The Best Weekend Getaways Within 5 Hours of LA

It’s been too long since you’ve left town.

It’s Quarantine Day 98,763 (at least it feels that way) and if you’re anything like us, you need a break from your own living room. While traditional travel is both risky and complicated, road trips are a great way to get away without having to set foot in any public spaces. One of the most beautiful things about our city is its proximity to excellent weekend getaways -- there are just so many fantastic road trips waiting to be taken, in just about every setting imaginable. Luckily for you, we’ve put together some of the greatest weekend road trip destinations within five hours of LA, complete with mountains, beaches, campfires, and, duh, plenty of booze.

Best Wine-Soaked Getaway: Paso Robles, CA

Despite playing third fiddle to Napa and Sonoma in the national wine consciousness, Paso Robles isn’t messing around with its wine game. The AVA has over 200 wineries under its belt, spread among its 11 distinct wine regions, and though visiting them is risky (or at some places, not even an option), there’s always the to-go option.

We’ve got a whole Paso Robles guide dedicated to deep-diving the stuff, but Calcareous and Mitchella are must-hit wineries (and both open for distanced visits). Don’t sleep on Villicana: they’re also a distillery, and you can do a full tasting of all the spirits on offer. 

Restaurant experiences obviously aren’t the same right now, but with great restaurants like Hunter Ranch Grill, Thomas Hill Organics, and The Hatch Rotisserie, your takeout options are looking great.

Drive: About 4 hours

Best Outdoor Getaway: Joshua Tree, CA

There are plenty of cities near beautiful woods, beaches, and deserts, but there really isn’t any place like Joshua Tree. The complete nothingness that emanates from the star-splattered sky at night here is an absolute titan of the California natural wonders hierarchy. It’s scenic as hell during the day, too, what with all the eponymous Joshua Trees and weirdly picturesque rock formations. Of course you could always stay in a hotel at the outskirts of town, but the only real way to take in the desert’s beauty is to camp or rent one of the many dome houses on Airbnb. You need to spend the night under the stars, and we’ve got a whole Joshua Tree guide dedicated to helping you do just that.

Grab some sandwiches from Natural Sisters or burgers from Tyler’s on the way in if you want to sample the eats that are available, but with all the closures (it’s a damn shame you can’t hit Pappy & Harriet’s right now), it’s gonna be a BBQ-your-own ribs kinda night. And with perhaps the most beautiful night sky Southern California has to offer stretching out above you, that’ll be just fine.

Drive: About 2.5 hours

Most Affordable Getaway: Big Bear Lake, CA

If you’re heading over to Big Bear Lake in the winter, you’re probably going to enjoy one of LA’s best snowboarding/skiing options (with rates far cheaper than Mammoth, Tahoe, or other west coast go-to spots). What people don’t know, on the other hand, is that Bear is just as great in the summer: all the lake sports you could want are in full swing, as well as a ton of beautiful trails for biking, or just plain hoofing it. Oh, and it’s close enough to the beach that you could potentially go snowboarding and surfing in the same day. As for places to stay? Do yourself a favor and check out Getaway. It’s as awesome as it sounds.

Start your day with some tasty coffee from Big Bear Roasting Co. (or beers from Big Bear Lake Brewing Company if you’re feeling froggy) and pick up some lunch from the eternally homey Grizzly Manor Cafe. Whatever time of year you come to Big Bear, you’ve got good stuff waiting.

Drive: About 2 hours

Best Bike Getaway: Carlsbad, CA

Biking through the woods or mountains is, of course, always gorgeous. That’s hard, though; you’re gonna need to be in great shape to pull off bike trips like that. Cruising along the California coastline is a different story, however. San Diego, La Jolla, and Encinitas tend to be no-brainers down south, but if you’re looking to switch it up, consider Carlsbad. There are more than enough beautiful biking options here (Lake Calavera and the Coastal Rail Trail for instance), as well as some crazy sunsets to cap the day off. 

With so much great beer in the area, you might as well build a to-go tour for yourself and grab some cans from some of the best spots in the area, like Burgeon Beer Co, Culver Beer Company, and Rouleur Brewing. Killer ramen from Harumama Noodles & Buns is available for takeout (or perhaps you’re more in a BBQ mood?), but if you really want to elevate your takeout game, you’ll want to hit Campfire for things like grilled oysters, smoked duck, and other new American plates.

Drive: About 2.5 hours

Best “Treat Yo’self” Getaway: Santa Barbara, CA

With a less-than-three-hour drive, Santa Barbara is a place that should be much more firmly rooted in your weekend getaway rotation. Besides the college wormhole that is Isla Vista (which you should avoid on Halloween weekend), Santa Barbara leans towards the upscale side of things, and it’s built to host a weekend of luxury. Bring your own disinfectant and stay at the charming Belmond El Encanto or the beachside Harbor View Inn, go surfing, go kayaking… the list of ways to spend your day here goes on and on.

While dining options are limited at the moment, Top Chef-testant Phillip Frankland Lee’s omakase sushi experience Sushi|Bar is doing CDC-compliant dinners. If you’ve been to the counterpart, you know it’s one of the absolute best sushi experiences you can have. And at $125 a person, the value is unbeatable.

Drive: About 2.5 hours

Best Beach Getaway: Big Sur, CA

Sometimes a weekend trip is about getting away from people. Rather than diving into a town with tons of new faces, you might want to spend some time with California’s undying natural wonder. In that case, Big Sur is your place.
If it’s not too cold, consider camping (Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is only $35 a night) to maximize said natural wonder.

There’s plenty of hiking around the area too, so do your best to maximize the drop-dead gorgeous cliffsides that the area has to offer.

You’ll need to pick up some beers and pork sliders (and don’t forget sandwiches from the deli) from Big Sur Taphouse, but do your best to get over to Big Sur Bakery for cappuccinos and cinnamon rolls that just somehow taste better when you’re staring at all that beautiful greenery.

Drive: About 5 hours

Most Underrated Getaway: Lake Casitas, CA

There’s always been a load of great places to camp outside the LA area, but for some reason, nobody ever throws Lake Casitas into the conversation. The Ojai-adjacent campsite has plots for as little as $30 a night, tons of green space, a beautiful stream, well-maintained firepits, decent bathrooms, and of course, a lake. You can rent boats in the afternoon too, and a day spent out on the lake with some cold beverages is hardly a wasted one.

Grab some meats and killer beef jerky from The Corner Market on the way and prepare some tasty stuff to cook over an open flame -- it’s in those moments when you can smell your dinner on the grill while the campsite starts to get quiet and the sunlight begins to fade that you realize how special this place is.

Drive: About 2.5 hours

Best Romantic Getaway: Palm Springs, CA

Palm Springs is known for a lot of things: pool parties, obnoxious Instagram influencers… hell, even Coachella is right next door. If you’re looking for a couples’ desert getaway that doesn’t involve wandering around Joshua Tree, look no further than Palm Springs. Bring your cleaning supplies and book a nice hotel (like Sparrows Lodge or The Ace), hang by the pool, propose in front of some giraffes... you’ve got all kinds of couple-centric options. 

The romantic dinner selection is bountiful here too, so make the most of your nights and crank the room service up to 11. Or, pick up some seafood at Miro’s or some classic new American fare at Trio and take it back to your room.

Drive: About 2 hours

Best Mountain Getaway: Sequoia National Park, CA

You already know all about Yosemite; we don’t need to tell you more about that. Yosemite’s well-deserved popularity tends to overshadow its southern counterpart, but we’re here to tell you that Sequoia National Park is a true showstopper in its own right. Skip the hotel and rent yourself a cabin, because this is a place where you want to be entrenched in nature.

The natural beauty is stunning, so Sequoia is a place you’ll be wanting to hike. The 14 mile-long Alta Peak Trail is an absolute jaw-dropper the whole way through, but especially so if you make it up to the peak at 4,000 feet. There are plenty of waterfalls and other trails throughout Sequoia too, so if you’re looking to spend a day appreciating Mother Nature, there really aren’t many places better than here.

Drive: About 4 hours

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Wilder Shaw misses restaurants and bars so, so, much. Check out what he’s ordering for takeout on Instagram and Twitter