Looking for the most iconic California weekend getaways?
There are more places in California for weekend escapes than you can hope to get on a list. The Golden State is full of fun things to do, no matter where you choose to go: desert, redwood forests, mountains, or coast.
But if you are looking to visit some of those incredible weekend getaway destinations that immediately come to mind when you think of California, you will find them in this round-up, with suggestions for the best things to do and places to stay.
California’s best-known destinations can (understandably) be crowded in season, so we suggest visiting them in shoulder seasons or in the off season if you want a quieter getaway.
If you are okay with a livelier vibe, then by all means visit in season to see the destinations at their spectacular best!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Weekend Getaways on the California Coast
Wine Country Weekend Trips in California
California Weekend Getaways into the Mountains
California Desert Weekend Getaways
Weekend Getaways on the California Coast
For a relaxed weekend with plenty of natural beauty, great food and drink, and fun places to explore, look no further than Mendocino County in Northern California.
The Village of Mendocino has beautiful Victorian architecture and a breathtaking location on headlands right by the Pacific Ocean. Walk through redwoods and pygmy forests in nearby state parks, and take a redwood outrigger canoe out on Big River.
A little to the north, you will find the beautiful Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. It boasts colorful flower displays for much of the year, along with scenic ocean view trails.
Fort Bragg is known for its Glass Beach, where the ocean has returned treasure for trash. You can also take the Skunk Train, a vintage railroad, into the redwoods, and explore more state parks and coastal trails.
Inland, you will find Anderson Valley, Mendocino County’s wine country. The wineries are small and unpretentious, and many are family-owned. Enjoy relaxed wine tastings and take in the serene beauty of the valley.
Tip: The many state parks in the region just beg to be explored. Pack closed-toed, comfortable walking or hiking shoes and enjoy the beautiful outdoors!
Where to Stay
Noyo Harbor Inn is a historic bed and breakfast inn that looks out onto the marina in Fort Bragg. Splurge on a room with a soaking tub and a view of the boats! The onsite restaurant is exceptional. Book a stay here!
Little River Inn is located a few minutes from Mendocino Village. The property offers rooms for all budgets: some rooms come with ocean views, fireplaces, steam showers, and Jacuzzis, but there are more budget-friendly options as well. Book a stay here!
San Francisco is one of the most exciting weekend getaways in California, with numerous museums and gardens to discover, top-notch eateries (think long brunches!), and culturally-rich neighborhoods to explore.
Nature lovers will want to head to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which features many points of interest, hikes, and beaches.
Walking or biking the Golden Gate Bridge, and visiting the Muir Woods National Monument, are must-dos if it is your first visit to the city.
Take a tour of the infamous Alcatraz prison, or just cruise the beautiful San Francisco Bay.
Garden enthusiasts should visit the Conservatory of Flowers (the building is stunning and is lit up at night!), or the Japanese Tea Garden, both in Golden Gate Park. The San Francisco Botanical Garden has some world-class collections as well.
Stroll the many neighborhoods, from Chinatown to Japantown and Mission. You will find street art and decorations to admire and excellent people-watching. Discover San Francisco’s colorful tiled steps if you enjoy photography.
There are more brunch spots in SF than you can count, but some of our favorites are Nopa (reserve well in advance!), Plow (be prepared to wait!), and Brenda’s French Soul Food (don’t skip the beignets!).
Tip: San Francisco is one of our favorite places to visit in California in December, with the Illuminate Light Art Trail, the Gingerbread House at the Fairmont, and the festivities in Union Square.
Where to Stay
Fairmont San Francisco is located in posh Nob Hill, and is the perfect place for a splurge stay. Rooms are elegantly appointed, with luxurious linens and Le Labo toiletries, and the hotel offers a full-service spa. Book a stay here!
Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco is located in the Financial District, close to Union Square and the Ferry Building. Furnishings are elegant and contemporary. Opt for an upper floor room with a bay or city view! Book a stay here!
The Monterey Peninsula, on California’s Central Coast, is made up of several charming towns set close enough to each other that you can choose to take in highlights from each one, or spend a relaxed weekend in just one.
Monterey offers exceptional whale-watching, and a world-class aquarium. Go kayaking, admire the marine life, or explore the sites of the Monterey State Historic Park.
Nearby Pebble Beach offers topnotch golf courses and the scenic 17-Mile Drive.
In quiet and charming Pacific Grove, take in the spectacular water views from the Asilomar Coastal Trail, or enjoy kayaking and other water activities at scenic Lovers Point Park.
Tour the town’s quaint heritage homes and discover its many colorful murals.
Carmel-by-the-Sea offers a gorgeous crescent-shaped sandy beach, perfect for strolling or sand play.
In the village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, wander the quaint cobblestone streets and browse the many boutiques and art galleries. Tour Carmel’s storybook cottages and enjoy farm-fresh cuisine.
Nearby, Carmel Valley, and River Road in the Santa Lucia Mountains, have several picturesque vineyards where you can enjoy tastings with a view.
Tip: If you are looking for a serene base from which to explore the Monterey Peninsula, we suggest Carmel Valley: it is pastoral and beautiful in every season, with no touristic core.
Where to Stay
Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa is located close to Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It offers beautiful bay views, a full-service spa, a hot tub with stunning views, and a private beach. Rooms are spacious and well-appointed. Book a stay here!
Bernardus Lodge & Spa is a gorgeous property in Carmel Valley, for a relaxed weekend. The property has lovely grounds, pool, and gardens, and the full-service spa offers pampering treatments. Book a stay here!
Big Sur is one of the most popular California weekend getaways for nature lovers. The rugged beauty of the Big Sur coast is known for its spectacular vista points overlooking the Pacific, and for its rugged cliffs.
Your weekend in Big Sur can be as laid back or as active as you like. Luxurious resorts, and glamping and camping spots offer the chance to chill and just soak in the beauty of the region, by day and by night.
Or you can drive the Big Sur Coast end to end, chase waterfalls, do some epic Big Sur hikes, walk among redwoods, and enjoy landscape photography at iconic places like McWay Falls and the Bixby Creek Bridge.
Point Lobos State Reserve offers scenic walking trails, and Garrapata State Park offers a sandy beach and many trails.
Pfeiffer Beach is a magical spot to spend some time on a nice weather day. Although you can’t swim here (the currents are too dangerous), the beach is great for walking and sand play. And Keyhole Arch is simply stunning!
Tip: Big Sur is flush with wildflowers in the spring, and the hills are bright green. It is a beautiful time to visit. But California Highway 1 in the Big Sur region can be closed for many reasons, so check before you head out.
Where to Stay
Ventana Big Sur is an adult-only resort located on a hillside in Big Sur, overlooking the Pacific. Rooms feature views of the ocean, canyon, forest, or meadow. There are two heated pools, plus a Japanese hot bath. There is an onsite restaurant and a terrace bar. Complimentary classes and activities are offered. Book a stay here!
Big Sur Lodge is located within Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, among the redwoods. The lodge is well reviewed, and features spacious comfortable rooms with decks. Onsite dining is available. Book a stay here!
San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo is a Goldilocks-sized city on the Central Coast that has something to offer every type of traveler.
It’s not so large or crammed with sights that it’s overwhelming, and not so small that you will run out of things to do on your weekend here.
SLO has a very charming downtown, perfect for strolling and browsing the many shops and galleries.
Its eateries span numerous cuisines, and you can enjoy wine, beer, spirits, and cider tastings. If you have not tried Santa Maria style barbecue, downtown SLO is just the place for it.
You will find the Spanish mission in downtown SLO a serene place to visit. There are also a number of museums for the art and culture over.
If you want to enjoy your wine with a view, head to Edna Valley, just outside town, where picturesque vineyards abound. If you enjoy hiking, try the Bishop Peak climb.
San Luis Obispo is close to many charming Central Coast beach towns. Morro Bay, Avila Beach, and Pismo Beach are all fun places for water activities. The bluff trail at Montana de Oro State Park is a must-do.
Tip: Planning a family weekend or a girls getaway? Check out La Lomita Ranch in Edna Valley: the Hacienda is a lovely 3-bedroom house on the property, perfect for a special weekend get-together!
Where to Stay
Hotel Cerro is a short walk from Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in downtown SLO. The hotel offers a rooftop pool and a highly-rated onsite restaurant, and has a garden and a terrace. Rooms are well-appointed, with contemporary decor. Book a stay here!
Hotel San Luis Obispo is also located close to the Spanish Mission in SLO and downtown shopping and dining options. Rooms feature modern decor with touches of bright color. The hotel offers bikes for checkout during your stay, and a terrace and hot tub. Book a stay here!
Beautiful and gracious Santa Barbara is the quintessential California coastal city.
Its tiled roofs, warm walls draped with bougainvillea, and tall palms are so attractive that we suspect you will not be content with just one weekend in Santa Barbara.
Old Mission Santa Barbara and the Presidio are must-visit sights for history buffs.
Santa Barbara’s Spanish mission is known as the “Queen of the Missions” for its beauty. El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park contains two of the fort’s original adobe buildings!
The Funk Zone is home to vibrant artworks and an eclectic mix of unique shops, wine tasting rooms, and eateries.
A food and photo tour with a local guide is the perfect way to make the most of your Funk Zone visit. MOXI, a fun museum located in the Funk Zone, is a must-stop for kids and adults alike.
For beach time, head to Butterfly Beach in Montecito: the west-facing beach is a great spot for sunset watching, and the sand is great for walking. Lotusland, also in Montecito, is a complex of lovely themed gardens.
Where to Stay
Harbor House Inn offers well-reviewed studio units one block from West Beach, between Stearn’s Wharf and Santa Barbara Harbor. Each unit has a queen bed. The hotel provides bikes and beach gear for use during your stay. Book a stay here!
Santa Barbara Inn is across the road from East Beach. Rooms are spacious and well-appointed, and some offer a partial or full ocean view. The outdoor seating areas by fire pits are relaxing. There is an outdoor heated swimming pool. It’s a short drive to State Street and the Funk Zone. Book a stay here!
Malibu is known for its many miles of stunning coastline, but it is also a great place for hiking and other outdoor adventures.
The Southern California coastal paradise is also known for its wine tasting and excellent eateries.
There is a beach in Malibu for every type of visitor. If you like landscape photography and exploring sea caves and rocks, head to El Matador Beach.
Surfrider Beach, as its name suggests, is the place to go surfing in Malibu. Zuma Beach is great for sunbathing, swimming, and looking for whales.
At Point Dume, take the trail into the Preserve to the viewing platform for magnificent views over the Malibu Coast and the Santa Monica mountains.
Solstice Canyon and the Grotto Trail lead to waterfalls. You can also hike to Escondido Falls, one of the best waterfalls in California when it is flowing powerfully.
History and art buffs will want to visit historic Adamson House with its beautiful gardens, and the Malibu Lagoon Museum. If you are up for a little bit of a drive, the Getty Villa in nearby Pacific Palisades offers stunning art, architecture, and gardens.
Malibu has several upscale restaurants for that special meal. Book a table at Nobu for sublime Japanese-Peruvian fusion food, but be prepared to pay a pretty penny.
Geoffrey’s is the place to go for seafood with an ocean view. Taverna Tony, in the Malibu Country Mart, offers delicious Greek food.
Where to Stay
The Surfrider Hotel is located across from the famous Surfrider Beach in Malibu. The boutique hotel has just 18 rooms and 2 suites, and offers a guests-only rooftop bar and restaurant. Furnishings are California chic. Book a stay here!
Malibu Beach Inn is located on Billionaire’s Beach. The hotel offers unparalleled ocean views, and you will wake up to the sound of the waves each morning of your stay here. Rooms are spacious and elegantly appointed. Book a stay here!
Home to the famous Hollywood sign and many historic landmarks, Tinseltown makes for a fun weekend getaway for couples, families, or solo travelers.
The neighborhood is one of LA’s biggest draws, with superb dining and endless entertainment.
Paramount Pictures, the oldest operating studio in Hollywood, offers tours, where you can go behind the scenes in a working studio and see famous props.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame runs for 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard (plus three blocks of Vine Street). The TCL Chinese Theatre has a gorgeous exterior and boasts the largest IMAX theater in the world.
Viewing the Hollywood Sign is of course a must, whether you choose a hike, a horseback ride, or a helicopter! The sign is 45 feet tall and 350 feet wide.
If you just want a good photo, one great option is Hollywood & Highland, which also has lots of shops and restaurants.
Universal Studios Hollywood has enough to keep you engaged for an entire day (or more!). The park offers thrilling rides, a studio tour, and great dining options.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Jurassic World — The Ride are fun for kids and adults alike.
Musso & Frank Grill is the place to go if you want to dine at a historic Hollywood restaurant. You can even request the Charlie Chaplin booth here, where Chaplin and his friends sat to keep an eye on their horses while they ate.
Yamashiro boasts a centuries-old pagoda, and the estate is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Tip: Downtown LA and Santa Monica are other weekend getaway options in the LA area if Hollywood doesn’t appeal. The best way to enjoy a weekend in LA is to opt for activities that are close to each other and close to your accommodation, so you don’t spend all your time sitting in traffic.
Where to Stay
The historic Hollywood Roosevelt offers the Tower and the Cabanas, two different styles of accommodations. Rooms are well-appointed and the hotels has indoor and outdoor pools and a hot tub. The location is ideal for sightseeing. Book a stay here!
Loews Hollywood is located by Hollywood & Highland, and is ideally situated for sightseeing in Hollywood. Some rooms feature views of the Hollywood sign. Rooms are spacious and comfortably furnished. The hotel features a pool. Book a stay here!
Located just off the coast of Southern California, Catalina Island is the only one of the Channel Islands that is permanently inhabited.
The Catalina Express offers year-round ferry access to the island, with the ride just one hour each way. You can also arrive by helicopter.
Catalina Island is one of the best romantic getaways in California.
Avalon, in the southeast part of the island, has been a popular destination for more than a century.
The charming city offers numerous hotels, restaurants, and spas, along with your choice of water and land adventure options.
Strolling Front Street is a must-do: don’t miss the Wrigley Fountain and the Serpentine Wall. At the Green Pier, you can find numerous boat tour options, while the Tour Plaza is the place to go if you want to sign up for inland adventures.
Take a golf cart up to the Catalina Botanical Garden and the Wrigley Memorial, which offers stunning water views.
Relax with a drink at the famous Descanso Beach Club.
Tour the Catalina Casino, which isn’t a gambling place but a gorgeous theater and ballroom.
In the west of the island, Two Harbors offers serious adventures, from kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding to snorkeling, diving, and mountain biking.
The Cyclone power boat can zip you from Avalon to Two Harbors in just 40 minutes, so visiting both places is totally doable in a weekend!
Where to Stay
The Avalon Hotel is one of the most popular boutique hotels on Catalina Island. Most rooms have ocean views, and you can sleep to the sound of the waves. Rooms include luxurious bedding, unique art, and lovely hardwood and tile accents. The rooftop deck is spectacular. Book a stay here!
Hotel Atwater is a historic hotel started by William Wrigley Jr. in 1920. The renovated hotel is elegant, with ocean-inspired furnishings that blend the old and the new. The hotel is centrally located, convenient to shopping and dining in Avalon. Book a stay here!
Located in the south of the state, San Diego is known for its many beautiful beaches and the San Diego Zoo.
But it also has some unique museums, vibrant neighborhoods, and food and drink offerings that are a delightful blend of California cuisine and Baja Med.
Outdoor lovers will want to explore Cabrillo National Monument, home to some of the best tide pools in San Diego as well as the historic monument to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, leader of the first European expedition to land in California.
History lovers should visit Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first of 21 missions built along the California coast by Spanish missionaries, and San Diego Old Town Historic State Park, which showcases the early days of San Diego.
Museum buffs can explore the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier turned museum, or pick from the many offerings in Balboa Park. Kids will love the San Diego Model Railroad Museum!
Balboa Park is also home to a number of beautiful gardens, including a rose garden and a Japanese garden. The architecture at Balboa Park is gawkworthy as well.
You can see local artists work at the Spanish Village at Balboa Park, or attend a concert at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
Stroll Little Italy, where you will find numerous great eateries, and enjoy the vibrant Gaslamp Quarter, known for its nightlife.
And for quality beach time, drive over the stunning Coronado Bridge to the sparkling sands of Coronado Beach: allow for time to have drinks at the Hotel Del Coronado afterwards.
Where to Stay
Pendry San Diego is located in the Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown San Diego. The hotel features a rooftop pool and a full-service spa. Rooms are furnished elegantly, with beds rated super comfortable. Book a stay here!
The US Grant is also located in the Gaslamp Quarter, in a historic building. The Luxury Collection hotel has stunning public spaces, with enormous chandeliers and ornate furnishings. Rooms are spacious and elegant. Book a stay here!
Wine Country Weekend Trips in California
Like Paris, Napa Valley is always a good idea. And not just for its wines, which are deservedly famous.
Even if you do not enjoy wine, you will find plenty to keep you engaged on a Napa Valley weekend getaway, from fine food to exciting activities.
If you do want to enjoy wine tastings, you can pick from the dozens and dozens of wineries that offer vineyard tastings: some even offer picnics on their grounds.
But you can also sip at the tasting rooms in walkable downtown Napa: stop by the tourist information center for deals and offers. Also look into the Priority Wine Pass for savings on tastings!
Napa Valley offers such an array of top-notch eateries that you will need to plan several weekend trips to make a dent.
From Michelin star restaurants and other fine dining places to the addictive C Casa at the Oxbow Public Market and Gott’s Roadside in Napa or Saint Helena, you have lots of options. Don’t forget a sweet treat from Bouchon Bakery!
You can choose from a wide range of fun things to do in Napa Valley. The adventurous can go ballooning over the valley, while outdoor enthusiasts can hike in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park or challenge themselves on the Mount Saint Helena trail.
A tour of the most beautiful wineries in Napa Valley offers art, architecture, and gardens to enjoy.
Tip: While any time of year is perfect for a visit to Napa Valley, consider Napa in November for brilliant fall colors in the vineyards and comfort food menus at area restaurants…and it’s cabernet season!
Where to Stay
Archer Hotel Napa is located in downtown Napa, walking distance to wine tasting, shopping, and dining. The luxury boutique hotel offers spacious rooms and suites that are well-appointed. The rooftop spa offers pampering treatments, and there’s a rooftop restaurant and bar as well. Book a stay here!
Splurge weekend? Consider the romantic Auberge du Soleil resort in Rutherford (mid valley), with decadently-furnished rooms and suites, a Michelin star restaurant, an adult-only pool and yoga pavilion, and beautifully-landscaped grounds and gardens. Book a stay here!
Santa Ynez Valley
The towns of the Santa Ynez Valley are all charming, and you can’t go wrong picking any one of them as your base for a laid-back weekend getaway.
They are located very close to each other, so you can drive around or bike to explore more of the valley.
Solvang is known as the “Danish Capital of America.” It has a walkable downtown with lots of unique shops and galleries, eateries, and tasting rooms.
For the visitor with a sweet tooth, there are five authentic Danish bakeries in town from which to get pastries!
Los Alamos has a western ambience, with a saloon-style bar is a restored hotel, and lots of western facades. The eateries here are famous: Bob’s Well Bread is probably one of the best artisanal bakeries in Southern California.
Santa Ynez and Los Olivos are known for their wine tasting rooms. Ballard has a wonderful historic inn, and some nice historic architecture. Buellton is known for Ostrichland and craft breweries. There are little museums in many of the towns.
With hiking, biking, horse riding, and golf, there is plenty to enjoy outdoors in the Santa Ynez Valley. Lake Cachuma, set amidst the mountains, offers boating, as well as hiking on the shore.
Where to Stay
Ballard Inn in Ballard offers fifteen gorgeous individually-styled rooms. All accommodations are furnished in a laid-back sophisticated style, and some rooms feature wood-burning fireplaces. The inn offers free wifi and parking, cooked-to-order breakfast, wine and cheese receptions in the evening, and cookies at turndown time. Perfect for a luxurious weekend. Book a stay here!
Hotel Corque in Solvang is a beautiful boutique hotel located near the Old Mission Santa Ines. The hotel offers an outdoor pool and hot tub, and rooms are spacious and well-appointed. Some rooms offer views of Solvang Village or the Santa Ynez Mountains. Book a stay here!
If you are looking for a laid-back wine country weekend getaway with beautiful vineyards and a low-key tasting experience, head to Paso Robles in Central California.
With more than 200 wineries in the region producing several dozen varieties, you will be spoiled for choice.
In town, admire the historic architecture and browse the many unique boutiques and antique shops.
Enjoy California farm-to-table cuisine (our favorite restaurant is Thomas Hill Organics!), visit area farms and orchards, try olive oil tastings, or soak in relaxing hot springs.
Outdoor lovers can enjoy hiking, biking, and horseback riding. California Highway 46 makes for a scenic drive in every season, but especially so in the spring, with hills clothed in fresh bright green, wildflowers along roadsides and trails, and vines beginning to bud.
Do a day trip to Lake Nacimiento for water activities, or to Hearst Castle on the coast to tour the opulent estate of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.
In nearby San Miguel, the Spanish mission offers a chance to peek into California’s past.
Where to Stay
Allegretto Vineyard Resort is set in the midst of vineyards, just outside town. The gorgeous Mediterranean-inspired resort features beautifully furnished accommodations, and the grounds are great for strolling. There is an outside pool and hot tub and an onsite spa. Book a stay here!
La Bellasera Hotel & Suites is a boutique hotel with spacious rooms and suites. The hotel features Mediterranean architecture, a swimming pool, whirlpool, and fireside cabana. The location is a short drive from downtown Pas Robles, and just off CA Highway 46 for vineyard touring. Book a stay here!
Adjacent to Napa Valley is Sonoma Valley, another Northern California wine country getaway that offers a charming escape, whether you drink wine or not.
The countryside is pretty, the towns picturesque, and the gastronomic offerings superb.
Healdsburg, in the north of the valley, is our favorite Sonoma Valley destination.
Around Healdsburg Plaza, you will find several tempting bakeries, wine tasting rooms, and restaurants featuring farm-to-table menus.
At Spoonbar, you will find creative cocktails inspired by local produce. SingleThread offers a tasting menu inspired by Japan and local Sonoma farm products.
In the south, the Village of Sonoma is just as picturesque, with a historic square featuring rose gardens and topiary.
Around the square, you will find bakeries, cafes, restaurants, and tasting rooms.
Also around the square, you can visit some of the sites of the Sonoma State Historic Park, including Sonoma’s Spanish mission, the last one built by the Franciscan friars.
In Windsor, you can go hot air ballooning.
The Russian River Valley offers redwood walks, and you can float the peaceful Russian River, or go canoeing.
Go hiking, biking, or horseback riding, and plan a tour of area wineries, some of which feature great architecture, grounds, and gardens.
In the spring, the lavender fields of Sonoma County are a must-visit!
Where to Stay
Ledson Hotel, on Sonoma Plaza, has just six rooms, each one a unique blend of elegant antique furnishings and modern luxuries. Baths have whirlpool tubs and separate showers. Rooms look out onto the plaza, or onto charming back streets. Book a stay here!
Hotel Les Mars in Healdsburg is a Relaix & Chateaux property. Rooms are spacious and luxuriously appointed (guests leave feeling like they were in Paris!!!), and the building is beautiful. The onsite restaurant is excellent. Book a stay here!
California Weekend Getaways in the Mountains
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is magnificent year-round, and the quintessential California weekend getaway for nature lovers.
The legendary landscapes leave you awe-struck, and there are many exhilarating activities to enjoy in the park, no matter when you choose to visit.
Many of Yosemite’s iconic sights are concentrated in Yosemite Valley.
Here you will find Yosemite Falls, which tumbles 2,425 feet down a granite cliff, El Capitan, the towering monolith, and Tunnel View, one of the park’s most iconic viewpoints.
Yosemite Village has lodging and dining, and a couple of shops.
Mariposa Grove, in the south of the park, features giant sequoia trees.
Tioga Road, which is open in the summer and fall, offers a number of spectacular sights, from Olmsted Point, with its panoramic views, to Tenaya Lake, a serene alpine lake, and Tuolumne Meadows, perfect for early summer hikes among wildflowers.
From scenic drives to epic hikes and photo walks to wildlife viewing, nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts have plenty to do at Yosemite National Park, warranting more than one weekend trip.
But you can also enjoy just being in the park, savoring the beauty of your surroundings, without the need to see sights all weekend long.
Tip: If it’s your first visit to Yosemite, you will want to visit in the late spring or early summer to catch the waterfalls at their best.
But this is also the time the park is at its most crowded, so if you are looking for a quieter experience, visit in the off season, or stick to less visited portions of the park.
And reserve accommodations well in advance!
Where to Stay
This beautiful VRBO home is a romantic escape for two located inside the park gates, about 30 minutes from the Valley floor. Its high altitude keeps it pleasant in the summer, and the home is beautifully furnished, with a king bed, a full kitchen, and a spacious deck. Book a stay here!
This 2-bed, 2-bath VRBO home is located about 30 minutes from the top attractions in Yosemite National Park. The home features two king beds, a full kitchen, and great views of the forest. Perfect for a family or two couples. Book a stay here!
The Evergreen Lodge offers cabins about 20 miles from Yosemite Valley. The restaurant at the lodge is highly rated, and they offer games room, a sun deck, kids’ play areas, and nightly activities. Book a stay here!
Rush Creek Lodge is located on Highway 120, just 0.5 mile from the west entrance to Yosemite National Park. The resort offers hillside villas or rooms or suites in the main lodge. The lodge features a pool, hot tubs, and a spa, as well as an onsite restaurant and tavern. Book a stay here!
The ultimate mountain lake getaway in California, Lake Tahoe is a four-season destination suitable for all types of travelers: couples looking for a romantic getaway, adventure seekers, families looking for a fun vacation, and persons just wanting a relaxed time in nature.
Lake Tahoe is enormous, with several communities nestled along its shore, making it easy to pick just the ambience you want for your getaway.
South Lake Tahoe, for example, offers nightlife and a more urban setting, while Tahoe City is a charming little mountain town, much quieter.
If you visit from late spring until fall, you can enjoy a variety of hiking options all around the lake, with some trails leading up into the mountains for an aerial view. Fall in lake Tahoe offers great leaf peeping.
You can also take the gondola up to the top for panoramas.
Cruising the lake is another fun activity, or you can go kayaking, canoeing, or stand-up paddleboarding.
In winter, there are several ski resorts around the lake from which to pick if you want to go downhill skiing or snowboarding.
Cross-country skiing, snowshoe hikes, and snow play are other fun options in the winter.
Winter is also a great time to just enjoy the beauty of the landscape without the need to engage in any winter sports!
Where to Stay
This luxury VRBO cabin is located just south of Tahoe City. The cabin offers a steam shower and a hot tub, with forest views that are especially nice in the fall. The two-bedroom cabin is great for a couple or a small family. Book a stay here!
This gorgeous South Lake Tahoe cabin offers 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, with peaceful meadow or forest views from every window. The property is about a 10-minute drive to the beach and has a full kitchen and a deck in the back with a Weber grill. Book a stay here!
The Marriott Grand Residence Club in South Lake Tahoe offers studios to 2-bedroom units. The property is located in Heavenly Village, close to shopping and dining, the ski lifts, and beaches. Book a stay here!
Centrally located in the Eastern Sierra of California, the resort town of Mammoth Lakes makes for a marvelous weekend getaway any time of the year.
Surrounding by towering peaks, the scenic town is an incredible outdoor playground in every season.
If you visit when it is open (generally in the summer and early fall), exploring Devils Postpile National Monument is a must!
Not only are the basalt columns an awesome sight, there is also the hike to beautiful Rainbow Falls, named for the rainbows that appear in the spray on sunny days.
The Mammoth Lakes Basin includes several picturesque lakes. You can go boating on some of them, and hike to others. Just south of town, Convict Lake is our favorite lake in the Eastern Sierra.
You can go boating on Convict Lake or hike the path around the water. If you can wake up early, Convict Lake is the perfect spot for sunrise photos.
Mammoth Lakes is famous as a skiing destination in the winter. Mammoth Mountain features the highest ski lift in the state.
Even if you do not ski, it is worth riding up to the top for the marvelous views of the snow-covered landscape.
Fall is another beautiful time to visit, with lovely leaf colors on aspens, willows, and cottonwoods.
Where to Stay
This beautiful corner condo is perfect for a couple or a small family. The unit is beautifully furnished and has a full kitchen. It is only a few minutes walk to The Village, Gondola, and restaurants and bars. It is a bottom level unit, with no stairs. Book a stay here!
The Westin Monache Resort includes kitchenettes in studios and suites. The property boasts a heated outdoor pool and two hot tubs. Ski passes and snowboard rentals are available onsite. The hotel is located walking distance from shops and restaurants and the onsite restaurant is highly rated as well. Book a stay here!
Bishop + Lone Pine
While Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes get more press, some of the most iconic sights in the Eastern Sierra are located close to Bishop and Lone Pine, two communities in the Owens Valley to the south.
Either makes for a great base for a weekend of adventure.
The Alabama Hills are located at Lone Pine. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management as a National Scenic Area, the Alabama Hills feature rounded hills and rock formations at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
There are many natural arches to explore and photograph, and you can hike, do scenic drives, and camp here.
The Whitney Portal Road is one of the most scenic drives in the state. The road leads up into the higher elevations of Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. Of course, you can hike to the summit as well!
In Bishop, go bouldering at the Buttermilks, or explore the scenic beauty of the Bishop Creek Canyon, home to numerous lakes and spectacular scenery. You can fish, boat, and hike here.
Bishop and its surrounds are particularly scenic in the fall.
Where to Stay
Cielo Hotel in Bishop offers spacious, well-appointed rooms. The property offers a garden and a terrace, and is located walking distance from shops and dining in downtown Bishop. Book a stay here!
This lovely VRBO vacation rental in Lone Pine offers views of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is located about a 10-minute drive from downtown Lone Pine. The 2-bedroom home features a beautiful garden and a full kitchen. Book a stay here!
Tip: If you want to try an RV adventure, Bishop and the Alabama Hills offer very scenic sites. If you do not own an RV, check out Outdoorsy: they offer a variety of vehicles from which to pick a rental for your trip.
Redding, in northeastern California, is the gateway to many beautiful natural areas in the Shasta Cascades, including Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mount Shasta, and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.
If you love the outdoors, Redding should definitely be on your list of California weekend getaways!
At about an hour from Redding, Lassen Volcanic National Park makes for an exciting day trip.
Tour hydrothermal features along trails like Bumpass Hell and Sulphur Works, hike to the top of Lassen Peak, or go boating on Manzanita Lake.
The park is easiest to visit in the summer, when roads and trails are open.
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area is just a 15-minute drive from Redding.
Whiskeytown Lake is famous for its crystal-clear water, and you can swim, wade, or scuba dive. There are several lovely waterfalls to view. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy!
Go hiking around Mount Shasta to enjoy views of the stunning peak and the pretty surrounding countryside.
The McCloud River hike, which features three beautiful waterfalls, is a must-do.
Tour the gorgeous Lake Shasta Caverns: you will enjoy cruising the lake to get to the caves as well!
Where to Stay
The Sheraton Redding Hotel at the Sundial Bridge offers spacious rooms, comfortably furnished. The hotel features a swimming pool and hot tub, as well as an onsite restaurant and bar. Book a stay here!
This beautiful VRBO home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms sleeps up to 8 guests. The ranch home sits on five acres of land and offers a pool with a slide in the backyard as well as a deck and a patio. Book a stay here!
California Desert Weekend Getaways
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park, in the California desert, offers a relaxing weekend getaway in the cooler months of the year, when pleasant daytime temperatures allow for exploring the park in less than scorching heat.
Even in peak season, it’s easy to find serene spots, because the park is so vast.
Death Valley National Park’s major sights are laid out, for the most part, along California Highway 190, which runs through the park in an east-west direction.
The park includes not only some amazing natural sights, but also some historic mines, charcoal kilns, and even a twenty-mule double wagon.
Zabriskie Point is a must-visit for the otherworldly views of badlands and ridges from the viewing gallery. Dante’s View offers stunning panoramas over the valley.
At Badwater Basin, you can pose by the sign for the lowest spot in North America, and walk on a vast salt flat. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are perfect for playing in the golden sand.
Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley is a wonderful moderate hike.
Artist’s Drive features beautiful colored mineral deposits.
Don’t forget to experience the park at night: as a Gold Tier Dark Sky park, Death Valley boasts some of the darkest skies in the nation and offers spectacular views of the Milky Way on clear, moonless nights.
Tip: Death Valley National Park involves a lot of driving if you want to take in all the sights. Staying inside the park will help maximize sightseeing time, especially if you visit in the winter, when daylight hours are short.
Where to Stay
For an upscale desert getaway with a sunset-viewing terrace and a pool, opt for The Inn at Death Valley. The hotel is centrally located inside the park, and has an onsite restaurant and bar. You can pick up rooms at the inn or standalone casitas. Book a stay here!
The Ranch at Death Valley is also centrally located in Furnace Creek inside Death Valley National Park. The hotel offers spacious comfortable rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, and an onsite restaurant, terrace, and bar. Book a stay here!
Planning an LA to Vegas drive? Check out our guide to four fun routes you can take, including one through Death Valley National Park!
Palm Springs makes for the perfect urban base from which to explore the Southern California desert, and a weekend in Palm Springs is a great winter break.
You can go hiking in nearby Indian Canyons or Tahquitz Canyon, or hike the many trails at the Coachella Valley Preserve. Hiking is one of the best things to do in Palm Springs if you enjoy exploring the outdoors.
A hummer tour from Palm Springs to the San Andreas Fault is also popular.
In town, tour Palm Springs’ famous mid-century modern architecture, browse the contemporary works in the Palm Springs Art Museum, visit the Moorten Botanical Garden, or enjoy a pampering spa treatment at one of the many spas in town.
Stroll Palm Canyon Boulevard to browse the many stores and art galleries.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway transports you from the desert floor to the heights of Mount San Jacinto is just a few minutes, with awe-inspiring views en route.
At the top, you can walk a few trails for more views, or relax over a meal with a view: you can pick either a fine dining restaurant or a casual cafe experience.
Near Palm Springs are many other desert communities to explore, such as Palm Desert, Indio, La Quinta, and Desert Hot Springs. If you enjoy scenic drives, the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway makes for a fun part or full day trip.
Where to Stay
Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs Hotel has an unbeatable location in the heart of downtown Palm Springs. Rooms are beautifully designed, with large windows, and the restaurants and public spaces are wonderful. The rooftop pool is great for relaxing. Book a stay here!
Planning a family or a girls weekend in Palm Springs? Check out this lovely VRBO villa with four bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. Outside, you will find a sparkling lagoon-shaped saltwater pool and spa, surrounded by large decks and lush landscaping. Book a stay here!
Planning a weekend getaway to Palm Springs? Check out our detailed 3-day long weekend in Palm Springs itinerary!
Joshua Tree National Park
California has not one but two stunning desert national parks. Joshua Tree National Park is not too far from LA, San Diego, or Palm Springs, making it a very convenient weekend getaway from any of these cities.
The park is famous for its enormous boulders and namesake Joshua trees.
Hiking, and rock scrambling (or climbing), are two very popular activities in Joshua Tree National Park.
One of the best hikes in Joshua Tree is the Hidden Valley Nature Trail. It is short at about one mile, and relatively easy. For a bit of a challenge, head to the top of Ryan Mountain for panoramas over the park.
History buffs may want to hike to Barker Dam, a reservoir built by early cattlemen in the area, or to Lost Horse Mine, one of the richest gold producing mines back in the days of the Gold Rush.
Join a guided tour of Keys Ranch, a complex of buildings built by Bill Keys, a prominent area rancher, in the twentieth century.
To the north of the park you will find the fun towns of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms. There are quirky museums to visit, and you will find dining and shopping here as well.
Where to Stay
This beautiful 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom VRBO home is perfect for a family weekend or a group getaway. The home sits on a bluff overlooking the desert, with unobstructed views from the outdoor hot tub and cowboy spa. Interiors are spacious and comfortably furnished. Book a stay here!
Sacred Sands is an upscale property located close to the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. Accommodations come with private patios with views of the mountains and outdoor soaking tubs. Book a stay here!
Did you find this article informative? Pin it for later reference!