Roads Less Traveled: Local Secrets from CA Tourism Boards

california secrets

They are purveyors of place, touting their own hometowns to tourists, meeting planners, and writers. By trade, they are experts on and champions of the iconic places, under-the-radar gems, and newfangled darlings in their areas. But where do the tourism board professionals go when they’re off duty?

To go hyper-local, oM SF asked the representatives of tourism boards throughout California where they get away (at home). Our query was specific: We were looking for the dive bar where locals convene, the off-the-beaten-path path leading to a secluded beach, the hole-in-the-wall restaurant you might pass by if you didn’t know it was there…

In short, we wanted secrets, and to our great thrill the lovely experts below obliged—many with amusing personal anecdotes, to boot. Their enthusiasm was contagious, their answers entertaining and inspiring. What’s more, they conveyed the personality of their individual destinations. The list below includes only those we felt were truly surprising or unique (some so much so we struggled to find exact addresses!), and any one of them is sure to make your next trip memorable.

From forgotten hillside staircases and bizarre botany to beer shacks and riverside jams, we present secret spots throughout California—from Humboldt on down to San Diego. If you have your own favorite places in your hometown or anywhere else, please share with us—inquiring wanderers want to know!

humboldt travel secretsHumboldt County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Slogan: Home of the world’s tallest trees.

Richard Stenger, Media and Marketing Manager
Ping pong and PBRs: The Shanty (213 Third Street) in Old Town Eureka is a relaxed dive bar. Don’t let the rough-and-tumble look of some of the patrons  fool you. The really cool kids are out back playing ping pong on the patio. (Actually, it’s not just the cool kids. I got creamed the other day by a 55-year-woman who hardly broke a sweat between pints of PBRs and backhands.)”
Hidden beach: “Yes, you can swim in the ocean in Humboldt County! At least the locals do. College Cove, at Trinidad State Beach,offers a perfect combination of shallow water, wind-free beaches, beautiful scenery, and gentle waves. It’s sort of a micro-SoCal experience.”
Treasure hunt: “The foot trails along the Avenue of the Giants conceal at least six rare albino redwoods, including the picturesque Christmas Tree on an unmarked path in the Women’s Federation Grove. Ask politely at the nearby Humboldt Redwoods State Park visitor center, and they just might draw a treasure map for you that leads to the location.”

Visit Mendocino County
Slogan: America’s greenest wine region.

Scott Schneider, President & CEO
Walk away: “My favorite outdoor spot is a public access trail called Belinda Point, which is maintained by the Mendocino Land Trust.  The trail is about a half mile and leads out to some headlands and a rocky beach that is rarely visited. My second favorite is also on the coast and part of the BLM’s land. Stornetta Public Lands contains miles of hiking on the headlands between the Point Arena Lighthouse and Point Arena City Hall.  Again, hiking, picnicking, etc., with the world to yourself!”

mendocino secrets

Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau
Slogan: California begins here.

Steve Hammond, President and CEO
River run: “Swabbies (5871 Garden Highway) on the river is a dose of good old-fashioned Americana, a true Sacramento hidden treasure. It’s a chill place a few miles away from the bustle of downtown, with grass for carpet, picnic tables for ‘fine dining,’ and live music for your listening pleasure. It’s the kind of place where shorts and flip flops are the recommended attire. The famous fish, shrimp, and prawn tacos are so addictive they ought to come with a warning label. Seriously.”

Lucy Steffans, Director of Travel Media
Brew’s Clues: “Located in Curtis Park just south of downtown, Pangaea Two Brews Café and Bottle Shop (2743 Franklin Boulevard) is a beer-lover’s Mecca with a host of hard-to-find beers both foreign and domestic. The café has great food, and across the street is Gunther’s Ice Cream, a Sacramento institution.”

Sonoma County Tourism
Slogan: Do you speak Sonoma?

Tim Zahner, Chief Marketing Officer
Park perks: Riverfront Regional Park (7821 Eastside Road) features a stand of Redwoods, picnic areas, and two lakes for hiking. Secret trails run off to the other lakes (former quarries, now used for fishing) and the Russian River itself. My son had his ninth birthday party there, and we had to take a 30-minute break from capture the flag for the wedding of two guys named Eric and Hector. My wife was worried that we were having a birthday party next to the wedding, as she felt bad for the grooms. Eric and Hector were totally cool, however, and the two parties got along swimmingly. So, in Sonoma County, our parks are perfect for professions of love, games of tag, and quiet recreation. Bonus: Parts of ‘The Bachelor’ were filmed at the park.”
sonoma secretsTacos and Thai: “Tomi Thai (426 Emily Rose Circle), located on the Town Green in Windsor, has about 10 tables and very good food. It tends to fill up with people in the wine biz during lunch, but sitting at the small bar is a great way to meet locals. Diana, the proprietor, supports the local beer scene, so they have good local beers like St. Florian’s IPA (made in Windsor by a fire fighter). Alternatively, a stop at a taco truck makes the best wine country meal for $5 or so. I like the one at Alexander Valley Road and Healdsburg Avenue and the one in the Safeway parking lot off River Road in Guerneville, affectionately known as either the ‘Guerneville Taco Truck’ or the ‘Safeway Taco Truck.'”

Birgitt Vaughan, Public Relations Manager
Bon appétit.: Chloe’s French Cafe (3885 Airway Drive Suite 145, Santa Rosa) comes straight from St. Tropez to the first floor of a medical facility (Sutter Health Center). You’d never expect this café to have some of the best quiches, salads, and hot and cold sandwiches. (Open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)”

Marin Convention & Visitors Bureau
Slogan: Just a little out there…

Shannon Bohlke, Sales and Marketing Director
Watering hole: “Locally known as the Seventh Wonder of Marin County, Inkwells in West Marin is closer than the coast and warmer than the beach. It has tall rocks, perfect for jumping in to the swimming holes on the Lagunitas Creek. And it’s a great place to gather with friends since only locals know of its location.”

Visit Oakland

Lindsay Wright, PR and Communications Manager
Viewfinder: “The best views of the San Francisco Bay can be found at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park (2777 Middle Harbor Road), a location that many of the locals in Oakland have yet to discover. From the park’s location on the tip of the Port of Oakland, you can watch the cranes in motion, and the sailboats cruising past Oakland to San Francisco. It’s a perfect spot for a barbecue and a fantastic place to get away from the urban landscape.”
Do the shuffle(board): “You can’t go wrong with a tagline like ‘Where shuffleboard is King.’ The low ceilings and quirky decor at Kingfish Pub & Café (5227 Claremont Avenue) make this dive bar homey, and I love the fisherman’s touch—a marine green exterior with white trim. You can’t buy fishing supplies now, but the bar originally sold bait when it opened in 1922. Today it’s a favorite among locals who know where to find the best dives in town.”

oakland travel secrets

Santa Cruz County Conference & Visitors Council
Slogan: Find your flow and follow it…

Christina Glynn, Communications Director
Beachy keen: “I adore the beaches in the southern part of Santa Cruz County. My favorites are Manresa State Beach (1445 San Andreas Road) and Sunset State Beach (Sunset Beach Road and Shell Road), both in Watsonville. Both have wide expanses of shoreline, and neither is heavily trafficked, so at times I feel like I have the beach to myself. I can walk in solitude without seeing anyone else—except the dolphins and seals playing in the surf.  My fondest memory here is when a low, misty fog rolled in and completely enveloped me.  I felt like I was walking on a cloud.”
Happy trail: “In Capitola Village, there is a little footpath from the village (cross Stockton Avenue) along Soquel Creek. It’s lined with quaint beach cottages that look like doll houses. In one direction, you can walk up to Shadowbrook restaurant, which offers some of the best views of Capitola Village.  Take the stairs down through the well-tended gardens and stop at lookout points along the way.

Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Slogan: Grab life by the moments.

Jessica Felton, Marketing Communications Assistant
Carmel-by-the-drink: “Visitors don’t often come to Carmel-by-the-Sea for the nightlife, but locals know where to find it. Brophy’s Tavern (4th and San Carlos Street) is well off of Carmel’s main street and offers an extensive selection of beers on tap, local wines, and creative cocktails, plus some great late-night munchies.”
Monterey caliente“I’ve been eating at Turtle Bay Taqueria (431 Tyler Street) since high school, and it’s still my hands-down favorite restaurant in town. It’s a healthier choice than your typical Mexican/Latin American fare, with super-fresh ingredients, and a to-die-for self-serve salsa bar. Try the habanero salsa if you dare!”

Bakersfield Convention & Visitors Bureau
Slogan: More to Explore!

Misty Glasco, Marketing and Events Specialist
Spice up your (night)life: “Located in the Wall Street Alley, Muertos Kitchen and Lounge (1514 Wall Street) is surrounded by bars you would never know. They serve phenomenal fish tacos and specialty burgers, all of which pair well with a delicious Blood Orange Jalapeño Martini.”

santa barbara travel secretsSolvang Conference & Visitors Bureau
Slogan: Velkommen til Solvang.

Laura Kath, Media Relations Director
Fall(s) for Solvang: “Just just two miles from Solvang Danish buildings is a small park with a name that no one can pronounce. Nojoqui Falls (pronounced NAH-ho-wee) drop nearly 100 feet over a sandstone wall. Maidenhair ferns line the rocks, creating a lush, serene environment that has few visitors. To reach it, take the narrow, two-lane Alisal Road, passing horse farms and the famous Alisal Guest Ranch before reaching Nojoqui Falls Park (3250 Alisal Road).  From the park entrance, it’s an easy, 10-minute walk on a hard-packed trail to reach the falls.”

Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau 
Slogan: The American Riviera

Michelle Rodriguez, Director of Communications
Quick ‘n’ gourmet: “Tucked in with the tack trucks on Milpas is the Shop Café (730 N Milpas Street), a gourmet truck with the motto is ‘Slow food fast.’ They have these blueberry muffins that I call ‘crack muffins’—snag on early or they’ll sell out. A similar concept, the Blue Owl (5 W Canon Perdido) serves up gourmet food that you order at the counter. They are only open for lunch or late-night, not dinner, which is unheard of in Santa Barbara.”
Art corner: “By name, the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara (653 Paseo Nuevo, Upper Arts Terrace) sounds anything but hidden, but the gallery’s location (upstairs at the Paseo Nuevo shopping center) means you have to know it’s there to enjoy its amazing exhibits.”
Stairways to heaven: “Up in Santa Barbara’s Riviera is Franceschi Park (1510 Mission Ridge Road), named for the 19th-century botanist Francesco Franceschi, who owned the Riviera and is responsible for the area being so lush (and bringing zucchini to California). His old house is beautiful to see, and there are hidden staircases all over, some of them really overgrown. There is also little round-about from the days when a trolley ran up here. It’s fascinating to wander around, and the views (and sunsets!) are incredible.”

los angeles travel secretsVisit West Hollywood 
Slogan: Living forward.

Andy Keown, Director of Communications
People-watching perch: “My favorite spot for breakfast is a small and humble corner café. Beyond delicious and health conscious food, the highlight of Joey’s Café (8301 Santa Monica Boulevard) is sitting outside and watching the people along Santa Monica Boulevard. Plus, I love that it’s dog-friendly.”
Laidback and local: “In a city full of flashy nightlife venues, one of my favorite spots is also one of the oldest and least glamorous.  Mother Lode (8944 Santa Monica Boulevard) is dive-y without being scary, and the drinks are always strong. While people flock from miles around to the big bars like the Abbey, the Mother Lode is usually packed with locals. It’s where I’m most likely to run into people I know from my 15 years of living in LA. The only downside is that it’s cash-only, so stop at an ATM first.”
The wine library: V Wine Room (903 Westbourne Drive) is just a year or so old and tucked away in a historic building (WeHo’s first library). It doesn’t have much in the way of signage, but if you can find it you’ll be glad you looked. The owner rehabbed the entire building and themed this wine tasting room around an old library, with a card catalog system visitors can use to keep track of their favorite wines. Most of the wines here are from local and regional wineries that distribute in small quantities, so these are not wines you would find just anywhere.”

Beverly Hills Conference & Visitors Bureau
Slogan: Love Beverly Hills

Julie Wagner, Executive Director
Designer Bagels: “You may not think about Barney Greengrass (9570 Wilshire Boulevard), located on the fifth floor of Barneys New York, if you’re not shopping, but the views are great and the food excellent. The s lox and New York bagels are my favorite!
Designer handbag magic: “The pros at Progressive Shoe Repair (9418 Dayton Way) can make any designer shoe or handbag look new again.”

Mary de Hoyos, Director of Business Development
Exquisite cheese: “Norbert Wabnig. proprietor of The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills (419 N. Beverly Drive) is almost always at the shop and will put together something special if you ask.”
Exquisite architecture: “Hidden up in the hills, Greystone Mansion (905 Loma Vista Drive) has a storied past and beautiful gardens that are free and open to the public.”

santa monica travel secretsSanta Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau

Kelly Nagle, Communications Manager
Swim club: “A short and refreshing bike ride just north from the Santa Monica Pier, the Annenberg Community Beach House (415 E Pacific Coast Highway) is a great place to lounge by the pool, play volleyball, have lunch, take yoga classes, and check out art exhibits and lectures right on the beach. Besides the endless array of activities, what I love most about this unique property is its commitment to history and sustainability. Originally constructed by William Hearst for his beloved Marion Davies in the 1920s, the refurbished original guest house offers free docent-led tours and is a Gold LEED certified property.”

Downtown Anaheim Association

Devon Michelle, Webmaster/Promotions
Eat real: “Located inside of the GOOD FOOD Hall (201 Center Street Promenade) in Downtown Anaheim, HEALTHY JUNK offers vegan comfort food and JUNK BAR has reasonably priced craft beers and boutique wines. My favorites on the menu are the potato taquitos, pozole soup, and kale chips). On Mondays, you can get a burger at HEALTHY JUNK and a pint from JUNK BAR for only $8.” Bonus: Visit on Thursday evenings to partake in Farmers Market and Craft Fair festivities.

Destination Irvine
Slogan: Center of Orange County.

Wendy Haase, Director of Tourism Marketing
Natural habitat: “The San Joaquin Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary (5 Riparian View) encompasses more than 300 acres of coastal freshwater wetlands, half of which have been restored to a natural state. The remaining acres are quality habitat and are not in need of restoration. Nearly two-thirds the size of New York City’s Central Park, the marsh is a natural respite with 12 miles of trails.”
Bohemian habitat: “Paradise Perks Espresso & Tea Bar (15475 Jeffrey Road, #450) is a relaxed alternative to the coffee house chains that permeate the SoCal landscape. Bands and other musicians entertain on Friday and Saturday evenings. Poets, comedians, story tellers, and more entertain on Open Mic nights. Artists hang their work for sale on the walls, and writers leave their books on the counter.”

Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism
Slogan: Like no place else.

Mary Jo Ginther, Director
Secret garden: John Henry’s Cafe (1785 E Tahquitz Canyon Way) is hidden away behind a ‘have to hear about it to know where it is’ door, which leads into a charming outdoor patio under the trees.”
san diego travel secretsSecret grooves: “The entrance to Shang Hai Reds (235 S. Indian Canyon Drive) is equally hard to find, but equally worth looking. In between a fish market and grill, the narrow restaurant is big enough for a long bar and small dance floor. Here, locals enjoy buckets of peel ‘n’ eat shrimp, oyster shooters, and fish tacos—in between jamming to live blues on the weekends.”

San Diego Tourism Authority

Candice Eley, Public Relations Manager
Bait and brew: “Located directly above the San Diego Bay on the Shelter Island Fishing Pier, Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle (1776 Shelter Island Drive) offers 15 varieties of craft beer on tap. I enjoy the selection, but what makes the experience special is sitting on a stool outside the tiny shack, looking out over the bay with the downtown skyline in the distance. And Fathom has an innovative way of chilling the beer—by dangling kegs into the Pacific Ocean waters below the pier. The kitchen serves sausages, hot dogs, and sandwiches, but if you’re feeling adventurous you can always try to catch your own dinner utilizing the supplies from a neighboring bait shop!”

Robert Arends, Public Relations Manager
Message in a sand dune: “The sand dunes on Coronado Island spell “C-O-R-O-N-A-D-O.” It’s really cool, but what I love is that the letters form private little patches of sand, which you can claim and sunbathe all by yourself, with no one around. I especially like the top part of the ‘R’ or any of the ‘O’s. It’s like having your very own little island on Coronado Beach.”
Pocket park: “Also in Coronado is Shoreline Park on First Street (cross street I Avenue). Located right on San Diego Bay, it’s a stunning little shaded spot for joggers/bicyclists to rest on the benches while looking out over all of downtown San Diego and the US Navy ships. You can usually spot fisherman in their motorboats just off the shore. Locals know this ‘pocket park’ as a secluded respite from the busier parks and walkways by the Coronado Ferry Landing.”
Desert dream: “Font’s Point is located in the desert oasis of Borrego Springs. It’s just a few miles off one of the main roads and one of the most spectacular natural wonders in San Diego, with badlands and slot canyons stretching for hundreds of thousands of acres. California Overland runs off-road trips there (you need four-wheel drive to reach it). It’s seriously like seeing the Grand Canyon or the South Dakota Badlands for the first time. Atop Fonts Point I feel like I’m on top of the world (and it looks like it too!).” Editor’s note: That’s Robert in the Font’s Point photo!

Photos: Justin Lowery, shawnconna, humboldthead, Loup-Vert, Mendocino Land Trust, Tom Hilton, blmcalifornia, Swabbies, Pangaea Two Brews, Chloe’s Cafe, Inkwells, Brooke Anderson, neil conway, agahran, vsmoothe, USDAgov, Kingfish Pub, Brophy’s Tavern, Shop Cafe, mendolus shank, Damian Gadal, V Wine Room, Barney Greengrass, jonchilou, adpowers, puliarf, Annenberg Community Beach House, HEALTHY JUNK, Paradise Perks, Fathom, Robert Arends