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(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: For certain carnivorous Californians, a visit to this burger chain is like church, but with more calories. At the flagship In-N-Out location just south of the 10 Freeway in the eastern L.A. County suburb of Baldwin Park, of course you can drive through, as most customers do. But you could eat inside, then browse a company store, then (on the north side of the freeway) admire a non-functioning replica of chain’s first burger shack.  

What: Harry and Esther Snyder founded the first In-N-Out burger shack in 1948, which puts them among the first to try a drive-through restaurant. Now their granddaughter runs the company.

To taste what the fuss is all about, order a “double-double, animal-style”  — two beef patties cooked with mustard, two slices of cheese and a choice of hand-leafed lettuce and tomato, plus pickles, extra spread and grilled onions.

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  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
The Museum of Neon Art in Glendale showcases the once wildly popular light form.
The Museum of Neon Art in Glendale showcases the once wildly popular light form. (Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Decorative and delightful, the works that light up our lives at Glendale’s Museum of Neon Art are part art and part science and all fascinating.

What: In 2015, the museum moved from downtown Los Angeles, where it had lived since 1981, to Glendale and has been lighting up lives ever since. 

Pep Boys grace the entry.
Pep Boys grace the entry. (Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

For this you can credit the founder of the feast,  Georges Claude, a Parisian who invented the neon light in about 1910.

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  • L.A. County
Wednesday morning, pluots and persimmons.
Wednesday morning, pluots and persimmons. (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Why: Some of the state’s most accomplished farmers rise before dawn on Wednesday mornings and drive as much as 200 miles, just so they can set up and sell at this market. One reason: The Santa Monica Farmers Market draws some of Southern California’s most decorated (and discriminating) chefs. And the market venue happens to be a tomato toss away from the beach, a cucumber roll from the scores of shops and restaurants along the Third Street Promenade.

What: About 75 farmers set up stalls along a few blocks of Arizona Avenue, which is closed to vehicles on market mornings. If you’re coming by car, you’ll have to cope with nasty traffic and parking, even at 8:30 a.m., but once you’re afoot, life is good. In late fall, you’ll likely find dates from Mecca, apples from Cuyama, persimmons from Fallbrook, pluots from Kingsbug, oranges from Ojai, mushrooms from La Habra Heights. Consider this a reminder that for all its glitz, California remains an agricultural powerhouse. And even if you’re not going to bite into that persimmon, you’ll feel the sea breeze and hear the banjo player at Arizona and 2nd, or maybe the guitarist a block to the east.

(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

The market was born in 1981, and the stampede of kitchen professionals began soon after. Noting that close relationship between growers and chefs, Saveur magazine in 2016 labeled this “L.A.’s best farmers market.”

  • Family-friendly
  • San Diego County
Aloft near Fairbanks Ranch.
Aloft near Fairbanks Ranch. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Here’s your chance to climb into a wicker basket and rise 3,000 feet above Fairbanks Ranch, to stand just below a fire-belching burner (which makes your balloon rise), to see sunset from high up, and maybe even to throw shade onto one of Bill Gates’s houses.

What: A balloon ride is a 19th century sort of thrill, and as California’s open spaces get filled in, ballooning options are decreasing. The Napa and Temecula vineyard areas still feature plenty of balloons (which usually launch in early morning, when winds are calmer and temperatures are lower). The Palm Springs and Santa Barbara wine country areas have some too. But balloons are a rare sight along the California coast, so I grabbed a chance to soar above northern San Diego County. Though balloon pilots strive to keep their aircraft above land, the views from on high include miles of ocean and the red tile roofs of countless Mediterranean-style mansions.

Rides typically last 45 to 60 minutes (depending on which way the wind blows), pilots are permitted by the Federal Aviation Administration, and it’s traditional to celebrate afterward with a glass of Champagne. In northern San Diego, it’s often a sunset operation flown by a team that started their day with a flight in Temecula. 

  • San Diego County
Terrace, the Med, La Valencia.
Terrace, the Med, La Valencia. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Life can be seriously sweet at this hotel, which was built in 1926 with a big La Jolla Cove view and anchors a neighborhood of ultra-spendy shops and glitzy galleries. Since the days when Gregory Peck hosted other La Jolla Playhouse luminaries in the hotel’s Whaling Bar, La V (as many locals know the place) has offered a frothy concoction known as a Whaler. Picture a milkshake, enlivened by Kahlua, brandy, coffee, whipped cream and various mystery ingredients.

What: The 114-room hotel has long been known for its pink paint job and Spanish Mediterranean style. In the course of ownership changes, expansions and renovations, the Whaling Bar has slipped away. But its frothy legacy remains. Grab one of the 15 or so tables on the terrace of the hotel’s signature restaurant, The Med, order a Whaler for dessert, and don’t plan on operating any heavy machinery for some hours. (If you think you see a Kardashian, it may not be a hallucination; members of the family have been dropping by for years.)

Where: 1132 Prospect St., La Jolla, 112 miles southeast of downtown L.A., 14 miles northwest of downtown San Diego. 

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  • L.A. County
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Maybe you’ve finished a hike through the Devil’s Punchbowl and you’re hungry. Or you’re looking for unexpected holiday gifts. Or you’ve been hit by a craving for deep-fried fair food and it’s not fair season. For all these reasons and more, seekers like you end up at Charlie Brown Farms near Palmdale, where all your snack/drunk food fantasies, and your dreams of owning life-size replicas of the “Blues Brothers,” collide and come true.

What: What started as a fruit stand in 1929 is now a six-acre hodgepodge of stores, a restaurant and a snack shop. The main building is a hokey cabin with advertisements for the various tchotchkes and snacks inside. From the road, it’s impossible to miss with signs that scream “collectibles,” “funnel cake,” “smoothies,” “jerky,” “Dole whip.” And just off the side of the building, an enclosed area with dinosaur statues. You may get whiplash trying to take it all in.

(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Once through the front door you experience sensory overload. Directly in front of you is a rack of jerky (the store boasts more than 60 kinds, including elk and ostrich).

  • Family-friendly
  • North Coast
(Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times)

Why: There are several kinds of elk in North America. The Roosevelt elk are the largest, and for years, a bunch of them have been hanging around in the meadow next to the old schoolhouse at the Elk Country RV Resort in Trinidad, which is in Humboldt County.

What: Millions of Roosevelt elk once roamed the Pacific Northwest. By 1907, fewer than 100,000 were left. Now the numbers are bigger. The lucky dozens who hang out near the RV resort seem to have a very good life. The resort, just off Highway 101, amounts to about 200 acres — tall trees, little lake, frequent fog, campsites for RVs and tents, a scenic red barn to go with the scenic red schoolhouse. Half a mile to the north is Stone Lagoon, part of Humboldt Lagoons State Park. Because temperatures along the coast are relatively mild, the elk don’t bother to migrate.

But when you show up to admire them, don’t get too close. Experts calls them “wild and unpredictable animals” for a reason: Sometimes they charge. In February and March, the males typically shed their antlers. In May and June, calves are born. From late August through mid-October comes rutting season, when wildness and unpredictability reaches a peak. And the males can weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

  • Family-friendly
  • San Diego County
Font's Point.
Font's Point. (Bill McIntire / Anza-Borrego Foundation)

Why: Perched at the end of the rising desert floor, Font's Point gives
onlookers a majestic view of California's badlands, several hundred
feet below. Though far flung, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is an expansive feast of nature well worth the time it takes to get there.

What: Font’s Point is part of a remote and sculptural landscape that was millions of years in the making. The vista’s ridge yields to a maze of sinuous channels, razorback ridges and sandy, sun-baked hills. Bring a chair, a picnic and perhaps some friends. The scene is best at sunrise and sunset when the rock formations glow with honey-dipped hues. Even better is a visit during a full moon. The accumulation of photographers at these times is a testament to the spectacle.

The brackish waters of the Colorado River and the Gulf of California
converged here long ago, making the area a dumping ground for
sediment. Today, the windswept and eroded rock is flush with the
fossils of animals and marine life that inhabited this once verdant
terrain.

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  • Orange County
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Newport Bay seems made of glitter. Rental boats are plentiful and the harbor is easy to navigate and full of nautical eye candy. Board an electric boat and take a breezy tour.

What: Newport Beach is the Beverly Hills of Orange County. The setting for multiple TV shows, it represents much of the California dream – giant homes and sensational yachts. The harbor, home to 9,000 vessels, is a recreational wonderland.

The Duffy, a popular brand of rental boats, is an excellent way to see it all. Available at a half dozen rental places around the harbor, the slow-moving vessels are as easy to operate as a golf cart.

(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)
  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Why: It's a vintage warehouse down by the port, full of artists, designers and makers, neighbored by a craft brewery. And you're not done with your holiday shopping yet. 

What: Crafted was born five years ago, as the "maker" movement began to bloom nationwide. It's open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and the first Thursday night of every month in the L.A. Port's Warehouse 10, built in the 1940s. When I stopped by in mid-September, there were about 50 vendors in place, hawking iPhone photo prints, snacks, sculptures, succulents, textiles, vintage reconditioned furniture, soap, you name it. Outside, the San Pedro Festival of the Artists was in full swing-- one of many special events that use picnic tables and patio space between the old warehouses.

Pop Kustom Shoppe, Crafted.
Pop Kustom Shoppe, Crafted. (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Since 2016, the artisans have been joined by Brouwerij West, a craft beer operation and tasting room that fills about half of Warehouse 9. On weekends, there's usually a food truck (or two or three) on hand, and often live music.