The Best Weekend Trips From Los Angeles
Los Angelenos like to point out how easy it is to get out of the city and into a totally different environment. “You can be on the beach in the morning and skiing in the mountains the same afternoon,” or something similar is often heard. And it’s true.
Freeways, trains, and even boats or helicopters can transport us miles away for a complete change of scenery — and then back to Los Angeles by Monday morning. (Or maybe Tuesday — if you can manage to stretch out the weekend a bit and avoid that dreaded first day of the week.)
Just a few hours north or south, wine growing regions offer tastings, tours, vineyard views, and inviting inns. You can leave the mainland for an island escape and hike up grassy hills to see a herd of bison, or bask in the desert sun during the day and party on the Las Vegas strip at night. Beaches, rocky shores, hiking trails, spas, and entertainment are all there for those looking for a rejuvenating getaway.
We’ve put together some ideas for Los Angelenos who are craving a weekend escape — but these ideas will work just as well for visitors who have time for a side trip.
San Diego’s beaches, parks, and attractions are just a few hours away from LA. Balboa Park, which is home to the San Diego Zoo, museums, gardens, restaurants, and performing arts theaters, is a destination for a full day or more. A Comic-Con Museum is in the works and the colorful World Beat Center promotes the art, music, and dance of African, African-American, and other indigenous cultures with year-round classes, concerts, and lectures.
The miles of beaches along the ocean and bay let you choose between surfing, swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking, boating, or fishing. After a day at the shore, you can head to Little Italy or the Gaslamp Quarter for dinner and entertainment at one of the many clubs or music venues. End the night under the stars at a rooftop bar or catch a baseball game at Petco Park.
Lodging options are many, with the Gaslamp Quarter’s Pendry San Diego, the classic Hotel del Coronado, and the waterfront Manchester Grand Hyatt. Your pooch can join you on your weekend getaway at these hotels and at a variety of dog-friendly beaches and parks in San Diego.
The Temecula Valley’s wine country lies about 85 miles southeast of LA. According to California Winery Advisor, more than 40 wineries produce Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and other varietals. Visitors have several ways to tour and taste, including private guides, limos, or buses for larger groups. This “new” wine locale recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first commercial vineyard planting.
The area is also popular with cyclists who enjoy over 90 miles of trails and bike lanes, and shoppers who can browse the antique shops and boutiques set in Old Town Temecula’s Western-style buildings.
The valley’s only méthode champenoise sparkling wine is produced at Carter Estate Winery and Resort. After a taste of bubbly, you can spend the night in one of their luxurious bungalows or suites complete with fireplaces and private patios. Enjoy the complimentary continental breakfast or an al fresco lunch at The Vineyard Grill.
Angelenos like to head to the desert — and Palm Springs has almost guaranteed sunny weather year-round and is around a hundred miles east of LA. Most head there by car (ideally avoiding the commuter hours of 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.), but there are also one-hour flights from LAX to Palm Springs Airport.
In Palm Springs, summer temperatures can reach 100-degrees or higher, so visitors tend to gather around swimming pools and air-conditioned eateries while enjoying balmy evenings and attractive hotel prices.
When the temperature jumps there’s always the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway that takes riders to the top of Mount San Jacinto for breathtaking views, hiking trails, dining, and temperatures that can be 40-degrees lower than the valley below.
Palm Springs is also a destination for sunbathers, golfers, and shoppers who head for the vintage stores, mid-century modern design retailers, art galleries, and consignment dealers.
Palm Springs offers a range of lodging, from boutique inns to resort hotels. The recently renovated Villa Royale has an old-Hollywood feel, and downtown’s modern Kimpton Rowan boasts an expansive rooftop with a pool, lounge, and restaurant.
About a hundred miles northwest of LA lies “the American Riviera,” Santa Barbara’s very fitting subtitle. This city boasts an accessible downtown, stunning shoreline, restaurants, culture, history, and a natural beauty that easily makes Santa Barbara a popular weekend getaway.
Sandy beaches invite sunbathing, and for those looking for more active pursuits, there’s surfing, kayaking, windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and cycling. Get a different view of the shore on a boat tour or cruise, with many options departing from the harbor. A trip to Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary just off Santa Barbara’s coast, is a thrilling opportunity to explore sea grottos and see seals, California sea lions, pelicans, peregrine falcons, and gulls.
Downtown’s Funk Zone district is where you’ll find restaurants, tasting rooms, art galleries, entertainment, and eclectic shops. The Urban Wine Trail — set in two downtown neighborhoods — provides an enjoyable and convenient way to taste the area’s outstanding wineries.
Lodging ranges from luxurious resorts like the luxurious Belmond El Encanto and the new Rosewood Miramar Beach in Montecito to canyon campgrounds — with plenty of boutique inns, hotels, and motels in between.
A pleasant drive or an Amtrak train from LA’s Union Station will transport weekend visitors in a few easy hours.
“Twenty-six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is a-waitin’ for me,” an old song by The Four Preps croons. The island has been a resort destination for more than a hundred years, and was a favorite of Hollywood celebrities for many years. Before that, Catalina was home to Native Americans, Spanish explorers, smugglers, pirates, hunters, missionaries, and the Union Army during the Civil War.
Today, visitors can tour the historic Catalina Casino or enjoy a first-run film in the art deco theatre with a performance on its original pipe organ. Outdoor activities include a zip line ecotour with views of the ocean that ends at Descanso Beach Club. For beach lovers, the club is the place to be, with cabanas, a restaurant, and a cocktail lounge. Golf, fishing, glass-bottom boat tours, and diving or snorkeling expeditions are also available.
Angelenos should opt for a car-free weekend, as the number of vehicles on the island is strictly limited. (There’s a 25-year waiting list to own a car!) But getting to Catalina is easy. Passenger boats leave from San Pedro, Long Beach, Dana Point, and Newport Beach and the trip takes around one hour. Helicopter service is available from Long Beach, Hollywood Burbank Airport, San Pedro, or John Wayne Airport.
No matter how you choose to travel, getting to Catalina is part of the fun.
A bit further in mileage (about 275 miles east) and much different in regards to atmosphere, a weekend in Las Vegas can include shows, gambling, night clubbing, shopping, restaurants, a poolside cabana, or even a zip line excursion.
In addition, hotels are anxious to entertain, titillate, and take guests to faraway places — at least in their imagination. At The Venetian, float along the Grand Canal with a singing gondolier or take selfies with the stars at Madame Tussauds.
Dining is also an experience, with restaurants like José Andrés’ Bazaar Meat at the Sahara and é at The Cosmopolitan. Wolfgang Puck’s exclusive steakhouse, Cut, is found at The Palazzo and there’s Thomas Keller’s Bouchon and soon David Chang’s Majordomo Meat & Fish at The Venetian. Extravagant buffets — always a Vegas favorite — are still around, and some of the best are at The Wynn, Bellagio, and Caesars Palace.
Some Angelenos head to Las Vegas for a big-name concert, but top entertainment is always happening. There’s Cirque du Soleil, song and dance productions, magic shows, comedy, and tribute bands. You can dance and party the night away or try your luck in the casinos.
This dramatic change of scenery can be accomplished in less than a couple of hours, with frequent flights to Las Vegas from LA.
Rancho Palos Verdes
A trip to Rancho Palos Verdes, set on a peninsula in the South Bay area, makes for a relaxing weekend getaway that’s almost like a LA staycation. Less than two hours from downtown LA — even with traffic — the ocean breeze and rocky cliff views are instant stress reducers.
A stop at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center, with its lighthouse overlooking the sea, makes for a good start. Stroll along the nearby trails, watch the sunset, or visit the whaling museum to learn a bit about the peninsula’s history. While you’re there, you may spot a pod of dolphins, and from December to May, Pacific gray whales pass by during their annual migration.
The Wayfarers Chapel, or “Glass Church,” just up the road was designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. Surrounded by redwoods and high above the ocean, it’s a popular wedding venue and definitely worth a visit.
In Rancho Palos Verdes the ideal weekend retreat may be Terranea, which offers everything needed for a relaxing escape. The property has bungalows and secluded villas and a spa with its own pool, restaurant, fitness center, boutique, and salon overlooking the Pacific Ocean.