12 Top-Rated Weekend Getaways from Los Angeles
Los Angeles is certainly a great place to live or visit, but sometimes you just need to get out of town. The city's many freeways can take you to a wide variety of getaway destinations, many within just a few hours. Perhaps you would enjoy the desert sunshine and mid-century modern design of Palm Springs, the snowy outdoor sports and spectacular natural beauty of Mammoth Lakes, or the fresh seafood across the border in Rosarito Beach. All of these destinations are easy getaways from LA. You can even escape to an island; Catalina Island is only a 90-minute boat ride away. With all these options, what are you waiting for? Find the best city escapes with our list of the top weekend getaways from Los Angeles.
1 Palm Springs
Only 100 miles (and about a two-hour drive) from Los Angeles, Palm Springs has been a popular desert getaway for almost 100 years. The area is filled with resorts and golf courses and is especially popular during the winter months. Aside from golfing and enjoying the sunshine, the Coachella Valley has some great restaurants and sightseeing too. Visitors should check out the Palm Springs Art Museum, as well as the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The tramway rises 8,500 feet over two-and-a-half miles in about 10 minutes. It takes you from the hot desert to a cool, pine tree-dotted mountain setting, sometimes complete with snow. The views are also spectacular from the top. Once at the top, there is a restaurant and more than 50 miles of hiking trails to enjoy.
Back down in the desert, the Del Marcos Hotel is a modern, luxurious boutique interpretation of what was originally a 1960s motel. For a more in depth look at accommodation, see our article on Where to Stay in Palm Springs: Best Areas and Hotels.
2 Santa Barbara
Just under 100 miles north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is a stunning seaside city. There's a dense downtown district filled with wonderful shops and restaurants, and a beautiful beach and boardwalk area. The city's Funk Zone, a redeveloped former warehouse district, is now a popular place to spend an evening at one of the many great restaurants, art galleries, and performance spaces there. The blue pacific, wide curving beaches, and hillside mansions give the area a South of France feel, and it's aptly referred to as the American Riviera. If you're looking to treat yourself or someone special, Belmond El Encanto is an idyllic luxury resort in the Riviera neighborhood in the hills above Santa Barbara. Open since 1918, the property has been thoroughly updated and features individual luxury casita and bungalow accommodations. There's a world-class spa and gourmet fine dining with beautiful views over the city and ocean beyond.
3 Rosarito Beach
For an authentic Mexican getaway, why not take a drive down to Rosarito Beach in Mexico? It's about three hours from Los Angeles by car, about 30 minutes farther than Tijuana. This beach resort has a wide, large beach and a good selection of tourist hotels. It has delicious, authentic Mexican food and amazing, fresh seafood. For a fun side trip, visit Baja Studios, where they filmed Titanic, and stop by the small fishing village of Puerto Nuevo. To get to Rosarito, it's best to park on the US side of the border (there's a large parking lot), walk across into Mexico, and take a taxi. There is a row of taxis waiting right on the Mexican side, and the fare is about $30 per car load (not per person) right to Rosarito Beach. The Rosarito Beach Hotel is an iconic property, the area's original luxury hotel. Most visitors prefer rooms in the new condo wing, rather than the historic original building. It's right on the beach, at the center of town.
4 Catalina Island
Many visitors to Southern California forget there's a beautiful island resort just 26 miles off the Los Angeles coast. Catalina Island is a fun, 90-minute Catalina Express ferry ride from the mainland, and the island is a perfect place to get away from it all. There's a range of fishing and diving, great beaches, delicious food from a wide selection of restaurants, and plenty of natural areas to explore. Sea kayaking off the shore among whales and sea otters is a great way to enjoy the sunshine and see the island from a different perspective. For some high-speed, high-altitude fun, the island's Zip Line Eco Tour is a series of five ziplines taking you down through a canyon. The Portofino Hotel is right across from the beach at the north end of Avalon (Catalina's main and only city), giving some of its rooms and suites great ocean views. There's also a large roof deck, with sensational views of the beach and harbor. The hotel has free loaner bikes for guests, and all the island's activities are close by.
5 Laguna Beach
This seaside city in Orange County is known for its art scene. The city hosts its annual Pageant of the Masters and Festival of the Arts each July. The Pageant of the Masters (now in its 85th year) brings art masterpieces to life with life-size, three-dimensional, staged reproductions of famous works of art, occupied by real people in makeup, body paint, and/or costumes. Aside from the annual arts festival, Laguna Beach and the surrounding area is a great place for a weekend getaway. The area is filled with a wide selection of hotels of all price ranges. There's a long public beach, great restaurants, and many art galleries, combined with warm, sunny weather 300-plus days a year. Laguna Beach is about an hour south of Los Angeles. The Ranch at Laguna Beach is a relatively new luxury resort, located across PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) from the beach and up into a canyon. The resort has a popular restaurant and an excellent nine-hole golf course. The contemporary yet rustic accommodations are in one- and two-story bungalow complexes, which blend well into the natural canyon setting.
6 Mammoth Lakes
If you like to ski, Mammoth Mountain is one of California's, and the country's, best snow resorts. Depending on the weather, the resort is sometimes open well into the summer for skiing. When it's not snowy, the Mammoth Lakes area is a great place for camping, hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoor adventure sports. The lakes and streams are also perfect for fishing. The resort runs several chairlifts during the summer to accommodate hikers and mountain bikers. It's a five-hour drive from Los Angeles. A trip to the area allows for a visit to the Manzanar National Historic Site, one of ten internment camps used to incarcerate Japanese Americans during World War II.
7 San Diego
San Diego is a three-hour drive from Los Angeles and offers an amazing range of activities and getaways. The downtown area, especially the revitalized Gaslamp District, has a thriving restaurant scene and many interesting retail stores. The San Diego Zoo, in Balboa Park, is a huge complex with most animals housed in recreations of their natural habitats. It's a great family attraction as there are many ways for kids to interact with the animals. For a more relaxed getaway, with plenty of beach time and outdoor activities, try Pacific Beach. This small beach city is just north of downtown San Diego, right next to La Jolla. There's a wide, flat beach; a long, beachfront boardwalk and bike path; and plenty of laid-back locals enjoying the sunshine. The Surfer Beach Hotel is a cool, retro hotel, right on the Pacific Beach boardwalk. If you are coming here with a family, have a look at some fun family resorts.
8 Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree, specifically Joshua Tree National Park, is a vast desert space of more than 1,000 square miles. It's a little less than an hour from Palm Springs or just under three hours from LA by car. The park is filled with beautiful flora and fauna and amazing geologic scenery. You go there to hike, spend a night or two in one of the park's scenic campgrounds, and climb the rocks. It's fun to spend a few days deep in the desert camping or just spend an hour or two hiking the easier trails on a day trip. The little town outside the park is filled with an eclectic collection of hippie stores, natural healers, and roadside diners.
Ventura is a beach city about an hour north of Los Angeles. Aside from clean, wide, uncrowded beaches, it has a quaint downtown area, appropriately centered around Main Street, that has a wonderful, old-school vibe, with most of the architecture preserved from the 1920s and 30s. The beachfront area has a long, wooden pier extending into the ocean, with beaches on either side. There's a large harbor, and a boat trip to one of the nearby uninhabited islands of the Channel Islands National Park is an exciting environmental adventure. There is history here too. The city was on the Camino Real, the trail of California missions established by the Spanish in the 18th century, extending throughout the state. Ventura's Mission Santa Buenaventura and its church from 1809 are on Main Street and can be visited.
10 Big Bear
This mountain resort in the San Bernardino Mountains offers amazing skiing during the winter and plenty of outdoor adventure in the summertime. Most of the ski resorts in the area keep a lift or two open in the summer for mountain bikers, and there are hundreds of miles of trails for riders of all skill levels. You can also go hiking in the beautiful forests, and horseback riding is popular, too. Big Bear Lake is perfect for fishing and boating. Of course a winter visit gives you access to miles of ski slopes of all levels of difficulty, plus snowboarding, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. Big Bear is about two hours from Los Angeles, but the road to and from the mountain gets busy during holiday weekends. Leave very early or very late to avoid extra time in traffic.
Solvang is a small city just north of Santa Barbara that has dedicated itself to its Danish history. Settled in 1911 by people from Denmark trying to escape the cold of the mid-western US, it's filled with Danish shops and restaurants serving Danish food. Even the architecture is Danish, with plenty of windmills and similar European designs. It's about two hours from Los Angeles and makes a great getaway on its own or when combined with a Santa Barbara trip. Aside from the shops, bakeries, and restaurants, there's a Hans Christian Andersen Museum (he was Danish); the Elverhoj Museum of Danish History; and the Mission Santa Inés, adding some Spanish and California history, too. There's also a cool vintage motorcycle museum.
12 San Luis Obispo
Just a bit longer than three hours by car from Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo provides a true Central Coast beach experience along with some cool history. There's an 18th-century Spanish mission here, too, and the complex is now a museum and state historical site. This small city has plenty of stores and art galleries that cater to tourists, and there are many great beaches nearby. Morro Bay is a small, quaint beachside town with a wide, curving bay and beach. Close to San Luis Obispo in San Simeon is the site of Hearst Castle, the palatial estate, ranch, and mansion of William Randolph Hearst. The mansion and its opulent buildings are testament to the extreme wealth of Hearst and his passion for history and collecting.