It’s hard to experience the changing seasons in L.A. The palm trees sway in the ocean breeze and sunshine all year long. So if your internal seasonal clock starts going a little haywire around September and you need a quick escape from the city to mark the coming of fall, consider an autumn day trip. There are a bunch of worthy destinations within a two hour drive, depending on where you’re leaving from and the will of the traffic gods.
Distance from L.A.: 2 hours
Why wait for the first snowfall to enjoy the splendor of Big Bear. In the early fall, you can catch the leaves as they change colors, appreciate Big Bear Lake, unencumbered by a layer of ice, and attend events like Oktoberfest put on by the Big Bear Convention Center, not to mention all the hiking and wildlife watching on offer.
Fall’s colors are no less brilliant in Idyllwild, where the cottonwoods and oaks explode into a barrage of yellow each October. Along with brilliant floral displays, Idyllwild is known for its arts, so be sure to check out the shops where you can pick up crafts and pottery as souvenirs.
If FOMO gets the best of you and you need to pick apples like Americans who live in inferior climates where that sort of thing seems more appropriate, then head out to Oak Glen, the apple basket of L.A. You’ll find a bunch of orchards where you can pick your own fruit, and maybe pick up some other autumnal produce while you’re at it.
Okay, so Pomona is technically within L.A. County, but it’s still a bit of a drive for most Angelenos (although so is much of Los Angeles itself, tbh). We’re including it here mostly because the L.A. County Fair is one of the few seasonal events you can’t miss in fall. The fair has ruled fall in Pomona since 1922 and it’s one of the nation’s largest. Ride the ferris wheel, eat funnel cake, and check out the marching band competition.
This is about the furthest from L.A. you can comfortably go in a day. But Joshua Tree National Park offers some of the most stark natural beauty in the western United States. No matter the season, the iconic spindly trees welcome you into a pristine desert playground, but in the fall the temperature drops a bit, making it easier to hike and sightsee all afternoon long. While the town of Joshua Tree offers a few restaurants and some (surprisingly quality) vintage shopping, you’re better off grabbing dinner in Palm Springs before your drive back.
Just up the Pacific coast you can get great wine, relatively empty beaches (especially come fall), and visit a killer zoo, all beneath the shadows of pristine Spanish architecture. The famed Old Mission Santa Barbara is worth a visit for history geeks, while those who prefer something more convivial can take advantage of the area’s excellent vino by exploring the Urban Wine Trail. For something completely foreign from what you’ll find in L.A., head up into the hills above town to the Cold Spring Tavern, the former home of a stagecoach company, an occasional biker bar, a bluegrass music venue, and the type of place that is all things to all types of drinkers.