Los Angeles is an excellent base for quick weekend trips that are easily accessible by car (or boat) within two hours or less. Take a break from the sprawl and traffic of LA and get a change of scenery by heading north, south, or east from the city. Whether you’re looking to spend a day or two tasting local wines in and around Santa Barbara, or spending some time in San Diego’s North County picturesque beach towns, there’s a wide variety of Los Angeles getaways right at your doorstep.
For a complete change of pace, head to this close-knit community nestled in between the Topatopa Mountains. With a strong art scene and plenty of New Age-centric shops, the stress of LA will quickly melt away. There are plenty of outdoor activities including the nearby Los Padres National Forest, that offers many hiking trails of all levels including the easy Rose Valley Falls hike that ends at a waterfall. Take a free tour and tastings at Ojai Olive Oil Co. and sample some of the purest olive oil in the region. To get a historical viewpoint of the area and to experience local artists’ work, make your way over to the Ojai Valley Museum of History and Art.
Spend a day cooling off in this glam dessert town at the Arrive Hotel, where anyone can use the pool free of charge. Walk along Palm Canyon Drive to browse the art galleries, antique shops, and retro-themed furniture stores, and some prime-people watching. Hop on the rotating Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to take in panoramic views of Coachella Valley below and hike on the trails once you reach the top. For an excellent introduction to the local archtecture, The Modern Tour, is well worth the price tag if you’re at all interested in the mid-century modern homes that the area is known for.
San Diego’s North County
San Diego is a popular destination from Los Angeles, but consider North County that is a bit closer to LA, where you can explore the small beach towns that each have their own character. Carlsbad may be known best as the home of LEGOLAND California but there is a lot more to do in this area, including during the springtime the Flower Fields of Carlsbad Ranch boasts 50 acres of vibrant blooms. Encinitas has stunning beaches like Moonlight State Beach and Swami’s where you can spend a lazy afternoon soaking in some rays. Solana Beach boasts a strong community feel, and has Cedros Design District, a great spot to buy home interior goods, and browse the numerous art galleries.
This coastal city is an easy hour’s drive (without traffic) from LA, and is a great jumping off point for exploring Channel Island National Park, where you can reserve a campsite on one of the five islands under the stars and miles from civilization. To get to islands like Santa Cruz and Anacapa, it’s around an hour boat ride from Ventura Harbor. If you prefer to stay in town, there’s plenty to do there from exploring all the shops and restaurants in Downtown Ventura (make sure to also stop at the Ventura City Hall and San Buenaventura Mission) to walking along the lenghty Ventura Pier and popular San Buenaventura State Beach where you can spend the afternoon people-watching and soaking in that warm California sun.
The beauty of LA is that you are close to both the beach and the snow-covered mountains. Big Bear, located on the Big Bear Lake is known for its ski resorts like Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. During the summertime, explore the surrounding San Bernardino National Forest, which has plenty of scenic mountain trails to choose from. Castle Rock Trail is another excellent hiking trail that is short and boast spectacular views of the lake. For downtime, Big Bear Lake Village hasd a main street that is perfect for poking around shops and getting something good to eat.
Hop on the Catalina Express and head to this classic island getaway that is only an hour away from the mainland and is often accompanied by dolphin and whale sightings on your way out. Explore the scenic towns of Avalon or Two Harbors, where there are plenty of outdoor (parasailing) and indoor (food tours) activities to fill your day. For boats you have two different options, either the Catalina Express which departs from ports in San Pedro, Long Beach (shortest trip), and Dana Point, or the Catalina Flyer which departs from Newport Beach. If you’re prone to seasickness, the morning rides tend to be less choppy.
This charming beachside city is always a solid choice, with an excellent food and wine scene, as well as revitalized neighborhoods like the Funk Zone. Take a guided tour of Santa Barbara, or just wander around on your own along the always buzzing State Street, Stearns Wharf, and the Old Mission Santa Barbara. If you want to take your own wine-fuel tour you can explore the Urban Wine Trail and slowly make your way through wine bars in the Funk Zone, La Arcada, Midtown, Presidio Neighborhood, and Summerland (located five miles from SB).
Head inland to indulge in a day of wine tasting in Temecula Valley Wine Country, with over forty wineries to taste some of the region’s best vino. Walk along the historic Old Town where you can browse shops and cafes that are housed along the wooden boardwalk and get a glimpse of the town’s Old West roots. Go up in a hot air balloon at sunrise to see the expanse of vineyards from above or stay on ground and play a round of golf. If you want to be a bit more active, rent a bike and spending the day biking through the vineyards.
Joshua Tree National Park is such an unexpectedly beautiful part of California, where the rugged landscape often feels more like a remote planet than a desert that is a two hours’s drive east from Los Angeles. The best way to experience Joshua Tree is to get out and explore it on your own two feet on the numerous hiking trails of all exercise levels. There are also various campgrounds throughout the park that you can reserve and let the howls of coyotes lull you to sleep. There are four visitors centers in Joshua Tree, where you can learn more about specific hiking paths from the park rangers, and use the flush toilets and picnic tables.
Santa Barbara’s ritzy seaside neighbor is worth stopping by as a stand-alone trip or an add-on to a SB visit. A must stop is the Ganna Walska Lotusland, one of the area’s most impressive botanical gardens that sits on the former estate of a famed Polish singer. Get lost in a grove of dragon blood trees, cactus gardens, lily ponds, and numerous succulents. Tour reservations need to be made in advance over the phone for a two-hour guided tour of the property. Stop by Butterfly Beach to take in those million-dollar ocean views.