Southern California is a megapolitan region occupying the southern portion of the US state of California. The region is bordered to the east by the states of Nevada and Arizona, to the south by the international border of the United States and Mexico, and to the west by the Pacific Ocean. There is no official definition for the northern boundary of Southern California, but most include all the land south of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Tehachapi Mountains. Southern California also includes several offshore islands such as the Channel Islands, deserts such as the Mojave and Colorado, and the largest lake in California, the very salty Salton Sea. The largest metropolitan area is Los Angeles, the nation's second largest metro area. Other metro areas include San Diego, Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, and the lightly populated El Centro.
Southern California is a culturally diverse and well known area worldwide. Many tourists travel here for its fine year-round weather along the coast, open dramatic spaces, beaches, and numerous amusement parks. Southern California is a major economic center for the state of California and the United States.
Southern California (or SoCal as it is sometimes called) is known for its mild and pleasant weather, especially the winters. The region is dry and mild. However, there is a difference in climate between the coastal region and the inland region.
The coastal region, streching from about Santa Barbara in the north to San Diego in the south and averaging no more than 35 miles eastward from the Pacific Ocean, is generally touted as having the most pleasant weather in the USA -outside of Hawaii that is. In this long but narrow strip, summer daytime highs are mostly comfortable, but with variations. For example, during the month of July, Santa Monica averages daytime highs of 75(F) while Los Angeles averages daytime highs of 84(F). There may be occasional heat spells thrown in, but the summers are generally pleasant never-the-less. During the winter, daytime highs are usually in the mid-60s(F) for the entire coastal region, with occassional low 70s(F) temperatures thrown in. Year-round outdoor activities can be enjoyed day or night on the coastal region due to the mild climate that is dominated by Mediterranean-type weather.
The large inland section (which generally begins about 35 miles inland from the coast and stretches all the way eastward to the Arizona and Nevada borders) enjoys mild daytime winter temperatures, but the winter nights are chillier than the coastal region. Summer highs in the inland portion can be extremely hot. For example, during the month of July, daytime temperatures in Rancho Cucamonga average 91(F). For Palm Springs the average is 108(F). Summer nights are generally pleasant in much of the inland region.
Most rain and fog comes between mid-November through the end of March for Southern California, and sunshine is a stable throughout much of the year.
Southern California is composed of several counties:
There are four metropolitan areas located in Southern California: the Los Angeles-Long Beach metro, with over 12 million inhabitants; the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metro (also called the Inland Empire), with over 4 million inhabitants; the San Diego metro, with over 3 million inhabitants; and the El Centro metro area, with 174,000 inhabitants. In addition, the close proximity of the Los Angeles metro and the Inland Empire also means they are combined together to make up one metropolitan area called the Greater Los Angeles Area with over 17 million people. Southern California, with 25 million people, is the nation's third largest megalopolis, after the Great Lakes region with 54 million people, and the Northeast with 49 million people.
Although cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego are not high-density rate cities, many of the suburban cities in Southern California are high density.
Some of the major cities and areas of Southern California include:
Urban Landscape. Southern California consists of a very heavily developed urban environment, along with vast areas that have not been developed. Many Southern California suburban and satellite cities have dense populations, and the region is famous for its large, sprawling landscape and its dependence on automobiles. Public transportation is adequate enough in certain areas, but not as comprehensive as it should be for a region of this size. The areas of Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside-San Bernardino, each of which are the center of their respective metropolitan areas, are composed of numerous smaller cities and communities.
Natural Landscape. Southern California consists of geologic, topographic, and natural ecosystem landscapes in a diverse setting. The region spans from the Pacific Ocean islands (such as Santa Catalina and Santa Cruz among others), to beaches, and to desert, through the Peninsular Ranges with their peaks, and into small and large valleys, and wine country. Every year the area has about 10,000 earthquakes, but nearly all of them are so small that they are not felt. Only several hundred are greater than magnitude 3.0, and only about 15-20 are greater than magnitude 4.0.
Southern California is home to numerous attractions such as:
As it is an American region, English is the predominant language spoken in Southern California. However, Spanish is widely spoken by large Hispanic populations and it is not uncommon in Southern California to see store signs written in both English and Spanish. Chinese, Tagalog, Japanese, Hindi, Korean, and Vietnamese are also spoken by various immigrant groups.
Southern California has multiple commercial airports to utilize for flying into the region. Of course, the nearest airport should be used as the region is vast. If visiting the Los Angeles area, there are the airports of Los Angeles [LAX], Burbank [BUR], Orange County [SNA], and Long Beach [LGB]. The Los Angeles area itself is sprawling, so the nearest airport to your destination in and around L.A. should definitely be considered.
If your plans have you traveling to the Inland Empire, there are the airports of Ontario [ONT] and Palm Springs [PSP].
If the San Diego area is your destination, you have airports at San Diego [SAN] and Carlsbad [CLD].
As Southern California contains two major American cities, it's no surprise the US interstate highway system converges on the area, in addition to the many regional highways that are there as well. If driving is your thing, Interstate 5 runs a north-south route from the city of Seattle, Washington, through Los Angeles, and into San Diego. Interstate 10 runs east-west from Jacksonville, Florida to Los Angeles. And Interstate 15 can be taken from Salt Lake City, Utah, through Las Vegas and the Inland Empire, and terminating in San Diego.
Unless you are visiting for a short stay, and/or have a short trip between where you will be lodging and your destinations, then a car is going to be the best option for you when visiting Southern California. A car also allows you the ability to reach certain areas where public transportation may not travel, such as mountains, deserts, and even certain neighborhoods. Transportation in Southern California consists of buses, rail transit, and taxis. However, buses may run anywhere from every 30 minutes to every 90 minutes depending on the route. The more frequent service usually is found on routes near the downtowns of Los Angeles or San Diego during weekday rush hours. Service outside the core of these two cities is usually less frequent. Some routes may end service in the early evening or have no service whatsoever on weekends. The light rail lines of Los Angeles and San Diego have been growing over the years, but still are not expansive enough for the size of those metros. Taxis are required to be called to come and pick you up; they cannot be hailed off the street such as in New York City or Chicago.
An extensive, well laid-out network of freeways and highways are a trademark of Southern California. Freeways, particularly in the Los Angeles area, can get backed up with traffic anytime of the day, but they still are a better option than buses -that is unless your destination is a relatively short ride away, and multiple bus changes are not required.
Some public transportation in Southern California includes:
If using public transportation, just be sure to allow adequate travel time. Check travel schedules to ensure the bus routes you need will still be running upon your return as some routes end service in the early evenings. The local L.A. commuter train Metro, and its regional counterpart MetroLink  may connect you easier to any outreaching areas you need to reach in the L.A. metro area or Inland Empire. The Metrolink train system may come in handy when you need to get from one area to another, even with their limited schedule.
The San Diego Trolley is an option for light rail travel in the San Diego region.
The metropolitan regions of Southern California consist of many small cities that run into one another. It can be confusing while driving and you can get lost very easily if you do not have a map, even with detailed directions. A Thomas Guide, which contains detailed maps of all neighborhoods, is a useful tool if you plan on doing any driving in Southern California. This book can be found in local stores and bookstores.
Hitchhiking is not worth trying. Safety issues aside, metro areas in Southern California are large so it may be extremely hard to find someone going your way. And with traffic generally being so heavy, most drivers will not want to veer off their route to drop a hitchhiker off somewhere else. However, if you must hitchhick, then the best bets in the L.A. area are the 101 north of Ventura, and the 5 north of Santa Clarita -where you have escaped the sprawling cityscape and may find it easier to find somebody traveling your way. In the San Diego area, north of Escondido on the 15, and east of El Cajon on the 8 may be better options.
Southern California is home to many motion picture, television, and recorded music companies, primarily located in the L.A. area. It is also home to the world's largest adult entertainment industry, located mainly in the San Fernando Valley. Hollywood is the center of the motion picture and television industries, at least in name. Located in Southern California is The Walt Disney Company, Sony, Universal, and Warner Brothers all of which operate both movie studios and record companies. Paramount, MGM, Dreamworks, and 20th Century Fox are other major movie studios also located in Southern California.
SoCal is home to many sports franchises and sports networks. Professional teams that are located in the region include the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Galaxy, Chivas USA, and San Diego Chargers. Southern California also is home to a number of popular NCAA sports programs, such as the UCLA Bruins, the USC Trojans, and the San Diego State Aztecs.
Southern California is home to many movie studios that generally offer tours. Television production from the big four networks of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC is also a major industry in SoCal. These networks offer enjoyable tours where the public can see the sets of many popular shows or perhaps see a filming in progress.
Beaches are another staple of Southern California. Whether swimming or people watching, beaches are a great destination in SoCal.
Amusement parks are quite numerous in Southern California. There are several in the region such as Disneyland, California Adventure, Magic Mountain, SeaWorld, Knott's Berry Farm, and Lego Land.
If you feel like satisfying your cultural craving, there are several options. Southern California has several zoos such as the large and wonderfully highly-ranked San Diego Zoo. Other zoos include L.A. Zoo in Griffith Park, and the smaller Orange County Zoo in the city of Orange, the Santa Ana Zoo, and the Santa Barbara Zoo.
Griffith Observatory is a leader in public astronomy. The facility is located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood, providing an excellent view of Los Angeles. Shows are shown in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium at the facility.
The USS Midway is an aircraft carrier museum ship located in San Diego. The ship saw action in the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, and contains more than 60 exhibits.
The Getty Center in Los Angeles is a museum that specializes in pre-20th century European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts. The center sits atop a hill overlooking Los Angeles.
Most types of food can be found in the towns and cities of Southern Californian -especially popular are Mexican, Chinese, Soul, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indian, and Filipino.
Southern California is the birthplace of modern day American fast food such as McDonald's (now headquartered in the Chicago metropolitan area). One should not miss out on In-N-Out Burger, which has multiple locations throughout the SoCal region. The menu is pretty straightforward, but a "secret" menu allows you to customize by ordering "animal style" fries and burgers.
For a taste of California, you can visit a farmers’ market and rub shoulders with celebrity chefs and foodie insiders picking out the finest organic produce. You can also step into sleek restaurants serving innovative, ultra-fresh California cuisine. You can taste gelato made with locally-produced chocolate and toasted hazelnuts, or handmade cheeses from local farms. Drive down a tree-lined lane to wineries in grand chateaus, or relaxed, family-run vineyards where the guy pouring and chatting in the tasting room is a world-class winemaker.
The tourist areas of Los Angeles are generally quite safe, as well as many parts of Orange County and San Diego. Many residential neighborhoods in metro L.A. and the Inland Empire are generally safe. However, crime can also be high in certain parts of Southern California, particularly in, again, parts of the Los Angeles metro area and parts of the Inland Empire. The Los Angeles and Inland Empire areas both comprise a high proportion of gang members and activities, however, both these areas are large in geographical area, and therefore have both affluent as well as struggling neighborhoods.
Some tourists may suffer respiratory problems because of the major cities' air pollution. Drink plenty of fluids and reduce outdoor activities.
There are some animals of which you may want to be aware in Southern California.