Hikes, the universe and everything else

A city of dualities, La Cañada Flintridge is home to both NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the pastoral Descanso Gardens, boasting pristine natural beauty yet also at the cutting edge of technology. It's nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains yet only 15 miles from downtown Los Angeles, feeling like a small, rural town in the midst of a megalopolis. Residents love it for the mix of provincial and cosmopolitan -- it's the kind of place where you can get your ice cream from the local drive-through dairy or imported from Verona.

Smell the roses

Descanso Gardens (1418 Descanso Drive, [818] 949-4200, www.descansogardens.org) offers 160 acres of botanical attractions, including a camellia forest and an international rosarium. During summer, you can enjoy wine tastings and live Latin jazz on Thursday evenings or Pasadena POPS concerts on select weekends. Fitness, horticultural, art, and nature classes are also in full swing.

Prepare to launch

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, [818] 354-0112, www.jpl.nasa.gov), a NASA research and design center, opens its doors to the public for weekly tours, monthly lectures, and an annual open house in May. Learn about how scientists and engineers utilize robotic space technology to explore Earth, the solar system and beyond.

Take to the hills

Designated a "Trail Town USA" by the American Hiking Society, La Cañada Flintridge has numerous trail heads for humans and horses alike. The local Trails Council (lacanadaflintridgetrailscouncil.org) is a good resource for maps and information about popular hiking areas such as Cherry Canyon. A short drive up the Angeles Crest Highway, you'll also find trails at the Chilao Recreation Area ([626] 796-5541, www.fs.fed.us/r5/angeles/) and Mt. Waterman (www.mtwaterman.org), which is a ski destination in winter.

Local, global treats

Locals flock to Dish (734 Foothill Blvd., [818] 790-5355, www.dishbreakfastlunchanddinner.com) for hand-crafted American fare such as cornmeal jonnycakes at breakfast and grilled pork chops with spiced apple chutney at lunch and dinner. A few doors down, ChocolateBox Café (714 Foothill Blvd., [818] 790-7918, www.chocolateboxcafe.com) features artisanal chocolates shipped in from Belgium and organic gelato from Verona, Italy.

A place to unplug

Take a break from your daily digital frenzy with a dose of analog arts at spots like Foothill Records (1043 Foothill Blvd. [818] 952-1282, www.foothillrecords.com), which hawks vintage vinyl, or at Penelope's (1029 Foothill Blvd., [818] 790-4386, www.penelopescafe.com), a cozy cafe, bookstore and gallery that features the work of local artists and live music on the patio Fridays and Saturdays.

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