With a day off from work, I loaded my mother into our Pontiac and headed to mountain country. Oak Glen, one of the few places that retains its small-town-life charm in the face of rapid urbanization was the perfect destination to press 'reset'. Bundled in layers of sweaters, scarves, bonnets, and woolen socks we made the natural first stop: the side of the road to take a picture of the "Now Entering Oak Glen" sign. So there I am, sprinting along the side of the road in 20 degree weather, getting honked and moo-ed at by bull/horned cow/animals. All so I can throw up the peace sign next to this giant wooden apple, because, well, #aesthetic.
After taking the much needed photo-op with a giant wooden apple we headed back onto the road in search of sustenance from Apple Annie's. This came in the form of hot apple cider, breakfast burritos, and biscuits+gravy. We, however unfortunately, choose to venture to Oak Glen during off-season, which on the plus side meant less crowds and on the minus side meant less orchards and cider mills were open.
The snow and crisp weather made the experience magical though as everywhere you looked there were spots of white powder draped over buildings and dormant apple trees. I recommend grabbing a map as one of the first things you do here. We got ours from Apple Annie's after breakfast and just followed the curved road going from orchard to orchard; and believe you me, there are a lot of orchards in Oak Glen.
The first one we tried to stop at was Snow-line which boosts having the oldest chestnut tree in the community as well as apple-donuts, apple wine, and an ancient cider mill.
The next orchard we visited was the Los Rios Rancho, I highly recommend stopping off here because they have a display of antique carriages from the turn of the 19th century, stickers, postcards, a BQQ restaurant, and access to the Wildlands Conservatory. Unfortunately, due to the snow, the conservatory was closed when we visited, but I have been told this is an excellent hike to do when the weather's good.
From here we went to the School House Museum and Park, while the park is always open and children could be found sledding in the snow covered hills, the museum itself is only open on the weekends.
Our final stop of the day was Riley's Farm, which is a functioning orchard as well as a living history farm, meaning be prepared to witness the awesomeness of humans wearing late-18th-early-19th century garb. This place is honestly the greatest! Ideal for children and fun for child-adults like me, they boost candle dipping lessons, tomahawk throwing and archery lessons, and an English pub. The Hawk's Head Pub has amazing apple pie, chicken pot-pie, and live period-accurate music. Eternal hat-tips to the musician who mastered the mandolin.
There is a theatre house on the grounds, live animals, and Civil War/Revolutionary War reenactments. While, of course its historically inaccurate, as California was incorporated into the United States in the mid-1800s and had little battle-involvement in the Civil War. The SENTIMENT is cool.
Ultimately y'all, just go to Oak Glen. Their peak session is September-November where you can go picking apples along the dotted foothills, warm up with hot cider, and be amazed by the spectacles at Riley's Farm. Riley Farm offers, dinner-musical-performances as well, so a solid Oak Glen adventure for those who live further away would be to plan your trip around their performance schedule, so you could spend the day wandering around the town then see the performance in the evening.
Adventuring around Southern California's desert region was my 2018 resolution. As a desert/beach child I spent my life split between Long Beach and Moreno Valley -- with a short period in Big Bear -- as a result I always found the diverse geography a commonality growing up. The way the shadows fell on the canyons with every sunset, the way the sun sparkled off the Pacific ocean, the way a white-out snow fall felt like an engulfed world of white softness; all these things have come to shape my experience of growing up a Southern Californian.
In the midst of returning from my year abroad and preparing for my PhD abroad I have this GAP period where I find myself in my childhood home. Over the past couple months I've been here I am revisiting what I know of SoCal. Often when people think of SoCal they think Hollywood, the beach, and Coachella. Probably in that order too. I think growing up I took advantage of my surroundings and the phenomenon of only having to drive 5 minutes east to loose civilization. Frolicking through the dirt on a hillside canyon miles away from the sounds of humans, dancing to the music spilling forth from a Chevy truck while the sunsets was more often than not my Friday nights. I think it took me a while to realize that I could be more than one thing, I could be a surfer, beaching my way through my school vacations and a desert flower blooming in arid climates. Both things were fine, both things are a Southern Californian.
In an attempt to connect -- I suppose -- to my roots I find I am now less cautious to explore the area around me. Tiny Americana towns litter the Inland Empire, like Perris and Lake Elsinore, as much as the rolling canyons/mountains do.
A dusty town with just over 60,000 people in it has a single strip of a main street built around the railroad station. Settled, like much of the Inland Empire in the California Boom of the 1880s; what was once pasture land became the connector station between Barstow and San Diego. Known primarily for its Orange Empire Railroad Museum -- which has an incredible amount of trains, including a particularly cool Mourners Trolley or Funerary Train which brought residents from San Dimas to funerals. Additionally, it boasts a total of three smaller museums just on D Street as well as the Rock Castle which was built using rocks from the Whitewater River.
Lake Elsinore, CA
For some reason I grew up thinking Lake Elsinore was the hopping destination for summer travel. Spurred, I believe now, by the hype of BMX/Bro culture which ravaged through Inland in the 2000s as well as Lake Havasu's infamy; this town was not what I was expecting.
With about 50,000 occupants the once populous rancho community has maintained its cultural center around the 3,000 acres of the natural freshwater lake but grew as a resort destination for those interested in dirt biking and boating. A fun aside, I learned on my trip from an elderly woman who happened to be at the Lake the day I was, because of its length, the lake was used during WWII to test seaplanes. If you're an adventurous hiker, I recommend heading out this way in the Spring when the California Poppies and wildflowers will be in full bloom. Hitting Walker Canyon and Alberhill District which relishes in its epicenter of Terra Cotta, a local ghost town which had been a mining center.