Think Outside the Inside

By Arrissia Owen Turner , Bill Gerdes , F. L. Archer , Kevin Longrie , Lynn Lieu , Matt Tapia , Nancy Powell , Paul Rogers

Posted May 19, 2011 in Feature Story

With gasoline more expensive than Nicki Minaj’s wig collection and the economy still in the crapper, now might be the time to get away from it all. We mean literally get away. Forget forking over hundreds of clams for a weekend at The Standard or bottle service at some fancy schmancy inn. Keep it close to home and enjoy the best bargain of them all—Mother Nature—with some good ol‘ fashioned camping and outdoor recreation.


What’s Up With This Place: Some people swear by surf-centric Huntington, for others snooty Newport is where it’s at. But I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for San Clemente because it’s the place I spent many summer afternoons just whiling away the time (read: drinking) with friends and family, soaking up rays and thinking about nothing in particular (other than where my next drink was coming from. Oh, waiter!) For those who want to rough it within a stone’s throw of the 5 Freeway, San Clemente State Beach is here to serve you. The campsites are roomy and most will come with a fire-pit and a picnic table. For the RV crowd, you get full hook-ups and 25-cent showers to keep things running smoothly. And the sunrises and sunsets here are absolutely killer. Sure, you can hear the freeway at night—but don’t let that deter you as this is a cool little gem smack dab in the OC.

Keeping Busy: In case that ol’ rest and relaxation thing gets old, try the 1.5-mile hiking trail to get your legs in shape. Also, you can trek over to the pier for people watching and do some fishing (dinner?) while you’re at it. Or follow one of the nature trails down to the sandy shore to do some body surfing, swimming and skin diving. (Matt Tapia)

San Clemente State Beach, 3030 Avenida Del Presidente, San Clemente, (949) 492-3156;


What’s Up With This Place: In La Jolla you’ve got choice between roughing it overnight on the beach and enjoying a relaxing hotel experience. If you’re camping, be sure to check the forecast. While Southern California is known for hot summers, this time of the year is a bit iffy. Some days will be a nice 80 degrees while others will be cloudy with a chance of mist. If the forecast doesn’t look good, you can always splurge on a room at La Valencia. Cascading down the side of a cliff near downtown La Jolla, La Valencia is a place of relaxation and history. The pool is heated and the main elevator is from the hotel’s early days in the 1920’s. There are also a variety of restaurants in the hotel, from ocean view seats at The Sky Room to brunch in the Mediterranean Room to a spot at the bar in the Whaling Bar and Grill.

Keeping Busy: While no longer legal, The Clam—an infamous spot in La Jolla—is known as a spot for one of the most ultimate and dangerous cliff jumps. It earned its nickname Dead Man’s Cliff when a local regular diver jumped in at low tide and broke his neck. Since then, at least three others have died jumping the cliff. The Clam is also a prime spot for cave biking, walking and kayaking tours as well as snorkeling and swimming. La Jolla Kayak ( offers kayaking and snorkeling tours. The tour guides are knowledgeable in La Jolla history, animal and sea life (don’t pet the sea lions), as well as surfing. While La Jolla Kayak doesn’t offer surf lessons, nearby Surf Diva ( is an excellent choice for beginners on land and in the water. (Lynn Lieu)

La Valencia Hotel, 1132 Prospect St., La Jolla, (800) 451-0772;


What’s Up With This Place: It seems as if the further south you trek in the slew of Orange County beaches, the better the county starts to get in terms of beauty and tranquility. And fortunately, Doheny’s far enough away from the party-hartiers that linger in the county’s northern coasts, instead swapping those jubilant jaunts for a peaceful paradise. Whether you’ve arrived commanding your RV, driving your SUV, or riding a V-Twin, Doheny’s truly great outdoor campsites are a straight shot down the I-5 from much of the IE. Sandwiched between the gorgeous city of Dana Point on the north end and San Clemente on the south, the location’s ideal for an idyllic stop near the surf. If slumbering in a tent (or car) isn’t your gig, there are some cool motel and hotel choices in the vicinity. And if you’re planning on heading home at the end of the day, know that Doheny’s day use area is also a terrific picnic point with tables and barbeques—plus leashed dogs are welcome, so bringing the entire family’s a possibility.

Keeping Busy: For those who love to put the pedal to the pavement, there’s plenty of perfect bicycling opportunities available, including trails and paths paralleling the coastline. And there’s wonderful walking up and down the shore, too—just pack your own flip-flops and sunblock. (F.L. Archer)

Doheny State Beach, 25300 Dana Point Harbor Dr., Dana Point, (949) 496-6172;


What’s Up With This Place: In the northern section of San Diego county lies the gorgeous beaches of Oceanside. The streets are lined with interesting shops; the businesses are mostly local and original rather than corporate. Oceanside doesn’t feel like just another surf-town. With a pier that stretches out so far that they had to put a Ruby’s at the end of it, Oceanside can accommodate any kind of traveler, especially a hungry one. Campsites and bike trails weave over the beaches. As the town’s name implies, it’s almost difficult to escape how close you are to the ocean in every area of the city: the salt air, the din of waves and, of course, the endless beachy coffee shops. 

Keeping Busy: Relax and have a beer at Breakwater, a microbrewery with a great selection of regional, national and in-house drinks. Then stumble over to the California Surf Museum to learn a little (or a lot) about the history of the long and the short board and the riders who’ve taken them up. (It’s also worth mentioning that the ocean is less than a 5-minute walk from the museum, so you’re quite welcome to actually surf after you’re done learning.) Bring the whole family—or the whole gang—to the harbor and rent a boat from Boat Rentals of America; you can navigate your own way around the inlet and listen to some good music. There’s an almost certain chance you’ll see seals. (Kevin Longrie)

Oceanside California Welcome Center, 928 N. Coast Hwy, Oceanside, (800) 350-7873;


What’s Up With This Place: Santa Barbara is the weekend getaway; beaches, mountains, shopping, bars, wine-tasting nearby—it’s got it all, including sky-high prices. There’s a reason most of us don’t own here, and it’s increasingly a reason we can’t even afford to stay for a weekend. The answer to this financial conundrum? Duh, camping. Ocean Mesa campground boasts 80 RV, and 20 tent camping sites, right across from the beach in El Capitan. It also has a heated pool and spa to warm up, a laundry, a store and 15 miles of hiking trails—in your face Comfort Inns. If you’re a tad fancier though, try their sister location, El Capitan Canyon. Luxury camping is just like regular camping, minus the dirt, the sleeping on the floor, and the gamey bathrooms. El Capitan ramps the luxury up to another level; their tents scream Jay Gatsby meets 1001 Arabian Nights while the Cabins, especially the Safari, are so swank you won’t know you’re in nature till you look out the window and find you’re in a canyon filled with oaks and sycamore.  Relax, chill, repeat.

Keeping Busy: Hey, if you absolutely have to leave Ocean Mesa or El Capitan Canyon there’s options, scads of em. Head northeast and sample the hosts of wineries enshrined in the film Sideways. Or hike the Rattlesnake Trail, one of the easiest in the area and close to downtown. For dinner, hit Bouchon for fine dining or Olio Pizzeria for something a bit more casual. Then again you could open up a local wine and sit outside your cabin and do nothing special whatsoever. (Bill Gerdes)

Ocean Mesa Campground, 100 El Capitan Terrace Ln., Santa Barbara, (866) 410-5783;

El Capitan Canyon, 11560 Calle Real, Santa Barbara, (866) 352-2729;


What’s Up With This Place: Long before urbanization and the automobile carved up this beautiful land, much of SoCal must have looked like this: shrub- and tree-covered mountainsides; meandering creeks; and trails created by pre-Colonization indigenous Indians. To get a sense of the sheer scale of this 720-square-mile chaparral paradise straddling Riverside, San Diego and Orange counties, consider that it was the site of both of the largest wildfires in Cali history (2003’s Cedar Fire and the Santiago Fire in 2007). Close enough for a day trip (75 miles south of the IE), yet far enough to feel like you’re really getting away, CNF includes well-organized campgrounds and seemingly endless hiking (mostly moderately difficult), plus areas designated for shooting (a robust SUV is recommended to reach these) and off-roading. All this plus Alpine winter weather, photo-op waterfalls (when flowing) and staggering views. Even driving through Cleveland National Forest is therapeutic, but the further you get from the roads, the greater its rejuvenating rewards.

Keeping Busy: If your ATV has been relegated to mere driveway candy, Cleveland National Forest will remind you why you bought that spendy toy in the first place. Registered Off-Highway Vehicles (with Forest Service approved spark arrestors) are allowed on 20-plus miles of trails in areas at Wildomar on the Trabuco Ranger District and Corral Canyon on the Descanso Ranger District. Green sticker vehicles are permitted in both areas year-round; red sticker rides are restricted to Dec. 1 through Feb. 28/29 in Wildomar, and Dec. 1 through Jan. 31 in Corral Canyon. (Paul Rogers)

Cleveland National Forest, 10845 Rancho Bernardo Rd., Suite 200, San Diego, (858) 673-6180;


What’s Up With This Place: Unless you’re one of those eccentric Russian oil-igarchs, the nearest you get to exotic critters is probably the Discovery Channel or a zoo. Sequoia National Park, though most famous for those cartoonishly huge Giant Sequoia trees and Mount Whitney (the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states), is a haven to all manner of animal species, including those apparently perpetually hungry black bears; federally endangered bighorn sheep; and rarities like wolverines, beavers, and muskrats. SNP offers a variety of day hikes but, with the park being around 5 hours from the IE, overnight backpacking might be a better option (wilderness permits are required for all overnight camping outside designated campgrounds). Remember to plan for proper food storage, unless you want a really close encounter with those powerful bears. The truly hardy venture into the park’s gorgeously lonesome backcountry (84 percent of Sequoia and adjacent Kings Canyon National Parks is designated as Wilderness and is accessible only by foot or by horse). A backcountry adventure is not to be taken lightly, but nor will you forget it in a hurry.

Keeping Busy: As well as hiking and camping, Sequoia National Park offers horseback riding amidst stunning scenery; rock climbing; cross-country skiing and snowshoeing (including ranger-guided nature programs on snowshoes) and, for kids (and overgrown kids), snowplay. One of the park’s lesser-known, but nonetheless spectacular features is its 240 caves (with more being discovered every year), including the 20-mile-plus long Lilburn Cave–the longest in the state. Sadly, only one of these is open to casual visitors: the 3.4-mile Crystal Cave, so-named for its sparkling, gravity-defying helictite formations. (Paul Rogers)

Sequoia National Park, 220 N. Santa Fe St., Visalia, (559) 565-3341;


What’s Up With This Place: With greedy gas companies increasingly fleecing us, proximity is a priority when getting away from it all. So for Inland Empire dwellers, the mountain resort of Crestline–just 20 minutes from San Bernardino by car–offers maximum escape for minimum moolah. For all the town’s quaintness (and dining and shopping), Crestline is equally of interest as the gateway to the San Bernardino Mountains and National Forest which surround it, and to the multiple charms of the adjacent Lake Gregory Regional Park. The forest and mountains offer camping, hiking and mountain biking delights in what seems like a different world from the flat, arid landscape below. And, unlike Lake Arrowhead (which is private), at Lake Gregory visitors can swim, boat and fish. The lake features a pair of 300-foot waterslides and, though no private boats are allowed, rowboats, paddleboats, paddleboards, sailboats and water cycles are available to rent. Your savings on air conditioning on a 100-degree day back home should offset the modest cost of an afternoon of dipping and diving in Lake Gregory (vehicle admission is $7 on weekends; $10 on weekends and holidays)–where it’ll be a perfect 80 degrees.

Keeping Busy: Catfish season is almost upon us at Lake Gregory (it opens May 29) and, as the lake is stocked with these barbeled beasts, pickings are pretty rich. There’s also trout (but the trout season is November through April), bass, crappie, carp and bluegill to be snagged. Shore fishing is free year round, but there is a $7 county fishing fee and, if you’re over 16, you’ll need a state fishing license (available at the park). But it’s not just about the fish, is it? It’s about having an excuse to be this easily accessible wonderland. (Paul Rogers)

Crestline, (909) 338-2706;

Lake Gregory Regional Park, 24171 Lake Dr., Crestline, (909) 338-2233;


What’s up with this place: The highly publicized closure of Highway 330 due to torrential rains in December tainted perception, making people think Big Bear Lake, located one hour from Yucaipa, 1.5 hours from Riverside and Ontario, was closed to business. Not so. There are two other highways to Big Bear, the 38 through Yucaipa and the 18 through Apple Valley. And Highway 330 may open temporarily for Memorial Day. Atop the mountain are lakeside RV campgrounds like Holloway’s Marina & RV Park, and tent and trailer-type camping at Serrano Campground.

Keeping Busy: Big Bear is home to two wake parks, perfect for beginners or old pros looking to perfect their method airs. Sans boat, you can traverse 300- to 500-feet of wake holding a motor-operated cable. For boaters and personal water craft fiends, there are eight launch ramps along Big Bear Lake, some free, some that offer rental dock slips, boat rentals, tour boat rides (including the Time Bandit Pirate Ship), canoe and kayak rentals, fishing tours, and paddle boarding. The Big Bear Discovery Center naturalists also offer guided canoe and kayak tours where paddlers can learn the history of the Valley, back to when Serrano Indians roamed the plains and grizzly bears wandered freely. For those looking to hook up, the lake was recently stocked to the brim with trout. Memorial Day weekend, Snow Summit Resort’s chair 1 transforms into the Sky Chair, transporting mountain bikers and hikers 8,200 feet to the top. Those looking for a good grapple, Castle Rock and Holcomb Valley rock pretty hard to get your climb on. Guided tours are available through Equada Outfitters. And zip line tours allow you to strap in and take in the cliffs and crags up close flying hundreds of feet through the air at speeds up to 35 and 45 mph from up high among the tree tops. (Arrissia Owen)

Big Bear Visitor Center, 630 Barllett Rd, Big Bear Lake, 1-800-BIG-BEAR;


What’s Up With This Place: If there’s one thing that Diamond Valley Lake is famous for, it’s fishing. Apart from being a reserve for Southern California’s water supply, Diamond Valley Lake is kept well stocked with all kinds of fish and welcomes anyone with a fishing pole to test their skill at pulling them out. Everything from 7-pound trout to 16-pound bass have been caught onsite, and more are caught every day. It’s a great place to bring your boat; or, if you don’t have one, there are plenty available for rent. Bring a six-pack out on your boat and enjoy the summer. 

Keeping Busy: There are a ton of things to do around Diamond Valley Lake besides fishing, though. The lake is available to all comers, even those that don’t have a rod and reel. There is also a thriving farmer’s market every Thursday where you can pick up some delicious goodies. No trip to Diamond Valley Lake would be complete without a jaunt to the nearby Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, 9,000 acres and hundreds of species of animals and plants characteristic of the American Southwest. There you can find hiking, biking and equestrian trails, not to mention the fantastic vernal pools available during parts of the year. There are also guides available year-round if you want a bit more information about what you’re encountering on your hikes. The Diamond Valley Aquatic Center is also open daily and acts as a kind of miniature water park for the whole family. (Kevin Longrie)

Diamond Valley Lake, (800) 590-LAKE;


What’s Up With This Place: Situated on the extreme western edge of the (909) and squeezed between the 57 Freeway, Fairplex fairgrounds and Brackett Airport is the Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park, with a scenic man-made lake (known as Puddingstone) dropped in the midst of sheer suburbia. Coddled by the bedroom communities of San Dimas, La Verne and Pomona (plus a few others), this nearly 2,000-acre recreational area offers a number of awakening activities, including boating (powerboats, personal watercraft and sailboats are welcome), swimming, freshwater fishing and plenty of room for picnics, too. If you’ve got an RV, there’s a whole portion of the park ready for your home-on-wheels on the east side. And for a little more relaxation, there are even hot tubs available for rent. Plus, the park plays host to an assortment of events this summer, including a TriEvents triathlon in June and the annual JazzFest West in July.

Keeping Busy: Don’t forget that fun in the water doesn’t end at Bonelli. Situated right next door to the lake is one of the region’s most popular (and largest) water parks, Raging Waters, where you can take your H2O happiness to whole new level. In the case of the water slide known as Drop Out, that “whole new level” is about seven stories in the air. (F.L. Archer)

Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park, 120 Via Verde, San Dimas, (909) 599-8411;


What’s Up With This Place: Nestled in the foothills of the dry and blustery Mojave Desert and a mere hour north of the IE on Interstate 15 lies a piece of California history as only Walter Knott could envision it, a place “as purty as a gal’s calico skirt.” Calico Ghost Town stands as testament to how the west was won—well, at least how it was won back in the days before Knott amped up its touristy charms. As one of the largest campsites in Southern California, the park carries the whole shebang when it comes to variety—rustic “log” cabins that sit below the old cemetery; full and partial RV hookups on both sides of the “aisle”; large and small group tent camping; and new bathrooms. Outside of the main entrance sits the group bunkhouses. The mini bunk accommodates up six campers and comes appointed with a private kitchenette and private bathroom and shower. The main bunkhouse at $60 per night houses up to 20 folks. Just about the only thing campers have to fear are electrocuted rats that wipe out power (if only for the night) and the occasional rattler—really, nothing that a little common sense couldn’t handle. Tip your hat to Mr. Knott…there ain’t no place like home.

Keeping Busy: Families will find lots to explore: gold panning, picturesque rides around the back end of town via narrow gauge railroad, and even plunging the depths of the original Maggie Mine or walking 10 to 15 feet into open mine shafts over by the campgrounds. Don’t want to cook? Grab some grub over at the Calico Beer Garden or Calico House. Take your bikes, ATVs and 4x4s over to nearby Odessa Canyon for off road adventures. Need a change of scenery? Take the trailer and family and hightail it over to Moabi Regional Park off Highway 40 for boating, kayaking and water play on the banks of the mighty Colorado River. (Nancy Powell)

Calico Ghost Town, 36600 Ghost Town Rd., Yermo, (760) 254-2122;


What’s Up With This Place: Desert camping does not get better than this. Joshua Tree is known for it’s unique trees, landscaping, rock climbing and history. The park offers a variety of camping from RV to backpacking and tent camping amid large boulders. Thousands have flocked to this recreational haven for years, whether in search of UFOs or to simply enjoy one of Nature’s wonders. The place has been graced by locals, regulars, foreigners and even rock stars. In the early ’60s, country rock pioneer Gram Parson became a known frequenter of the park. Upon his death in 1973, road manager Phil Kaufman and a friend stole his body and burned it at Joshua Tree in an attempt to fulfill Parson’s last wishes to be cremated at the National Park. A memorial was formed by fans over the years atop of Cap Rock.

Keeping Busy: . . . is not hard to do. If you’re an environmentalist, Joshua Tree’s unique ecosphere offers up some interesting plants and formations. If you’re a climber, over the years, molten lava has pushed up large rocks creating some of the best climbs in California. If you’re into cycling and off-roading, there are long and short trails. And if you’re a hiker or just looking for an interesting walk, the park has a variety of trails with multiple difficulty levels and inclines from making your way through boulders to a steady walk through exotic plants; there are even paved trais suitable for wheelchairs. (Lynn Lieu)

Joshua Tree National Park, 74485 National Park Dr., Twentynine Palms, (760) 367-5500;


What’s Up With This Place: Yes, yes, I already know that using terms like “hidden gem” ranks pretty high on the cliché-o-meter . . . but it really is an apt description when talking about the 186-acre California Citrus State Historic Park in Riverside. Tucked away in the Arlington Heights/Lake Mathews area of Riverside, this park—designed to echo a municipal park from the 1900s—serves to preserve a sight that’s fast disappearing from the IE: orange groves. Your first sight when arriving to the park from Van Buren Boulevard is the replica fruit stand and giant orange at the entrance. Now that’s a landmark! There are paved trails to check out the citrus close up, picnic areas and a museum and gift shop to pick up some souvenirs from this state’s second Gold Rush. This is a great place to whittle away the afternoon with rolling hills in the background and the scent of orange blossoms filling your lungs.

Keeping Busy: You can stretch your legs here. Try out the 1.25-mile Citrus Interpretive Trail that will take you from the Gazebo to the Gage Canal. There’s also the .65 Knoll Trail that meanders through the groves and offers great views of the surrounding city. Make sure you check out the navel and Valencia oranges (plus lemons and grapefruit, too!) along the way, and docents can offer talks and conduct a walk. When you want to just chill out, head to the Sunkist Center or the Amphitheater or any of the plentiful shady spots around. Now you know why people like to get married here. (Matt Tapia)

California Citrus State Historic Park, 9400 Dufferin Ave., Riverside, (951) 780-6222; 8AM-5PM seven days a week. Visitors Center 10AM-4PM Wednesday and weekends.


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