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5 Things You Didn’t Know You Can Do in L.A.

Here in Los Angeles we have so many incredible sights and things to do – Hollywood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Disneyland, Universal Studios to name just a few – that some activities that would be a top priority in other cities get a little bit forgotten here.

There are actually a lot of activities that are more front and center in other places that you can actually do here on your visit to L.A. as well. Here are just five of them:

1. Whale Watching

Grey Whale off Long Beach

While it should be no surprise that whale watching is an option here, it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when people think of palm trees, celebs and L.A. But yes indeed Los Angeles is a prime whale-watching spot, and in fact we have whales almost year-round. In the Winter and Spring, Grey Whales are on their migrations, either going South to Baja in Mexico for the Winter or returning North to Alaska for the Summer. In the Summer and Fall, you can see the largest animal ever to roam the earth — the magnificent Blue Whale, which grows up to 100 feet long and has been appearing in record numbers the past several years.

You’ll also surely see quite a few dolphins and sea lions, and with some luck you may also encounter Minke Whales, Finbacks, and Humpback Whales. If you’re REALLY lucky, you may even spot a pod of Orcas.

Harbor Breeze Cruises offers whale watching year-round, as does Davey’s Locker.

2. Wine Tasting

Wine Tasting in Solvang

Wine Tasting in Solvang in the movie Sideways

Most visitors to California think of wine tasting in Napa or Sonoma, but in fact some really great wine is made right here in Southern California. Two main areas are in the Santa Ynez Valley and Temecula, both only about an hour or so from Los Angeles. The Santa Ynez Valley offers a fun and charming collection of towns including Los Olivos, Buellton, and Solvang, which will make you feel like you’d died and gone to a Dutch-windmill kitsch hell. But in a good way.

We love these areas for wine tasting because while they still produce fine wines they are much less pretentious than the more established vineyards up north. Plus, if you’re like us you don’t usually throw $60 per bottle on cases of wine, which is pretty de rigeur in Sonoma and Napa. No, down around here the wines tend to be more regular-guy priced and if you like one, it’s at a price where you can in fact say, “Why, yes, I WOULD like to take some home with me.”

3. Island hopping

Kayaking the Channel Islands

It’s not just in the Caribbean. Here in Southern California we’re blessed with the Channel Islands, 8 islands that stretch from Santa Barbara all the way down almost to San Diego. Five of these — Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Anacapa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. With this designation these islands are protected from development and are a wonderful place to explore. Camping, hiking, kayaking, sailing, and snorkeling should be tops on your list here.

Kayaking is a special treat here with the many sea caves that are just begging to be explored. You can camp on either Anacapa or Santa Cruz Island and take a guided kayak tour with Channel Islands Kayak Center.

While not part of the National Park, Catalina is in the Channel Islands chain and is perhaps the best-known. You can ferry to the island from Long Beach on the Catalina Express which will whisk you there in about an hour for around $75 round trip. Check out the herd of bison that lives on the island — in the 1920’s several bison were brought to the island for a film production. Rather then pay to have them returned to the mainland, the producers just left them there and they have thrived and multiplied ever since.

4. Camping

Horse Flats Campground, Angeles National Forest

Horse Flats Campground, Angeles National Forest

L.A. is also a world-class camping destination. We’re surrounded by mountains, some that reach 12,000 feet. If it’s too hot on those August days, we like to head to the hills where it’s often 25 degrees cooler.

Within two hour’s drive are the Angeles National Forest, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear (both at 8,000 feet elevation), Topanga State Park, Joshua Tree, San Bernardino National Forest… get the picture. What’s more, because there is such a wealth of choices, many of these spots are not overrun by other campers. You can always find a spot to pitch your tent when you’re here in L.A.

5. Skiing

Los Angeles skyline in winter

Everyone knows you can surf in Los Angeles, but did you know you can ski on the same day? That’s right, in under 2 hours you can be sliding down that substance that some Angelenos have only heard is known as “snow.”

There are several such resorts that can be reached from downtown in less than 2 hours, including Bear Mountain and Snow Summit in Big Bear, and Mountain High in Wrightwood.

The best of Southern California skiing takes a bit more effort. Mammoth Mountain is about a 4 hour drive but it offers Colorado quality skiing right here in California.