Living in San Diego or Los Angeles comes with many perks. From perfect weather, beautiful beaches to memorable sunsets and countless easy weekend getaways. Staying home for the weekend might offer some great brunch options and beach days, but hopping in the car and traveling for a few hours can help you enter a whole new scenery and list of do-tos. Plan a trip this weekend and start checking items off of your California bucket list!
Let’s take a look at our favorite weekend destinations…
Getting there: Ferries leave out of Dana Point and Long Beach (roughly $60 rt/person). We recommend booking in advance. There are also options for private charters or even helicopter rides to the island!
A trip to Catalina Island will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a European vacation. From the moment you arrive on the island, you get a sense of the serene, slow-paced island life. From charming buildings to breathtaking views, Catalina Island is a great option for those who love spending time outside but enjoy plentiful accommodations. Catalina Island is full of delicious restaurants, bars, and other services to make sure your trip is catered to your liking. To explore the island quickly, plan ahead and rent a golf cart . However, our favorite way to explore is by foot! Catalina Island can be easily enjoyed in just one day, but there is plenty to do if you choose to spend a long weekend there.
Getting There: The longest drive on our list, but absolutely worth it. Driving to Big Sur takes between 6-8 hours from San Diego and 5-6 hours from Los Angeles, depending on traffic. Break up the trip by stopping for the night in Cambria – a cute seaside town just south of Big Sur!
A weekend trip to Big Sur will be full of breathtaking views at every turn. Big Sur is very remote for such a popular tourist destination. Fuel up with gas and snacks ahead of time! When it comes to Big Sur, the best way to enjoy it is without a plan. There are countless hikes, viewpoints, and pull-offs as you drive the HWY 1 north.
If spontaneity isn’t for you a few of our favorite “non-touristy” spots are below!
- Ragged Point: Ragged Point is located at an Inn with a restaurant and hidden hike to a cove. Don’t let the bustle of the restaurant and inn push you away! The quick hike to the cove is lightly trafficked.
- Prewitt Ridge: This primitive camping site also offers a gorgeous view up the hillside overlooking the ocean. We recommend 4-wheel drive to truly experience all of Prewitt Ridge.
- Elephant Seal of San Simon: This destination can easily be reached on your way home as it is just south of Big Sur. Elephant Seal Vista Point is always full of entertaining elephant seals all year round.
- Acme Coffee: Fuel your trip with a stop at Acme Coffee located in Seaside (near Carmel). Locally owned, delicious, and friendly!
Valle de Guadalupe
Getting There: Pack a passport! Traveling to Valle de Guadalupe requires crossing the border into Mexico. Just less than two hours from San Diego, getting to Valle de Guadalupe is a breeze but plan ahead for border traffic on the way home. Waiting to re-enter the United States by car can take up to 3 additional hours (without a Sentri pass!).
If you haven’t taken advantage of the beautiful wineries in the south, you are missing out. Not only can you sample and enjoy delicious wine at numerous wineries, but you’ll also enjoy the most beautiful hills, views, and pastures on the drive through Valle de Guadalupe. The best part? When your heart is happy with wine but your belly needs something more, you can enjoy authentic tacos at one of the countless taco shops on the drive home. There are so many options for wineries but our favorite is Cuatros Cuatros with breathtaking ocean views.
Pro Tip: Staying the weekend? You can hire a car to drive you to multiple wineries and they will wait while you enjoy then take you home when you’re ready!
Getting There: An easy drive from San Diego or Los Angeles. Joshua Tree is best experienced over a long weekend, however, it can also be done as a day trip.
Joshua Tree is a beautiful state park suitable for any car. You can drive the main road through the park in less than 2 hours but you’ll want to plan extra time to stop and explore! Make sure you stop by Joshua Tree Coffee Company on your way into the park to fuel your adventures. There are many hikes (most are not dog-friendly) and viewpoints as you travel through the park – plus great, clean amenities!
The campsites within Joshua Tree do require reservations but dispersed camping is widely offered on the outskirts of the park and there are plentiful unique AirBnBs to rent as well. If you are looking for more than just nature, head into town for dinner and a show at Pappy and Harriets or stroll into one of the many thrift stores or boutiques. Have a sweet tooth? A hidden gem we love is The Jelly Donuts – don’t judge a book by its’ cover, this place is delicious.
Getting There: Roughly 3 hours, depending on traffic, Big Bear is an easy weekend getaway from both San Diego and Los Angeles. In the summer, Big Bear can be reached in any vehicle, however, in the winter chains may be required.
Big Bear is an obvious destination for wintertime fun with some of the closest snow resorts in Southern California, but this destination is great year-round. For those seeking adventure, Big Bear is full of fun activities throughout the year. Take a boat out on the lake, go on a hike, or even off-roading (4×4 required)! There are countless campgrounds in Big Bear and also dispersed camping available if you do your research. Additionally, if you are camping in fall, winter, or early spring, make sure the campgrounds are open as some do close in the snow-filled months. Regardless of what activities you chose to fill your day, make sure to cap it off with a beer at Big Bear Lake Brewing Company and a stroll through Big Bear Village!
Getting There: Roughly 7-9 hours from San Diego and Los Angeles depending on where within Sequoia National Park or Sequoia National Forest you are planning on staying. However – the drive is BEAUTIFUL so enjoy it!
Sequoia National Park or Sequoia National Forest?
Sequoia offers some of the most magnificent trees you’ll ever see. The Sequoia National Forest (SNF) is absolutely free and offers great hiking and primitive camping. The Sequoia National Park (SNP) does require a national park pass which you can buy at the gate or (which we recommend) purchase a year long pass for just $80 that allows access to every national park. The National Park also offers entry into King’s Canyon which has a totally different geographic appearance than heavily wooded Sequoia. Make sure you pay attention to “SNF” and “SNP” as you plan your trip! Confusing a stop between the national park or forest can add hours in the car to your day.
If you are planning on going to Sequoia National Forest, we recommend staying at a hotel in Three Rivers the day before. Three Rivers is just minutes outside the entry of the national park and offers cute riverside cabins and hotels to help you get an early start on your day (while beating the lines!). We suggest stopping by Three Rivers Brewing Co. to grab a delicious local beer by the river. If you’re lucky you’ll even hear some great local music! For free camping within the national forest, try Horse Camp. There are multiple private and free campsites off of this back road. Make sure you are prepared for primitive camping as there are very limited amenities and resources.
Note: Horse Camp is technically within the national forest as primitive camping is not allowed in the national park, but the only access to Horse Camp is from within the national park
Have you taken a day trip from San Diego or Los Angeles that we failed to mention? Let us know by leaving a comment. Adventure on!