The best of Southern California will keep golfers and their families happy

By William K. Wolfrum, Contributor

Few golfers in the world are as spoiled with riches as those in Southern California. Infinite great weather combines with some of the world's top golf courses to give Southern California golfers the option to pull out their clubs any time of year.

San Diego
The harbor, beaches, zoo and golf make San Diego one of Southern California's best.
San DiegoBarona CreekPGA West Island GolfTemecula Creek
If you go

For visitors, Southern California is nearly an amusement park of activity. Beaches, great food, Hollywood, and, of course, amusement parks help make Southern California one of the U.S.'s most prominent vacation destinations.

Best of Southern California golf

Best place to play where the pros play: Torrey Pines.

The home of the 2008 U.S. Open, San Diego's Torrey Pines is likely as good a municipal course as most golfers will ever play. Tiger Woods fired a 62 on the South course in 1999 to help him win the Buick Invitational, while the North course has seen Billy Casper, Gene Littler and Scott Simpson hone their skills. It'll run you, but Torrey Pines is the definition of can't-miss.

Best undiscovered golf city: Temecula.

Starting with the Mark O'Meara and Ron Fream designed Redhawk Golf Course, this charming city is so much more than a place to stop on the way to San Diego. California Golf Magazine has ranked RedHawk as the seventh most difficult layout in the state, as its 149 slope rating testifies. Throw in the Ted Robinson designs of Temecula Creek Inn and Temeku Hills Golf Course and suddenly Temecula is an affordable and serious golf destination rather than a pleasant drive-by.

Best gambling and golf: Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino.

Located just 30 minutes from downtown San Diego, Barona Valley provides more than enough action to get many Southern Californian's to bypass the longer drive to Las Vegas. The rustic setting defies the modern casino and hotel at Barona, and dining options are almost limitless. The course itself is scenic and consistently ranked as one of the best public-fee courses in California.

"Barona Creek is easily a top-10 course for California and the golf and hotel are bargains compared to many area resorts. It's a must-play when you come to San Diego," wrote writer David R. Holland.

Best public course with a private course feel: Pelican Hill Golf Club.

Magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean make this Newport Beach golf course a delight for the eyes. The two Tom Fazio runs are continually ranked highly by all golf magazines and associations, and the club goes out of its way to give its players a first-class experience throughout. The near-$200 price tag scares off few, as Pelican Hill's reputation is well earned.

"It's probably the most sought after public round of golf in the Los Angeles area," wrote Holland.

Best island golf: Catalina.

Getting away from it all is as easy as could be in Southern California, as a short ferry or helicopter ride will take you to Catalina Island and the quaint city of Avalon. Once the home of chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., and legendary author Zane Grey, the Island includes Catalina Island Golf Course, a short course that's long on history (built in 1892, it's California's oldest course) and spectacular views.

Best place to golf with big leaguers: Strawberry Farms Golf Club.

Strawberry Farms was developed by former California Angels third baseman Doug DeCinces, and frequented by many current and former professional athletes, including: Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and Deacon Jones.

"We have so many professional athletes out here that you can lose count," said General Manager Rick Howard.

Best affordable golf location: Inland Empire.

Just around the corner from the sprawling Los Angeles and Orange counties, the Inland Empire is home to four million people, so it's not so much undiscovered as it is under appreciated. But this Riverside-San Bernardino counties area gives plenty of options for great golf, like the dastardly tough Redhawk Golf Club, which plays to a 149 slope rating.

The Inland Empire has all the golf, resorts and amenities of L.A. and Orange counties, but usually at a much lower price.

Best of Southern California activities

Best Beach: Venice.

The town was named after the Italian city that shares the name, and Venice Beach is about as eccentric as a Fellini film. The Venice Beach Gym is here, giving you an up-close look of the bodybuilders you've seen in countless TV shows and movies. Street performers and vendors combine with Venice's shops in one of Southern California's most artsy areas. And, of course, the beach and Pacific Ocean are there in all their glory.

Best Amusement Park: Six Flag's Magic Mountain.

While Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm both have their charms in Orange County, real thrill seekers head to Valencia for Magic Mountain's gourmet of ridiculously stomach-churning roller coasters and rides. Sixteen roller coasters, each with their own gravity-defying niche will greet you at the same park that Chevy Chase sucker-punched Wally the Moose in National Lampoon's "Vacation." For golfers, the TPC of Valencia awaits while the kids ride themselves to the brink of madness.

Best place for wildlife: San Diego Zoo.

If you're an animal lover, the San Diego Zoo is truly a can't-miss experience. Endless activities are promoted year-round at the park that contains 4,000 animals representing 800 species.

Best place to hobnob with the stars: Hollywood.

Whether you walk in the steps (and handprints) of old-time Hollywood at Grauman's Chinese Theater; head down Hollywood Blvd. to see your favorite stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; sneak into one of several museums dedicated to the film industry, the city of Hollywood is a surreal trip into the entertainment industry.

And there's always Universal Studios, a Hollywood-themed amusement park that bathes you in Tinseltown's glory, both ancient and recent - with amusement-park-styled rides to boot.

Best place to imitate the movie "Sideways": Santa Barbara.

Tours are always available of Santa Barbara's wine country that was made famous by the movie "Sideways." If wine isn't your thing, head to Freebirds World Burrito, where the typical burrito will easily take care of both lunch and dinner for a normal human. Either way, you'll be blown away by as scenic a city as Southern California has to offer.

Best hamburgers: In-N-Out.

Despite numerous locations throughout Southern California, In-N-Out hasn't been diluted and maintains its belt as the undisputed hamburger champion. And why not? The minimalist menu consists of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, double cheeseburgers, French fries and shakes, all made to order, when you order. Fresh, fantastic and decadent, the lines are always long at these drive-throughs, but the wait is always worth it.

Best place for the family to stay: Big Bear.

Not only one of the top ski areas in Southern California, Big Bear highlights what's best about this dazzling area - you can surf and ski the same day. The skiing is Big Bear's calling card - 430 acres of skiing area with more than 55 runs, 23 lifts and over 200 terrain features - but this rustic town is a gold mine for families with its laid back attitude and spectacular scenery.

Built around Big Bear Lake, water sports keep the sporty active during the summer, but when snow falls, Big Bear comes alive. But any time of year, a short trip to Big Bear (just a little more than two hours from Los Angeles) will take you to another world.

Best place for couples to stay: Palm Springs.

Movie stars and foreigners tend to flock to Palm Springs, and for good reason. It's high-class all the way, up to and including its golf courses, like Pete Dye's Mountain Course. Spas, resorts and shopping call out to couples in the city that has used the motto "P.S., I love you."

Still, Palm Springs' two biggest stereotypes are true: it's hot and expensive. But seasoned travelers still seem to be finding the deals in this desert oasis three hours from Los Angeles.

Fast fact

Southern California architect Ted Robinson has designed more than 170 courses all over the West, including several in the Palm Springs area 50 miles down the road from Fontana and San Bernardino; among his desert creations are Marriott's Desert Springs, one of the Tahquitz Creek courses and two courses at Indian Wells.

William K. WolfrumWilliam K. Wolfrum, Contributor

William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.

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