Best Telescope: Mount Wilson Observatory
The Griffith Observatory may get all the press, but high up in the San Gabriel Mountains is another space-gazing outpost equally worth a visit. The Mount Wilson Observatory, on a summit 5,712 feet above Pasadena, is a haven for astronomers both amateur and professional. Founded in 1904 by George Ellery Hale, who was looking for a place to continue his studies of the sun, the isolated grounds and beautiful natural setting are ideal for pondering the universe’s metaphysical mysteries and magic. Guests can schedule a public viewing to use the observatory’s incredible 60-inch nighttime telescope and view the 100-inch tower telescope. Or bring a picnic and take a free weekend walking tour of the grounds and a small museum where you can learn about Mount Wilson’s 60- and 150-foot solar telescopes, and the instruments that led scientists to first recognize that the sun is not the center of our Milky Way galaxy after all.
Angeles Crest Hwy., then right to Mount Wilson Red Box Rd. www.mtwilson.edu.
Best Picnic Spot for Cowboys: Paramount Ranch
The Paramount Ranch has stood in for Tombstone, Laredo, Dodge City and a host of other cowboy movie landmarks. The façade of a Western town still stands at the entrance and is occasionally used for TV and film shoots. A large grassy area with tables is perfect for picnics. Various trailheads lead into easy hikes through Malibu Creek State Park.
2813 Cornell Rd., Agoura, www.lamountains.com/parks.
Best Make-Believe Mayberry: Franklin Canyon Park
Just off Coldwater Canyon at Mulholland is a secluded nature retreat millions of mental miles away from the clamor of rush-hour traffic. You may recognize the duck pond, woodland setting and three-acre lake from their starring role as the background on The Andy Griffith Show reruns. With its amphitheater and nature museum, Franklin Canyon Park is a nice day’s ideal rural retreat, perfect for bringing the kids.
2600 Franklin Canyon Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 858-7272 or www.ceres.ca.gov/smmc.
Best Small-Fry Fishing: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
Sometimes overshadowed by its gigantic cousin in Long Beach, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro is a fantastic alternative for visitors who want to spend the majority of their day at an actual beach. Full of hand-painted displays and small-town charm, the Cabrillo Aquarium has a wide variety of marine species, some of which can be experienced firsthand in a touch tank. It’s also home to the famous yearly grunion run, where the unique mating and reproductive habits of the small silverside fish attract curious human spectators.
3720 Stephen M. White Dr., San Pedro, (310) 548-7562 or www.cabrilloaq.org.