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Courtesy of Jennifer Polito
Courtesy of Jennifer Polito

I am a Southern Californian, born and raised, but before college I hardly ever had the chance to do much exploring. As I’ve made more friends from all over the place and spent less and less of my winter and summer breaks at home, my homeland has expanded into a pretty awesome world.

This summer, some friends and I took advantage of the world around us and spent our weekends exploring as much as possible, as cheaply as possible. Here are some of the little adventures and places that I’ve grown to love:

1.    The Getty Center, Los Angeles.  Sure, it isn’t an obscure hole-in-the-wall place, but it’s always worth the visit.  Grab some friends, pile into the car and hit the 405 North.  The Getty is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays.  Aside from the veteran collection, the exhibits range from documentary and food photography, Old Testament images, sculpture galleries and the beautiful art of French artist Gerome.

The Getty also offers a gorgeous view of Los Angeles, a chill atmosphere and tranquil gardens. Bring your own lunch and snacks, and you’re looking at a very cheap day out. The Getty Center has free admission, so all you’d have to do is split parking ($15 per car) between you and your carpool buddies.  Honorable Mention: Any of the museums in the LA area are worth a trip! Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Norton Simon, Hammer … or even the museums at Exposition Park.

2.    Tio’s Tacos, Riverside.  You haven’t truly experienced a restaurant until you’ve been to Tio’s.  I first encountered Tio’s during a winter break mini-road trip to visit friends, and knew it was worth making a trip to the Inland Empire for this place. Sure, the food is pretty great and the horchata is a gift from God, but what really makes Tio’s is the décor.  Located on Mission Inn Ave., the place looks nondescript from the street, but the charm hits you the moment you pull in to park.

The entire grounds are decked out in artwork made from recycled materials—sculptures made out of chicken wire and discarded children’s toys, mosaics made out of broken plastic goods, strange fountains and walkways made out of glass bottles. It’s impossible to see all of Tio’s in one trip, but it’s definitely worth a try. And if you’re already going to be at Tio’s, you might as well wander around the Mission Inn and visit UCR’s UTC equivalent University Village.

3.    San Diego.  The San Diego Zoo is one of the best zoos in the country, and it has pandas.  The zoo is located in Balboa Park, which is worth a day trip all on its own.  With fifteen cultural, historic, science and art museums, gardens, performance art venues, gorgeous architecture and plenty of people-watching to do, Balboa Park is a great place to hang out.
Hillcrest is also an excellent place to visit, full of good food and great vintage thrift stores to prowl. Sea World, the Museum of Contemporary Art (which currently has a really cool exhibit called “Viva la Revolucion!” spanning throughout downtown) and La Jolla’s beaches are great ways to spend a day in San Diego as well.

4.    Keep it Local.  Grab a blanket, a book, your camera, some snacks and some bread to feed the ducks and head on over to Mason Park!  It’s a short walk (or an even shorter drive) from the UCI campus, right behind the off-campus Ivy League-named apartments.  Mason is perfect for picnics, barbeques, potlucks or just lazing around in the shade people and animal watching.  Keep an eye out for turtles, geese, ducks, egrets and the puppies and children who chase them.

If feeding ducks doesn’t sound like a good time, hit up any of the beaches in the area. Crystal Cove, Corona Del Mar, Laguna, Newport, Huntington and Dana Point are all worth getting to know—they all offer something different whether it be beach-side shopping, a thriving surf culture or proximity to mother nature.  And don’t ignore Costa Mesa or Santa Ana’s art and music scenes either!

5.    Visit Friends!  Now that you’ve spent a year or so getting to know them, go visit them!  Meet their family, let them show you around their hometown or just spend the day watching movies and playing with their dogs. Even invite your friends to come visit you and your home for the day.

Think of all the things you love in your hometown and tell people about all year long when you’re at your most homesick.  If it hadn’t been for visiting friends, I’d never have discovered some of the places listed above.

Take what’s left of summer and explore.  With the right mindset, any trip is an adventure.

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