Consistently ranked as one of the happiest states in the country, there’s one thing you can count on: Californians love where they live. Head to any city or hamlet and you’ll find residents who can wax poetic about their favorite burrito spot or the best matcha latte in town. That’s why Visit California created California Locals, a content series featuring hidden gems and personal picks from people who are 100% committed to living life to its fullest.
“I couldn’t ask for a more magical place to be,” says Crista Luedtke of Guerneville. The hotelier, restaurateur, and chef helped transform her Sonoma County hometown by opening Boon Hotel + Spa, Boon Eat + Drink, El Barrio, and Brot. “I selfishly curated the town with all the things I want so that I don’t have to leave!” she jokes.
When Luedtke’s not at one of her own spots, she loves spending time outdoors hiking or paddling down the Russian River. She recommends exploring Jenner Headlands Preserve and the Islands in the Sky hike near Duncans Mills where, “if you get a clear day, you’ll see all the way out to the coast and the ocean.” She also loves wine tasting at Iron Horse Vineyards for bubbles in a beautiful place, as well as Ryme Cellars in nearby Forestville.
Santa Barbara local Tara Jones Haaf shares a similar passion for the best sips and bites in her area. “To truly eat like a local, you want to eat the best,” explain Haaf, founder of the food-and-photography-themed tour company Eat This, Shoot That! She always takes guests to Helena Avenue Bakery for burrata BLTs and Flor de Maíz for duck mole taquitos. She also recommends exploring the Funk Zone (a neighborhood marked by public art, tasting rooms, and restaurants), and simply enjoying the scenery. “Santa Barbara is so unbelievably beautiful. It's everything that you want a beach town to look like,” she says.
Elexia de la Parra, owner of Artelexia, a beautiful gift shop full of Mexican goods in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood, says her customers frequently ask for local recommendations. “We get a lot of people who come and are checking out the neighborhood,” she says. “They want to make sure they don't miss anything.”
Elexia, who grew up in Tijuana, crossing the border each day to attend school in San Diego, has a special appreciation for the traditional Oaxacan tamales at El Comal and the aguas frescas at Señor Mango’s. De la Parra also recommends bookending the day with coffee from Holsem or Dark Horse Roasters and an adult beverage from Bottlecraft or California Tap Room. “There are so many places,” she says.
Learn more about Luedtke, Haaf, and de la Parra by listening to their interviews on the most recent episode of the California Now Podcast. Or check out the insider tips and recommendations from 28 locals living all over the state to plan your next Golden State getaway.