Exiting the freeway, I noticed my cellphone had lost its signal. I took that as a good sign, because I had driven to Oak Glen, a small town near Yucaipa in San Bernardino County, to find autumn.
By driving just a couple of hours from Los Angeles, you can find a getaway that's close in spirit to New England and provides a lovely chance to escape the city and relax. Most of the apples, pumpkins and other fall produce you'll find there are available at L.A.'s better farmers markets, but this trip isn't about grocery shopping; it's about easy rustic adventure.
My first stop was Riley's Farm, the southernmost farm on Oak Glen Road. Riley's is more than just an orchard. The farm grows pumpkins, berries and other fruit for picking during summer and fall. It's also designed to evoke a frontier mentality; the staff dresses in period clothing.
At the entrance from the parking lot, a man stands behind a table, slicing wedges of apples and explaining the differences. "Are you looking for eating apples or baking apples?" he asks, directing visitors to the right orchard.
Riley's is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and by 10 a.m. Saturday it's already crowded. The gift shop, offering popguns, slingshots and hard candy, is also the place where you buy the baskets before heading for the orchard. The price of apples, which are available here for a couple of weeks more, is based on the size of the basket, $7.50 or $15. Varieties include Arkansas Black, Gala, Glen Seedling, Golden Delicious, Lodi, Ozark Gold, Red Delicious, Rome Beauty and Senshu.
Riley's also has pick-'em-yourself pumpkins and other activities for kids. You can also press your own cider; the staff will show you how to adjust and customize the flavor (2 gallons for $20).
A few hundred feet up the road sits Riley's Log Cabin and Farm, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. The Riley name is on several businesses in the area, all linked to an extended family that began moving to the region in the 1970s, though many of the orchards date to the late 19th century.
Riley's Log Cabin and Farm also has activities for kids, including archery and tomahawk-throwing and making rope and cornhusk dolls. Apple-picking prices are based on the weight of what you take in, and trees are marked with ribbons according to their variety. A warning: There's a charge for parking, which is why the street is lined with cars on the weekend.
A short stroll away is Willowbrook Farm, the smallest orchard of those I visited but also the only place that feels like a family farm. The orchard consists entirely of Stayman Winesap apples, a tart apple good for eating and baking. Before entering, you'll be offered samples of not just the apples but also apple chips, apple butter and jam, pumpkin butter and apple cider. There is a flat fee for picking, based on the size of the bag. Willowbrook is open from 10 a.m. until dusk Saturdays and Sundays or until it runs out of apples, so call ahead.
Riley's at Los Rios Rancho, open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, is a few miles up the road, and the view of the mountains from the parking lot is stunning. The apple-picking season has ended here, but there are still plenty of apples for sale and pumpkin picking in the fields. The property also has nature trails for hiking.
Riley's Farm and Los Rios Rancho have barbecues on the weekends, grilling tri-tip and chicken, sausage and corn on the cob. Those smells, mixed with the scent of apple pie ($12 to $15), make it hard to leave. Tables are limited and tend to fill up, especially around lunchtime.
Farther down the road in the town of Oak Glen are sit-down restaurants serving sandwiches and home-style cooking.
While you are in Oak Glen, don't miss Snow-Line Orchard (39400 Oak Glen Road,  797-3415), open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Snow-Line does not offer apple picking but is worth a stop for its apple-cider doughnuts. Packages of a dozen cinnamon-dusted mini doughnuts made to order result in long lines no matter the hour. But this piping-hot specialty is heavenly and well worth the wait and the $3 price.
Sure, the drive may take at least 90 minutes. But getting there takes less time than it takes to park at the Grove on the weekend. Oak Glen offers scenery, foliage, fresh mountain air, arts and crafts, apples and pumpkin picking, and you can be back home in time for dinner.
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ORCHARDS TO VISIT
Riley's Farm, 12261 S. Oak Glen Road; (909) 797-7534, www.rileysfarm.com.
Riley's Log Cabin and Farm, 12201 S. Oak Glen Road; (909) 797-4061 or (866) 585-6407, www.rileysapplefarm.com.
Willowbrook Farm, 12099 S. Oak Glen Road; (909) 797-9484, willowbrookapple.tripod.com.
Riley's at Los Rios Rancho, 39611 Oak Glen Road; (909) 797-1005, www.losriosrancho.com.