The freeways are what define Los Angeles. They’re a web of asphalt, steel, and traffic that connects the coast, valley, and mountains in a limited-access, multilane system. These highways were considered so essential that planners.
It wasn’t always like this. Angelenos used to travel on two-lane roads before the first freeway was built in December 1940. These roads cut through the classic Southern California landscape, which included hills, canyons, and ranches. They also followed the original stagecoach route.
Many of these backroads still exist even though the citrus groves are now mostly multimillion-dollar homes. On a sunny morning, I drove from my home in the San Fernando Valley, near Santa Barbara, to the wine region northwest of Santa Barbara. It was about 100 miles. My mission was to find museums, restaurants that are over 100 years old, small towns, and other hidden sites.
1. Plummer House/Leonis Adobe
2. King Gillette Ranch
3. The Old Place
4. Satwiwa Native American Indian Cultural Center
5. Mullin Automotive Museum
6. California Oil Museum
7. Ojai Valley Overlook
8. Boccali’s Pizza and Pasta
9. Lake Casitas
10. Cold Spring Tavern
Old Hollywood and the ranch built by razors
Valley Circle is the turnoff for the off-piste adventure. Not only is the town home to celebrities like the Kardashians and Kevin Hart, but it also has a blue Victorian house that was once known as “the oldest house in Hollywood” despite being miles away from the Walk of Fame. The Plummer House, built in the 1870s and now located in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park, was moved here in 1983.
The Plummer House is located next to the Leonis Adobe. It was built by Miguel Leonis, who was a French-Basque Immigrant and a major Los Angeles Landowner known as the King of Calabasas. The two-story brick adobe home, with its wraparound verandas, is still furnished the same way it was when first occupied by Miguel Leonis in the 1870s. The Leonis Adobe Museum is open only on weekends.
Sagebrush Cantina is a Mexican restaurant that’s been around for nearly 50 years. It features live music, karaoke, and modest clothing shops.
The 588-acre King Gillette Ranch is located at the intersection of Las Virgenes Road, which was opened in 1928. It bears the name of the razor magnate that once owned the ranch. Free to visit and now part of a national recreation area, the farm showcases a 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival mansion designed by Wallace Neff, an early-20th-century architect credited with creating the “California style.” The house and grounds, approached by driving down a long eucalyptus-tree-lined road, were settings for the TV series “The Biggest Loser.”
A dark, rustic cabin emerging from the Mulholland Highway woods signals that you have reached the Restaurant Old Place. Morgan Runyon is the son of Tom Runyon, who founded the restaurant. The building was the Cornell, Calif. post office from 1950 to 1970. The name Runyon may sound familiar because it was once the property of the Runyon clan. It now owns Runyon Canyon in the Hollywood Hills, a hiking trail that attracts celebrities.
- Saving lives: As hikers become more and more vulnerable to heat, Grand Canyon National Park rangers are taking a leading-edge approach by using aggressive messaging and outreach in order to prevent disaster.
- Stargazers welcome: Some national parks are popular dark-sky refuges. These are the best spots to admire the cosmos.
- Peak season: The spring and summer months can be particularly busy at the National Park Service’s hundreds of sites. This is how rangers prepare the trails.
- Hidden gems: Serenity can be hard to find in nature these days. Even the most popular parks contain hidden treasures.
The restaurant is clad in wood both inside and outside. It serves steaks that are grilled on local red oak.
Visit a Chumash Village, then look at old cars.
The suburbs disappear as you approach the Hidden Valley community on Potrero Road. Nestled in the mountains, this area is famous for its horse breeding and has been home to celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Sophia Loren, and Britney Spears. The roadside is lined with lots of at least eight acres behind white picket fencing, which has been used as a backdrop for numerous car commercials.
As you descend the steep and curving road, you will pass the Satwiwa Indian Culture Center. This is part of the National Park Service’s site that preserves a former Chumash Village. Native American guides will be available on weekends to talk about the Chumash culture and also show visitors a replica of the Chumash house, which is a dome-shaped structure called an “ap.” The visit is free.
As you reach flat land, you will have to contend with farm trucks that are moving slowly. You may also pass tiny cottages or roadside stands selling avocados at a price of two for $1.
Take a break on Fridays or Saturdays if you’re a fan of old cars. Peter Mullin, an insurance executive, founded the museum. It is hidden in an industrial park in Oxnard and features French cars from the 1890s up to the present. The collection ranges from a boxy open-cabin 1911 Renault to sleek 1930s cars and a large group of early Bugatti racing vehicles. All of them are housed in an Art Deco interior.
A stagecoach and an oil rig
Santa Paula is a quiet town located across the Santa Clara River. Its main street features a series of low-slung shops. The California Oil Museum is located on a prominent corner of Main Street. It occupies the oversized Victorian headquarters from the 1890s of the Union Oil Company. The museum offers a history of California’s oil industry and features a 19th-century working oil rig.
You’ll be cruising down a winding road that is devoid of any other cars, past citrus groves and thickly wooded areas. Stop at the Ojai Overlook. This rest stop provides a bird’s eye view of the farmland and green valley below in the bowl-shaped Ojai Valley, surrounded by the Topatopa Mountains.
You’ll see Boccali’s Pizza and Pasta as you descend into the Ojai Valley. This is part of the Boccali winery. It has the feel of a small restaurant you might find while bicycling in an Alpine village. A variety of pasta dishes are also available on the build-your-own-pizza menu. On the porch, a stand sells grapefruits, lemons, and oranges for 50 cents each. Bags of oranges are $10, and avocados are $1. The payment for the produce will be on an honor system.
Then, you’ll be able to circumnavigate the entire three-mile reservoir, which provides drinking water for Ojai and its surrounding areas. You can fish, boat, and camp, but you shouldn’t think of swimming. The water is meant for human consumption.
Montecito’s Route 192 is lined with hedges, imposing gates, and multiacre estates that cost between $10 million and $25 million. The town, which is close to Santa Barbara but still isolated, is home to Oprah Winfrey, as well as the Duke and Duchess. Harry and Meghan. John and Jacqueline Kennedy spent their honeymoon at the San Ysidro Ranch. Accommodations start at $2 495 per night plus taxes, with meals included.
Stagecoach Road is located just northwest of Santa Barbara over San Marcos Pass. The road is named after the stagecoaches that used to travel it. It parallels Route 154 and then plunges through a forest area before reaching the Cold Spring Tavern. The structure was originally a stagecoach station in 1868. It attracted travelers seeking a break from the bumpy ride, as well as thieves looking to steal the Wells Fargo cash boxes.
The rustic, vine-covered, wood-and-stone interior of this restaurant is heavy on meat. It offers burgers, chicken, steak, wild boar, and tri-tip at modest prices. The restaurant is located next to an abandoned, tiny jail that was brought from Ojai and a road gang house built by 11 Chinese immigrants in 1868 to sleep in as they worked the San Marcos Pass road.
Land of 5,000 Olives
You’ll drive past burned-out trees, stumps, and grazing cows, as well as fresh growth. This is the lingering effect of the wildfires, which can be catastrophic.
Los Olivos is a rural town with a small-town feel. It can be reached in 30 minutes. The city, which was founded in 1887 and is still adorned with Victorian-style homes, got its name from 5,000 olive trees on a local ranch.
Grand Avenue is its main street, and it has a few clothing shops, galleries of crafts, art, and photographs, as well as tasting outlets for local wineries.
Panino serves a variety of grilled sandwiches, salads, and more. The Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe offers more than 250 different wines. Its restaurant serves a variety of local dishes, including fish and meat.
The 15-room Victorian-style Ballard Inn is a great option for travelers who want to spend the night. It has a wraparound patio, happy hour with snacks and wine, and it’s located in the village of Ballard. Rates can range from around $245 per night, depending on the season.
The newly renovated Inn At Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos is now a part of the Auberge group and offers luxurious accommodations. Rooms start at about $630, depending on the season.
Los Olivos is a great place to visit, but one thing you can be sure of: if you choose the freeway, you will arrive in Los Angeles in less than half the time, with twice as much traffic. If you take the back roads with their curvy historical sites, overlooks, and restaurants, the extra time spent on the street is well worth it.