Set against mountains, valleys, and citrus groves, the stretch of CA Highway 126 known as Heritage Valley offers a rural oasis in an idyllic spot: right between Los Angeles County and the beaches of Ventura.
The Heritage Valley area hides in plain sight, connecting CA 101 in L.A. County’s Santa Clarita (home of Six Flags Magic Mountain) to I-5 in Ventura County. Comprised of the towns of Santa Paula, Fillmore, and Piru, the area was first developed in the 1880s around the Southern Pacific Railroad and citrus groves—and still seems to live in another era. Indeed, in Piru, the National Historic Landmark Rancho Camulos Museum offers a glimpse of an even earlier era—an 1853 rancho perched along the primary stagecoach route that connected Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
Today, Santa Paula boasts of being the Citrus Capitol of the World, and you can still browse farm stands teeming with lemons, oranges, and avocados along Highway 126. (The local bounty is on full display during July’s Citrus Festival.) Any time of year, walk along Main Street to see murals detailing the town’s history, and check out the Santa Paula Train Depot, the oldest in Ventura County. (Trainspotters will also love the vintage train rides at nearby Fillmore & Western Railway.) With its frozen-in-time ambience, the depot and surrounding area have appeared in a number of movies and TV series, such as Carrie, 2014’s Godzilla, and NCIS.
The area makes for a lovely scenic drive, but for a closer look, park the car and get outside. Hike to swimming holes and a natural waterslide along the Santa Paula Canyon Trail, or peek at California condors at Sespe Condor Sanctuary, both in Los Padres National Forest. To camp, stay at the Lake Piru Recreation Area, which has fishing and water sports, or go glamping at Ventura Ranch KOA, where options include teepees and Conestoga wagons.
For more unique history, check out the Aviation Museum of Santa Paula, housed at the local airport that dates back to 1930. Explore the hangars occupied by antique, classic, and experimental aircraft, along with race cars, motorcycles, and vintage juke boxes and phonographs. Stay for lunch, too: its Flight 126 Cafe prides itself on its combination of old-school comfort food—big breakfasts, burgers, and Thanksgiving-level turkey dinners, paired with views of the still-working runway.