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Labor Day: 5 free (or low-cost) So Cal Staycations

Palisades Park Santa Monica is a popular spot for a walk, workout or picnic.

Staying in town over the Labor Day Weekend? There are plenty of fun places to explore across Southern California, without spending much money. And, with gas prices at their lowest levels in months, why not hit the road? Here are five free (or nearly free) So Cal day-cations.

Palisades Park: Santa Monica

Palisades Park stretches several blocks across a bluff overlooking the Santa Monica shoreline and Pacific Coast Highway.  Stroll along the tree-lined pathway from San Vicente to the Santa Monica Pier or Third Street Promenade as you take in the gorgeous views. Pack a picnic, or choose from a variety of restaurants to enjoy a meal. The famous Santa Monica Pier is an easy walk from Palisades Park, and admission is free to the pier amusement park.  Tourists from around the world visit Santa Monica and the Malibu coast, so it’s definitely worth the drive across town.

Related: Parking in Santa Monica

Malibu, CA

California's Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) between Oxnard and Santa Monica offer is one of the most beautiful drives in the USA. The New York Times calls this drive through Malibu one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the USA! Here are some photos I took along the way. Story to follow soon, in case you want to try this 30 mile coastline drive yourself. I highly recommend it!

[img src=]59630Point Dume Natural Preserve, Malibu
Point Dume offers a hiking trail down a hill to a beautiful secluded beach.
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[img src=]7650Point Mugu Lookout Point
[img src=]6460Beachside Camping Malibu
How's this for a camping spot?!? Thornhill Broome Beach State Park is an ideal place to cool off in the summer. Bring your camper, motorhome or fifth wheel and you're all set!
[img src=]5670Malibu Country Mart
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[img src=]5650Getty Villa, Santa Monica Bay
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[img src=]5080California's Finest Drive: Route 1 Santa Monica, Malibu, Oxnard
This stretch of California coastline is among the most beautiful in the state. Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) is also a great alternative to the 101 freeway when traveling between Ventura County and Los Angeles.
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Malibu Coast

Pacific Coast Highway will likely be very busy over the holiday weekend, but if you’re patient and feel like a scenic road trip, the PCH drive through Malibu (Santa Monica to Oxnard) offers some of the most stunning views of the California Coast. North of Point Dume, to Ventura County, the coast is undeveloped. You might even recognize the view since it’s a popular location for new car commercials.

A cascading fountain greets visitors at the entrance of Gardens of the World in Thousand Oaks, CA

A cascading fountain greets visitors at the entrance of Gardens of the World in Thousand Oaks, CA

Gardens of the World

Soak up botanical beauty at this best-kept Conejo Valley secret, located across the street from the Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center.  Admission is free to Gardens of the World, a stroll through the grounds will take you on a tour of lush landscapes from around the world.

Balboa Island, Orange County

Balboa Peninsula and the Fun Zone arcade are a quick ferry ride away from Balboa Island.

A stroll on Balboa Island will have you feeling like you’re in New England. The quaint streets and bayfront homes are surrounded by water, which will help to keep you cool.  Parking is tight on the island, especially on a holiday weekend. You might want to park in Newport Beach, and walk  across the small bridge that leads to Balboa Island.

Hollywood Bowl

It’s a Los Angeles landmark, but a lot of locals have never been to The Hollywood Bowl.  Movie music takes center stage this weekend, with a concert by John Williams ( Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Arc) and a tribute to the Henry Mancini and director Peter Sellers (The Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) fans will enjoy the tribute to Henry Mancini and director Peter Sellers.

I recently attended a Hollywood  Bowl show at the last minute and was surprised to get a ticket for well under $20. You don’t need the best seats in the house to enjoy the experience. This weekend, tickets start at just $15, and you can avoid online ticketing fees when you buy tickets on site at the box office, just call ahead to make sure it’s not close to a sell out.


Gardens of the World, Conejo Valley

Experience a free oasis of floral & botanical beauty located off the 101 freeway in Thousand Oaks, just a 30 minute drive from the San Fernando Valley.

Gardens of the World

Gardens of the World is tucked away along the main road that connects Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks, just across from the Performing Arts Center. The goal of this beautiful place, which is free to visitors, is to ‘bring the beauty of the world to the Conejo Valley.’  But, it’s easy to miss while driving down Thousand Oaks Boulevard, so be sure to bring the address with you when you come.  Gardens of the World is such a hidden treasure, that even some locals don’t even know it’s here.

A stunning, multi-level cascading fountain greets you at the entrance, and sets the tone for a peaceful experience.  Stroll through English and rose gardens, then follow a winding sidewalk lined with Japanese cherry blossom trees past the bandstand to the top of the gardens.  A shady picnic area overlooks the French Garden.   Here’s a map.

Relax on a bench next to the pink flowers on the Japanese cherry blossom trees at Gardens of the World

There’s also a Japanese pagoda and pond filled with coy fish anxious to greet visitors, perhaps in hopes that they might be treated to a snack.

The Mission Courtyard pays tribute to California’s early history.  There’s a bronze statue of Father Junipero Serra, the priest who founded many of the area’s missions, on the lawn out front of the adobe walls. Inside, you’ll find murals of California’s missions.

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