GPS: 37°22’N; 118°24’W
Not many places on Earth are quite as geographically blessed as Los Angeles. If you find yourself here on an especially fine spring day, for instance, you can actually ski or snowboard and surf in the same twelve hours. Buttressed by epic mountains to the east and the Santa Monica Bay to the west, with one of the largest urban parks in the country, L.A. has enough outdoors to make you forget all about the famous traffic and smog.
Less than a decade ago, the Santa Monica Bay was abiotic, meaning it contained no living thing—nada. Now, after intense clean-up efforts, dolphins and migrating gray whales are frequent passersby. See these new residents up-close with Los Angeles-based Pacific Paddlers ($190 for a three-hour beginner kayak lesson; http://newblvdmaster.powweb.com/pacificpaddlers/). Or take to the waves with Learn to Surf L.A.; the outfitters offers surf lessons in Santa Monica Bay, and off of L.A., Manhattan, Malibu, and Zuma Beaches ($75 for a two-hour group class; www.learntosurfla.com). For a change of pace, head to Bear Mountain Resort, home to the only terrain park with a Superpipe in all of SoCal ($53 for a one-day lift ticket; www.bearmountain.com).
Go with an old-school classic: Philippe The Original Sandwich Shop has been an L.A. institution since 1908. The original owner, Philippe Mathieu, invented the French dip sandwich here when he accidentally dropped a roll of bread into a roasting pan; a hundred years later, they still taste just as fresh (www.philippes.com).
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Surrounded by thousands of acres of state park wilderness, the Topanga Canyon Inn is a quiet retreat from the buzz of LA. The B&B style lodge is set up in the Santa Monica Mountains between Santa Monica and Malibu, about a 15-minute drive to the beach (doubles from $190; www.topangacanyoninn.com).