43 best California experiences to add to your fall bucket list
Well, it had to end sometime. And now that the summer of ’22 is slipping into memory — the long-delayed reunions and weddings, the hastily plotted road trips, the budget-busting splurges made necessary by rising hotel, flight, rental car and food costs — we need a next step.
That’s my cue to remind you that we can still explore. There are art museums to visit, gardens to roam, hot springs to soak in, farmers markets to stroll through. If we do it right, California travel in the weeks ahead will be not just cooler but cheaper and less crowded than in summer.
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Doesn’t a cooler, cheaper, less crowded California sound good about now? Here’s my list of fall favorites.
Avila Valley Barn
Badwater, Death Valley National Park
And Badwater Basin, a crusty old lake bed between forbidding mountains, isn’t just Death Valley’s low point. It’s the lowest, driest and often hottest point in North America, 282 feet below sea level.
It’s especially vivid and perplexing just after sunset when there’s a prominent moon — because how can there be a moon in the sky, when you seem to be standing on its surface already? The salty valley floor crunches underfoot. Also, don’t miss Zabriskie Point and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, both sunrise hot spots.
But be sure to do homework before you head out. Many park roads were still closed in late September after repeated flooding from powerful summer monsoons. (Scotty’s Castle, another longtime favorite, will be closed for repairs until at least April 2023.)
For an overnight room, try the Ranch at Death Valley. If you’re ready to splurge, the nearby Inn at Death Valley has 88 rooms and casitas and a spring-fed swimming pool that’s always 87 degrees.
But wait a minute. Consider that the zoo is less than 10% of Balboa Park, which covers 1,200 acres. The park also is home to about 20 museums and cultural organizations featuring fine art, photography, global folk art, natural history, science, flight and more, plus a new Comic-Con Museum. The Old Globe theater complex includes three venues. To feel the park’s full embrace — at no cost — stroll past the buskers along the Prado. Flop on the lawn at the big lily pond by the Botanical Building. The building’s interior is closed for repairs, but you can enjoy the koi in the pond and stroll up the Prado. Try lunch at the Prado restaurant.
Bell Street, Los Alamos
Bell Street, the town’s main drag, has an Old West feel, several stylish restaurants, a handful of tasting rooms and a few antique shops. Bell’s Restaurant, whose bistro fare won a Michelin star last year, offers a $90 prix fixe dinner menu, Thursdays through Mondays. (It was $75 until Sept. 1.) Bob’s Well Bread Bakery and Plenty on Bell are popular for breakfast and lunch; Full of Life Flatbread does big dinner business. The menu at Pico (that’s the building with the “GENERAL STORE” sign out front) includes chicken liver mousse and corn raviolini.
Need a beer and a bar game or two? Consider the Depot Bar.
You could stay at a trendy motel (Alamo Motel) or a Victorian bed-and-breakfast with six elaborately themed suites (Victorian Mansion). If you’re splurging, the Skyview Los Alamos may be the answer.
Also, several restaurants and bars in town rent cottages through Airbnb, including Bob’s Well Bread Bakery, Bodega Wine and Beer Garden and Pico.
This was a mainstream vacation destination 70 years ago, when the sea (created by an irrigation canal mishap in 1905) was healthier. Now it’s a grid of 32 square blocks with perhaps 300 residents. It has a single bar/restaurant, the Ski Inn (if you’re arriving after 8 p.m., it’s wise to call first at (760) 354-1285, because hours can vary). There’s also a market and more than 20 Airbnb units.
Only the adventurous will want to spend the night; it’s edgy. But Bombay Beach is loved by migrating birds, frugal retirees and a gaggle of artists. There’s even a Bombay Beach Biennale (which denotes the January-March spell when many part-time residents make art, stage events and build community). Don’t miss the plane standing on its nose at 1st and H (“Lodestar” by Randy Polumbo) or the painted televisions at 4th and H. Near sunset, cross the five-foot berm between the community and the seashore (5th and E) to behold the most dramatically sited sculptures and installations, baking and crumbling amid the miles of gritty sand, salty water and empty sky. Anyone intrigued by the rebel spirit and raw creativity at nearby Salvation Mountain and Slab City will be right at home at Bombay Beach.
Boonville and the Anderson Valley
On the way, you could stop at any number of wineries, including Roederer (sparkling wines), Goldeneye (pinot noir a specialty) and Navarro. You also could stop in Boonville at the Boonville General Store. Order the Point Reyes blue cheese salad.
For a further taste of fall, stay alert as you pass through Philo. The Philo Apple Farm includes a fruit stand and a set of stylish cottages. The lodgings aren’t cheap ($350 a night on weekends) but the setting is something special. The Apple Farm also does a Saturday supper series (five courses, local wine pairings), but they’re fully booked through year’s end. Maybe next year...
Borrego Springs Road
Breceda, a Southern California sheet-metal sculptor commissioned by local philanthropist Dennis Avery, has since 2008 placed about 130 rusty works in the flatlands around the hamlet of Borrego Springs. The collection includes bighorn sheep, horses, dinosaurs, a lonely Spanish padre, a scorpion the size of a Subaru and the artist’s magnum opus, a 350-foot-long Loch Ness Monster of the sand.
That serpent — actually a medley of five segments rising from the sand — lies along Borrego Springs Road, 2.3 miles north of Christmas Circle. Many other Breceda beasts are nearby. For a detailed map, stop by the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Assn. store near Christmas Circle. Before or after beast-hunting, lie low at Casa del Zorro, cruise along Palm Canyon Drive (Borrego Springs’ main drag) or get a cool beverage at Carlee’s.
You’ll be surrounded at all times by Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest, which encircles Borrego Springs.
Cable cars, San Francisco
The cable cars cover three routes: Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason and California Street. As a newbie, you want Powell-Hyde, beginning at Powell and Market streets (where there’s often a queue, along with buskers and panhandlers). Over hills and around corners you’ll ride to Fisherman’s Wharf. The brakes will squeal. Somebody over 50 will make a Rice-A-Roni joke. From the top, you’ll spy twisting Lombard Street and Coit Tower to the east, Alcatraz in the bay ahead.
On arrival, grab Irish coffee at the Buena Vista on Beach Street or venture into the tourist extravaganza that is Fisherman’s Wharf. Fare is $8 one-way in advance (which is a poor value) or $13 for a one-day Muni Visitor Passport through the MuniMobile app. That will give you a day of travel on cable cars, historic streetcars and other Muni and Muni Metro transit.
For a mellower ride with fewer tourists and great views down to the Bay Bridge, try the California Street line.
For the fuller story on how your thrill ride traces back to 1873 and a man named Andrew Hallidie, head to the Cable Car Museum (it’s free) in the old Washington-Mason powerhouse and car barn on Nob Hill.
The Carmel Mission, officially San Carlos Borromeo de Carmel Mission, includes a basilica, museums and a courtyard and is still home to an active parish. Check out a reconstruction of the cell where Serra is said to have died in 1784. The Spanish missionaries brought with them Christianity, literacy, Mediterranean architecture and a new economy, but at great cost. Many historians now focus on how native Californians were exploited and violently repressed throughout the system’s rise and fall under Spain, Mexico and then the U.S. Many of these Indigenous people are buried in the mission cemetery.
The first of the missions (founded 1769) still functions in San Diego; the last (1823) is part of a state historic park in Sonoma. The most-visited one might be Orange County’s Mission San Juan Capistrano, which has ruins, gardens and its own Amtrak stop. The prettiest might be Santa Barbara (big, pink façade). The kid-friendliest might be the one at La Purísima State Historic Park near Lompoc, which includes paddocks full of horses and livestock.
César E. Chávez National Monument
Chávez might be the most influential labor leader in California history. The national monument’s visitor center, part of a 187-acre compound managed by the Chávez Foundation, includes biographical videos, a re-creation of his office, a memorial garden and exhibits detailing the many causes he pursued. Admission is free.
For breakfast or lunch, try the Keene Cafe half a mile west of the monument on Woodford-Tehachapi Road. Or pause in Tehachapi, about 11 miles southeast of the monument, for a stroll and a snack at Kohnen’s Country Bakery.
Adult admission to the tower is $10 ($7 for S.F. locals) and for snacks there’s a Coit Tower Cafe a few steps away. For a good workout and an intriguing glimpse into many backyards, preface your visit by climbing the Filbert Steps, which start at Levi’s Plaza along the Embarcadero.
Crenshaw Farmers Market
Downtown City Park, Paso Robles
Just across Spring Street stands the landmark Paso Robles Inn, which dates to 1889. Several tasting rooms (and even more restaurants) are scattered between the 4.8-acre park and 15th Street to the north, including the longtime favorite BL Brasserie (formerly Bistro Laurent) on Pine Street.
The park hosts events throughout the year, including car shows, Pioneer Day (Oct. 8 in 2022) and tastings, often in connection with October harvest festivities. Make tasting reservations ahead (pandemic measures have reduced capacity and spontaneity).
Also, about six blocks north of the park, check out the Paso Market Walk food hall, which opened in 2020.
And don’t overlook the Natural History Museum of L.A. County, which has a special exhibition up now that’s a sort of comfort in time of drought: “L.A. Underwater” reminds us that Los Angeles was under water for 90 million years before it got to be the way it is now.
Also, if you’re an longtime local looking to rediscover the museum, don’t worry: Its African and North American diorama halls, many of them close to a century old, are still intact and popular.
Even by Los Angeles standards, the Getty Center in Brentwood is a young landmark (completed in 1997). But this 110-acre hilltop museum campus of bright, spare buildings is backed by a $9.2-billion endowment. And it gives us access to Van Gogh’s “Irises,” Cézanne’s “Still Life With Apples” and David Hockney’s “Pearblossom Highway” photocollage, along with thousands of other paintings and sculptures, a renowned photography collection, a boldly modern garden and a set of fairly spectacular views toward the Pacific.
Admission is free but parking is $20, and you must reserve a timed-entry spot. (It’s closed on Mondays.) Take the tram up the hill and head for the West Pavilion, which houses photography and Impressionists. Check out the cactus garden, which seems to float in the sky. And spare a few minutes to read up on the strange life of the notoriously tight-fisted oilman who endowed this place even though he left California in 1951 and never returned.
If antiquities are more your style, head instead to the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, which specializes in ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan art. It’s closed Tuesdays.
There are many more arts organizations close at hand, including the Music Center and Center Theatre Group — each unveiling fall seasons of their own —plus the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Colburn School (for performing arts). You could easily spend three days and nights exploring this territory.
And now there’s something else. Across the street from Disney Hall, a pair of mixed-used skyscrapers known as the Grand L.A. (also designed by Gehry, but more angular) have begun to open their apartments, retail, restaurants and a swanky hotel, the 28-story Conrad Los Angeles (now open, most rooms over $600 nightly). If the idea of parking in this ever-denser district alarms you (as it does me), take a Metro train to the Civic Center/Grand Park station at South Hill and West 1st streets.
Between jolts of culture, recharge at Grand Park, a 12-acre rectangle of grass and foliage (and a playground) that flows from Grand Avenue down Bunker Hill to Spring Street. There’s a fountain and Starbucks near the top, City Hall at the bottom.
Grand Central Market
If you told me I had one day to give a newcomer a first taste of Los Angeles, this would be lunch. (And we haven’t even talked about the Angels Flight Railway across Hill Street or the Bradbury Building across Broadway.)
Note that summer monsoons (which can persist into fall) have damaged and closed a few roads and the Cottonwood Campground. Be sure to check road and campground status before entering the park — and make advance campsite reservation whenever possible. Demand just keeps growing.
Outside the park, there’s a thriving art scene and a growing number of funky shops, restaurants and vacation rentals in the nearby communities of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms on Highway 62.
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
The cemetery hosts daily yoga classes, frequent sound baths, rock concerts and stand-up comedy (often in the Masonic Lodge next door), along with summertime film screenings (with partner Cinespia).
Those who repose here include Judy Garland, Mel Blanc, Cecil B. DeMille, Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone, Rudolph Valentino, Burt Reynolds, Chris Cornell and Valerie Harper. But it’s Johnny Ramone’s grave marker — a sculpture of the leather-jacketed guitarist leaning back and blasting a power chord — that you won’t forget. (The cemetery is still doing interments and cremations.)
Just across the street are the TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly known as Grauman’s); the Dolby Theatre (home to the Academy Awards and daily tours); and the Ovation Hollywood mall at Hollywood and Highland Avenue. Underfoot you’ll find stars along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Grownup explorers might want to start a quarter-mile east of the El Capitan by savoring a steak or cocktail in the atmospheric Musso & Frank Grill (open since 1919), followed by a show in the Art Deco splendor of the Pantages Theater. Take a moment to admire the cool neon sign of the Frolic Room next door.
For a deeper dive into stage and cinema history, step into Larry Edmunds Bookshop (which also stocks posters and scripts) across the street from Musso & Frank. And if you want to strike a blow against misery on the boulevard, local efforts include My Friend’s Place, which serves homeless youths, and the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic.
Depending on where you roam, the gardens evoke the desert, the jungle, China, Japan and a dozen other themes on 120 acres.
Indoors, the museum has put a new spin on its collection in recent years, including “Borderlands,” a permanent installation that includes more than 70 contemporary works; and Kehinde Wiley’s “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman” (2021), which complements Thomas Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy” (about 1770). The library’s displays include a 15th-century manuscript of Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” and a typed draft of Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” (1993). Weekend admission costs $29 for most adults, $13 for children ages 4-11.
If you’re selfie-hungry, you might also head to the nearby replica of the chain’s first tiny, red-and-white burger shack, open for photo ops 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Sunday at 13752 Francisquito Ave., Baldwin Park.
Harry and Esther Snyder founded the first In-N-Out burger shack in 1948, which put them among the first to try a drive-through restaurant. The company’s ties to car culture have remained strong through the decades, but fans say the burgers are what matter most. To taste what the fuss is all about, order a “double-double, animal-style” — a double cheeseburger with the works, basically — which has fueled the company’s growth to more than 300 outlets. (There are no In-N-Outs east of Texas.)
But times and ownership change. Now family-owned, the Integratron is mostly about sound baths, offered to private and public groups by appointment only. (Although the merch does well too.) A typical group bath includes up to 28 people, lasts an hour and starts with your host telling Van Tassel’s tale. Then the mallets come out, and the host taps at 20 quartz crystal “singing bowls” that can sound like church bells, elegant feedback or a planetary dial tone.
The Integratron offers group sound baths Thursday through Sunday at $50 per person (age 14 and older). Private sound baths are $1,300 and up.
By the way, no soap, water or disrobing is involved, but you do have to take off your shoes and turn off your phone.
June Lake Loop, Eastern Sierra
The loop’s 16 miles take you past June Lake (about 7,650 feet), Gull Lake, Silver Lake and Grant Lake, offering cottonwoods, willows, quaking aspens and their reflections. There are rustic lodgings and restaurants, including the cabins of 105-year-old Silver Lake Resort and Double Eagle Resort.
Snow typically closes much of the June Lake Loop, usually December through April.
Pro tip: You’ll find ideas, wit and helpful info for chasing fall colors statewide at CaliforniaFallColor.com.
The Last Bookstore
The Last Bookstore opened in 2005 as booksellers were faltering across the land, then expanded into this 22,000-square-foot space in 2011. The ground floor beckons with aisle after aisle of new and used books; used vinyl, CDs and DVDs; an annex for art and rare books; and a stage for readings and other performances. The 25-foot-tall white columns, circa 1915, suggest you may be sifting through the ruins of a lost civilization. The suspended artworks hint at acts of magic in progress.
And then there’s the upstairs mezzanine, including the Horror Vault and the Labyrinth, where used books sometimes are arranged by subject, sometimes arrayed sculpturally. Don’t miss the tunnel. Around the periphery, studio spaces harbor artists and artisans. If literature is dead, don’t tell this place’s 126,000 Instagram followers.
Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
You might spot an elusive bighorn sheep on the neighboring slopes. And you’ll see the model railroad. It’s not flora or fauna, but it’s epic, with more than 3,300 feet of track running through miniature historic scenes.
And if you can time your trip to catch the Thursday night Downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers Market, you won’t be sorry.
Manzanar National Historic Site
Drive the camp’s three-mile periphery, between Lone Pine and Independence, and pause at the cemetery, where a tall monument is etched with Japanese characters. There’s a visitor center, theater, museum and reconstructed barracks, where exhibits explain how families converted fruit crates into furniture and debated whether their mess hall should serve Japanese or American dishes. Don’t miss the 1988 news clip of President Reagan declaring the incarcerations “a mistake” and offering compensation for survivors of the camps.
At least 10 white Americans were convicted of spying for Japan in that era. But NPS research found that no person of Japanese ancestry living in the United States was ever convicted of any serious act of espionage or sabotage during the war.
The owner and chef, Ian McPhee, started cooking as a student on football scholarship to Cal Poly SLO, opened his first restaurant in Cambria and has played a role in helping the area’s wine industry grow from perhaps two dozen wineries to more than 200. McPhee’s is known for its pork chops, but on my last visit, in August, I started with the crabcake special (spectacular) and then attempted the ABC Burger — basically, a skyscraper made of beef, avocado, bacon and cheddar cheese. It was excellent, but too much for me to finish. McPhee’s portions are ample.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Outside the aquarium, this ultra-touristy neighborhood was once the gritty home and lab of Ed Ricketts, celebrated marine biologist and friend of John Steinbeck, who fictionalized him in “Cannery Row.” Ricketts also is the scientist/philosopher/hero of Steinbeck’s nonfictional “The Log From the Sea of Cortez.”
Rent a bike from Adventures by the Sea and pedal along Ocean View Boulevard toward Lovers Point and Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove. Or just drive to Lovers Point Park in Pacific Grove. This is the California of gnarled cypress trees, jutting rocks, hanging fog and irresistible otters. The 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach, perhaps this area’s most heavily promoted attraction since the 1880s, is nearby too.
Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum
As shown in dozens of exhibits on the 9-acre site, Nixon negotiated the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, created the Environmental Protection Agency and, in a 1972 visit, made a major diplomatic breakthrough with China. But operatives of his campaign were caught breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters (in the Watergate office complex), and then Nixon and top aides were caught trying to cover it up. His own secret tapes sealed his fate. He is the only U.S. president to resign.
Nixon and his wife, Pat, are buried here next to the modest home where Nixon was born, which is now part of the library grounds. She died in 1993; he died in 1994.
By the way: In 2018, the National Archives finished digitizing all 4,042 reels of Nixon’s infamous White House tapes. Whether you’re in the library or on a computer at home, you can now eavesdrop on the president as he makes phone calls, confers with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, considers dropping Spiro Agnew as his vice president and ponders relations with China and India.
You could start with City Lights, the bookshop, publisher and Beat Generation haven that has sold countless copies of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” (1956) and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “A Coney Island of the Mind” (1958), both poetry classics. (Ferlinghetti, the bookshop’s co-founder, died at 101 last year.) Drop into Vesuvio saloon next door, as Jack Kerouac often did. Admire the copper-green flatiron glory of the 1907 Sentinel Building (owned by Francis Ford Coppola’s family) at Columbus Avenue and Kearny Street — maybe the city’s most elegant building.
When hunger strikes, get a big, messy sandwich at Molinari Delicatessen (established 1896) and eat it on a bench in Washington Square. Or linger over coffee at Caffe Trieste (since 1956). Or dig into prizeworthy pies at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana on Stockton Street.
Columbus Avenue is North Beach’s main drag but many of the best discoveries await in the alleys and side streets, including Green Street, where Sodini’s, Sotto Mare and other eateries have outdoor dining.
Norton Simon Museum
Or, given this season, maybe you’d prefer the leaves and earthy colors of Georges Lacombe’s “Autumn: The Chestnut Gatherers.”
Don’t miss the sculpture garden, where the lilies are real. The plantings and reflecting pool were designed to echo France’s Giverny gardens, which inspired many of Claude Monet’s works. Adult admission: $15. It’s closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
If you’re hungry or need a souvenir, start with Olvera itself, which is a pedestrian alley of casual restaurants and curio vendors. The pandemic has closed at least one eatery and slowed demand for hats, masks, toys, plates, leather and little guitars. But restaurants El Paseo, Cielito Lindo and Luz del Dia are hanging in there, as is Olverita’s Village, which sells clothes, crafts, art and cookware.
For a more skeptical look at colonial history, climb the stairs (halfway down the west side of the street; limited hours) to see “América Tropical,” a David Siqueiros mural whitewashed by authorities, then later restored. (Yes, that’s a crucified Indigenous laborer in the center of the composition.)
There’s more history across Main Street in LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, which includes a two-story history and art museum. (Of Los Angeles’ 44 founders, the museum display notes, 26 had at least some African roots.)
Original Farmers Market
Of course you’re hungry. For all things French, try Monsieur Marcel Gourmet Market. For tacos, Trejo’s. For pie, Du-par’s (since 1938).
If you’re traveling with teens or you want a full-blown shopping excursion, you’ll also need to head next door to the Grove, whose burbling fountain, circling trolley and national-brand retailers exert a gravitational pull on buyers, browsers and hangers-out for miles in every direction. (Its dozen-plus restaurants and many movie screens don’t hurt either.) The Grove has more parking and foot traffic but the market has seniority.
Oxbow Public Market
The Oxbow Public Market, a short walk from downtown Napa, dates to 2007. It has about two dozen merchants and restaurants. They offer buffalo and duck tacos (C Casa), sushi (Eiko’s), American comfort food (Gott’s Roadside), local and shipped-in seafood (Hog Island Oyster Co.) and more. There’s a little bookshop, Napa Bookmine. The market is open 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, though individual shop hours can vary.
The market is about two blocks southeast of the start of the Napa Valley Wine Train and two blocks southwest of the CIA at Copia, which is not a spy shop but a dining-and-education venture of the Culinary Institute of America.
Pappy & Harriet's
The joint, about 15 miles west of Joshua Tree National Park’s west entrance, was built as a movie-set cantina in 1946 and has operated under its current name since 1982. Yes, there has been some controversy since the new owners arrived. But when I dropped by in early 2022, the scene still felt as genuine as a creosote bush.
Steaks are cooked on an outdoor grill, beer is served in Mason jars and all meal service (hearty portions) is first come, first served — so expect lines on weekends. There’s one stage outdoors, another indoors. Pappy’s is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Bonus tip: You’ll want time to nose around the rest of Pioneertown, all of which was built as a movie set. It’s edging its way back toward becoming a true Western town with a motel, saloon and twice-monthly drive-in theater.
So when you sit in one of the red folding chairs or flop on the artificial grass, you may be distracted by passing sailboats to your left. Or jutting skyscrapers to your right. Or the sun sinking into the harbor. A breeze comes off the water (which surrounds the venue on three sides). The Shell’s layout is flatter than the Hollywood Bowl’s and simpler. And everything is closer together. It opened in August 2020, hosting classical and pop shows. (One drawback: You can’t bring your own picnic in, as people usually can do at the Hollywood Bowl.)
And it’s not just a summer thing. Capitalizing on the region’s mild temperatures, the shell’s management has performances scheduled through Nov. 17, including an Oct. 30 Día de Los Muertos celebration featuring L.A.-based Mariachi Los Camperos.
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum
If you find yourself drawn to the museum’s big chunk of the Berlin Wall, you should probably read Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall” speech, delivered in Berlin on June 12, 1987.
Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa
Even if you don’t want a soak, you may want to explore the resort’s Secret Garden. This semi-rustic, kid-friendly, dog-friendly area, which includes a concession stand with beer, wine and snacks, is across a bridge from the main part of the resort. It’s also right next to the path of the Bob Jones Trail, a 3-mile-long walking and cycling route that follows San Luis Obispo Creek and ends at Avila State Beach. I had a tasty salad and wished I’d brought my bike.
By the way, if you’d rather combine your soaking with a cabin, tent or RV camping, nearby Avila Hot Springs is worth a look.
If you’re making a dash to San Diego or Santa Barbara, ditch your car and hop a train here. You’ll avoid hours of driving and see one of California’s coolest buildings in the bargain.
You could get lunch, snacks or a drink at Traxx or a taco to go at Cilantro, or repair to the south patio’s Homebound Brew Haus, a pseudo-Bavarian beer hall that’s frequently full of Dodgers fans.
Whether you eat or drink or not, be sure to gawk at the high ceiling, the grand arches and the stately chairs in the waiting area (reserved for those bearing tickets only, sorry). And the shops and eateries of Olvera Street are just outside, across Alameda Street.
Wilshire Boulevard’s museum row
The six-level museum occupies a former May Co. department store, and includes a domed theater designed by Renzo Piano. This year’s exhibitions include a history of Black cinema, the invention of the SteadiCam and the art of backdrops. Admission (by timed reservation) is $25 for adults. For another $15, you can hear your name announced onstage in the museum’s “Oscars Experience.”
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art next door is partially open while undergoing reconstruction. At no cost, you can walk beneath the “Levitated Mass” boulder and take a selfie at the “Urban Light” lampposts. LACMA’s new main building is to open in 2024. So is a Metro subway station a few steps away at Wilshire and Fairfax.
Bonus tip: That’s a full day of museum-going already. But a few steps farther east, you find the goo and bones of the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum. Across the street from the Academy Museum (beneath that odd exterior of irregular metal bands) is the Petersen Automotive Museum. Two blocks east, still on Wilshire, there’s Craft Contemporary, a museum dedicated to “the potential of craft.”
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