California fall activity ideas: Foraging, beach hotel hopping

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, fellow Escapists.

With the summer tourism season in California behind us, it pays to keep an eye out for off-season discounts as you book your travel for the rest of the year. In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find some accommodations with special deals as well as outdoor excursions to enjoy now that it’s getting cooler outside.

Where are you planning to venture this autumn? My inbox is always open for travel ideas and recommendations. Drop me a line any time.

🐉 Get your sculpture fix in Borrego Springs

Once cool weather sets in across Southern California, make a beeline to Borrego Springs to get your desert art fix.

Borrego Springs Road’s famous sheet metal sculptures made Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds’ list of the 40 best California experiences to try during the fall. Since 2008, artist Ricardo Breceda placed more than more than 120 sculptures around Borrego Springs in the shape of dinosaurs, bighorn sheep, horses and much more. You won’t miss the “scorpion the size of a Subaru and an even bigger serpent, a 350-foot-long Loch Ness Monster of the sand,” Reynolds wrote.

Visitors can grab a detailed map of the area at the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Assn. store before scoping out the art. Reynolds also recommends staying at the La Casa del Zorro, driving along Palm Canyon Drive and grabbing a drink at Carlee’s, a desert roadhouse. Palm Canyon hike, a 3.25-mile loop in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, is another crowd-pleaser to try while in Borrego Springs.

🌵 Learn to forage in San Luis Obispo

Bay laurel leaves, elderberry and prickly pears can all be found growing in the wild of San Luis Obispo County. You can learn how to identify these ingredients — and many more — on Central Coast Distillery’s foraging tours.

Eric Olson, who runs the distillery, learned how to forage for botanicals while hunting with his uncles and during his time in the Marine Corps. Times contributor Brian E. Clark went on a tour with Olson, who explained how to harvest plants such as wild fennel and how to make pine needle tea.

Olson told Clark he forages far and wide in San Luis Obispo County. “I figure if there’s not a fence or sign that says ‘no trespassing,’ it’s fair game, especially if a plant is beside a road.”

If you’re interested in learning how to forage, it’s best to book a tour. “Foraging on your own can be dangerous unless you know what you are doing,” Olson said. “And why I recommend going with a guide.”

The distillery’s Ride on the Wild Side outings cost $125 per person.

A photo of a man foraging for resources and an inset photo of two people.

Eric Olson, who runs Central Coast Distillery with his wife, Anna, offers foraging tours in San Luis Obispo County.

(Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas; Photos by Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

🏖️ Seven beachfront hotels to visit in Southern California

Now that summer is over, beaches are emptying out and hotels are offering deals — making this the perfect time to book a luxe beachfront hotel.

Times contributor Rosemary McClure has plenty of recommendations for where to stay. “For everyone who believes life is better at the beach, we’ve collected a tantalizing group of coastal treasures to explore this fall,” she writes in a recent story.

Here are two gems from her list:

The Seabird Resort in Oceanside: This hotel “oozes the charm of an upscale Maine fishing village,” McClure writes. “I expected to see schooners on the horizon and Gilded Age mansions along the shoreline.” The biggest plus of all? It’s just a block away from the Amtrak station, so you don’t need to sit in traffic to get there.

Venice V in Los Angeles: This newly renovated boutique hotel on the Venice boardwalk has serious history. The building, originally constructed in 1915, “hosted Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Clara Bow and other luminaries as long-term tenants during the ‘20s, Venice’s golden era,” McClure writes. “In the ‘60s, it became a hangout for Doors lead singer Jim Morrison.”

Need more recommendations? Check out McClure’s full list here.

A photo of a hotel pool with a pier in the background.

In Oceanside, a view of the Seabird Hotel’s pool with the beach city’s municipal pier in the background.

(Jim Edwards)

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🛥️ Stay in the “houseboat capital of the world”

Speaking of waterfront accommodations, it’s hard to beat Shasta Lake — it’s called the “houseboat capital of the world” — if you’re hoping to get as close to the waves as possible.

Bridge Bay at Shasta Lake is just one of the companies offering houseboat rentals, and now that fall is here, you’ll get a break on prices. From about mid-August to April, the smallest houseboat (which sleeps up to eight guests comfortably) can be rented for $1,200 for a three-day, two-night visit.

If you’re traveling with a larger group, you may want to opt for Bridge Bay’s largest houseboat, the Grand Sierra Ex. It can accommodate up to 16 guests and includes a slide on the top deck.

A photo of docked boats with illustrated blobs in the upper-right and lower-left corners

The Centimudi boat ramp on a receded Shasta Lake.

(Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas; Max Whittaker / For The Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • “I set a route that would carry me through wide open places and small towns. I was going to write about the parts of America I saw along the way.” Don’t miss this powerful story about a cross-country journey from Times staff writer Diana Marcum.
  • “Air rage” is an increasing problem during plane travel. Times business reporter Hugo Martín reports on one airline’s solution.
  • Airport workers are being replaced by robots and automation, writes Times columnist Nicholas Goldberg. “How long before pilots are replaced by robots that fly planes more safely?” he asks.
  • Georgia’s Ocmulgee Mounds may be America’s next national park, writes Stephanie Vermillion in Condé Nast Traveler.
  • A mysterious sign on the California Interstate 5 has puzzled drivers for years. Joshua Bote explores where it might have come from in SFGate.
  • Locals are working to restore coral reefs in beloved travel destinations. Sunny Fitzgerald explains how you can help in the Washington Post.
    A moving display of road trip photos.

    Scenes from around the country from L.A. Times staff writer Diana Marcum’s road trip.

    (Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas; Diana Marcum / Los Angeles Times)

📸 Photo of the week

A river, a bridge and a city skyline in the dark

A view of the Hawthorne Bridge that spans the Willamette River at dusk in Portland, Ore.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

Song: “Stayaway” by Muna

Favorite lyric: “If I go driving, then I’ll put on music / if I put on music, then I’ll play your song.”

Best place to listen: California 62 on your way through Yucca Valley

An illustration of polaroid of California 62.

(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)