California’s Craftsmen and Desert Dreamers

The Huntington Library’s Chinese Gardens’ “Pavilion of The Three Friends”

The Huntington Library’s Chinese Gardens’ “Pavilion of The Three Friends”

Courtesy of The Huntington Library

California’s reputation as a land of innovation extends far beyond Silicon Valley, with boundary-pushing art and architecture to be found in the lowlands of the Mexican frontier all the way to the foothills of Angeles National Forest. Our four-day itinerary will help you find inspiration throughout the best of Southern California’s lesser-known lands.Fueled by a hearty helping of the state’s notoriously delectable cuisine, you’ll range from the timeless architecture of breezy Old Town Pasadena to the radical art installations left under the desert sun on the shores of the Salton Sea, with plenty of time to stargaze and unwind left in between.

Though Pasadena is pleasant throughout the year, temperatures in the desert can fluctuate considerably depending on the season, making it best to visit between October and April. While it might be easiest to fly into Ontario International Airport, several other options are within reasonable distance, including LAX and San Diego International.


Trip Highlight

Bombay Beach

Once a thriving vacation spot, this tiny town on the shores of the Salton Sea is packed with haunting, vibrant art installations which reflect the radical environmental changes that the region has undergone in recent years. With its playfully apocalyptic aesthetic, there’s no place on earth quite like it.

Trip Designer

Visit California

Visit California’s goal is to remind travelers of the vast experiences that await in California. The Golden State boasts a variety of trip options, from laid-back luxury to outdoor adventures, and Visit California is the ultimate resource to guide the way.
The Langham Huntington’s Horseshoe Garden

The Langham Huntington’s Horseshoe Garden

Courtesy of The Langham Huntington

Day 1Experience the Glamor of Old Town Pasadena

Starting in Pasadena, Hollywood’s elegant and eye-opening neighbor, the century-old, palatial Langham Huntingtonwill serve as the perfect homebase to explore the town’s rich history. With a short ride on the Metro Line you’ll be in Old Town, where you can marvel at the immaculate architecture with a self-guided tour. Look for exceptional examples such as Castle Green, City Hall and Garden, and Central Library, which recall a more august analogue to the more-frequented buildings representative of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Devote most of the day exploring the art at Norton Simon Museum—one of the largest private collections on earth, with more than 12,000 pieces spanning upwards of 2,000 years. Or split your time by including a visit to the Armory Center for the Arts as well. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, don your more formal duds for high tea or a romantic dinner at Madeleine Garden, located in an Italianate building with a long, fascinating history.
The exemplary Arts And Crafts interior of the Gamble House

The exemplary Arts And Crafts interior of the Gamble House

Courtesy of ©Alex Vertikoff

Day 2Going Back in Time

Your hotel is a short drive from what’s perhaps Pasadena’s most prestigious property, The Huntington, which features sprawling botanical gardens, a world-class art gallery, and one of the most important research libraries in the country. Yet architecture lovers still have much more to explore back in town, starting with Gamble House. Made famous by starring as Doc Brown’s residence in Back to the Future, it remains one of the most important expressions of the Arts and Crafts movement in the country. Additional examples of important period architecture can be found within walking distance, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Millard House and the elite district of chalet-style homes known informally as Little Switzerland.

After your walking tour is complete, be sure to visit The Raymond, the only remainder of Pasadena’s regal, 300-room hotel which once played host to Hollywood’s biggest stars. Savor the beef cheeks braised with mole and a bottle of Napa Cabernet in the garden of this 19th-century craftsman cottage. Then end the evening with a bit of champagne at The Tap Room, the Langham’s cozy, Prohibition-style piano bar.
The super bloom in Borrego

The super bloom in Borrego

Courtesy of Jack Prichett/Unsplash

Day 3The Color of the Desert

Those visiting in early spring should consider the trek out to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to take in the unforgettable colors of the super bloom, as well as the Painted Lady butterfly which migrates among the native hummingbirds who claim the desert as their home. While there, be sure to hike the Slot Canyon Trail.

Then explore Ricardo Braceda’s feral Sky Art sculptures at Galleta Meadows Estate, spread over more than 1,500 acres of undeveloped property belonging to the late Dennis Avery. What’s more, the Estate’s Under the Sun Foundation also hosts the Candlewood Arts Festival every March, celebrating the art and artists of the desert. Once you’ve had your fill of the art of the desert, enjoy a nighttime soak beneath the stars in the hot tubs at the adults-only oasis of Borrego Valley Inn, whose hacienda-style courtyard affords you the ability to admire the majesty of the desert without taking off your slippers.
Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain

Courtesy of Carol M. Highsmith/Visit California

Day 4Plunging to New Depths

Venturing deeper into the desert, the man-made Salton Sea is the largest lake in California, and the ever-increasing salinity threatening its unique ecosystem gives the impression that you’re entering a Martian landscape. Adding to the surrealness of the scene, many art installations have sprouted up over the years, concentrated largely around the shuttered luxury resorts of Bombay Beach and its rapidly corroding cars buried in the salty silt.

From there, cruise over to the ruins of the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, where the rich and famous would moor their luxury vessels until the early 1980s. And, you won’t want to miss Salvation Mountain, a sacral mound hand-built from vibrantly painted adobe. Cool down with a beer and a burger at the offbeat dive, Ski Inn, and if you decide to stay the night, rest your weary head at Ray and Carol’s Motel.
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