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  • Family-friendly
  • Deserts
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: The desert is hot. You are thirsty. And you have a sweet tooth.

What: Indio's Shields Date Garden has been growing dates and making shakes since Floyd and Bess Shields showed up in 1924. Park near the vast orchard of swaying palms, order your shake at the fountain or the cafe, and don't miss the slide show on the "romance and sex life of the date," narrated by the late Floyd Shields himself.

(If Indio is too far out of your way, the date shakes at Hadley's in Morongo, right on your way between Palm Springs and Los Angeles, are tasty too. But be warned that Hadley's has relocated from its quaint old headquarters to a neighboring modern building with far less character.)

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  • L.A. County
The Arroyo Seco Parkway in 1940.
The Arroyo Seco Parkway in 1940. (Los Angeles Times file photo)

Why: To see where freeways in the western U.S. were born, and how far they’ve come.

What: Covering a little more than eight miles between downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena, the Arroyo Seco Parkway -- a.k.a. the Pasadena Freeway, a.k.a. State Route 110 -- was the first freeway in the western U.S.  It was completed in 1940, then extended here and there to join up with other, newer freeways.

If you have never driven it, brace yourself for short on-ramps, stop signs on off-ramps; narrow lanes; ever-so-slightly-banked turns; and scant shoulders. Ten minutes on this freeway is guaranteed to deepen your appreciation for every one that's been built since.

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  • Orange County
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Why: This might be the most-visited of California's missions, and it's surely among the most scenic, with ruins and gardens. It even has a handy Amtrak station.

What: About the time George Washington and his East Coast friends were declaring independence from the British, Franciscan missionaries Junípero Serra (now St. Junípero) and Fermín Lasuén were founding and refounding this mission on behalf of the Catholic Church and Spain. Since then it has been assaulted by earthquakes (including a rough one in 1812), adopted by migrating swallows (which inspired a pop song in the 1940s, but they don't come around as much anymore) and embraced by tourists.

The historic structures and gardens make an easy day trip by train from San Diego, Santa Barbara or any place in between. And the adjacent Los Rios District ("oldest neighborhood in California") includes the Zoomars Petting Zoo and the Ramos House Cafe, which does weekend brunches on its sun-dappled patio.

  • Family-friendly
  • Deserts
Ricardo Breceda's work near Borrego Springs
Ricardo Breceda's work near Borrego Springs (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Per capita, this must be California's metal beast capital

What: Sleepy little Borrego Springs and the surrounding Anza Borrego desert back country of San Diego County will never match the high modernist style of Palm Springs. But Palm Springs will never match Borrego's beasts.

Dinosaurs. Dragons. Mammoths, sloths and horses. A scorpion and grasshopper, staring each other down like gunfighters on Main Street. About 150 are scattered around the town, many of them visible from Borrego Springs Road, all made of metal by sculptor Ricardo Breceda.

  • Family-friendly
  • Deserts
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: These rocks are stars.

What: Joshua Tree National Park is famed for its namesake succulents, which raise their arms like beseeching biblical figures. But its granite is just as special. The park's Hidden Valley and Wonderland of Rocks draw climbers, boulderers, desert campers and geology geeks from all over. (This is where the Mojave and Colorado deserts collide.) Prime stargazing, too.   

Where: Joshua Tree National Park, San Bernardino County, 132 miles east of downtown L.A.

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  • Deserts
Pappy & Harriet's, Pioneertown.
Pappy & Harriet's, Pioneertown. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: This is a watering hotel that feels as though it sprouted straight from the hot, dry desert sand.

What: Pappy and Harriet don't live here anymore. But there's no desert roadhouse that can beat Pappy & Harriet's in Pioneertown for true grit and live music. (Also lunch and dinner.) The joint, north of Yucca Valley, was built as a movie-set cantina in 1946 and has operated under its current name since 1982, but it feels at least as old as Willie Nelson's wrinkles.

It usually has bands (without cover charge) Thursday through Sunday nights -- usually local performers, sometimes national ones, and for one night in October 2016, Paul McCartney. All meat and fish is cooked on an outdoor mesquite grill. It's usually closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

  • Family-friendly
  • Deserts
Palm Canyon, near Palm Springs.
Palm Canyon, near Palm Springs. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Most of California's palm trees are imported species. On this hike, you see the real thing.

What: Palm Canyon, one of several Coachella Valley canyons owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and open to admission-paying hikers, is a desert classic. You quickly descend into a shady, boulder-strewn fold in the desert hills where the dominant life form is Washingtonia filifera (the California fan palm).

The canyon is about 15 miles long, but the main Palm Canyon Trail is a 3-mile loop. First It takes you up the canyon along the creek bed. Then it takes you back on a high ridge, with wide, dry views. The hike takes about 90 minutes.

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  • High Sierra
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Mammoth Mountain is the closest alps to L.A., a jagged Alpine wonderland with incredible views, challenging bowls and chutes, but so spread out that less-skilled skiers will think they landed in paradise as well.

What: Some of the most challenging terrain in the nation can be found off of the Gondola, all double-black diamonds, is some of the most challenging in the nation. For intermediate skiers and boarders, Road Runner offers a creamy three-mile ride all the way back to Main Lodge, the resort’s vortex.  What to watch for? Views of the Minaret Range, jutting like steeples in the distance. Afterwards, grab some grub at Petra's, a local favorite. But make reservations. Also, check out the burgers and ribs at Burgers Restaurant, one of the best values in town.

Where: Mammoth Lakes, Calif.,320 miles north of downtown L.A., in Mono County.

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  • San Diego County
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Because California was selling fantasies long before Hollywood got started

What: Old Town San Diego, one of the busiest state parks in California, was the heart of the city when Mexico ruled California from the 1820s through the 1840s. Now the park and neighboring streets are home to folkloric dancers, costumed docents, rebuilt landmarks, stylish shops, galleries, restaurants, bars, a boutique hotel -- far more commercial vitality than is found in your typical state historic park. Drink it all in (including one of those enormous margaritas at the courtyard restaurant Casa de Reyes, if you dare).

And don't miss the Casa de Estudillo. This adobe built in 1827 has been restored as a landmark. But it' has a second story, too: For decades, beginning in the 1880s, local promoters billed the house as "Ramona's Marriage Place," capitalizing on the title character's epic wedding in Helen Hunt Jackson's 1884 novel "Ramona."

  • Deserts
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Why: It's a one-stop lesson in desert living, midcentury design and the rise and fall of TV Guide.

What: Sunnylands -- sleek, private and vast -- was the Rancho Mirage winter playground of Walter and Leonore Annenberg, whose wealth came from TV Guide, the Philadelphia Inquirer and many other publications. They were philanthropists and socialites on a global scale. Walter served as an ambassador for Richard Nixon, and Leonore oversaw protocol for Ronald Reagan. Hoping to create a Camp David West, they commissioned architect A. Quincy Jones and built the estate on 200 acres in the Coachella Valley in 1966.

In 2012, after their deaths, the Annenberg Foundation opened parts of Sunnylands to public visits.