Bummed about the shorter daylight hours? These four adventures might help

The Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve near Ojai
The Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve in the Ojai area features 15 acres filled with South African, Australian and California native plants, but getting directions there requires the purchase of a ticket.
(Madeleine Hordinski / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, fellow Escapists. Congratulations. We’ve made it through four days since the end of daylight saving time last weekend. Hopefully, by now, you’ve turned your clocks back an hour and started adjusting to our shorter days.

The former is easy — the latter not so much.

That’s why I was pleased to find my L.A. Times colleague Jessica Roy’s guide to staying sane this winter. I was also struck by the similarities between some of her advice (taking walks, making plans with loved ones) and travel.


In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find some peaceful places to walk — and soak up much-needed sun — with friends, as well as a fun, fantastical event perfect for families spending the weekend together.

Of course, as Roy emphasizes, don’t hesitate to seek medical help if any seasonal affective disorder symptoms begin to seriously disrupt your life.

Where do you like to seek solace in the winter months? Send me an email, and I’ll feature your ideas in a future edition of Escapes.

🌴 Find a real-life oasis

Just five miles from the glitz of Palm Springs, there’s a real-for-real oasis to explore.

Andreas Canyon, managed by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, is one of the spots highlighted in Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds’ recent piece about 22 Insta mirages he found in the Southern California desert.

As with any true oasis, Andreas Canyon is dependent upon its water source, a creek that flows even in the hottest temperatures. It provides nourishment for the California fan palm (a rare palm species that’s actually native to the region) as well as the other plants that call the canyon home.

Visitors can experience the canyon with an easy one-mile loop trail. Admission is $12 for adults.

Care to deepen your experience of the canyon? Ranger-led hikes of the canyon are held at 1 p.m. from Friday through Sunday with tours leaving from the parking lot.

Andreas Canyon trail
Andreas Canyon trail in Palm Springs.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

🤫 Visit a secret garden

If you go searching for the Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve on Google Maps, you won’t get very far.

As Times staff writer Jeannette Marantos reports, the entrance to the Southern California destination is not listed on Google Maps to discourage drop-in visitors. You’ll only receive instructions explaining how to visit if you book tickets. “Just getting to Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve is an adventure,” Marantos writes.

The Ojai-area destination is well worth the effort to get there. Once you arrive at Taft Gardens, you’re treated to “15 acres of otherworldly trees, bulbs, grasses, succulents and shrubs, plus the native oaks and spongy lawns,” Marantos reports. “Traffic noise is nonexistent, and the paths are alive with birdsong and the sudden scurry of lizards.”

The grounds, home to towering Goliath aloes from South Africa, are a particular treat for succulent stans. The garden offers visitors “a chance to see what succulents look like in the wild,” a volunteer guide explained.

Tickets cost $20 and must be purchased online at least 24 hours in advance.

The Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve near Ojai
The Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve near Ojai.
(Madeleine Hordinski / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🦎 Barcelona-inspired accommodations in Ojai

Speaking of Ojai, perhaps you’re wondering where to stay while you’re there. You’ll find no shortage of luxury accomodations in the New Agey community, but if you’re hoping to dive deeper into the area’s artsy vibes, you might book a stay at the Emerald Iguana Inn.

Billed as a “bohemian boutique inn,” the Emerald Iguana Inn is the brainchild of Julia Whitman, who incorporated furniture she purchased during her travels in Europe, Asia and Mexico. The inn itself was built by her husband, architect and artist Marc Whitman, who drew inspiration from Barcelona’s buildings — and Gaudí — while designing the inn’s archways, tile mosaics and water features.

In addition to typical hotel rooms, the inn offers a variety of larger cottages from which to choose. The Frog Suite, with a fairy-light illuminated patio and rock walls dating back to 1906, looks particularly dreamy.

Room prices begin at $358 for a required two-night stay.

Illustration of an iguana in a head wrap/towel and cucumber slices on eyes.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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🧜‍♀️ Meet mermaids (yes, really!)

You read that correctly. From 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, mermaids will be harborside in Santa Barbara, meeting and taking pictures with kids of all ages.

The fantastical event is part of the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum’s new exhibition: Mermaids: Visualizing the Myths & Legends. The exhibition features images taken as part of an underwater photography course taught by Santa Barbara-based artist Ralph Clevenger. During the class, professional mermaids posed under the waves for students learning photography off the Channel Islands.

The meet-the-mermaids experience costs $30 for a group of up to four non-members. Reservations must be made in advance. Admission to the museum costs $8 for adults and $5 for children 6 and older. Kids under 6 enter for free.

You’ll also find this idea included in the latest edition of The Wild, authored by my friend and outdoor expert Mary Forgione. For all kinds of outdoor activities and tips, subscribe here.

Photo illustration of mermaid tail caught on camera
(Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

📰 What I’m reading

  • When you travel in the U.S. (and many places beyond), you’re traveling on stolen Indigenous land. Elizabeth Rhodes put together a guide to visiting native lands respectfully in Travel + Leisure.
  • A curious anomaly turned a dump north of San Francisco into a destination. Ashley Harrell reports on how Glass Beach came to be in SFGate.
  • Get instantly transported to Hana in this retrospective of “Life’s Swell,” the story that inspired the Hawaii surf film “Blue Crush.” Daniel Duane interviewed journalist Susan Orlean, who traveled to Maui to report the story in 1998, for this Outside Online story.
  • “Some people go to Bali to find themselves. I went to find my father,” writes Atsuko Okatsuka. Read about her experience rekindling her relationship with her dad — over a terrifying extreme sports outing — in Afar.
  • Love reading travelogues? You may enjoy “A Salad Only the Devil Would Eat: The Joys of Ugly Nature” by longtime traveler Charles Hood, which was recently reviewed by Nathan Deuel for the Los Angeles Times.
A Joshua tree photographed using a kaleidoscope lens filter
A Joshua tree, shown here using a kaleidoscope lens filter, is among the gnarly natural features celebrated in Charles Hood’s new collection, “A Salad Only the Devil Would Eat.”
(Calvin B. Alagot / Los Angeles Times)

📸 Photo of the week

Traffic streams along U.S. Route 64 in Farmington, N.M.
Traffic streams along U.S. Route 64 in Farmington, N.M., which serves as the eastern gateway to the Navajo Nation.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

Song: “Found” by Tems featuring Brent Faiyaz

Favorite lyric: “Before this gets out of hand, no more distance, let’s just dancе.”

Where to play it: Driving along California State Route 18 on your way to or from Lake Arrowhead — as the sun sets.

Illustration of polaroid featuring a California highway along a mountainside.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)