HAYRIDE IS A WORD that travels with its own attendant magic. With so many Southern Californians city born and bred, one's knowledge of hayrides could well be limited to having watched a hayrick of happy campers take a sound-stage spin on the late, late show. Still, the idea of a hayride has fantasy firmly attached: perhaps one of sinking into the delicious scratchiness of fragrant hay, wagon wheels squeaking in counterpoint to the clop of the horses' hoofs and just the right person beside you in the moonlight.
If this sounds like your idea of something fun to do, it need not remain a fantasy. Real live hayrides do exist.
On its 240-acre farm in Yucaipa, Riley's Farm offers hayrides through the end of December. The area, known as a bit of New England, has wonderful trees--apple, creek alder, red oak, chestnut, hickory--that provide a perfect natural setting for a ride to remember. Hayrides are available without trimmings, but there are many options from which to choose. One of the available packages begins with a late-afternoon tractor or horse-drawn hayride after which guests press their own cider, shuck corn for dinner, pitch horseshoes while everything's cooking and then enjoy an old-fashioned barn dance/hoedown for dessert. Night rides are also available. Groups of up to 200 people can be accommodated; there is a minimum of 30 to 50 people (or a nonrefundable deposit if you're determined to have a cost-be-damned hayride a deux ). Prices vary but are reasonable.
Red Barn Stables at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu offers year-round day or evening rides in a hay wagon pulled by two beautiful Belgian draft horses known as "the girls"--actually, their names are Cute and Floss. Party and catering facilities are available through Calamigos Ranch, or you can opt for hay riding and a private picnic. Two hundred and fifty dollars rents the hay wagon, horses and driver for as many trips around the ranch as you can squeeze into three hours.
Hilltop Stables in San Diego will take you on hayrides all year long through the agricultural area of the city. As is usually the case, the hay wagon holds 20 to 30 riders at a time; several trips are required for larger groups. Bring your own food and drink--stove and refrigerator, fireplace, patio and barbecue facilities are provided. There is a sound system to accommodate a live band. A $200 minimum pays for 20 people; each additional guest costs $10.
A similar hayride package is offered through the end of November. At Hansen Dam Stables in Lake View Terrace, a horse-drawn hay wagon winds through Hansen Dam Park, and there is a grassy area where fire pits, wood and picnic tables are provided. You supply the "vittles." The cost is $6 a person or a $126 minimum.
Coal Canyon Stables has horse-drawn hayrides in Corona and also at its Country Trails Stables in Irvine Park. It's open all year. Bring your own campfire wood and, if you wish, your own food--barbecue facilities are free. Chuck-wagon catering and entertainment also are available. Hayride prices are $5 per person with an $80 minimum. Groups of more than 80 people are charged $4 per person.
A number of area pumpkin patches and evergreen farms provide free hayrides to and from their fields in season.