Set snugly against the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, tiny Sierra Madre is a window into the valley's rural past just 10 miles northeast of downtown L.A. In late fall, tree-lined neighborhoods blaze with color, local dogs snooze under the tables at the many sidewalk cafes, and hikers take advantage of cooler mornings to climb the Mt. Wilson Trail to panoramic valley views.
Most important? Remember to slow down and enjoy ― there's not a single traffic light within city limits.
Sierra Madre is in the San Gabriel Valley, 10 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles and 5 miles east of downtown Pasadena. From I-210, exit at Baldwin Ave. and go 1 mile north.
E. Waldo Ward & Son. A small family farm that's been canning fabulous jams and jellies since 1918. Its tiny gift shop (selling pickled watermelon rind and orange-papaya marmalade) sits among the last remaining commercial orange groves in Los Angeles County. Closed Sun; 273 E. Highland Ave.; www.waldoward.com or 626/355-1218.
Mt. Wilson Trail. The winding 7.5-mile trek to historic Mount Wilson Observatory climbs from chaparral into pines, with spectacular views along the way. Mira Monte Ave. at Mt. Wilson Trail Dr.; 818/899-1900 for trail conditions.
Savor the Flavor. Picnic sets and gourmet goodies to pack inside. 11 Kersting Ct.; 626/355-5153.EAT
Bean Town. The gum-ball machine still costs just a penny at this cozy coffee bar and bakery with killer ice cream and live music on weekends. $; 45 N. Baldwin Ave.; 626/355-1596.
Cafe 322. Good Italian ― try the manicotti al forno. $$; closed Mon; 322 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.; 626/836-5414.
The Four Seasons Tea Room. It's all about white linen and vintage china inside this historic cottage. Some of the world's best scones. $$$; closed Sun-Mon; 75 N. Baldwin Ave.; 626/355-0045.
Lucky Baldwin's Delirium Pub & Cafe. Tasty English favorites like cottage pie, plus 46 beers on tap, and more than 50 by the bottle. $; 21 Kersting Ct.; 626/355-1140.
We suggest driving a few miles to Pasadena for hotels in many price ranges ― going all the way up to the historic Ritz-Carlton, Huntington Hotel & Spa (392 rooms from $399; www.ritzcarlton.com or 626/568-3900). The Huntington is an elegant choice, known for its Japanese garden, afternoon teas, and graceful covered footbridge decorated with 1930s murals. Another option is the Westin Pasadena (350 rooms from $149; www.westin.com/pasadena or 626/792-2727), with relaxing rooms done in soft neutral tones and white, plus a heated pool with a view of City Hall. Both the Westin and the Huntington were renovated in the summer of 2005.