Santa Barbara Mission, Southern California

Best Places to see in Southern California

Southern California is a region of startling contrasts. Scorching deserts give way to snowcapped mountains, with views of the coast. It is possible to surf in the morning, ski in the afternoon, and play golf in the evening. From San Simeon to San Diego, the coast is lined with resorts, reflecting a shoreline that ranges from rugged bluffs to golden sands. Attractions along the way include historic missions, the charming cities of Santa Barbara and San Diego, and the theme parks of Orange County. Farther inland are two of the most startling desert areas in the United States: Death Valley National Park and the Joshua Tree National Park.

Santa Barbara Mission is the most visited mission in the state and is the only one in the chain of missions to have remained in continuous use since it was founded in 1786. The church fa├žade is in Classical style, a theme continued inside the building.

Hearst Castle, on the south central coast, was built by publishing tycoon William R Hearst. In the 1930s and '40s he invited Hollywood stars and royalty here and entertained them lavishly. The Neptune Pool is particularly stunning.

Mission San Juan Capistrano in southern Orange County is known asthe "Jewel of the Missions."

Founded in 1776, its main buildings have been beautifully restored and feature historical exhibits.

Death ValleyNational Park in the Mojave Desert encompasses one of the hottest places on earth and the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. Within Death Valley, which is 140 miles (225 km) long, lie dry lake beds, sand dunes, and small outposts built around springs. Despite the harsh conditions, the area is rich in flora and fauna. Sights of historical interest in the park include Scotty's Castle.

Joshua Tree National Park in the Low Desert is famed for its distinctive trees. Within easy reach of the city of Palm Springs, it offers breathtaking views of the stark desert landscape with its remarkable rock formations.

Balboa Park in San Diego was the site of the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915. The park is now home to many museums, such as the San Diego Museum of Man, housed in the landmark California Building. The famous San Diego Zoo lies just to the north of Balboa Park.