Why going back to a place you’ve gone before is good

Sometimes the best vacation is a repeat vacation. I ought to know. I’m in Los Angeles again after just a nine-month absence. There’s something that keeps pulling me back here, and it’s not just the weather.

No one knows how many people take repeat vacations. But based on my experience as both a traveler and someone who writes about travel, I’d say everyone does it. There’s comfort in returning to a place you know. And California is the place I return to the most often because it has almost everything.

So what makes you come back again and again? It’s a combination of things, including the ability to make you feel at home, plenty of things to do, and a place that is special to you. I’ll explain.

There’s something about this place

The  International Banana Museum in Mecca, California.

A returnable destination draws you to it. That’s how I feel about Palm Springs, California. Whether I’m exploring Joshua Tree National Park or taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway into Mount San Jacinto State Park, or just seeing the wacky International Banana Museum – Palm Springs has an irresistible appeal. 

Oh, and there’s the weather. Ridiculously hot during the summer, yes, but during the late fall and winter, while the rest of the country is under a blanket of snow, Palm Springs is perfect.

If I asked my oldest son why he likes Palm Springs, he’d probably tell me it’s Chef Tanya’s Kitchen, the famous vegan restaurant. OK, but that’s just another reason to go. One of many.

How does Palm Springs draw you in? That’s a hard question to answer. For me, I think it’s something about the mountains, the desert, the climate, and the attractions. It makes you feel like no other place in California.

Christopher Elliott harvests grapefruit in Studio City, California in January.

But other places can have the same charm. I have fond memories of walking through my neighborhood in Studio City, picking the ripening grapefruit from the trees in the middle of the winter. That’s a memory that stays with you long after your trip is over. By the way, if the fruit hangs over the property line, it’s fair game.

You feel right at home

Sunsets at Carmel Beach are a thing of beauty.

If you want a spot on my list of repeat destinations, make me feel at home. Carmel, the seaside resort in Northern California, does that. It’s small and not that easy to reach, which means it’s unlikely to turn into Disneyland anytime soon. Everyone seems to know everyone in Carmel, so after just a few days, the shopkeepers started to recognize us and greet us warmly.

Carmel is perched on the side of a hill and Carmel Beach at sunset is a thing of incomparable beauty. The setting sun reflects off the ocean waves, turning the shore orange and pink.

You walk through town down to the beach, and then back up to your hotel. All the visitors participate in this ritual evening stroll. The setting sun turns the sand orange and pink and then reflects on the ocean waves.

Carmel is also an easy drive to some of the other marquee Northern California attractions, such as the Monterey Aquarium and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. That fulfills your seemingly impossible need to be close but also secluded.

The view from our room at the Ocean View Lodge in Carmel, California.

We developed a comfortable routine of taking a morning walk down to the beach and buying a loaf of Watsonville Sourdough from Sumano’s Bakery, and we never wanted to leave. 

Nearby Monterey also has a “gotta-come-back” appeal. My kids and I had the same morning routine when we stayed at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa a few years ago. Walk along Cannery Row, watch the sea otters in the bay, hang out. The place just felt like home.

Repeat vacations offer something special

The Anacapa Island Lighthouse in Channel Islands National Park. So near, yet so far.

I’ve found myself in Southern California several times in the past few years. Last October, I spent a week in Ventura. This fall, I stayed in West Hollywood. My family and I keep gravitating toward the same places, though. 

One of our favorites: Channel Island National Park, just off the coast of Ventura. There you can find a part of forgotten California, including the remnants of a sheep farm, an old lighthouse, and plenty of marine life. It is truly special and well worth the two-hour boat ride.

Southern California offers an abundance of one-of-a-kind attractions. Another favorite is the Getty Museum. Even if you don’t like art, go (it’s free) and enjoy the view of Los Angeles. By the way, if you can plan ahead, check out the Getty Villa near Topanga Beach, which houses even more art exhibits. Reservations are required.

If you want to start an argument in my home, tell everyone you’re going back to California, but you’re not sure where. I just made that mistake. My oldest son, Aren, made a strong argument for Northern California – Carmel, Monterey, or maybe Berkeley? My daughter nixed that idea. She’s more of an L.A. girl, but couldn’t decide between Studio City, Hollywood or the dark horse, San Diego. She has two uncles in San Diego, so was leaning in that direction. My middle child joined the argument, and then it became all about the food.

But did I have to persuade them to come back to California? I did not.

If you’re thinking about a repeat vacation, maybe you should try my family’s litmus test. If the place is special, welcoming and offers something unique, you might enjoy a repeat.

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