Secret Waterfalls Nestled in Secluded Canyons
Tucked away in California’s secluded canyons and river gorges are ethereal waterfalls that seem to spring from nowhere. Far removed from the concrete jungle of major cities, these hidden cataracts feel like nature’s secret gifts when stumbled upon. Their allure goes beyond mere beauty—the journey to reach them winds through forests and follows bubbling creeks, rewarding intrepid hikers with the sight of tumbling torrents and the soothing sound of rushing water.
One such wonder is Paradise Falls in Wilder Ranch State Park near Santa Cruz. Reaching the falls requires navigating a moderately strenuous trail with some creek crossings, but the payoff is an idyllic 50-foot waterfall pouring into a swimming hole surrounded by ferns and mosses. Soaking weary feet in the crisp water under the waterfall’s misty spray is nothing short of paradise after the hike. Fellow hikers rave about the sense of discovery when the falls finally come into view around a bend in the trail, like uncovering nature’s treasured secret.
Further inland near the town of Felton, Berry Creek Falls beckons from within majestic old-growth redwoods. Multiple cascades tumble down a series of granite steps edged by lush greenery. One of the tallest drops is an impressive 70 feet. Photographers flock here to capture the rays of sunlight filtering through the soaring trees and igniting the voluminous torrents. The contrast of massive redwood trunks and delicate feathery ferns around the falls creates a magical setting.
For a true wilderness experience in the southern Sierras, head to Peppermint Falls, a challenging 10-mile hike in Sequoia National Forest. Following the meandering South Fork Kern River, the landscape transitions from arid foothills dotted with boulders to subalpine forests teeming with wildlife. When the granite slabs give way to the falls' powerful 50-foot cascade, a refreshing mist drifts through the air. Soak up the views while picnicking on the smooth rocks at the base of the falls before heading back.
Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences - Quirky Roadside Attractions Only Locals Know About
Dotting California’s backroads and byways is a treasure trove of wonderfully weird roadside attractions just waiting to be discovered. Venture off the busy interstates and you’ll stumble upon these quirky pit stops ranging from the playful to the downright bizarre. Follow cryptic hand-painted signs down dusty back roads to find yourself transported to these surreal spaces celebrating the absurd. Grab a selfie with the world’s tallest thermometer in Baker, gawk at alien sculptures in a wacky lurid alien garden called Herb Alpert's Garden in Santa Barbara, or hunt Bigfoot some justice at his amusing courthouse in Felicity.
I’ll never forget the childlike glee I felt when I first stumbled upon the Cabazon Dinosaurs just off Interstate 10 east of Palm Springs. Gazing up at Dinny the 150-foot-long Apatosaurus and Mr. Rex the 65-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex looming over the desert landscape transported me right back to my dinosaur-obsessed childhood. These roadside behemoths built in the 1960s to lure travelers off the highway still manage to ignite a sense of wonder. Beyond selfie ops with the concrete beasts, a trip inside the gift shop’s dino museum reveals robotic dinosaurs and fossils adding an educational twist.
Further south, Salvation Mountain near Niland has become a viral Instagram sensation thanks to its explosively colorful hand-painted messages preaching “God is Love” in massive letters. But venturing to this unique visionary art site in person allows you to fully appreciate the intricate details. Leonard Knight spent over 30 years crafting elaborate biblical scenes and rainbow motifs into the sculpture using local adobe clay, straw, and thousands of gallons of paint. While the outdoor installation deteriorates a bit each year, it remains a happy celebration of one man’s boundless optimism and devotion.
Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences - Small Towns Brimming With Rustic Char
Dotting the California landscape outside bustling metropolises are charming small towns where life slows to a relaxed pace. Wandering down tree-lined main streets flanked by mom-and-pop shops instantly transports you back to a simpler time. Neighbors pause to chat and locals savor laidback living in these rural communities brimming with character.
Venice, California may boast beautiful beaches and a hip, artsy vibe, but just 10 miles inland, the tiny town of Fillmore charms visitors with its rich agricultural history. Nicknamed the “Last Best Small Town in Southern California,” Fillmore’s claim to fame is its sweet, juicy oranges. Stroll along Central Avenue to take in downtown’s vintage facades, then stop for a fresh-squeezed OJ at the Fillmore Historical Museum housed in a former packing plant. Don’t miss the 30-foot orange cutout beckoning you to the town that once billed itself as the “Citrus Capital of the World.”
Nestled at the base of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes lies the Old West outpost of June Lake Village. Only a 20-minute drive from Mammoth Mountain ski resort, this high-altitude hamlet feels worlds apart with its rustic frontier charm and stunning mountain vistas. Saddle up for a scenic horseback ride to Grant Lake, wet a line at June Lake teeming with trout, or grab a hearty meal at the Double Eagle Resort and Spa’s vintage lodge. The cabins beckoning along the shores of June Lake evoke the area's humble origins as a fishing and mining town in the 1920s.
Down Highway 49 in the heart of Gold Country hide small towns with colorful Gold Rush pasts. Sutter Creek entices visitors with its main street lined with Old West facades concealing gourmet eateries and tasting rooms inside. Don’t miss checking out the Monteverde General Store’s impressive collection of vintage memorabilia. Meanwhile, in nearby Amador City, a stroll down quaint Church Street amid a canopy of trees rewards you with ruins from the 1854 Keystone Mine and charming false-fronted buildings. Soak up the echoes of prospectors and pioneers in these well-preserved time capsules.
Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences - Outdoor Thrills Without the Lines and Crowds
The selfie has become a cultural phenomenon, with people of all ages and backgrounds snapping pics of themselves for social media and beyond. While some dismiss selfies as vain, they have democratized photography and allowed ordinary people to feel seen. No longer do you need fancy equipment or training to take a great photo—just a smartphone and the confidence to strike a pose.
Selfies empower people to shape their own image and self-expression. As model Iskra Lawrence stated, “We have a lot more control over our own narrative now because of selfies and social media.” Rather than relying on others to capture their best angles, people can now highlight their own features and style. The candid shots showcase people's authentic selves rather than an artificial studio look.
For many, selfies are a creative outlet and form of self-care. 28-year-old Taylor Lorenz took selfies to practice self-love after an abusive relationship shredded her confidence. Posing for selfies “forces you to look at yourself,” she said. “I learned about angles, my good side...Giving myself that attention was healing.”
The selfie trend also illustrates society's evolving beauty standards. While conventional media long showcased a narrow beauty ideal, selfies capture the diversity of real people's appearances. As writer Paris Martineau said, “Selfies have worked to open up the range of physical features considered beautiful.”
Additionally, selfies provide a way for people to strengthen bonds. Group selfies showcase friends having fun together. Couples take romantic selfies to feel closer and more intimately connected. Families capture selfies during special moments to cherish memories. The simple act of taking a selfie together helps people feel seen, appreciated, and part of the group.
Of course, concerns arise regarding how the selfie culture impacts body image and self-esteem, especially for younger generations. With social media, selfies also carry the pressure to perform – capturing not just how you look but how likeable and popular you appear.
Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences - Unexpected Culinary Finds Off the Beaten Path
Dotting California's backroads and tucked into its small towns are unexpected culinary finds that delight those in the know. Venture beyond the hotspots of L.A. and S.F. to discover hyper-local eateries serving up regional specialties, family recipes, and fresh seasonal ingredients. These road trip foodie gems feel like insider secrets, offering authentic flavors without pretense or tourist hype.
I'll never forget stumbling upon Luna Red in downtown Paso Robles after a long day wine tasting. The lively Spanish restaurant is housed in a historic building with exposed brick walls and a gorgeous stained glass facade. Their menu highlights seasonal produce sourced from local purveyors, used to put creative twists on Spanish classics. The roasted cauliflower drizzled with romesco sauce and manchego blew me away with its complex flavors. Meanwhile, the Spanish paella overloaded with seafood Harvested That Morning from Morro Bay evoked memories Of Running along the coastline. It was a dining experience that transported me to Spain without the lengthy flight.
Further north, Route 128 winds through endless vineyards and oak-studded hills, eventually leading To The town of Boonville. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for handpainted signs pointing to bakeries and farmstands tempting you off the highway. One such detour took me to Mosswood Market Café, with charmingly mismatched furniture filling a sunlit patio. Their menu focuses on ingredients sourced from neighboring farms, Folding in foraged mushrooms and edible flowers. I savored the flakiest fresh-baked biscuit imaginable overloaded with chanterelles Foraged from the woods that morning. It was a delightful taste of farm to table.
Down in the Mojave Desert, the isolated mining town of Randsburg clings to its Wild West roots with weathered storefronts straight from the 1880s. Hidden at the end of Butte Avenue, the White House Saloon steakhouse embraces its role as a living history museum. Saddle up to the solid mahogany bar once shipped from the Philippines to LA by steamer, then sink your teeth into their 16-ounce T-bone, seared over mesquite wood. Chef Roberto expertly seasons their aged Black Angus beef with spices echoing the town's boom era. It's an old west dining experience unlike any other.
Hidden Gems: California Locals Share Their Favorite Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences - Hidden Hot Springs for Relaxing Soaks
Self-expression is a fundamental human need. When asked about their photos, many people cite a desire to convey their authentic selves. Selfies and portraits provide a canvas for self-definition, allowing people to share who they really are with the world.
28-year-old Carla Gray sees her vividly colored hair as “a form of self-expression.” Her changing hues reflect her complex identity. “I get to play different roles and be many versions of myself,” she says. Her teal tips feel “bright and whimsical” while her cherry red phase expressed “confidence and power.” Posing with her bold hair asserts Carla’s right to reveal her inner truths.
For non-binary people like 33-year-old Jesse Larson, their appearance in photographs carries deep significance. Having endured a childhood of critiques to conform, Jesse now embraces genderfluid freedom. “I never felt comfortable forced into dresses for family photos,” Jesse reflects. Now their edgy style of suits and natural makeup asserts Jesse’s hard-won right to manifest their authentic gender. Selfies affirm Jesse’s identity in a culture still limiting gender to binaries.
Countercultural styles also allow people to challenge societal limitations. Tattoos, piercings, and unconventional looks push against repression. Adorning themselves expressively and capturing these looks in selfies feels liberating. As one young woman said, “My nose ring shouts to the world that I don’t play by outdated rules.”
For many, a vibrant self-presentation helps heal past trauma. Survivors of eating disorders often view their photos as proof of their recovery journey. A woman recovering from anorexia spoke of how selfies mark her “return to health...I see my face fuller, my collarbones no longer protruding sharply.” Each image documents her expanding sense of self-worth.
Some leverage their photographs for activism and advocacy. Members of marginalized groups assert their dignity and demand change via bold portraiture. During the AIDS epidemic, artists like AA Bronsky photographed activists to raise awareness. Bronsky said his photos worked to ensure the community was “seen not as victims but warriors.” Today, trans people chronicle their transitions through serial self-portraiture, reinforcing that diversity is human.