Itching to escape from Los Angeles? Forget LAX; the best weekend getaways—we're talking easy, affordable weekend trips, day trips and road trips—are just a car (or train, or ferry) ride away. Whether you're looking for adventurous outdoor activities, stellar shopping, beaches off the beaten track or luxurious spa days, we’ve found plenty of weekend getaways to satisfy your wanderlust.
The best weekend getaways from L.A.
Joshua Tree, less than a three hour's drive from L.A., is one of the most magical places in California (and the country, we think). The National Park's varied and alien landscapes—due mostly to gnarled Joshua Trees and giant boulders strewn willy nilly—make for impressive scenery during hikes, bike tours or leisurely drives. If you visit in spring, head south to Pinto Basin to see colorful wildflowers in bloom. The stargazing is choice here, and wild coyotes may howl you to sleep if you plan an overnight camping trip. Notable stops along the way to the Park include Pappy & Harriet's for lunch, live music and a ghost-town stroll; the Integratron for a new-age sound bath, and the town of Joshua Tree itself, which offers unique hotels, a few tasty restaurants, some good thrifting and the kind of quirky public art that only exists in tiny, warm-weather communities. Enjoy your desert trip!
The cozy, pastoral town of Ojai is a close and beautiful bet for an easy L.A. getaway. Just an hour and a half north of the city, Ojai is a unique mix of old-school, hippie healers and artists and the new-school folks that are working to make that scene hip again. If you like your rural bike rides and rustic biker bars with a side of DJ'ed pool parties and fine dining, this is the spot for you. And oh, the dining! Ojai exists in a small, Mediterranean micro-climate, which means everything grows here, from olives and grapes to an abundance of citrus, so meals in Ojai are super fresh and always reflect the season. The wine, too, is locally made and—as a bonus—brought right to you, with tasting rooms dotting the downtown strip and saving you the (sober) drive out to a vineyard. If you're more outdoor-inclined, Ojai makes a great stop before or after a trip to Los Padres National Forest, just north of town.
The wealthy resort town of Santa Barbara is almost too perfect to be true for a weekend jaunt—and boy, does it know it. You don't come here for urban thrills, but for history, top-end eating, an old-world aesthetic and—of course—the beaches. Sheltered between towering green mountains and deep blue ocean, this has been a desirable place for thousands of years. The Chumash Indians lived here for 5,000 years before the Spanish arrived in 1786 and set about building the Santa Barbara Mission, one of the loveliest in the state. Nearby is the main drag of State Street, a strip of boutiques, decent restaurants and upscale bars (the dives exist too, but are semi-hidden). Near the top of the Downtown core is the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, a worthwhile display of ancient creativity and modern-day pretenders. in the other direction, State Street ends at Pacific-side Stearns Wharf, where fishing boats unload their daily hauls.
Santa Catalina Island is a close and beautiful bet for short trips. The little strip of land—accessable by ferries from Long Beach or San Pedro—has all the makings of a well rounded vacation: Rich history, beach town relaxation and outdoorsy adventure. On one side of town, Avalon is a walkable, something-for-everyone kind of village where people flit around town in golf carts, shop in beach boutiques and stroll along the boardwalk with ice cream. There are plenty of restaurants (and a few choice dive bars) to choose from, and a fair amount of touristy mainstays (a zip line, a ritzy beach club, Jeep and heli tours—you get the idea). If an outdoorsy, off-the-grid trip is more your style, there are plenty of mountains beaches to explore while hiking or biking, and lots of wildlife to see. Eighty-eight percent of the island, including 48 miles of coastline, is protected land and there's a good chance you'll see buffalo, bald eagles, foxes, dolphins and whales here. For a less touristy destination—almost the opposite of Avalon, and great for campers and backpackers—check out Two Harbors (the ferries stop there, too). It's a one-horse (or restaurant, or general store, or hotel) kind of town where kayaks and camping sites probably outnumber the permanent residents.
More weekend getaway ideas
The California Double unique to to this state: Surf the coast in the morning and be up in the snow by afternoon.