14 Reasons to Drive to the Santa Clarita Valley
Just one hour north of LA, an oasis of wineries, historic sites, and nature awaits.
These days, the Santa Clarita Valley is probably best known as the setting for Netflix’s cannibalistic comedy series Santa Clarita Diet. But the collection of suburbs on the northeast edge of Los Angeles has been blossoming in recent years, with an abundance of charming restaurants, wineries, and breweries, fueled in part by the bustling film industry—it was also one of the filming locations for Jordan Peele’s Nope, as well as the new Avatar movie. Each of its neighborhoods—including Valencia, Canyon Country, Newhall, Saugus, Stevenson Ranch, and Agua Dulce—has a distinctive character stretching back to when the Tatavium people first settled here. It's full of world-famous natural spaces and agrarian communities with Old West vibes. Here are all the things to do to get the most out of your visit.
Hang with rehabilitated wild animals at local sanctuaries
The Santa Clarita Valley and surrounding Sierra Pelona Mountains are a haven for animal rescuers and lovers. At the Gentle Barn in Agua Dulce, visitors can hug cows, rub pigs’ bellies, cuddle turkeys, and get to know other farm animals on self-guided tours (for $22) every Sunday with a reservation. They also offer private tours and cow hug therapy for groups of up to ten people with a $400 donation.
While you can’t get the same hands-on experience at the nearby Gibbon Conservation Center, guests can take public tours of the sanctuary and learn about the incredibly smart, adorable apes Saturdays and Sundays at 10 am for $18 per adult, $12 per kid. And a bit farther away in Acton, Wolf Connection allows guests to get up close to their wolf dogs at various public events, and Birds actress Tippi Hendren’s Shambala Preserve offers monthly public tours, where guests can see its rescued African lions, Bengal and Siberian tigers, black and spotted leopards, servals, and more.
How to book: Visit individual websites for details.
Located on a rural but gorgeous stretch of Sierra Highway, local fine dining stalwart Le Chène French Cuisine serves classic continental fare paired with one of the most impressive wine lists in Southern California. Wine lovers can order hard-to-find bottles of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and old-school Napa Cabs, with vintages dating back 30-plus years. Those rare wines are complemented by dishes like French Onion Soup, Filet au Poivre, and house-made pate. But, for those who don’t want to make a special trip here in the evening, the restaurant also offers a bottomless Champagne brunch—an ideal way to cap off a hike at nearby Vasquez Rocks or animal cuddle sesh at The Gentle Barn, if you ask us.
How to book: Call 661-251-4315 or make reservations online.
Hit Old Town Newhall
Essentially the cultural hub of SCV, Old Town Newhall boasts a quaint Main Street with locally-owned boutiques, bars, restaurants, and its own walk of fame. Saunter down the Walk of Western Stars, a long-standing tribute to the valley’s favorite entertainers with their names inscribed in terrazzo and brass, while popping into cute shops, like homegoods purveyors Mixed by Design and Mascot Aesthetic (which also offers a salon, beauty products, and more). Then, hit up the area’s top restaurants and bars including The Old Town Junction, Newhall Refinery, or the rooftop of the new Reyes Winery on Main. Finish off the evening at a wine bar, like Newhall Press Room or try the locally-fermented selections from Pulchella Winery.
How to book: Walk up for first-come, first-served seating or visit individual websites for reservation details.
Just a quick trip up I-5 from LA, this theme park is an adrenaline junkie’s dream. It boasts 19 of the fastest roller coasters on the planet. But even if you’re not into feeling like your stomach is going to burst through your chest, there’s still plenty to do, from live shows and entertainment, including a seasonal Christmas market and the ongoing Army of the Dead VIVA LAS VENGEANCE VR Experience, to family rides and its Pacific Speedway go-kart experience.
How to visit: Show up for first-come, first-served tickets or book online.
When Cindy Crawford stopped off at a sleepy roadside diner for a Pepsi commercial in 1992, Santa Clarita was forever changed. Over the last 30 years, the steady thrum of travelers drawn to the Halfway House by the commercial (and the dozens of other productions that have since taken advantage of its Dust Bowl aesthetic) forced the owners to make much-needed upgrades. These days, two eggs will run you $10, a far cry from what they must have cost when the diner first opened in the 1930s. But fear not: just because the Eggs Florentine have been adjusted for inflation doesn’t mean the cafe’s lost any of its retro charm. There’s no better excuse to snap a few sepia-toned shots than a quick coffee-to-go.
How to visit: Stop by for first-come, first-serve seating or order takeout and delivery via Postmates.
In 1842, six years before the California Gold Rush, rancher Francisco López y Arbello took a nap under an oak tree and dreamt of discovering gold there, only to do so—literally—when he woke up. Thus, the Oak of the Golden Dream and all of its accompanying lore were born. The gold may be gone now, but Placerita Canyon State Park, where the oak stands to this day, still feels rich. Verdant and thriving thanks to careful preservation against fire and foot traffic, Placerita is also home to some of Santa Clarita’s loveliest trails, the simplest of which leads right to this big, beautiful historic landmark.
How to visit: Head to Placerita Canyon State Park, open daily 9 am to 5 pm.
Whether or not you know them by name, you certainly know the seismic shapes of Vasquez Rocks. The memorable tan cliffs in this 932-acre park have appeared in innumerable film and TV productions since the 1930s, from Blazing Saddles to The Flintstones to Star Trek. Admission is free, and the trails range from easy to moderate, including a busy section of the Pacific Crest Trail that blooms with golden wildflowers every spring. On a clear day, you can see forever from these craggy peaks.
How to visit: The visitor center is open Tuesday to Sunday, 8 am–7 pm; visit the website for details.
Together, Agua Dulce Winery and Reyes Winery occupy 106 of the most luxuriant acres in the hilly, agrarian Sierra Pelona American Viticultural Area (AVA), abutting one another on the winding Sierra Highway. Driving through this painterly community is a pleasure all on its own, but the gorgeous vineyards and wineries are certainly worth a visit. Both locations are frequently crowded, so calling ahead before a tasting is as essential as walking the grounds after a flight.
How to visit: Call 661-268-7402 for Agua Dulce Winery reservations; call 661-268-1865 for Reyes Winery tasting room or reserve via Opentable.
Jon and Helen Han’s Oh Bella has garnered an ardent group of fans for their under-the-radar gelateria/creperie. Nowadays, there is never not a line outside, and for good reason—you won’t find delicate, hand-crafted sweets like this anywhere else in the valley. On Santa Clarita’s warmest days, nothing hits better than two colossal scoops of their Stracciatella gelato; and when it rains, a decadent Strawberry Royale crepe warms the chest.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome for indoor and outdoor patio seating.
The Saugus Cafe has been in operation since 1886, supposedly longer than any other restaurant in Los Angeles County. Over the years, its booths have sat the world’s biggest movie stars, industrialists, and even two Presidents: Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt, the latter of whom famously ate a “splendid” New York steak there in 1903. Fans of vintage diners will appreciate Saugus Cafe’s railcar-style appeal, as will those hoping for the cheap breakfast standards of yesteryear (including a charred, buttery New York steak). The outdoor seating is handicap-accessible.
How to visit: Show up for first-come, first-served seating, or order takeout and delivery via DoorDash.
At the height of its wealth, 100 families lived in Charles Alexander Mentry’s once-flowing oil boomtown, “Mentryville.” Now this off-the-beaten-path destination—as well as its well, Pico No. 4, the first commercially successful well in the western US—are preserved into perpetuity as California State Historical Landmarks. The allure is still evident in the period school and barn, as are the hard remainders of back-breaking labor that carved a town out of little but rugged chaparral and sweeping hills. A visit to Mentryville isn’t just fun—it honors the hands that built our modern Santa Clarita Valley.
How to visit: Open to the public with a $5 parking fee.
In the early years of Melody Ranch, Monogram Studios took advantage of its sprawling antique sets to pump out B-movie Western after B-movie Western. Then its renown grew, as did the caliber of the big stars who shot pictures there: Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and other legends. More than a century and one catastrophic fire later, the 22-acre ranch remains not only the quintessential Western backdrop for the likes of productions like Westworld and Deadwood, but also home to a collection of world-famous memorabilia that can be seen during VIP group tours.
How to visit:Schedule VIP group tours and events by calling at EJ 661-244-5875.
Between the world-class collection of Native American and Western art, the opulent Spanish colonial-style mansion furnished with hides and fine furs, and the idyllic wooded ranch house surrounded by greenery, there’s almost too much to see at the museum once owned by Western movie star and local SCV hero William S. Hart. Access inside the buildings is currently off-limits, leaving more time to explore the picturesque grounds. Hiking trails direct visitors to the alpacas, tortoises, grouse, and even water buffalo that live on the ranch these days. On a sunny day, there’s no better place for a picnic and a stroll.
How to visit: William S. Hart Park is open 9 am to 5 pm during the winter. Museum temporarily closed.
Sitting outside Wolf Creek Brewery at sunset is a luxury every person should get to experience. With its sprawling patio, abundant string lights, and cornhole station, it feels almost like the set of a very expensive beer commercial—but it’s real life. Then there are the standard-bearing beers, without which none of that would matter: the spicy, savory Holy Mole Stout; the honeyed and decadent BBB Belgian-style Tripel; and the aggressively tropical “Howlin’ Hefeweizen.” If that sounds overstimulating, be prepared to pace yourself, because Wolf Creek is far from the only exceptional brewery in the area. Pocock, Draconum, and Bravery Brewing Company a little further north all make delicious seasonal experiments, too, if you’re up for a long night.
How to order:Reservations required for weekend patio dining.
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Sara Ventiera is a contributor at Thrillist.