Southern California

8 Incredible Weekend Getaways in Southern California for Every Traveler

Looking for a break with the family, a romantic getaway with a significant other, or perhaps even a solo retreat? We’ve connected with local experts across the country to put together some of the best weekend getaways in the whole of the United States.

I’m riding 130 feet in the air at the top of the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel. From my vantage point, above the Santa Monica Pier at Pacific Park, I have a panoramic view of the surrounding Southern California coastline. Straight ahead, the majestic snow-capped Mount Baldy, the highest peak in California, rises in the distance while blue waves roll onto the sandy shore below me. After sunset, the Ferris wheel is aglow, illuminated with changing colors in a spectacular light show visible for miles.

Variety is the spice of life in SoCal where you can be building sandcastles at the seashore in the morning, and in less than two hours, trekking through rugged mountain trails or lounging by the pool in a desert oasis by afternoon.

Sample a taste of the region’s diversity with one of these Southern California weekend getaways.

Anza-Borrego: Visit the State's Largest State Park on this Weekend Getaway in Southern California

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For a desert experience completely different from Palm Springs, visit Anza-Borrego, home to California’s largest state park. It’s spectacular from mid-March through April during the SuperBloom when the desert wildflowers and cactus flowers blanket the area in vibrant color. After dark, the sky glitters with light in Anza-Borrego, one of California’s prime stargazing spots with Borrego Springs named the state’s first (and only) International Dark Sky Community.

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Stay in one of the casitas with a private outdoor hot tub at La Casa del Zorro, a luxurious desert oasis restored to its original 1937-style adjacent to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Head into the nondescript town of Borrego Springs for margaritas and Mexican fare at Carmelita’s Mexican Grill. On the way, keep an eye out in the open areas for some of the 130 full-sized metal sculptures of prehistoric mammals, historical characters and a 350-foot-long fanciful serpent created by Perris, California-based artist/welder Ricardo Breceda.

La Casa Del Zorro

Top rated
Borrego Springs
9.0 Excellent (1151 reviews)

Laguna Beach: A Southern California Weekend Getaway in an Informal Artist Colony

Visit Laguna Beach

An elegant and informal artist colony, the seaside town of Laguna Beach is a seven-mile stretch of coastline punctuated by scenic coves, curvy canyons, and small streets lined with shops, galleries, and restaurants.

Visitors flock to Laguna in the summer, not just for the beach, but for the annual Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters, a 90-minute narrated performance of tableaux vivants (living pictures), set on a stage in an outdoor amphitheater with actors posing in hyper-realistic, recreated works of classical and contemporary art that will fool your eyes. Also make time for a visit to the Sawdust Festival where over 200 Laguna Beach artists exhibit their works, including painting, jewelry, ceramics, clothing and textiles, wood and metal sculpture, hand-blown and fused glass, photography, and even scrimshaw.

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Settle in at Montage Laguna Beach, 30 acres of pure luxury on the coastal bluff above the Pacific. No need to ever leave the property as it has four gourmet restaurants, two pools, and the 20,000-square-foot Spa Montage. But you’ll want to pop into Laguna Village to shop, gallery hop, and catch the sunset outdoors while dining on coastal-American cuisine at one of the beachfront restaurants such as The Cliff or Splashes.

The sun will be beating against your skin no matter where you end up on your weekend getaway in Southern California. Enjoy your time exploring the left coast!

Montage Laguna Beach

Top rated
Laguna Beach
9.2 Excellent (798 reviews)

Los Angeles: A Weekend Getaway in the City of Angels

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Los Angeles is a sprawling city full of distinct, eclectic neighborhoods, like East Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Koreatown, and the list goes on. You could spend a month, indeed a lifetime there, and still not see it all. But you can do your best by starting in the heart of the city where you can avoid the region’s notoriously heinous traffic and make use of the city’s updated Metro Rail network.

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For a central, walkable location in one of L.A.’s most glamorous neighborhoods, consider a stay at Mr. C Beverly Hills. Neither hip, ultra-modern, nor stuffy traditional, the hotel is a blend of stylish contemporary and classic European. Guests can relax at the rooftop pool overlooking Beverly Hills and beyond while dining poolside on classic Italian fare prepared by the fourth generation of Ciprianis.

Hotel Mr C Beverly Hills

Top rated
Los Angeles
8.7 Excellent (1890 reviews)

Malibu: A Celebrity Weekend Getaway in Southern California

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Known as “the ‘Bu” by locals and surfers, Malibu is a 21-mile stretch historically known as an enclave for Hollywood celebrities and other affluent entertainment industry residents. The beach lines one side of the Pacific Coast Highway while narrow canyon roads emerge from the other, some leading to great hiking trails in the Santa Monica Mountains, such as Solstice Canyon, where hikers can trek to a perennial waterfall.

In the heart of the city, the Malibu Country Mart is a popular destination whose high-end retail and dining establishments attract many famous locals. Nobu is a celebrity dining favorite, but if you want to tap into a real holdover from the bohemian and hippy era, head up to nearby Topanga Canyon. The romantic Inn of the Seventh Ray is so New Age that it almost seems satirical. An extension of their personal health-focused lifestyle, owners Dr. Ralph and Lucile Yaney opened the restaurant in the early 70s when the locavore and organic food movements were not as ubiquitous as they are today. Their prescient farm-to-table vision lives on, albeit not as “alternative” as it seemed back then. The menu features seasonal organic ingredients that are in many cases sourced from known local farms. Even the water is chemical-free, treated by reverse osmosis, then alkalinized. (Don’t ask me what that means.)

After decades, the Yaney’s spiritual beliefs remain the undercurrent of everything in and out of the kitchen. During my dinner, our server greeted us with “for your first course, may I serve you a bit of philosophy?” The Inn invites guests to “partake of the angelic vibrations” while dining on chemical and artificial additive-free cuisine they say is “charged with the vibration of the violet flame of the Seventh Ray.” They hope all of this will be their guests’ “personal transportation to a higher plane.”

Although the experience was more esoteric than spiritual for me, the sound of water flowing in the creek was a soothing accompaniment to a delicious meal. Can you dig it?

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Where to Stay in Malibu

Its private beach isn’t the only draw of the Malibu Beach Inn. All guest rooms have balconies with unobstructed sea views where you can keep an eye out for the dolphins. If all the touring has left you tired, there’s no need to leave the property for dinner. Savor some coastal cuisine and local regional wines at the Inn’s Carbon Beach Club where you can dine al fresco on the terrace.

Malibu Beach Inn

Top rated
Malibu
8.9 Excellent (1036 reviews)

Ojai: A Charming Valley Town Near Los Angeles

A charming valley town, 90 minutes northwest of Los Angeles, Ojai is a center for the arts, culture, spirituality, self-improvement, and environmental consciousness. (It even has a vegetarian boarding school.)

From the 50s to the 70s, Ojai was a hub of the Boho (or Bohemian) craft movement that rejected social traditions in favor of more unconventional artistic, literary, and spiritual pursuits. The town retains an updated Bohemian vibe and is host to seasonal arts festivals including the Ojai Valley Music Festival, Ojai Valley Film Festival, and Ojai Shakespeare Festival.

Its Mediterranean microclimate is perfect for olive growing, making the Ojai Valley area a destination for olive oil lovers. Visit some olive groves to sample the superb artisan small-batch olive oils. Regalo Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Ojai Olive Oil are both family-owned presses dating back to the mid-1800s era of the Spanish missions when the valley had a communal olive press. Just outside of the town, the Topa Mountain Winery opens onto the Ojai Valley Bike Trail, so pack your picnic lunch and cycle over for a tasting outdoors in the shadows of the Topa Mountain Range. Check the winery’s schedule as there’s live music every Saturday and Sunday with other events woven in like Macramé and Wine, and Comedy Night.

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Where to Stay in Ojai

For a regimented wellness program, a stay at the all-inclusive Oaks At Ojai Health Resort will leave you rejuvenated, possibly a few pounds lighter, and on the path to a healthy lifestyle you can bring home.

Oaks At Ojai Health Resort

Ojai

Palm Springs: A Southern California Weekend Getaway in Hipster Headquarters

Visit Palm Springs

Once a winter playground for wealthy retirees and Hollywood celebrities, like Frank Sinatra and the Gabor sisters, Palm Springs is now more hipster headquarters than senior center. It’s become the coolest hot spot in the Sonoran Desert.

Just outside of central Palm Springs is the shopper’s haven of El Paseo. This street tends to remind people of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills with its many upscale shops that blend the flavors and ambiance of the past with the present. The Palm Springs dining spots of yesteryear — including Las Casuelas, Elmer’s for German pancakes, Melvyn’s for retro food that really is retro like Steak Diane, wilted spinach salad, and cherries jubilee — still thrive alongside their cooler new siblings, like Workshop Kitchen + Bar for dinner, and for a cheesy retro experience, King’s Highway for breakfast in a former Denny’s located in the Ace Hotel.

Take the 10-minute trip on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating tramcar, for the two-and-one-half mile long ride along the cliffs of Chino Canyon to Mt. San Jacinto State Park. You’ll be at 8,516 feet elevation when you arrive at Mountain Station where you’ll find over 50 miles of hiking trails, two restaurants, observation decks, and a natural history museum.

The springs are in nearby Desert Hot Springs. I’ve stayed at Two Bunch Palms, which reputedly originated as Al Capone’s “Fortress West.” For its warm spring-fed mineral pools and extraordinary spa treatments, the unpretentious resort attracts well-known people who don’t want attention and, like all the guests, can lunch in their bathrobes straight from the spa. Try the Desert Abhyanga followed by a Scalp Oil Massage to experience total bliss.

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The Kimpton Rowan Hotel, a newcomer adopting the retro-chic mid-century style, is the first newly built downtown hotel in decades and has Palm Springs’ only rooftop pool. Lounging by the pool with a cold drink is heavenly, but there are also 54 miles of hiking trails in the area, most notably Joshua Tree National Park and Painted Desert, named for the variety of rock colors.

Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs

Top rated
Palm Springs
9.0 Excellent (480 reviews)

Paso Robles: A Southern California Weekend Getaway For Agri-experiences

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The town where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio spent the first night of their honeymoon has become a viticulture and culinary mecca for its acclaimed vineyards and olive groves. Popularized in Italy, agritourism has grown globally, and with California’s agricultural heritage, Paso Robles is a great fit for agri-experiences.

Venture out to one of several wineries where you can sip a chilled glass while picnicking against the backdrop of lush hills blanketed in grapevines. Make it a day of “vineyard sports” visiting some of the various wineries offering outdoor games. Find a spot on the deck of the 38-acre Eberle Vineyard with views of the Santa Lucia Mountains on the horizon where a glass of wine is a nice foray into a match of bocce ball or a game of Cornhole. Head to Castoro’s Whale Rock Vineyard, where in view of the rolling hills and oak trees, you’ll tour a scenic two-mile loop through the vineyard, after which you can try your hand at some disc golf, crisscrossing in and out of the vines on their 18-hole course.

Absorb it all on two wheels. With such striking scenery at your feet, rent a bike for a ride through the rural countryside. Sulfur springs flow through Paso Robles, three of which are open to the public — a nice way to cap off the day with a soak in the warm soothing mineral waters.

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For a genuine local wine country experience, spend a night or two at one of the region’s picturesque wineries. Like the wines, these accommodations vary by taste but are equally elegant and refined. Blending contemporary farmhouse and vintage styles, the SummerWood Inn’s four luxury bedrooms overlook the property’s gardens where guests can enjoy a farm-fresh, cooked-to-order breakfast outdoors. Then in the afternoon, indulge in appetizers paired with SummerWood wines.

Summerwood Inn

Paso Robles
9.4 Excellent (99 reviews)

Santa Monica/Venice: A Classic Weekend Getaway in Southern California

Santa Monica Travel & Tourism

These neighboring beach towns are synonymous with popular images of SoCal. Many will recognize Santa Monica and Venice from films, photos, and Beach Boys songs.

No visit to the area is complete without a stop at the Santa Monica Pier where the iconic Route 66 ends at the Pacific Ocean. There’s plenty to do in between your hot dog on a stick and a chocolate-dipped frozen banana. The amusement park’s roller coaster and other rides, the plethora of games in the arcade, and the street performers make it a perfect California family outing for kids and grownups alike. Be sure to visit The Great Zoltar, a vintage coin-operated fortune teller who speaks and moves as he dispenses his prophecy on a card through a slot in the machine. And if you’ve always dreamed of running away with the circus, take a class at the trapeze school.

Walk, jog, cycle, or skate your way along the Santa Monica bike path to the mile-long Venice Boardwalk where hundreds of street vendors hawking cheap souvenirs and tee shirts intermingle with mimes and contortionists, break dancers, and a guy who walks on broken glass. You may catch the chainsaw juggler or the gospel singer with two snakes wrapped around his neck. Get a real or temporary tattoo, a piercing, or have your name written on a grain of rice.

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For a relaxing stay that’s walking distance to everything, including the Third Street Promenade’s shopping and dining, check in to the contemporary Oceana Santa Monica. Cross the street for a scenic stroll along Palisades Park at the top of the sandstone bluffs with its infinite views of the Pacific Ocean coastline. As SoCal locals frequently say, “on a clear day, you can see Catalina,” referring to a small island 26 miles across the sea.

Oceana

Santa Monica
8.7 Excellent (963 reviews)

Feature image by Roberto NicksonUnsplash.