12 Top-Rated Weekend Getaways from San Diego
When you decide it's time to get away from the warm weather and beautiful beaches of San Diego, the surrounding region provides an almost endless array of options. From hiking through the rugged canyons of Joshua Tree National Monument in the Mojave Desert to fishing off the coast of Baja Mexico, it's all just a short drive away. Natural wonders, like the giant redwoods of Sequoia National Park are easily accessible, as are urban adventures, like exploring the exploding food scene of DTLA (Downtown Los Angeles). The area's extensive freeway network, combined with some careful planning, can also allow for two extremely different adventures in a single day. Quite easily, it's possible to surf at Pacific Beach in the morning and spend the afternoon skiing in the mountains of Big Bear. Plan your adventures with this list of the top weekend getaways from San Diego.
1 Catalina Island
Only 26 miles off the coast and with regular Catalina Express catamaran service departing from Dana Point, this getaway is only two hours from San Diego (a 90-minute boat ride plus 30 minutes to drive to Dana Point). The island is filled with small hotels, great restaurants, and a range of outdoor activities. You can enjoy the sun on one of the island's beaches or spend time out on or under the water fishing, snorkeling, or scuba diving. If you love jazz, the Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival happens each October. Catalina Island was once owned by the Wrigley family (as in the chewing gum), and this was their mansion. It's now a luxury, boutique bed-and-breakfast and sits high on a hill overlooking the harbor. Mr. Wrigley made sure his house had the best views on his island, and guests now benefit with sweeping postcard views of Avalon (the island's main town); the Pacific; and on clear days, the coast of Southern California 26 miles away. Mt. Ada is one of the more expensive hotel options on the island, but this is a very special place.
This summer-only weekend destination is high in the San Jacinto mountains of Riverside County, but only a two-hour drive from downtown San Diego. The mountain resort has a few streets of eclectic shops and art galleries, along with restaurants and cafes. The town is a jumping-off point for hundreds of miles of hiking trails, for all levels of hikers. The alpine landscape, filled with huge pine trees, is beautiful and looks like something out of northern Alaska, rather than Southern California. To extend your getaway, you can drive down Highway 74, which connects Idyllwild with Palm Desert, near Palm Springs. The Quiet Creek Inn is a rustic, pet-friendly, bed-and-breakfast in Idyllwild, with a boutique hotel feel and service. You're nestled in the forest, with vintage (but nicely appointed) cabin accommodations. It's peaceful and isolated yet within walking distance of the town's galleries and shops.
3 Palm Springs
Also about three hours by car from San Diego, this desert resort destination boasts more than 100 golf courses in the Greater Palm Springs area (made up of the cities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and La Quinta). It has an excellent restaurant scene, hundreds of luxury and resort hotels, and a lot more to do than just golf. Aviation fans will love the vintage planes of the Palm Springs Air Museum, and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is another must-do. It whisks you from the desert floor to a mountain summit almost 9,000 feet high, in only ten minutes. It's possible to play in the snow at the top, while it's over 100 degrees Fahrenheit down below in Palm Springs. Go beyond vintage and stay at the Ingleside Inn, one of the city's oldest (and coolest) hotels. Built in 1925 as a private estate, it was the city's most exclusive private club (popular with celebrities and movie stars due to its privacy) until becoming a hotel in the late 1960s.
4 Sequoia National Park
The majestic, giant redwood trees of Sequoia National Park are about a five-hour drive from San Diego. Sequoia National Park is in Central California, in the southern part of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Visitors get two national parks right next to each other as Kings Canyon National Park is adjacent to Sequoia. The giant trees are breathtaking and at around 3,500 years old, some are the oldest living things on earth. These redwoods, some of which have grown to be 300 feet tall, with a trunk almost 30 feet in diameter are fascinating to explore and walk beneath. There are a number of campgrounds, as well as four lodges, located inside both national parks. Wuksachi Lodge is right in the Giant Forest part of the park, where some of the largest trees can be found. The lodge is open year-round but tire chains may be needed to access it during the winter. The lodge has a ski shop and a full-service restaurant.
Riverside may seem like an unusual weekend getaway destination as it doesn't have a reputation for resorts, but a stay at the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa is worth the trip alone. The architecturally fascinating property has been welcoming guests for more than 100 years and is right in the heart of the city. After you've explored the property (get a free tour from one of the hotel's ambassadors), there are a few museums to visit: the Riverside Metropolitan Museum, about the city and region; the Riverside Art Museum, with a wonderful selection of mainly Californian and American painters; and the University of California, Riverside Museum of Photography. The Mission Inn is also right across the street from the city's historic Fox Performing Arts Center, which hosts live events and popular musical performers.
6 Joshua Tree
When you want your weekend getaway to include some camping and strikingly beautiful natural scenery, a trip to the Joshua Tree National Monument is the perfect destination. It's just outside Palm Springs and about a three-hour drive from San Diego. Here, you'll find thousands of square miles of raw desert landscape, with beautiful campgrounds and hiking trails. The small town of Joshua Tree seems intentionally caught in a 1960s timewarp and can be almost as fun to visit as the national park.
7 Rosarito Beach, Mexico
Only 30 minutes from the border, Rosarito Beach delivers an authentic Mexican beach vacation, complete with delicious, freshly-caught seafood; strolling Mariachi musicians; and wide, sandy beaches. Park on the US side of the border, walk over the bridge, and take a taxi into Rosarito, it's only about 30 minutes away and $30 per cab (not per person). Once here, you'll find a vibrant seaside vacation city. Why not take a full- or half-day fishing trip on one of the many tourist fishing boats, or try a whale-watching adventure, also available.
Although mostly an invention for tourists, this quaint Danish town is about 30 minutes from Santa Barbara and a five-hour drive from San Diego. It's all about Denmark here, the shops and little business district is completely done in Danish/European architecture, and it feels like you're in Copenhagen. The main draw here are the many restaurants and bakeries, and just walking around and exploring. A trip to Solvang is also a good day trip during a weekend getaway to Santa Barbara. The Royal Copenhagen Inn is a fun and popular bed-and-breakfast, right on Mission Drive in the heart of town. Stay here and you can walk to everything.
This picturesque valley in Ventura County is near Santa Barbara and a 4.5-hour drive from San Diego. You'll find a cool, New Age town, filled with unique shops and various types of healers. The surrounding area is mainly agricultural, and the local produce and food products are especially amazing. The Ojai Valley Inn is a true destination resort and a wonderful place to stay for a getaway. Originally opened in 1934, the 220-acre resort is a mini city, with multiple types of accommodations. There are plenty of activities and amenities, including an award-winning spa, 18-hole golf course, and eight different dining options, from formal to casual.
10 Los Angeles
Los Angeles is only three hours north of San Diego, and it makes a great weekend getaway destination. It's probably best to focus on a single area, like a beach getaway to Santa Monica or an urban foodie getaway to DTLA (downtown Los Angeles). The downtown area of LA is thriving, full of street after street of new restaurants, and building after building converted into luxury loft apartments or upscale shopping. A meal at the Grand Central Market, now a gastronomic food hall, is a must-do, as is a visit to Disney Hall for a music concert. DTLA's renovated Regent Theater hosts more modern musical performers. If you don't want to drive, Amtrak trains run from San Diego's Santa Fe Depot right to Union Station in DTLA. A stay at the JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE puts you in the heart of the fun.
11 Lake Arrowhead
Located high up in the San Bernardino mountains, Lake Arrowhead is only a two-hour drive from San Diego. In the winter, it's a popular spot for skiing - the Big Bear resorts are only 45 minutes away, but in the summertime, it's a beautiful, rustic getaway destination. There's a huge lake, of course, along with hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. The small town of Lake Arrowhead has a nice selection of hotels, restaurants, shops, and art galleries. The Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa, Autograph Collection is a large, luxurious, lakeside resort. It has its own marina and offers all kinds of fun on the water. During the winter, it's an excellent option, with easy access to Big Bear and Snow Summit, the two local ski resorts.
This beautiful rural area, only an hour from San Diego, has transformed itself from an agricultural region into a popular tourism destination. The valley is filled with golf courses and vineyards and now also many hotel options. It's also a popular spot in Southern California for hot air ballooning. Temecula's Old Town area pays homage to its farming past and retains some of the original architecture. The compact area has many restaurants and antique shops, along with a few museums, including Pennypickle's Workshop, a hands-on children's science museum. The Ramada Temecula Old Town is a good option for those wanting to spend more time in the Old Town area.