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.

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)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • NancyLebron

    This sounds like a great trip! You hit all the hot spots that California has to offer. You really missed out on a great Southern California town but skipping Santa Barbara. SO much to do there and there is so much culture and life, it’s truly a shame. I just got back from a recent trip there and it was so much fun wine tasting and shopping with friends and family. We stayed at the Sandman Inn ( Really budget friendly and in a great location. This is honestly one of the best beach towns I’ve ever encountered. 

  • Laura Black

    There should be a broadcast of Santa Barbara, you can’t get more Southern California than that! Right in the middle of it with LA being an hour away and the OC about 1.5-2hrs, it is all so close with not as much traffic and dirt! The beaches and night life are great there and the wine tasting keeps you coming back for years on end. The University is one of the best in the world for research and they party like rockstars! I love going there over anywhere else and that will never change! The Sandman Inn ( in the heart of downtown is ideal for us and anyone looking to save a quick buck while traveling. 

  • Rey

    The REAL Southern California is a lot more then LA and San Diego. The OC is awesome for its beaches and sensational atmosphere and way of life. Santa Barbara is also still classified as So.Cal and it is probably my favorite place out of the lot. Not too crowded, beautiful beaches and the people are all so friendly as well. I only have good things to say about this city! I was there a few months ago and my family stayed at the South Coast Inn ( Classy and away from the commotion!

  • Emily

    If you’re in Los Angeles and want to try something exciting and exhilarating there is plenty to do! Parasailing is a great way to see the LA coast from a different view …it has gotten very popular the last couple years. Another must is learning to surf! LA has great beaches to learn at from Redondo to Santa Monica. A great place to take lessons is They offer experienced instructors as well as easy booking. Theres no feeling quite like surfing so its something you have to try! If your looking for slower paced activity there are lots of hiking trails in the Hollywood Hills as well as the south end of LA in Palos Verdes. Both offer beautiful views.