I’m riding 130 feet in the air at the top of the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel. From my vantage point, above the Santa Monica Pier at Pacific Park, I have a panoramic view of the surrounding Southern California coastline. Straight ahead, the majestic snow-capped Mount Baldy, the highest peak in California, rises in the distance while blue waves roll onto the sandy shore below me. After sunset, the Ferris wheel is aglow, illuminated with changing colors in a spectacular light show visible for miles.
Variety is the spice of life in SoCal where you can be building sandcastles at the seashore in the morning, and in less than two hours, trekking through rugged mountain trails or lounging by the pool in a desert oasis by afternoon.
Sample a taste of the region’s diversity with one of these Southern California weekend getaways.
Weekend Getaways in Southern California
A charming valley town, 90 minutes northwest of Los Angeles, Ojai is a center for the arts, culture, spirituality, self-improvement, and environmental consciousness. (It even has a vegetarian boarding school.)
From the 50s to the 70s, Ojai was a hub of the Boho (or Bohemian) craft movement that rejected social traditions in favor of more unconventional artistic, literary, and spiritual pursuits. The town retains an updated Bohemian vibe and is host to seasonal arts festivals including the Ojai Valley Music Festival, Ojai Valley Film Festival, and Ojai Shakespeare Festival.
Its Mediterranean microclimate is perfect for olive growing, making the Ojai Valley area a destination for olive oil lovers. Visit some olive groves to sample the superb artisan small-batch olive oils. Regalo Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Ojai Olive Oil are both family-owned presses dating back to the mid-1800s era of the Spanish missions when the valley had a communal olive press. Just outside of the town, the Topa Mountain Winery opens onto the Ojai Valley Bike Trail, so pack your picnic lunch and cycle over for a tasting outdoors in the shadows of the Topa Mountain Range. Check the winery’s schedule as there’s live music every Saturday and Sunday with other events woven in like Macramé and Wine, and Comedy Night.
Sprinkled with restaurants, cool boutiques, and galleries, Ojai’s quaint two-block downtown is a great place to walk or bike. You need not travel any further than downtown Ojai to taste the local Valley vintages. Step into the family-owned Majestic Oak Vineyard and Tasting Room for an afternoon glass of wine on the private outdoor patio or head to the subterranean tasting room for a flight. Browse the shelves of Bart’s Books, an indoor-outdoor bookstore, then for a buck, ride the red and green old town-style Ojai Trolley from downtown to the five-star Ojai Valley Inn. The sprawling golf and tennis resort has several pools and oozes luxury from its Spanish Colonial-style rooms to the indulgent treatments at its Spa Ojai.
Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy a trek on one or more of the 24 hiking trails throughout the valley and the surrounding Los Padres National Park. It’s a playground with two million acres of mountains, streams, and rivers with altitudes ranging from sea level to almost 9,000 feet.
For those whose gaze tends more inward, Ojai is the valley of self-improvement and wellness. At the Meditation Mount, visitors are invited to mindfully wander the International Garden of Peace where six Universal Principals are engraved on boulders to encourage Creative Mediation, a “Group Meditation in Service to Humanity” — a method of building personal spiritualism that ultimately serves the greater good.
Where To Stay In Ojai
For a regimented wellness program, a stay at the all-inclusive Oaks At Ojai Health Resort will leave you rejuvenated, possibly a few pounds lighter, and on the path to a healthy lifestyle you can bring home.View More Hotels In Ojai
The town where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio spent the first night of their honeymoon has become a viticulture and culinary mecca for its acclaimed vineyards and olive groves. Popularized in Italy, agritourism has grown globally, and with California’s agricultural heritage, Paso Robles is a great fit for agri-experiences.
Venture out to one of several wineries where you can sip a chilled glass while picnicking against the backdrop of lush hills blanketed in grapevines. Make it a day of “vineyard sports” visiting some of the various wineries offering outdoor games. Find a spot on the deck of the 38-acre Eberle Vineyard with views of the Santa Lucia Mountains on the horizon where a glass of wine is a nice foray into a match of bocce ball or a game of Cornhole. Head to Castoro’s Whale Rock Vineyard, where in view of the rolling hills and oak trees, you’ll tour a scenic two-mile loop through the vineyard, after which you can try your hand at some disc golf, crisscrossing in and out of the vines on their 18-hole course.
Absorb it all on two wheels. With such striking scenery at your feet, rent a bike for a ride through the rural countryside. Sulfur springs flow through Paso Robles, three of which are open to the public — a nice way to cap off the day with a soak in the warm soothing mineral waters.
Where To Stay In Paso Robles
For a genuine local wine country experience, spend a night or two at one of the region’s picturesque wineries. Like the wines, these accommodations vary by taste but are equally elegant and refined. Blending contemporary farmhouse and vintage styles, the SummerWood Inn’s four luxury bedrooms overlook the property’s gardens where guests can enjoy a farm-fresh, cooked-to-order breakfast outdoors. Then in the afternoon, indulge in appetizers paired with SummerWood wines.
On a hill above its winery and tasting room, the Spanish Colonial-style Inn at Croad Vineyards welcomes guests with an evening glass of Estate wine for two accompanied by a cheese plate. From any of the Inn’s three luxury suites, the balcony beckons with views of surrounding vineyards and wineries.View More Hotels In Paso Robles
These neighboring beach towns are synonymous with popular images of SoCal. Many will recognize Santa Monica and Venice from films, photos, and Beach Boys songs.
No visit to the area is complete without a stop at the Santa Monica Pier where the iconic Route 66 ends at the Pacific Ocean. There’s plenty to do in between your hot dog on a stick and a chocolate-dipped frozen banana. The amusement park’s roller coaster and other rides, the plethora of games in the arcade, and the street performers make it a perfect family outing for kids and grownups alike. Be sure to visit The Great Zoltar, a vintage coin-operated fortune teller who speaks and moves as he dispenses his prophecy on a card through a slot in the machine. And if you’ve always dreamed of running away with the circus, take a class at the trapeze school.
Walk, jog, cycle, or skate your way along the Santa Monica bike path to the mile-long Venice Boardwalk where hundreds of street vendors hawking cheap souvenirs and tee shirts intermingle with mimes and contortionists, break dancers, and a guy who walks on broken glass. You may catch the chainsaw juggler or the gospel singer with two snakes wrapped around his neck. Get a real or temporary tattoo, a piercing, or have your name written on a grain of rice.
A bit further up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH in local-speak) on Sunset Boulevard, you’ll find one of my favorite semi-hidden spots, so shush! Once a location for filming silent movies, the 10-acre Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine is now a bucolic respite from L.A. traffic and a quiet place to get in touch with your inner self. Silence your cell phone and visit this quiet non-denominational oasis in the Pacific Palisades. Entrance is free, and so are you to find your path around the lake and through the meditation gardens. Take a seat on a bench for quiet reflection near the Golden Lotus Archway to enjoy the solitude while the resident swans glide through the water.
For a more serene experience far from the fray, take a stroll along the Venice canals. You won’t find any gondoliers there, but at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Strongs Drive, a small sign marked “Venice Canals Walkway” points the way to a waterside jaunt along the canals. Ducks wade in between the rowboats, canoes, and kayaks moored in front of houses lining the canal with fragrant landscaped gardens. Cross over one of the pedestrian bridges and make your way back, or continue to the Marina Peninsula where streets with nautical names like Ketch and Jib lead to the wide sandy beach.
Poke your head into one of the many boutiques and galleries on the mile-long Abbott Kinney Boulevard, then cap your day with a happy hour at The Other Room or The Brig. Peek through the fence at The Cooks Garden, where you’ll see chickens wandering about the edible plants. Plan ahead to snag a reservation for dinner at Gjelina and try one of their artisan pizzas with plenty of offerings to satisfy both vegetarians and carnivores. The tables are packed in, so save your most intimate conversations for another night.
If you happen to be on Abbott Kinney on the first Friday of the month, don’t miss the food trucks parked in The Brig parking lot from 5 to around 11 p.m. Try Frach’s Fried Ice Cream, Mac’d and Loaded for unusual mac and cheese creations, Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken, or for something lighter, Word of Mouth for its 100 percent plant-based dishes.
Where To Stay In Santa Monica
For a relaxing stay that’s walking distance to everything, including the Third Street Promenade’s shopping and dining, check in to the contemporary Oceana Santa Monica. Cross the street for a scenic stroll along Palisades Park at the top of the sandstone bluffs with its infinite views of the Pacific Ocean coastline. As SoCal locals frequently say, “on a clear day, you can see Catalina,” referring to a small island 26 miles across the sea.View More Hotels In Santa Monica
Known as “the ‘Bu” by locals and surfers, Malibu is a 21-mile stretch historically known as an enclave for Hollywood celebrities and other affluent entertainment industry residents. The beach lines one side of the Pacific Coast Highway while narrow canyon roads emerge from the other, some leading to great hiking trails in the Santa Monica Mountains, such as Solstice Canyon, where hikers can trek to a perennial waterfall.
In the heart of the city, the Malibu Country Mart is a popular destination whose high-end retail and dining establishments attract many famous locals. Nobu is a celebrity dining favorite, but if you want to tap into a real holdover from the bohemian and hippy era, head up to nearby Topanga Canyon. The romantic Inn of the Seventh Ray is so New Age that it almost seems satirical. An extension of their personal health-focused lifestyle, owners Dr. Ralph and Lucile Yaney opened the restaurant in the early 70s when the locavore and organic food movements were not as ubiquitous as they are today. Their prescient farm-to-table vision lives on, albeit not as “alternative” as it seemed back then. The menu features seasonal organic ingredients that are in many cases sourced from known local farms. Even the water is chemical-free, treated by reverse osmosis, then alkalinized. (Don’t ask me what that means.)
After decades, the Yaney’s spiritual beliefs remain the undercurrent of everything in and out of the kitchen. During my dinner, our server greeted us with “for your first course, may I serve you a bit of philosophy?” The Inn invites guests to “partake of the angelic vibrations” while dining on chemical and artificial additive-free cuisine they say is “charged with the vibration of the violet flame of the Seventh Ray.” They hope all of this will be their guests’ “personal transportation to a higher plane.”
Although the experience was more esoteric than spiritual for me, the sound of water flowing in the creek was a soothing accompaniment to a delicious meal. Can you dig it?
Where To Stay In Malibu
Its private beach isn’t the only draw of the Malibu Beach Inn. All guest rooms have balconies with unobstructed sea views where you can keep an eye out for the dolphins. If all the touring has left you tired, there’s no need to leave the property for dinner. Savor some coastal cuisine and local regional wines at the Inn’s Carbon Beach Club where you can dine al fresco on the terrace.View More Hotels In Malibu
Los Angeles is a sprawling city full of distinct, eclectic neighborhoods, like East Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Koreatown, and the list goes on. You could spend a month, indeed a lifetime there, and still not see it all. But you can do your best by starting in the heart of the city where you can avoid the region’s notoriously heinous traffic and make use of the city’s updated Metro Rail network.
trivago Tip: The Metro Expo Line finished a 6.6-mile extension in 2016 to connect Downtown L.A. with Santa Monica in under an hour with stops in Sawtelle Japantown, Westwood Village, and more along the way.
Downtown L.A. used to be a place nobody wanted to go for fun because they all worked there. Over the years, people started living there and the area has developed into a busy hot spot bubbling over with culture. Among the highlights are the Broad and MOCA museums and Frank Gehry’s billowing Walt Disney Concert Hall. Dining choices abound from old L.A. landmarks to creative modern newcomers — not to mention the cornucopia of ethnic flavors. Try Won Kok in Chinatown for late night dim sum; Shin-Sen-Gumi in Little Tokyo for Hakata ramen; and go between Olvera Street and Cielito Lindo for the same rolled tacos they’ve been cooking up since 1934. During the day, head to Grand Central Market for the sites and scents of everything gastronomic you can think of.
Although California is known for all its fresh foods, to experience L.A. like an Angelino, head to the counter at The Apple Pan in Westwood for a paper-wrapped burger, then finish off with their famous apple or banana cream pie. One of L.A.’s oldest continuing operating burger joints, The Apple Pan was the inspiration for the Johnny Rockets chain of restaurants.
Considered a traveling landmark and the truck that spawned the L.A. food truck scene, KogiBBQ serves up Korean-Mexican cuisine including their signature Spicy Pork Tacos, Kimchi Quesadillas, and Short Rib Sliders. Now a celebrity chef, KogiBBQ’s co-founder Roy Choi is at the helm of five brick and mortar restaurants, the Commissary, Chego!, A-Frame, POT at the LINE hotel, and LocoL.
A glass greenhouse with exposed aluminum pipes, the Commissary is perched on the roof of the uber-cool The Line in Koreatown between Hollywood and Downtown L.A. Following Choi’s “not fancy” food philosophy, the Commissary offers a minimalistic, primarily plant-focused menu. Tree limbs sprouting small lights appear to float from the glass ceiling while hanging plants and potted trees mingle among the distressed stools at the bar.
Where To Stay In Los Angeles
For a central, walkable location in one of L.A.’s most glamorous neighborhoods, consider a stay at Mr. C Beverly Hills. Neither hip, ultra-modern, nor stuffy traditional, the hotel is a blend of stylish contemporary and classic European. Guests can relax at the rooftop pool overlooking Beverly Hills and beyond while dining poolside on classic Italian fare prepared by the fourth generation of Ciprianis.View More Hotels In Los Angeles
Once a winter playground for wealthy retirees and Hollywood celebrities, like Frank Sinatra and the Gabor sisters, Palm Springs is now more hipster headquarters than senior center. It’s become the coolest hot spot in the Sonoran Desert.
Just outside of central Palm Springs is the shopper’s haven of El Paseo. This street tends to remind people of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills with its many upscale shops that blend flavors and ambiance of the past with the present. The Palm Springs dining spots of yesteryear — including Las Casuelas, Elmer’s for German pancakes, Melvyn’s for retro food that really is retro like Steak Diane, wilted spinach salad, and cherries jubilee — still thrive alongside their cooler new siblings, like Workshop Kitchen + Bar for dinner, and for a cheesy retro experience, King’s Highway for breakfast in a former Denny’s located in the Ace Hotel.
Take the 10-minute trip on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating tram car, for the two-and-one-half mile long ride along the cliffs of Chino Canyon to Mt. San Jacinto State Park. You’ll be at 8,516 feet elevation when you arrive at Mountain Station where you’ll find over 50 miles of hiking trails, two restaurants, observation decks, and a natural history museum.
The springs are in nearby Desert Hot Springs. I’ve stayed at Two Bunch Palms, which reputedly originated as Al Capone’s “Fortress West.” For its warm spring-fed mineral pools and extraordinary spa treatments, the unpretentious resort attracts well-known people who don’t want attention and, like all the guests, can lunch in their bathrobes straight from the spa. Try the Desert Abhyanga followed by a Scalp Oil Massage to experience total bliss.
Where To Stay In Palm Springs
Some of the old motels built around a central swimming pool, like the Rendezvous and the Skylark, have since been restored and upgraded into hip luxury digs that reinterpret the mid-century modern aesthetic through a contemporary lens. Newly built modernist retro hotels like Arrive are attracting an Instagram-posting, young clientele.
Another newcomer adopting the retro-chic mid-century style, the Kimpton Rowan Hotel is the first newly built downtown hotel in decades and has Palm Springs’ only rooftop pool. Lounging by the pool with a cold drink is heavenly, but there are also 54 miles of hiking trails in the area, most notably Joshua Tree National Park and Painted Desert, named for the variety of rock colors.View More Hotels In Palm Springs
For a desert experience completely different from Palm Springs, visit Anza-Borrego, home to California’s largest state park. It’s spectacular from mid-March through April during the SuperBloom when the desert wildflowers and cactus flowers blanket the area in vibrant color. After dark, the sky glitters with light in Anza-Borrego, one of California’s prime stargazing spots with Borrego Springs named the state’s first (and only) International Dark Sky Community.
Where To Stay Near Anza-Borrego
Stay in one of the casitas with a private outdoor hot tub at La Casa del Zorro, a luxurious desert oasis restored to its original 1937-style adjacent to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Head into the nondescript town of Borrego Springs for margaritas and Mexican fare at Carmelita’s Mexican Grill. On the way, keep an eye out in the open areas for some of the 130 full-sized metal sculptures of prehistoric mammals, historical characters and a 350-foot-long fanciful serpent created by Perris, California-based artist/welder Ricardo Breceda.View More Hotels Near Anza-Borrego
An elegant and informal artist colony, the seaside town of Laguna Beach is a seven-mile stretch of coastline punctuated by scenic coves, curvy canyons, and small streets lined with shops, galleries, and restaurants.
Visitors flock to Laguna in the summer, not just for the beach, but for the annual Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters, a 90-minute narrated performance of tableaux vivants (living pictures), set on a stage in an outdoor amphitheater with actors posing in hyper-realistic, recreated works of classical and contemporary art that will fool your eyes. Also make time for a visit to the Sawdust Festival where over 200 Laguna Beach artists exhibit their works, including painting, jewelry, ceramics, clothing and textiles, wood and metal sculpture, hand-blown and fused glass, photography, and even scrimshaw.
While you’re in Laguna, take the 20-minute coastal drive to San Juan Capistrano, a town created around Mission San Juan Capistrano, and where some 18th-century adobe buildings still stand in the tiny downtown. One of those buildings is now the El Adobe restaurant, a California State Historical Landmark two short blocks south of the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano and the Train Depot where you can catch a train to L.A.
Originally built in 1797 as the home of Miguel Yorba, another section was added in 1812 that contained the Juzgado (court and jails), and in 1948, the property became the El Adobe restaurant. Sit at one of the tables in the bar and watch your waiter mix up the guacamole in front of you as you sip your cocktail of choice.
If you’re still up for a bit of partying, cross the street to the Swallows Inn, a slightly divey country-western bar where brassieres hang from the rafters and the ceiling’s plastered with old photos and random memorabilia. They pour strong drinks at low cash-only prices, a bargain like their Taco Tuesday with $2 tacos served to the tunes spun by DJ Bait and Wednesday karaoke with free popcorn and shuffleboard.
Where To Stay In Laguna Beach
Settle in at Montage Laguna Beach, 30 acres of pure luxury on the coastal bluff above the Pacific. No need to ever leave the property as it has four gourmet restaurants, two pools, and the 20,000-square-foot Spa Montage. But you’ll want to pop into Laguna Village to shop, gallery hop, and catch the sunset outdoors while dining on coastal-American cuisine at one of the beachfront restaurants such as The Cliff or Splashes.View More Hotels In Laguna Beach
The sun will be beating against your skin no matter where you end up on your weekend getaway in Southern California. Enjoy your time exploring the left coast!
Feature image courtesy of VisitPalmSprings.com