I moved to Irvine, California in 2003. Northern California was my birthplace, but Southern California is where I grew up, lived, and loved. For those of you lucky enough to call this great place home, or for those of you who are just visiting, here's a list to the best places to visit before leaving or returning elsewhere for college- ranked in no particular order.
1. Sunken City, San Pedro
Located in the sleepy town of San Pedro, there is a rich history to these scenic spots. Sunken City has gained popularity recently, especially with Instagrammers, as its dystopian and graffiti-covered ruins provide a haunting backdrop for breathtaking photos. Created in the 1920's as an idyllic village filled with beach bungalows overlooking the ocean, a devastating landslide plunged the resort-like area into the rocks below, creating what would eventually become known as the "Sunken City" to locals. This area is now a popular hiking spot and provides a thrill for those seeking adventure, as it requires a bit of trespassing to access. This is by no means an encouragement, but if you do decide to check this spot out, be mindful of the restrictions and hazards it poses.
2. Pirate's Tower, Laguna Beach
There are 5 beaches that every Southern Californian knows: Huntington, Newport, Dana Point, Corona Del Mar, and Laguna. However, in between these massive and popular spots, are hidden gems tucked away with their entrances often harder to reach, and sometimes in residential areas. Pirate's Tower, as affectionately known by locals, is located within Victoria Beach. The history of this structure spans back to the 1940's, where a wealthy landowner was inspired by the gold-like quality of the beaches and desired to possess a piece of architecture that would bring him back to the tales of pirates and sparkling islands he loved. Beyond being a spot for captivating photos, there are legends that coins were buried beneath the foundation of the tower. This is most definitely a spot worth checking out.
3. Potato Chip Rock, San Diego
Beyond the thrilling, and rather unsettling picture it gives, I have a fond connection with Potato Chip Rock- simply because it reminds my fat ass of, you guessed it, potato chips. Located on top of Mt. Woodson in the middle of an 8 mile long trip hike, this particular scenic spot is not for the faint of heart. Although the trail to reach this iconic land mass is nothing too challenging, expect a full day of hot sun and trudging through inclined pathways. Attempt with only the closest of friends and family. If you make to the ascent, however, you'll be rewarded with one of the best views of San Diego, with a cool photo on top of a thin sliver of rock to boot. Be warned though, this rock can and will one day break, so best see it now and exercise caution while doing so.
4. Watt's Towers, Los Angeles
From afar, these art structures blend into the L.A. Skyline with their industrial and utilitarian silhouettes. Artist Simon Rodia worked for 34 years, since 1921, to singlehandedly build these towering monuments to a "Nuestro Pueblo" (our town) out of simple materials and pure ingenuity- without any scaffolding or modern equipment. Today, these structures are a fun and enriching area to visit, as well as a beautiful and different backdrop for the perfect photo. Entrance requires a small fee, and you can hear more about Rodia's passion and message, as well as see his other works once inside. It's definitely worth a look around.
5. Deep Creek Hot Springs, San Bernardino
Two weeks out of Japan, I found myself horribly missing one of the best experiences I had in the country: Hot springs. Called "onsen", the Japanese have had a long history with these beneficial bodies of water, and it is thought to cleanse and reinvigorate the soul to bathe in an onsen. Unfortunately, America, or more specifically, Southern California is not quite as abundant in its hot spring water sources, and what little exists lies often at the end of an arduous hike and without the luxurious offerings of the Japanese ones (my favorite was this little place, tucked away in the town of Hakone that featured a fresh milk vending machine from a local farm!). Since returning home, I began my research on places that could scratch this incessant need and stumbled upon Deep Creek Hot Springs, a natural basin of sulfurous spring water located in a 3.6-mile trail just outside Hesperia. Although quite well known, this spot was utterly relaxing and soothing after the dusty hike, and I found it to be sufficiently uncrowded during the weekday that I went. unforgettable memory taking a day trip to.
Southern California is a wonderful place. In N Out greets visitors and residents alike with their iconic red, white and yellow, and you are never more than 90 minutes from a local beach. These are just a few of the places that I believe would make a great day trip- however, there are undoubtedly more. Los Angeles alone is home to countless trendy rooftop bars, quirky museums, and hidden hot spots. Don't even get me started on the San Diego County. Before you return to a full schedule and nights of stress, treat yourself and/or your loved ones to a day or night out to a scenic and unforgettable memory.