10 Weekend Getaways Within 5 Hours of LA That Are Perfect for Summer
From the beach to the mountains, rustic campgrounds to luxe hotels, and everything in between.
Summer has arrived in LA, which means temps are a few degrees higher, everything is a little more crowded, and it’s finally socially acceptable to wear an oversized Hawaiian shirt and crush ranch water all day long.
It also means it’s prime travel time in California, the best season to take advantage of the state’s abundance of amazing destinations. The mountains and the beach are your two main options, but there’s so much more to it than that—you can go rustic and camp, or go luxurious with long views by a deep pool. You can hit fine dining or you can dive into street food. There are theme parks, hikes, stargazing, craft fairs, and jet skis. We have places to unplug and places to recharge, beach towns full of craft beer and a majestic valley of wine, and so much more. Here are ten of the best weekend getaways for the summer:
You can’t get anywhere truly tropical within two hours of LA, but you can still get to an island paradise, just 26 miles across the sea—Catalina Island. Much of the island, including the town of Avalon, has gone unchanged in decades, for better and for worse. It’s quaint and charming with a fun and unpretentious energy—and it’s also a little beat up, with infrastructure and water struggles, and all the faded glamor that the defunct antique casino conjures.
As a travel destination that means amenities can be hit or miss, but the water is stunningly clear, teeming with marine life just feet offshore—Catalina has some of the best and most accessible snorkeling on the California coast. Take a short walk to Lover’s Cove, a rocky beach just minutes from town, and wade into a kelp forest full of bass, sheepshead, shellfish, octopi, and the island’s signature bright orange garibaldi. On the other side of town, Casino Point Dive Park is leagues deeper if you’re the scuba type. And if you’d rather glide over the water than gaze into it, there are jet skis, kayaks, and other water sports.
Luxury travelers have options too, as there have been a few recent developments on the island that aim for a more elevated beach experience, including the long-awaited opening of a full-sized grocery store and the 2019 reopening of the Zane Grey Hotel. Descanso Beach Club is a comparatively new-ish bar, restaurant, private beach, and event space with the island’s only permanent beachside bar for your Buffalo Milk fix. There’s also a big patch of grass, private cabanas, and beach chairs for rent, and DJs every Saturday. Newer restaurants like NDMK, The Naughty Fox, and Bluewater Grill are raising the level of the island’s cuisine, and there are plenty of old favorites like The Lobster Trap, Luau Larry’s, and the Catalina Island Brew House too.
Drive: About 45 minutes, then an hour on the ferry
Stay: There are tons of hotels in Avalon, as you might expect from a tourist-first destination. Hotel Atwater is an old building that got a revamp in 2019 and is now quite nice, Hotel Metropole is a straightforward option in a good central location, and the aforementioned Zane Grey offers gorgeous sweeping views of Avalon (at the expected premium). There are also Airbnbs aplenty, and around the bend one cove over there are the villas at Hamilton Cove.
Big Sur’s physical footprint is large, including 90 miles of rocky coastline and a redwood forest between Carmel and San Simeon. But its cultural footprint is truly massive, outstripping the physical space like the exhibit at the zoo where you compare your wingspan to a California condor. This is the area in which Henry Miller spent two decades, which inspired Kerouac and Brautigan and Huxley, which is still home to Esalen and the Zen mountain retreat Tassajara.
That counterculture ethos collides with a spate of luxury hotels and glamping experiences, not to mention a loose collective of rugged outdoors people who have come to Big Sur to live as close as you can get to “off the grid” while still maintaining reliable access to perfect pan au chocolate.
As a visitor that means your options run a truly wild gamut, from backpacking or camping at Pfeiffer State Park to the tasting menu and the award-winning wine cellar at Sierra Mar. Either way you should check out the windswept coastline and purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach or the cliffs at Garrapata. The Big Sur River Inn is almost 90 years old, with a solid craft beer tap list and good burgers, and they have chairs set up right in the freezing cold river so you can dip a toe while you wet your whistle. The Big Sur Bakery is the crown jewel of the area’s dining scene, a rustic bungalow with an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients; they kick out stunning pastries and brunch-inspired platess during the week, and a truly special weekend dinner service, where almost everything gets a spin through their wood-burning oven.
Drive: About five hours
Stay: There’s great car camping in the aforementioned State Park, and lovely cabins along the river at the Big Sur Campground & Cabins. The River Inn and Fernwood run towards the motel side. You can also get romantic at the classic Deetjen’s or super luxurious at the Post Ranch Inn and Ventana.
North County San Diego
If you want a beach vacation within easy striking distance of LA, there are dozens of options up and down the coast from Santa Barbara to the US-Mexico border. But few areas have the versatility and universal appeal of the North County San Diego beach towns, a chill stretch from Solana Beach to Oceanside with good surfer vibes and plenty of culture.
If you’re in for all the theme park stuff with the family, Legoland is right there and the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park (FKA Wild Animal Park) are a short drive away. If you’re looking for more adult activities, San Diego’s fantastic beer scene is almost too convenient, and you don’t even have to venture out of North County beach towns to partake. If you’re looking for a quiet day or two on the sand and in the ocean, North County is hard to beat.
Best of all, if you’re in the area for a weekend you can do it all in one trip—breweries in town Friday night, catch some wildlife on Saturday, fine dining or a food hall that night, then splash around on Sunday before heading home.
Drive: About two hours
Stay: The Carlsbad Inn is a lovely traditional beachfront option which also includes bikes and beach equipment for guest use. The Green Room is a boutique hotel that opened in 2021 in Oceanside with grab ‘n go foam surfboards, beach cruisers, and a very stylish design. And Airbnbs are abundant up and down the coastal area.
Valle de Guadalupe
One of the greatest—and most underutilized—perks of LA living is our proximity to the US-Mexico border. Tijuana is an easy two and a half hour drive away, a straight shot down the I-5 to the San Ysidro border crossing. Once across, there is a world of amazing food, coffee, craft beer, and agave spirits to explore just minutes from the frontera. But if you push on another hour or so, you can make it to the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California’s wine region.
In recent years the Valle has exploded in popularity, which has been a boon for some local businesses while also bringing challenges for the area’s limited infrastructure and resources. It is a fantastic, gorgeous, wild place, but be sure to be a responsible guest while you’re there. There are too many great restaurants and wineries to count, but some of the high-end standouts include chef David Castro Hussong’s Fauna at the Bruma winery, chef Javier Plascencia’s Animalón, and chef Drew Deckman’s eponymous restaurant at Mogor Badan winery. There are great traditional options too, from the adobada at Taqueria La Principal to the legendary breakfasts at La Cocina de Doña Esthela. If that sounds like a lot, well, you’re right—you may want to consider a guided tour. WineNomada offers a good one, among many others.
Drive: About four hours, but it could be longer on the way back depending on the border crossing.
Stay: Encuentro Guadalupe is romantic and chic with private decks and its own winery. Bruma also has villas and a boutique eight-room hotel in addition to the winery and Fauna restaurant. Uva Uva is a new-ish collection of four stylish solar-powered cabins with a sustainable and self-sufficient focus.
Head to lesser-known Mt. Pinos (nestled in between Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Kern, and Santa Barbara counties) for an evening (or two) of stargazing. Known as one of the best spots to watch the night sky in California, Cuyama translates to “clam” in the Chumash language, which likely refers to the millions of petrified and prehistoric clamshell fossils that can be found in the area. During the day, check out the super-blooms of wildflowers at the Carrizo Plains National Monument, home to salt flats, grasslands, and cave paintings. Lace up your hiking boots or grab your mountain bike and hit the Los Padres National Forest to explore more than 200 trails that lead to waterfalls and epic views. Prefer a scenic route? Take a quick drive to Pine Mountain Club—just 45 minutes up—for catch-and-release fishing at Fern’s Lake and cross-country skiing. During the winter, there’s also sledding on local trails and at Pine Mountain Club’s Golf Course. A concerted effort to recover the endangered California Condor is underway at Bitter Creek Wildlife Refuge, and while the refuge is not open to the public in order to protect wildlife habitats, large portions can be seen from Hudson Ranch Road, including California condors, mule deer, tule elk, California quail, golden eagle, owls, and occasionally greater roadrunner.
After your fun, hit the Condor Cafe for satisfying diner dishes and the Condor Lounge for cocktails, wine, beer, and live entertainment. There’s also The Buckhorn Restaurant & Bar, within the historic Cuyama Buckhorn resort, where you can dig into farm-to-table comfort food and Santa Maria-style barbecue.
Drive: About two hours
Stay: Boutique roadside resort the Cuyama Buckhorn is a must-stay spot in the Cuyama Valley, offering communal fire pits to roast s’mores under the stars, hot tubs to warm up on cool evenings, and a barrel sauna to detox from the city. You can also find an Aitrbnb in the area.
Escape the city and head to the wine region in Santa Barbara County for a relaxing getaway without the crowds you’ll find in northern Napa or Temecula Valley to the south. Get your day started with coffee at Pony Espresso or Queen Cup Coffee in the quaint historic town of Santa Ynez, followed by some shopping at the eclectic Santa Ynez General, where you’ll find home decor, candles, fragrances, and gifts to take home with you. After soaking up the old Western vibes in the downtown area of Santa Ynez, head to Los Olivos and cool off with wine tasting.
Over in Los Olivos, you’ll find the streets lined with wine shops and tasting rooms, with standouts that include Liquid Farm, Stolpman Vineyards, Story of Soil Wine, Future Perfect Wine, and Dragonette Cellars. Stop for a bite to eat at the new Nella Kitchen & Bar (owned by the same people behind the popular Santa Ynez Valley eatery S.Y. Kitchen) for modern Italian eats and a wine list featuring local and global labels housed within the iconic Fess Parker Wine Country Inn. The Inn also represents a tempting overnight option, with amenities that include a complimentary bottle of wine in your room, wine tasting for two, and a heated on-site pool. For a wine tasting experience nearby, head to Roblar Winery, in the heart of Santa Ynez Valley.
Once you hit the road again, stop by Bob’s Well Bread’s newest location a few miles away in Ballard for breakfast or lunch. The original, just a little further north in Los Alamos, is a local institution with must-try coffee and pastries, but their breads are truly something to write home about (or take home with you).
Just a ten-minute drive from Los Olivos, Solvang will transport you to an authentic Danish village, without the lengthy plane ride. Founded by Danish settlers over a century ago, the charming streets, homes, and businesses were constructed to resemble a small Danish town (yes, there are windmills), with bakeries on every corner. Some standouts include 70-year-old Birkholm’s Bakery & Cafe, along with Danish Mill Bakery, Mortensen’s Danish Bakery, Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery, and The Solvang Bakery. But make peasants FEAST your first stop and savor homemade eats from chef/owner Michael Cherney, who has worked at Michelin-starred kitchens like L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon.The slow-cooked carnitas and roasted mushroom tacos and Feast Burger represent some of the most popular menu items, but save room for their frozen key lime pie that uses a family recipe. Around the corner is another farm-to-table hot spot, Sear Steakhouse, where you’ll find hearty steaks, seafood options, and produce that’s fresh from the garden. There’s even a tiki bar in town, the High Roller Tiki Lounge, where the cocktails are made with a wine base.
Shop for souvenirs at The Book Loft, and learn the history behind your favorite fairy tales at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum that’s above the store. The Copenhagen House features an Amber Museum and Viking exhibit, and the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art is a great spot to learn more about Danish culture. Be sure to stop by Solvang Spice Merchant for unique spices, and take home some fresh cheeses at Cailloux Cheese Shop.
As you’re heading out of Solvang, stop by Ostrichland to feed ostriches before heading to more wine tasting. A little further outside of Solvang’s main town is Buellton where you’ll find the landmark Hitching Post 2; you’ll need a reservation for dinner, but you can walk in for lunch at their tasting room Hitching Post Wines that’s next door. Here, owner Frank Ostini and his winemaking partner, Gray Hartley, select wines that pair perfectly with their wood-fired fare.
Drive: 2.5 hours
Stay: Hotel Ynez, a modern retreat that sits on two private acres; The Winston, a smaller luxury hotel in Solvang; Vinland Hotel & Lounge in the heart of Solvang’s town; the fancier The Fess Parker Wine Country Inn in Los Olivos; the off-the-beaten-path Ballard Inn and Gathering Table in Ballard; and the six-room, rustic-chic The Inn at Zaca Creek in Buellton.
Ojai Valley is known for many things—hot springs, olive oil, wine, and their fabulous farm-to-table fare. Sample the local olive oil and grab a bottle (or two) to go at Ojai Olive Oil Company, followed by wine tastings at Casa Barranca and The Ojai Vineyard. Browse titles at Bart’s Books, the largest independently owned outdoor bookstore in the world, and visit the Ojai Valley Museum for a dash of culture. Light and Space Yoga is located in a converted gas station, but don’t let the locale fool you—they also host classes in a local park—and whether you opt for indoor or outdoor, it’s a great way to start your day. For a day trip to the region, be sure to pack hiking boots as there are many trails in the nearby Los Padres National Forest. Dip into popular Willett Hot Springs before checking out the town’s culinary offerings including Lebanese-inspired skewers at Ojai Rotie, or farm-to-table eats at The Farmer and the Cook (check out their pizza nights), and The Farmhouse at the Ojai Valley Inn. At The Farmhouse, guest chefs like Evan Funke, Josiah Citrin, Neal Fraser, and Nancy Silverton make the trip up north from LA to take over the kitchen for weekends at a time. For something different, but just as fresh and well-sourced, check out Sama Sama’s Southeast Asian-inspired cuisine inside Topa Topa Brewing Co., which rivals LA’s best restaurants. If you can’t stop dreaming about those perfectly ripe tomatoes you had at dinner, check out the Ojai community farmers' market on Thursdays from 3-7 pm and the Ojai Certified Farmers' Market on Sundays from 9 am–1 pm. The oldest restaurant in town may not serve garden-fresh eats, but remains a must-stop: Deer Lodge is a small tavern with live music and cozy fire pits outside.
Drive: 1.5 hours
Stay:Ojai Valley Inn is the main hotel in the area, perfect for families and couples with activities that include arts and crafts for children, golfing for adults, a spa and more on their sprawling grounds. For motel-like lodging, check out the Ojai Rancho Inn or Capri Hotel, which underwent a massive 2020 renovation while holding true to their mid-century modern roots. The Blue Iguana Inn is a tried and true B&B, while the Thacher House is more like a homey co-op farm; or get closer to nature with one of the airstreams at Caravan Outpost.
There’s a reason Yosemite is one of the country’s most popular national parks, with millions of visitors per year—not many places offer pristine nature at this scale. No matter how many times you’ve seen the Ansel Adams photos, the moment you emerge from the tunnel at the famous vista will absolutely take your breath away. And that’s before you get down into the valley to explore its trails, caves, meadows, and climbs.
Each hike is iconic in its own way, from the grueling but gorgeous march of Half Dome to the insane vistas at Glacier Point, which is normally accessible by car but is hike-only in 2022. There are more chill options with plenty of payoff too, including a stroll around Lower Yosemite Falls, a float down the bracing Merced River (rent a raft or bring your own), birding, stargazing, and biking. Your best bet for food is probably cooking your own, and you can build a fire to do it at Housekeeping Camp and Camp 4. But if that’s not your thing, there are a handful of restaurants in the Valley which are mostly ok, from sandwiches at Degnan’s Deli to the Pizza Patio at Curry Village.
Drive: Five hours
Stay: Find an amazing Airbnb near Yosemite, or stay in luxury on the valley floor at the Ahwahnee Hotel, a National Historic Landmark with high ceilings, intricate stonework, and a classic Western motif that's been open since 1927. Other more rustic options in the Yosemite Valley include rooms at the Yosemite Lodge, the river-adjacent concrete and canvas boxes at Housekeeping Camp, tent cabins at Curry Village, or actual camping at Camp 4.
There are many mountain towns that surround Los Angeles, but none of them are quite like Idyllwild. For starters, it’s an unincorporated community in Riverside, which gives it a distinctly different vibe than the rest of the county. There’s very much an Austin or Portland air about the people that live here; they pride themselves on being offbeat and weird. You really have to be, when you’ve elected a dog as the mayor. Mayor Max 2022.
You can always rent a generic cabin in Idyllwild, but you could drive for miles and never find a place more odd or wonderful than Hicksville Pines Bud & Breakfast. A block of differently-themed cabins (a la The Madonna Inn) that range from a haunted house, to a cheesy romantic honeymoon suite, to a shrine to the Twin Peaks’ Log Lady. Take advantage of the titular bud (California, baby) and breakfast for sure, but picking up some of the incredible pizzas from Idyllwild Pizza Company and slurping down the oxtail soup at Mile High Cafe (only available during the winter) is a must.
Drive: 2.5 hours
Stay: If you decide against Hicksville Pines Bud & Breakfast, another popular option is the Grand Idyllwild Lodge bed and breakfast, or book one of Silver Pines Lodge’s creekside wooden cabins if you’re looking to fish during your stay. Opt for a cabin at Quiet Creek Inn to be among the pine trees, or for a homey feel try Strawberry Creek Inn. You can also find an Airbnb in the area.
Just west of Big Bear, Running Springs isn’t going to top the charts of many vacation roundups. This is exactly what makes it the perfect place to disconnect, and Getaway House is here to help us do just that. Each of their tiny little cabin-houses come stocked with a functional bathroom, kitchenette, and hotel-quality bed situated next to a huge window that -- depending on which cabin they assign you -- sports a hell of a view. Outside each cabin they’ve provided fire pits (which unfortunately are only usable when the San Bernardino Forest isn’t burning down) and a picnic table.
You’ll want to keep dinner simple, so why not stop at one of the many terrific Italian delis in the Covina area on your way over (like Capri or Claro’s) and set yourself up with some sandwiches or a charcuterie situation? Enjoy the fresh air and, trust us, take advantage of the cell phone lockboxes that they provide. It’s nice to unplug. That’s why you’re here.
Drive: 2 hours
Stay: Find an amazing Airbnb near Running Springs.