The Seven Man-Made Wonders of California

By Ashley Bennett, Jasen T. Davis, Bill Gerdes, Arrissia Owen and Nancy Powell

Posted May 17, 2012 in Feature Story

Discover all of The Golden State’s marvels in this year’s Travel Issue

From the Great Pyramid of Giza to the Great Wall of China; from Stonehenge to the Grand Canyon, there are marvels from around the world that scientists, anthropologists, archeologists and mere travelers still look back on in awe. And sure, you can save your dough and travel across the country and world to see some of these wonders, but if you look closely there are some amazing places right here, in your backyard. This year, we’ve compiled our list of the seven most compelling man-made wonders—often just a short trip away from the Inland Empire. Join us as we travel across California and explore some of man’s greatest creations . . .



Rising out of the dense fog of the San Francisco Bay are the sensuous, majestic, Art Deco towers of the iconic Golden Gate, a nearly two-mile suspension bridge connecting the San Francisco peninsula to Marin County with sweeping views of the Bay Area and the Pacific and whose coloring and construction historian Kevin Starr has called “engineering as high art and high art as engineering.” Built at the height of the Great Depression in just four short years, the Golden Gate Bridge fused art with nature, defied nature’s tempestuous gusts and stood as a triumph of American labor and imagination. Drive it from end-to-end; observe the city skyline and panorama from above at the Marin headlands or from the vantage point of the sea as you approach the Pacific at Fort Point. A favorite spot to view the immensity of the bridge, go down to Kirby Cove from the northwest edge of the Marin Headlands. Hike it the pedestrian walkway and you will notice sign posts along the way that inform the desperate onlooker that “there is help. Make the call” (a testament to the bridge as one of the world’s most popular suicide destinations, where 20 to 30 people manage to make the dive annually). The bridge sways up to 27.7 feet and withstands winds of up to 100 miles per hour and happens to be the safest place to be standing once the Big One hits. In fact, this year’s May 27 birthday will be a special one—it’s the occasion for the almost year-long, 75th anniversary of this Northern California landmark. When you’re done ogling the Golden Gate, hike down to Fort Point at the foot of the bridge and revel in its Civil War history. (N. Powell)

Shelter: Spaciousness and easy accessibility to Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach make Nob Hill Motor Inn a good lodging choice. Nob Hill Motor Inn, 1630 Pacific Ave., San Francisco, (415) 775-8160;

Golden Gate Bridge, Lincoln Blvd. near Doyle Drive and Fort Point, San Francisco, (415) 921-5858;



If he could spend a month anywhere, William Randolph Hearst wrote to his mother while at Harvard, “It would be on the hills of San Simeon,” a sanctuary of fond childhood. Camp Hill was the site of family camping trips, it had spectacular views, and it was fairly private. Designed by architect Julia Morgan between 1919 and 1947, Hearst Castle is the quintessential monument to decadent living, a dream home awash in 22,000 historical as well as architectural artifacts spanning time and globe and with views of up to 75 miles in any direction on a clear day. If the drive up and the Neptune Pool don’t already have you at hello, then its portrait of the unspoiled beauty of the Central California Coast as it has stood for centuries definitely will. At 60,645 square feet, the castle ranks 11th on the list of largest houses in the United States and tops of any house in the Western United States. When Hearst Castle became a state park in 1957, guided tours provided the only means to experiencing the estate for 50-plus years until recently, when visitors were granted more autonomy to explore the grounds on their own and personalize their trips. Today, an evening tour provides glimpses into the living history of the rich and wealthy during the 1920s and 1930s, where you can imagine how A-listers like Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks and the Barrymores enjoyed Hearst’s hospitality, and just last month the visitor’s center hosted its first screening of Citizen Kane (a movie abhorred by Hearst). If time and energy permit, check out the Coastal Discovery Center at the beach, where admission is free. (N. Powell)

Shelter: San Simeon has lodging, but make the five-mile drive down Highway 1 to the charming town of Cambria for picture-perfect beaches, art galleries and great eats. Fogcatcher Inn, 6400 Moonstone Beach Dr., Cambria, (805) 927-1400;

Hearst Castle, 750 Hearst Castle Rd., San Simeon, (800) 444-4445;


Photo by David J. McLaughlin (c) Pentacle Press


Also known as the San Gabriel Mission, Mission San Gabriel is often overshadowed by San Juan Capistrano and its famous swallows. But it shouldn’t be. San Gabriel is quieter, smaller and even cheaper than San Juan Capistrano. The place was founded in 1771, which makes it; you guessed it, older than the United States. As you wander the gardens you just may feel the mission’s past come to life. The first orange tree in California was planted here from a cutting brought from Spain. Its location is marked in a serene little alcove where, if there aren’t 500 fourth-graders busily working on their mission projects, you might just sit back, turn off your phone and do nothing. Other highlights of the mission include its church, which is almost Moorish in design, tannery pits where hides were, well, tanned, and the mission’s vineyards—at one point San Gabriel Mission produced the most wine in California. For me though, the highlight of my trip was, rather morbidly, the cemetery. Absolutely still, the graves spoke of the men who quietly gave over their lives to god, as well as the 6,000 Gabrieleno Tongva Mission Indians who are buried in the mission, unintended victims from diseases transmitted by the very Europeans who thought to save them. The mission itself may only take you a few hours to explore but make sure to walk around the entire downtown area, which is quite interesting and has several options for lunch or dinner. (B. Gerdes)

Shelter: The Bissell House is a quaint B&B located about four miles away in Pasadena. The Bissell House, 201 Orange Ave., S. Pasadena, (626) 441-3535;

Mission San Gabriel, 427 S. Junipero Serra Dr., San Gabriel, (626) 457-3048;


Photo by Jasen Davis


We can’t always make it to Italy, but if you live in California you can always take a trip to the Venice Canals. Located within walking distance of Venice Beach, the canals were originally built in 1905 by Abbot Kinney, but quickly fell into disuse decades later. Rebuilt and refurbished by the Venice Canals Association in the ’80s and ’90s, today the Venice Canals of Los Angeles are both a residential district and a Historic-Cultural Monument, featuring beautiful bridges, serene expanses of water and plenty of natural wildlife including white snow egrets, coots and ducks. The Venice Canals are a wonder for another reason . . . because the homes are on three landmasses completely surrounded by water, a visit here is also a trip to the islands of Los Angeles. Mark Galanty, vice president of the Venice Canals Association, suggests parking at Venice Beach and then strolling south along Pacific Avenue until you arrive at 25th Street. There you can take a left (going northeast of the beach) to a secluded path that leads directly to the Venice Canals. Located next to the nightlife (including many bars and restaurants) near Venice Beach and the beautiful downtown area around Abbot Kinney Boulevard, this place is the perfect spot for a memorable date or a romantic vacation. (J. Davis)

Shelter: Venice on the Beach Hotel, 2819 Ocean Front Walk, Los Angeles, (310) 429-0234;

Venice Canals, Carroll Ct. and Eastern Canal Ct., Los Angeles, (310) 399-2775;


Photo Courtesy of Disneyland Parks and Resorts


Disneyland is the OG Disney theme park. It’s the very first of the Disney parks and the only one to be influenced by Walt Disney himself. The resort is magical, it’s massive and it’s pretty expensive to maintain, but that’s why it’s an amazing manmade wonder. Those expensive park tickets pay more than the CEO’s salary—it’s quite a feat to keeping the park updated with the latest and greatest technology like the recent renovation of Star Tours or the gorgeously amazing new World of Color night-time water show. Think of the parks as a massive sensory overload; take any one single attraction out of the park and it becomes an instant wonder all on its own. Sleeping Beauty Castle has stood for over 60 years with detailed roofing and decor right down to the Disney family crest above the castle entrance. Give your trip new meaning by discovering Hidden Mickeys (there are books and websites dedicated to this) or other nods to Imagineers and older Disney films and attractions. The dining can even be special if you do it right. Simply call a few days earlier and you can make reservations at the Blue Bayou, also known as the restaurant you see when embarking on Pirates of the Caribbean, you can grab a table at one of the most unique dining scenes on site. With so many amazing things to see, there’s no reason to pass up appreciation for the world that has been created for you to enjoy. (A. Bennett)

Shelter: Not only is this hotel beautifully themed, but you get one special privilege by staying here: next-door-neighbor entrance to the wide expanses of California Adventure. Don’t forget your ticket. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, 1600 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 635-2300;

The Disney Resort, (The letter M—as in Mickey—is the 13th letter in the alphabet, so what might “1313” mean?) 1313 Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 520-5060;



Louis Comfort Tiffany placed a blank check in front of Frank Miller. It was a well-known fact that everything at Miller’s Mission Inn Hotel in Riverside—a mishmash of historical design—was for sale, from the art on the walls to the TK chairs. Everything, that is, except Miller’s prized possession, a nearly 3,000-pound Chinese bell, the pinnacle of his 800 deep collection of ringers from around the world. That non-transaction led to what is one of the most stunning aspects of the national historic landmark and Mission-revival style hotel: the St. Francis Chapel. Since the hotel was never a mission, it should come as little surprise that the chapel isn’t really a consecrated church. Despite that, more than 350 weddings take place at the chapel each year. The chapel, which is also home to the Baroque style, 25-by-16 foot Raya Altar, carved from cedar and completely covered in gold leaf, houses the four large, jewel-toned stained glass windows and two original mosaics by Tiffany. The windows arrived mysteriously, according to the docent, by way of Madison Square Presbyterian Church in New York City, the windows’ original home and the church to which Tiffany was a member. The artist stipulated that if the church was ever torn down that he would receive the windows back. In 1919, to make way for growth, the church was demolished. There is no receipt showing a transaction, nothing in the books, so it is unknown whether Miller bought the windows or if Tiffany, so impressed by Miller’s protective nature for his prized possessions, gave them to him. Miller stored the works of art until he had the chapel built in 1931. (A. Owen)

Shelter: There’s no better places to stay than right here.

Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, 3649 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, (951) 784-0300;


Photo by Richard Benton


The 1,200-acre Balboa Park is known for its splashy whales at the San Diego Zoo, the Spanish Village Art Center, the rare trees planted by renowned botanist Kate Sessions and much more. But the true wonder of it all is the architecture. The park’s site, which is a registered national historic landmark, was established in 1835, making it one of the oldest U.S. sites for public recreational use. Named after the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Balboa Park was the location of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. The 1915 expo celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, drawing attention to San Diego as the first U.S. port of call when sailing north. While creating the expo’s permanent buildings, architect Bertram Goodhue created the Spanish Colonial Revival Style. Some of the buildings are still standing, including the Cabrillo Bridge, the California State Building and Quadrangle (now the Museum of Man), the Spreckles Pavilion, the California Bell Tower, the Ford Building (now the Air and Space Museum)—that once had a road running through it—and more. The 1935 expo went for less high-brow attractions to wow the people. Sure, the Globe Theater added a little culture, but it was the Midget Village and sideshow entertainment like legendary fan dancer Sally Rand, an early prototype of a robot and a strange picture box called a “television” that created buzz. Even odder, was the nudist colony that featured a daily show with Miss Zorina who spectators watched get attacked by a robot only to be saved by her friends dressed like Jay birds. That site now hosts the butterfly-filled Zoro Garden. These days there is a serious lack of nudists, but the park is host to multiple museums, gardens, attractions like the 1910 carousel and miniature 1948 G16 train, venues and, of course, plenty of shopping and dining to round out the experience. But always be on the lookout for killer whales and pissed off robots. (A. Owen)

Shelter: Britt Scripps Inn, 406 Maple St., San Diego, (888) 881-1991;

Balboa Park, Visitors Center, 1549 El Prado, Balboa Park, San Diego, (619) 239-0512;

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