There are so many wonderful weekend getaways in Southern California! The region is incredibly diverse with mountain, desert, beach, and wine getaways just a short drive away.
Here are 20 great places to spend the weekend in California in 2023. Whether it is adventure or relaxation you crave, we’ve got you covered.
Headed north? Then you will definitely want to check our guide to the best Northern California weekend getaways.
Southern California Weekend Getaways
1. Big Bear
Big Bear has been one of the most popular weekend getaways in Southern California for generations. My great grandfather built a cabin up near Big Bear Lake nearly 100 years ago and since then, word has definitely gotten out about this special place!
If SoCal residents want to enjoy snow, droves of them head up towards Big Bear after a winter storm. If you want to avoid a traffic jam, try to time your visit for mid-week.
We love skiing at Bear Mountain or Snow Summit, enjoy snow tubing at Magic Mountain, and joining snowshoeing tours with the folks at Big Bear Discovery Center.
When the snow is gone, Big Bear is still an ideal weekend getaway for those who want to enjoy some cool mountain air and walk among the pines. There are several hiking trails in the area.
The centerpiece of Big Bear is Big Bear Lake, and the summer is the perfect time to enjoy it. You can fish, rent a pontoon boat, coast around on a Wave Runner, or even paddle a stand-up paddleboard.
Big Bear made our list of the best California mountain towns. See what other spots made the list!
Best Time to Visit: Winter for skiing and snow play. Summer for hiking and boating.
Don’t Miss: Strolling through Big Bear Lake Village. This charming little downtown district is filled with cute little shops and fun restaurants. You can even take a horse-drawn carriage ride through town!
Stay Here: Big Bear is a great place to enjoy some time with family in a cabin. Big Bear Vacations has a great inventory of cabins at various size and price points.
2. Santa Barbara
Heading up the coast to Santa Barbara is definitely one of my favorite weekend getaways in Southern California. Why? The scenery, weather, and wine scene are hard to beat!
It is no surprise that celebrities like Oprah and Prince Harry call the region home. Known as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is a simply gorgeous place where the mountains meet the sea and the Mediterranean architecture reflects the region’s Spanish colonial roots.
Your visit to Santa Barbara should include some time at the beach, and East Beach is the city’s hub of activity. It is a popular spot for biking, sunbathing, kite flying, and water play.
It is also located adjacent to downtown as well as Stearns Wharf, a fun place to enjoy a drink and appetizers while taking in the waterfront.
Leadbetter Beach is a good spot to visit if you want to surf or boogieboard. Hendry’s Beach (aka: Arroyo Burro Beach) is the place to go if you want bring your dog along with you. Summerland Beach is a nice locale to relax and enjoy your own piece of paradise.
Downtown, you won’t want to miss Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail which has more than two dozen tasting rooms with wines from the area’s celebrated wine region.
You also won’t want to miss strolling the grounds of Mission Santa Barbara, known as the Queen of the Missions. It was founded in 1786 and the inspiration behind the city’s red-roofed architecture.
If shopping and window watching are your thing, spend time strolling down State Street and through Paseo Nuevo, admiring the shops along palm-lined streets. There is a free shopping trolley that will help you around the area.
The Santa Barbara Zoo is a great destination for animal lovers. It is small but beautiful and feeding giraffes with beach views can’t be beat!
Best Time to Visit: Anytime, but summer and early fall are best if you want to get in the water.
Don’t Miss: Renting a surrey and biking along East Beach. It is a great way to get some exercise and enjoy the scenery.
Stay Here: Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore Santa Barbara is worth the splurge. It is one of my all-time favorite resorts because of it’s stunning beauty and ideal location, across from Butterfly Beach. It is also popular with the rich and famous.
3. Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach is a dream destination for those that love art and the ocean. It is the home of the famed Pageant of the Masters as well as several art festivals and galleries.
Laguna’s beaches are some of the most beautiful in the state. Some of my favorites include Treasure Island Beach (in front of the ritzy Montage Resort), Victoria Beach with its famed tower, and Crystal Cove State Park which straddles the border of Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar.
Main Beach is located on the edge of downtown and the most popular beach with tourists. Take in the views and then walk across the street to stroll quaint streets filled with charming shops, great restaurants, and several art galleries.
If you enjoy hiking, don’t miss the trails at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park (I love the Serrano Ridge/Little Sycamore Canyon loop) or the Morro Canyon portions of Crystal Cove State Park. Both are exceptionally beautiful in the spring when the hillsides are lush and sprinkled with wildflowers.
If you want to get out on the water, consider taking a whale watching cruise out of nearby Dana Point. December through March is prime gray whale watching season while during the summer you may catch a glimpse of the blue whale, the largest animal on earth.
Best Time to Visit: Laguna is a year-round destination but if you love art, come during the summer to enjoy the Sawdust Festival and Pageant of the Masters.
Don’t Miss: Pageant of the Masters where locals dress up as characters from famed works of art and pose to recreate the paintings and sculptures. It is incredibly realistic and truly has to be seen to be believed!
Stay Here: Surf and Sand Resort is a beachfront resort with a great location. How close is to the surf? Close enough that ear plugs are offered to guests if they don’t want to listen to the waves crashing!
The resort is just a 15-minute walk from the heart of downtown (or take the free trolley) and nearly all the rooms have ocean views. The resort’s Splashes Restaurant is a great spot for a special meal overlooking the water.
4. Coronado Island
Coronado Island is just a short, 15-minute ferry ride from Downtown San Diego but in many ways, it feels like it is a world away. The island has a small town atmosphere and one of the best beaches in the country.
During the summer months, there is live music playing at the Coronado Ferry landing every weekend from 2-5PM.
My favorite way to explore Coronado Island is by bike. The island is flat and easy to navigate. There are several places to rent bikes and they all include maps.
The most famous spot in all of Coronado is the Hotel Del Coronado. This red-roofed landmark has been drawing dignitaries, Hollywood celebrities, and families from all over the country for over 100 years.
Discover why Hotel Del Coronado made our list of the 75 California Landmarks You Must See Before You Die.
It sits on Coronado Beach which is often included on lists highlighting the best beaches in America. During the winter months, the resort plays host to an outdoor ice rink, and there is nothing better than ice skating with ocean views!
Orange Avenue is the island’s main drag. It is a great spot to shop in one-of-a-kind stores, eat, and just taken in the overall vibe of the area. If you are craving something bubbly, make sure to stop by Coronado Brewing Company.
Best Time to Visit: The winter if you want to check “ice skate by the ocean” off your bucket list. But truthfully, Coronado is an all-season destination.
Don’t Miss: The Sandcastle Man. He is known for creating epic sandcastles in front of the Hotel Del and he even offers lessons!
Stay Here: Obviously the Hotel Del Coronado is the most well known choice, but we also love Loews Coronado Bay Resort which sits near Silver Strand State Beach. Jet skis, powerboats, kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards are available for rent from the resort.
5. Palm Springs
Palm Springs has been a Southern California weekend getaway since the Golden Age of Hollywood. It is the land of palm trees, golf courses, and swimming pools.
While the Coachella Valley is most definitely a desert, the Palm Springs region is an oasis. It sits on the 4th largest aquifer on the planet– that’s how they keep all those golf courses so green!
On the edge of town, Indian Canyons are lush, palm-filled canyons fed by the shallow aquifer. For a small fee, guests can gain access to these canyons which are great for hikes and picnics. Don’t miss Murray Canyon which has a 3.9-mile trail leading to the Seven Sacred Sisters Waterfall.
One of most unique experiences in Palm Springs is taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up to the Mountain Station which sits at 8,500 foot in elevation on Mount San Jacinto.
Temperatures are typically 30-40 degrees cooler than they are on the valley floor, and there is often snow during the winter months! Where else can you trade sun-kissed palm trees for snow-blanketed white firs in just 10 minutes?
Best Time to Visit: Late fall through early spring is you are looking for ideal golf and hiking weather. Summer if you want to snag hotel deals and spend most of your time in the pool.
Don’t Miss: Palm Springs Villagefest, the weekly street fair that takes places every Thursday night and features lots of great booths, music, and food.
Stay Here: If you have kids, the waterpark at Omni Rancho Las Palmas will be sure to keep smiles on their faces. The La Quinta Resort is known for its dozens of pools, world-class golf courses and tennis program, and being dog friendly.
6. Joshua Tree National Park
With its towering boulders, diverse desert life, and iconic namesake trees, Joshua Tree National Park is a one of the best weekend getaways in Southern California for folks who love to be outside.
Joshua Tree National Park is a place where the high desert (Mojave) and low desert (Colorado) meet. This allows visitors to see two unique desert environments, but the high desert with its unusual-looking Joshua trees is the main attraction.
Climbing massive boulders is one of the most popular things to do inside the park. You will see plenty of professional climbers with crash pads, but amateurs will have just as much fun scrambling around in popular spots like Jumbo Rocks and Hidden Valley.
If you are looking for a nice hike, try the 1.1-mile loop to Barker Dam. There are boulders to climbs on along the way and prehistoric rock art to admire. Arrive at dusk or dawn and you may even see Bighorn sheep!
The Ryan Mountain trail is a great hike if you want a good workout. The trail gains 1,000 feet in just 1.5 miles before reaching the 5,461′ summit. Once at the top you will have a 360-degree view of Joshua Tree National Park.
I also recommend signing up to take the Keys Ranch tour. Long before Joshua Tree became a national park, it was the home of exceptionally hearty people with colorful stories.
This tour takes takes visitors to the former homestead of Bill and Frances Keys, which includes a ranch house, schoolhouse, and store, along with lots of great tales of pioneering desert life. You can only buy tour tickets at the Oasis Visitor Center, beginning at 8:30am each day.
Ready to visit the desert? Don’t miss our epic Joshua Tree Day Trip Itinerary.
Best Time to Visit: During the spring wildflower bloom when the desert becomes a riot of color.
Don’t Miss: Star gazing. These desert skies are far from the light pollution of the LA Basin and the Milky Way is sure to dazzle.
Stay Here: If you want to stay inside the park, bring a tent because campgrounds are the only lodging available. If you crave four walls, head to the small community of Joshua Tree which plays host to a couple charming small inns and B&Bs. Try the Joshua Tree Inn or bring a group and rent out El Coyote, a residence on five acres with views of the park.
Catalina is one of those weekend getaways in Southern California that is close by but feels like a world away. You can take a helicopter to Catalina Island, but most folks take the 40-minute ferry ride from Long Beach or Dana Point.
The most popular destination on Catalina is the charming town of Avalon, where golf carts are the main mode of transportation.
One of my favorite things to do in Avalon is take the zip line eco-tour. Tour guides offer up info about the unique flora and fauna of the island in between zips across a canyon with sweeping ocean views.
Your zip line tour ends at Descanso Beach Club, a great place to rent a cabana and enjoy a day of lounging, food, and drinks. The island’s signature drink is the Buffalo Milk which is made with creme de cacao, creme de banana, Kahlua, half & half, and plenty of vodka.
The waters off Catalina are filled with life. Many folks bring their wet suits and snorkeling gear to check out the fish living the kelp beds. If you would rather stay dry, try a glass bottom boat or submarine tour.
Back on land, you might want to spend your days four-wheeling on a back country tour in search of the island’s resident buffalo herd, playing mini-golf at one of the nicest courses I have ever seen, or admiring the Wrigley Botanic Gardens.
Best Time to Visit: Summer if you want to get in the water. Otherwise, Catalina is a great destination anytime of year.
Don’t Miss: Two Harbors, Catalina’s tiny hamlet with one hotel, one restaurant, one general store, and even a one-room schoolhouse. It is a great place to hike, spend time at the beach, and camp.
Stay Here: Hotel Vista Del Mar is located on the beach, overlooking Avalon Bay. It has incredible views, evening milk and cookies, complimentary beach chairs, and one of the best locations in all of Avalon.
Anaheim is the home of Disneyland, and us Disney fans think it is a fabulous place to enjoy the weekend. If you haven’t been to Disneyland for a few years, you will be surprised by how much has changed.
Disney California Adventure (DCA), Disneyland’s sister park, has had a full makeover. Highlights include Cars Land, Pixar Pier, and the food festivals that occur throughout the year.
Over at Disneyland, the newest land is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It is basically paradise for Star Wars fans where you can pilot the Millennium Falcon, build your own lightsaber, and have a cocktail like the Fuzzy Ttauntaun or Jedi Mind Trick at Oga’s Cantina.
If you are a foodie, definitely head over to the Anaheim Packing District where craft beers and creative eateries are housed in the Anaheim Packing House, a former citrus packing warehouse.
Anaheim was founded by German immigrants back in 1857 and has been in the beer brewing business ever since. It is home to over 15 breweries, and I think a great goal is to try them all!
Anaheim is also home to the Angels, so make sure to visit during baseball season so you can catch a game.
Best Time to Visit: The first two weeks in December are great if you want to experience Disney at Christmastime with out the massive crowds. Spring and summer are ideal if you wan to see the Angels play.
Don’t Miss: The Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival. There are 13 different marketplaces serving creative dishes and regional beverages that reflect the bounty of California. Purchase a Sip & Savor Pass, a mimosa flight, and taste the day away in between rides.
Stay Here: There are so many great hotels in Anaheim but I want to give a nod to the OG of Disney lodging, the Disneyland Hotel. The hotel has undergone extensive renovations and the pool area is really fun. Plus, the drinks at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar are legit!
9. La Jolla
La Jolla is another one of my favorite Southern California weekend getaways because it a great place to enjoy a weekend at the beach!
La Jolla Shores is my favorite beach in La Jolla. It is a long strand of beach that is perfect for water play and sunbathing, and there are plenty of shops and restaurants nearby.
One of my favorite active things to do is kayak to the Seven Caves near La Jolla Shores. There are several companies that offer guided tours and it is the perfect “beginner” sea kayak experience.
Here are 25 caves in California you will defintiely want to visit.
On the way, you will paddle over the La Jolla Underwater Park which is home to sea lions, harmless leopard sharks and bright orange garibaldi.
I like kayaking with Everyday California, and can never resist picking up merchandise with their cool surfing bear logo.
If you are looking for a great spot to take pictures, head over to Scripps Pier. It is small enough to get the full pier in your shot and snag those classic “California pier” shots .
La Jolla Cove is another beautiful beach. It is a small cove that is picture perfect, and just north of the ever-popular seals at Children’s Pool. George’s at the Cove is a great place to enjoys drinks, apps, and sunsets.
Another spot you won’t want to miss is the Torrey Pines Gliderport. This is one of our favorite places to bring a picnic and then enjoy watching hang gliders launching off cliffs to soar above the waves crashing below.
Speaking of Torrey Pines, you should definitely head over to the Torrey Pines State Reserve and talk a walk along the beautiful cliffside trails.
The Torrey Pines are the rarest pine trees in the country, and only grow in La Jolla and on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of Santa Barbara.
Best Time to Visit: La Jolla is an ideal destination any time of year.
Don’t Miss: If you visit during the late summer, definitely don’t miss snorkeling with the leopard sharks. Everyday California offers snorkeling gear rentals as well as snorkeling tours. The leopard sharks are harmless but you get the bragging rights of having checked “snorkeled with sharks” off your bucket list!
Stay Here: La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club is a private club that also has beachfront rooms for non-member guests. When guests stay in these rooms they have access to club amenities. In addition to beach umbrella and chair service, they also offer beachfront tables, chairs, and barbeques to rent to have a sunset dinner with your toes in the sand.
10. Long Beach
Long Beach has had a bit of a renaissance in the 21st Century. It went from being gritty and a bit sketchy to being filled with hip, revitalized neighborhoods and world-class attractions.
Long Beach’s Naples neighborhood is trendy area filled with shops, restaurants, and beautiful homes lining the area’s canals and waterways. It is a great place to kayak, paddleboard, or take a chartered gondola ride at sunset.
While in Long Beach, you definitely don’t want to miss the Aquarium of the the Pacific, the largest aquarium in Southern California. Book a behind-the-scenes tour to get up close and personal with seals, sea lions, penguins, and sea otters.
You can also book whale and dolphin watching cruises as well as harbor tours via the Aquarium. The waters off Long Beach are great places to see gray whales in the winter and blue whales in the summer.
Across the street from the Aquarium is The Pike, an outdoor outlet mall filled with brand name shops and dining. Shoreline Village is also nearby and features fun little shops in Easter egg-colored buildings.
Long Beach’s most iconic attraction is the Queen Mary. Today, the Queen Mary is a hotel and attraction, but in its heyday, it made 1001 transatlantic crossings.
Visitors can choose from several different tours, watch a movie in the 4D theater, view a replica of the Queen Mary made from 250,000 LEGO bricks, eat at the onboard restaurants, or stay in one of the ship’s rooms.
Best Time to Visit: Long Beach is an all-season destination. The weather is pleasant year round.
Don’t Miss: The Pow-Wow! Art Festival which takes place every July. Contemporary graffiti artists and muralists from around the world flock to Long Beach to create amazing street art in a week filled with music, events, and live scaffolding painting.
Stay Here: The Hyatt Regency Long Beach is located in the heart of Long beach’s tourist center and is within walking distance of Shoreline Village, the Aquarium of the Pacific, and The Pike.
11. Channel Islands
The Channel Islands are one of the best Southern California weekend getaways for those who really want to get away from it all.
Channel Islands National Park sits off the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties and is wild, remote, and beautiful. It is made up of five different islands, but most people visit Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands because they are the closest.
Most people reach the Channel Islands via the Island Packers ferry out of Ventura Harbor, but if you have your own boat, feel free to set sail for the islands yourself!
Santa Cruz Island is the best island for a weekend getaway because it is large and offers plenty of opportunities to hike and sea kayak.
Channel Islands Adventure Company leads guided kayaking tours of the islands many sea caves. There is also great snorkeling to enjoy in the kelp forests just off the coast. Wetsuits are recommended.
There are no food concessionaires on these largely undeveloped islands. Be sure to pack in all the food you will need for the duration of your stay. There is potable water available at the Scorpion Campground on Santa Cruz Island.
Best Time to Visit: Early spring for wildflowers or summer for snorkeling.
Don’t Miss: Wildflower season when brilliant yellow coreopsis and purple lupines dot the landscape with a riot of color.
Stay Here: If you want to stay on an island, you have to camp. Campgrounds are undeveloped and have pit toilets. If you prefer four walls, consider making a couple day trips out to the islands and sleeping at a hotel near Ventura Harbor.
12. San Diego
San Diego has long been a favorite weekend getaway for Southern Californians due to its great weather and numerous things to do.
San Diego’s waterfront downtown area is a great place to call home base as you explore the city. The Gaslamp District is a happening area with lots of restaurants, bars, and people watching.
The entire downtown area is very walkable but there are always pedicabs in the main tourist areas that you can hop on if your feet get tired.
The USS Midway, a retired aircraft carrier, is docked at the waterfront and is open as a museum. Audio tours allow you to explore the massive ship at your own pace and learn what life is like aboard the cities at sea.
The waterfront is also a great place to catch a harbor cruise. I recommend opting for the sunset cruise where you can sip cocktails, watch the sunset, and then return to vibrant city lights.
If you are an animal lover, don’t miss the San Diego Zoo, often recognized as the best zoo in the United States. This zoo has had a hand in helping several species escape extinction, including the beloved California condor.
My family absolutely loves the zoo’s Animals in Action experience. We were able to pet a rhino and a zebra, feed hilarious pink flamingos, and see wild cats like the beloved cheetah, up close and personal.
The San Diego Zoo is in Balboa Park, a sprawling park that is larger than NYC’s Central Park and home to several museums. Our favorites are the San Diego Natural History Museum and the fun San Diego Model Railroad Museum.
San Diego is known as one best destinations in the US for people who love craft breweries. Head to 30th Street in North Park, aka Beer Blvd., to taste your way through several breweries. Each spot has its own vibe and unique flavors.
Mission Beach is popular with the young, college crowd. There are several restaurants, bars, and a great stretch of beach. Nearby Mission Bay is a popular spot for watersports like jet skiing and water skiing, and home to SeaWorld, famous for its sea mammals and thrill rides.
Best Time to Visit: San Diego is a great place to visit year round. If you have kids, visit in October during “Kids Free” month to visit over 100 destinations offering free admission or meals to children all month long.
Don’t Miss: A ballgame at Petco Park, home to the San Diego Padres. The field is located right downtown.
Stay Here: I have never met an Embassy Suites I didn’t like and the Embassy Suites San Diego Bay Downtown is one of my favorites. Besides having a great location across from Seaport Village, a touristy shopping and restaurant area on the water, it has spacious rooms, a good breakfast, and that famous Embassy Suites complimentary happy hour.
13. Huntington Beach
Huntington Beach is a fun weekend destination for those looking to spend some time on the sand. The city is known for its wide beaches and lively beach town vibe.
Also known as Surf City USA, Huntington Beach is a fun place to learn how to surf and there are several operators, like HB mainstay Cork Carroll’s, who are eager to get you standing on a board.
Surfing not your thing but like to stay active? There are several volleyball courts right on the sand.
Biking along the 15-mile bike trail that hugs the coast is another popular activity. There are several bike rental stands near the pier.
A bonfire is the best way to enjoy the beach at night. There are several bonfire pits on the city’s beaches, but you will have to claim them early if you are trying to snag one during peak season.
Huntington Beach is one of the best Southern California weekend getaways for dog lovers, thanks to its dog beach where pups can run unleashed on the sand and in the water. Restaurants like the Sit Stay Cafe and Park Bench Cafe and spots like Top Dog Barkery welcome Fido.
If it is dining and shopping you seek, there are lots of great options, including Pacific City, an outdoor mall filled with shops and restaurants located right on Pacific Coast Highway. Duke’s is a classic spot for a nice seafood dinner or Sunday brunch located at the base of the Huntington Beach Pier.
Best Time to Visit: There isn’t a bad time to visit Huntington Beach, but summer is best if you want to spend time in the water.
Don’t Miss: If you want to watch the best surfers in the world do their thing, visit during the annual US Open of Surfing which takes place during the end of July and beginning of August.
Stay Here: The Kimpton Shorebreak is a great pet-friendly (with no extra charge!) hotel that has beach cruisers, umbrellas, beach chairs, and even ice chests for guests to check out as part of their Beach Amenities Program. It is located in the heart of the HB action and the closest hotel to the dog beach.
14. Venice/Santa Monica
Venice and Santa Monica are neighboring beach towns with great urban beach vibes.
Venice has long known for its funky Bohemian spirit and eclectic boardwalk filled with street performers, cheap sunglasses stands, and pot shops. I once had a guy offer to sell me a bunny out of his coat pocket while I strolled the boardwalk!
It is truly a great place for people watching because people come here to be seen! Muscle Beach is popular with the shirtless gym rat crowd and there is always a crowd around the beachfront skate park’s bowl.
Beyond the boisterous boardwalk, head slightly inland to find peace and beauty while walking the Venice canals. If you have a kayak or paddleboard, you can also use it to paddle under the bridges and past beautiful homes.
If it is shopping and dining that you crave, stylish Abbot Kinney Boulevard has some of the city’s best shops, restaurants, and bars.
Just down the beach from Venice is Santa Monica, the beach and boardwalk most associated with LA, thanks to Hollywood cinema.
Route 66 once ended at the Santa Monica Pier, and it is still one of the most popular beach attractions in California today. Pacific Park, a fair on the pier, is home to classic rides and carnival games.
Santa Monica State Beach is very popular and usually bustling with tourists and locals alike. Its wide stretch of sand is a great place to spend the afternoon.
Shoppers won’t want to miss the 3rd Street Promenade or the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. If it is a great meal you crave, try a farm-to-table meal at Rustic Canyon, the famed Office burger at Father’s Office, and handmade pasta at Uovo,
Best Time to Visit: Both cities are great to visit year round but sunny days, fewer crowds, and lower prices can be find during the early fall months of September and October.
Don’t Miss: First Fridays, which takes place on the first Friday evening of each month on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. During this event the boulevard is lined with the region’s hottest food trucks.
Stay Here: Oceanfront Hotel Casa del Mar is located in between the Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach. Their Sea Wellness Spa offers a full array of facials, wraps, massages, and state-of-the-art treatments. On-site dining comes with perfect sunset views.
Temecula is a wonderful wine region northeast of San Diego that has become one Southern California’s most popular weekend destinations for wine enthusiasts.
Many people begin their weekends by seeing the Temecula Valley from above on a hot air balloon ride. Balloon rides begin bright and early at dawn, and include beautiful sunrises over the vineyards and mimosa toasts.
If you would rather stick closer to the ground, try a horseback ride instead. Wine Country Trails by Horseback offers 90-minute rides out on the hills and through the vineyards of Maurice Car’rie Winery.
More animal-based fun can be found at The Alpaca Hacienda where you can feed and pet alpacas and shop for alpaca goods. It can also be found at Sugarplum Farm which is home to zebras, camels, and miniature horses, as well as incredible chocolates.
If you want to try something unique and fun, head into the hills south of town to mine for gems like tourmaline, aquamarine, quartz, and garnet at the Oceanview Mine. My family had a great time hunting for treasure and touring the mine. We all came home with special gems.
Old Town Temecula is a hub of shopping, dining, and lodging, all set in an Old West atmosphere, complete with wooden boardwalks. There are several breweries and bars in the area.
If it is wine you came for, you will be happy to know there are nearly 50 wineries in the region. It is always more fun to go wine tasting when someone else is driving, and Temecula Valley Jeep & Wine Tours are happy to act as your guide takes you to three wineries, into a barrel room, and on a back-road vineyard tour.
If you have a larger group, a limo tour is a better option. Temecula Limo Wine Tasting can accommodate groups of up to 14 people. They offer discount tasting tickets for seven different wineries and even have lunch packages.
Best Time to Visit: Avoid the summer and early fall if you don’t want to risk visiting on a 100-degreee day.
Don’t Miss: Socal Axe Throwing, which has a location in Temecula located right next to Wild Barrel Brewing. Beer and throwing axes will surely make for a fun evening.
Stay Here: Pont Vineyard Inn is located in the heart of Temecula Wine Country. Rooms are spacious and most have outstanding views of the property’s pond or surrounding vineyards.
The pool is a great place to lounge with a a cocktail and take in the scenery. Three wineries are within walking distance and dozens more are a short, Uber ride away.
Malibu is well known for its celebrity residents, but us commoners can still enjoy a weekend getaway in this beautiful beach town.
When I was growing up in Ventura County, Zuma Beach was our favorite beach to frequent. Its a good place to surf, sunbathe on wide stretches of sand, and play beach volleyball. You may even spot a couple celebrities!
If you would rather skip the crowds and focus on spotting sea life instead of famous people, Westward Beach and Leo Carillo State Park are good options. Leo Carillo is known for its tide pools and sea caves. Westward is a good place to spot seals, sea lions, and dolphins.
If you want to surf (or watch surfers), head to Malibu Lagoon State Beach. I like coming here near sunset to watch the surfers ride waves as the sun goes down and take pictures of Malibu Pier in the foreground.
If you want to shop where the beautiful people shop, head to Malibu Country Mart. Far from country, this upscale shopping center is filled with high end boutiques, galleries, and a variety of dining options.
You visit Malibu without enjoying a meal to remember. Nobu Malibu has a stunning oceanfront setting and some of the best sushi in the state. Malibu Farm Cafe is a more casual spot on the pier with fresh made juices, a great crab cake sandwich, and a wide variety of vegetarian options
Malibu is surrounded by hillside and canyons, making it a great place to hike. Favorite spots include the ruins of Tropical Terrace at Solstice Canyon, the trail to seasonal Escondido Falls, sprawling views on Zuma Ridge, and over a dozen other trails in the area.
Malibu’s hills are home to a few different wineries and Malibu Wines is the place to be on Saturday and Sunday. It features wines from Semler and Saddlerock wines, live music, and food trucks.
They even have a wine hikes program that takes guests on guided hikes to Chumash cave paintings and through the Saddlerock Ranch vineyards.
Best Time to Visit: Malibu is fun to visit anytime but I love September when the weather is still warm and the crowds are gone, or March when the hillsides are covered in wildflowers and the waterfalls are running.
Don’t Miss: The Malibu Wine Safari at Saddlerock Ranch. You tour the property in open-air safari vehicles while stopping to taste wine and meet alpacas, bison, zebras, and Stanley the famed giraffe.
Stay Here: The Malibu Beach Inn is located right on the sand on a strip known as Billionaire’s Beach (in other words, they have some wealthy neighbors). Choose and oceanfront room and watch the sunset from your balcony, eat dinner at the onsite Carbon Beach Club, and then fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves.
17. Death Valley
Death Valley’s name turns a lot of people off from visiting. But the truth is, Death Valley is a vast and beautiful place, and there is plenty of life in Death Valley.
Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the lower 48, and there are plenty of great places to explore. Just be sure to keep plenty of gas and water in your car because gas stations are scarce, the climate is usually very dry, and distances are vast.
One of my favorite things about Death Valley National Park is that you don’t need to stick to trails when exploring the park! Death Valley is famous for bein the hottest spot in North America during the summer months, but during the winter it is a great place to hike and explore.
You definitely want to visit Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. In this land of extremes, be sure to scan the horizon and take in Telescope Peak which is 11,331 feet in elevation and only 15 miles away!
If you are looking to hike, consider exploring Golden Canyon, Mosaic Canyon, Sidewinder Canyon, and the hills around Zabriskie Point. My family loves scrambling up rocky hillsides and forging our own paths.
If it is sand dunes you crave, head over to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes where you can wander, roll, make sand angels, and even snowboard down the hills. They aren’t the tallest dunes in Death Valley, but they are the most convenient to reach. Visiting the towering Eureka Sand Dunes requires a 2.5-hour drive down a remote dirt road.
The evening is a great time to enjoy Death Valley. Stars are abundant and the Milky Way is visible. If the moon is full, consider heading to the sand dunes for some moonlit exploration.
Here are 24 animals in Death Valley you may encounter on your visit.
Best Time to Visit: Winter is the best time to visit if you want to get out and explore the park in pleasant weather. Summer visitation is mostly dominated by Europeans looking to experience some serious heat!
Don’t Miss: The extremely rare pupfish in Salt Creek. Temps in the creek can reach 90 degrees in the summer months but the pupfish endures in the harsh environment. A 1/2 mile boardwalk runs alongside the side of the creek, making it easy to spot these special fish.
Stay Here: The Inn at Death Valley offers four star lodging in the middle of nowhere. This historic hotel was first built in the 1920s but has recently undergone a massive renovation.
The Inn has a spa, a great pool area, and is home to the lowest course in the world, the Furnace Creek Golf Course. It has been named one of the 50 toughest courses in the country.
Ojai is one of the best Southern California weekend getaways to enjoy if you are dreaming of spa vacation and prefer things a bit on the “granola” side.
Ojai is a small town located in a valley in northern Ventura County, surrounded by avocado and citrus farms. It is a charming place that bans chain stores but embraces yoga, wellness retreats, and healthy living.
The Ojai Valley Inn is the queen of the spa scene. While stay at the Ojai Valley Inn is highly recommended you can still have still purchase treatments on weekdays without being hotel guest.
Purchase of a treatment also gives you full access to the spa pools, Mind & Body classes, fitness gym as well as indoor facilities for the entire day! The Mind & Body classes include things like yoga, meditation, fitness walks, and spin classes.
In addition to Himalayan salt massages and Kuyam treatments- part healing clay, part dry heat, part guided meditation- the spa offers spiritual counseling, crystal healing therapy, and even custom aromatherapy.
There are several other wonderful spas in the area such as the Oaks at Ojai and the Lavender Inn Spa.
Beyond the spa, Ojai is a great place to get outside. There is horseback riding, and several great local trails for hiking or biking.
Back in town, you don’t want to miss the wonderful shops along Ojai Avenue. Many sells goods from local artists and all are independently operated.
Best Time to Visit: I like to avoid the peak summer months. Summer temps in the Ojai Valley can be quite hot which may limit your ability to enjoy the great outdoors.
Don’t Miss: Bart’s Books, the largest independent outdoor (yes, outdoor) bookstore in the United States.
Stay Here: The Ojai Valley Inn is the big name in town, for good reason. This resort offers much more than the spa and beautiful rooms. There is also a golf course, pools, tennis courts, an artist cottage where you can take classes, and even a beekeeping experience!
Solvang is a charming little Dutch town 30 miles north of Santa Barbara. It is filled with cute shops, great pastries and several nods to Dutch culture.
We had fun renting a surrey and peddling around town. Keep an eye out for the Little Mermaid Fountain, five different windmills, and the giant red clog.
There are 20 different beer and wine tasting rooms downtown because Solvang sits on the edge of Santa Barbara County wine country. As a matter of fact, the wine-centric movie, Sideways, was filmed in Solvang!
I highly recommend going on a wine tasting tour to visit several of the 120+ wineries in the area. Options include everything from bike tours to limos.
Food is part of the fun in Solvang. Don’t miss breakfast at Paula’s Pancake House, beers and brats at the Copenhagen Sausage Garden, and Danish pastries from Olsen’s, Mortensen’s, and Birkholm’s.
Best Time to Visit: Visit during the fall and you can enjoy events like Danish Days in September or the Solvang Grape Stomp in October where you can stomp on grapes a la I Love Lucy!
Don’t Miss: Danish Days which is filled with Danish fun! Enjoy folk dancers, three parades, concerts, axe throwing, an Æbleskiver breakfast, historical Viking re-enactments, artisanal craft booths, and plenty of food and drinks!
Stay Here: The Landsby is a small, boutique hotel in the heart of Solvang. It embraces Scandinavian design and heritage, and has charming courtyards with fireplaces. The hotel’s restaurant, Mad & Vin, serves wonderful Wine Country cuisine.
Hooray for Hollywood! Those of us who grew up in Southern California tend to take Hollywood for granted, but playing tourist for the weekend and going Hollywood can be fun!
Start by taking one of those cheesy celebrity TMZ bus tours or grab a map highlighting the star’s homes, because why not?
Walk the Hollywood Walk of Fame and search for your favorite stars, making time to place your hands and feet in the imprints left by celebrities outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Want to take pictures with your favorite celebrities but can’t find them anywhere? Head to Madame Tussaud’s and pose with wax replica’s of celebrities like Taylor Swift, Jimmy Kimmel, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, and Tupac.
If you want to see or be a part of the real thing, take a tour of Paramount Studios, the last major studio still located in Hollywood. Or sign up to be a part of a studio live studio audience during a tv taping.
You can’t spend a weekend in Hollywood without spending some time at the theater. There are several famed theaters around town hosting movie premiers, musicals, and concerts. I love watching the latest touring Broadway hits at the Pantages Theater.
After you have had enough of the city, head up into the hills and hike to the world-famous Hollywood Sign. There is a trail that link the sign with the Griffith Observatory. Views are especially impressive sight after a good rain. Runyan Canyon is another great place to hike (and potentially spot celebs).
Best Time to Visit: If you want to spot celebs, come during awards season (generally November through February) or wait for a movie premier starring your favorite actor.
Don’t Miss: A picnic at the Hollywood Bowl. This classic outdoor venue in the Hollywood Hills host famous music artists as well as the LA Philharmonic.
Stay Here: The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel is a historic hotel that reflects the glamour Hollywood. It’s palm-lined Tropicana Pool is a great place to kick back with a cocktail and enjoy that California sunshine.