Dia de Muertos in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 2012.

Why is California the first state in my list? Because I was born there, in 19 –um, digit redacted–5. Recently I returned to Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, where it all began in the Little Treasures Maternity Ward. Little Treasure you say? Sometimes this stuff really does write itself. The lobby has a beautiful representation of a tree on the wall, each leaf made of gold metal. At first I thought, “the tree of life blooms where my life began.” (I realized that its leaves depict the names of donors, but where can you wax poetic if not your own blog when you are your own editor?) So I will go with the Tree of Life.

2010 River near Arcata

This is ALSO California.

California has been voted as the most popular state for tourism, so what can I say that hasn’t already been said? I lived there until I was seven, and then for three years as an adult. If you bought a house in the 70s, you are sitting on a Roc-sized nest egg and can sell it in order to move to Portland or Austin, if for no other reason than to annoy the locals. Buying a new house? Not so much. However, sunsets are still free, and there is a reason it is called the Golden State. Hint: the “Golden Gate” actually refers to the tawny hills on Marin Headlands and along the coast of San Francisco, not to the bridge itself, which as we know is red.

Highlights of my California: I once helped a Native American tribe north of Arcata with medical readiness and emergency management, ate BBQ oysters on Tomales Bay, took a bicycle tour of San Francisco, and visited coastal dunes hiding ancient Egpytian ruins. OK, the last was a movie set from 1923 the Pharaoh’s palace. Cecil B. DeMille didn’t want any other film companies to use it, so he had it torn down and buried in the fragile coastal dune environment. We might need to keep the EPA.

2012 window to the garden

A window to the garden, in DTLA. 2012, somewhere on Secret Stair Tour #11.

Despite all its shame, drudgery and broken dreams, I love Los Angeles. After you visit Disneyland and take the open bus through the neighborhoods of Hollywood, maybe try something new, like exploring the secret stairs of DTLA.  Not the Los Angeles you were looking for? Not to worry, as the large city has many very different cul-de-sacs: too many to give their due credit here. I will just touch briefly on one of my favorites in Los Angeles (County).

Take the ferry to Catalina Island (pro tip: ferry is free on your birthday), which has been at different times a sacred site for the Tongva, a creepy museum of bones, spring training location for the Chicago Cubs, and a trysting spot for Charlie Chaplin and his much younger girlfriend (ew). Catalina is the only Channel Island home to a herd of bison. Fluke of evolution? No, also part of a movie. Hey, it’s California!

But despite these various twentieth century diversions and perversions, you can sense why Catalina was considered sacred. I love the windward side, which is best reachable by boat, but there is also a great network of hiking trails. Bring water: Catalina is a desert island, but you don’t have to walk far from Avalon to camp in Hermit’s Gulch. If the sun gets too golden, Catalina has a new and air conditioned museum. Too dry? You can dive from Casino Point, home to giant kelp, garibaldis, and at least one octopus –or you can take a dive boat from the mainland, like Cee Ray out of Long Beach Harbor. All while not leaving Los Angeles County!

And yes, I did break down and take the tourist bus through Hollywood. We saw Ice Tea’s enormous cantilevered spread (remind me to adopt a child who can rap and act) and someone outside of Michael Jackson’s house claiming to be his nephew. Additionally, I once saw Darryl from “The Office” strolling in Santa Monica, and one of the dads from “Modern Family” at the Aquarium of the Pacific with his kids. His actual kids, not the three from the show. So I guess that’s my 15 minutes of borrowed Hollywood fame.

Next up: Yes M!ch!gan! Urban Ruins and Great Lakes. Also Beer and German Food.