The best California travel recommendations, according to L.A. Times readers

Good morning, fellow Escapists. There’s something special about swapping travel recommendations, whether they’re exchanged between lifelong friends or strangers on a train.

When I began writing Escapes, I shared that I hoped it would be “as much your travel newsletter as it is mine.” That’s why I ask for your suggestions each week — and why I’m excited to bring you the very first edition made up entirely of reader recommendations.

Here, you’ll discover places to go in Ojai, San Diego, Cambria and Joshua Tree. As always, if you have a travel tip you’d like to pass along, please let me know.

Eat, drink and take in views of the Cambria coast

The Central California coast is lined with laidback towns ideal for enjoying the pleasures of life — and little Cambria, tucked amid Monterey pines, might just feel the most peaceful of all.

I included Cambria in last week’s newsletter, where I recommended including the community — and a stop at Moonstone Beach and Linn’s Easy as Pie Cafe for a slice of olallieberry pie — on a drive up Highway 1.

Reader Peter Valk happened to be in Cambria as he read the latest edition of Escapes, and he emailed me with a few suggestions:

  • The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve: Valk recommends walks along coastal bluffs, part of its more than eight-mile trail system. It’s open daily from dawn to dusk.
  • The French Corner Bakery: Travelers can fuel up with pastries, cakes, breads and other treats. It’s open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Stolo Vineyards: “It has a throwback vibe to when wineries weren’t big businesses,” Valk said. The vineyard offers wine tastings from noon to 5 p.m. daily by reservation. Visiting Cambria during the week? Stolo is hosting pilates classes in its meadow on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
At water's edge at Torrey Pines State Beach, where there's surfing and tide-pooling.

At water’s edge at Torrey Pines State Beach, where there’s surfing and tide-pooling.

(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Glimpse marine life in San Diego

Travelers from all over the globe have heard of the San Diego Zoo. But there are many other places nearby to see wildlife, large and small.

“Whales are pretty easy to spot with binoculars from the cliffs above Black’s Beach behind the Torrey Pines Gliderport,” wrote writes one reader. “I’ve seen them just beyond the breaking surf in shallow water there.”

The reader shared a few tips for anyone hoping to catch a glimpse: “[It] helps to go in the morning before the wind starts rippling the water and the sun’s glare makes seeing them tougher.”

For glimpsing smaller marine life, the reader recommended visiting Cabrillo National Monument and Ocean Beach Pier.

Could you use a coffee and a bite to eat on your way down to San Diego? A reader named Venelina recommends stopping by MRKT Space in Encinitas, which offers croissants, muffins, Mediterranean-style sandwiches and more.

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Keys View at Joshua Tree National Park in California.

Keys View at Joshua Tree National Park in California.

(Calvin B. Alagot / Los Angeles Times)

The best in Joshua Tree, according to locals

What’s the best view in Joshua Tree National Park? A local reached out to me to share her thoughts.

“I was born and raised here, and there are too many wonderful places to count,” wrote Julie O’Neil. “But one of my very favorites is Keys View.”

The wheelchair-accessible lookout off Keys View Road — “through some of the loveliest parts of our desert,” O’Neil said — is a popular spot in Joshua Tree for a good reason.

“At the top of the hill, you can enjoy the views of the Coachella Valley to the south, Mt. San Jacinto and beyond,” she said. “The feeling of being on top of the world without climbing a mountain is breathtaking.”

The San Andreas Fault, which cuts through the Coachella Valley, can also be seen from the lookout. If you visit on an exceptionally clear day — unfortunately uncommon because of poor air quality — you may even be able to see Mexico’s Mt. Signal, just south of the border west of Mexicali, according to the park’s website.

Another reader reached out with these suggestions for exploring the park:

  • Use the North Entrance in Twentynine Palms as a way to skip the line at the West Entrance.
  • While you’re on the Twentynine Palms side of the park, she suggests spending time in places such as the “the magical Fortynine Palms Oasis.”
  • The Cholla Cactus Garden, deeper into the park on Pinto Basin Road, is also well worth a visit.
  • Black Rock Canyon near Yucca Valley, which she said is “full of fantastic hikes.”

Hoping to see some art while in Joshua Tree? Another reader suggested the Simi Dabah Sculpture garden, which you can see from Sunfair Road.

It’s still pixie season in Ojai

Haven’t had a chance to pick up your share of Ojai pixie tangerines this season?

Susan Petrella recommends Friend’s Ranch in Ojai, run by a family that has been growing citrus in the area for over a century.

It’s “the premier place to purchase those delicious pixies, other yummy tangerines, avocadoes, lemons, [etc.],” Petrella said. “ My husband and I discovered Friend’s Ranch at the Hollywood Farmers Market and have been faithful customers.”

Travelers can also pick up Friend’s Ranch citrus directly from the farm’s packinghouse in Ojai, open on 7 a.m. to noon Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays through May.

While you’re in Ojai, save time to explore the town. Andrea Pett sent me a few favorite spots:

  • The Dutchess: a bakery, cafe and restaurant open Wednesdays through Sundays from 7 a.m. – to 2 p.m. for coffee, bread and pastries and from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. for dinner.
  • Firestick Pottery: A membership-based studio and gallery. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
  • Bungalow By FiG: A gift shop selling candles, clothing, accessories and more — all with that distinct Ojai style. Open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
  • Summer Camp: Love plants and Ojai-themed merchandise? Summer Camp is your place. Open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

📰 What I’m reading

  • Want to go whitewater rafting this summer? It’s time to book your trip. Brian Clark breaks down California’s eight best rivers in The Times.
  • Bridgette and Tiffany met on a Greyhound bus from Sacramento to San Francisco in 1987. “This chance meeting was the beginning of a 35-years-and-counting romance,” writes Francesca Street in CNN Travel.
  • Nereya Otieno learned to ski at age 29. She writes about what the experience has taught her in Ski Magazine.
  • How did Cambria become a destination for olallieberries? Julie Tremaine writes about how “olallieberries have become more than just a food, but a cultural phenomenon that attracts tourists year-round” in this Central Coast town.
  • “The funniest travel account on Instagram is run by the T.S.A.,” writes Cassandra Brooklyn in the New York Times. She interviews Janis Burl, the woman behind the agency’s Instagram account.

🎸 Road song

Song: “Good Legs by Jensen McRae

Favorite lyric: “And you said, ‘Don’t live in your head. The world’s so wide, why not explore?’”

Where to play it: Waiting in traffic at LAX