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Tips for where to go outside of Los Angeles

Los Angeles

How to stay sane in the City of Angels? Get out at the weekend, and go for a picnic on Catalina Island or gallery hopping in Ojai

How to stay sane in the City of Angels? Get out at the weekend, and go for a picnic on Catalina Island or gallery hopping in Ojai

Heidi Mitchell | June/July 2016

 

The City of Angels sometimes feels as though it’s all snarling traffic, empty sidewalks and concrete sprawl. There is plenty to discover within the city limits, from the new Broad Museum to a revitalised downtown, but a stay beyond a week requires some respite. Heidi Mitchell heads out of smog-swaddled LA in pursuit of brighter weekend retreats

 

41 MINUTES 27 MILES AWAY

1 MALIBU

Most Angelenos have day-tripped up to Malibu, 27 miles of striking coastline that is home to tech tycoons, media executives and those movie stars who don’t want to flaunt it in Beverly Hills. Head north on the Pacific Coast Highway (locals call it the PCH or the 1), the legendary road that traces the ocean from San Diego to the Golden Gate Bridge, and hang a left towards the ocean. The real appeal of Malibu, however, isn’t the town itself, but the hiking. The trailhead to the 3.8-mile-long Escondido Falls Walk is clearly signed off the PCH, and gently rises 150 feet to a stunning 200ft-tall waterfall.
And don’t forget the ocean: Carbon Beach is as wide and as picturesque as any swathe of Mexican sand. But if you’re looking to catch some private waves, follow signs to Latigo Beach. Its staircase entrance is intentionally hard to find – which means that long, slow point break might be yours alone, even on a hot summer weekend. Competitive surfer Chris Stiegler (malibusurfcoach.com; $95) has 28 years of experience in getting first-timers up on their feet at nearby Point Dume within an hour or so. For those seduced into a longer stay, Malibu’s latest retreat, Aja Malibu (ajamalibu.com; $5,000, a week, all-inclusive, based on two sharing), is a 23-acre holistic resort set in the hills above the ocean, where just eight guests at a time embark on a seven-day health programme.

 

1HR 30 MINUTES 89 MILES AWAY

2 SANTA BARBARA

This pretty city has been a bolthole for Hollywood types on naughty weekends since the first silent-movie studio opened in 1910. It was reintroduced to the popular consciousness in 1991 in “L.A. Story”, when Steve Martin’s Harris takes his love interest, SanDeE* (played by Sarah Jessica Parker), on a mini-break to El Pollo del Mar (Chicken of the Sea). There are nicer places to stay, of course, like the Belmond El Encanto (belmond.com, doubles $475), a landmark since the 1920s, or the waterfront Four Seasons Resort Biltmore (fourseasons.com, doubles $455), a favourite for workout addicts who peacock around the pool. But there’s more to do than lie about in your knickers. Oenophiles can walk along the Urban Wine Trail (urbanwinetrailsb.com), stopping for a glass at any of the dozen nearby vineyards. For those seeking to work up a sweat, there’s every form of exercise imaginable, from SUP yoga (think Downward Dog on a surfboard) to skateboarding, though straight surfing remains the most popular pastime for weekend visitors. Two-hour private lessons on Santa Claus or Ledbetter Beach can be booked through Surf Happens (surfhappens.com). Then recharge with guacamole (it was invented here) from pretty much anywhere, or with an indulgent multi-course dinner at the Palace Grill (palacegrill.com), a favourite of Julia Child’s, and still beloved by locals.

1HR  36 MINUTES 77 MILES AWAY

3 OJAI

Close to Santa Barbara but worlds apart, the little inland hippie town of Ojai is experiencing something of a youth-quake. Two years ago a local hotelier, Chris Sewell, reopened the 1950s Ojai Rancho Inn (ojairanchoinn.com; doubles from $130), where the pool deck is garnished with a tepee and an Airstream. Now moneyed millennials with esoteric taste are putting down roots here (Aileen Getty recently bought the Ford Estate), and bohemian-leaning folk are redoing Case Study homes, Craftsman-style hunting lodges, and run-down storefronts. There’s now a Turtle Conservancy (turtleconservancy.org), a handful of influential galleries – try Galerie 102 (galerie102.com) for contemporary artists – and a bounty of food finds, like Azu Ojai (azuojai.com), where newly installed Chef Marcus Hollingsworth’s vegan paella and bison sliders are the main attractions. Also try the Farmer and Cook (farmerandcook.com) for Swiss chard enchiladas. Any guilt over excessive eating can be worked off in the 31,000 square-foot spa at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa (ojairesort.com), the stand-in for the mythical Himalayan kingdom of Shangri-la in Frank Capra’s 1937 movie, “Lost Horizon” (all roads lead back to Hollywood in these parts). Or go off-piste with an invigorating hike in the nearby 219,700-acre Sespe Wilderness, where mountain lions, condors, bears, and bighorn sheep still roam.

2HRS 43 MILES AWAY

4 CATALINA ISLAND

Ferries (catalinaexpress.com) leave from San Pedro, 24 miles due south of downtown LA, six times a day and take about 80 minutes to reach this pristine island where locals (there are around 4,000 full-time residents) sit on a 14-year waiting list to get a car permit. Don’t waste precious hours in touristy Avalon; instead catch the ferry directly to the village of Two Harbors (population 298) and explore by foot – on a clear day, the hiking on the 7.4-mile rocky Silver Peak trail gives views of the Santa Monica Mountains and, from May through to December, the bursting spouts of migrating blue whales. Book your free permit in advance through the Catalina Conservancy (catalinaconservancy.org), pack a picnic foraged from the general store (310 510 4257 to order pre-arrival) and head inland from the isthmus to spot bald eagles and a thriving herd of American buffalo brought here in 1924 as extras for a silent-western film. The last ferry out is at 8:30pm, so grab a late dinner on the mainland at West Hollywood hotspot, Norah (norahrestaurant.com), or do as some locals do and skip dinner during “Bikini Season” – as the end of May (Memorial Day) to the first Monday in September (Labour Day) is unofficially known.

3HRS 15 MINUTES 134 MILES AWAY

5 PALM SPRINGS

During March and April, Palm Springs transforms from a mid-century centre of chic into a pre-Coachella Festival mecca for pseudo-spiritual music fans – which is why Hollywood types avoid it during those months. The rest of the year they beat a retreat to the Jonathan Adler-designed Parker Palm Springs (theparkerpalmsprings.com; doubles $399) or, better, settle into an iconic mid-century-modern rental home complete with its own hanging fireplace or kidney-bean-shaped pool, sourced by in-the-know agent Rob Kincaid (midcenturypalmsprings.com). On the agenda for any serious architecture fan is an outing with Michael Stern, author of a book on Julius Shulman, a mid-century architectural photographer. He leads tours for groups of four in his convertible car around important modernist homes by Cody, Wexler, Frey and, of course, Richard Neutra (themoderntour.com, $150 book in advance). As a counterpoint to these man-made flourishes, head to Joshua Tree, a national park straight out of Dr. Seuss. There are beautiful hikes that take less than an hour, leaving time to venture to the Salton Sea, a dried-up ancient inland sea that was accidentally flooded in 1905, when engineers cut an irrigation canal into the bank of the Colorado River. When the levee broke, the water encrusted everything in its path in salt. The surreal, decaying structures on its Bombay Beach would make even David Lynch flinch.

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