If you're having trouble appreciating the changing of the seasons or are desperate to escape Carmageddon II — the closing of the San Diego 405 Freeway during the last weekend in September — then it's time to swap L.A.'s urban clutter for the Central Coast's fall splendor. October is also a great month to play hooky and experience this region's magic — summer crowds have dissipated, temps remain in the mid-70s, weather patterns create endless sunny days and event organizers arrange just as many entertaining festivals. From Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo, here are our top picks for harvest season getaways.
Closest to Los Angeles, at just 1.5 hours north in Ventura County, Ojai (www.ojaivisitors.com) is the perfect autumn escape for those not interested in commuting too far. Plus the town boasts a fall season chock-full of entertainment.
The 29th Annual Ojai Studio Artists Tour from Oct. 13 to 14 is probably the most renowned town event, featuring more than 50 artists working in studios across the valley plus surprise musical guests and a gala dessert reception.
The 13th Annual Taste of Ojai takes place on Oct. 27 at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa and features a wide variety of gourmet culinary and wine delights plus live music, and all proceeds go to local charities. Tickets are $65 per person.
The Ojai Film Festival (Oct. 25 to 28), also in its 13th year, includes opportunities to network with filmmakers, directors and production staff at movie screenings, panels, workshops and parties within walking distance of downtown Ojai. New this year is a comprehensive environmental film forum spotlighting movies addressing important eco topics like agriculture and sustainability.
Continue another 50 minutes north and you'll hit the epitome of SoCal beach perfection and eco-friendliness in Santa Barbara, the region's picture-perfect escape for those L.A. blues.
"We invite Los Angeles area residents and visitors to use this freeway closure as a chance to think outside the car. You can take the train to Santa Barbara and avoid Carmageddon entirely or plan a car-free vacation in town," said Santa Barbara Car Free Project manager Mary Byrd.
Led by the county's air pollution control district, the award-winning eco project allows visitors to save 20% on Amtrak Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquin rail services, and up to half-off at select hotels, restaurants and attractions when they agree to not travel by car.
Carmageddon II weekend-specific savings include $20 off per rider on wine country biking tours by Bike Santa Barbara and a 15% discount on room rates at Hotel Oceana. Additionally, admission will be free at more than 10 area museums on Sept. 29. Visit www.santabarbaracarfree.org for details on special events during Carmageddon II — including the SOL Food Festival's celebration of local organic produce.
Spend the night at the Orchid Inn at Santa Barbara (www.orchidinnsb.com/specialextras) which includes a chilled bottle of champagne and a dozen red roses in your room upon arrival, plus a 60-minute Swedish or deep tissue couples massage. It is pretty hard to beat. Horseback riding on the beach can also be arranged — nothing spells love like riding through the surf on the back of a sturdy steed.
Santa Ynez Valley
Just two hours north of Los Angeles in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country, Los Alamos is hosting the 66th annual Old Days Celebration (www.losalamosvalley.org) Sept. 28 to 30. The historic Old West town's family-oriented festival begins with a Friday night chili cook-off and continues Saturday and Sunday with a parade, vintage car show, Civil War camp, dance and live music, plus the usual craft and food vendors.
Buellton, another Santa Ynez Valley wine town, is also packed during harvest season. Don't miss the Celebration of the Harvest at Rancho Sisquoc in Northern Santa Barbara County on Oct. 13 (www.sbcountywines.com). Here you'll find more than 100 vintners showcasing individual wines in a country setting, paired with top local gourmet fair and live music. On Oct. 27, the town presents the inaugural Buellton Bruegala (www.bruegalabuellton.com), which features German-style brews from local, regional and international craft breweries in the town's River Park.
Wine and food enthusiasts will also want to head a bit further up the coast to San Luis Obispo County and Pismo Beach's Savor the Central Coast festival (www.savorcentralcoast.com). Also taking place over Carmageddon II weekend, the four-day epicurean adventure runs from Sept. 27 to 30 and is held at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch. It offers the chance to meet celebrity chefs Aarti Sequeira and Ted Allen, taste more than 200 wines, indulge in locally inspired small bites, and experience everything from cooking demonstrations to guided outdoor adventures, farm excursions and tasting dinners by Sunset Magazine's editorial team — including the weekend's highly anticipated Sept. 28 event, the Sunset International Wine Competition Grand Tasting Dinner hosted by the magazine's wine editor, Sara Schneider, and editor-in-chief, Kitty Morgan.
While in the area, you can also get a true taste of autumn's harvest flair while driving down Cambria's Main Street. The artsy seaside town puts on quite a unique display throughout October, when more than 200 creatively dressed straw figures line the main drag in the monthlong celebration known as the Cambria Scarecrow Festival (www.cambriascarecrows.com). Most of the scarecrows are made by local businesses and represent either the products they sell or a self-portrait of the owners — expect to see portrayals of everyone from local dentists to singing nuns.
Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and Spa
Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and Spa rests atop hot mineral springs and spans more than 100 acres of oceanside hills and meadows in picturesque San Luis Obispo, voted happiest place in the nation and conveniently located halfway between L.A. and San Francisco.
An authentic California resort where every room features a private balcony hot tub, this resort offers an award winning spa, the Gardens of Avila Restaurant, a labyrinth, mineral springs hot tubs, hiking trails and daily mind and body classes in the Yoga Dome.
Escape to this historic resort voted best spa and weekend getaway on the Central Coast. Experience rustic elegance in a serene and relaxing environment surrounded by the best California has to offer. For more information, go to www.sycamoresprings.com.
Cambria has something to crow about! For the entire month of October a diverse and eclectic group of over 200 scarecrows will line the streets of this seaside community that Forbes named "One of America's Prettiest Towns" in 2010. Cambria's scarecrows start to look like real nuns singing or tandem surfers ready to hit the waves.
October is Cambria's sunniest and the most magical month … the perfect time to stroll on the boardwalk, explore the many trails, wander through unique shops and galleries, check out the scarecrows and sample some of the Central Coast's best food and wines. Come celebrate the Scarecrows and stay for the Harvest Festival Oct. 12 to 14 at the Cambria Historical Museum.
For more information, go to www.cambriascarecrows.com.