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Secrets of SoCal: Things to know before you go
By CARY ORDWAY
Ask someone what they think about when they think of Southern California, and you'll no doubt get the standard response: palm trees, swimming pools, movie stars and, of course, gorgeous weather. All of this is accurate to some degree, but visitors to the southern reaches of the Golden State might be at least mildly surprised by some of the other things found in the region known by locals as "SoCal."

Television and movies probably are responsible for a lot of the perceptions about Southern California with many movies and TV shows filmed in that region. If you're old enough, you'll remember the lead-in to the Beverly Hillbillies – "swimming pools, movie stars" – and that probably was your introduction to SoCal and all it has to offer. But once you visit SoCal, or live there for 14 years as we have, the area reveals much more of itself.

Here are a few secrets about Southern California that may surprise you:

Sunny yes, but not everywhere all the time – When you visit Southern California, the likelihood is that you're going to have great weather. Even in winter, the skies are blue and daytime temperatures are at least as high as a nice spring day in the northern climes. But the region has quite a diversity of weather, with the sunnier and warmer weather just a few miles inland from the sea and the cooler and sometimes cloudy weather on the coast. In fact, the area’s residents refer to "May gray" and "June gloom" to describe the seemingly incessant marine layer of clouds that comes in off the sea at night and takes several hours each morning to recede back to the ocean and reveal that famous SoCal sunshine. The closer to the coast you get, the more you experience this weather pattern.

Always put a "the" in the front of your freeway number—If you're visiting SoCal and tell a local you’re headed down Interstate 5, he just might not know what you're talking about. That's because everyone in these parts refers to Interstate 5 as “the five” or "the I-5" and do that with all the freeway names. Just tune in to the local weather and traffic forecasts and you'll see what we mean.

Downtown stay is artsy and convenient

Los Angeles, California. Aside from the Big Apple, is there any other place in America that might legitimately call itself the Center of the Universe? In the case of Los Angeles, it is the center of the entertainment universe and has more legitimate movie stars per square inch than just about any other place on earth.

And so visitors come for the glamour and the glitz, for a chance to catch sight of a star maybe just going to the supermarket or walking in quasi-designer cut-offs and tee-shirts down Melrose Avenue. They come to see how movies are made, how television shows are produced, to be thrilled by the area's amusement parks and to soak up the endless sunshine on beaches populated by the most beautiful people in the world.

Downtown L.A.

On our most recent visit, w

Historic island displays century of military history

Many California residents may not be aware how close they came to losing an important part of this state's history in early October 2008. A wildfire blackened nearly half of Angel Island, but quick action by firefighters saved the island's many historical buildings and left many of the roads and trails on the popular San Francisco island intact.

Angel Island is a prominent part of the Bay panorama and has been a popular destination for hiking, biking and exploration for the decades since it became a state park in the 1950's. Only accessible by boat, the island is a quick ferry ride from Fisherman's Wharf and an especially good day trip for San Francisco visitors. When they arrive on the island, they'll find a quiet, peaceful, almost idyllic landscape with pretty coves, modest hills and picture-postcard vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County.

The good news is that today visitors are able to enjoy all of the historic buildings that are normally open to the public, including the newly renovated Immigration Station.

Visitors a


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