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6 Fall Weekends You Need to Take (from the Beach to the Desert to the Hot Springs)

You know that L.A. humblebrag we always drop on out-of-towners? “It’s so great here! You could be skiing in the morning and surfing that afternoon.” Um, be real—the last trip you remember was to the Valley. (Does. Not. Count.) It’s time to recapture that West Coast wonder by taking one of these low-effort, high-reward weekend trips. (Mountains! Ocean! Musical theater!) Make a reservation, fill up your tank and leave work early already.

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Alisal

Play Cowhand at a Luxe Cabin

In the heart of Santa Barbara wine country, the Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort is a breath of fresh country air. This is a ranch in the Old California style—you dress for dinner and curl up in front of your fireplace, not TV, after a long day of horseback riding. And if all this quiet is too much for you, Gainey Vineyard and a half dozen other tasting rooms are waiting for you 15 minutes down the road.

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Seven Magic Mountains

Contemplate art in the Nevada wilderness

Seven Magic Mountains is a 30-foot-high stack of boulders painted in garish Day-Glo colors in the middle of nowhere. It’s Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone’s version of poetry in the rough, and this is the perfect time to stroll around it (now that temps are below 120 degrees). It’s a two-year project that comes down in May 2018, so time is running out. Best of all, it’s only ten miles south of Las Vegas, so you’ve got tons of accommodation choices…we recommend the new Lucky Dragon Hotel and Casino on the emerging north end of the Strip.

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Commune with nature in the Anza-Borrego Desert

The largest state park in Cali, the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is often overshadowed by the development of its northern neighbor, Palm Springs. That’s too bad, since 500 miles of dirt roads and so many hiking trails offer sweeping views of roadrunners, golden eagles, bighorn sheep and (yikes) red diamond rattlesnakes. Balance all that rusticity with the spa and room service at your hotel, the Borrego Springs Resort.

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Indulge in Hot Springs in the Eastern Sierras

Mono County is famous for Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, but before even the first snowfall it’s worth visiting to take a tour of the area’s open-air hot springs. Fly into Mammoth airport and stay in an Airbnb, then seek out the pools in Bridgeport and Benton.

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Beachcomb in Off-Season Laguna

Enjoy some of the most stunning West Coast shoreline (like this stretch of Victoria Beach with its abandoned tower) during the shoulder season in Laguna Beach. You’ll be able to indulge in such rare experiences as parking without hassle, procuring a dinner reservation without bullying and strolling on the sand without bumping elbows. Treat yourself to lush surroundings inside, too, with a stay in one of the historic buildings of Casa Laguna, furnished by acclaimed interior decorator-to-the-stars Martyn Lawrence Bullard.

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Get Musical in San Diego

The fall season at the acclaimed La Jolla Playhouse is all about Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, in which three actresses in the title role trace the meteoric rise and descent of the disco icon. Stay in a cheery room at the Hotel Indigo in nearby Del Mar and rest up for an early morning hike among the rare Torrey Pines before you head back home.

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