Planning A Mini-Vacation From Los Angeles

Enjoy Short Getaway Cruises Out Of LA

By Hayley Simpson | Published on August 9, 2023

Home to Hollywood, golden beaches and the rich and famous, Los Angeles is undeniably a great place to live or visit. However, sometimes you just need to get out of town and go on an adventure. Whether it's by driving or embarking on short cruises out of Los Angeles, take advantage of the thriving city's location on the southern California coast and enjoy a mini-vacation. Thanks to its amazing freeway system, within a few hours you can be in the desert, on a snowy mountain or even in Mexico. Here are the best weekend getaways from LA and how to get there.

Californian Coastal Escapes

Toss a coin to determine whether you head north or south along the California coast. Either way, there are several seaside towns and cities close to LA that make for the perfect mini-vacation. First, you can head to San Diego. Only 120 miles south of LA, it has an enticing mix of urban and natural adventures. Downtown, families will find plenty to do in Balboa Park, while the revitalized Gaslamp Quarter is home to the city's hopping restaurant and nightlife scene. Alternatively, visit beachside neighborhoods like Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach for that quintessential laid-back California vibe — epic surf breaks, palm-fringed shores and tanned locals included. You can easily reach San Diego via rental car, bus or train.
A similar distance away in the other direction is Santa Barbara. Discover why so many celebrities leave Hollywood behind for this seaside city known as the American Riviera. Its lively downtown district is centered on State Street. Inside the thoroughfare's Spanish Colonial buildings you'll find boutiques and upscale restaurants and bars. Follow the road and it will flawlessly lead you directly to the oceanfront. Along the way, don't miss the Funk Zone, a redeveloped warehouse district of restaurants, art galleries and performance venues. If you choose to drive to Santa Barbara (although it's also accessible via bus and train), 40 minutes away is Solvang. Dedicated to its Danish history, its main street resembles a Danish town and is lined with Danish shops and restaurants serving Danish food.

Alternatively, keep cruising up the coast to San Luis Obispo. Three hours from LA (4.5 hours on a bus), this coastal college town is surrounded by attractive neighbors. First, make a beeline for Pismo Beach. Its centerpiece is a 1200-foot pier built in 1928, but it also has golden shores for sunbathing and waves for surfing. In the other direction is Morro Bay. It's known for Morro Rock, an ancient volcano mound at the end of its namesake beach.

Neighboring Paso Robles is home to over 200 wineries. There are several worthy tasting rooms located in the city's downtown district. But if you have a penchant for red wine and breathtaking views, visit DAOU Vineyards. Finally, a short distance up the coast from San Luis Obispo, you'll find stunning Hearst Castle. This opulent and sprawling property took 20 years to build and is a must-see California attraction.

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Extend the vacation vibes through Catalina, Ensenada, Cabo and more when you cruise from California.

Head Inland For Adventure

You'll find everyone's favorite desert town, Palm Springs, a two-hour drive or bus trip from Los Angeles. Averaging 350 sunny days annually, Palm Springs is awash with mid-century architecture, resorts and golf courses. Don't miss the aerial tramway and the art museum.

While in Palm Springs, extend your mini-vacation getaway to spend time in the natural treasure that is Joshua Tree National Park. With two distinct desert ecosystems (the Mojave and Colorado Deserts), expect unique flora, fauna and landscapes. Another must-see destination close by is Desert Hot Springs. It's home to some of the world's purest hot and cold mineral springs, fed by an aquifer underneath the city. Many boutique hotels feature their own mineral pools and spas, so take your pick and prepare to float your stress away.

If your LA vacation happens in the winter, you can add a mini-vacation to the slopes to your itinerary. Mammoth Mountain in Mammoth Lakes, a five-hour drive from LA, is one of the state's best ski resorts with 175 runs. However, if summer in Cali is more your style, this resort transforms in the off-season, when visitors can swap skis for hiking boots or a mountain bike. Once the ice melts, the area's lakes and streams are also perfect for fishing and swimming.

Another mountainside area that's only a two-hour drive from LA is the San Bernardino Mountains. Travel to Big Bear (LA's closest mountain town) for skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer at its two main resorts, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain. With hundreds of miles of trails to choose from, your adventure starts here. Big Bear Lake is also a great spot for fishing or boating, which you can enjoy down the road in Lake Arrowhead as well. Whatever your watersport pleasure is, it's available here.

If you're eager for more of the great outdoors, plan a day trip to Yosemite National Park, one of the country's most famous national parks. If you have the time, you won't regret a weekend spent birdwatching, hiking, horseback riding and biking in Yosemite.

Another inland escape by car is Ojai. It's often referred to as Santa Barbara's hippy little sister, but this quirky town is an underrated gastronomic delight. The region's microclimate means a lot of produce thrives here, so fresh and seasonal farm-to-table food is abundant. The town's downtown strip is conveniently lined with boutiques, restaurants, bars and tasting rooms serving locally produced wine. Top recommendations include The Nest for lunch, In the Field for clothing, and Bart's Books, the world's largest independently owned outdoor bookstore. If outdoor adventures are more your style, enjoy a day trip to Los Padres National Forest, and take a dip in the popular Willett Hot Springs. Ojai is beautifully backdropped by the Topatopa Mountains, so don't miss seeing them stunningly painted pink every night at sunset.

Alternatively, embrace Catalina Island's Mediterranean vibes and pull up a towel on one of the island's beaches.

Viva Mexico!

LA is so perfectly located that you can also go on a short getaway to Mexico. While Tijuana is the closest major city to the California border, 15 minutes further down the coast is Rosarito Beach. This beach resort town has a beautiful oceanfront and delicious local food everywhere you turn. Don't leave without sampling some fresh seafood and staying at Rosarito Beach Hotel. The 500-room megaplex is home to a private beach, multiple swimming pools and several dining options. An insider tip: To reach Rosarito Beach, park your car on the U.S. side and walk into Mexico. From here you can easily get a taxi, which should cost about $30 USD.

Take To The Seas On A Mini-Cruise Vacation

If your ideal short vacation includes island time, an excursion to Catalina Island means a 90-minute Catalina Express ferry ride from Los Angeles. Mini cruises can be as relaxing or adventurous as you like. Fun outdoor experiences include fishing, diving, hiking, sea kayaking with whales (seasonal) and ziplining. Alternatively, embrace Catalina Island's Mediterranean vibes and lay down a towel on one of the island's beaches. With 88% of the island standing as a protected nature preserve, don't be surprised if you spot wildlife like foxes, bald eagles and seals during your visit.

Prefer to set sail for Mexico? You can hop on a cruise to Catalina and Ensenada or Ensenada exclusively. Ensenada is a port city one hour south of the Mexico-U.S. border that's full of surprises. It's next door to Valle de Guadalupe, which is known as Mexico's answer to Napa. Its 100-plus wineries are garnering international attention, so if wining and dining is your favorite activity, a day trip is highly recommended. Fortunately, the wineries are concentrated in a relatively small district, so it's easy to hop and sip your way from winery to winery.

Ensenada is also renowned for its "Baja Med" cuisine, which is a combination of Mexican ingredients, Mediterranean techniques, and Asian flavors like lemongrass and fresh seafood. You can taste this cuisine at several restaurants downtown and along the waterfront. No trip to Ensenada is complete without a visit to Hussong's Cantina. Established in 1892, it's a Western-style saloon known for its eclectic wall art, long wooden bar and floors covered in sawdust and peanut shells. It's an essential part of the Ensenada experience and the perfect way to round out a getaway from LA.

Written By

A Bachelor of Journalism graduate hailing from Australia, Hayley is an experienced travel writer and the award-winning travel blogger behind Hayley on Holiday. Her travel writing has featured on Lonely Planet, Matador Network, and The Culture Trip. As for her travel experience, Hayley is a big advocate for solo travel and working holidays and has visited over 40 countries.

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