Fun Weekend Escapes from Los Angeles

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Big Bear Lake the closest ski area to Los Angeles. Max Hartshorne photos.
Big Bear Lake is the closest ski area to Los Angeles. Max Hartshorne photos.

Here Are Some Great Places Just a Few Hours Away from Los Angeles

By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

The City of Angels, Los Angeles, is a true megalopolis, the biggest city on the West Coast and one that’s full of nearly 4 million hardworking people from all walks of life. Some work in the movie business in Hollywood and put in long hours. They all want to find places not too far away to escape to when the work is done.

Solvang California
Solvang California. Bossco, Flikr photo.

The best part about the city to some is actually getting out of it! There are many excellent weekend getaways from Los Angeles to a variety of destinations–beaches, deserts, mountains, cities, and towns all within a one to a six-hour drive. Book a trip to Los Angeles with Rome2rio from anywhere and find out for yourself.

Whether you enjoy an active outdoor adventure or prefer relaxing on a beach, there’s a destination for any type of traveler!

Best Weekend Getaways from Los Angeles

Solvang

Solvang is a unique city in California’s Santa Ynez Valley. It’s known for its Danish-style architecture and many wineries. The Elverhøj Museum of History & Art introduces visitors to the city’s long Danish heritage through personal stories and photographs.  A museum filled with classic vintage motorcycles is a treat for any motorhead, with dozens of classic American, Japanese and European motorbikes on display.

Solvang is a premier bicycling destination, it’s located north of Santa Barbara about 35 minutes by car. You might recognize the town since the very popular movie “Sideways” was filmed in these hills.  A multitude of wineries make biking from tasting room to tasting room a fun option. One rider described it this way: “You’ll pass farmlands with cows, horses and even a few bison. The hills are gently rolling and in spring they are crackling green. Crows hover overhead and few cars will pass you on this magnificent stretch of highway.”

Others head to Solvang when they are searching for a romantic getaway in one of the charming small inns here.

Death Valley

Who doesn’t want to visit one of the hottest places on Earth?  You’ll find giant sand dunes, badlands, canyons, mountains, and the lowest point in North America— Badwater Basin. Death Valley has a diverse environment to enjoy.

It’s home to bighorn sheep, coyotes, desert tortoises, and jackrabbits and with incredible sites of the vast landscape, Death Valley is a must-visit place. Death Valley can be a scary place to visit if you run out of gas or don’t bring enough water. Be careful!

Check out Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, or Golden Canyon for great hikes and impressive views! There are many ways to explore Death Valley, but as the park is known for its blistering hot summer temperatures, it’s safer and more comfortable to visit from November to April.

San Diego from Hornblower Cruise Noreen Kompanik photo.
San Diego from Hornblower Cruise. Noreen Kompanik photo.

San Diego

Driving about two hours south of Los Angeles will land you in San Diego. San Diego’s nickname is America’s Finest City, and for many people, it’s a true valhalla.

With a warm climate year-round, 70 miles of beaches, and stunning parks, San Diego is a charming city with plenty of sites to explore. Enjoy the Pacific Ocean views at Torrey Pines National Reserve. Look for marine wildlife at the La Jolla Cove tidepools. Head to Pacific Beach for cool vibes. Explore the city’s downtown and enjoy a coffee at a local cafe or stop by Balboa Park.

If traveling with kids check out the historic beachfront amusement park, Belmont Park. Nearby LaJolla was once where famous children’s book author Dr. Suess drew his amazing characters and wrote his poetry.  The cliffs there look down on the many surfers who love the waves in this exclusive community.

Big Sur

Big Sur is one of the best weekend getaway road trips from LA. Everyone in San Francisco has a sentimental story about taking this fabled drive, that has been shown on TV car commercials for decades. Drive Highway 1 up and down the coast for impressive ocean views the whole way. The 6-hour coastal road trip is surely worth it, and on your way north, stop in Paso Robles to visit a winery or olive grove.

Stop by the River Cafe for a home-cooked meal in a lovely garden grove by the roiling river.  If you want to get spiritual, visit Nepenthe for a meal, perched on a hillside. It’s full of crystals and healing energy, and the food is pretty good too.

Drive over the Bixby Creek Bridge, view McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, drive the 17-mile drive, or head to Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground to walk amongst the towering Redwoods. There are so many landmarks and sites to check out for any type of explorer.

Palm Springs visitor's center in the middle of the city. Max Hartshorne photo.
Palm Springs visitor’s center is in the middle of the city. Max Hartshorne photo.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs is perhaps the quintessential Los Angeles weekend getaway city. This city in the Sonoran Desert is famous for its boutique and luxury hotels, dozens of golf courses, public art, spas, and hot springs. Palm Springs is a gay mecca and is filled with these wonderful mid-century modern homes that you can visit. You can even see where Frank Sinatra and Liberace once lived.  Every February they celebrate Mid-Century modern week with double-decker open top bus tours of these delightful modern homes built in the ‘50s and ‘60s here all over the city.

Palm Springs is also a popular shopping and food destination with its vintage boutiques and fine restaurants. Stars used to flock to the city because there was a rule that stars had to live within two hours driving distance of the Hollywood studios. Palm Springs was perfectly located.

With plenty of things to do in the area, you’ll find a way to stay entertained. Just outside the city of Palm Springs take a trip to a ghost town or balance and relax your mind at a sound bath. Jeep Tours take you to the famous San Andreas fault and the spectacular colored rock formations at the fault are stunning and unique.

Palm Springs has some new hotels that have been built right in the downtown area, and it’s a very walkable city. It’s also very safe.

Santa Catalina Island Casino. Noreen Kompanik photo.

Catalina Island

Catalina Island is a famous getaway for the rich and some of the famous. The casino and the boat marina are where the action is.

Catalina Island is about 22 miles long by 8 miles across. What’s interesting about this destination is that you have to take a ferry to it making it one of the more unique weekend getaways from Los Angeles. Whether traveling by car or on for it’s important to book ferry tickets early and you should do the same for hotels and campgrounds. Although some parts of Catalina Island are undeveloped, there are still luxury hotels making it a great trip for any type of traveler.

There are two “cities” on the island. Day trips are operated out of them ranging from kayaking tours to jeep adventures. You can also embark on your own hike, or relax on the beach. Either way, this is a great weekend trip where you can enjoy the beauty of nature with modern comforts.

Big Bear Lake and the solar observatory
Big Bear Lake and the solar observatory

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake, located in the San Bernardino Mountains, is the closest ski area to Los Angeles. It’s a year-round weekend getaway destination and is known for getting the most sun in the whole state. Just about 2.5 hours from Los Angeles, Big Bear offers activities no matter the season.

In the winter enjoy skiing and snowboarding at Big Bear Mountain Resort. Besides skiing, you can take a segway tour around the city. Make a trip in the summer to go hiking, mountain biking, or swimming.

Newport Beach

Newport is one of the richest towns in Southern California–it’s one of the few places where a dealership selling McLaren supercars, that average around $133,000 apiece, does a thriving business.  The city is spread out and the harbor is full of yachts, the beach is easy to get to and the water is warm enough to swim.

Balboa Island, Newport Beach California. Max Hartshorne photo
Balboa Island, Newport Beach California. Max Hartshorne photo.

Newport Beach is a good option for a last-minute day trip or a full weekend getaway since it’s only an hour south of downtown Los Angeles. You can discover hiking trails, explore the tide pools at Crystal Cove State Park, or make your way out to Balboa Island to check out the cute, small town.  A tiny ferry connects the island and many people explore Newport on electric bicycles, which are allowed to ride on the seafront sidewalks.

One of the fun things to do in Newport is to take a Duffy boat tour. These 17-foot boats feature a big table in the middle and put along at just 5 miles per hour, so anyone can drive one.  You can get up close and see the yacht once owned by John Wayne and the house that Shirley Temple once lived in.

The Newport Beach coastline is close to the well-known Huntington Beach and Pier where you can dine and go fishing. There are a variety of ways to spend your time here no matter what type of beach-goer you are.

Summerland Beach
Summerland Beach Sunrise WithHorses Courtesy Visit Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

The city of Santa Barbara is about two hours north of Los Angeles and is located on the ocean. While standing on the beach you’ll see the dramatic Santa Ynez Mountains in the distance. Santa Barbara has sidewalks made of terra cotta tile, and much of the homes are gated mansions, yet there is also a nice walkable downtown area that anyone can enjoy.

Outside of its picturesque beach shoreline, downtown Santa Barbara is well known for a variety of wine tasting rooms, street fairs, and upscale restaurants and boutiques. There are many museums and historical Spanish Mission churches. Loquita Santa Barbara consistently attracts many of the locals with its Spanish cuisine, tapas and craft cocktails.  There might be a wait for it’s worth it!

Funk Zone is a popular district showing off the contemporary side of Santa Barbara with graffiti murals and other modern art pieces. The surrounding area is also famous for numerous wineries.

Riding an electric bike in Ojai, California.

Riding an electric bike in Ojai, California.
Riding an electric bike in Ojai, California.

Ojai

Ojai is one of those towns that is a spiritual center as well as a simply beautiful place to visit.  Everyone in California loves Ojai!

This charming resort town in the Topatopa Mountains is about an hour and a half from Los Angeles. Enjoy local wines at the tasting rooms in town, explore art galleries, and head to the Sunday morning Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market.

With so many fun local places to enjoy meals and drinks, or the gorgeous surrounding scenery to adventure in, you’ll find many ways to enjoy this little town.

Laguna Beach

Laguna is another city that’s beloved by Californians young and old. There are nine wide beaches in Laguna, it’s one of the state’s most beautiful swimming destinations. Aliso Beach Park is a popular surf spot. The waters off Crystal Cove State Park are designated as an underwater park. You can find the Jolly Oyster truck at the state park selling their fabulous oysters and other treats to enthusiastic crowds.

To get to Laguna, you can take the crowded Pacific Coast Highway, or travel from Irvine through the beautiful tawny-colored hills that have all been preserved, right down to the village.  Laguna is less than an hour from Los Angeles proper.  If you love beaches and the outdoors, this place is for you.

Early morning tidepool exploring at Treasure Island Park in Laguna Beach.
Early morning tidepool exploring at Treasure Island Park in Laguna Beach. Max Hartshorne photo.

Laguna Beach hosts the annual Pageant of the Masters in its outdoor amphitheater. This incredible summer-only show is worked on all year long by local volunteers and essentially is a live art show. Famous paintings and sculptures are recreated by humans painted in gold and standing so still you’d swear they are fake. It’s a one-of-a-kind spectacle that has to be seen to be believed.

This is all you can photograph at the legendary Pageant of the Masters, where humans recreate paintings and sculptures in Laguna Beach.
This is all you can photograph at the legendary Pageant of the Masters, where humans recreate paintings and sculptures in Laguna Beach.

While visiting, check out the famous Laguna Beach tide pools during low tide for a chance to see sea stars, anemones, and more!  If you have the whole weekend, spend one day at Heiler Park and go snorkeling the next day at Diver’s Cove. Spend one of your evenings watching the sunset at Crescent Bay Park. There are plenty of hotel options right along the beach with oceanfront views to choose from here.

Joshua Tree

Some people say that Joshua Tree is a spiritual center like no other place on Earth.

Known for the famous Joshua trees, cholla cacti, gigantic rocks, and rugged mountains, there are countless wonders to explore in this unique desert landscape where the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert converge.

Autocamp Joshua Tree is a new futuristic campground and hotel with firepits and a large comfortable outdoor seating area with firepits so you can admire the dark skies and the stars at night. You can book a stay in one of their vintage silver Airstream trailers or roomy accessible suites. Each Airstream comes with its own private firepit and there is a main lodge to provide anything else you might need.

Camp among the giant boulders of Joshua Tree and enjoy views of the sky including the Milky Way in the evening. Be sure to reserve a campground or arrive early for a walk-up campsite! These all sell out fast, especially in the post-covid world where everyone seems to want to go camping.

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park is a stunning destination about four hours northeast of Los Angeles. Head to the Land of Giants to stroll among the Giant Sequoias, the largest trees in the world or make your way up the grueling 23-mile round trip hike to Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous 48 states. You can see the tree with the road that runs right underneath it, one of the many gigantic sequoia trees here.

There are many ways to explore the park. Don’t miss seeing General Sherman, the largest Sequoia in the world, and make sure you take the Moro Rock Trail for spectacular views of the park. With numerous viewpoint pull-offs, it is also enjoyable to visit Sequoia by car.

Sequoia is worth visiting at any time of the year but is most crowded in the summer. While some roads close in the winter, the tranquil snow-covered landscape is magical and worth the visit.