The Best Weekend Trips From Los Angeles
Freeways, trains, planes, and even helicopters can transport you miles away — 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, and vineyard views. 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 and LA visitors who are craving a weekend escape.
Just a couple hours south of Los Angeles and a few miles north of Mexico, San Diego’s warm, sunny weather makes it the perfect destination for sun worshipers craving a lazy beach day or an afternoon on the water surfing, swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking, or fishing. For a little culture, you can spend a full day (and then some) at the 1,200-acre Balboa Park — home to the San Diego Zoo, museums, gardens, restaurants, and theaters. The park’s colorful WorldBeat Center offers classes and live music that promotes, preserves, and showcases indigenous cultures of the world, and a long-awaited Comic-Con Museum is in the works.
After a day of exploring, head to Little Italy or the Gaslamp Quarter for dinner — at Taka you’ll find fresh fish and a classic sushi menu and at Biga, you can fuel up on artisanal pizza and housemade pasta. End the night under the stars at a rooftop bar or catch a baseball game at Petco Park, then settle in at one of the city’s top hotels. The new InterContinental San Diego is right on the waterfront, the Gaslamp Quarter’s Pendry San Diego will put you in the middle of the action, and the pet-friendly Hotel del Coronado on Coronado Island is hard to beat.
Wine lovers — or those looking for a wine-fueled weekend — will find the 90-minute drive southeast to Temecula Valley well worth it. According to California Winery Advisor, the area boasts more than 40 wineries and visitors have several ways to tour and taste — from private guides to limos and buses. The highly-rated Callaway Vineyard & Winery, Europa Village, and Thornton Winery are all near each other, making a walking wine tour possible
If wine isn’t your thing, the area’s miles of trails and bike lanes don’t disappoint and shoppers will find antique shops and boutiques set in Old Town Temecula’s Western-style buildings.
After a day exploring Temecula, settle in at Carter Estate Winery and Resort, where more wine awaits. Tasting tickets to the property’s winery are part of the stay, as are private patios, soothing deep soaking tubs, and a complimentary continental breakfast. Golfers will enjoy a weekend at Temecula Creek Inn and a round of championship golf on the inn’s charming surroundings.
For those looking for dry desert heat, it’s hard to beat Palm Springs. The city has almost guaranteed sunny weather year-round and is an easy, one-hour flight or a two-hour drive by car — just make sure you avoid the commuter hours.
Booking a hotel with a swimming pool — we recommend Kimpton Rowan’s rooftop pool or the cliff-top pools of the Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage — is key, since you’ll crave a refreshing dip after a few hours in the sun. If you can’t stand the heat, hop on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway that takes riders to the top of Mount San Jacinto for hiking and dining in temperatures that can be 40-degrees lower than the valley below.
Back in Palm Springs, head to the Tac/Quila patio for a modern Mexican menu that’s heavy on innovative margaritas, creative tacos, and live music most nights — the perfect end to a sun-soaked day. For a sexy, adults-only meal, Del Rey delivers with shareable plates and a clever cocktail menu.
Santa Barbara, also known as “the American Riviera” for its similarities to the French Riviera or Côte d’Azur in southeast France, is an easy, popular destination from Los Angeles. You can enjoy a leisurely two-hour drive or hop on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner for a worry-free, two-and-a-half-hour trip.
Travelers to Santa Barbara will be greeted by a stunning shoreline, plenty of restaurants, and a distinct culture and history. The city’s sandy beaches invite sunbathing, and for those looking for more active pursuits, there’s surfing, kayaking, windsurfing, and stand-up paddleboarding. To get another perspective of the shore, hop on a boat tour or cruise departing the harbor or rent a bike from Wheel Fun Rentals and cruise along the waterfront on the Cabrillo Trail.
For a nature-heavy day trip, consider a visit to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary off Santa Barbara’s coast. The sanctuary provides the chance to explore sea grottos and see seals, California sea lions, pelicans, and peregrine falcons, while protecting species close to extinction, sensitive habitats, and shipwrecks.
The downtown Funk Zone district is where you’ll find some of the city’s best 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. When hunger strikes, stop by The Lark for a meal featuring central California coast bounty, or head to the harbor for a seafood dinner at Brophy’s Brothers.
Lodging ranges from luxurious resorts like Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara to the Belmond El Encanto to canyon campgrounds — with plenty of boutique inns, hotels, and motels in between.
When Los Angeles traffic gets you down, opt for a car-free weekend on Catalina Island. You can hop on a passenger ferry from San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach, or Dana Point — or, for next-level ease, a helicopter will get you there in a breezy 15-minutes.
Today, the island is a resort destination, but before that, Catalina was home to Native Americans, Spanish explorers, smugglers, pirates, hunters, missionaries, and the Union Army during the Civil War. The island’s rich history lives on at the Catalina Island Museum and the historic Catalina Casino, where visitors can tour the Art Deco masterpiece. Adventure seekers will find their match on the zip line ecotour, while nature lovers can conquer part of the Trans Catalina Trail or visit the Catalina Island Conservancy to see bison and bald eagles. Glass-bottom boat tours, golf, fishing, and diving excursions round out the island’s rich offerings.
If you find yourself in the lively town of Avalon, swing by Bluewater Avalon for a waterfront meal of freshly caught seafood. If your taste is for traditional American, the waterfront Avalon Grille doesn’t disappoint — neither does it’s outdoor, bayside seating.
If you want to stay in the center of the action, book the Pavillion Hotel or Hotel Metropole in Avalon. A stay at the rustic, bed-and-breakfast style Banning House Lodge in the Two Harbors area on the other side of the island, will ensure you pass a quiet weekend, away from the hustle and bustle.
The four-hour drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas is a bit more of a commitment, but with nonstop flights for under $100 that take just over an hour, there’s really no excuse not to visit. Plus, a weekend in Las Vegas is pure fun. You can take in a show, go gambling, and lounge poolside in a cabana — all in one day.
Dining in Vegas is a total experience. Buzz has been building around Michael Mina and Ayesha Currry’s International Smoke at the MGM Grand and David Chang’s Majordomo Meat & Fish. For a different view on Las Vegas dining, book a table at Más Por Favor in Chinatown — a secret taqueria and tequila bar. Then there’s the classic Vegas buffet — don’t miss a visit to The Wynn, Bellagio, and Caesars Palace for their take on this Vegas favorite.
When it comes to lodging, hotels are anxious to entertain, titillate, and take guests to faraway places — at least in their imagination. ARIA Resort & Casino boasts luxurious views and suites with an on-site casino, while the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas is a non-gaming property located adjacent to the iconic Mandalay Bay.
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 Los Angeles — 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.
Big Bear Lake
In just under two-hours, you can escape the traffic and buzz of Los Angeles and find yourself in the fresh mountain air of Big Bear Lake. Here, the pace of life is slow and nature abounds.
In the summer, travelers can swim, jet ski, or kayak on the lake’s sparkling waters, or explore the surrounding pine forests on foot. Baldwin Lake Stables offers daily rides through the Big Bear Valley's peaceful countryside. In the winter, the area transforms into a ski destination, with Big Bear Mountain Resort boasting two ski areas — Snow Summit and Bear Mountain. With one lift ticket, you can experience both resorts — and Snow Summit's Night Sessions extends the ski day with night skiing under the stars.
After a day in the mountains, you’ll want to indulge in a hearty plate of pasta or a perfectly cooked filet mignon at the The Pines Lakefront — which has the best views in town. The central Teddy Bear Restaurant is a laid-back option that specializes in homemade chicken-pot pies with flaky crust and big chunks of chicken.
The lodging options in Big Bear and cozy and rustic, with many offering lakefront views and on-lake activities. The Marina Resort is one such property. With its own swimming pool and private beachfront, you can start a game of pick-up volleyball or relax on the outdoor terrace and enjoy the view. The four-star Bluegreen The Club at Big Bear Village has spacious 2, 3 or 4-bedroom suits that have full designer kitchens, oversized tubs, fireplaces, and balconies.