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3D paper fall leaves piled around the words The Fall List
(Reina Takahashi / For The Times)

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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Stay up to date on the best things to do, see and eat in L.A.

Doesn’t a cooler, cheaper, less crowded California sound good about now? Here’s my list of fall favorites.

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Avila Valley Barn, San Luis Obispo County.
(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Avila Valley Barn

Kids seem to enjoy Avila Valley Barn — not only human children but also baby goats. This rural roadside stop between San Luis Obispo and Avila Beach offers young and old a chance to feed said goats (romaine lettuce, $3 a head), eat ice cream and taffy (preferably not together), buy a cob of freshly roasted corn for $5, stock up on salsa or pick some raspberries, apples or tomatoes. You might also buy a pie or admire the ostrich, ponies and chickens in pens and coops around the farmstand area. (Also, poultry people, this is your chance to see up close the difference between a Polish Crested, a Blue Silkie and a Mottled Cochin.) Harvest season is a great time to stop by. The farmstand is open daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tractor rides ($5 per rider) happen all day, every day. Pony rides are offered Fridays through Sundays. The Smoke House and Chicken Shack serve meals.
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People walk on a wide, sandy path at Badwater, Death Valley National Park.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Badwater, Death Valley National Park

Inyo County Attraction
Death Valley National Park’s low point is also a highlight.

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.
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El Prado and the Lily Pond in Balboa Park
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Balboa Park

San Diego County Park
Most Balboa Park newbies start with the San Diego Zoo, which is, let’s face it, the park’s 800-pound gorilla. It houses 3,700 animals on 100 acres and its fame is global for good reason. New in ’22 is the zoo’s Wildlife Explorers Basecamp, a 3.2-acre kid-focused interactive space where the old petting zoo used to be. Zoo admission is $67 for an adult, $57 for kids 3-11.

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.
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"Beer Emporium" signage with many beer selections
(George Rose / Getty Images)

Bell Street, Los Alamos

Santa Barbara County Shopping
This tiny town between Buellton and Santa Maria gets less press than the rest of Santa Barbara County’s wine country. But Los Alamos (population 1,600) has an unpretentious, serious-about-food vibe and just enough going on to fill a pastoral weekend. (Much of the town is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.)

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.
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Art installation of several TVs
(Madeleine Hordinski / Los Angeles Times)

Bombay Beach

Imperial County Attraction
Stop worrying about the end of the world and come see what it might look like. When you spend a sunset on Bombay Beach, Armageddon seems to have arrived already, leaving a ghostly collection of newly minted art, weather-beaten ruins and lived-in trailers, tidy and otherwise. It’s Bodie meets Burning Man on the Salton Sea.

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.
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A salad and a glass bottle of an orange beverage on a wooden table.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Boonville and the Anderson Valley

One of the state’s greatest drives unfurls in Northern California as California 128 runs through the Anderson Valley. The route takes you from the hot and hilly Sonoma County wine country into the dense forests of Mendocino County. From there, it flanks the Navarro River on its winding path to the rocky coast.

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...
Head of metal dinosaur sculpture
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Borrego Springs

San Diego County Attraction
Wherever you meander in Borrego Springs, you’ll eventually encounter the imagination of Ricardo Breceda. That’s a good thing.

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.
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A San Francisco trolley passes tall buildings, the sun glinting between them.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Cable cars, San Francisco

San Francisco Attraction
Nothing says San Francisco more distinctly than a cable car rumbling and squeaking up a hill. For maximum thrills, you want pole position, standing on a running board with a hand-hold on the pole at the right front of the car. Unless, of course, you have the opportunity to give that spot to a bright-eyed kid.

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.
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People walk around in the courtyard of Carmel Mission.

Carmel Mission

Monterey County Museum
Nobody has shaped California more profoundly than the Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra, now St. Junípero, who founded the first nine of California’s 21 missions and is buried at the Carmel Mission.

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.
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Stonework at the César E. Chávez National Monument.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

César E. Chávez National Monument

Kern County Historical Landmark
In the busiest days of César Chávez’s battles to gain rights for farmworkers in the Central Valley and beyond, he huddled with aides in the Kern County hamlet of Keene, about 30 miles southeast of Bakersfield. Chávez (1927-93) and his wife, Helen (1928-2016), are buried there, at a site now known as César E. Chávez National Monument, tended by the National Park Service.

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.
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Night view of Coit Tower lit up in blue
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Coit Tower

San Francisco Attraction
Coit Tower went up atop Telegraph Hill in 1933. Besides the city and bay views from the top of the 210-foot tower, the murals on its ground floor (free to see) are a witty, provocative window into the hard times and lefty politics of the 1930s. Ask one of the guides for a story or two about Lillie Hitchcock Coit, the quirky, firefighter-loving philanthropist who donated the money that built that tower. And if you hear a shrieking sound? That’s probably one of the famous parrots of Telegraph Hill, subject of local lore for more than a century.

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.
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A woman organizes products at the farmers market
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Crenshaw Farmers Market

Leimert Park Farmers' market
The Crenshaw Farmers Market happens 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall, attracting a mostly local crowd of shoppers. It’s not the biggest market in town, but it is among the most diverse. Taste the tamales at Me Gusta or the peach cobbler at Mommie Helen’s Bakery and keep an ear to the ground for new doings in the neighborhood. Scheduled for completion in fall 2022, the nearby Destination Crenshaw redevelopment project, begun in 2020, aims to upgrade a 1.3-mile stretch of Crenshaw Boulevard (48th to 60th streets) with pocket parks, new trees and more than 100 works commissioned from local and far-flung Black artists. The project parallels the 8.5-mile, street-level Crenshaw/LAX Metro rail line, a.k.a. The K Line, most of which is scheduled to open on Oct. 7.
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People sample wine at Eberle Winery in Paso Robles
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Downtown City Park, Paso Robles

Paso Robles Park
Harvest is exciting in wine country. But before heading for the wineries and tasting rooms in and around Paso Robles, make time for downtown Paso, beginning with Downtown City Park and the restaurants and shops that surround it. You’ll find farmers markets on Saturday and Tuesday mornings, along with a 1908 Carnegie library that now houses the Paso Robles History Museum.

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.
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The Natural History Museum is seen rising above the Exposition Park Rose Garden.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Exposition Park

Los Angeles County Park
This USC-adjacent compound contains multitudes — enough culture, nature and technology to keep you busy through all four seasons. Start with the California African American Museum, which wins praise for thoughtful, lively shows. On display through Oct. 30 is “For Race and Country: Buffalo Soldiers in California.” Just a few steps away, the California Science Center awaits, with its kid-captivating display of the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

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.
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The view of the city from the Getty Museum
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Getty Center

Los Angeles County Museum
This way, please, to Van Gogh, Cezanne, Hockney and the world’s wealthiest art institution.

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.
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People wait in line outside the Walt Disney Concert Hall
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Grand Avenue

Los Angeles County Attraction
Downtown Los Angeles, having slumbered, awakened and stumbled through these last decades, now staggers from pandemic toward prosperity. And Grand Avenue, the city’s cultural capital, leads the way. Walt Disney Concert Hall, the curvaceous home that Frank Gehry designed for the L.A. Philharmonic, shimmers as the orchestra begins a new season. Catch a concert or do a self-guided tour. The Broad museum looms like a great white hive of contemporary art. (Admission is free but you must book in advance; closed Mondays and 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.
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Long-exposure photo of people walking among food and fruit stalls at Grand Central Market
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Grand Central Market

Los Angeles County Food market
Grand Central Market, which dates back more than a century, gives you a quicker, slicker view of L.A. diversity than just about any address in town. Gentrified in recent years, the space offers quick food from around the world and hipster takes on favorites like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich (nine kinds, $5.50-$8), giving visitors a chance to rub elbows with downtown regulars. Need some Michoacán-style carnitas? Tacos Tumbras a Tomas is your place (and has been in the market for more than 50 years). In all, there are about 40 food stalls and several craft vendors in the less-trafficked bazaar downstairs.

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.)
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Clouds surround the super flower moon rising above rocks and Joshua Trees at night
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Hidden Valley

San Bernardino County National Park
The strange trees, innumerable rocks and wide sky of Joshua Tree National Park bring climbers, boulderers, desert campers, stargazers and geology geeks from all over — more than 3 million visitors in 2021. I like its Hidden Valley area, which has 44 campsites (first come, first served) and no water — but those rocks! They look even bigger when you realize there are tiny climbers dangling from them.

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.
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A woman with face paint at Hollywood Forever Cemetery for Dia de Los Muertos
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Los Angeles County Attraction
This 123-year-old graveyard — wedged between Paramount Studios and one of the ugliest strip malls you’ll ever encounter — might be the liveliest cemetery in California. In fall Hollywood Forever’s claim to fame is its Day of the Dead celebration, a spectacle for more than 20 years, which features hordes of costumed visitors, live bands, Aztec dancers and ofrendas (altars) honoring departed loved ones. If you think Southern California lacks fall color, you’ve never seen Hollywood Forever festooned with Día de Los Muertos finery.

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.)
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The classic martini at Musso and Frank Grill
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Hollywood Boulevard

Hollywood Attraction
Hollywood Boulevard still houses more blight and desperation than any visitor or resident wants to see. Yet there is showbiz history here, and if you pick spots carefully, the boulevard is doable and rewarding for grownups and kids alike. The kid-friendliest address on the boulevard is El Capitan Theatre, built for live shows in 1926 and revived in the 1990s by Disney, which premieres many of its films here.

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.
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A Chinese temple stands on a hill above a lake, surrounded by greenery, at the Huntington's Chinese Garden
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Huntington Library

Los Angeles County Museum
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens is a triple threat — words, art and nature (and occasionally music under the trees).

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.
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In-N-Out sign in Baldwin Park
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

In-N-Out Burger

Los Angeles County Fast food
For some Californians, visiting In-N-Out is like breathing (but less healthy). At the flagship location in Baldwin Park, you can drive through, as most customers do. But you can also eat inside, then browse mountains of merch at the company store and perhaps matriculate at In-N-Out University, where managers train.

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.)
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Integraton sound chamber
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)


San Bernardino County Attraction
Who among us is truly, sonically clean? Nobody, right? Well, at the Integratron, sound baths are a way of life, and the acoustics are amazing. It’s a domed, bright white building on the fringe of Landers about 20 miles north of Joshua Tree National Park. In the 1950s, it was supposed to be about time travel, geomagnetism and extraterrestrial life. Its creator, George Van Tassel, said he was influenced by Moses’ tabernacle, the work of Nikola Tesla and a visitor from Venus in 1953.

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.
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Colorful trees at Silver Lake, located along the June Lake Loop
(George Rose / Getty Images)

June Lake Loop, Eastern Sierra

June Lake Scenic drive
Yes, California has fall color. And the June Lake Loop (a.k.a. California 158), part of the Inyo National Forest just outside Mammoth Lakes, remains a sweet spot for it.

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
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The Last Bookstore

Downtown L.A. Point of Interest
Bookseller Josh Spencer has taken a dead bank building on an iffy downtown block and turned it into a territory of mystery and hope for readers.

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.
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Illuminated cutout house with giant candy cane and tiny girl walking through
Illuminated creatures at WildLights at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.
(The Living Desert Zoo Gardens)

Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

Palm Desert Paid Walk-Through
There are more critters creeping (and flying and even swimming) in the world’s deserts than you realize, and this preserve proves the point. The Living Desert, open since 1970, is a 1,200-acre zoo and botanical garden whose residents include tortoise, naked mole-rats, greater kudu, kookaburras and black rhinos. For $8, you can feed a giraffe (warning: long tongue).

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.
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Quarter horses graze in their corral located next to the Madonna Inn
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Madonna Inn

San Luis Obispo Hotel
For my money, the Madonna Inn remains the kitsch capital of California, with 110 rooms, no two alike, a preponderance of pink and newlyweds aplenty. Maybe you’ve heard of the waterfall in its men’s room or the plastic flowers in Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steakhouse. Other dining options include the Copper Cafe and the Silver Bar Cocktail Lounge. Roadside design expert John Margolies called the inn “the grandest motel of them all.” But it has a practical appeal too. It’s almost precisely halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles along U.S. 101. Rooms for two start at about $219.

And if you can time your trip to catch the Thursday night Downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers Market, you won’t be sorry.
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Monument marble at Manzanar National Historic Site,
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Manzanar National Historic Site

Inyo County Historical Landmark
On this barren, windblown patch of the Owens Valley at the foot of the Eastern Sierra, more than 10,000 Japanese Americans endured a painful home-front chapter of World War II. In early 1942, about 10 weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave military leaders authority to imprison Japanese American men, women and children in 10 incarceration camps across the U.S. In the process, thousands of law-abiding American families lost their homes and savings. Fifty years later, the National Park Service remade the Manzanar site as a place for contemplation of war, liberty, prejudice and endurance.

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.
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A hamburger stacked with bacon and avocado, on a plate with french fries.
ABC Burger, McPhee’s Grill, Templeton.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

McPhee's Grill

Restaurant and lounge
At the center of the tiny town of Templeton (just across Main Street from Templeton Feed & Grain) is a genial and serious dining space surrounded by Paso Robles wine country. McPhee’s Grill, known for wood-fired steaks and seafood (dinner only, Wednesday through Sunday), has been an unofficial wine-trade clubhouse since its opening in 1994. Its wood paneling and tin-ceiling interior feels a bit like an old farmhouse, a bit like a small-town family business (which it is).

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.
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Visitors watch divers clean the kelp forest habitat at the Monterey Aquarium
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey County Aquarium
Since its opening in 1984, this has been the state’s foremost aquarium, with tanks that open onto Monterey Bay. Give your family several hours here among the sharks, otters, penguins, tuna, seabirds and creatures of the deeper sea. In April, the Monterey Bay Aquarium unveiled “Into the Deep: Exploring Our Undiscovered Ocean,” which examines bioluminescence and creatures including the bloody-belly comb jelly and the sea angel (a meek-looking snail that’s a fierce predator, prying victims from their shells). Adult admission: $49.95. Children: $34.95-$39.95, depending on their age.

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.
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Visitors wait in front of a portrait of former President Nixon at the Nixon Library
(Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images)

Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum

Orange County Historical Landmark
In 1968, Richard M. Nixon became the first Californian elected president. Six years later, he resigned. America has been profoundly shaped by what happened in between — especially what went wrong — and that story is told in fascinating detail at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and 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.
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Exterior of City Lights bookstore
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

North Beach

San Francisco Attraction
North Beach harbors Italian flavors and bohemian memories the way Monterey Bay harbors crustaceans.

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.
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Norton Simon Museum's Garden Pond
(Norton Simon Museum)

Norton Simon Museum

Pasadena Museum
For a small museum, the Norton Simon packs in a lot of great art by the Impressionists and the Mexican master Diego Rivera. The European and Asian collections get most of the attention, but don’t overlook Rivera’s “The Flower Vendor,” a 1941 oil painting of a girl with her arms around a big bunch of lilies. (Actor Cary Grant gave it to the museum in 1980.)

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.
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A man works with leather inside his shop
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Olvera Street

Downtown L.A. Attraction
Olvera Street is an origin story well suited to Los Angeles. It really was one of the first streets created in the city’s early years. Then, after falling into disrepair in the early 20th century, it was converted into a sort of cartoon version of itself. Nowadays the cartoon, the commerce, the desperation and the legitimate history mingle like flavors in a long-simmering stew. (The same thing happens in nearby Chinatown.)

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.)
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Visitors sitting and eating at the Original Farmers Market
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Original Farmers Market

Los Angeles County Farmers' market
The Original Farmers Market, founded in 1934, is where old-school Los Angeles comes for coffee and a doughnut. Or gumbo. Or tacos. Or quiche. It’s a place whose roots hold fast through daily tides of tourists from all over. The compound includes more than 100 eateries, markets and shops. Live music often happens on Friday nights, and all day every day the patios seem full of schmoozing showbiz folk between gigs.

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.
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A woman picks up cheese at the Oxbow Public Market
(San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Oxbow Public Market

Napa County Food market
Probably you’ve come to Napa Valley for wine, especially if it’s harvest time. But this market and food hall, set above a bend in the Napa River, is a healthy reminder that people around here do more than make wine. They also make food that goes with wine.

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.
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A table at Pappy & Harriet's with two customers and a waitress standing nearby
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Pappy & Harriet's

San Bernardino County Restaurant
Pappy and Harriet don’t live here anymore. (New owners arrived in April 2021.) But no desert roadhouse hereabouts can beat Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown for live music, comfort food, frontier feel and a world-class license plate collection.

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.
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A glowing blue orchestra shell with red chairs sits near the ocean.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Rady Shell

San Diego has come up with an intriguing variation on the Hollywood Bowl. Instead of tucking its sleek new outdoor music venue into the foothills, the San Diego Symphony plopped the Rady Shell down on the waterfront. At the edge of downtown.

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.
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Air Force One at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum

Ventura County Museum
Perched on the hills of Simi Valley, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum is filled with White House artifacts and reminders of Reagan’s days as California governor (1967-75) and U.S. president (1981-89), as well as his career as an actor. Board Air Force One (which carried seven presidents from 1973 to 2001) and seize the photo opportunity at the door. Admire the replica Oval Office, the notecards bearing Reagan’s small, backward-leaning handwriting (like George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, he was a lefty) and the museum’s many multimedia features. Reagan and his wife, Nancy, are buried on the grounds.

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.
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Rainy intersection of Rodeo Drive and Dayton Way
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Rodeo Drive

Los Angeles County Shopping
Behold the conspicuous-consumption capital of California. Like the “Mona Lisa,” it’s smaller than you expected — the Rodeo Drive shopping experience boils down to barely three blocks of downtown Beverly Hills. Start at Beverly Gardens Park at Rodeo Drive and South Santa Monica Boulevard. Make your way southwest on Rodeo so that you can browse (or window-shop) Cartier, Gucci, Harry Winston, Prada, Burberry, Fendi and friends. Don’t miss Via Rodeo (a.k.a. Two Rodeo), a pedestrian alley that includes Jimmy Choo and the 208 Rodeo restaurant, with prime people-watching on the patio. Once you reach Wilshire Boulevard, you’ll be facing the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where Warren Beatty once lived, Esther Williams taught 14-year-old Elizabeth Taylor how to swim and Richard Gere brought Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman.”
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Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort, near Avila Beach.
(Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)

Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa

The central attraction at Sycamore Mineral Springs is a hot soak. One way to do that is in one of the resort’s 24 private outdoor tubs, which are arrayed on a hillside, surrounded by an oak grove. The cost is $22.50-$27.50 per hour per person, which seems an excellent value once you’re in the bubbling water, staring up at the oak-branch canopy above. (Tubs can accommodate up to eight people.) If you’d rather be indoors, you can try one of the 100-acre-plus property’s spa services, eat at its restaurant or rent one of its 72 hotel rooms and suites. Each room has its own balcony or patio with hot tub.

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.
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Union Station

Point of Interest
Union Station is a masterpiece, the last of the grand American train stations, a rare marriage of Mission Revival and Streamline Moderne styles that has been a landmark since its 1939 opening.

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.
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View from the Dolby Family Terrace with a domed retractable roof.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Wilshire Boulevard’s museum row

Los Angeles County Museum
Dorothy’s slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939). A head from “Alien” (1979). Danai Gurira’s Okoye costume from “Black Panther” (2018). These are just the beginning of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which opened in September on Wilshire Boulevard’s museum row. There’s no better place to explore the backstage art, craft and personalities behind the movies we love best (and some we might hate). Its theater is pretty comfortable too. Really, nobody does self-promotion like the Academy.

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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