The Real Southern California

Reflections of Southern California

Wow, that was some trip.

I just returned from a two-week whirlwind tour of Southern California with my family, and considering that LA isn’t exactly known for its hospitality, I have to say: I’m really impressed with its hospitality.

To be completely fair, some of the people we met knew that we were coming – they were tourism officials who were supposed to be friendly. But many more people we met didn’t have a clue about who we were. They just saw an average-looking family of five from Florida.
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At Terranea

Here’s the view from our room at Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. The strip of blue in the background is the Pacific Ocean. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

Of course there’s more to this place than spectacular scenery, although you can’t do much better than the dramatic cliffs, with Catalina Island in the distance. The spa and fine dining? That goes without saying. But I was really surprised to find they had excellent shore diving here — as I was sitting at the pool, I saw the Scuba divers walking up from the beach. This is said to be one of the most valued diving locations in the world, and I need to come back and see it when I’m not pressed for time.

Speaking of pools, the “fun” one, as my kids like to call it, has a slide. There’s a quiet “no kids” pool with nice views of the Pacific, too.
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King Kong 360 3-D: That’s it?

This is what you get when you invite a consumer advocate to review a theme park ride. You see that? It’s a shot of my family’s reaction to the new-and-improved King Kong 360 3-D at Universal Studios Hollywood, which opens July 1.

Their verdict: That’s it?

If you remember the old Kong, which burned to the ground two years ago, then you’ll find some similarities here. There’s the obligatory tour of the Universal lot. There’s a dark tunnel. Lots of noise and spraying water, too. But the animatronic ape has been replaced by a massive 360-degree, 3D screen and a multi-sensory experience that includes dinosaurs, giant spiders, and Mr. Kong himself.
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In the Ballona Wetlands

The Ballona Wetands is probably the last thing you’d expect to find in a place like Marina del Rey. It’s 600 acres of protected land in one of the most developed urban areas on the planet. Here’s a picture of Iden exploring the saltwater marshes. We’ll have more on National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel blog next week.

Two years later, I still like Aloft a lot

One of the most popular posts of 2008 on this site was about my visit to the then-new Aloft hotel in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. In it, I detailed some of the cool amenities this Starwood concept offered.

So when Aloft suggested that we start our California tour back in Rancho I though: Why not?
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Ready for the real Southern California?

Next week, this site is taking a detour from consumer advocacy to bring you a place that’s near and dear to me: Southern California.

For two weeks, I’ll be touring the Southland with my family and blogging, twittering and shooting the experience. You can read about it on National Geographic Traveler’s Intelligent Travel blog, on our photoblog, Souvenirist, and here. You can also follow me on Twitter for the very latest.

What separates an authentic Southern California experience from, like, a totally fakey one?

Well, I think I have a reasonably good idea. I lived there five years and attended college in Orange County. But at the same time, I admit there’s plenty for me — for us — to discover. Which is why I’m doing this.
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