As Southern Californians, we experience perfect weather year-round. Unfortunately, that means everyone wants to live here. Los Angeles alone has a concentration of about 4 million residents plus an influx of out-of-town commuters every single day (including me). Our lives are lived in cars, buses, and trains, and how we tell time is dominated by how long it takes to get anywhere.
“Alright, we have to be downtown by 8 a.m. It takes 35-40 minutes to get there normally, which means an hour to an hour and a half with traffic. And we still have to find parking. Ugh, Sigalert says there’s an overturned big rig at Normandie. I’ll leave at 6 a.m. to be safe. Oh but I still have to shower and get ready. Should I stop at Starbucks? I should stop at Starbucks. I’ll set my alarm for 4:50 a.m. so I can snooze two times.”
It’s an exciting but very anxiety-ridden existence.
To combat this mountain of stress, we’ve put together a list of escapes that would be perfect for long-weekend getaways. Located anywhere from 1 to 4 hours from L.A., these places are close to home but far enough away that you’ll get a much-needed break from city life. Full disclosure: Some of these places are not super cheap, so we highly recommend vacation rentals through sites like Airbnb, VRBO, or FlipKey. With rentals, not only will you feel more cozy and at home, but you’ll also get a lot more privacy and save a ton of money.
This mountain town is located just two hours from L.A., a little past San Bernardino. Idyllic and small, it has a population of just over 5,200. Despite its size, it still has enough to see so that you’re never bored. The Village (Big Bear’s downtown area) has a lot of restaurants, clothing stores, jewelry boutiques, souvenir shops, arts and crafts stores, theaters, and places to get sweet treats — you’ll never to be able to resist the smell of the freshly made fudge and waffle cones! In the winter, you can ski and snowboard on the slopes, snowshoe and cross-country ski on the trails, sled down the snow-covered hills, and go snow tubing before enjoying hot cocoa by your cabin’s roaring fire. Come spring and summer, there’s an abundance of hiking trails to walk or bike on, and the lake has all the water activities you can think of — fishing, kayaking, canoeing, wakeboarding, stand-up paddleboarding, parasailing, and jet skiing.
It’s an escape perfect for even a normal two-day weekend, especially if you’ve never been there. (Though if you’re a true, born-and-bred Angeleno, I can’t imagine you not having been there at least once.)
One last thing: For an incredible breakfast, I recommend making a stop at Lake Arrowhead at Belgian Waffle Works. The waffles are freshly made and melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and all of them are topped with dollops of homemade whipped cream. My parents and I go every time we’re on the mountain.
Idyllwild, located in the San Jacinto Mountains near Palm Springs about two hours from L.A., is a quieter and smaller version of Big Bear. Because of that, I feel like it can easily be overlooked. However, because of its miniature size, it has that small-town charm that’s great for a weekend getaway. All the shops and restaurants are locally owned, and the main town looks really cute and rustic, with low log-cabin-like buildings made of wood planks and shingles. It almost feels like stepping into another era.
While you’re there, start your day by grabbing breakfast at the local Bake Shop or the Red Kettle diner before heading into the forest for a hike through the trees. If have the need for speed and prefer traveling on wheels, you can also go mountain biking. Bring your own, or rent one from the local shop — they even have tandem options! For those who like to scramble over things, rock climbing is also very popular, especially at Tahquitz Peak and Suicide Rock (unfortunate name). When you’re done riding and scrambling, end your day with a giant burger and fries at The Lumber Mill or a cold one at the contemporary Idyllwild Brewpub.
If you didn’t already know, Santa Barbara is an insanely expensive place to live — and we should know; the Smoosh crew all attended UCSB (go, Gauchos!). With perfect temperatures year-round and palm trees lining the waterfront, it’s literally a paradise. Because of that, Santa Barbara gets a ton of tourists, especially downtown by State Street and the waterfront. If you want to shop and check out the Funk Zone, by all means, go to downtown S.B. for a while! But if you want peace and quiet away from the Nikon-carrying tourists, head 15 minutes north to Goleta. The actual home of UCSB, Isla Vista, and the local Costco (a big deal), Goleta is where you’ll find all the locals.
I recommend starting out your day at Cajun Kitchen, a Santa Barbarian diner chain with some of the best jambalaya I’ve ever tasted. Then, head out to Ellwood to walk the cliffs and stroll along the beaches, which are miraculously devoid of tourists. You can even walk along the water all the way around to UCSB’s Campus Point, where you can scramble over rocks and watch surfers catch some waves. Goleta Beach Park, within walking distance of Campus Point, is a good place to rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards if you feel like venturing out into the water. For lunch or dinner, grab nachos from the original (and only good) Freebirds or burgers from The Habit (the original is in Goleta!) and bring them to one of the local breweries like M. Special or Draughtsmen. If you’re up for more adventure, head out to one of the area’s many hiking trails. If you want a low-key way to end the day, have a cocktail at The Imperial — a (literally) hidden gem with Eastern-influenced decor, an open patio, and zero tourists.
If you want to completely leave L.A. behind, immerse yourself in a Danish village! Solvang, located in the Santa Ynez Valley 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara and 3 hours and 40 minutes from L.A., is an enchanting little town complete with Danish-style architecture and its iconic Danish windmill. The town has a ton of little shops, bakeries, boutiques, and curios shops to keep you occupied for the entire day. And, because it is the Central Coast, it’s absolutely brimming with wine-tasting storefronts from brands hailing from Santa Barbara County, the Santa Ynez Valley, and the Sta. Rita Hills.
If that’s not enough to keep you busy, there’s also cycling, horseback riding, and theater — the Solvang Festival Theater always has an incredible lineup of music and theater performances. It’s also really unique in that it’s outdoors, so you can enjoy the warmth of the afternoon SoCal sun while you watch the pros do their thing.
As for restaurants, I strongly recommend grabbing a coffee and apple strudel from the Danish Mill Bakery or an aebleskiver from Solvang Restaurant. What’s an aebleskiver, you ask? It’s a pancake ball smothered in raspberry syrup with a dusting of powdered sugar. When it’s fresh, you will die. If you want a full breakfast, I highly recommend Paula’s Pancake House. The pancakes are plate-sized, the sausages are delicious, and the orange juice is freshly squeezed — you literally watch the machine do it in front of you. For dinner, if you want a delicious, fancy dinner, head to The Hitching Post II. If you want to go more casual, head 8 minutes west to Buellton to AJ Spurs, which is a steakhouse and music venue. The portions are huge, and the atmosphere is decidedly Western (who doesn’t like devouring ribs with a 9-foot-tall stuffed bear beside you?). You’ll feel as if you stepped into Gaston’s cabin in the Beauty and the Beast — and it’s fantastic.
5. Palm Springs
Ah, Palm Springs. It’s a desert oasis that’s known for Coachella and as a vacation spot for old Hollywood stars. And that really is what it does best — offer a watering hole of sorts in the middle of the desert where you can lounge by the pool all day and not feel bad about it. With palm trees, countless resorts, golf courses, and Western art museums, it’s the epitome of a Californian escape.
But be forewarned: It is HOT here. This city literally lies in the middle of the desert. However, you are pretty much guaranteed to get your California sun while you plunge in the sparkling pools, so that’s definitely a good thing. And trust me, nothing feels as good as that first jump into the cool, refreshing water. Plus, at night you can see the starry night sky away from the blinding city lights.
If you’re craving more activity, there’s plenty of hiking, golf, and horseback riding to be had, and you can even take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up Mt. Jacinto. The tram rotates as it goes up the mountain, so you get amazing views wherever you stand. In addition, the top of the mountain is 30 degrees cooler than the city, so this will offer you relief if you can’t take the heat.
If you prefer to spend your day with modern technology (specifically air conditioning) the famous Morongo Casino is just 20 minutes west, and there are countless spas, art museums, and cultural centers all over — not to mention the hundreds of shops on palm-tree-lined Palm Canyon Drive. Ice cream and shopping? Yes, please.
While you’re in the Palm Springs area, if you head north, you can spend a few hours at Joshua Tree National Park or Pioneertown — an Old West town that was originally built as a movie set. There, you can drink at the saloon, eat delicious barbecue, see a (mock) gun fight, and hear live music. Also, if you’ve always dreamed of riding a dune buggy, the sand dunes of Palm Springs is the place to do it!
Whatever you choose to do, Palm Springs offers a low-key, chill, and relaxing pace away from L.A. Just remember to grab your swimsuit, a cocktail, and a pair of your darkest shades on your way to the pool. You’ll feel like a starlet in no time.
If you’d rather head south of L.A., take the 5 straight down to Pacific Beach. Just under two hours south of L.A. and 16 minutes north of San Diego, Pacific Beach is a great beach town to call your home base while still being close enough to a large city. Located just north of Mission Bay (aka SeaWorld) and south of La Jolla (aka rich-people town), Pacific Beach has sweeping, unobstructed views of the ocean. Because it’s so close to UCSD and is populated with surf spots and sunbathers, it has a Bohemian vibe that’s a little more chill than the affluent communities to its north. A long, 3.2-mile boardwalk runs parallel to the beach, which has tons of local restaurants, shops, and bars lining the street.
And there’s plenty to do here. You know those tourist commercials with “typical” Californians smothered in surf, sand, and sun? Here, you can actually bring that dream to fruition. When you’re not catching the perfect waves or bodysurfing the sea, you can rollerblade or bike down Mission Boulevard all the way down to the Mission Beach Jetty.
For everything San Diego has to offer, you can also drive 15 minutes south and check out some local breweries. San Diego has a TON — including Stone Brewing, which makes my absolute favorite beer. To be more specific, S.D. has almost 100 craft breweries — right?? Sun, surf, and craft beer … I can’t think of anything more Californian than that.
So if you’re looking for a chill weekend getaway where sand in your pants is your biggest concern, Pacific Beach is the place to be. Plus, S.D. has the best Mexican food!
If you’re from SoCal, you’ve spent more than one evening staring at the sunset over the ocean as the Channel Islands loom in the background. Sadly, most people haven’t actually been there — which makes sense because it requires taking an hour-long boat ride. Santa Catalina, or Catalina Island, is one of the eight Channel Islands located off the coast of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and is the one most visited by Angelenos, as it’s located about 29 miles southwest of L.A. (And here’s a fun fact: All of UCSB’s dorms are named after the Channel Islands. Go Gauchos!) Our last escape on this list, Catalina is the ultimate getaway because it’s secluded and it’ll give you the break from city life you need without having to drive … anywhere, really.
If you’re craving the island life, start out by reserving your space on the Catalina Express, which departs from Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point. I’ve personally taken it from Long Beach, and it’s super convenient because there’s plenty of parking, so you can leave your car over the weekend without any worries. It’s about $36.75 for a roundtrip ticket for general seating, which isn’t bad at all! Just a note: Absolutely take seasick pills if you get queasy because the boat is fast and charges over choppy waves. I grew up accustomed to riding in boats because my parents and I used to take our speedboat to Lake Casitas. I never ever got sick — no matter how many wakes my dad charged over — and guess what? On the way to Catalina, I got seasick. So heed my advice!
Once you get to Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island, you’re greeted by fresh (non-L.A.) air, beautiful blue waters, palm trees, and green hills covered in verdant wilderness. It really is gorgeous, and the second you step off the boat, you can’t help but sigh with contentment. Once you check into your hotel or vacation rental, you can spend your day indoors at the beach club or at the theater, but let’s face it: You’re on an island in the Pacific Ocean. Do you really want to spend your time indoors?
With zip lines, hiking trails, golf and mini golf, and ocean activities like diving, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, and stand-up paddle boarding, you’ll never run out of things to do. There are also a plethora of tours on land and sea. Board an open-air Hummer for a tour of the island where wild Catalina bison roam free (yes, you heard that right — BISON), or climb aboard a dolphin-watching or glass-bottom boat to see the fishies. Relax in the afternoon by renting a cabana and reading your favorite book with a margarita in hand. There are a few curios and souvenir shops on the main drag but not enough to distract you from relaxation. Then, end your evenings with some of the most beautiful sunsets you’ve ever seen. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
Wherever you choose to go, I hope you have a relaxing vacation and that it leaves you feeling invigorated and refreshed. After all, we Angelenos need it.
Catch you on the 405,