17 Amazing Weekend Trips From Los Angeles
What’s spring (or, especially, summer) without a road trip? Less fun for everyone, so we’re all about finding some low-lift, high-reward weekend trips from Los Angeles that will satisfy your wanderlust from the dessert to the sea and valley vineyard. There are newly opened hotels, beachfront cottages and classic motels that would all love to host you while showcasing the best wine tasting, food finds, mid-century architecture, family fun and even skydiving. We’ve brainstormed a special spot for everyone from status traveler to the romance lover to the spiritual seeker and avid surfer. 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 long into the year.
Formerly known as a sleepy Danish tourist town filled with pancake houses and pastry shops (and you still shouldn’t over look those), newer restaurants by award-winning chefs from L.A. with serious pedigrees are making this a foodie destination on your way to wine country. Peasants FEAST executive chef Michael Cherney made a splash with elevated comfort food such as fried chicken sandwiches and potato leek soup, and he recently opened an upscale deli – caviar bumps anyone? - where he also slices Jamon Iberico for caviar cones.
More L.A. transplants, chefs Stephen Fretz and Lincoln Carson, opened Coast Range and Vaquero Bar right on the main drag where you can devour Channel Islands barramundi fish and chips dunked in a local beer batter on the patio for lunch, and a few strong mezcal-tequila cocktails in the intimate bar with a record playing turn-table. Indulge in prime cuts beef in a sexy booth at night in the main restaurant known for white and red oak wood-fired grilling technique. Book a room at mid-century modern inspired The Landsby across the street and do it all again the next day.
Located on Pacific Coast Highway 1, Lompoc is an unsung hero for uncrowded beaches, cycling, outdoor mural galleries, and one of the most extensively restored mission in California, at La Purisima Mission State Park, with trails for hiking and horseback riding.
But Lompoc is also a destination for doing something outside of your comfort zone, and to that end, they have made great use of the all the open spaces with the rush of a skydiving adventure. Skydive Santa Barbara offers several tandem jumps for visitors from 8,000 to 18,000 feet from the FAA-approved skydiving company, and you just might be able to glimpse the vibrantly colored valley of wildflower fields on your way down. And, you gotta love a town that has a Bloom Tracker for the most up-to-date flower information.
This quaint town is tucked away off San Maros Pass is about 45 minutes northeast of Santa Barbara but feels like you have stepped back in time. Quaint shops and cafes line the streets along with some of the best privately owned wine tasting rooms. Check out Liquid Farm or old favorites like Dragonette, Blair Fox or Roblar (just outside of town) to name a few.
Stay at Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and try the pizza or pasta in-house at Nella Kitchen & Bar, or Bar Le Cote (sister of Michelin-starred Bell’s in Los Alamos.) Here you’ll find crudo, veggie paella, olive oil cake and the peel and eat shrimp for happy hour is an exceptionally good deal for only $12.00. They also offer many local wines by the glass from the surrounding region so it’s a winetasting-win-win.
Every year in February, mid-century modern design buffs from around the globe flock to Palm Springs to bask in the winter sun amid the San Jacinto Mountains, but more importantly, to celebrate an obsession with the mid-20th century period of architecture and design during Modernism Week. This includes an onslaught of parties, events, lectures and exclusive home tours—including Frank Sinatra’s old house designed by E. Stuart Williams—in the efforts to continue preservation and education.
And, you can stay in dozens of refurbished bungalows (with equally appealing food and lounge options on property) from this same period to really soak in the experience from popular Villa Royale to newbie Fleur Noire Hôtel, or the classic Casa Cody to name a few of the dozens of options.
Yes, there are tons of great surfing spots all along the California coast, but Oceanside is an authentic spot (where you can take pro surfing lessons from the North County Surf Academy!). It’s also where the world’s largest surf event and music festival takes place each fall, Super Girl Surf Pro, but if you miss that, try to visit the California Surf Musuem after your morning or afternoon wave session. If you are not ready for the water yet, a one-of-a-kind Skate School program pays homage to Oceanside’s beloved action-sport culture. Guests can also take part in guided lessons from Neal Mims, a lauded Olympic skateboard coach and talent behind Golden State Skateboarding, followed by a tour of local skateboard sites as well as a custom skateboard-making experience. Stay at The Green Room charmingly chic boutique hotel for a low-key (read: you need to save your money for surf-skating lessons) vibe within walking distance to the shore, and dine at The Plot for vegan fare or Dija Mara for Balinese-fusion.
With seven miles of Pacific coastline, Carlsbad is a haven for families and has something for every member and age group to explore, even teens (check out the Museum of Making Music). Start at the SEA LIFE Aquarium, or the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center, and be sure to visit the Leo Carrillo Ranch and the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. Hot tip: Stay at the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa—they have a private entrance to the LEGOLAND California Theme Park. And, after all that family fun and adventure, Mom and Dad might need to unwind. You can sip and swirl wine at Carruth Cellars tasting room, but if the family is still in tow, take them for s’mores around an open flame at nearby Campfire restaurant (with a menu by chef Eric Bost from nearby Michelin-starred Jeune et Jolie in the kitchen) while you peruse the craft cocktail menu.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.