California dreamin

CanWest News Service
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All the palms are green and the sky is blue

Bored with Florida for the March break, but love the beach? Head to southern California, home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Bored with Florida for the March break, but love the beach? Head to southern California, home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

From people watching in Venice Beach to the beauty of Laguna Beach, the California coast does not disappoint. And between beach visits, theres no shortage of things to do and see as SoCal (as the locals call it) has more than its share of zoos, aquariums, amusement parks and, of course, Hollywood.

How warm does it get in March? Temperatures hover in the low 20s Celsius, which seems downright balmy when mixed with the famous southern California sunshine. As for the ocean temperature, well, lets just say you need a fur-lined Speedo to do more than walk along the beach unless of course youre a hardy Canuck who can bear water temperatures hovering around 15 degrees.

Southern California is a driving culture, and renting a car is a must. Its also the best way to see the area the drive along the Pacific Coast Highway is spectacular. So belt in the kids, and lets go for a ride.

Most people fly into busy Los Angeles Airport to start their California holiday, but flights to San Diego can be cheaper and the airport is quieter than its northern cousin. Plus San Diego is home to a world-famous zoo, some rustic beaches and an aquarium thats also got a pretty good reputation.

The San Diego Zoo is best known for its giant panda exhibit, but if youve got only one day, visit the zoos Wild Animal Park.

Located about 35 minutes north of the zoo in central San Diego, the Wild Animal Park provides wide-open spaces for its animals, for example, rhinos, elephants and giraffes live in a savannah-like habitat similar to that of their native east Africa. Take the safari tour and get close to some of the biggest land animals on Earth.

If youre on a budget, you dont need to pay to see aquatic mammals up close. The beach at La Jollas Childrens Pool is a favourite sunning spot for seals and sea lions. Visit at low tide for the best viewing.

From San Diego, take the Pacific Coast Highway Route 1 for a trip north toward Los Angeles. Theres lots to see and do along the way while you discover what Southern California is all about: quaint little surf towns, funky cafes and majestic ocean vistas.

Your first stop is the town of San Juan Capistrano. Stretch your legs and stroll through the oldest neighbourhood in California. Three homes dating from the late 1700s are still standing, and youll see signs of early Spanish settlers. Sit down at one of the many outdoor terraces and drink in some history.

Continue along the Pacific Coast Highway until you reach Laguna Beach. This little beach town, once an artists colony, is known for its galleries and arts and music festivals. And with 11 kilometres of beaches and coves, its also a surfers paradise: in summer, board shorts and bare feet are the town uniform. Just north of downtown is Crystal Cove State Park, with its picturesque beach walk. Follow the signs for Crystal Cove, and park in the lots at the top of the bluff. Head down the footpath and stairs. Huge rocks jut out of the ocean. Take off your shoes, roll up your jeans and take a stroll. At this time of year, chances are you and kids will be exploring on your own because not only is the water cold but this little piece of paradise is not widely known.

The Pacific Coast Highway passes through more beach towns like Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and Long Beach. Each has its own character and is worth a stop, but Hollywood beckons.

Just past Long Beach, get off the Pacific Coast Highway and head north on Highway 110 to Hollywood and Hollywood Blvd. for a touristy dose of Tinsel Town. At Graumans Chinese Theatre, the handprints of Hollywood stars are set in cement. Follow the Hollywood Walk of Fame with bronze stars and the names of 2,300 stars embedded in the sidewalk.

If you really want to immerse yourself in Hollywood, head to Universal Studios and take its tour of famous movie and TV sets for a behind the scenes look.

Then its off to the theme park for the rides, shows and attractions. You could easily spend a whole day here, so dont shortchange the family by budgeting too little time for this stop.

When youve had enough Hollywood glitz, head west to the Pacific Coast Highway and the drive north to Malibu. With the beaches and ocean on the left and the Santa Monica mountains on the right, the view along this 44-kilometre stretch of road is second to none. Stroll along the beaches and main streets of Malibu, where theres a good chance you will see a star or two.

If you want to earn more brownie points with the kids, continue northeast about 50 kilometres to Valencia (on the southern edge of Santa Clarita) and the Six Flags Amusement Park. Test your mettle on any or all of the 16 roller coasters and other extreme rides.

If Six Flags is too much, head back along the Pacific Coast Highway toward L.A. and the Santa Monica Pier and a dozen rides that you pay for a la carte. Its also home to an antique carousel and midway games, all of which offer old-fashioned family fun on one of the best known piers in California.

Another must-see before returning to San Diego is Venice Beach, just south of Santa Monica. Take the Pacific Coast Highway or rent a bike and follow the bike path for about eight kilometres from Santa Monica Pier to Venice Beachs Ocean Front Walk with its flea markets, cafes, street performers, in-line skaters, runners and some of the most original cast of characters youll see.

Make sure to hit Muscle Beach, where theres no shortage of big guys pumping iron outdoors.

On the way back to San Diego, stop in at beach towns you missed on the way along the Pacific Coast Highway, or, for a faster route south, head east to Highway 405, 105 across town and the 5 south. This route allows you to drop by and see Mickey and Minnie at Disneyland in Anaheim.

A round trip between San Diego and L.A. is about 230 kilometres depending on the number of detours. Sample as many attractions along the way as your time and budget will allow. Be it theme park, beach or aquarium, California has it all.

Organizations: Pacific Coast, Los Angeles Airport, San Diego Zoo Graumans Chinese Theatre Universal Studios Six Flags Disneyland

Geographic location: California, Southern California, Hollywood San Diego Venice Beach Laguna Beach Florida Wild Animal Park Santa Monica Africa Long Beach Los Angeles San Juan Capistrano Malibu Crystal Cove State Park Crystal Cove L.A. Newport Beach Huntington Beach Seal Beach Santa Clarita Anaheim

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