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.

Here’s where we’ll be:

• The Inland Valley, including Ontario, Pomona and Claremont.

• Palm Springs and the high desert.

• Ventura County and the Channel Islands.

• Marina del Rey and Santa Monica.

• Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

• Catalina Island.

• Anaheim (no, we couldn’t skip Disney!).

This project wasn’t always called “The Real Southern California.” Only a few weeks ago, it was a series of planned remote broadcasts for a radio show I was co-hosting. I decided to leave the program on Mother’s Day weekend, which left me with five sets of airline tickets and a 2 1/2-week void on my calendar.

But you know what they say — one door closes, another opens.

A few days later, I developed this new media project with the encouragement of my friends at the California Travel & Tourism Commission and its very helpful PR agency, Development Counsellors International.

I’m exceedingly grateful to my editors at National Geographic for getting the coolness of a real-time, multi-platform destination blog project, even though Southern California has been well-covered in the past, in both the magazine and online. I’m also thankful to the readers of my blog, for suggesting many of the places that we’ll be visiting.

A hat tip to the folks at the Ontario Convention and Visitor Bureau, Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism, Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau, Beverly Hills Conference & Visitors Bureau, Marina del Rey Convention & Visitors Bureau, Santa Catalina Island Company and LA Inc, too.

I couldn’t have pulled this off without the assistance of several key PR people who understand new media and recognized the inherent value of this assignment. They include Natasha Bourlin, Kat Calbes, Bob Deuel, Ann Flower, Shae Geary, Malcolm Griffiths, Vicki Johnson, Irene Kopitov, Sydnie Moore, Bonnie Reuben, Steve Valentine and Arlene Winnick.

A few visionary hotels and resorts also were instrumental in making this tour happen. Our friends at Aloft Hotels, where we ended our last Southern California trip in 2008, invited us back to Rancho Cucamonga. Also, La Quinta Resort & Club, Four Points By Sheraton, Marina del Rey Marriott, The Georgian, The Peninsula Beverly Hills, The Pavilion Hotel and Terranea.

In addition, we’re fortunate to have help from Canon USA (thanks, Kevin McCarthy) and National Geographic (Cindy Beidel, here’s lookin’ at you) for supplying us with camera equipment and maps for this trip.

One question that always comes up with stories like this is: Who foots the bill? Wherever possible, we’re paying the going rate. For example, we booked our tickets through Southwest Airlines, and were offered no discounts. Sometimes, we were given a courtesy upgrade (our Avis rental car was upped to an SUV, thanks to a few friends on the inside). Other items, such as the invitation to attend the opening of King Kong 3D, are being comped.

The next two weeks are going to be incredible. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

(Photo: Stuck in customs/Flickr Creative Commons)