Looking for a close-to-home adventure? Visit this secret plant paradise

Plants at the California Nursery Specialties Cactus Ranch in Reseda.
The California Nursery Specialties Cactus Ranch in Reseda is “a sanctuary, a kind of therapy for people shut off from the natural world.”
(Calvin B. Alagot / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, fellow Escapists. This week, pack your panning-for-gold kit: We’re heading north to Coloma and Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

You’ll also find more Northern California experiences to add to your summer adventure list, as well as one destination closer to home for Angelenos and a helpful guide to rockhounding.


Where are you heading this summer? Let me know, and I’ll feature it in Escapes.

🌟 Pan for gold in Coloma

“There’s still gold in the Golden State,” Times staffers Andrea Roberson and Casey Miller write in their guide to rockhounding in California. You just have to know where to look.

Rockhounding is what amateur geologists call searching for rocks, minerals and gems. And you guessed it: California is one of the best places in the world to rockhound.

Though rock hounds can no longer find gold on the ground in California, you can discover flakes and nuggets in rivers and streams, Roberson and Miller explain. They recommend searching in Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where the state’s Gold Rush began in 1848. Even if you’re a beginner, you’re in luck: The park offers 15-minute lessons throughout the day. For more information, visit the park’s website.

Before you start searching for gold, a word of caution: Rockhounding can be dangerous and even illegal if you don’t follow the rules. Roberson and Miller offer a list of directions at the beginning of their guide.

Screenshot of web page showing gold and where to find it in California.
Let Times staffers Andrea Roberson and Casey Miller guide you through the world of rockhounding in California.
(Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🛶 Run the American River

Speaking of California gold country, here’s another quintessential activity for your summer vacation: rafting the American River.

Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds put running the American River on his list of the 40 best outdoor experiences in California, noting that guides consider it “a perfect introduction to river rafting, thanks to its evocative scenery and relatively mild Class III rapids.”

If you’re new to rafting, you’ll want to sign up with a licensed, experienced company. Half-day and all-day trips generally cost $100 to $180 per person, Reynolds explains, and will begin north of Placerville below the Chili Bar Reservoir. The middle and north forks of the American River are hot spots for more experienced rafters.


While you’re in the area, stop by Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, mentioned above. Reynolds also recommends a walk and a bite to eat in Placerville.

A river guide maneuvers a raft on the South Fork of the American River near Coloma.
Kyle Brazil guides a raft on the American River near Coloma, Calif.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

🌲 Use a rail bike to explore the redwoods

In last week’s Escapes, I mentioned several reader-submitted destinations for exploring redwood forests. Turns out, they’re the tip of the iceberg when it comes to experiencing impressive views of California’s state tree.

A reader recently forwarded me a link to this story about rail biking through Northern California’s redwoods —an adventure I promptly added to my summer wish list. Visitors to Mendocino County can take the Skunk Train rail bikes for a two-hour journey along Pudding Creek and through old-growth redwoods on a historic rail line.

Renting an electric rail bike, which holds two riders, costs $250.

Sun peeks through redwood trees in Northern California.
The sun peeks through the thick canopy of redwood trees in Northern California.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

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🌵 Discover a secret refuge for succulent and cacti lovers

Need a close-to-home adventure this weekend? Can’t stop collecting plants? Look no farther than the California Nursery Specialties Cactus Ranch in Reseda.

The Cactus Ranch is “a magical secret place, the way Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books was open only to shoppers in the know,” wrote Times staffer Jeanette Marantos in her recent profile of the destination.

“Everywhere in this 3-acre wonderland there are flats and flats of succulents, in so many colors and shapes they look like patchwork quilts laid out on the tables,” Marantos said. Owner David Bernstein is fine with visitors taking their time, posing for photos and even setting up an easel to paint at the ranch. “I think of this as a sanctuary, a kind of therapy for people shut off from the natural world,” Bernstein told Marantos. “We’re not just selling plants; we’re horticultural therapists here.”

The Cactus Ranch is open to the public on weekends from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (5 p.m. in winter). Bring cash or a check; credit cards not accepted.

A metal sculpture of a T-rex lurks among the plants at California Nursery Specialties Cactus Ranch in  Reseda.
Watch out for dinosaurs at California Nursery Specialties Cactus Ranch in Reseda.
(Calvin B. Alagot / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • Pack your patience — summer jobs are going unfilled in national parks, reports Christopher Reynolds.
  • Three surfers left California to find a secret surfing oasis in El Salvador. Times sports reporter Kevin Baxter covered their journey, with photos by Times staffer Wally Skalij.
  • Feeling anxious about traveling in crowded airports? Seraphina Seow shares experts’ advice in Condé Nast Traveler.
  • Colorado’s scenic byways could be your first electric road trip, writes Ashley Mateo in AFAR.
  • “I hiked to a surreal California desert oasis, then two more,” says Ashley Harrell in SFGATE. “Now I must see them all.”
Edwin Omar Zepeda Morales, in swim trunks, sits before a rack of surfboards.
Edwin Omar Zepeda Morales waits for customers at a surf school in El Salvador.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

💻 Can’t adventure IRL? Here’s one way to expand your horizons

Need a moment of peace in the middle of your workday? Take a peek at Surfline’s “Cam of the Moment” — on the right side of the website’s homepage — and be transported to a faraway surf break.

Last week, I caught a glimpse of Chun’s Reef in Oahu and the Supertubos break in Portugal. It’s nice to know that no matter where you are in the world, there’s an easy way to experience a wave.

Illustration of starfish riding a wave on a surfboard.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📸 Photo of the week

A historic cottage overlooks the ocean at Crystal Cove State Beach in Newport Beach.
The Crystal Cove Historic District, an example of vernacular beach architecture, is an enclave of about 48 historic wood-framed cottages in Newport Beach.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

For many Southern California travelers, no destination beats the beach. If that’s you, give SEB’s “seaside_demo” a listen on your next drive to the ocean. Happy travels this weekend!

Beach with illustration of sun rays.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)