While we have yet to beat COVID-19, we’re finally able to travel again — thanks to lighter restrictions. Considering life has been pretty tough for most of us, nothing sounds better right now than a getaway that involves breathtaking ocean sunsets, unparalleled nature, and an abundance of culture. The good news is you don’t need a passport to enjoy such a trip. Look no further than Southern California.
Whether you’re traveling with family and have Disneyland on the brain or you’re craving an active vacation hiking around Death Valley, there are plenty of things to do in SoCal. Even though Los Angeles is one of the most obvious suggestions, we’ve decided to list scenic places in Southern California that aren’t far from the City of Angels so you can craft the perfect (and much-needed) getaway.
Joshua Tree National Park: For Becoming One With Nature
If you love Southern California weekend activities, this destination is for you. Located about a two-hour drive from Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park (named after the iconic, odd-shaped trees on the premises) is a favorite weekend getaway destination for SoCal locals — but it’s enjoyed by visitors worldwide.
The park sprawls over an impressive 800,000 acres of land. Here, you’ll find two desert ecosystems — Colorado and Mojave — in one place. It’s an excellent place for hiking (more than 100 miles of trails), star gazing, world-class rock climbing, and bird-watching. Oh, and selfie opportunities abound. If you plan to stay in the area for a while, there are some excellent campgrounds, quaint motels, and rental homes to choose from. If you’re not a fan of extremely hot temps, plan your visit between October and May.
Catalina Island: For a Romantic Getaway
Perfectly positioned just 26 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, this island resort is still considered a part of California. It's accessible via the Catalina Express jet catamaran, which takes around 90 minutes from Dana Point, Long Beach, and San Pedro ports. The main attractions include beautiful beaches, charter boat fishing, SCUBA diving, and snorkeling amidst colorful marine life.
The main (and only) town of Avalon is chock-full of various restaurants, shops, and art galleries if you feel like taking a stroll or grabbing a bite. Book a room at one of the copious romantic bed-and-breakfasts or small inns — it may be challenging to make it back to the mainland because you’ll be so in the zone. Not to worry. It’s one of the best last-minute weekend trip ideas, so you can always come back.
Santa Barbara: For Art Lovers
The charming seaside city of Santa Barbara is located approximately 90 miles north of Los Angeles. While you’ll find miles of beaches, whale watching cruises, and a vibrant restaurant scene, the art world shouldn’t go unnoticed. For starters, there’s the Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, both of which feature impressive collections from Cali artists, among other works.
You can also view art for free at the Design and Architecture Museum on the UC Santa Barbara Campus or the Funk Zone, a group of former warehouses that are now home to art galleries, restaurants, and more. If you’re into buying art instead of just viewing it, you’ll find places where you can purchase the next perfect piece.
Death Valley National Park: For Solitude
Death Valley National Park gets its name because it’s the hottest, lowest, and driest national park in the States. While that may sound ominous, it’s home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in America. We’re talking about commanding desert sand dunes, snow-capped mountains, and colors that mimic a watercolor painting. Opt for either a ranger-guided tour or do your own thing by exploring the 3.4-million-acre park (yes, really!) by car, jeep, bicycle, or foot. It’s genuinely one of the best places to visit in southern California.
Santa Monica: For Variety
When you think about Santa Monica, chances are you conjure up images of its iconic colorful Ferris wheel at its famous Pier — or the memorable Shutters on the Beach, depending on your speed. That’s because it’s one of the best southern California cities to visit. But there’s so much more to do and see than an amusement park, aquarium, sunny deck chairs, and spa treatments.
The Santa Monica Mountains are one of the most frequently visited natural attractions in all of California. There are nearly 20 parks throughout the mountains, complete with hiking paths, biking, and horseback riding trails, campsites, and other recreational activities throughout the mountain range.
Temecula Valley Wine Country: For Vinophiles
That’s right. California’s wine country isn’t reserved for Napa Valley alone. However, this patch of vineyards is only about an hour or so’s drive from Los Angeles. Along with exploring the wine country on foot, bike or in a private limo, you can get a bird’s-eye view of the vineyards in a hot air balloon. There are plenty of luxe resorts (many with spas) to choose from, so it’s a great romantic getaway to boot.
Palm Springs: For Rest and Relaxation
Palm Springs weekend trip anyone? Located approximately two hours away from L.A. in the Sonoran Desert, this desert oasis has a reputation for its posh hotels, spas, golf courses, and of course, hot springs. Opt for spending time in the bustling shopping and dining district along Palm Drive, or opt for a more active approach in the surrounding Coachella Valley, where you can hike, bike, or ride along one of the horseback riding trails. Don’t leave without taking a ride on the Palm Springs Tramway, which transports you from the desert floor to an elevation of 8,500 feet in minutes.
Big Bear: For Outdoor Activity Enthusiasts
It’s not to say that the state parks on this list wouldn’t be suitable for active folks who love the great outdoors. However, this mountain resort is just as fun in the summer as it is in the winter because it features one of California’s most popular ski resorts. Seriously, you can be on the slopes within about two hours of leaving L.A. In the summer, you can enjoy fishing, mountain biking, and endless hiking. Couples, singles, friends, and families can all enjoy this getaway.
San Diego: For Families
San Diego (about three hours away from L.A. by car) is a good home base if you’re traveling with a family. Highlights include the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park (one of the biggest in the world), the tide pools of La Jolla, an Old Town Trolley Tour, LEGOLAND, Sea World, and plenty of beaches just ripe for water sports fun. While Disneyland is technically located in Anaheim, many fams opt to stay in San Diego because the park is easily accessible by bus, so you can still enjoy the family-friendly activities in SD, too.
Where’s Your Next SoCal Adventure?
Which one of these weekend getaways in Southern California catches your eye? Whether you’re up for a solo travel trip, romantic getaway, family vacation, or friends’ trip, Briggs & Riley has got the right carry-on, checked, or weekend bag for you. Remember, travel rules are constantly changing, so be sure to conduct ample research before planning your next trip, so you stay happy and healthy at all times.
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