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Slowing the Pace for a Spell : Several short trips provide opportunities to relax away from the pressures and hectic tempo of urban life.

June 23, 1995|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray writes regularly for The Times

After one too many of summer's hot, sticky afternoons in freeway traffic, a nagging desire to escape urban angst -- even for a day or two--can take hold.

But take heart: Several respites are only a couple of hours away. All can be done as day trips, although an overnight stay promises a more complete getaway.

Los Olivos and the Santa Ynez Valley: For lush vineyards and wine-tasting, rolling hills and quaint shopping, there's Santa Barbara County's wine country. On the way up, just off California 154, go for a naturalist-led two-hour wildlife boat tour on Lake Cachuma.

In the shaded area aboard the 48-foot craft, you can keep a lookout for great blue herons, ospreys, red-tailed hawks, acorn woodpeckers, mallards, kingfishers, egrets, doves and golden eagles.

Back on the highway, you're only about 12 miles away from Los Olivos, a town with a population of 250. There are art galleries, antique shops, a deli, a small grocery and a few other stores.

Nearby are more than 30 wineries; many are small, family-owned operations. Most welcome visitors for tours and tasting.

The Santa Ynez Airport offers glider, airplane and helicopter rides. And east of Solvang on Mission Drive is the Old Mission Santa Ines, founded in 1804. Its museum highlights the Indian-Spanish era of the mission, and tours are available daily.

The Los Olivos Grand Hotel has a luxurious bed-and-breakfast atmosphere and provides complimentary local wine and a continental breakfast in the room.

Wildlife Cruise at Cachuma Lake: 3 to 5 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to noon and 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to noon Sunday. $10 general, $5 for children 12 and younger. Call (805) 568-2460 for reservations.

Wine Touring and Tasting: Write for a free map. Santa Barbara County Vintner's Assn., P.O. Box 1558, Santa Ynez 93460-1558.

Los Olivos Grand Hotel: P.O. Box 526, 2860 Grand Ave., Los Olivos 93441; (805) 688-7788. Rates run $160 to $300 a night, Sunday to Thursday, $210 to $325 Friday and Saturday.

The Santa Rosa High Mountain Adventure in Palm Springs: The desert doesn't sound like an ideal summer destination, but this trip is geared to make the most of the coolest times of the day.

Take a guided Jeep tour up a private road at sunrise or sunset, climbing from the valley floor to 4,200 feet, passing through creosote bush and cactus to pinon pines and junipers. On the way up, your guide emphasizes the ethno-botany of the area--how the more than 1,200 different plants were used by Native Americans--and points out the local wildlife, including golden eagles.

At the top, there's a view of the Salton Sea and the San Andreas fault and time to walk around and take a few pictures.

The Jeeps are cooled with a micro-mist system designed to keep everybody comfortable; the entire tour takes 2 1/2 hours.

Hotels in Palm Springs have their lowest rates throughout the summer. There is also the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which goes up to the cooler elevation of 8,516 feet on Mt. San Jacinto, where there are terrific views, food, picnic areas and 56 miles of hiking trails.

\o7 Santa Rosa Mountain Tour: $49 general, $45 for children (ages 12 and under). Call (619) 864-6530 for information, directions and reservations.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway: Cars go up every half-hour after 10 a.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. $15.95 general, $13.25 for those 55 and older, and $10.95 for children 5 to 12. On Tramway Road, three miles southwest of SR 111. Call (619) 325-1391.

Rural Big Bear Lake: Outside the village of Big Bear are bed-and-breakfast inns that offer a variety of relaxing summer activities.

At the Wainwright Inn Bed & Breakfast, guests are welcomed with hors d'oeuvres and chilled white wine and are given a gourmet breakfast. Less than a mile away is the Moonridge Animal Park, which features animals indigenous to the area.

Inn owner Shirin Berton will take guests gold-panning in adjacent Holcomb Valley--a boom town during Southern California's most important gold rush, in the 1860s--and will include a gourmet picnic lunch.

A hayride is planned for the night of Aug. 12, when the annual Perseids meteor shower will provide the entertainment. There will also be a guitarist, dessert and coffee. Guests can play at the nearby Goldmine Golf Course and can fish, para-sail and boat on the lake.

Wainwright Inn Bed & Breakfast, 43113 Moonridge Road, (909) 585-6914. Rooms, including breakfast, are $95 to $155 a night. Tour of Holcomb Valley, with lunch, is $28.95 a person. The meteor shower hayride Aug. 12 is $26.50 a person.

Julian: A late-1800s mining town with a population of 1,300, Julian has a country atmosphere and a handful of interesting things to do. The Eagle Mining Co. offers a one-hour guided tour through a gold mine that attracted gold seekers to the area more than a century ago.

There are also shops and the Julian Pioneer Museum, with 19th-Century household artifacts and Native American tools, crafts and clothes.

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