Throughout the country, mighty oaks, maples, sweet gums are changing colors for the fall. Here in SoCal where the sun nearly always shines, the changing of the leaves is not as eventful. Still, there are plenty of places where Angelenos may find a peaceful, winding drive among through vibrant, golden autumn. The window is short — typically lasting from mid October to mid November — but cottonwoods, aspens and oaks (yes, even poison oak), shine bright during this special time for southern Californians.
Take a ride that runs roughly 2.5 hours without stops, and you’ll be sure to catch an eyeful of the typical California flora: pine, palms and palmettos. A stop at several public recreational areas along the way will expose you to trees with a more festive fall feel. Take the 60 east toward Pomona for about 10 miles outside of the city. Exit Santa Anita Avenue and follow the signs right until you reach Whittier Narrows. From here, get back on the 60 east for two miles and merge onto the 605 north for eight miles until the 210 east. Follow the 210 east for 30 miles until you reach the CA-18 north. Follow the 18 for another 20 miles. You will reach Lake Arrowhead after a 90-minute drive. Continue on the 18 north for another 20 miles and exit Big Bear Boulevard to follow the signs to Big Bear Lake.
Whittier Narrows Recreational Facility
823 Lexington-Gallatin Road
South El Monte, CA 91733
Price: $6 per vehicle
A visit, long or short, to Whittier Narrows is a living education in environmental science. Nearly every ecosystem, from swamps, to forest, to desert, is naturally represented here where the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo Rivers diverge. Stop by the ranger station any day from sunrise to sunset for information on the plant and animal life that inhabit this nature reserve. Rangers often host nature walks focused on seasonal activities such as birdwatching and photography here, so be sure to check in to catch a great educational show.
Chamber of Commerce
R215, 28200 Highway 189
Lake Arrowhead, CA 92352
Cottonwoods turn to gold in the woods surrounding Lake Arrowhead and its campgrounds. Atop one of the peaks of the San Bernardino National Forest, the clean air and blue sky make you feel far from any city. Autumn is an in-between season for outdoor sports such as water-skiing, speedboating and snowboarding, so it’s the perfect time to casually enjoy the sights for a weekend getaway. Stop by the village if you happen to visit during the annual Oktoberfest, when adults may sample local microbrews and children may play in Jack’s Pumpkin Patch.
Related: Family Guide to Lake Arrowhead
Belgian Waffle Works
28200 Highway 189, Suite #150
Lake Arrowhead, CA 92352
With all of the outdoors activities to enjoy at Lake Arrowhead, you are bound to work up an appetite. Continue your foliage-gazing on the scenic patio of this cottage-style restauraunt. If you’re not in a hurry, this is the perfect place to gaze over the lake and fill up on waffles for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Traditional gourmet sandwiches such as the club and the Monte Cristo are given a Belgian flair using waffles as bread at an affordable price. Chilly fall temperatures make it the perfect place to sip hot chocolate or a dessert specialty drink while you prepare for your next stop.
Big Bear Lake
630 Bartlett Road
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
Big Bear offers year-round hiking, bike rides and even horseback riding through the cottonwoods, oaks and maples that generously shade the peaks at the center of the San Bernardino National Forest. This is truly one of the best spots in Southern California to enjoy the amber, pumpkin and crimson autumn hues that cover the maples, aspens and cottonwoods here. Trails and tours of the woods are available by both private and publicly funded ranger stations. Some of the best views are along the Mill Creek, Pine Knot and Castle Rock trails. The city of Big Bear also offers endless recreational activities from shopping to fishing, zip-lining, helicoptering and off-roading.
Related: Field Trip to Big Bear
Bear Hug Hideout
Big Bear, California
Price: $370 to $800 per night, depending on the season
For those looking for a home away from home who aren’t quite ready to return to L.A., cabins such as the Bear Hug Hideout are available for daily rental. Accommodating up to 10 guests comfortably, this three-bedroom, two-bathroom getaway features a fully furnished kitchen, living room, spa and backyard just walking distance from the lake. This location is also adjacent to Big Bear’s Zoo, Village and ski slopes. The address is provided upon request when you make a reservation. Contact the owners online at least two weeks in advance to check availability.
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Danielle Farve is a freelance writer covering all things Los Angeles. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.