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Five Offbeat Places to Celebrate Thanksgiving Weekend in SoCal

In southern California, we have a lot to be grateful for all year long. But when November rolls around, it can be a little hard to get into the holiday spirit when the mercury is still rising into the 70s, 80s, and 90s and the fall foliage shows most of its color in the environs north of us.

In fact, some might wonder why anyone would stay in SoCal for Thanksgiving instead of heading “back East” or “up North” or “down South” where the festivities might seem a bit more … festive.

There is, however, something really special about staying in SoCal to give thanks — whether you’re a native, a transplant, or just a visitor. And it’s more than the smooth sailing you’ll get going down the 10 Freeway.

Why work off your feast at one of those Thanksgiving Day “turkey trots” anywhere but in L.A.? Here, you get to run or walk through the CBS Studio Center during the annual Drumstick Dash (whose proceeds help feed the hungry).

And yes, New York City does host the world-famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. On the other hand, you won’t find the Hollywood Christmas Parade — which takes place every year the Sunday after Thanksgiving — anywhere but Hollywood.

So, here are the five best Thanksgiving weekend adventures to express your gratitude for the abundance that SoCal life has to offer — itself a cornucopia of cultures, activities, geographies and biological diversity.

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1. Pack It In at Sturtevant Camp – November 22-24

An annual tradition for some would make a unique holiday getaway for anyone who wants to answer the call of the mountains — whether you’re flying solo, paired off, or a package deal with partner and kids. In this so-called “Feast of Gratitude and Gravy,” you can experience a communal Thanksgiving in the most rustic setting around — deep in the San Gabriel Mountains, with all your supplies having been brought up by a band of pack mules. Since the only way to get to the compound of 19th century structures known as Sturtevant Camp is by hiking four miles Adam's Pack Station at the Chantry Flats trailhead up through Big Santa Anita Canyon, you’ll hike in, eat, and hike out over the course of three days and two nights. In addition to spectacular scenery, you’ll get to enjoy first-hand the historic structures of the camp, like the Swiss Dining Pavilion from 1897 and the cabins and bunkhouses, where you’ll hit the hay after sitting by the fire, watching a “talent show,” and of course eating and drinking to your heart’s content. For Thanksgiving, everybody pitches in -- whether it’s gathering wood, cooking, or cleaning up — but there’s plenty of time for rest and relaxation, too. Be prepared to spend the time “off the grid,” as there’s little to no cell phone signal there and any emergency calls rely on a hand-cranked phone that’s part of the oldest operating telephone system in the U.S.

Sturtevant Camp | Sandi Hemmerlein
Sandi Hemmerlein
Sturtevant Camp | Sandi Hemmerlein
Sandi Hemmerlein

2.  Cuddle a Turkey at The Gentle Barn – November 23, 3-8 p.m.

Every year on Thanksgiving, Santa Clarita farm animal sanctuary The Gentle Barn hosts their “A Gentle Thanksgiving” dinner. Here, you’ll meet abused animals who’ve been saved from abuse and neglect and who are learning to trust humans again (or for the first time). Some of them have recovered physically, but their hearts are still broken, so they’re given belly rubs, chiropractic care, massage therapy, acupuncture, and whatever else necessary to take away the pain and suffering that they have endured. Their troublesome histories are acknowledged and respected. And once they are rehabilitated, they, in turn, can provide therapy to the disadvantaged and disabled. At the sanctuary’s annual plant-based feast, turkeys in particular are honored guests — not the main course! It’s a celebration of gentleness during which you can not only feed but also cuddle the resident turkeys, participate in a Native American drum circle, and spare the lives of a few feathered fowl by eating a field roast and other gourmet vegan specialties. If you’re looking for a family-friendly way to celebrate, be sure to get your tickets in advance.

Gentle Barn | Sandi Hemmerlein
Sandi Hemmerlein

3.  Root for a Racing Turkey at Oasis Camel Dairy – November 24, 25, 26 (12-5 p.m. daily)

The focus at Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona is normally, of course, the camels. But, during the demonstration and show during Open Farm Days, the camels share the “stage” — with a group of galloping gobblers! That’s right, this is where you can bear witness to a stampede of “pardoned” turkeys, daily at 2:30 p.m. The festivities are all part of an annual three-day event called Pomegranate Days, which kicks off the holiday season at the dairy with a sweet treat for the dromedaries. Pomegranates in particular, of course, are a symbol of prosperity and fertility — and November more or less marks the start of camel breeding season at the farm. Admission includes parking, camel and turkey show, circus-themed entertainment, and a supply of pomegranates and apples to feed to the camels. Additional camel snacks are also available for purchase, as are camel rides for kids ages 3 and up and older folks under 200 lbs.

Oasis Camel | Sandi Hemmerlein
Oasis Camel | Sandi Hemmerlein
Oasis Camel | Sandi Hemmerlein
Sandi Hemmerlein

4. Climb Mount Hollywood with Modern Hiker – November 25, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Even if you’ve already climbed to Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park before, being led by Modern Hiker founder and author Casey Schreiner will provide a certain amount of expertise and interpretive guidance that you wouldn’t get on your own (or even if you had the Modern Hiker website pulled up on your phone). And while it looks different every time, depending on the season and time of day, you just can’t beat those views of the L.A. basin or the opportunity to look down at Griffith Observatory from above. These are some of the most well-traveled trails in Griffith Park — but, like many other destinations in our large, urban wilderness, there’s more than one way to get there. Schreiner plans to start at the Trails Café — and while he notes that all are welcome on this free, post-turkey trek, advance RSVPs are appreciated. Bring sun protection and water, and wear sturdy shoes. And even if the outside temperature isn’t too high, be prepared to feel some heat and break a sweat with the elevation change.

Mt. Hollywood | Sandi Hemmerlein
Sandi Hemmerlein
Mt. Hollywood | Erin Johnson
Erin Johnson

5. Absorb Indigenous Art at Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts – November 25 and 26 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily)

Among the embarrassment of riches that those of us in southern California have to be grateful for is our access to sites of historic, cultural, and artistic significance — and the Maloof Foundation in Riverside fits the bill on all three counts. A recreation of the home of master woodworker and craftsman Sam Maloof that’s usually only open for tours twice a week, its annual Mexican Folk Art Weekend is a great opportunity to visit this living museum that’s a member of the National Trust for Preservation’s Historic Artists' Homes and Studios program. However, Saturday November 25 is the only day during Thanksgiving weekend when you can tour the historic home on the property (1-4 p.m., $5, normally $15) and partake in a “Fiesta Lunch” from Cuca’s Restaurant (12-1 p.m., RSVP 909-980-0412 or info@malooffoundation.org). While you’re there, visit the Jacobs Education Center Gallery for a special exhibit featuring contemporary artists with North American tribal roots, called “Neo Native: Toward New Mythologies” (through January 7, 2018). As well, the Maloof Lemon Grove features regularly rotating exhibits in its Garden Gallery, which is open all year for free.

Top image: Sandi Hemmerlein

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