Sierra Madre still possesses the elements--warm sun, dry air--that early on made it a destination for health seekers. Founder Nathaniel Coburn Carter suffered from tuberculosis and claimed to have been cured after relocating in the 1870s from Lowell, Mass. When public unease about infectious diseases grew in the 1890s, Carter played up the citrus-producing capabilities of the foothill region. His intuition was spot on: The meager population more than doubled during the first 10 years of the last century. Modern-day Sierra Madre boasts a manageable 11,000 residents who are proud of the small-town flavor of their city. Where else in L.A. County can you find a central boulevard with no stoplights?
ONE THING TO DO
A Weekend in the Hoosegow
Spend the night in jail. What better place to contemplate the freedom of vacation than from behind bars? The JailHouse Inn, which until the ‘70s was the city’s slammer, costs $150 a night. Co-owner Noreen Berra was an interior designer before she became a prosecutor, and her handiwork makes the one-bedroom inn so comfy that any disgraced CEO would happily call it home. Amenities include bathrobes, a CD player, LCD TV and, for $5, a “breakfast subpoena” from neighboring Corfu restaurant. 55 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., (626) 355-1927.
Estimated millions of spring blossoms on Sierra Madre’s “Wistaria Vine,” planted in 1894
A Pirate’s Life for Me
The Buccaneer is the only full bar in town that doesn’t serve food, a distinction that makes its purpose clear: It’s where locals go to throw a few back in the company of others seeking liquid respite from toil and trouble. Bartender Tony Morrison says a notorious drinker named Frank Bowers paid off his bar tab in the ‘60s by creating seven oil paintings--depicting pirates and debauchery--that now grace the walls. 70 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., (626) 355-9045 . . . It’s not alone on the block, but The Only Place in Town Cafe is singular in its devotion to regulars. Manager Jessica Noboa says repeat diners eat the same things over and over. Steadfastness is a feat when the menu reads like a phonebook. 110 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., (626) 355-3502.
It’s Better With Butter
Butter is back at the Wildflour Baking Co., where shortening and margarine are taboo. Bread is baked European-style on a stone. Loaves weigh in at 1.5 pounds, cost $2.95 to $3.95 each and will have you screaming, “I can’t believe it’s butter!” 328 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., (626) 355-9000 . . . Support art education: pick up a singular creation--a watercolor, blown glass or ceramic bookends for as little as $28--at the Creative Arts Group. The nonprofit center was founded in 1960 by parents unhappy with the art curriculum in schools. 108 N. Baldwin Ave., (626) 355-8350.
Filmed on Location: Fans of the 1956 sci-fi flick “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” flock to the town square, where aliens in human form picked up alien-filled pods to put in bed next to their loved ones. Sierra Madre was invaded in 1998 by different life forms: the scary ‘80s hairdos and zipper pants featured in “The Wedding Singer,” starring Drew Barrymore, whose character, Julia, lived in the two-story Craftsman at 43 Sierra Place.