Nothing compares to a Southern California road trip as the seasons’ change.

There’s so much to see – from San Simeon and Hearst Castle in the north to the former gold mining town of Julian in the south.

Slide through Idyllwild to catch the fall foliage and fish the lakes in the San Jacinto Mountains. Hear the details of those spots, and more in this iDSC Podcast.

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Recorded July 11, 2018, in Los Angeles, CA

Change Your Scenery During the Changing Seasons

Doug Shupe: San Simeon is a great destination to take a road trip to, you know, and enjoy the Hearst Castle. Julian is nestled about 6000 feet in the Laguna Mountains. It’s about 40 miles northeast of San Diego. It’s a former gold mining town. Another destination that people may not think of is Idyllwild. It’s about maybe 40 minutes outside of Palm Springs up in the mountains, a couple of lakes to go fishing

Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility from the automotive capital of this fine United States, Southern California. Tom Smith here with Doug Shupe, Senior Public Affairs Specialist from the Auto Club of Southern California, also known as AAA. Doug, thanks again for joining me.

Doug Shupe: Hi, Tom. Thanks for having me.

Tom Smith: The topic du jour is road trips, getting out there on the road that we love to do here in Southern California, and actually enjoying a trip, getting out of dodge . Now, Doug and I, this is where we’re recording this in mid-July. And the idea really is to plan everything a few months out, right?

Doug Shupe: Yeah, the season ahead.

Tom Smith: The next season. Yeah, the season ahead. So, what we’re going to focus on up in here is the fall season road trip. So, you’re in Southern California, and you want to hit the road. You want to get out there on the open road. Where do we want to go as Southern Californians outside of the obvious Vegas?

San Simeon & Hearst Castle

Doug Shupe: Yeah. Let’s find some new destiny.

Tom Smith: Yeah. Maybe I’m speaking from my own perspective now that I’m a new dad. You know, that Vegas road trip doesn’t happen six times a year anymore. What do you have for us?

Doug Shupe: Well, you know, San Simeon is a great destination to take a road trip to, you know, and enjoy the Hearst Castle, roughly the halfway point between San Francisco and LA.

Tom Smith: Yeah.

Doug Shupe: You know, a lot of important imported treasures from around the world there that you can see.

Tom Smith: Now, you’re talking about at Hearst Castle?

Doug Shupe: At Hearst Castle.

Tom Smith: Right.

Doug Shupe: Yup, yup. The model for Mansion Xanadu and Orson Welles’ movie, Citizen Kane. It’s a great destination to check out. It’s run by California State Parks. And there are actually four separate tours that you can go on. And if you’re in the area, and you have the time, you can see the castle on an evening tour perhaps.

Tom Smith: Yeah.

Doug Shupe: So, that’s a great idea to check out.

Tom Smith: Now, I told you before we started this recording that I was going to be listening and participating in this podcast from a consumer’s perspective because there’s a lot of road trips that I haven’t done. I’ve been in Southern California for about 13 years, 14 years now. That, actually, is one that I have done.

Doug Shupe: You have done this one, great.

Care for Central Valley Wine Tasting with that?

Tom Smith: I know I’ve done one or two, but the times that my wife and I have done that trip, it was on the tail end of Paso Robles, Templeton Wine Tasting, up around those parts. Was that something that you were going to lead into?

Doug Shupe: Yeah. Obviously, you have some great wine tasting there. If you’re going to tour the Hearst Castle though, you really want to make sure that you make reservations well in advance. And the reason why we always say to plan your travels the season before-

Tom Smith: Right.

Doug Shupe: … is because you’ll always find last minute places to go.

Tom Smith: Yeah. That’s always a part of it.

Doug Shupe: But you’re going to pay a higher price.

Tom Smith: Yeah.

Doug Shupe: And you may not have the availability that you would have when you’re planning fall travel in the summer.

Tom Smith: Right.

Doug Shupe: So, even though, you know, summer vacations, in the middle of your summer vacations, it’s hard to think about where you’re going to go on your next vacation, but you probably should sit down, take 5-10 minutes, you know, talk about, “Okay. Hey, where should we go in the fall-”

Tom Smith: Sure.

Doug Shupe: … if you get that break.

Tom Smith: So, San Simeon and Hearst Castle, in combination with a wine tasting trip over Paso, Templeton is a good possibility. What else do you have there?

Julian – Former Gold Mining Town

Doug Shupe: Julian’s a great destination.

Tom Smith: Now, what’s Julian?

Doug Shupe: Julian is nestled about 6000 feet in the Laguna Mountains. It’s about 40 miles northeast of San Diego. It’s a former gold mining town. You can tour defunct mine tunnels. You can ride through town in a horse-drawn-

Tom Smith: Safely?

Doug Shupe: Yeah. Horse-drawn buggy.

Tom Smith: Defunct? Wait a minute, defunct?

Doug Shupe: It’s a gold mine tunnel, yeah, you can tour.

Tom Smith: Gold mine?

Doug Shupe: Yes, gold mine town there-

Tom Smith: Okay.

Doug Shupe: … in Julian, California. They’ve got a great little antiquey old-time downtown area where you can find antiques and shop for various country style items.

Tom Smith: What is this town called again?

Doug Shupe: Julian.

Tom Smith: How do you spell that?

Doug Shupe: Julian, J-U-L-I-A-N.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Doug Shupe: And you’ve got a great number of bed and breakfasts. So, this could be a great romantic destination, you know, if you want to find somewhere in the fall to go.

Tom Smith: So, you’re not going to… This isn’t a place where you’re going to find your Ritz, and your Four Seasons, or your hotels.

Doug Shupe: You’re going to have a lot of more smaller boutique type places here.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Stop by Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Doug Shupe: And so, it’s a great halfway stop if you’re visiting the nearby Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which, of course, in the springtime-

Tom Smith: Okay. You’re a-

Doug Shupe: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in the springtime is an awesome destination for the wildflowers-

Tom Smith: Okay.

Doug Shupe: … and poppies. So, it’s a great destination. And about two years ago, they had a super bloom, which was just amazing because of all of the rain that we had-

Tom Smith: All right.

Doug Shupe: … during the winter a couple of years ago. So, that’s a great … The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a nice place to go for wildflower viewing-

Tom Smith: Now, that’s-

Doug Shupe: …in the spring.

Tom Smith: That’s in spring, and that’s in combination with going to Julian.

Doug Shupe: Julian.

Tom Smith: But so, Julian’s an old mining.

Doug Shupe: Mining town, yep.

Tom Smith: All right.

Doug Shupe: And so, you know, you could do both. You just won’t see the wildflowers there at the Desert State Park. But, still, you know, visiting the desert in the fall, any time of year, it’s going to be a different experience each season you go. So, it might be nice to be able do both when you go to Julian.

Tom Smith: Now, Julian is where again?

Doug Shupe: It’s about 40 miles northeast of San Diego.

Tom Smith: Northeast of San Diego.

Doug Shupe: San Diego. So, it’s out kind of in the desert area. And what’s great about it is if you want, you could do like kind of a combination. Do a San Diego day, and then head up to Julian for a night.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Grand Canyon Railway

Doug Shupe: So, that’s in the Laguna Mountains. And so, that’s a great destination. You know, the kids might enjoy the horse-drawn carriages. It’s a great little romantic destination, as I said. One thing that would be awesome for the kids is the Grand Canyon Railway.

Tom Smith: Grand Canyon Railway.

Doug Shupe: Grand Canyon Railway from its previous years of transporting ore through the wild west, to the present day tours to the Grand Canyon, the railway, it really does … It’s an enchanting journey.

Tom Smith: So, you’re driving through the railway.

Doug Shupe: You’re driving to Williams, Arizona. So, from Southern California, you could simply take Interstate Highway 40 to Williams, Arizona. And the Grand Canyon Railway departs each day from the historic Williams Depot, which is located at the south end of the rail line.

Destination Williams, AZ

Tom Smith: Okay. So, how long? We’re leaving from downtown LA. How long it was going to take us to get to-

Doug Shupe: Well, depending on traffic.

Tom Smith: We’re going to go when it’s not traffic.

Doug Shupe: Yeah, you’re going to try to avoid traffic.

Tom Smith: Yeah, we’re going to try. Yeah.

Doug Shupe: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you want to plan ahead. You’re going to plan a nice little road trip to get out there.

Tom Smith: Right.

Doug Shupe: But the great thing about it is there are various packages where you can actually do a day train trip, or you could even plan to stay overnight at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams.

Tom Smith: So, but I’m driving to Williams.

Doug Shupe: Driving to Williams.

Tom Smith: To get on the train.

Doug Shupe: To get on the train.

Tom Smith: How long of a drive is that going to be?

Doug Shupe: About a seven-hour drive to Williams. So, it’s a good significant long road trip. But then, once you get there, you’re going to be in the comforts of the rail cars.

Tom Smith: So, are you getting … Can you get a sleeper car?

Great Trip for the Family

Doug Shupe: They have multiple packages, and it’s not so much sleeper cars as it is you’ll go through to the Grand Canyon, and then you return, and you stay in the Grand Canyon Hotel, which is right there in Williams. And in the fall, what’s great about this destination is you can ride what’s called the pumpkin patch train. And in the fall, you can take this train, and actually go to a very secret pumpkin patch that’s only accessible by the train. Take the kids, and go and pick your pumpkins out. This adventure has very much a-

Tom Smith: And that’s actually where Charlie Brown and Lucy are.

Doug Shupe: You’re right, yeah.

Tom Smith: And Charlie Brown gets to kick the football.

Doug Shupe: It seems like out of that cartoon.

Tom Smith: Right?

Doug Shupe: It does, yeah. And then, this adventure has very much like a fall festival-like atmosphere. I mean, there are arts and crafts. And parents and kids are encouraged to wear Halloween costumes on the train. A lot of family photo opportunities. There are haunted train cars. And then, there’s even the hay bale mazes that the kids can go through as well.

Great Starting Point for a Deeper Grand Canyon Journey

Tom Smith: Okay. So, we’re driving seven hours to Williams.

Doug Shupe: Williams, Arizona.

Tom Smith: Williams, Arizona. And there, were hopping on a train-

Doug Shupe: On the train to go to the Grand Canyon.

Tom Smith: … for a little day trip to and from wherever.

Doug Shupe: With the south-

Tom Smith: Within the Grand Canyon.

Doug Shupe: Yup.

Tom Smith: But then, we stay. We’re staying back in Williams.

Doug Shupe: Williams, right.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Doug Shupe: And so, you know, there are multiple packages. Now, specifically, the pumpkin patch train is in October.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Doug Shupe: So, you really want to … If you’re looking for that great fall milling-

Tom Smith: Yeah, it could be a cool one.

Doug Shupe: … that’s a great October destination.

Tom Smith: So, if I want to go to Williams, Arizona and maybe spend a day there, I’m literally at the edge, and in the Grand Canyon. So, if I want to go deeper into the Grand Canyon from there, that’s a good starting point from Southern California.

Doug Shupe: It’s a great starting point, right. Yup.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Glass Ceiling Train Provides Beautiful Views

Doug Shupe: And you can also just hop on the train. And then, the train is really great because-

Tom Smith: Does the train actually go somewhere where you can actually-

Doug Shupe: It does. It actually goes to the rim. So, you can actually sit in the train. And what’s great about it is it’s got these like glass ceilings. And you just got beautiful panoramic views.

You have a lot of just really enchanting tales from the crew that talks about the Wild West days.

There’s music. And really, the musicians really help bring the old west back to life for those passengers on that train. So then, if you, of course, book that train in October, then you get that real nice Halloween fall feeling as well.

Tom Smith: Okay. So we have San Simeon, along with Paso, Templeton. We have the Williams, Arizona for the Grand Canyon. What else do we have for road trips in the fall from here about Southern California?

Lake Tahoe – Gorgeous Foilage

Doug Shupe: Lake Tahoe’s a nice place in the fall as well.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Doug Shupe: Maybe not as busy as in the summer months.

Tom Smith: Sure.

Doug Shupe: But it’s a great destination, of course. It’s a year-round-

Tom Smith: Or not as busy as winter, right, for skiing.

Doug Shupe: Right, exactly. Yeah. So, it’s a year-round resort. But, you know, it’s just a nice place to go. And, of course, that’s not as far as some of the other destinations out there. The lake, of course, itself is a huge draw. Another destination that people may not think of is Idyllwild.

Idyllwild –> Palm Springs Heading

Tom Smith: Okay.

Doug Shupe: That’s a nice little town. As you’re heading out toward Palm Springs-

Tom Smith: Okay.

Doug Shupe: You can visit Idyllwild. It’s about maybe 40 minutes outside of Palm Springs up in the mountains, a couple of lakes to go fishing. But, there, you might see some more fall foliage. It’s also one of these towns where you have like a town square right there in the middle and the top of the mountains.

Tom Smith: Sure.

Doug Shupe: A lot of great little bed and breakfast, little restaurants right there. It’s a relatively small town, but it’s a fun thing to do, especially if you have children that want to experience the outdoors.

Tom Smith: So, Lake Tahoe, that’s another six or seven-hour drive.

Doug Shupe: It is. That’s a longer drive. So, you want to stay a little closer-

Tom Smith: Okay. So, that’s a couple of nights, at least, I think.

Doug Shupe: Absolutely, yup.

Tom Smith: Idyllwild, I mean-

Doug Shupe: Idyllwild could be a day trip.

Tom Smith: Yeah, or a nice overnight, one night.

Doug Shupe: But if you can plan ahead, get an awesome overnight trip. Yeah, plan ahead and spend the night up there in Idyllwild.

Tom Smith: Yeah, perfect.

Doug Shupe: It’s a great destination.

Tom Smith: Personally, I’m not really want to do six or seven hours of driving just for one night. I want to go for two or three nights.

Doug Shupe: You want to go. Yeah, maximize that weekend.

Tom Smith: But in Idyllwild, that’s something that you could probably do one night, and feel pretty good about it.

Doug Shupe: For sure, yeah.

Palm Springs – of Course 🙂

Tom Smith: Two nights, really relax. Okay. What else?

Doug Shupe: Another destination, you know, if you want to continue on, you maybe do one night in Idyllwild, and go down into Palm Springs. Of course, a lot of people go to Palm Springs.

Tom Smith: Sure.

Doug Shupe: But that’s kind of when you’re-

Tom Smith: In the fall though, that’s when their season starts peaking up.

Doug Shupe: Right, that’s when it starts to get a little bit busier. But also, when the temperatures are more bearable.

Tom Smith: Right.

Doug Shupe: So, if you’ve kind of avoided it for the summertime, you know, right around early October, mid-October, might be a good time to go out there to Palm Springs.

Tom Smith: But then, that’s … When they get busy, when temperatures are more mild, that’s when you have just to go out to eat, or rent, get a hotel room, you’re competing with tourists-

Doug Shupe: Absolutely.

Tom Smith: … from all around, not just Southern California. So, rates are-

Doug Shupe: Nationally.

Tom Smith: … quite a bit more.

Doug Shupe: Right. So, what you really want to do is definitely plan ahead if you’re planning a Palm Springs trip in the fall.

Tom Smith: Okay. What else? That’s it?

Doug Shupe: That’s about it. Yeah, that’s about it. I just picked a few of them.

Tom Smith: Hey, those are good ones. Those are good ones. So, Doug, rattle off these potential road trips for us, if you would please.

Doug Shupe: Yeah. So, just recap, some great places for the fall.

Tom Smith: Yeah, just a recap of what we just covered.

Top Autumn Road Trip Destinations

Doug Shupe: You know, San Simeon, the town of Julian. Check out that old mine, gold mining town. And then, we have, of course, Williams, Arizona. A little bit of a longer trip. Lake Tahoe, Idyllwild, and then Palm Springs, of course, when the temperatures are cooling off, but, of course, the crowds may be picking up.

  • San Simeon & Hearst Castle
  • Julian – gold mining town
  • Williams, Arizona – Grand Canyon’s edge
  • Lake Tahoe foilage
  • Idyllwild
  • Palm Springs

Tom Smith: All right, fantastic. Doug, always a pleasure. Thank you so much. Doug Shupe, Senior Public Affairs Specialist from the Auto Club of Southern California, a.k.a. AAA. For iDriveSoCal, I’m Tom Smith. Thank you for listening.