California Coastal Access Guide ($7.95, University of California Press, 1983). This 288-page California Coastal Commission publication is the beach-goer's bible. Dozens of maps and nice photos detail just about every public access path and stairway to the Pacific from Oregon to Mexico. Well-written feature articles discuss such topics as Coastal Landforms, Sharks, Fog, Clamming, Sand Dunes, Offshore Oil, Bicycling and Kelp Harvesting.
The California Highway 1 Book, by Rick Adams and Louise McCorkle ($17.95, Ballantine Books, 1985). This coffee table-sized book gives readers a tour of Pacific Coast Highway from Dana Point north to Oregon, concentrating on history, land use, environment, roadside attractions, and resources.
A great reference, it includes lots of quick-read blurbs on topics ranging from the old Long Beach Pike, to the California Condor and Raymond Chandler (who "wrote about L.A. and the tiny beach towns up and down the coast with a seedy brilliance . . . ").
Embassy Suites' Mandalay Beach Resort and Conference Hotel opened last spring, clearly aspiring to connect the often maligned Oxnard to the Southern California beach continuum in people's minds. A restrained version of the posh Ritz Carlton Hotel to the south, the Mandalay sits right on the sand and offers a landscaped courtyard with swimming pools and Jacuzzis connected by an artificial rockscape of streams and waterfalls.
All the rooms are suites, and winter rates start at around $90 including a complete breakfast. Information: (800) 582-3000.
You can't get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant (23000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, (213) 456-6646) but you can get cactus ratatouille, New Zealand mussels and other seafood served in a nice setting overlooking the beach.
Even the lobsters were getting nervous on a recent stormy night at the Breakers Seafood Co.. Big waves rolled beneath the pilings supporting the horseshoe shaped Redondo Beach Municipal Pier (at the foot of Torrance Boulevard). The chalkboard listing daily specials swung back and forth, and the crustaceans in a fish tank scrambled about as if plotting escape.
At least one customer wondered whether he'd get seasick as the surf below rumbled and boomed like a huge bowling alley. But the pier, home to a variety of touristy shops and restaurants and little stands selling just about everything edible--crabs, pizza, corn on the cob and corn dogs--is a great place to watch storms roll by.
Spend a gray afternoon listening to California gray whales sing the cetacean blues. Visitors to Point Vicente Interpretive Center (31501 Palos Verdes Drive West, Rancho Palos Verdes (213) 377-5370) listen to whale songs through earphones and may catch a glimpse of the creatures from the center's observation tower. Also on display is a large relief map of the area and interpretive displays on local geology, ecology and culture. A grassy park along the bluff has picnic tables with a view of the coast.
From 2 p.m. on weekends, and every night, live jazz mixes with the sound of the surf at the Studio Cafe (100 S. Main St., Balboa (714) 675-7760). The cafe has a menu of ribs, chicken, fresh fish etc, and some customers allegedly drink big blue concoctions called "Adios Mothers."
One of the last of the great Coast Highway roadside stands, Sunshine Cove (1408 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach (714) 494-5589) sits on a cliff overlooking one of the last great Southern California communities of beachfront bungalows. Adjacent to the 3-mile-long Crystal Cove State Beach, the stand specializes in fresh juice and date shakes, which can be enjoyed at a rustic wooden table overlooking the coast.
Just up the hill from Laguna's main beach, the newly renovated Laguna Art Museum (307 Cliff Drive, (714) 494-6531) boasts a permanent collection of 30 paintings of early California scenes, and changing exhibits by contemporary artists.
The Fisherman's Restaurant and Lounge (611 Avenida Victoria South, San Clemente, (714) 498-6390) is right at the surf line on the San Clemente Pier. Order a bucket of steamers and a hot drink, then feel appropriately smug as you watch the shivering surfers in the waves breaking beneath the glass-walled deck.
How many self-respecting Californians know that the ground cover commonly refered to as iceplant is really Hottentot Fig ? That information and more can be obtained at the 2,000-acre Torrey Pines State Reserve (12000 N. Torrey Pines Road, Del Mar (619) 755-2063). A picturesque maze of well-marked nature trails cross hills and ravines above a long stretch of beach. The Natural History Museum there offers educational displays on local flora and fauna.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography Museum and Aquarium (8602 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla, (619) 534-6933), is located just above the Scripps Institution pier. The small museum has a variety of exhibits, including a miniature wave machine and a relief map of the ocean floor off the Southern California coast. The aquarium displays tanks of fish, lobsters and other sea creatures. A small artificial tide pool outside explains tidal life, and there's a gift shop with books and sea shell jewelry and assorted cetacean paraphernalia.