City life can be a drag sometimes. Luckily, escaping the grind and smog of Los Angeles in favor of wide open spaces, breezy beach towns, and beautiful landscapes is easy.
Here are five of our favorite weekend escapes that are all within about 2 hours of LA. Pack up your beach bag, camp gear, or rent an airbnb for two nights at any of these close locales to relax and explore for the weekend, and return to the city feeling refreshed and energized.
Malibu is one of our absolute favorite places in California, and it’s a super easy escape from Los Angeles – cruise Highway 1 about an hour north of the city and be greeted by sandy beaches, glistening waves, and great seafood restaurants. It’s famous for it’s brilliant sunsets that cast the sky in gorgeous pastel pinks and blues.
Malibu boasts miles of awesome beaches that feel like a different world from LA’s wide, flat, crowded beaches. At Leo Carillo State Park beach, you’ll find steep oceanside hills and cliffs to meander down to sandy, hidden beaches, some with sea caves to explore.
At El Matador state beach, the sand is incredibly fine and the surf excellent for catching waves. Set up your beach blanket for the day among the rocky outcroppings and bring your surfboard.
While on your way to the beaches, stop at Reel Inn for an amazing seafood lunch. A go-to spot among locals and visitors to the area, the restaurant offers a casual atmosphere, outdoor seating, and exceptionally fresh seafood fare – select your type of seafood (including seabass, ahi tuna, scallops, and swordfish) from the refrigerated counter and how you’d like it prepared (blackened, steamed, etc.), and pair your meal with an ice cold beer for a fantastic meal before hitting the beach.
2. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is a unique high desert escape from LA perfect for a weekend hiking or camping trip. The park encompasses the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, and features an iconic landscape of sculpted rock, sandy scorched earth, and twisted, spiky Joshua Trees.
The vast wonder of it’s dramatic landscape adds to its draw, and some of the clearest night skies that open up into an amazing display of bright stars and constellations can be found here.
There are 9 different campgrounds located within the park, but you won’t find any restaurants, hotels, or stores. The campgrounds are busiest during October to May, when the heat of the desert is less harsh, and range from $15-$20 per site, some with water and some without.
There’s tons to do beyond camping beneath the stars, including hiking trails from must-see spots like Skull Rock, discovering the hidden Cottonwood Spring Oasis, or more extreme backpacking trips for adventurers.
3. Palm Springs
Palm Springs is a stylish desert city known for it’s luxe hotels, mid-century modern architecture, vintage boutique shopping, and spas. A main draw for the elite and artistic alike, a visit to Palm Springs offers a unique and buzzing local scene, hip shopping, relaxing and indulgent places to stay, and great restaurants.
Book a room at the trendy Ace Hotel Palm Springs for a chill weekend, or relax at the The Spring Resort and Spa in the nearby town of Desert Hot Springs to take advantage of the area’s natural mineral hot springs.
The surrounding Coachella Valley area also offers more adventurous activities like hiking, horseback riding, and the eclectic Salvation Mountain, as well as a number of green golf courses to enjoy.
4. Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake is located in California’s San Bernardino Mountains, adjacent to the small city of Big Bear and the surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest. It’s an idyllic four-season destination for active and adventure travelers looking for outdoor activities, or those wanting to relax in nature while renting a cabin or staying at a rustic lodge.
In the summer Big Bear Lake is an excellent weekend retreat to enjoy swimming, hiking, fishing, boating, and biking. It’s equally fun in the winter for those who love to ski, snowboard, snowshoe, or enjoy a warm alpine spa experience.
It’s hard to say when the best time to visit is – there truly is something to do at this mountain lake escape no matter what the weather. Visit the area’s official site for more info on where to stay and what to do.
5. La Jolla
La Jolla is a beautiful community located in San Diego, just 2 to 2 1/2 hours from LA. The high-end area boasts great hotels, dining, shopping, local events, and of course, beautiful beaches.
La Jolla’s beaches differ from LA’s, featuring high rise cliffs jutting out to the sea, rocky shallows for swimming, and underwater kelp forests and deep water canyons for snorkeling. Check out La Jolla Cove for a swimming and snorkeling adventure, and the chance to sea local sea lions or dolphins.
Torrey Pines State Reserve offers great cliff-side hiking with striking ocean views, and calm beaches for a day of relaxing in the sun. There are multiple trails of varying difficulty, whether you want to tackle steep climbs or laid-back paths to the beach.
Have you taken any of these weekend trips? Tell us your favorite attractions and activities in the comments!
Photo credits: Featured: Mike P. Miller / Malibu: Melissa Emmons / Noel / BriYYZ / Noel / Joshua Tree: James Marvin Phelps / Don Graham / Nevin / Palm Springs: Chris Goldberg top, middle / Gord McKenna / Big Bear: astrangegirl / cyclotourist / Miss Sheri / La Jolla: Rex Boggs / Nathan Rupert / Clark