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Southern California, CA

Introduction The allure of the Golden State is undeniable: Some of the nation's most agreeable weather and a stunningly varied landscape go a long way toward explaining the attraction.

Most Americans who have never set foot west of the Rockies have heard of the Palm Springs, Death Valley, the San Diego Zoo and L.A.'s Getty Center. Thanks to Hollywood movies and TV shows, California and all its associations—surfing, sun, starlets lounging by pools—have all entered the popular imagination.

When a fad sweeps the country, odds are good that it started in California. The sense of style here is often imitated, the native cuisine savored around the world. And populated as it is by entrepreneurs, visionaries, counterculture radicals, trendsetters, go-getters and—truth be told—a few eccentrics as well, the state has long been fertile ground for innovative ideas, technological breakthroughs and entirely new ways of living. No wonder Americans looking toward the future often face west.

About California

Better Than Fiction The early filmmakers arriving in the opening years of the 20th century must have realized they couldn't dream up a better setting for their celluloid fantasies; the California landscape itself is dramatic. Breathtaking only begins to describe the rocky, sea-splashed coast, the sunbaked badlands of Death Valley or the jagged, glacier-sculpted peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

There's also drama in the diversity of landscapes: the nation's second tallest mountain, Mount Whitney, stands within 90 miles of Death Valley, the Western Hemisphere's lowest point. Even the lighting varies enough to please the fussiest cinematographer, ranging from the soft, mist-dimmed glow of the coast to the harsh, unfiltered glare of the southeast deserts. And speaking of lighting, who can count the number of movies that have ended with a lingering view of heroes and heroines riding off into the trademark, Technicolor California sunset?

And like a movie star from Hollywood's golden age, the state's ready for its close-up. Zoom in on the mountains, valleys, deserts and shore areas and you'll find a fascinating array of plants and animals. Off the coast, migrating gray and humpback whales are the stars while sea lions, elephant seals and playful sea otters make their appearances closer to shore.

Following the SunBut what motion picture would be complete without actors? Even before the flood of fortune hunters following the sun from the East arrived, the lands west of the Sierra Nevadas were home to a cast of characters that included Native Americans who had lived in the region for thousands of years, Franciscan missionaries and Spanish ranchers. Then the gold rush created cities and towns almost overnight, and people have never stopped being drawn to the spectacle of the place.

The results of their labors take myriad forms: centuries-old Spanish missions that dot the coast; the futuristic glass-and-steel skyscrapers of Los Angeles and San Diego; the lovely beach resort of Santa Barbara; and the unlikely desert oasis of Palm Springs. And what more fitting testament to surreal beauty than the magnificent Hearst Castle or the celebration of imagination that is Disneyland?

RecreationSpectacular land- and seascapes and so many sunny places to play make Southern California the perfect destination for year-round outdoor recreation.

California's scenic 1,264-mile coastline isn't just for taking snapshots. Water sports enthusiasts have it made in the Golden State, and of course the surfing here is legendary. Los Angeles area beaches are some of the most popular (and famous) places to hang ten. Hermosa City Beach, Manhattan State Beach, Redondo Beach and Venice Beach offer sensational waves.

South of L.A. you can ride exceptional waves at Huntington Beach, a center of surfing culture, and also north of the city at Rincon Beach near Santa Barbara. Some of the best surfing on the West Coast is at La Jolla, near San Diego: Tourmaline Surfing Park and Windansea Beach are standouts here.

Afternoon windsurfing is a breeze in the waters off Leo Carrillo State Park at Malibu or in San Diego's Mission Bay Park. But if you want to make a splash with something bigger than a board, the coastline's countless inlets and coves are perfect for all types of boating. Catalina Island and the islands making up Channel Islands National Park are popular with sailors.

You won't have to travel far from California's big cities to enjoy tromping through the countryside. The Pacific Crest Trail, stretching some 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada, is ideal for short-term or extended hiking and backpacking adventures. The hike up 11,490-foot Mount San Gorgonio in San Bernardino National Forest is strenuous, but the view from one of the region's highest points is fantastic. Check out more trails in Topanga State Park in Los Angeles and Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in La Jolla.

Look for mountain biking trails geared to all skill levels in the Angeles, San Bernardino and San Jacinto national forests. If the otherworldly landscapes of the desert interest you, try backpacking or off-road biking through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park or Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks. Just remember to bring water and plenty of sunscreen.

For skiing and snowboarding, head to ski areas in the San Bernardino Mountains, in the heart of Southern California. Snow Valley, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit are among the largest ski destinations; the San Gabriel Mountains have their share of powder, too.

Fast Facts

About the State


Area 163,695 square miles; ranks 3rd.


Highest Point14,505 ft., Mount Whitney.

Lowest Point-282 ft., Death Valley.

Time Zone(s)Pacific. DST.


Minimum Age For Gambling18 if alcohol is not available; 21 if alcohol is available.


Teen Driving LawsTeens who have had a license less than 1 year are not permitted to transport non-family members under age 20 unless a licensed driver over age 25 is in the front seat. Driving is not permitted 11 p.m.-5 a.m. by licensed teens under age 17 (except under special circumstances or accompanied by a licensed driver over age 25). The minimum age for an unrestricted license is 17. Phone (800) 777-0133 for more information about California driver's license regulations.

Seat Belt/Child RestraintSeat belts are required for the driver and all passengers age 16 and over; passengers ages 8-15 must use an approved child restraint or seat belt. Child restraints are required for children under age 8. Children under age 2 must be in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds or is 40 or more inches tall. AAA recommends the use of seat belts and appropriate child restraints for the driver and all passengers.

Cellphone RestrictionsAll drivers are banned from text messaging and using handheld cellphones. Drivers under 18 are prohibited from all cellphone use.

Helmets for MotorcyclistsRequired for all riders.

Radar DetectorsPermitted. Prohibited in commercial vehicles.

Move Over LawDriver is required to slow down and vacate the lane nearest stopped police, fire and rescue vehicles using audible or flashing signals. The law also applies to recovery vehicles, such as tow trucks, Caltrans vehicles displaying warning lights and waste service vehicles.

Firearms LawsVary by state and/or county. Contact Department of Justice, Bureau of Firearms, P.O. Box 820200, Sacramento, CA 94203-0200; phone (916) 227-7527.

Special RegulationsThe State Department of Food and Agriculture inspects all produce, plant materials and wild animals at the borders to see if they are admissible under current quarantine regulations. For California regulations concerning plants phone (916) 654-0312; for regulations concerning animals phone (916) 854-3950. Dogs older than 4 months must have a current rabies vaccination certificate.


Jan. 1; Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. (3rd Mon.); Washington's Birthday/Presidents Day, Feb. (3rd Mon.); Easter; César Chávez Day, Mar. 31; Memorial Day, May (last Mon.); July 4; Labor Day, Sept. (1st Mon.); Columbus Day, Oct. (2nd Mon.); Veterans Day, Nov. 11; Thanksgiving, Nov. (4th Thurs.); Christmas, Dec. 25.


TaxesCalifornia's statewide sales tax is 7.25 percent. Additional local taxes of up to 3 percent may be imposed in some counties; more than one tax may be in effect in some locations. A transient occupancy tax is levied in some counties and cities.

Visitor Information

Information CentersCalifornia welcome centers are in Anderson off I-5 Deschutes Road exit on SR 273; in El Dorado Hills at 2085 Vine St.; in Buena Park off I-5 exit 116 at 6601 Beach Blvd.; in Ontario at the Ontario Mills Premium Mall; in Salinas at 1213 N. Davis Rd.; in Santa Rosa off US 101 Downtown/Third Street exit at the end of Fourth Street; in Auburn off I-80 Foresthill exit on Lincoln Way; in Truckee at 10065 Donner Pass Rd.; in San Francisco at Pier 39; in Mammoth Lakes at 2510 Hwy. 203 Bus. Rte.; in Merced on W. 16th Street; in Pismo Beach on US 101 at Five Cities Drive; in Barstow off I-15 Lenwood Road exit; in Oxnard off US 101 at Town Center Drive; in Yucca Valley on SR 62; and in Oceanside off I-5 Coast Highway exit.

Road ConditionsCaltrans provides current information about road conditions; phone (800) 427-7623.

Further Information Visit California 555 Capitol Mall Dr., Suite 1100 Sacramento, CA 95814. Phone:(916)444-4429 or (877)225-4367

National Forest Info Pacific-Southwest Region USDA Forest Service 1323 Club Dr. Vallejo, CA 94592. Phone:(707)562-8737 or (877)444-6777

Fishing & Hunting California Department of Fish and Wildlife 715 P St. Sacramento, CA 95814. Phone:(916)445-0411

Recreation Information California State Park System Department of Parks and Recreation 715 P St. Sacramento, CA 95814. Phone:(916)653-6995 or (800)777-0369

National Parks National Park Service Dept. of Interior 333 Bush St., Suite 500 San Francisco, CA 94104. Phone:(415)623-2100 or (877)444-6777

Exploring S. California

California's OutbackSouthern California's desert country is not just sand and occasional palm oases; it is a land of diversity and drama. Mountain peaks thousands of feet high look down on valleys that lie below sea level. A seemingly arid wilderness supports a variety of fascinating flora and fauna, and the harsh terrain contains remnants of prosperous mines and boom towns.

To explore this back country, begin on I-10 in Los Angeles and head east. Seven miles past the Upland turnoff, go north on I-15 headed for Victorville and Barstow. In Barstow visit the Desert Discovery Center for information about geology, desert plants and animals, recreation, and road and weather conditions; phone (760) 252-6060.

Interstate 40 begins at Barstow; take it and go east. The highway stretches through an arid expanse where cactus and brush conceal small wildlife, dry lakes signify prehistoric seas, and mountains shelter old mining sites.

Approximately 80 miles from Barstow, Kelbaker Road—a narrow, paved road at exit 78—runs north of I-40 through desert vistas that include mountains, ancient lava beds and the dramatic Kelso Dunes, a sand formation rising 600 feet from the desert floor. The only town is Kelso, once an important stop for the Union Pacific Railroad—the depot now is a visitor information center with regional exhibits.

Because of the poor condition of the east-west roads between Essex and Kelbaker roads, it is advisable to return to I-40, then Kelbaker Road. Thirty-five miles north of Kelso, Kelbaker meets I-15 in the tiny town of Baker. North out of Baker, take SR 127 about 59 miles to SR 178.

Turn west and drive over the Greenwater mountain range and through Greenwater Valley into Death Valley National Park. Here is a vast region of remarkable scenery: sand dunes and rocks sculpted by wind, and sub-sea-level valleys bordered by mountain walls of every hue. The lowest point in the United States (282 feet below sea level) lies within the national park, and not far away Telescope Peak rises to 11,049 feet.

As SR 178 curves north it becomes Badwater Road and, having offered some spectacular views along the way, reaches the visitor center at Furnace Creek. Another 55 miles north from Furnace Creek brings you to extravagant Scotty's Castle.

Leave Death Valley by driving south and west on SR 190, then south on Panamint Valley Road. Within 14 miles the highway becomes Trona-Wildrose Road as it goes through Panamint Valley, a smaller version of Death Valley. Mountains rise on either side of the highway, and side roads lead to dry lakes or old mines.

At Trona pick up SR 178 leading southwest to Ridgecrest. From there China Lake Boulevard goes south to US 395. Continue down to the Randsburg turnoff. Randsburg, along with the camps at Johannesburg and Red Mountain, was the site of frenzied gold and silver mining in the late 1800s.

Twenty-one miles west of Randsburg, Red Rock-Randsburg Road intersects SR 14. You can choose to make a side trip to Red Rock Canyon State Park by turning north on SR 14 and traveling 4 miles. The sight of the park's fantastically shaped cliffs and columns makes this a worthwhile detour.

Back on SR 14 head south through Mojave and Rosamond. Within about 1.5 hours after leaving Red Rock Canyon you will be in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, with the San Gabriel Mountains just ahead. SR 14 takes you through the western portion of the Angeles National Forest, then ends at I-5, the highway leading south to Los Angeles.

The SierrasA journey from the hectic pace of a big city to the quiet solitude of a mountain forest can be accomplished in less than a day. Begin by taking I-5 north from downtown Los Angeles. Make your first stop at Lebec, site of the long-ago U.S. Camel Corps, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. Continue to Wheeler Ridge, where I-5 splits off to the west and SR 99 begins; travel north on SR 99 to Bakersfield.

The next 70 miles lead through farm and cattle country. Along the way you will come to Earlimart and beyond that, Tulare, both with interesting histories to share.

Nine miles north of Tulare at Goshen, take SR 198 east. The highway goes through the attractive town of Visalia, then climbs through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Approximately 7 miles beyond Three Rivers, SR 198 becomes Generals Highway as it enters Sequoia National Park at Ash Mountain.

The highway connects Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and provides an especially scenic 2-hour drive from the entrance station to Grant Grove. (Normally open year-round, the road may be closed for brief periods during heavy winter snowfalls.) On the mountainsides and in the meadows are giant sequoia trees, descendants of those that covered Earth millions of years ago. Throughout the parks are wonderful places to picnic, hike or camp.

Just south of Grant Grove, SR 180 heads back down the mountains, across the Kings River and into Fresno. Then for a sampling of California's Mother Lode, take SR 41 north from Fresno to Oakhurst and turn northwest on SR 49 to Mariposa. Continue on the trail of the gold seekers as you drive to Coulterville.

Eleven miles north of Coulterville go east on SR 120 through Big Oak Flat and Groveland. Soon you are back in the mountains as you travel through Stanislaus National Forest and enter Yosemite National Park at the Big Oak Flat station. Here SR 120 becomes Tioga Road (closed in winter) and enables you to enjoy the grandeur of one of the world's most scenic spectacles. If unaccustomed to mountain driving on a road carved out of a nearly vertical cliff, motorists may find the driving challenging, but will be rewarded with magnificent views. In addition to its magnificent cliffs and waterfalls, Yosemite offers a full range of recreational activities. Public transportation must be taken into Yosemite Valley.

Exiting via the eastern side of the park on SR 120 takes you over breathtaking Tioga Pass and down through Inyo National Forest. At the highway's junction with US 395 is Lee Vining, gateway to Mono Lake. The lake and its surrounding landscape are worth exploring, for they contain unusual and dramatic geological formations.

Before starting back to Los Angeles, you might enjoy an interesting side trip of approximately 30 miles to Bodie for a visit at Bodie State Historic Park, the preserved site of a rip-roaring gold rush town. Take US 395 north to Bodie Road (SR 270) and turn east to the park. Note: During winter months US 395 may be closed due to bad weather conditions.

From Lee Vining, a trip south on US 395 leads along the eastern base of the Sierra Nevadas, an area abounding in beautiful and varied landscapes. Among possible side trips, Mammoth Lakes and Devil's Postpile National Monument, (there is a shuttle from the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area parking lot) west on SR 203, are well worth the day you will want to spend there.

Thirty-eight miles south of Mammoth Lakes, US 395 reaches Bishop and from there goes through the Owens Valley to Lone Pine. The town is best known for its views of spectacular 14,494-foot Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. You can reach the 8,371-foot level of the mountain via Whitney Portal Road out of Lone Pine.

As you continue south on US 395, mountain scenery gives way to desert landscape. Sixty-three miles south of Lone Pine, pick up SR 14 where it intersects US 395 and turns southwest to Mojave. Red Rock Canyon State Park is just off SR 14 about 25 miles below that junction. Within the park ancient sedimentary rock has eroded into fantastically shaped cliffs and columns.

Continue on SR 14 and approximately 25 miles south of the park you will reach the high-desert town of Mojave. Rosamond is 5 miles farther south, and now you are in the Antelope Valley, with the San Gabriel Mountains on the southern horizon. In Lancaster is the 1,700-acre California Poppy Reserve, a state park offering wildflower lovers the chance to see millions of orange poppy blossoms blanket the hills from late March to early April (depending upon weather conditions).

From there SR 14 cuts through the Angeles National Forest on its way to I-5, the highway you will take south to return to Los Angeles.

South & Central CoastSeasoned by salt air and sunshine, the southern and central California coast offers a variety of Pacific settings, from grassy bluffs above rocky shores to sandy beaches or busy harbors. California history is reflected along the way in such places as bustling Santa Monica with its famous pier, picturesque Santa Barbara that grew from a Hispanic settlement, and beautiful Monterey, the town that was once the capital of Spanish California. Inland detours lead to such pastoral scenes as small towns, missions and farmland.

Interstate 10 west from downtown Los Angeles leads to Santa Monica, where the coastal highway turns north and northwest and, as SR 1, continues to Malibu. On your right are steep, eroded bluffs with plateaus on which houses seemingly perch precariously; here and there buildings cluster at the foot of the bluffs. On your left, wide beaches, beach parking, and oceanfront houses separate the highway from the ocean.

North of Malibu, SR 1 begins to climb through foothills covered with wild grasses. The coastline faces the Pacific on the south; to the north lie portions of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. At the line separating Los Angeles and Ventura counties is Leo Carrillo State Beach, and farther west the highway cuts through Point Mugu State Park.

Now swinging northwest, SR 1 goes into Oxnard. Turn north on Oxnard Boulevard to pick up US 101 heading for Ventura. In Ventura watch for the Seaward Avenue turn-off and follow signs to the Channel Islands National Park visitor center. Here you will receive a good introduction to the five islands that make up a most unusual park.

At Santa Barbara either continue on US 101 along the coast or take an inland detour. US 101 goes west from Santa Barbara through Goleta, then along the coast past El Capitan and Refugio state beaches to Gaviota Pass. The pass cuts through the inland portion of Gaviota State Park and the western section of the Santa Ynez Mountains before meeting SR 154 about 5 miles past Buellton.

An alternate route begins at the western edge of Santa Barbara where San Marcos Pass Road (SR 154) goes north from US 101. This highway leads through the Santa Ynez Mountains past Lake Cachuma and through Santa Ynez Valley to rejoin US 101. On a clear day some of the Channel Islands are visible from the mountain road. Lake Cachuma is a pleasant place for a shoreline picnic. Within the valley are wineries to tour. And a side trip to Solvang provides a make-believe trip to Denmark.

Just beyond Los Olivos SR 154 rejoins US 101. As it heads toward San Luis Obispo County, the highway goes through oak-dotted ranchland backed by gently rolling hills.

About 12.5 miles north of Santa Maria US 101 bisects the charming little town of Arroyo Grande, then heads out to the coast and through Pismo Beach. At Pismo State Beach it is possible to drive right onto the hard-packed sand.

Just out of Pismo Beach US 101 leads north to the university and mission city of San Luis Obispo, then meets SR 1. Turn north to Morro Bay, a small town with a big rock presiding over a bay where sea otters swim, seagulls soar and pelicans perch. The highway then makes its way along the coast to the pine groves and tempting shops of Cambria. Another 8 miles brings you to San Simeon, with Hearst Castle high on a hill beyond the town.

North of San Simeon SR 1 becomes a winding, cliff-top road that affords spectacular coastal views. A word of caution: Slides caused by storms may close the road periodically during the winter, and fog can sometimes make driving hazardous, particularly in the summer. Big Sur, 64 miles north of San Simeon, is a haven for artists and writers inspired by the beauty of places like Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

North of Big Sur the Pacific is in sight almost continuously, and one of the best views is at Point Lobos State Preserve, with its Monterey cypress, tide pools, marine mammals and ocean birds. The lovely town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is less than 5 miles north, and Monterey is approximately 2 miles farther. Monterey, prominent in California history and the setting for John Steinbeck's “Cannery Row,” is the terminus of this drive along California's coast.

For variety, the return trip to Los Angeles can be taken inland as far as San Luis Obispo. Southeast of Monterey, SR 68 leads to Salinas, self-proclaimed “Lettuce Capital of the World.” Turning south on US 101 leads into an agricultural valley where, seasonally, fields of lettuce, beans, grains, beets, berries and other crops cover the landscape. Orchards and pastureland complete the bucolic scene. This is John Steinbeck country, with farms, small towns and distant hills seemingly from the pages of “The Red Pony,” “Of Mice and Men” and “East of Eden.”

Just south of Soledad there is an interesting side trip east on SR 146 to Pinnacles National Monument, with its volcanic spires and caves. The monument is a popular spot for hiking and rock climbing.

Return to US 101 and continue south along the Salinas River, over creek beds and through farming communities. To the east lies the Diablo mountain range; to the west, the Santa Lucias.

Sixty-three miles south of Soledad, tiny San Miguel and its well-preserved mission are just off US 101. About 12 miles farther south is Paso Robles where you will find rest and refreshment and a chance to visit nearby wineries. Not far south of Paso Robles are the small, quiet, attractive towns of Templeton and Atascadero. On US 101 San Luis Obispo lies 16.5 miles south of Atascadero.

South California SamplerFew places on Earth offer scenery as diverse as that in California, and nowhere is that diversity more concentrated than in the southern part of the state. This trip, whose farthest destination is no more than 165 miles from Los Angeles, will take you through cities and past farms, across deserts and along seashores, into mountains and around lakes.

Start your adventure on I-5 in Los Angeles, heading south to San Diego. In San Juan Capistrano look for the Ortega Highway turnoff and take it west into town. You will want to spend at least 2 or 3 hours exploring the old Spanish mission and the charming town that grew up around it. Return to I-5, now a coastal highway, and continue south. In San Diego plan to spend at least 3 days exploring its many attractions.

To leave San Diego take I-8 east; within 25 miles you will find yourself in Cleveland National Forest. You have gone from an altitude of about 10 feet in San Diego to over 2,000 feet near the forest boundary. Turn north on SR 79 and drive through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, an area of meadows and mountain peaks.

About 8 miles beyond the park, at 4,220 feet, is the pleasant village of Julian, surrounded by apple orchards and horse ranches. From Julian go northeast on SR 78, out of the mountains and into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a sandy landscape studded with a variety of cactus and, following sufficient rain, a profusion of wildflowers.

Watch for County Road S3 and take it north into Borrego Springs. For an interesting introduction to the desert's flora, fauna and geology, you'll want to spend a little time at the park's visitor center. It is located on Palm Canyon Drive just west of County Road S22.

Stay on County Road S22 and head east. Now you are driving through badlands where, over centuries, rugged canyons and gullies have been sculpted by erosion. Less than an hour after leaving Borrego Springs you will reach SR 86. Turn north and drive up the west side of the Salton Sea.

You have reached one of the world's largest inland bodies of saltwater, with a surface that is 228 feet below sea level. If these facts prompt you to take a closer look, turn right off SR 86 on Brawley Avenue. You also might want to check the visitor center on the other side of the lake, 1.5 miles south of North Shore off SR 111 at State Park Road.

Return to SR 86 and follow it north to SR 111. Follow the signs from SR 111 into the desert resort city of Palm Springs. This is a good place for some rest and relaxation (and shopping) before setting out on the next leg of the journey.

To leave Palm Springs return to SR 111 and take it northwest to I-10. From that junction travel 22 miles west to Calimesa on the north side of the highway. Go east on County Line Road to Bryant Street and turn north to SR 38. Turn right, and in less than 3 miles you are in the San Bernardino National Forest; at Angelus Oaks you have reached an elevation of 5,800 feet.

Continue on SR 38 as it winds along forest-clad mountainsides, reaching 8,443 feet at Onyx Summit. After about 40 miles you are in the town of Big Bear Lake. Make time here for a ski lift ride (winter or summer), a cruise on the lake or a walk through the woods.

At the west end of the lake, Rim of the World Highway (SR 18) is a well-maintained mountaintop thoroughfare that goes to the Lake Arrowhead area. About a mile west of Skyforest turn north on SR 173 to Lake Arrowhead and its pleasant lakeside village of alpine-style shops and restaurants.

To return to SR 18, go west on SR 189. This leads you through the mountain village of Blue Jay before taking you back to the highway. Continue west, and within 8 miles SR 18 turns south to San Bernardino. Watch for signs indicating SR 259, then I-215; they lead south to I-10. Travel west on I-10 to return to your starting point.

Insider Info

Mission Architecture

The architecture of the 21 Spanish missions built along El Camino Real 1769-1823 reflects both the simple tastes of their Franciscan founders and the limited resources of material and skilled labor available. The missions were constructed of stone and adobe, finished inside and out with whitewashed mud plaster and topped with pitched roofs of hewn timber covered with red tile. They were modestly adorned, compared with much of the Spanish architecture in the New World at that time.

The mission usually centered on a courtyard enclosed by the church and other buildings. These minor structures included quarters for friars, native workers, servants and soldiers; guest rooms; workshops; a convent; a kitchen; and a dining hall. Cloisters—arched covered passageways—fronted the courtyard and often the surrounding outer plaza.

The mission church followed one of three general designs. The first, typified by Mission San Miguel Arcángel in San Miguel, consisted of a simple nave, or central hall. A more elaborate design, such as San Buenaventura Mission in Ventura, included a single bell tower. Two belfry towers adorned churches of the third design, exemplified by graceful Old Mission Santa Barbara.

After the secularization of the missions in 1833, earthquakes and neglect took their toll; many of the missions were severely damaged or destroyed. Restoration and reconstruction have revitalized these historic structures.

The Sea Otter

That pointy-nosed, long-whiskered creature floating on its back in central and northern California's waters isn't one of California's typical sunbathers—it's the sea otter.

The sea otter is a thickset, sturdy, fur-bearing marine mammal with small ears and short limbs. Its large hind feet are webbed and flipper-like; its front feet are comparatively small but agile enough to use rocks as tools to break open shellfish. The average adult male weighs up to 85 pounds and can be 4.5 feet long including its tail, making it the largest otter. Females can weigh as much as 60 pounds and be 4 feet long.

The sea otter differs from most marine animals in that it doesn't have a layer of blubber under its skin to keep it warm. Instead, air trapped in its fur serves as a waterproof blanket, insulating the animal and helping it stay afloat.

Weaving through the water at speeds up to .9 miles per hour on the surface and 5.6 miles per hour under water and diving as deep as 100 feet, sea otters swim with the ease of fish, but they're not fast enough to escape their natural enemies, orcas and sharks. Vast populations of sea otters once lived in kelp beds along the northern Pacific coast until man proved to be their worst enemy.

Hunters virtually exterminated the species for its lustrous, brown-black fur. In 1911 Russia, Japan, Great Britain and the United States signed a treaty protecting them.

The sea otter has reoccupied about one-fifth of its original range, re-establishing colonies in California, western Alaska and near the Commander and Kurile islands. Slowly, but in steadily increasing numbers, the bewhiskered sea otter is reclaiming its place in the Pacific ecosystem.

Wine Country

The Automobile Club of Southern California publishes Southern and Central California Wineries and Northern California Wineries which feature maps and information about California wineries and the process of winemaking and its history in the state. The publications are available at offices of the Automobile Club of Southern California and are free to AAA/CAA members. They are not available by mail.

Spotlight's Wine Country Guide, a 100-page brochure providing maps and detailed information about towns, events, wineries, attractions, accommodations and retail establishments in Lake, Lower Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma counties is available free at the concierge desk of most Bay Area hotels, at most retail establishments in Wine Country and at select northern California AAA offices in the Wine Country region. The brochure's four-month calendar of events is updated monthly.

The brochure is available from the publisher for $3.50 to cover postage and handling; phone (415) 898-7908.

Points of Interest

Did You KnowThe first California mission, San Diego de Alcalá, was built in 1769.

Between 1860 and 1960 California's population doubled on average once every 20 years.

The international border between San Ysidro and Tijuana is the world's busiest, with more than 50 million crossings per year.

“California” was the name of a fabled island paradise described in a book by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo, printed around 1500.

Thanks to the gold rush of the 1840s and '50s, California's population exploded from about 26,000 to almost 380,000 in just 12 years.

The full name of Los Angeles is El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora, la Reina de los Angeles.

The first place the United States flag was officially raised in California was in Monterey on July 7, 1846.

The 21 Spanish missions stretch along 460 miles, from San Diego in the south to Sonoma, 30 miles north of San Francisco.

People speaking nearly 80 languages comprise the ethnically diverse population of Los Angeles.

In 1913 the highest temperature ever recorded in the United States was measured at 134 F in Death Valley.

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Southern California, CA

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