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Best Weekend Road Trips from Los Angeles

January 22, 2020

Los Angeles is arguably one of the best cities in the world, with near-perfect weather, endless activities, world-class entertainment, and delicious dining options in practically every neighborhood. Another reason to love the City of Angels? Its close proximity to the beach, desert, and mountains make it easy to escape the sprawling city for a while, especially when the bumper-to-bumper traffic becomes unbearable. Whether you’re looking to camp in the desert or relax in the mountains, these are some of the best road trips from L.A. (Now hit the road before traffic picks up!)

Palm Springs

Palm Springs is practically listed on every road-trip guide, and it remains a go-to destination from L.A. for good reason. The desert oasis is packed with trendy hotels, luxurious spas, vintage stores, acres of golf courses, must-try restaurants, and of course, mid-century modern architecture.

While there are endless hotel options, architecture admirers may want to consider booking a stay at the Lautner Compound, a four-unit home designed by iconic American architect John Lautner that has since been updated and reimagined into a vacation rental property-slash-boutique hotel. During your weekend getaway, you can stop by the Palm Springs Art Museum, walk down Palm Canyon Drive for the local shops, or hike the Tahquitz Canyon Trail, where you’ll be greeted with a 60-foot waterfall at the end of your trek.

Joshua Tree

Another desert destination beloved by L.A. locals? Joshua Tree, which is roughly a 150-mile drive from L.A. One obvious draw to the area is Joshua Tree National Park, where you can go camping, hiking, rock climbing, and stargazing.

Beyond the park, Joshua Tree is filled with a number of must-see attractions including the World Famous Crochet Museum, Simi Dabah Sculpture Garden, and the Integratron, a dome structure designed by ufologist George Van Tassel in the late 1950s, before three sisters purchased the building in 2000 and created a sound bath experience that’s open to all. For dinner, head to nearby Pioneertown and dine at Pappy and Harriet’s (reservations recommended), where the barbecue restaurant and music venue has seen Paul McCartney, Lorde and Vampire Weekend stop by for performances.

Idyllwild

Idyllwild, a mountain town about a 110-mile drive from Los Angeles, is the ideal getaway if you’re looking for some peace and quiet. Humber Park offers two trails for you to start hiking: Devil’s Slide Trail and Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail — both of which require wilderness pass permits to day hike. Other outdoor activities in Idyllwild include mountain biking, rock climbing, and fishing.

Swing by The Town Baker for homemade pastries, including the popular caramel pecan bun, and savory breakfast dishes. Before you head home, fuel up on caffeine at Higher Grounds Coffee Shop, where you can sip on organic-fair-trade coffee.

San Diego

Like L.A., San Diego offers lots of sun, sand, and water, but with less traffic and smog. From Coronado Beach to La Jolla Shores, there’s a beach for everyone to explore. After a few hours of sunbathing, take a leisurely walk around Balboa Park, which is home to many museums, gardens, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

Nearby is the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego, where you’ll find a variety of restaurants, bars, and shops. The historical neighborhood becomes especially busy and crowded in the evenings as its San Diego’s most popular nightlife destination. Petco Park is also located in downtown, so check out the stadium’s calendar to see if there’s a baseball game or concert while you’re in town.

Ojai

If you’re in search of a relaxing destination, look no further than Ojai. Nestled in a scenic valley surrounded by mountains, the small town makes it easy to sit back and unwind. Among the many accommodations available, Ojai Valley Inn ranks high on the list. The popular wellness destination is an award-winning resort that offers rejuvenating spa treatments, championship golf courses, and private cabanas by the pool.

Ojai is home to a number of vineyards and wineries, including the Casa Barranca Winery Tasting Room and Topa Mountain Winery, so you may want to carve out a few hours to taste the local vino. If you’re looking to spend time outside, you can bike along the scenic Ojai Valley Trail or join the Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company for a guided horseback ride along the Ventura River and through the forest.

Santa Barbara

Take the 101 from Los Angeles for 95 miles, and you’ll arrive in the beautiful coastal city of Santa Barbara. Learn more about the town’s rich history at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, located in the Presidio Neighborhood, and then head across the street to Handlebar Coffee Roasters for a nice cup of latte. Then take a stroll down Santa Barbara’s famous State Street for delicious Indian food at Bibi Ji or farm-fresh Spanish tapas at Loquita, before checking out the boutiques, gift shops, and art galleries that line the popular road.

If you’re up for a wine-tasting adventure, you can explore the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail and taste the various vinos that are crafted from the area’s best vineyards. Thirty-one wineries make up the famed trail, so a day might not be enough to embark on this boozy journey!