Soterios Johnson is not exactly a California expert—not yet, anyway. And that is one big reason why he is the ideal host for the brand-new California Now podcast. Johnson, the former host of NPR’s Morning Edition on WNYC in New York City, is a relative newcomer to the Golden State and is actively seeking to fill up his personal travel to-do list. As the voice of the interview-based California Now podcast, Johnson will talk to a diverse collection of experts and extract tips and insights from dozens of insiders. Johnson will leverage both his journalistic skills and his personal curiosity to uncover the best things to do and the most fascinating places to explore throughout the state.
Although much of what is captured below may be rethought over the months ahead, Johnson eagerly answered our California Questionnaire.
Where do you live? Woodland.
Why there? It’s right next to UC Davis, where I work. It has a charming downtown area, some great old architecture, and a nice mix of people—newcomers and old-timers.
Who or what is your greatest California love? It’s hard to pick just one! I love the weather, the people, the super-fresh farm-to-fork food options, and the laid-back vibe. I love spending time on the beach, and I’m still on a quest to find my favorite stretch of sand in California.
What is the biggest misperception about Californians? That they have their heads in the clouds. Sure, some can be a little loopy, but that just adds character. Most of the Californians I’ve met are thoughtful, smart, generous, self-aware people. I think the rep of being “out there” comes from California being on the forefront of so many movements, and it takes a while for the rest of society to catch up.
What is the stereotype that most holds true? Everyone drives everywhere. That said, you don’t have to. Many cities have good public transportation options, and you can find areas with excellent infrastructure for walking and cycling.
Time for a road trip—where are you going? I would take a leisurely drive down the Pacific Coast Highway from the Sonoma Coast down to Big Sur. I would start in Sea Ranch, where you have these serene sounds of nature and views overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Sea Ranch is a small, secluded, environmentally planned private community developed in the late 1960s. It’s quiet and remote—a good spot to plan my trip and start fresh. My other stops would include Bodega Bay, a fishing village where I could chow down on clam chowder and just-caught seafood and then check out where Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was shot. Next: Point Reyes, where I would explore the beautiful coastline at Point Reyes National Seashore. And then I would stop in San Francisco so I could visit SFMOMA and the Legion of Honor museum, and have dinner in Chinatown.
The next day I would head south and sample the food scene in Santa Cruz before continuing down to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row. And then, of course, I would spend as much time as possible exploring Big Sur—including a walking tour of Garrapata State Park, a place I learned about after interviewing Samantha Brown for the California Now podcast.
If you could decree an official state culinary experience, what would it be? I picture a Sonoma vineyard. I’m sitting outside, overlooking rolling hills and grapevines and enjoying local wine, cheeses, and seasonal produce.
How do you define California style? Very casual and comfortable—linens and cottons. Untucked. Shorts, sunglasses, skateboard shoes or flip-flops.
Best California song? I love “Another Day of Sun,” the opening song from the film La La Land. And who can forget that amazing opening dance number on that freeway ramp in Los Angeles? While the music is upbeat and exuberant, the lyrics betray an acknowledgment that dreams don’t always come true, even if you live in a sunny wonderland. The irony is masterful. I’m also a big fan of the Eagles’ “Hotel California.” Is it a sociopolitical statement about American culture or an allegory about hedonism? Not sure, but any way you slice it, it’s a great song with one of the best guitar solos ever. As a kid in New Jersey, listening to that song while staring at the album cover photo of the palm trees and Beverly Hills Hotel set against an eerie sunset definitely left an impression.
How would your California dream day unfold? First off, this is not a realistic day—I would need a Star Trek transporter to achieve this. Having said that, I can imagine letting the sounds of the Pacific Ocean serve as my alarm clock. I wake up whenever and then take a dip in a pool before I enjoy a Southern California breakfast of locally grown ingredients, including fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. Afterward I would bike to the beach to swim and chill until it’s time for lunch at a food truck or In-N-Out Burger. My afternoon would be spent touring the Getty Center and, if there’s enough time, a Hollywood studio tour. Next I would enjoy a relaxing dinner in wine country, and then end this perfect day somewhere very, very dark so I could enjoy a bit of stargazing before hitting the hay.
California’s heartland offers up one of the state’s most authentic and sensory-rich experiences, a chance to see—and taste—the state’s bounty at every turn. Follow oak-shaded country roads to farm stands overflowing with fresh produce, and meander along wine trails to some of the state’s most productive vineyards and low-key tasting rooms.
Peaches, plums, apricots, and tomatoes—just some of the ultra-fresh produce you will find at farm stands throughout the valley.
Throughout the broad valley, stretching for over 400 miles/644 kilometres down the middle of the state, are cities and towns rich with history, international culture, and “everyone’s welcome” charm.
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