The 11 Best Weekend Trips From Los Angeles (Don’t Worry, They’re All Within Driving Distance)
Editor’s note: In light of COVID-19, please review federal, state and local traveler guidance. Please also check with hotels before booking to confirm they are open and operating with safety precautions.
What’s summer without a road trip? Less fun for everyone, so we’re all about finding some easy-lift, big-reward weekend trips from Los Angeles that will satisfy your wanderlust. There are newly opened hotels, classic beachfront cottages and classic motels that would all love to host you while maintaining newly stringent hygiene and sanitation standards as well as social distancing practices. We’ve brainstormed a special spot for everyone from status traveler to the romance lover to the spiritual seeker. And since Southern Cali’s summerlike temperatures extend well into October, you have some time to get a reservation and build up anticipation for your blowout road trip during the summer that almost wasn’t.
1. Best for Chill Bike Riding: Los Alamos (2.5 hours)
On the rolling northern fringes of Santa Barbara wine country, the tiny town of Los Alamos has been stirring. Over the past decade, creative locals and Los Angeles expats have set up shop in this former frontier town, creating a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hotbed of innovative farm-to-table restaurants, wineries, art galleries and more. Skyview Los Alamos is a new hotel born from an historic 1950’s motel overlooking the quaint western town of Los Alamos. Set on a hill just off the 101, the funky-luxe property has 33 rooms, including two spacious suites and 16 deluxe rooms with private decks featuring outdoor showers and fire pits overlooking the Santa Ynez Valley. The five-acre hilltop hotel also includes a small spa, a working vineyard, gardens and an original 1950’s-era pool. Following an extensive renovation, the property’s pre-existing midcentury modern architecture really shines with a modern rustic aesthetic and amenities like flat panel TVs, down duvets, leather club chairs and marble bathrooms with farm sinks. There's a fleet of Linus bikes to borrow to tool around town, where you'll want to make a dinner reservation at Pico, the dinner-only fine dining spot where you will enjoy sitting in the garden with a house-made summer pasta with broccolini and heirloom tomatoes, browsing your choices from an international wine list featuring a rainbow of wines (including bubbly pink, orange and white) to choose from.
2. Best for Stargazers: New Cuyama (2 hours 15 minutes)
Light pollution is a real detriment to enjoying the night sky, whether it's the sweep of the Milky Way, the glow of a full moon or the recent gangbusters Perseids Meteor Shower. In the Cali High Desert on State Route 166 between Santa Maria and Bakersfield, there's a 1950s-era roadside motel called the Cuyama Buckhorn smack in what used to be called the middle of nowhere. This newly rehabbed spot is exactly the place you'd want to be to see the stars, which is why people start pulling their cars into a parking lot on the summit of Mount Pinos around 3 p.m. to get a prime viewing spot for the starry soup in the sky once night falls (bring a sweater—8,000 feet of elevation gets chilly fast at night). In daylight hours, take a tour of the Blue Sky Center, a community center that supports area creatives in a complex of super-cool canvas-and-steel huts, go for a hike in Los Padres National Forest or just chill with contactless food delivery from the kitchen.
3. Best for Sand Dune Climbing: Oxnard (90 Minutes)
Wait, you’re thinking…Oxnard? That beach in Ventura County to the north of Malibu? Yep, that’s the one. It’s got arguably better beaches (softer sand) than its glitzy neighbor, less traffic and a crazy 94 acres of that rarity on SoCal beaches: Instagram-ready, pristine sand dunes. Leave your AirBnB rental windows open and fall asleep tickled by ocean breezes. Located in the quiet Mandalay Shores neighborhood, this magical sun-drenched hideaway is just a short stroll to the beach.
4. Best for a Doggie Getaway: Carpinteria (90 minutes)
Take your dog on vacation to the cutest little seaside community, Carpinteria, and snuggle with her in a bungalow just four blocks from the beach at the Carpinteria Beach Cottages. Borrow beach cruisers, boogie boards, beach chairs and towels, and when you need a break from the sand, walk your little furry friend with you to the main drag, Linden Street, to explore shops and cafes. Do you surf or just like to watch? One of the world's best surf breaks is at nearby Rincon Beach, where the big January waves make it the spot for pros to compete in the Rincon Classic.
5. Best for Active Fun: Morro Bay (3 hours)
This coastal community is named for a big pile of volcanic rock, Morro Rock, that sits at the end of Morro Rock Beach. It's all about the outdoors life here—the list of activities (including golfing, kayaking, diving, hiking, biking) is dizzying, but it's also just great for a lazy lie-in after waking up in one of the waterfront suites of the Estero Inn. Don't miss the majestic Montaña de Oro State Park, which has rugged cliffs, tucked-away sandy beaches, coastal plains, streams, canyons, and hills, with spectacular scenery produced through millions of years of volcanic activity, plate tectonics and erosion. Montaña de Oro is perfect for backpackers seeking solitude along quiet trails. Go horseback riding right on the beach. Spooner’s Cove in Montaña de Oro is a great place to take your family to look for sea glass or go sunbathing, with a seasonal stream flowing to the ocean, as well as restrooms, picnic facilities and parking. For more ideas, check out the Highway One Discovery Route website.
6. Best for Forest Bathers: Sequoia National Park (3.5 hours)
We're a big state. We've got big trees. And you need to see them, and force any small children under your care to see them as well. That’s because looking up at the giant sequoias, which tower to over a mile-and-a-half in height, is a truly magical experience. Trust us on this one: Once you make the drive up into the Sierra Nevadas and smell the fresh air, vibe on all the cute little VRBO cabins or check into your room at the John Muir Lodge you're going to get that heart-swelling, nature-embracing feeling. (Maybe it's the 36-room lodge's open beam ceiling, stone fireplace in the great room or that you can sit on one of the porches and enjoy the crisp night air.) Hike in to see General Sherman, one of the largest living things on earth, and then go a couple miles farther into the forest to the less-visited Muir Grove.
7. Best for Kayaking: Catalina Island (2 hours)
Hope on the Catalina Express shuttle craft from San Pedro or Long Beach and after an hour-long ferry ride, you're at Catalina Island, the little islet 22 miles off the coast that's equal parts pampering and rugged nature. If you are totally into the anti-civilization mindset, you can rent a kayak from Descanso Beach Ocean Sports and paddle yourself to some isolated primitive campsite for an overnight stay (there are also campsites available) to really enjoy the 88 percent of the island that's held in undeveloped glory by the Catalina Island Conservancy. (And don't worry, you can also just rent a kayak or other beach toys for an hour or so, and spend the afternoon drinking wine and eating cheese from the balcony of your oceanfront suite at the Hotel Metropole.)
8. Best for Seaside Strolls: Laguna Beach (1 hour)
Sure, you can stroll by the beach all up and down the Cali coast but there is a special nirvana-esque beauty to the stretch along Laguna Beach. Manicured paved paths wind up and down hillocks planted with flowers, there's the occasional swimsuit beauty jogging with their happy dog, what's not to love? Spring for a seaview suite at the Pacific Edge Hotel, where the clean beachy aesthetic mixes with vintage elements like midcentury lamps and colorful art. Order a seafood tower and an Aperol spritz to watch the sundown from the open-air restaurant The Deck, before you end the night with a nighttime walk on the beach out front. But not too late: you've got beachfront yoga the next day at 8 a.m.
9. Best for Sidewalk Cafe Sitting: San Diego (2 hours)
San Deigo's Gaslamp Quarter is the next best thing to being at a pre-quarantine bar that you can do while socially distancing. In fact, lots of the restaurants in the area have cordoned off outdoor dining areas, and the breezy summer temps in this mecca for endurance athletes and the spouses who love them make people-watching fun. Want a pub experience? Stop at Irish pub The Field for a sausage roll washed down with a black-and-tan. Or how about nachos and a margarita? That'll require a seat at El Chingon, next door. And where should you stay? At the new Pendry San Diego, a swank hotel downtown decorated in urban coastal decor with a rooftop pool.
10. The Best For New Age Types: Ojai (90 Minutes)
This groovy little town is like fancy lady Santa Barbara's beatnik little sister who moved away into the mountains. In fact, the Topatopa Mountains give the place one of its most magical features: a sunset that turns the very hillsides a bright pink nightly. Stay at the Caravan Outpost, a set of Airstream trailers set around a central meeting shed (and all styled to hipster perfection). Borrow one of the bikes at the compound and go tooling around town, stopping at The Nest patio for a next-level lunch of Moroccan lamb meatballs with mint, yogurt, capers and golden raisins accompanied by a kale Caesar salad with cashew Parmesan and the house-made fruit soda of the day. Across the street, browse deKor eclectic home furnishings, picking up one of the shop's signature candles scented with orange blossom to remind you of the citrus groves dotting the hinterlands. And before you go for your sunset walk for the obligatory wowing snapshots, pick up a wide-brimmed straw hat at In the Field, a browse-worthy boutique with vintage and new somethings for men, women, kids and the home.
11. Best for Mountain Fresh Air: Big Bear (2.5 hours)
All eyes on the lake, where you can fish for rainbow trout, take a waterskiing or wakeboarding lesson or go horseback riding. Stay at any number of cabins through Big Bear Cool Cabins, with larger size homes that will accommodate your whole co-quarantine pod or a smaller bungalow for you, your pet and your SO. And don't forget to save time for the wide range of trails, from the 0.2 mile toddler-friendly trot that starts at the village courthouse to the popular 15-mile Skyline Trail that is popular with mountain bikers.