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Santa Monica Daycations

A great thing about living in Southern California is you don’t have to travel far to at least FEEL like you are on vacation, even if it’s only for a few hours.

Palisades Park Santa Monica

Palisades Park is a beautiful place to talk or relax, taking in gorgeous views of the Santa Monica Bay.

Santa Monica is a favorite quick getaway for me.   Walking in Palisades Park with it’s beautiful green grass, palm trees and well-manicured rose garden is a gorgeous sight to take in plus it’s atop a bluff that overlooks the beautiful Santa Monica coastline.  And, with temperatures rarely getting out of the 70s, Santa Monica comfortable place to relax and cool off year-round.

From Palisades Park, you can see the Santa Monica Pier with its solar powered Ferris wheel.  This is the spot where a Los Angeles police detective recently broke the Guinness World Record for the longest Ferris Wheel ride (he went round and round for 25.5 hours!  At least he had a close up ocean view from the pier).

Related: Carnival By the Sea Pacific Park, Santa Monica

Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel, Guinness World Record Location

From Palisades Park, you can see the Santa Monica Pier, where a man recently broke the record for longest Ferris wheel ride.

The Third Street Promenade is only two short blocks away.  There are several blocks of unique of boutiques and restaurants for browsing, shopping and dining, including a Barnes & Noble book store.  Cupcake lovers will want to visit Yummy Cupcakes, one of my guilty pleasures :), across the street from the Promenade on Wilshire at Third Street.

Also See: Parking in Santa Monica

If you’re looking for a more car-accessible shopping district, Montana Avenue is only a short drive away (Montana Avenue crosses Ocean at Palisades Park).  So, hop in your car or catch the Big Blue Bus up Montana to 14th Street.  Coffee & tea lovers have their choice of  Starbucks, Peets or  Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf all within two blocks.  Pick up some groceries or takeout deli dishes at Whole Foods Market.  Blue Plate offers fresh & healthy comfort food in a casual atmosphere. For something a little more upscale, try R+D Kitchen.  For a little pampering at a bargain price, drop by Montana Nails for a pedicure.

Pacific Coast Highway is just down the California Incline from Santa Monica’s Palisades Park.

Related:  Malibu Drive: PCH Oxnard – Santa Monica

So, hit the road to celebrate summer.  And check in often, Traffic411 is updated regularly with all kinds of vacation and staycation ideas to inspire you to hit the road to explore the beauty of Southern California.  Be sure to bookmark these real time traffic maps, and check in from your smartphone.  Traffic411’s real time traffic maps will route you around traffic tie ups in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and Ventura County 24/7.

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Free L.A.: Griffith Observatory

The copper dome roof at the Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411).

The copper dome roof at the Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411).


Did you know that California’s atmosphere is perfect for star watching? That’s just one of the fascinating facts you’ll learn when you visit Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

Before blast off, Apollo Astronauts came to this L.A. landmark to learn about the stars and space. Griffith Observatory is a fun place to spend a few hours, or the day. Bring a blanket and lounge on the front lawn.

The iconic Hollywood Sign can be seen in the distance through the arch at Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles. (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)

The iconic Hollywood Sign can be seen in the distance through the arch at Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles. (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)

Admission to the exhibits is free and, for a few bucks, you can see a show at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium. Public star parties are held each month, so check the calendar. You’ll learn a lot about the Observatory and it’s history by viewing the (free) movie in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater.

Parking is limited at Griffith Observatory. It was a beautiful clear day in Los Angeles when I visited, so we literally parked one mile away! It’s a nice walk if you’re up for it, just wear comfortable shoes.  If you don’t want to walk, visit on a weekday, or take a bus – click this link – and scroll down to ‘other transportation’ for details. It’s closed Mondays.

Griffith Observatory, which opened in 1935, underwent a massive renovation in 2002. It reopened in 2006 and is truly one of LA’s most spectacular landmarks. If you grew up in So Cal, you probably visited the Observatory on a school field trip, but it’s well worth the trip to see it today.  Visit on a clear day and enjoy views of Los Angeles from Mount Wilson to the Pacific Ocean.

Traffic411 Insider Tip: Griffith Observatory is located in Griffith Park, which is massive. Bring the address so you can find the observatory, if you enter the park off of the Ventura (134) freeway, it’s not easy to find.

Distance from LAX: 27 miles

Free Los Angeles: Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory is among the most recognizable Los Angeles landmarks. With free admission, it's a great way to learn about the planets,our solar system and beyond. Bring a picnic and enjoy an afternoon or sunset on the front lawn. The public is invited to free 'star parties,' held each month for stargazing through telescopes.

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The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, gorgeous architecture - and, because of it's sturdy construction, it's one of the safest places to be during an earthquake! (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
[img src=]160The iconic Hollywood Sign can be seen in the distance through the arch at Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles. (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
The iconic Hollywood Sign can be seen in the distance through the arch at Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles. (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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The Astronomers Monument pays homage to six of the greatest astronomers, at Griffith Observatory Los Angeles. (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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"Rebel Without a Cause" starring James Dean is one of many movies filmed at Griffith Observatory Los Angeles. (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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Griffith Observatory is a fun place to learn about the moon, planets, our solar system and beyond! (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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The Foucault amazes visitors to Griffith Observatory Los Angeles (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411).
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There are many new exhibits to see since the Griffith Observatory was remodeled in 2002. (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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The roof at Griffith Observatory offers a great photo op for you and the iconic Hollywood Sign (photo of Lisa Osborne by Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
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Visit Griffith Observatory on a clear day to enjoy stunning views of Downtown Los Angeles and (looking in another direction) the Pacific Ocean. (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)
[img src=]70The copper dome roof at the Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411).
The copper dome roof at the Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles (photo: Ken Pfeiffer/Traffic411)

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Carnival by the Sea: Pacific Park, Santa Monica

Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier offers free admission, just pay for the rides. It's a fun way to spend a few hours at the beach.

Admission is free at Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier, just pay for the rides.

If you’re looking for an amusement park adventure you can enjoy in just a few hours on a summer afternoon or evening, check out Pacific Park in Santa Monica.  Located on the Santa Monica pier, there is no admission fee. You only pay for the rides you wish to enjoy, or purchase a wrist band for unlimited thrills.

The Pacific Wheel Ferris wheel and West Coaster roller coaster are located along the edge of the pier, so you can look down right into the Pacific ocean, and maybe even catch a glimpse of dolphins.  So Cal locals who have ever been stuck in a traffic jam will appreciate the Sig Alert EV Bumper Cars (or at least the attraction’s catchy name!). There are a dozen rides in all, along with a Kid’s Cove and midway games.  If you’re daring, you might want to test your aerobatic skills in a trapeze class.

Also Read: Malibu Drive Pacific Coast Highway

The Sig Alert EV bumper cars at Pacific Park. The term "Sig Alert" is So Cal traffic jargon for a major traffic jam!

There are a few restaurants on the pier, including Mariasol and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co..  There are plenty more restaurant choices steps away, along Ocean Boulevard, at the nearby Third Street Promenade, and on Main Street south of the pier.

Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier bills itself as the 'west coast's only amusement park on a pier.' It's a cool place to spend a few hours!

Parking for your trip to Pacific Park can be a pain. Free parking in Santa Monica is limited, many neighborhoods require residential parking permits, so be sure to read all of the posted signs. There’s parking at the pier, but if you’re looking for a more economical alternative check out the lots just north of the pier on 2nd and 4th Streets, near the 3rd Street Promenade & adjacent Santa Monica Place mall.

Related: Parking in Santa Monica

There are also several reasonably priced lots south of the pier between Ocean or Main Street and Neilson way.  If you’re up for a walk, park in one of the paid lots on Neilson Way near  Hill or Kinney. Cross Neilson to the beach and walk the boardwalk to the pier.  It’s an easy walk, but you’ll be sharing the sidewalk with skaters and cyclists, so pay attention.

If you purchase time in a paid lot or meter be sure to keep an eye on the time! The meter maids in Santa Monica are very good at their jobs, so you want to be sure that your parking time does not expire, a parking ticket will set you back at least $63.

Related: Santa Monica Daycations

Pacific Park bills itself as ‘the West Coast’s only amusement park located on a pier.’ It’s a fun scene for people of all ages, even if you don’t get on the rides. It’s also a fun outing if you have an hours long layover at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). It’s about a 20 minute taxi ride from LAX, just give yourself plenty of time to get back to the airport (it could take 40 minutes  during rush hour)  so you don’t miss your flight.

Traffic411 Insider Tip:  There’s some fun people-watching ops along the boardwalk just south of Pacific Park at International Chess Park.  Or, test your strength and coordination at the grown up jungle gym, Swings, Rings and Ropes.

Distance from LAX: 14 miles

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Pedal Power: Cyclists converge on Wilshire Boulevard

LA's Wilshire Boulevard is often crowded with cars, but not during CicLAvia: Iconic Wilshire Boulevard, Sunday June 23, 2013. (Photo Traffic411)

It’s a dream come true for cyclists who ride on busy city streets: No cars allowed.

Thousands of people had the chance to bike, skate or walk along one of L.A.’s most famous streets. A 6.3 mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard was off limits to motor vehicles during today’s  “CicLAvia — Iconic Wilshire Boulevard.”

Having this often-busy stretch of Wilshire Boulevard all to themselves had riders in a good mood! (Photo Traffic411)

Tens of thousands of pedal pushers and walkers ruled the road, streaming up and down Wilshire Boulevard between Downtown Los Angeles (Grand) and the Miracle Mile (Fairfax).

CicLAvia takes over portions of Los Angeles every few months.  It’s a fun way for friends and families to enjoy the city streets with less traffic and pollution. Want to try it, too? Mark your calendar. The next CicLAvia is scheduled for Oct. 6.

All wheels welcome, as long as there's no motor attached, at CicLAvia's Iconic Wilshire Boulevard event. (Photo Traffic411)

Participants in CicLAvia: Iconic Wilshire Boulevard pedal past Museum Square on Wilshire Boulevard. (Photo Traffic411)


Dad’s Choice: Laguna Beach

The view from Las Brisas restaurant, above Main Beach in Laguna (photo Las Brisas)

The view from Las Brisas restaurant, above Main Beach in Laguna (photo Las Brisas)

What dad would not want to spend Father’s Day in Laguna Beach? This quaint seaside town one hour south of Los Angeles offers breathtaking views of some of Southern California’s most beautiful coastline. Breathe-in fresh air from a bench in the park at the Main Beach Park Playground, or take a walk and enjoy the view.

If you enjoy having your toes in the sand, stroll along the waterline south of Main Beach during low tide. If the tide starts to come in, you can always take stairs up to a sidewalk on Pacific Coast Highway.

My dad loved the beach, and we’d often head to Laguna for a meal and a walk. The Cottage (now apparently closed) was one of dad’s favorite spots. The large shady/sunny outdoor patio was a great place to enjoy breakfast or lunch, right across the street from the ocean.

Visit The Greeter’s Corner, a coffee shop with a large outside deck facing the ocean. The food is good, prices are decent and the view and fresh air are amazing.

Hungry for seafood and a view? Stop by the Beach House.  A steep driveway takes you to this classic dining spot that hugs the side of a cliff, offering an up-close ocean view.  For a fun menu of upscale delights in a kitschy setting, Dizz’s As Is is a local favorite.

Nearby: Balboa Island, CA USA

My dad’s favorite breakfast spot of all time was just north of downtown Laguna at the border of Newport Coast. The Beachcomber Café in Crystal Cove offers open air dining  on the sand in the historic district of Crystal Cove State Park. There is a parking lot on the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway with a shuttle that will take you to the restaurant.  An added bonus, you’re just steps away from a beautiful stretch of beach for an after breakfast/lunch/dinner walk.

Laguna Beach and Balboa Island (pictured here) were two of my Pop's favorite OC getaways.

Las Brisas is an upscale Mexican restaurant perched on the cliff adjacent to Main Beach. This Laguna Beach institution features a large outdoor bar patio surrounded by colorful rose bushes. Las Brisas is a great choice to celebrate a special occasion, or a comfortable spot to sip an icy beverage, enjoy the view or enjoy a So Cal sunset.

Related: So Cal Burgers

Montage Laguna Beach is a world-class resort offering panoramic views of The Pacific Ocean. You don’t need to stay at the hotel to enjoy the scenery. Walk the grounds or have a drink on the deck of the cocktail lounge. The Montage sits on the land that was the filming location of several classic movies, from “Treasure Island” to the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz comedy “The Long Long Trailer.”

Along with being home to several great restaurants, Laguna beach is an artist’s enclave, there are plenty of art galleries to browse in the quaint downtown shopping area.  And, festivals, from The Pageant of the Masters to the Sawdust Festival, there’s often something special going on in Laguna Beach.

Distance from LAX: 52 miles

Traffic411 Tip:  Make Laguna Beach a scenic side trip when you’re traveling between OrangeCounty and San Diego. Driving North on the 5 (Santa Ana Freeway), exit “Beach Cities’ in Dana Point, take Pacific Coast Highway north through Laguna Niguel, Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar and Newport Beach and rejoin the 405 from Mac Arthur Blvd. Reverse course if you’re driving South on the 405, exit Mac Arthur Boulevard.

See what it’s like in Laguna Beach right now: Check out the live Laguna Beach Earthcam

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Lake Balboa, a secret Valley oasis

Lake Balboa in Van Nuys is a way to beat the heat of the sizzling San Fernando Valley summers.

The San Fernando Valley sizzles with triple digit heat during the summer months, but Lake Balboa can offer valley-dwellers some respite from the swelter.  The lake is located inside the park formerly known as Balboa (now it’s called Anthony C. Beilenson Park) and is part of the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area, which also features parks, golf courses, and other recreation activities.

Located in Van Nuys near the busy 405/101 freeway interchange, Lake Balboa is surrounded by a large grassy park.  There’s a walking path with benches (some shady) around the perimeter of the lake. Bring a picnic or a blanket to relax on the grass. Ducks, swans and other birds flock to the lake and would be more than happy to share any of your snacks, although there are warnings against feeding the wildlife.

During the summer months, Balboa Lake has pedal boats for rent and there’s kayaking (although you first need to complete the Kayak Fitness Orientation). There are also hundreds of cherry blossom trees, with festive pink blooms when in season.

If you find yourself in the valley with a little time to kill (perhaps you want to wait out rush hour traffic), or just want to meet a friend for some exercise, Lake Balboa is a terrific place to visit.

Distance from LAX: 23 miles

Traffic411 Insider Tip:  Golfers, bring your clubs. Balboa Lake is adjacent to two golf courses with putting greens and driving ranges.


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Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

The McGrath Irish farming family is grand marshal of the 2013 Ventura St. Patrick's Day Parade.

The McGrath Irish farming family is grand marshal of the 2013 Ventura St. Patrick's Day Parade.

You can enjoy plenty of fresh air, sunshine and pretty green  hillsides when you hit the road across So Cal this St. Patrick’s Day weekend. There are plenty of things to see and do as you celebrate all things Irish.

The Ventura St. Patrick’s Day Parade rolls down Main Street Saturday morning at 10 AM. Afterwards, you won’t have to go far to enjoy an Irish Coffee or corned beef & cabbage feast, Dargan’s Irish pub is right on Main Street. (from L.A. take the 101 North to California Street).

South Bay Los Angeles is also hosting a parade: Saturday at 11AM the Hermosa Beach St. Patrick’s Day Parade  goes from City Hall and down Pier Avenue.  There will be three stages with entertainment to enjoy all things Irish by the Sea. Hennessey’s Tavern on The Strand is at the epicenter of the festivities.

Feel the Luck of the Irish all weekend in Santa Monica with live music at  O’Brien’s Irish pub on Main Street.  A few miles away, Brennan’s in Marina del Rey you can toast to their famous turtle races.
Sunday night, the L.A. Philharmonic is hosting the traditional Irish group The Chieftans at Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
San Francisco may be the birthplace of Irish Coffee. But, the best Irish Coffee in Southern California may just be at Tom Bergin’s Tavern on Fairfax in mid city L.A.

In Orange County, check out Durty Nelly’s, Haven Gastropub, or Muldoon’s in Fashion Island. All popular spots to wear your Green.

If you’ll be celebrating with some green beer or Irish Whiskey, be sure to bring your designated driver!


Daylight Saving: After Work Getaways!

Get ready to hit the road and enjoy the extra So Cal sunshine that comes with Daylight Saving Time.

With Daylight Saving Time kicking in on Sunday, you’ll be enjoying at least an extra hour of daylight.  So, why not head out on an after-work adventure?  You don’t have to go very far to find a beautiful place to relax and take  in a Southern  California sunset.

Santa Monica and Malibu top my list of quick getaways.  From the bluffs of Palisades Park, to Montana Avenue and the Third  Street Promenade,  click here for more Santa Monica Daycations.

When you’re in the mood for a scenic coastal drive, Pacific Coast Highway through west Malibu is hard to beat. Click here for details on the Malibu Drive from Oxnard to Santa Monica. Your car will be hugging the rugged coastline and there are plenty of places to pull over and enjoy the view. If you hurry, you might even see some whales migrating along the coast, prime whale watching season continues through April.

Related: Conejo Valley Getaway – Gardens of the World

Palisades Park in Santa Monica is a lovely place to enjoy the extra hour of daylight that comes with Daylight Saving Time.


An easy work getaway in Orange County could include a trip to Fashion Island.  This upscale outdoor shopping mall offers fresh air, a sea breeze and several delicious restaurants including The Cheesecake Factory and California Pizza Kitchen and Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion, one of my favorite places for bar dining.

Across from Fashion Island is Balboa Island. A short drive over the bridge and you might feel as if you’re in a quaint NewEngland beach town. You can catch the ferry to Balboa Peninsula.

Pacific Coast Highway through South Orange County will take you from Newport Beach, Corona del Mar, Laguna Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente, with plenty of places to enjoy and explore along the way.

Read: So Cal Burgers

When you’re in Southern California, there’s no need to wait for the official start of summer to start your summer vacation. Enjoy!

Balboa Island, CA USA

Balboa Island, CA is a seaside getaway in Orange County. It offers a small town feel on the edge of sprawling Newport Beach.

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[img src=]40Balboa Island in Orange County has a ferry to take drivers, bikers, skaters and pedestrians from Balboa Island to the Balboa Peninsula.
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So Cal Chinese New Year Celebrations

South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa is among the many So Cal venues welcoming in the Year of the Snake. (Photo: Traffic411)

The Chinese (Lunar) New Year rings in on Sunday (February 10, 2013). Los Angeles and Orange County are home to some of the highest populations of Asian residents in the nation. Here are a few places you can join the celebration welcoming in the year of the Snake.

Kids in Orange County can sample popular Chinese foods and learn about the Snake and other symbols in the Chinese Zodiac at Pretend City Children’s Museum in Irvine.

In the Torrance area, dancers in colorful costumes will perform at the South Bay Galleria, and 100 children will receive traditional red envelopes with cash ($2) inside. Read more

Disney California Adventure is hosting a Lunar New Year Celebration (Feb 8-13) offering cultural foods, music and dance performances, featuring popular Disney characters. Click for details.

Several upscale boutiques at South Coast Plaza in Orange County are adding Asian fashion and flair in honor of the Chinese New Year.  And, across Southern California, Starbucks and Target have been selling Year of the Snake themed gift cards. Read a round up of So Cal retailers celebrating the Year of the Snake.

The Year of the Snake comes around every twelve years.  You can tune-in to the energy of this Chinese symbol by listening to your intuition, and gracefully shedding old thoughts, beliefs, issues, as gently as a snake sheds its skin. Chinese astrology says people born during the year of the snake are wise thinkers who enjoy living well.

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Whale Watching

Marina del Rey is one place in So Cal to take a whale watching tour.

Marina del Rey is one place in So Cal to take a whale watching tour.

It’s whale watching season in Southern California. This time of year, hundreds of pacific gray whales are migrating from the icy Alaskan sea to the warm waters of Baja California to give birth to their calves. From now until mid-April, you’ll have a good chance of seeing whales and dolphins up close when you embark on a whale watching tour in Orange County, Los Angeles or Ventura County.

The pristine waters off the Channel Islands in Ventura County (one hour north of Los Angeles), is a beautiful place to go whale watching. Public access to the Channel Islands is limited, so the natural beauty and ecosystem is largely untouched.  Island Packers and Channel Islands Whale Watching offer whale watching tours in Ventura County.

In Los Angeles, you can catch whale watching tours at several ports, including Marina del Rey, Redondo Beach and Long Beach. In Orange County, tours originate from Dana Point and Newport Beach.

Seeing these giant sea creatures up close can be a powerful and life changing experience. In March and April, mother whales can be seen migrating north with their recently-born calves. With hundreds of pacific gray whales moving along the California coast between December and April, it’s an ideal time to take a whale watching adventure.

My KFWB colleague, Phil Hulett, didn’t see any whales during his February outing in Ventura County, but there were plenty of dolphins!

Traffic411 Insider Tip:  Whale Watch in Ventura,  you’ll enjoy the added bonus of seeing the beautiful Channel Islands

Distance from LAX: various.  Ventura is 70 miles away