15 Unspoiled & Hidden Gems in Southern California

Southern California attracts millions of tourists, backpackers, retirees, and travel influencers, thanks to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. Though California is expensive travelers love exploring it, mainly its southern part.

Hearing SolCal, the first things that come to mind are the bright lights of Hollywood, the cool breeze of Santa Monica, and amazing uncrowded beaches.  There are some places in California where you can travel without breaking your bank, though, give it a read!

Hidden Gems in Southern California

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But Southern California is so much more than that! In winter, during Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year, the weather temperature is around 50°F, making it ideal. 

This blog is about sharing some gems in Southern California, which are offbeat and less crowded!

Local Favourites Spots in Southern California

1. The Oasis Camel Dairy

During my ride towards Julian, I’ve crossed the Oasis Camel Dairy so many times, but hardly had I known it is one of the hidden gems in the San Diego region of Ramona. 

Later, I got to know that in 1999, this ranch was the first camel dairy in the United States. 

It was in the month of June when my friend Rohit brought me to this 34-acre ranch, and I was surprised to see camels and a toucan. 

The farm offers a one-hour tour of the farm, during which you can take a camel ride, greet sweet animals like Knuckles, Jamul, and Sampson with a bunch, touch them, kiss them on their foreheads, smile, and have a lot of laughs.  

But the interesting part was when I saw Ronit buying camel milk and purchasing camel milk soap and camel chocolate for her mother and sister. I saw many people buying camel milk too. 

Seeing my curious face, Ronit explained to me that camel milk is very healthy as it contains insulin and is considered close to human milk. 

Okay, so even I bought it and tasted it for the first time. It was good; it smelled somewhat strange to me, but I guess that’s all about trying it for the first time. And yes, if you’re interested, you can also try their Camel Camp.

The Oasis Camel Dairy
The Oasis Camel Dairy

2. Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave

Sea caves have always fascinated me, so I decided to visit Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave in the town of La Jolla for a quirky and unique experience where I descended a steep, dark tunnel via a rope! 

Yes, you heard it right! If you come here early in the morning like I did, you even have to climb ropes. Additionally, arriving early in the morning allows you to find free parking spots on Coast Blvd.  

I want to caution you that the 143 cave stairs are old, uneven, and go straight down. It feels like you’re delving deep into the Earth. Furthermore, the ceiling is low, making it quite challenging for tall people to walk straight.  

As you walk down, the sound of the roaring ocean echoes and gets louder. Visiting this historic man-made tunnel is definitely worth it, as it provides a unique opportunity to take photos that look completely different.  

Note: You can also take a kayaking tour with Bike and Kayak to have a similar experience, but that’s from the perspective of sailing on the water. I did this tour in the year of 2018 and it was amazing!

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  • The fee is $10 for adults and $8 for kids
  • You might feel claustrophobic
  • Carry a head torch because the stairway area is dark
  • Walking down 143 stairs means also walking up, you need to be fit
  • Do remember to pick up souvenir items from The Cave Store
Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave
Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave

3. Oak Tree Mountains, Oak Glen

Southern Californians are fortunate to have a 50-year-old, 14-acre outdoor theme park known as Oak Tree Mountains a secret spot in South California for family people. 

It’s perfect for a weekend family adventure spot, and if you have a child, be sure to bring them along because they will absolutely love it! 

I visited this park with my family, and let me tell you, the candy stores, outdoor dining, and seasonal activities here even brought out the child in me! As you step inside the park, you’ll be transported to another time by its charming surroundings. 

Oh, there’s also an animal park and petting zoo, although my family and I didn’t get a chance to visit it because we were busy buying apple pie and shopping at Apple Annie. I highly recommend trying the apple pie from here if you get the chance.  

This place looks absolutely gorgeous in the autumn months when the trees and leaves change colors. It has an old yet refreshing charm. For children, there are fun games like mountain slides, axe throwing, and so much more to enjoy!

Axe Therapy at Oak Tree Mountains
Axe Therapy at Oak Tree Mountains

4. Shields Date Gardens

Anytime you find yourself traveling along Highway 111 in Palm Springs, don’t forget to make a stop at a 17-acre date farm – Shields Date Garden in Riverside County – for a day trip. 

The trip will revolve around exploring the garden, strolling around, savoring healthy date shakes, and taking photos with unique art installations. The place exudes serenity with fountains scattered around. 

However, I want to mention that you shouldn’t expect anything too extravagant here. There’s a 1960s-era botanical garden and an award-winning café called Café at SHIELDS, where you can taste various date ice creams and sample different date-based culinary delights.  

Note: At Café at SHIELDS, you can also watch a free movie titled “The Romance and Sex Life of the Date,” and enjoy date shakes while having weekday fun! So, if you’re thinking about proposing to your fiancée in California, just do it here! This location is perfect!

Shields Date Gardens
Shields Date Gardens

5. Orcutt Ranch Horticulture Center and Garden, West Hill

If you’ve been following my website, you know how much I love discovering off-the-beaten-path destinations. I’m the type of person who is influenced by Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Just kidding! 

Orcutt Ranch Horticulture Center and Garden is a 25-acre park with a rose garden and lush citrus groves. This is indeed one of the delightful and serene hidden gems of Southern California, nestled inside the San Fernando Valley.

I visited here with my grandparents as my grandpa loves forest-like settings, and it’s also great for walking. They have sitting benches where you can rest and enjoy the birdsong. I noticed many retirees here, strolling and savoring the serene nature trail.

You’ll also encounter the soothing shades of a bamboo forest and oak trees, which is why it’s called Rancho Sombra del Roble. You’ll even come across an old Spanish-style home where wedding ceremonies are conducted. In the month of July, there is a pick-up season for Valencia oranges and white grapefruit. Only locals know about this!

Orcutt Ranch Horticultural Center Park
Orcutt Ranch Horticultural Center Park

Hidden Beaches in South California

6. Doheny State Beach

From tourists to Dana Point locals, and everyone in between, Doheny State Beach is a beloved spot for surfers and sunbathers. While it’s not exactly a hidden gem, it’s certainly a favorite. 

Moreover, for an epic experience, you can rent a boat from the pier and go sailing while enjoying beautiful sunset views. For those seeking a more offbeat and incredible experience, you can visit Dana Point Sea Caves, also known as Pirate’s Cove. 

Of course, this is also one of California’s nude beaches, so you can have your own adventure there! 

Apart from that, the cave itself, with its 15-foot height and 20-foot width, is quite impressive. 

If you’re a photographer, this place should definitely be on your bucket list. Back at the beach, you can surf at the mouth of San Juan Creek or play volleyball; the options are endless!

Doheny State Beach
Picnic at Doheny State Beach

7. Crescent Bay Beach, Laguna

Crescent Bay Beach is a less crowded beach in Southern California where we locals take our children to explore the sea life found on the rocks of the beach during low tide. Yes, this is a hidden spot for tide pooling in Southern California.  Laguna is one of the most beautiful beach towns in CA.

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I can’t emphasize enough how many times I’ve been here with my parents and sister, spotting urchins, anemones, sea stars, crabs, and small fishes of different colors. There hasn’t been a single time I’ve gotten bored here! 

If you visit in the morning, you can find your own private piece of paradise. As you continue walking and leave the tide pool area, you’ll reach the sandy shores where you can enjoy some sun tanning. 

The beach is very family-friendly, and you can also go kayaking, paddle boarding, or surfing. At the south end of the beach, you can see sea lions basking in the sun. From here, you’ll have an amazing panoramic ocean view.  

Note: I highly recommend visiting Twin Points as well. The beach is surrounded by cliffs and gives you the feeling that you’re in your own private cove.

Crescent Bay Beach, Laguna
Crescent Bay Beach

Hidden Hiking Trails in Southern California

8. Wisdom Tree Trial, Griffith Park

I remember sweating profusely as I huffed and puffed my way to one of the hidden gems of Southern California – Wisdom Tree Hike! This tree is also known as the Tree of Life, the Magic Tree, or the Giving Tree.  

It was the only tree that survived the wildfire in 2007. Outdoor enthusiasts hike up Cahuenga Peak to see this lone pine and capture pictures with the backdrop of the Hollywood sign to the west, and to take in the view of Los Angeles from above! 

I took the Aileen Getty Ridge trail, which is very steep and rugged, which is probably why I encountered almost no people. However, the view of Griffith Park and downtown Los Angeles was outstanding! 

But, do you know what’s even more interesting? At the top, where you’ll find the lone tree, there’s a geocaching box where people have left notes about their lives, and stories they want to share. 

I even wrote a note, which I’ve never shared with anyone, and placed it in that box. Maybe someday, someone will come across it and read it! 

Note: 743 feet of gain in elevation on 0.78 miles

Wisdom Tree Trial
Wisdom Tree Trial

9. Topanga Canyon Lookout Trail, Calabasas

The Topanga Canyon Lookout trail is one of the lesser-known hiking trails in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area attracting hikers who seeking easy hikes. Its 2-mile out-and-back route takes you to a graffiti-covered cement slab, which serves as the best backdrop for clicking Instagram-worthy pictures!

For me, the biggest draw is watching the sunset from the top without many people around. I took the offbeat trail – Fossil Ridge Trail, enjoying the view of the Santa Susana Mountains, Santa Monica Mountains, and Calabasas. From up there you get an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean too!

Note: You can bring your dog on this easy hike to spend some time together. Also, do not forget to click pictures at the intersection of Saddle Peak and Stunt Roads. 

Hidden Waterfalls in Southern California

10. Millard Canyon Falls

Millard Canyon Falls is one of the hidden treasures in SoCal where you’ll be rewarded with views of a gorgeous waterfall after hiking 1.8 miles. The hike starts from the base of the San Gabriel Mountains and ends at the waterfall, which cascades into a shallow pool at its base. 

The view of the Angeles National Forest, Millard Trail Camp, and the fifty-foot waterfall is the highlight of this family-friendly trek. The trail also allows dogs, making it ideal for dog parents as well. The place is very peaceful, providing a perfect spot to sit and enjoy the view

Millard Canyon Falls
Millard Canyon Falls

11. The Grotto at Circle X Ranch, Malibu

To witness the spectacular view of Malibu, you have to hike the off-the-beaten-path trail of Santa Monica Mountains – the Circle X Ranch. At the end of the hike, you’ll be treated to an awe-inspiring surprise. 

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However, let me warn you about its difficulty level; you need to have basic bouldering skills to complete this hike. For me, rock climbing is the real highlight!

I feel like the skies from here look as if someone has edited a picture in Lightroom. It is one of the hidden gems in Southern California. The canopy of trees along the way makes you feel like you’re in the heart of the Amazon forest. 

The landscape and the view of the picturesque stream here are breathtaking. At the end of the hike, you’ll see a grotto, the surprise! If you’re an adventure soul you can get inside the cave and surround yourself with nothing but only quietness. 

Charming Small Town in Southern California

12. Green Valley Lake

If you’re in search of underrated places to visit in Southern California, come to Green Valley Lake which is also known as the “best-kept secret in the San Bernardino Mountains”. It is a perfect escape getaway for Californians.  

This old-fashioned town is a great place for family outings and spending a peaceful Sunday afternoon. The man-made small lake is the perfect spot for swimming, relaxation, or fishing. 

The lake is surrounded by grass meadows, cedar trees, and pine forests, making it incredibly picturesque. The town is very small, and it’s here that you can experience snow in winter, falling leaves in the fall, colorful flowers in spring, and endless summers. 

Note: If you’re into camping, drive east of Green Valley Lake to reach the campground, which features 36 camping sites with tents and RV spaces.

Green Valley Lake
Green Valley Lake

Remote Camping Spots in Southern California

13. Idlehour Trail Camp, Altadena

Just imagine hiking deep into secluded parks, into the woods, covering approximately 10 to 13 miles to reach your camping destination. How would that experience be? Idlehour Trail Camp offers such an opportunity. 

It is nestled in the foothills above Altadena in the Angeles National Forest, and from there, you get an amazing view of Downtown Los Angeles. It feels like you’re the hooting owl! Initially, for the first 3 miles, you have to climb uphill through dense tree canopies.

But once you pass this part of the trail, it becomes covered with coastal oaks and manzanita bushes. You can hear the river flowing. After completing the 6 miles, you can take a dip in the river and enjoy your night camping.

Tip: The best time to come here for camping is during the Spring season or Fall

14. Moro Campground, Crystal Cove State Park

Moro Campground is a beachfront campground that cannot match the view of million-dollar homes. Yes, as you open your eyes and come out from the tent you’ll see the blue Pacific Ocean in front of you! That’s the view!

Note: The campground has a drinking water facility, show center, flush toilets, and other basic amenities. 

Moro Campground, Crystal Cove State Park
Moro Campground

Hidden Gem in Los Angeles

15. The Korean Friendship Bell, San Pedro

If you’re in Long Beach, you should not miss the Korean Friendship Bell structure, which stands as a symbol of friendship between the American people and the Republic of Korea.  

You’ll be amazed to see the size of the bell – it’s 7.5 feet in diameter, 8 inches thick, and stands 12 feet tall. Can you imagine that? It is said to have been constructed using 17 tons of copper and tin, with nickel, lead, gold, and phosphorus. You should definitely check this out!  

After seeing this unique structure, I recommend visiting Abalone Cove, another hidden gem of California, which is famous mainly among locals for tide pooling.

FAQ: Hidden Gems in Southern California

1. Are there any hidden historical sites worth visiting in SoCal?

A. San Juan Capistrano Mission is one of the unknown historical sites found along the eastern coast of the San Antonio River. The land is so fertile here that you can see peaches, pumpkins, grapes, peppers, and melons growing. Also, the place is very peaceful!

2. What is Southern California known for?

A. The primary reason Southern California is known for its amazing weather. People can enjoy a mild winter and also an abundance of sunshine. Secondly, California is home to rich celebrities. Los Angeles and San Diego is the prime hotspot for Hollywood stars. 

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