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What exodus? 37 reasons to stay in California

California added 12 million folks to 39 million since I arrived at the Orange County Register in September 1986.

It’s an expansion equal to the combined population of a dozen states. And one lure was strictly business – 6.6 million new jobs.

This rush of people and money brought challenges, too. California home values skyrocketed nearly seven-fold is 37 years. The congestion and costly living inspired a so-called “exodus” –  1 million more ex-Californians compared to new Golden State residents during the past seven years.

But if I’ve learned anything observing the Golden State’s economy, it’s that the story is rarely as gloomy as told. Life isn’t only the giant urban hubs. Business isn’t just Apple, Google or Hollywood. And the landscape is more than Yosemite, Big Sur or Disneyland.

California’s true charm – and its underlying resilience – is an accumulation of noteworthy curiosities that don’t fit popular narratives. So to honor “Quirky California” as I celebrate another workplace anniversary, let me offer this: 37 reasons to stay in California.

This sampling of off-the-beaten-path places I’ve enjoyed is no “best of” ranking. It’s no tourist guide. And I’m not begging anybody thinking about leaving California to stay.

It’s simply my snapshot of the real appeal of the Golden State.

Some sights

Muir Rock, Kings Canyon National Park: The signature “end” to perhaps California’s most unsung outdoor landmark.

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Orick: See those famous big trees – with easy access and without huge crowds.

Off-beat directional sgn in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Orick, Calif. (Jonathan Lansner/SCNG)
Off-beat directional sign in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Orick, Calif. (Jonathan Lansner/SCNG)

Perris Valley Airport, Perris: Grab grub and a drink and watch folks jump out of airplanes.

Chico State, Chico: One of the prettiest college campuses I’ve visited. (Psst! Sierra Nevada’s brewery is in town.)

The Tracks, Brea: A delightful 4-mile, walk-run-bike trail carved out of an old rail line.

Russian Hill, San Francisco: No, not touristy Lombard Street. Ponder the neighborhood and the bay views.

Surfing Statue, Santa Cruz: A serene spot to view the iconic boardwalk and pier, plus the lure of the sea.

World’s Tallest Thermometer, Baker: No matter the temperature, you’re checking the 134-foot sign pole from the I-15.

Some sand

Glass Beach, Fort Bragg: The sea’s power and a local dump created glassy pebbles that dot the shore.

Lovers Point, Pacific Grove: I’d love to live within walking distance of this picturesque spot.

Piedras Blancas Rookery, San Simeon: Close-up viewing of elephant seals – one of nature’s oddities – with shoreline beauty to match.

Morro Rock, Morro Bay: A 576-foot high, offshore volcanic ruin that makes snapping perfect sunsets a breeze.

Shelter Cove, Pismo Beach: A steep path gets you to remote and scenic beach spots.

Kayakers at Shelter Cove, Pismo Beach, Calif. (Jonathan Lansner/SCNG)
Kayakers at Shelter Cove, Pismo Beach, Calif. (Jonathan Lansner/SCNG)

Surf station, Lompoc: This remote locale hosts Amtrak passenger trains and a pretty beach.

Salt Creek Beach, Dana Point: An invigorating walk that spans a grassy knoll, public sands and the grounds of a world-class resort.

Some stories

Manzanar, Owens Valley: Monument to the World War II internment camp for Japanese Americans. It’s why ugly history is important.

State Railroad Museum, Sacramento: I’m a sucker for train history. This is one of the state’s better rail celebrations.

Discovery Cube, Santa Ana: This oddly shaped science-themed museum has a personal favorite exhibit on hockey wizardry.

Motte Museum, Menifee: A small, vintage car collection in an old barn comes with tales about this fast-growing region.

Some savors

Hae Jang Chon, Koreatown: Somehow we walked into this Korean BBQ hotspot where locals wait for hours.

Oinkster, Eagle Rock: I like pastrami and odd LA architecture. Need I say more?

Olive Plantation, Temecula: Olive oil is grown, harvested, milled and sold on this family’s property.

Shields Date Garden, Indio: An odd homage to the fruit, and you must try the date shakes!

Fish 101, Leucadia: Edgy plates of fish served in a cozy, open-air setting.

Industrial Eats, Buellton: The menu’s on butcher paper on the wall. The food and family seating is equally unique.

Johnny McNally’s Fairview Lodge, Kernville: A diner/lodge that serves with distinction as a refuge, for rest and a meal, for weary road warriors.

La Playa, Morgan Hill: Handmade Mexican-style ice cream in quaint “old town” setting.

Some shops

City Lights, San Francisco: If you’re a serious reader or mere browser, it’s a classic indie bookstore.

Solvang: In a state filled with over-themed retailing, this tiny town takes the (Danish) cake.

Sunset Market, Oceanside: If it’s Thursday, it’s a must-visit street fair 52 weeks a year.

Pacific view chairs, Crystal Cove: At the edge of a tony shopping center’s parking lot, bring a drink and a snack to enjoy the ocean view.

Some suds

Apiary Beverage Co., Carpenteria: Try the mead, an alcoholic beverage made from honey. Hope the neighboring empanada shop is open.

Meads and ciders at Apiary Beverage Co. in Carpenteria, Calif. (Jonathan Lansner/SCNG)
Meads and ciders at Apiary Beverage Co. in Carpenteria, Calif. (Jonathan Lansner/SCNG)

Lost Coast Brewery, Eureka: The brewpub is the brand’s original home, an old brick building in a quaint village.

Santa Barbara Courthouse: History lessons on the walls. Great ocean view from the clock tower.

Tin City, Paso Robles: It’s a quasi-mall of locally crafted libations. Try Tin City Ciders, and I’m no cider fan.

Weed Ale House, Weed: Quench your thirst in a room where bicycles hang from the ceiling.

Cooks Corner, Trabuco Canyon: My neighborhood’s quirky bar long before sad events “put it on the map.”

I’d love to hear about your favorite hidden California gems. Email me your less-than-obvious places at

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Source: Orange County Register

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