Clockers’ Corner at the Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.(Kathy M.Y. Pyon / Los Angeles Times)
Watching horses working out from Clockers’ Corner in Santa Anita.(Kathy M.Y. Pyon / Los Angeles Times)
Exterior view of the Langham Huntington hotel in Pasadena, Calif.(Kathy M.Y. Pyon / Los Angeles Times)
Horses train at in Santa Anita Park.(Kathy M.Y. Pyon / Los Angeles Times)
A horse runs like the wind.(Kathy M.Y. Pyon / Los Angeles Times)
Clockers’ Corner at sunset.(Kathy M.Y. Pyon / Los Angeles Times)
Lucky Baldwin’s Queen Anne Cottage is one of the historic structures that can be seen at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, which focuses on the region’s environment.(Rosemary McClure / Rosemary McClure)
I panic when out-of-state visitors descend during the holidays. How will I keep them busy? To quell my fears, I spent a weekend earlier this month testing an itinerary, which is how I ended up at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia early one morning as several million dollars’ worth of thoroughbred horses loped around the scenic track. My staycation began with Clockers’ Corner, a longtime Santa Anita tradition where you can have breakfast, mingle with jockeys and owners and watch some of America’s best horses work out. Next up was a pleasant stroll through the grounds of the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden and a holiday shopping spree at its great gift shop. The tab for my two-day trip was $365, including $259 (not including taxes and fees) for a night at the iconic Langham Huntington hotel in nearby Pasadena.
The Langham, which celebrated its 100th birthday last year, is a California landmark. The elegant hotel has 23 acres of manicured grounds, impressive holiday décor and fun Christmas traditions such as the Teddy Bear Tea, held specifically for kids. I also checked out the Chuan Spa, which underwent a major renovation during the summer and now offers treatments based on traditional Chinese medicine. I ran out of time to try it, but put it on my list for my next visit (1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena;  568-3900, www.langhamhotels.com).
Breakfast was at Clockers’ Corner, famous for its fast, inexpensive omelets, huevos rancheros and other morning fare, all of which are priced at less than $8. And beginning Saturday, free coffee for anyone who stops by. The nook is open while the horses are working out, 4:30 to 10 a.m. In keeping with my weekend racing theme, I also took a step back in time and visited the Derby Restaurant, where track memorabilia, traditional steakhouse décor and menu items with names such as Seabiscuit’s Favorite, give the dining room flavor. I arrived during happy hour (3 to 7 p.m. daily except Saturday) and scored several deals, such as the restaurant’s excellent Derby Cobb salad, a bargain at $10 instead of the usual $16. Dinner entrees range from $24 to $58. (233 E. Huntington Drive, Arcadia;  447-8173, www.thederbyarcadia.com).
Santa Anita, which begins its 63-day winter meet Dec. 26, is a California original. Set against the San Gabriel Mountains, the track’s Art Deco facade and iconic, 80-foot Washingtonia palms are known throughout the racing world. Visitors can get a taste for free at Clockers’ Corner, where you may be as lucky as I was and run into racing giant Bob Baffert, trainer of American Pharoah, which won the Triple Crown earlier this year. “Why do you like working with horses?” I asked the amiable Santa Anita regular. “Because they try hard and they don’t talk back,” Baffert answered. Clockers’ Corner is dog-friendly and open year-round, with most of the action between 7 and 10 a.m. Visitors can take the family-friendly Seabiscuit Tour, also free, which visits the stables, barn, paddock gardens, jockeys room and carriage horses housed under the grandstands. There are tram tours at 8:30 and 9:45 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday during the track’s racing seasons. Admission to the track for races is $5 general, $10 clubhouse. (285 W. Huntington Drive, Arcadia;  574-7223,  574-6677 for Seabiscuit Tour, www.santaanita.com).
The 127-acre Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden is just across the street from Santa Anita and offers a chance to stroll among plants, natural landscapes, wildlife — peacocks are plentiful — and historic buildings. A journey through the gardens is a great place to discover plants and trees from all over the world. The gift shop is a favorite stop here, especially during the holiday season. The Arboretum is open daily except Christmas Day; admission is $9 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, $4 for children 5 to 12. (The Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia;  821-3222, www.arboretum.org).
MORE WEEKEND ESCAPES