By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Hello, dear escapees. Nothing like a vacation in Southern California: the kitsch and quirky view of colorful lights on a palm tree, the Santa Claus surf show, the Beach Boys’ Christmas tunes on repeat throughout the month.

In many ways, the fun of vacationing in the Golden State is heightened the further east you venture. In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find inspiration for a road trip through the interior of California, from an ornately decorated historic Riverside hotel to the sometimes snow-capped trails of Mt. San Jacinto State Park.

Where are you exploring this December? What are your favorite California vacation activities? Let me know, so that I can pass them on to other readers.

Enjoy vacation decor – amidst lots of history – at Riverside

The Mission Inn’s Festival of Lights, spanning an entire city block from downtown Riverside, is a no-brainer for anyone traveling to or from the California desert in search of a little zest for life.

Times writer Jeanette Marantos included the impressive decorations of the nearly 150-year-old inn and spa on her list of 26 best holiday light displays in and around Los Angeles.

Enjoying the Mission Inn’s exterior lights is free, but for an enhanced experience, you can make a reservation to tour the property. The 75-minute walking tours, which detail the history of the National Historic Landmark, cost $ 25 for adults and $ 5 for children 11 and under.

While you’re in town, stop by the Main Street Pedestrian Mall near Mission Inn for more Christmas lights.

Can’t get enough of the holiday season at the Mission Inn? Spend more time in the midst of the glow by booking a stay. Rooms start at $ 379 during the holiday season, reports Marantos.

Additionally, Christopher Reynolds, travel writer for The Times, suggests visitors book dinner at the Mission Inn restaurant, where main courses range from $ 21 to $ 54. “You can land on a patio table, surrounded by domes, towers, arches, and buttresses, augmented for the season by angels, gnomes, and polar bears, many of whom move like animatronic President Lincoln at Disneyland. “, he writes in the winter edition. from its list of the 40 best California experiences.

(Jess Miller / For the Times)

A wild party in Palm Desert

The next display of Christmas lights on the agenda is 70 miles east on Interstate 10. On your way, keep your eyes peeled for the Cabazon dinosaurs, dressed in Santa Claus outfits and red noses. If you have an extra day to spare, you may want to consider adding the beloved travel destination to your itinerary.

At the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens’ WildLights exhibit, you’ll find a herd of illuminated life-size animal lanterns, model trains running over 3,300 feet of track and over a million colorful Christmas lights.

Like the Mission Inn Festival of Lights, WildLights has also earned a spot on Marantos’ list of 26 best holiday light displays in and around Los Angeles.

If you go, be sure to take a photo in the Palm Desert Zoo’s tunnel of light and explore the newly opened trails available to guests. While the holiday lights are the main event, visitors to WildLights may also spot some animals.

WildLights is open to the public from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on December 10-11, 17-24 and 26-30. Admission costs $ 16 for non-member adults and $ 12 for children 3 to 12 years old.

Life-size lanterns depicting giraffes and a cheetah.

Illuminated creatures at WildLights at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.

(The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens)

Climb nearly 6,000 feet to Mount San Jacinto

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which claims to offer the world’s largest rotary tram, is a desert favorite, especially during the colder months.

“Where can you travel from the floor of the California desert to the top of a snow-capped mountain in 10 minutes?” Only on this streetcar in winter, ”writes Reynolds in his recent summary of winter experiences.

The rotating gondolas offer visitors a 360-degree view of Chino Canyon as they ascend 4 km to Mountain Station, at a rapid speed of 8,516 feet.

Bring an extra layer if you plan to explore Mount San Jacinto State Park (which you should do). It’s typically 30 to 40 degrees cooler than Valley Station, Reynolds reports.

There are plenty of hiking trails accessible from Mountain Station, along with a few food (and drink) options for those who are hungry or want to turn the experience into a date night. The Pines Café, a cafeteria, is open for lunch and dinner, while the Lookout Lounge serves beer, wine, and cocktails until 8 p.m. Peaks is more upscale but is only open for lunch at the moment, writes Reynolds.

Travelers, beware: if your heart is spotting snow in Mountain Station, be sure to check the weather before booking a ticket. Once enough snow has blanketed the ground, visitors to Mountain Station can rent cross-country skis and snowshoes at the Winter adventure center on top of the mountain.

Parking costs $ 10, and tram rides cost $ 28.95 for adults.

Want to add a little more Christmas magic to your weekend? Tram users can see the choirs of local high schools play holiday tunes on the Pines Café stage at Mountain Station at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., December 10-12.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tram gondola ascends to Mountain Station.

Since 1963, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway has connected the dry desert (elevation 2,643 feet) and the often snow-capped upper slopes of Mount San Jacinto (8,516 feet) in a 10-minute ride.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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Drive the palm trees to Pines Scenic Byway in Idyllwild

At this point, you’ve experienced a lot of holiday cheer. You can turn around and drive Interstate 10 back to LA, happy with a weekend well spent amid the holiday lights and carols.

Or you can spend an afternoon walking the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway to Idyllwild, a cozy town cradled in the San Jacinto Mountains – also on Reynolds’ list. the 40 best winter experiences in California.

Visitors can easily spend a weekend (or more) in Idyllwild to explore its trails and town center. If you’re pressed for time and hoping to maximize the city’s party vibe, head to the Candy Cupboard, which has been offering butterscotch apples, taffy, chocolate, and more goodies for 40 years.

If travelers encounter wintery conditions on the mountain and want to spend some time playing in the snow, “the Idyllwild Nature Center (open Thursday through Sunday, about a mile northwest of town) is a good point. starting, ”Reynolds reports.

While swinging around Idyllwild, keep your eyes peeled for a golden retriever named Max – it’s the mayor and maybe downtown greets voters and travelers while you’re there.

A forest with mountains and a sunset in the background.

Dusk sets in over the landscape as seen near the Black Mountain Lookout in Idyllwild.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

What i read

  • Do you like to visit the illuminated holiday exhibitions? Many places – from the Lucent sculpture in Chicago to the “Sea of ​​Stars” in the Maldives – sparkle even outside of Christmas time. Jonathan Carey provides a list of 15 sparkling destinations in the Atlas Obscura.
  • A “land grab” by the Skunk Train, a popular tourist attraction in Mendocino County, has started a fight with the city of Fort Bragg, reports Eric Ting in SFGate.
  • What happens when outdoor recreation begins to draw people to tribal lands? “The Navajo Rangers program presents a microcosm of the concerns that ariseElizabeth Miller writes in the Colorado Sun.
  • “Lagos, there is no place on earth like this,” Yvonne Orji, one of HBO’s “Insecure” stars, told Condé Nast Traveler. She breaks down the “chaotic astonishment” of Nigeria’s largest city, as well as the importance of relaxing while traveling.
  • What is it like to spend a year “slow traveling” in a van from Mexico to Alaska? Scott McMurren portrays a couple journey through the west in the Anchorage Daily News.

Photo of the week

Adam Thomson surfs wearing a Santa hat.

Adam Thomson, dressed up as Santa Claus, enjoys surfing just north of Newport Pier.

(Drew A. Kelley / For the Daily Pilot)

Song of the road

Song: “Cool Yule” by Louis Armstrong

Favorite lyrics: “From Coney Island to the Sunset Strip / Someone’s gonna have a nice trip tonight / While the moon is shining.”

Where to play: Cruise on North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs

A Polaroid style illustration of North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.

(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)