While Los Angeles has much to offer visitors - just check out our delicious foodie guide and local beach suggestions - sometimes it's nice to explore beyond the city. Luckily, LA is near to a number of awesome weekend escapes. From island getaways to desert adventures and beyond, here are our top recommendations.
Located 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, you can reach the paradise-like Catalina Island by taking the Catalina Express Ferry. Once on the island, trade LA cars and traffic for peace and golf carts, as well as outdoor adventure. Take a glass bottom boat tour, go on an island safari to spot buffalo, fox, and bald eagles, or plunge underwater in the semi-submersible SS Nautilus with Catalina Adventure Tours. The ultimate experience can be had at the Descanso Beach Club, which offers a seaside restaurant, crystal waters, lounge chairs, private cabanas with optional massages, water sports like stand up paddle boarding and kayaking, a Zip Line Eco Tour that hits speeds of 45 miles per hour, and a 32-foot climbing wall.
For a beach getaway with great restaurants, beer and lots of green spaces, San Diego is only 2-2.5 hours away from Los Angeles. Here, the beaches are beautiful, neighborhoods have distinct personalities with much to explore, and the Mexican food is worth the trip in itself (because the border to Mexico is less than an hour away, another reason to make the journey). Of these two California cities, San Diego has a more laid back, outdoor-enthusiastic vibe. Moreover, it has the state's best weather to enjoy attractions like Mission Beach, the hiking trail-filled Torrey Pines State Reserve, and the 1,200-acre Balboa Park, home to colorful gardens, the San Diego Zoo, nature trails, sports courts, and playgrounds.
If you're the type who loves to go local, Temecula's Old Town - located just an hour and a half from Los Angeles - has a rule that only locally-owned businesses can open up shop. Wander the streets sampling food fare and beauty products from artisans like the Temecula Olive Oil Company, the Temecula Lavender Company, the Temecula Valley Cheese Company, and Old Town Rootbeer. The nearby Temecula Wine Valley will transport you to Tuscany, through both the landscape and the Mediterranean climate. Cougar Vineyard & Winery is especially focused on Italian varietals, growing only estate-grown Italian grapes like primitivo, prosecco, sangiovese, and montepulciano. Book a tour with Grapeline Wine Tours to eliminate any drinking and driving issues while visiting a number of wineries in one day. Temecula Creek Inn makes for an especially great base, home to a 27-hole golf course, delicious farm-to-fork restaurant, a lounge, and outdoor pool and hot tub.
The City of Lights is only a 4-hour drive from Los Angeles, letting you get out of traffic, park the car, and enjoy the many sights and sounds of The Strip on foot. Travel on a budget and take advantage of some of the fun free things to do, like the dancing Bellagio Fountain, the World's Largest Permanent Circus at Circus Circus, and the erupting volcano at The Mirage. Don't miss a gravity-defying Cirque du Soleil performance, an art-infused indoor hike through ARIA Resort & Casino, a curative milk and honey bath at the new BATTHOUSE at Delano, or wander the high-end stores at The Shops at Crystals (and get a free facial at Sisley!)
By car, Phoenix is 5-and-a-half hours, taking you from city streets to the desert. What's great about Phoenix is you have urban amenities like great restaurants - the Arcadia neighborhood is especially hip - and cultural institutions like the Phoenix Art Museum and Arizona Science Center, as well as access to desert hiking and adventures. Within the city itself there are a number of worthwhile hikes, like Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak, both offering aerial Phoenix views.
What are your favorite daytrips from LA?
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Jessica Festa is a full-time travel writer who is always up for an adventure. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia and doing orphanage work in Ghana. You can follow her adventures on her travel websites, Epicure & Culture and Jessie On A Journey. You can also connect with Jessica directly on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, or follow her epicurean adventures on Facebook and Twitter.
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