The best weekend getaways from L.A.

Everyone needs an escape from the city sometimes. Hop into the car (or grab the ferry) for these gorgeous weekend getaways from Los Angeles.

Edited by Michael JulianoWritten by Kate Wertheimer & Krista DiamondFriday March 10 2023FacebookTwitterPinterestEmailWhatsAppAdvertising

You don’t have to get on a plane to feel like you’re in another country. Southern California is dotted with gorgeous, quaint destinations perfect for a weekend getaway from L.A. These easy, affordable road trips are all within a three-hour scenic drive (or ferry ride) of the city. Once you arrive at your destination, partake in things that Californians do best: beach-lounging, wine-drinking, hiking and dining. Oh and there’s some pretty good shopping and thrifting in the mix, too. Let these weekend getaways from L.A. be your roadmap to a magical world within SoCal.

Top weekend getaways from Los Angeles

Joshua Tree

Photograph: Michael Juliano

1. Joshua Tree

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Joshua Tree should be on everyone’s bucket list. Only three hours from L.A., the magical national park offers a varied landscape full of its gnarled namesake trees and giant boulders to admire as you bike, hike or take a leisurely stroll. The stargazing is choice here—so long as there’s no full moon—and wild coyotes may even howl you to sleep if you plan an overnight camping trip. If you visit during a wet spring, head south to Pinto Basin to see colorful wildflowers in bloom. Other notable attractions include Pappy & Harriet’s for lunch in a ghost town; 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 quirky public art.

Discover the best things to do in Joshua Tree

While you’re in Joshua Tree, visit Palm Springs.

Ojai

Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Ojai

  • Things to do

The cozy, pastoral town of Ojai is a close and beautiful bet for an easy L.A. getaway. Just an hour and a half northwest of many parts of the city, Ojai is a unique mix of old-school hippie healers and artists along with the new-school folks that are working to make that scene hip again. Ojai’s microclimate means seemingly everything grows here, from olives and grapes to an abundance of citrus, so meals 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.

Discover the best things to do in Ojai

Santa Barbara

Photograph: Michael Juliano

3. Santa Barbara

  • Things to do

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 long been a desirable place, with the historic hotels to prove it. The main drag is State Street, a Spanish Colonial strip of boutiques, decent (but increasingly great) 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 passes through the wine tasting rooms in the Funk Zone and ends at Pacific-side Stearns Wharf, where fishing boats unload their daily hauls.

Discover the best things to do in Santa Barbara

Catalina Island

Photograph: Michael Juliano

4. Catalina Island

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Santa Catalina Island is a close and beautiful bet for short trips. The little strip of land—accessable by ferries from Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point—has all the makings of a well-rounded vacation: Rich history, beach town relaxation and outdoorsy adventure. On one side of the island, 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 decent restaurants to choose from, and a fair amount of touristy but worthwhile 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 and 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 bison, 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.

Discover the best things to do in Catalina

Take a Catalina Island safari adventure and see bison, bald eagles, and more.

Palm Springs

Photograph: Shutterstock/Andrew F. Kazmierski

5. Palm Springs

  • Things to do

For Angelenos, Palm Springs is a nice weekend getaway for any occasion. Planning a bachelor or bachelorette party? Palm Springs has plenty of options, particularly heavy on the pool parties. Looking for a romantic getaway with your significant other? Book a room at one of the desert city’s many romantic hotels. Looking for a road trip destination? Even if you’re not staying the night, you could cruise the area’s midcentury houses and desert landscape. Expect thin crowds in the summer, but temperatures that regularly climb well into the triple digits—perfectly bearable if you’re taking a dip in a pool with a cocktail in hand.

Discover the best things to do in Palm Springs 

Big Bear

Photograph: Courtesy Unsplash/Jeremy Bishop

6. Big Bear

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It may not quite be the Alps, but L.A.’s closest major mountain town absolutely delivers a sense of high-altitude escape. The slopes at Snow Summit and Bear Mountain are fit for both skiing, snowboarding and tubing in the winter and mountain biking and hiking in the summer. Closer to the namesake lake, you can scoot down the classic Alpine Slide or paddle a kayak through the mountain waters. You’ll find a bunch of motels and lodges along the busy south shore, but renting a cozy cabin is definitely the way to go here. Consider an escape just to the west at Lake Arrowhead if you only care about an A-frame in the middle of the woods without as many of the resorty offerings.

Discover the best things to do in Big Bear

San Diego

Photograph: John Bahu/Gaslamp Quarter

7. San Diego

  • Things to do

As you venture south, Orange County’s beach cities (particularly Laguna and Newport) are absolutely beautiful, but they just feel like a different flavor of L.A. To truly escape the Southland’s grasp, you’ll want to cross yet another county line into San Diego. Though the two-to-three-hour car or train trip means you could do it all in a day, keep a full weekend open to tackle things at a more relaxing pace: Stroll the dramatic shores at Torrey Pines State Beach and soak up the coastal beauty of La Jolla; sink into the sand on Coronado (a perfect option for a beachy base for the weekend) and explore its charming town; and hoof it through Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo, dine around Little Italy and stumble through the late-night madness of the Gaslamp Quarter.

Discover the best things to do in San Diego

Santa Ynez Valley

Photograph: Courtesy Eric Rubens

8. Santa Ynez Valley

On the other side of the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara’s ritzy riviera vibes give way to open space and small towns that feel equal parts wine country and Old West. The Danish-built city of Solvang, with its walkable Old World-inspired downtown, is among the area’s most bustling destinations. But venture into the surrounding towns (and spend the night at an inn or a winery) and you’ll find an increasingly exciting array of dining options in low-key towns like Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and Buellton.

See why Solvang should be your next foodie getaway

More weekend getaway ideas

The best places to go camping in Southern California

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Airwolfhound

The best places to go camping in Southern California

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Pack your pack, grab a map and take your pick of rustic weekend getaways from our list. Happy camping!

The 15 best day trips from Los Angeles

Photograph: Justin Meissen/flickr

The 15 best day trips from Los Angeles

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Luckily we happen to be surrounded by spectacular landscapes, beautiful beaches and small towns perfect for day trips.

The best road trips from L.A.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Chao Yen

The best road trips from L.A.

  • Travel

Of all the wonderful reasons we’re in love with L.A. and all the amazing things there are to do here, one of the best is the freedom to escape at any moment.

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