Within a few hours’ drive, the bright lights of LA will feel like a distant memory. Drive east to Joshua Tree National Park, where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet to form a rugged, otherworldly place. Then soak up a different kind of glamour in Palm Springs, with its mid-century architecture, incredible spas and California’s best golf courses. Or drive up the coast to Santa Barbara, a chic town that’s home to perfect beaches and more than a few A-listers.
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In terms of Los Angeles getaways, Santa Barbara should be up near the top of your list. Around two hours’ drive from the city, this stylish town is a great spot to sample California’s excellent wines while keeping an eye out for a celebrity or two.
Thirty-one local wineries have tasting rooms in downtown Santa Barbara, forming the Urban Wine Trail: saunter between them at your leisure, trying the best wines the region has to offer. Then head down to Stearns Wharf for some fresh seafood and a beautiful view of the sunset over the Pacific, or grab a spot on a restaurant terrace in the State Street shopping district to watch the people go by.
Joshua Tree National Park
This 3,200-square-kilometre national park is around a two-hour drive from the city, and provides a stark contrast to the endless hustle and bustle of downtown LA. The park is situated at the meeting of the Mojave and Colorado deserts, each of which is home to some unique flora and fauna – not least the famous Joshua tree itself.
Black Rock Canyon is home to the famous Joshua Tree Forest along with some excellent hiking trails, while Keys View provides panoramic views of the Coachella Valley. Visitors can also book on a ranger-led tour of the historical Keys Ranch to find out what life was like for pioneers who settled in the desert.
The Ojai Valley has gathered a reputation as California’s spiritual retreat, becoming a magnet for artists and truth seekers – as well as yoga enthusiasts and those in search of sumptuous spa treatments. The Ojai Valley Inn is a favoured spot for pampering thanks to its full-service spa, and has welcomed guests such as Julia Roberts and Gwyneth Paltrow. And make sure to check out Ojai’s quirky independent shops and restaurants – like Bart’s Books, a huge outdoor bookstore where visitors only pay what they think the books are worth.
Around 2 hours’ drive from LA is Palm Springs: favoured haunt of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack, hotbed of mid-twentieth-century modernist architecture and renowned recreation destination, home to all sorts of opportunities for golf, biking, horseback riding and hikes into the desert… or just a relaxing weekend by the pool. Hop on the Aerial Tramway to get your bearings and enjoy the view from the 2,500 metres above sea level in the San Jacinto Mountains.
No visit to California would be complete without a trip to see Mickey Mouse and chums. And Disneyland is actually several parks in one these days: in addition to the orginal Disneyland Park, you can visit the state-themed Disney California Adventure Park as well as the shopping and entertainment district Downtown Disney. The parks are around a 45-minute drive from central Los Angeles, and there are good public transport links, too.
A new addition to Disneyland in 2019 was Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a themed area based on a famous galaxy far, far away. The huge new land includes the ride Smugglers Run, featuring a hair-raising trip on the Millennium Falcon, as well as the opportunity to build your own droid and lightsaber, and to sample food based on the big-screen flicks. Blue milk, anyone?
There is so much to do in San Diego that it’s probably better suited to a weekend trip from Los Angeles rather than a day trip if you can spare the time. The city is a top spot for surfing, but it also has plenty of other attractions, including the world-famous San Diego Zoo, the beautiful Balboa Park, SeaWorld and more than 60 beaches. But above all, its laid-back feel makes it a great place to simply unwind for a day or two.
Looking for even more of an escape? Keep driving and cross the border. The Baja peninsula stretches down from southern California into Mexico, and is packed with amazing beaches and great opportunities for kayaking, diving and all sorts of other water-based activities. But just driving along the peninsula, from Tijuana in the north to Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip, is a spectacle in itself, with Highway 1 providing stunning ocean views as it twists its way south.
Make sure to stop at Mulegé on the way to check out the cave paintings of Sierra de San Francisco – depictions of animals, tools and humans which date back well over a thousand years and have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.