Funky, tacky, gaudy, retro — whatever you want to call it, kitsch is never dull. We’ve mapped out some of California’s most beloved, kitschy treasures — pink convertible not included.
Something of an insider’s secret, Bob Hope Airport (BUR) is infinitely more convenient to destinations in the San Fernando Valley and points north of the city than LAX. Plus, the low-slung, single-terminal building — with its Bob Hope memorabilia and well-worn decor — is itself quintessential California kitsch.
Info: Jet Blue offers direct flights from JFK and rental cars are available on site; burbankairport.com
As far as kitsch goes, few landmarks are more iconic than this Bob’s Big Boy, the oldest surviving location of a restaurant chain that has all but vanished. Built in 1949, this colorful, asymmetrical structure is a State Point of Historical Interest. On Friday nights, classic cars troll the parking lot.
Info: 4211 W. Riverside Dr., Burbank, 818-843-9334; bobs.net
• North Hollywood
Named after the actress who most famously played Fred MacMurray’s wife on “My Three Sons,” Beverly Garland Holiday Inn has an old-Hollywood vibe: reception is housed in a pagoda-like structure and gilded initials “BG” adorn the poolside fireplace. Silk kimono robe and chilled martini not included.
Info: Rates from $140. 4222 Vineland Ave., 800-980-8000; beverlygarland.com
• Universal City
With its towering King Kong and retro-styled neon, Universal CityWalk is contemporary kitsch. A mix of retail, restaurants and nightlife, the outdoor mall is best explored after dark. (Note that while entrance is free, parking can get pricey; Beverly Garland Holiday Inn offers a free shuttle for guests.)
Info: 100 Universal City Plaza; citywalkhollywood.com
It’s almost sacrilege to make the drive between southern and northern California without a meal at Pea Soup Andersen’s. Of course, you have to get the soup — and maybe a souvenir for the folks back home. The restaurant’s goofy chef mascots, Hap-pea and Pea-Wee, were created by Disney-trained animator Milt Neil in the 1940s.
Info: 376 Avenue of the Flags, 805-688-5581; peasoupandersens.net
With its cobblestone streets, Old World architecture and wooden windmills, this quaint town, also known as the Danish capital of the U.S., could have been transplanted from Denmark — or plucked from a Hollywood set.
Info: 4 mi. east of US 101 on Hwy 246; solvangusa.com
• San Luis Obispo
There’s no mistaking one room for another in the gloriously overwrought Madonna Inn. All 110 guest rooms are uniquely named and decorated, featuring elements such as rock walls, waterfall showers and lots of gold accents. So 1950s! Top it off with dinner at the Gold Rush Steakhouse and a slice of one of the Inn’s decadent cakes — pink Champagne cake, anyone?
Info: Rates from $179. 100 Madonna Rd., 800-543-9666; madonnainn.com
This sleepy, rural town is proud of its agricultural crop, the artichoke. Signs over Castroville’s main drag, Merritt Street, read “The Artichoke Center of the World.” And the world’s largest artichoke sculpture (20 feet tall), commissioned by a resident in 1963, stands ready for photo ops outside the Giant Artichoke Restaurant, which serves (what else?) artichokes half a dozen ways.
Info: 11261 Merritt St., 831-633-3501; no website
Fun fact: Castroville crowns an Artichoke Queen at its annual Artichoke Festival (May). The first, crowned in 1948, was none other than Norma Jean, aka Marilyn Monroe.
• San Jose
If one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, then the San Jose Flea Market — which just celebrated its 50th anniversary — is a treasure trove.More than 1,500 sellers turn out on weekends. (The market is open Wednesdays and Friday-Sunday). Score a piece of authentic California kitsch for home and indulge in some first-rate tacos, too.
Info: 1590 Berryessa Rd., 408-453-1110; sjfm.com
• San Francisco
The Phoenix Hotel is a mid-century motor lodge that’s been given a modern update — but not enough of a makeover to cover up its funky soul. Nicknamed the “rock and roll hotel” for its roster of famous guests, including everyone from David Bowie to Interpol, the property has a vintage Palm Springs sort of vibe.
Info: Rates from $119. 601 Eddy St., 415-776-1380; jdvhotels.com
SIDEBAR: GETTING BACK
Interstate 5, which is a direct shot through the center of the state, will have you back in the San Fernando Valley in less than six hours. But if time allows, don’t pass up the opportunity to take scenic U.S. 1 (also known as Pacific Coast Highway) from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.