The Ultimate California Hot List 

An A to Z of the very best places, people and things in The Golden State



It should come as no surprise that the editors at C Magazine are obsessed with all things California. We’re constantly seeking out new adventures and discoveries; our evenings, weekends and vacations are spent combing The Golden State, from beaches and parks to restaurants and museums. Having been sheltering in place for two months, we’ve had plenty of time to wax nostalgic about our most memorable trips and meticulously plan our bucket lists so we’re ready to go once it is safe to travel again.

And if you follow us on Instagram, you’ve likely seen our recent A to Z of California, an initiative that brought us together over our collective love and appreciation for our great state’s vast cultural figures and natural landscapes. So whether you’re a resident of the state or loving it from afar, here are 26 C Magazine-endorsed reasons why the West Coast is undoubtedly the best coast, and our favorite suggestions from you to boot.


A is for … Apple
No celebration of Apple, the world’s first trillion-dollar company, comes without a toast to its paradigm-shifting, nonpareil product designer cum founder Steve Jobs, without whom the world would be less fun, and definitely less efficient. Among his greatest hits are the iPhone, the iPod and the MacBook, but hands up, who remembers the Apple Macintosh, unveiled in 1984, with its chunky form, rainbow logo and floppy disk drive? Forward-thinking and epoch-defining, Cupertino-headquartered Apple is the ultimate California brand, the one that helped make Silicon Valley the global capital of tech — and keep it there. Our readers also suggested: Arizona Cactus Garden, Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Alviso Marina County Park.


B is for … Big Sur
One of the most stunning landscapes in the state, if not the world, this 90-mile stretch of California coast runs along the winding and scenic Highway 1. It’s known for destinations like the Bixby Creek Bridge, Pfeiffer Beach and McWay Falls, which draw photographers and Instagram-ers alike. You can’t say you’ve really seen California until you’ve fully immersed yourself in all of Big Sur’s natural glory, from a sunset drive along the water to a hike to the McWay waterfalls. Our readers also suggested: Bradbury Building, Balboa Park and Berkeley.


C is for … Catalina Island
A trip to Catalina Island is a journey to a simpler California. Residents drive golf carts to the sleepy beach clubs, and visitors hop onto shuttle boats to access 150 miles of trails, with views of the Pacific in every direction. For more than 100 years, the island has been owned by the Wrigley family, who have made it their mission to protect and preserve it for at least 100 more. A paradise frozen in time, unspoiled by the chaos of modern life the Capri of California is a place unlike any other. Our readers also suggested: Crystal Cove, Chez Panisse and Carizzo Plain.


D is for … Dan Tana’s
“Dan Tana’s is not about denying yourself things,” said the late Jonathan Gold, long-serving critic of the Los Angeles Times when he reviewed the West Hollywood institution in 2016. Is there any idea more appealing than lounging on a leather banquet, martini in hand, while waiting for a main course of chicken parm and a side of spaghetti and trying to decide with your dining companion which dessert to share later? In fact, D is more specifically for Date Night at Dan Tana’s. Our readers also suggested: Death Valley, Del Mar Racetrack and Dolores Park.


E is for … Eames House
The Eames House’s sliding doors, lush greenery and light-flooded rooms proved in the 1950s that natural elements were essential to good design. Today this midcentury modern masterpiece, preserved and protected as a not-for-profit organization, is a must for all locals and passers-through. According to the foundation’s website, the Pacific Palisades case study was constructed for a hypothetical client, conceived to be “for a married couple working in design and graphic arts, whose children were no longer living at home.” Our readers also suggested: Emerald Bay, El Coyote and the Esalen Institute.


F is for … Fairfax Avenue
Palm-lined Fairfax Avenue is home to a host of tried-and-true L.A. favorites, from brunch spot Jon and Vinny’s to Canter’s Jewish deli, the latter of which has been serving its famous matzo ball soup since the 1930s. More recently, this street has become known for streetwear boutiques, such as Supreme and FourTwoFour. Our readers also suggested: The French Laundry, Filoli Garden and Fort Bragg.


G is for … Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is to landscape photographers what Cindy Crawford is to fashion lensmen — a near-perfect creation, impossibly tall and endlessly photogenic. Since being completed in 1937, this mile-long feat of modern engineering has served as both an epic commute from San Francisco to Marin County (and back) and a symbol of the city’s status as the global technology capital for the past four decades. Our readers also suggested: Griffith Observatory, Giorgio Baldi and the Greystone Mansion.


H is for … Hockney
From his brightly colored landscapes to his iconic pool paintings to his intimate portraits, David Hockney’s immense body of work is inextricably linked to Los Angeles. Born in England, he ventured to California over 50 years ago and instantly fell in love. Since then, no artist has rendered the light, the laid-back mood and the zeitgeist of Los Angeles in the way that Hockney has. Experience a selection of his works, including Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and his piece Pearblossom Highway at The J. Paul Getty Museum. Our readers also suggested: Hearst Castle; Hog Island Oyster Co.; and The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.


I is for … In-N-Out
There is nothing quite like a double-double and animal-style fries from In-N-Out — comfort food for the Californian soul. The burger chain may be classified as “fast food” based on wait times and price points, but the quality of ingredients exceeds the competition across the entire country. Since opening its first location, in Baldwin Park, in 1948, the family-run business has exploded in size (and popularity) and now serves customers at almost 350 locations along the West Coast and throughout the southwest. An obligatory stop for out-of-state visitors, In-N-Out remains a point of pride among California residents. Our readers also suggested: The Integratoron, Indian Springs and Idyllwild.


J is for … Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park’s mystical-looking namesakes have long attracted travelers seeking solitude and inspiration. The indigenous yucca palms of this arid landscape, which is situated between the Mojave and Colorado deserts, are otherworldly, like something straight out of the imagination of Dr. Seuss. A hot spot for artists, musicians and drifters, the park is a must-visit spiritual stopover on the same level as Marfa, Texas, or Santa Fe, N.M., a place where you make your own rules, indulge your creative impulses and satiate your spiritual curiosities. Our readers also suggested: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Joan’s on Third and the John Muir Trail.


K is for … Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant’s career began right after his high school graduation when he entered the NBA draft at 17 years old. He went on to play 20 seasons with the L.A. Lakers, scoring 33,643 points, winning five championships and retiring not one but two jerseys. The Staples Center, the legendary Downtown L.A. arena that hosts the Lakers’ home games, has been dubbed by fans “The House That Kobe Built,” and his relentless pursuit of greatness recently secured his spot as a 2020 Hall of Fame inductee. Off the court, he was a family man, the father of four daughters, and beloved by locals for his philanthropic work, which ranged from cancer research to after-school programs for the underserved youth. The passing of Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, earlier this year sent shockwaves through the world, proving his cultural impact reached far beyond the California and NBA communities. This prodigious athlete may no longer be with us, but his legacy lives on. Mamba forever. Our readers also suggested: Kirby Cove, Knott’s Berry Farm, Konbi and King’s Canyon National Park.


L is for … Lake Tahoe 
Whether you’re hiking Emerald Point, hitting the slopes at Squaw Valley, or kayaking on the lake itself, Tahoe is a year-round destination for nature lovers and adventurers alike. Our readers also suggested: Ganna Walska Lotusland, LACMA and Lombard Street.


M is for … Marilyn Monroe
When asked by a French reporter what she wore in bed, actor Marilyn Monroe replied, “Why, Chanel No. 5, of course.” Thrust into the role of sex symbol by the studios, the L.A. native tailored her image for the male gaze, delivering quips breathily with a bright-eyed innocence; however, her intelligence and humor also shined through, winning over men and women alike in every decade since she arrived on the scene. After working with Hollywood greats like Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston and Howard Hawks, and lending her talents to classics like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Some Like It Hot (1959) and a string of others, Monroe tragically died in Brentwood at the age of 36, leaving behind an enduring larger-than-life legacy.⁠ When in town, be sure to visit her star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, and her final resting place at Westwood Village Memorial Park, a stone’s throw from UCLA. Our readers also suggested: Muir Woods, Mulholland Drive, Mission Inn and MOCA.


N is for … Richard Neutra
One of the leading figures in modernist architecture, Austrian-born Richard Neutra spent the majority of his career in Southern California. Among his most famous projects was the Kaufmann House, built in Palm Springs. The Kaufmann family, who also commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, enlisted Neutra to design their desert retreat, which would later be lauded by critics as one of the most important homes of all time. Our readers also suggested: Napa Valley, Neptune’s Net and Newport Beach.


O is for … Oscars
The Oscars have become something of a national holiday, a day on which celebrities are dressed in the latest fashions for the industry’s biggest night, while we all gather at home to watch the evening unfold. Starting with red carpet arrivals all the way through the after-parties, the event reliably delivers many newsworthy moments. If you’re looking to experience some Oscars history in real life, the 300,000-square-foot Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is currently under construction in L.A.’s Miracle Mile neighborhood, set to open in late 2020. Or check out Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre, the annual award ceremony’s venue since 2002. Our readers also suggested: Ojai, The Old Place, Osteria Mozza and Oceanside.


P is for … Pfeiffer Beach
Oh how we long for a day at the beach! We wouldn’t be so bold as to declare any particular one The Best Beach in California, but Pfeiffer Beach just off Pacific Coast Highway comes pretty close to perfection. With its giant keyhole arch and patches of purpled-hued sand, it epitomizes Big Sur’s ethereal allure. Our readers also suggested: Pacific Coast Highway, Palm Springs, Polo Lounge and the Palace of Fine Arts.


Q is for … Queen Mary
The retired ocean liner the RMS Queen Mary, named after King George V’s wife and built in England by Cunard Line in the early 1930s, has been docked in Long Beach since 1967, converted into a hotel and attraction. Before it became Long Beach’s most distinguished resident, it was equipped with five dining rooms and lounges, two swimming pools and a squash court, and set an elegant new standard for transatlantic travel. In its prime, the ship gave passage to such elites as Hollywood actor Bob Hope and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. But as air travel increased in popularity, the ship was eventually retired and sold, eventually finding its permanent home in California. Today the floating hotel called The Queen Mary draws visitors eager to revel in a bygone era. Our readers also suggested: Quality Food & Beverage.


R is for … Redwood
As a symbol of California, the redwood tree represents the state’s abundant natural beauty and boundless opportunities for growth. This giant species can grow to be more than 370 feet tall and more than 30 feet in diameter, making it one of the largest trees on earth. The cool air and layers of fog along our northern coasts make for lush forests where the California redwood can be found, including Muir Woods and the Redwood National and State Parks. We’re looking forward to the day we can hit the trails again, to admire one of Mother Nature’s most majestic gifts. Our readers also suggested: Russian River, Randy’s Donuts and Rincon Beach.


S is for … Superbloom
With spring comes the technicolor wildflowers that every few years, depending on a specific set of ecological conditions, create a superbloom. When this sporadic phenomenon happens, California’s native poppies, brittlebush and bluebells spring up in epic numbers, blanketing the hills and, in turn, drawing crowds from across the state to the likes of Antelope Valley, Carrizo Plains and Joshua Tree National Park. Our readers also suggested: Salton Sea, San Ysidro Ranch, Surfrider Malibu and Santa Monica Pier.


T is for … Tarantino
One of Hollywood’s preeminent filmmakers, Quentin Tarantino is a bona fide writer, producer and director who has cemented his place in history as one of the great storytellers of the last century with films like Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994) and Django Unchained (2012). Tarantino (who claims he will retire after his 10th film), went to great lengths to re-create 1960s Los Angeles for his ninth project, Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood, which was released last year and starred Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie. If you live in L.A. or are passing through, a visit to Tarantino’s movie theater, New Beverly Cinema, is a must. After taking over ownership of the theater in 2007, the filmmaker is realizing his vision to make the venue a “bastion for 35mm films.” Our readers also suggested: Topanga, The Troubadour, Tartine and Tower Bar.


U is for … Urban Light
Urban Light by artist Chris Burden has been featured on Instagram thousands of times over. Crafted in 2008 and situated on Wilshire Boulevard at LACMA, the West Coast’s largest art museum, this installation comprising more than 200 1920s-style lampposts coaxes selfies and public displays of affection ranging from first kisses to marriage proposals. Burden’s vision for Urban Light was that it act as a symbol for the civilized, sophisticated city which Los Angeles has come to represent. Our readers also suggested: Universal Studios, Union Square and Urth Caffe.


V is for … Venice Beach
From the canals to the boardwalk, the pier to the skatepark, Venice Beach is a neighborhood like no other. With its artist community origins and more recent ties to bohemian subcultures, tribal gangs and the tech boom, the streets of 90291  have had an impact on the cultural fabric of Los Angeles across every decade. The next 10 years will be no exception, with the skate park scheduled to host events during the 2028 Olympics. We’ll meet you there, under the famed “Venice” sign!⁠ Our readers also suggested: Ventura, Viceroy Santa Monica and Ventana Big Sur.


W is for … Walt Disney
As a young man, Walt Disney joined his brother, Roy, in Los Angeles in 1923 to pursue a career in animation. At one point, the high school dropout even considered selling vacuums door to door before achieving his first big success, the development of the now iconic Mickey Mouse. Today we look back on the 22-time Oscar winner as one of the most influential figures in the history of the American cinema, but his ambition didn’t stop at the silver screen. His company went on to launch its first theme park in Anaheim in 1955, allowing fans to completely immerse themselves in the worlds (or kingdoms) Disney had created. While the park remains temporarily closed due to the current statewide shelter-in-place orders, Disneyland remains a vision of joy, imagination and prosperity in The Golden State. Our readers also suggested: Mount Whitney, Whisky a Go Go and the Walk of Fame.


X is for … Desert X
With its ethereal locations and otherworldly works, Desert X attracts the world’s most intrepid art fans to the Coachella Valley every other year to size up the latest site-specific installations from some of the biggest names in contemporary art, from California and beyond. Past exhibitions have included Doug Aitken’s mirror-clad Mirage house and Sterling Ruby’s fluorescent orange monolith. We’re looking forward to the biennial’s third edition set for 2021, which will be co-curated by Neville Wakefield and art world veteran César García-Alvarez.


Y is for … Yosemite
Could anything be higher on our postquarantine bucket list than a trip to Yosemite? California’s world-renowned national park encompasses nearly 750,000 acres of verdant woodland, tumbling waterfalls and vertiginous peaks. Adrenaline junkies flock to El Capitan for a near-vertical climb, while the more serene nature lovers hit Yosemite Falls and the Half Dome for hiking and a photo op. Our readers also suggested: Yountville, Yucca Valley and Yucaipa.


Z is for … Zuma Beach
What’s a more appropriate ending for a California-themed A to Z list than to finish at the beach? With its almond milk-colored sands, lapping waves, volleyball courts and picturesque lifeguard stations, Zuma Beach in Malibu is the go-to for Angelenos looking to escape the summer heat. For now, we resist the ocean’s temptation, but we will be all the more grateful for beach days with friends once the time for self-isolation is over.⁠ Our readers also suggested: Zzyzx, Zuni Cafe, Zinque and Zaca Mesa Winery.


Feature image: Big Sur, California. Photo by Ganapathy Kumar/Unsplash.


May 7, 2020

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