Guidebooks and must-see lists are fabulous trip-planning tools—but when you want to experience a city in an authentic way, there’s no better source than the people who live there. That’s why we reached out to natives to get local advice for the California Locals program. See the Golden State through the eyes of the people who know it best, starting with top destinations throughout Southern California.
Learn from local experts in San Diego, Orange County, Inland Empire, Palm Springs, and Los Angeles who love their city—and are passionate about showing it off. “When you live in paradise, it’s hard to find anything better than here,” says Kurt Cyr, a Palm Springs local and owner of Palm Springs Mod Squad architecture tours. Newport Beach–based date farmer Joan Smith agrees that her hometown is the tops. “There are so many reasons to live here. The weather is always really pleasant—sunny and 70 almost every day—and the ocean views are amazing.”
If you’re thinking of traveling to San Diego, try a few under-the-radar spots from Elexia de la Parra, founder of Artelexia in North Park. De la Parra says there’s no better neighborhood to get the true local experience: “It’s mostly mom-and-pops.” She advises getting your caffeine fix at her Holsem Coffee, browsing the aisles at Verbatim Books, and ordering the Classic Combo Supreme from Tribute Pizza.
When in Palm Springs, Cyr recommends getting a taste of the city’s vibrant cocktail scene with a Manhattan at The Colony Club or margaritas at El Mirasol. Heading a bit north to the Inland Empire? Make like Akash Patel of Akash Winery in Temecula and nab a dinner reservation at Small Barn, or experience the “small-town lifestyle” in Old Town or Vail Headquarters. San Bernardino’s Terrance Thibodeaux of the vegan hotspot Cafe Organix loves the tacos from Mariscos Kikas and the fascinating kitsch at the McDonald’s Museum.
Orange County might be famous for big-name theme parks and high-end shopping plazas, but residents know where to find the hidden gems. Newport Beach’s Smith says it’s hard to beat a day on the water with an electric Duffy boat or aboard the Balboa Island Ferry. Kathy Cervantes, founder of K&A Catering, Cervantes Mexican, as well as other popular Anaheim restaurants, loves exploring the vendors at the Packing District, a citrus packing house-turned-food hall. Try the fried chicken from Sweetbird or a nightcap at the hidden speakeasy The Blind Rabbit.
You could spend a lifetime in L.A. County and still have more city to explore. When traveling, why not dive deep into a specific spot? Take a tip from Dr. Lourdes Ramos-Rivas, President and CEO of the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) and spend a few days in her hometown of Long Beach. “The quality of living is extraordinary here,” she says. Visit Retro Row, a shopping district with lots of vintage finds, or take in a show at Ramos-Rivas favorite performance venues like Long Beach Opera or Musical Theatre West.
Explore these and more local recommendations from California Locals all across the state.