Beyond the City of Angels: 5 heavenly weekend escapes from Los Angeles

December 17, 2015                 5m read time
Stephanie Mee

First-timers to Los Angeles may be immediately dazzled by the sultry beaches, the swanky shops and restaurants, and the chance of running into a celebrity. However, those in the know see past all the glitz and glam, and while they may still love the City of Angels, every once in awhile they need to escape the traffic and crowds of California’s most populous city. If you’re looking for a break, there are tons of cool spots just a short drive away. Whether you want to hike through the desert, surf great breaks, or simply indulge in some fine food and wine, these are our five favorite weekend getaways from L.A.

1. Play King or Queen of the Desert in Palm Springs

The pool at The Parker in Palm Springs The Parker

The pool at The Parker in Palm Springs

The Parker


Set in the beautiful Coachella Valley, just two hours from Los Angeles, Palm Springs is famous for its luxurious spas, golf courses, and hot springs. Stay in a stylish hotel like the Moroccan-themed Colony Palms Hotel or the modern Le Parker Méridien, and spend your days perusing the boutique shops and hip restaurants on Palm Canyon Drive, or chilling out by the pool with a martini in hand. If you happen to be in town for the famous Coachella Music and Arts Festival, you can rock out to some of the biggest bands and DJs in the world, like AC/DC, Drake, and Danny Tenaglia.

Of course, being a desert town surrounded by miles of natural beauty, Palm Springs is also a great base for outdoor adventurists. Just minutes from the city lies the Coachella Valley Preserve, home to 20,000 acres of desert wilderness. Take a guided hike to see interesting creatures like the the giant palm boring beetle and the fringe-toed lizard. For a truly unique experience, take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway 2.5 miles up to the San Jacinto wilderness and then hike to the top of the peak for incredible views of the valley below—and all the way out to Catalina Island on a clear day.

Less than an hour from Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park is home to wild wind-sculpted landscapes, hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails, and intriguing flora and fauna. Join Desert Adventures on a three-hour guided eco-tour that takes you to the Desert Queen gold mine and along the Hidden Valley loop to see desert dwellers like kangaroo rats and skinks as well as interesting rock formations. They will also bring you 5,185 feet up to the Keys View Overlook where you can see Mexico on clear days.

2. Soak up the Sun, Sand, and Scenery at La Jolla Shores, San Diego

The coast at La Jolla in San Diego  kan_khampanya

The coast at La Jolla in San Diego 



San Diego is renowned for its warm climate, year-round sunshine and great beaches. One of its most famous seaside spots is La Jolla Shores. The main draw to this easy-going community is its long stretch of soft sand lapped by the gentle waves of the Pacific Ocean. The waters here are perfect for beginner surfers, swimmers, and snorkelers. Plus, this is the only beach with a boat launch in San Diego, so kayakers and stand-up paddlers can also hit the waves. Paddlers can launch off into the seven La Jolla sea caves from Scripps Pier to see sea lions, pelicans, and leopard sharks.

When you’ve got your fix of the sun, sand, and sea, head out to explore incredible natural scenery. Take a two-hour guided photo tour through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park with Borrego Jeep Photo Adventures to snap shots of cool slot canyons, colorful desert wildflowers, and interesting animals like coast horned lizards. 

It doesn’t hurt that San Diego is also famous for its food culture with seafood, tacos, and craft beers coming out on top. You are also just a short drive to three wine growing regions: Temecula Valley, Julian, and Valle de Guadalupe. Beginner and experienced equestrians can explore the Temecula Wine Region on horseback with a professional instructor from Saddle Up Wine Tours.

3. Bask on the Beach at Catalina Island

Avalon in Santa Catalina Island in California Israel Pabon

Avalon in Santa Catalina Island in California

Israel Pabon


Catalina Island is one of the easiest escapes from Los Angeles. It's only one hour away on a high-speed ferry or just 12 minutes by helicopter. To go by boat, take the Catalina Express from one of two locations on Long Beach. As an added bonus, the boats have bars, so you can relax with a beer on your way out. The Island Express helicopter is obviously more expensive, but it offers an amazing bird's-eye view. Once you arrive on Catalina Island, book into the Pavilion Hotel in Avalon where you will be surrounded by a gorgeous private tropical garden and lofty palm trees just 14 steps from the beach.

While on Catalina Island you can take your pick of golden sandy beaches where you can sunbathe, swim, and snorkel. For some party action along with your beach hangin’, head to Descanso Beach Club where you can rent a cabana and enjoy great food, cool cocktails, and killer beats by resident DJs. The club also offers kayaking, zip-line tours, and a climbing wall. We also highly suggest checking out the foodie scene with Taste of Catalina Food Tours for a full three hours of sampling craft beers and diverse cuisines, including Mexican, Chinese, and SoCal.

Adventurous types can rent stand-up paddleboards, snorkeling gear, and kayaks from Wet Spot Rentals at the Avalon boat landing. Open from April to September, they include instruction on how to use your gear along with your rental. Zip-lining is another awesome way to see the island, as Catalina has five separate zip lines where you can whiz along at 45 miles an hour over canyons and trees. Stop at different eco-stations along the way to learn about Catalina’s wildlife and history, and end your trip at Descanso Beach Club. Reward yourself with their signature Buffalo Milk cocktail. Named after the island's bison herd, it's a delicious blend of vodka, coffee and banana liqueurs, and crème de cacao.

4. Enjoy Laid-Back Rural Vibes in Ojai

Topa Topa Mountains in Ojai, California Joseph Sohm

Topa Topa Mountains in Ojai, California

Joseph Sohm


Just one and a half hours north of Los Angeles lies the pastoral town of Ojai. Here you'll find a mix of old school hippies and new school people soaking up the Mediterranean climate and mountain views. The town is known for its artistic atmosphere and spiritual retreats, so you can partake in crafts classes, holistic spa therapies, and meditation sessions. Farms around the town grow everything from olives to grapes and citrus fruits, and the restaurants always have fresh seasonal and organic produce on the menu. Oh—and did we mention they have fantastic wine?

Part of Ojai’s appeal is its natural beauty, especially when you get out and explore beyond the city limits. Just north of town, Los Padres National Forest offers over 1,200 miles of maintained trails covering ecosystems ranging from semi-desert to redwood forest. This is the perfect spot to do some camping, hiking, and fishing. For a hike and a soak, hit the Sespe Creek Trail and relax in the waters of the Willett Hot Springs or Sespe Hot Springs. To sample some local produce, head to the gorgeous 100-year-old Friend’s Ranch to try fresh citrus fruits, the Ojai Olive Oil Company to learn how olive oil is produced, or the award-winning Casa Barranca Tasting Room to sip on fine organic wines like the Arts and Crafts Red and Merlot.

5. Get Back to Nature at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Hiker in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California Patrick Poendl

Hiker in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California

Patrick Poendl


Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest state park and a World Biosphere reserve, can be reached in just three hours from L.A. It pays to do some research before you go because the park has over 600,000 acres to explore and a wealth of diverse attractions. Many people come just to see the spectacular sight of the wildflowers and cacti blooming from January to March. The park is also home to half the world’s population of peninsular bighorn sheep. Visit in summer when you can spot them in canyon bottoms or August through December during mating season.

Besides hiking, camping, and wildlife spotting, we highly suggest taking at least one night to camp under the stars. The lack of light pollution makes for stellar views of the night sky. Pitch a tent, lay out a blanket, and watch the bright lights twinkle overhead. You can also schedule an evening under the stars with astronomer Dennis Mammana of  Borrego Night Sky Tours to learn about the constellations, planets, satellites, distant galaxies, and more.

Stephanie Mee

Stephanie Mee is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Bali, Indonesia. Her work has been featured in numerous magazines, newspapers, and websites, and she is constantly on a mission to seek out new stories and adventures. In addition to being an avid wordsmith, she is also an incurable foodie and wanderluster.

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