Let's face it — even if you don't have kids, not carving a jack-o-lantern is just down right un-American, a disgraceful flouting of pagan tradition for which one may expect to suffer some particularly nasty tricks come the end of the month. While L.A. County is liberally peppered with pumpkin patches, there's really only one worthy destination, the incomparably charming Lombardi Ranch, a straight-up working farm since the 1940s, which transforms itself into a gourd-laden wonderland every autumn. Set amongst a series of low, rolling hills, it's a sprawling showcase for every conceivable variety of pumpkin — strange albino specimens, those warty, green-and-yellow flecked oval Cinderelly jobs — along with a host of bizarro multi-color mini crookneck squash, not to mention a vast array of peppers, tomatoes, garlic, you name it. But its the extracurricular touches that keep 'em coming back: perspective-warping visuals (on one hillside, a seemingly standard-size flatbed loaded with what appears to be a 50-foot-high pumpkin); a Mayan-style pyramid of hay bales; an antique fire engine and paddy wagon for the kiddies to swarm over; livestock everywhere; even a menacingly exotic emu. Best of all, a huge corn field plowed through with narrow passages to accommodate their unbeatable Scarecrow Alley, wherein lurk at least 100 of the raven-busting figures, all created by local school kids and scout troops. Some are goofy, others downright scary, but each represents the poignant, vivid fruit of childhood's fantastic imagination. It's a fine getaway for any city slicker, and best of all, it's free.

Mondays-Sundays. Starts: Oct. 8. Continues through Nov. 18, 2009

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