Take a day trip in SoCal’s old west: Check out saloons, pick blueberries, meet alpacas

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This is one of the western-style saloons you can see in Pioneertown. Photo by Catchpenny (CC BY-ND 2.0).

The July 4 weekend is here and it's the biggest holiday since state officials lifted coronavirus restrictions. Millions of Southland residents are expected to hit the road, and a day trip could be an option for you. 

California travel writer Ann Marie Brown suggests dusting off your boots and getting a taste of the old west. 

She says Southern California has a strong showing of gold rush towns. “And there are also towns with amazing ranching history and stagecoach history. … A lot of towns in Southern California were alive and well during the 1800s.”


You can buy antiques in Old Town Temecula.“[There’s] a lot of great places to go, good places to eat and wonderful little shops,” says Ann Marie Brown. Photo by Prayitno Photography (CC BY 2.0).

This Riverside County town is mostly known for  wine tourism,and Brown says Old Town Temecula was a popular travel route in the 1850s. 

“Merchants set up shop there because it was just a logical place for people to stop and get whatever they needed to continue on their journeys. In fact, one of the first post offices in inland Southern California was set up in Temecula,” says Brown. 

While there are modern stores and restaurants, Brown says the town still has wonderful wooden sidewalks and western storefronts. 

“[There’s] a lot of great places to go, good places to eat and wonderful little shops.” 

And despite being a hub for drinking, families can enjoy all sorts of activities together.  

“Right now is a wonderful time to go blueberry picking. If your kids have not experienced a u-pick farm, this would be the time to go,” says Brown. She recommends heading to the Temecula Berry Co. 

“They'll give you a basket. So you go pick and you bring home as much as you can eat, and you just pay by the basket,” says Brown. 

Another family-friendly activity involves the alpaca.  She recommends making a reservation at The Alpaca Hacienda. “You can book in advance. You get a private tour just for you and your family or you and your friends,” she explains. 

The whole family can meet alpacas in Temecula. Photo by Sven H. Photography/Shutterstock.


Located near Joshua Tree, Pioneertown is a movie set from the 1940s that was actually built to look like the 1180s. 

“It's an actual false front town that was put together by a bunch of Hollywood investors because they wanted to have a place where they could shoot movies, but they also wanted it to not be a ghost town. They want it to be a living town where people could live and have businesses,” says Brown. 

Back in the day, there were ice cream parlors, motels and other services in the western-style facade. However, Brown says it's still worth exploring, especially for two extremely popular places. 

The first: Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. The iconic venue is great for live music and food. “They have the desert’s best ribs: Santa Maria barbecue.”

Inside Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. Photo by Harmony Gerber/PHOTO-GRAFITTI (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Brown says the venue is no longer a ghost town. They’re starting their whole schedule now that all COVID restrictions have been lifted. 

If you can’t get there, Brown recommends a place down the street called the Red Dog Saloon. She says it's a fun, old western-style saloon where you can get great cocktails and tacos. 

Once you are done eating, she says you should walk around their main street called “Mane Street.” “It’s just a walk around … and you can learn about all the films and TV shows that were filmed in the 1940s and 50s,” says Brown. 


If you are trying to avoid the heat, drive to the Cuyamaca Mountains for the town called Julian. 

Brown says Julian is a 1870s gold rush town that still has a couple of mines. 

A glimpse of the mountain town of Julian. Photo by Chris Jepsen (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“But now all the gold is really found in apples,” she explains. There are about 20 different varieties of apples grown there. “And so lots of places serve apple pie, apple fritters, apple donuts, apple cider, apple everything. … So you want to go with an empty stomach so you can fill up while you're there,” says Brown.

To get the best pies in town, Brown recommends going to Moms Pie House, Julian Pie Company and Apple Alley Bakery.

If you want to hike some of that off, head to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. There are over 100 miles of trails to hike there. 

“And if you’re not a hiker, you can also just go and take a tour of the Eagle and Hike Peak Mine, and you can learn all about Julian’s 1870s gold rush.”

Fourth of July events

If you want to see a good fireworks display, Brown recommends going to Temecula, which starts Independence Day,  and their fireworks show at 9 p.m. above Ronald Reagan Sports Park.

“But if you want to experience true Americana, I would go to Julian for their holiday parade,”says Brown. 

The town’s extravaganza is an annual event that most residents take part in. It starts off in the morning with Stearman Bi Planes used in World War II for a flyover. 

Around noon, the big parade begins. “Everybody has to take part in the parade because they start by unfurling this giant American flag. … It's so big, the audience has to assist in unfurling that flag,” explains Brown.



Larry Perel


Tara Atrian