10 Easy Weekend Getaways in California

Get outside the city—be it San Francisco, L.A., or San Diego—with one of these locals-approved weekend escapes.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is one of the most scenic Big Sur stops on California's Highway 1.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is one of the most scenic Big Sur stops on California’s Highway 1.

Photo by Laura Dannen Redman

The state of California is, shall we say, massive: 800 miles north to south, 400 miles wide, from craggy coast to redwood forest. It alone could have inspired the lyrics to “America the Beautiful,” while the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) is among the most iconic drives in the country. Locals are spoiled for easy weekend getaways, so this editor-approved list is a mix of classic and quirky, depending on your mood.

Read on for 10 of the best weekend getaways in California.

From the San Francisco Bay Area

1. Big Sur

  • Distance: three hours south of San Francisco
  • Best for: dramatic coastlines, waterfalls plunging into the ocean, redwood forests

Big Sur—"cultural icon, marvel of nature, and ancestral home of the Esselen Tribe"—is one of the most magnificent stretches of California coastline, says AFAR senior editor Aislyn Greene, begging multiple visits, a weekend (or week) at a time.

What to do in Big Sur

“Nature is one of the region’s biggest draws, but there’s plenty of exploration to do beyond the trees,” says AFAR senior editor Aislyn Greene. Places like Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, Hearst Castle, a California condor tour with Ventana Wildlife Society, and a tour of the Point Sur lighthouse, as well as shopping for local art at Hawthorne Gallery or Coast Big Sur are all excellent things to do while in Big Sur.

Where to stay in Big Sur

Accommodation in Big Sur ranges from basic campsites, like those at Pfeiffer State Park, to five-star luxury. Some of our favorite Big Sur hotels include the spectacular, all-inclusive Ventana Big Sur resort, which gives guests the option to choose between staying in one of its luxurious suites or getting in touch with nature in its safari-style tents, as well as the creative rooms at Post Ranch Inn—weekend retreat in a tree house, anyone?

Read More: Embrace the Slow Life—and Maybe a Few Trees—in Big Sur


Mendocino Grove is a peaceful glamping retreat on the Northern California coats.

Simone Anne

2. Mendocino coast

  • Distance: three hours north of San Francisco
  • Best for: a remote drive along Highway 1

The Mendocino coast is no secret weekend getaway spot. While most visitors will focus on exploring the coastal town of Mendocino and its surrounds, there’s much to be discovered along the 90+ miles of Mendocino’s coastline. That said, if it’s your first time in the area, base yourself in the small town of Mendocino—beaten path or not, its proximity to trails, beaches, restaurants, and small locally run shops make it a must on any California getaway list. Or explore a new stretch of the coast, like the small town of Elk and nearby Salt Point State Park to the south of Mendocino.

What to do on the Mendocino coast

You could easily fill your weekend exploring tide pools on the beach and hiking trails with dramatic ocean views, but part of the Mendocino coast’s charms are in the small towns near the highway. Save plenty of time for pit stops from Guala to Fort Bragg; shop the variety store Matson Mercantile in Elk; enjoy vegetarian fare and wine at the hip and colorful Fog Eater Cafe in Mendocino; or sample fresh local seafood at Wild Fish.

Where to stay on the Mendocino coast

In the heart of downtown Mendocino is JD House, a six-room bed-and-breakfast with ocean views and decor that lands somewhere between ship captain’s home and modern hygge. Or immerse yourself in nature at Mendocino Grove, where you can stay in safari tents complete with beds, rugs, and firepits. The new-for-summer 2023 sauna and espresso bar make it extra dreamy.

Read More: Local Getaways: Escape to the Mendocino Coast

Vineyard in Healdsburg Valley

In the northern end of Sonoma wine country, the small historic town of Healdsburg is the center of many exciting new openings.

Courtesy of Bread & Butter PR Agency

3. Healdsburg and Sonoma wine country

  • Distance: 90 minutes north of San Francisco
  • Best for: a low-key wine and food getaway

It’s hard to see all of Sonoma wine county in a single weekend—it’s larger and more spread out than neighboring Napa Valley. Instead, make the northern town of Healdsburg, which is experiencing something of a revival, your home base for the weekend. In the past few years, a long list of exciting new hotels, restaurants, and tasting rooms have joined the area—giving the historic town a burst of new energy.

What to do in Healdsburg

Yes, of course, you could spend an entire day tasting wine (it is Sonoma County, after all), but you’ll also want to explore the area’s natural beauty. To do so, join a cycling tour at Russian River Adventures to see the area on two wheels with a knowledgeable guide, or combine your ride with a kayak adventure on Getaway Adventures’ pedal-paddle tour.

Healdsburg’s food scene is also a big reason to visit: It’s home to three-Michelin-starred restaurant SingleThread (and awardee of a Michelin Green Star), and the team’s newly opened vegan café, bar, and restaurant, Little Saint. For a more casual lunch or dinner, grab a pizza on the rooftop at the Matheson, or settle down for cocktails and fried chicken at Lo+Behold.

Where to stay in Healdsburg

For a truly luxurious retreat, book one of the tree houses at the Montage Healdsburg, a 258-acre property that officially opened its doors in 2020, making it the first major resort property in the Healdsburg area. Or head over to the Madrona, a historic property originally built in 1881 as a private residence that is now a beautiful, maximalist boutique hotel designed by Jay Jeffers.

Read More: Your Perfect Weekend Getaway in Sonoma Wine Country

What You Need to Know Before Winetasting in Napa Valley

Napa Valley offers world class wine — but that’s not the only activity for weekend getaways.

Photo by Brandon Bourdages/Shutterstock.com

4. Napa Valley

  • Distance: one hour to 90 minutes northeast of San Francisco
  • Best for: wine, of course, but also so much more

Napa Valley may feel like an obvious choice for a Bay Area getaway (it is undeniably easy), but that doesn’t mean your itinerary has to be predictable. With an exciting array of new restaurant and hotel openings in the past two years, as well as lesser-known tours, activities, and tastings (and we don’t just mean wine), it’s easy to go beyond the most well-known attractions. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you could even turn your Napa getaway into a mini road trip from Napa Valley to Mendocino along the scenic Highway 128.

What to do in Napa Valley

Napa is about more than wine (though winetasting is certainly a top thing to do here). To see a different side, spend the day cycling its back roads with Napa Valley Bike Tours. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Empress M, the vision of entrepreneur Margaret Wong that features gourmet Chinese dishes like shrimp dumplings, Sichuan calamari, and roast duck; Lucy Restaurant at Bardessono, a tranquil restaurant with seasonally inspired dishes like asparagus en cocotte; or North Block, whose menu by Momofuku alum chef Nick Tamburo revolves around a wood-fired oven.

Where to stay in Napa Valley

The George in downtown Napa is a nine-room inn in an historic, recently restored 19th-century home where guests are treated to plush towels, comfortable beds, and fresh English muffins from nearby Model Bakery.

Read more: Napa’s in Bloom: How to Plan the Perfect Spring Weekend


Who couldn’t relax with those Carmel Valley views?

Courtesy of Carmel Valley Ranch

5. Carmel Valley

  • Distance: two hours, 30 minutes from San Francisco
  • Best for: a wine country escape to the south

Napa Valley and Sonoma County aren’t the only places to go for a weekend of winetasting and sunshine (though you’ll rarely see us turn down a trip there). Carmel Valley (not to be confused with nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea) to San Francisco’s south is an equally fantastic, but often overlooked, destination for wine and food adventures.

What to do in Carmel Valley

Plan your weekend around winetasting at the area’s vineyards, like western-style Cowgirl Winery or Joyce, which specializes in wine from sustainability-minded vineyards. Then, decompress with an afternoon of hot and cool outdoor pools and a massage at Refuge Spa or a stroll through the shops at Carmel Valley Village.

Where to stay in Carmel Valley

Relax with a room at family-friendly Carmel Valley Ranch. Or for a more Tuscan-esque experience, stay at Bernardus Lodge & Spa, a wine country escape with rooms that overlook its 28-acre vineyard.

Read More: Why Carmel Valley Is the Wine Country Escape You Need

Pacific Ocean Coastline and Field of California Poppies. Tomales Point Trail, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California, USA.

A weekend in Tomales Bay means coastal hikes and lots of oysters.


6. Tomales Bay

  • Distance: one hour, 30 minutes north of San Francisco
  • Best for: oysters, cheese, and kayaking in the sea

If a weekend of eating fresh seafood, sampling locally made cheese, and kayaking in a tranquil bay sounds like your kind of getaway, then head to Tomales Bay. This area, just north of the Point Reyes National Seashore, refers to the 15-mile stretch of watery inlet separating Point Reyes Peninsula from mainland Marin County. It also happens to be home to many dairy and oyster farms, as well as scenic parks and natural vistas.

What to do in Tomales Bay

Start off your weekend in Tomales Bay with an outdoor activity or two, like watching elk in the Tule Elk Preserve, hiking to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, or kayaking in Tomales Bay with Blue Waters Kayaking.

After you’ve worked up an appetite, eat your way through the area’s specialties, oysters and cheese, with a stop at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company just north of Point Reyes Station, oysters at Hog Island or Tony’s Seafood in Marshall, and a locavore dinner at Saltwater Oyster Depot in Inverness. Locals know: For oysters to go, no-frills Tomales Bay Oyster Co. is the best in the bay.

Where to stay in Tomales Bay

Point Reyes Station is where all the action is, but we prefer to cozy up in a bay-side Airbnb, like Enchanting Garden Getaway in the tranquil town of Inverness on the west side of Tomales Bay.

From Los Angeles

Several miles of boardwalk line Moonstone Beach.

Several miles of boardwalk line Moonstone Beach in Cambria.

Photo by randy andy / Shutterstock

7. Cambria

  • Distance: Four hours’ drive from San Francisco or Los Angeles
  • Best for: strolling miles of boardwalk, gawking at Hearst Castle

Known locally as “where the pines meet the sea,” central Cambria has both stretches of Monterey pine forest and untamed shoreline worth exploring. With only 5,000 locals, it’s also a guaranteed chill time.
What to do in Cambria

Part of Cambria’s charm is how laid-back it is. Some of the best ways to spend a day include a meander along Moonstone Beach inspecting driftwood structures and shucking at the no-reservation, cash-only Sea Chest Oyster Bar. Or maybe a hike along the bluffs spotting birds, whales, and otters at Fiscalini Ranch. Browse the singular boutiques along Main Street before a bite to eat and a glass of something local.

That said, there’s plenty to keep you busy, too. If it’s your first time, Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst’s sprawling, 165-room mansion packed full of European art, is a must (it was closed at time of writing but planning on a phased reopening)—as is a pit stop to see the elephant seals sunning themselves at Piedras Blancas.

Where to stay in Cambria

Set across nine acres at the far north end of Moonstone Beach, Oceanpoint Ranch is perfectly positioned for strolls along the boardwalk, explorations of rocky tidepools, and bracing hikes on deserted stretches of sand. Meanwhile, high in the woods above the main town, Cambria Pines Lodge is the kind of archetypal forest retreat the name suggests. The Fireside Lounge is a fine place for a glass of local pinot.

Read More: Why Cambria Is Central California’s Most Relaxing Weekend Break


Hop a ferry and spend the weekend in Catalina Island.

8. Catalina Island

  • Distance: one-hour ferry ride from L.A. on the Catalina Express
  • Best for: an accessible, unpretentious, car-free getaway

Warm and sunny, with a small town built into the hills around a palm tree–lined seafront that overlooks a sleepy harbor, Catalina Island evokes any number of spots on the Italian—or French—Riviera.

The 22-mile-long island has provided shelter for smugglers, served as a training ground for the Wrigley-owned Chicago Cubs, and long been a respite from mainland life. To wit: Most people get around on foot or by golf cart.

What to do on Catalina Island

An ideal weekend on Catalina Island would probably be split 50/50 between land and sea. You won’t want to miss snorkeling or scuba diving among the almost aggressively bright orange garibaldi fish by the casino—the water here is clear and dense with scaly creatures. On dry land, there’s the usual gamut of vacation activities: hiking, boutique shopping, bombing around via golf cart. Descanso Beach Club presents a rare opportunity in California: the chance to drink alcohol with your feet in the sand.

Where to stay on Catalina Island

We love Hotel Atwater, a century-old, centrally located slice of Avalon history named after Helen Atwater Wrigley, wife of Philip Knight Wrigley (William’s son). Its centennial renovation in 2020 gave it a light and modern feel with soothing shades of teal and coral and fresh carnations. Guests linger in reception playing board games and watching island life come and go through the large windows.

Read More: Catalina Island, the Mediterranean Escape Every Southern Californian Needs

The Santa Barbara Mission is a cultural and historic landmark.

The Santa Barbara Mission is a cultural and historic landmark.

Photo by Jenny Miller

9. Santa Barbara

  • Distance: less than two hours drive from L.A. (if the traffic gods are smiling)
  • Best for: culture, shopping, surfing...you name it

Sunny, palm tree–bedecked Santa Barbara—with its sweeping coastline framed by dramatic Santa Ynez mountains, winetasting rooms, sandy beaches, and relaxed city vibe—definitely deserves the nickname “the American Riviera.”

What to do in Santa Barbara

There are many ways you could spend your weekend in Santa Barbara. You could surf, swim, or rent a paddleboard. You could stroll round the harbor, taking in the Maritime Museum, cycle along the seafront, or kayak round the Channel Islands with Santa Barbara Adventure Company. You could eat clam chowder on the pier. Go whale-watching. Learn to sail. Or browse the city’s seemingly endless supply of boutiques. Explore the Old Mission. Or Lotusland botanic gardens.

Where to stay in Santa Barbara

“Check into the new 45-room Drift hotel—where Santa Barbara’s modern coastal decor is on full display,” says AFAR contributing editor Kristin Braswell. “On the lobby floor, Dusk cocktail bar is a favorite for residents looking to enjoy a spicy mezcal cocktail and small plates like avocado tostada.”

Read More: Escape to Santa Barbara, the American Riviera

From San Diego

Oceanside’s public spaces are splashed with colorful art.

Oceanside’s public spaces are splashed with colorful art.

Courtesy of Visit Oceanside

10. Oceanside

  • Distance: 30 minutes north of San Diego; two hours south of L.A.
  • Best for: a beach town with soul

South of L.A., north of San Diego, right by Legoland, and on the Amtrak line—Oceanside is perfectly positioned for a weekend getaway on the coast.
Why else choose it? To start: It’s got soul. Character with a capital C. You will get into a conversation with someone on the pier. You’ll also find unusual independent businesses amid the usual third-wave coffee shops and upscale dining.

What to do in Oceanside

One downtown street alone is home to Steel Mill coffee, a bustling joint owned by Tony Hawk’s son Riley, with a huge motorbike above the door and punk rock blaring; tasting room Coomber Craft Wine; a surfing academy; and a self-defense school. Around the center is also a surf museum, a tattoo museum, and an axe-throwing place. Oceanside’s undergone a huge transformation in recent years, with newer hotels, craft breweries, and artists’ spaces popping up—often in preserved historic buildings.

Where to stay in Oceanside

Mission Pacific is 161 rooms of laid-back yet luxurious seaside comfort—think L’Auberge del Mar or Shutters with some more modern touches—that encompasses a rooftop pool and bar, delicious breakfast spot (High/Low), and access to the beach.

Seabird next door is home to 226 rooms, many with balconies overlooking the ocean, a similar beachy decor, a big family-friendly pool, and more local art.

Read More: Why Oceanside Is a Great Coastal Retreat a Quick Train Ride from L.A.

Jessie Beck is a San Francisco-based writer and associate director of SEO and video at AFAR. She contributes to travel gear, outdoor adventure, and local getaway coverage and has previously lived in Washington, D.C., Malta, Seattle, and Madagascar.
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