6 Outdoor Getaways That Are Just A Short Drive From LA
This post was updated from its original version on May 21, 2019.
Los Angeles offers plenty of great outdoor activities through which you can enjoy the virtually year-round sunshine, but sometimes you just need to get out of town. While we love the classic weekend excursions to places like Palm Springs, Catalina and Santa Barbara, we also want to explore places that aren't quite as crowded or obvious. For those times, here are our favorite outdoor getaways that haven't been overrun.
Ziplining high above the tree tops in Wrightwood (via Facebook)
WRIGHTWOOD: FOR ADRENALINE HIGHS
Nestled in the northeast corner of the Angeles National Forest, Wrightwood offers a thrilling grown-up playground of ziplines high in the trees. Like a cross between the Ewok Village of Star Wars and the prison escape of Tango & Cash, the zipline tours will send you careening through the forest on a heart-racing adventure. Pick from two different tours, one with nine ziplines and one with six - or do both of them for an all-day adventure. The longer tour also offers opportunities to rappel from the trees, cross teetering sky-bridges and climb a set of suspended sky-stairs. If you're looking to ease your way into the zip-lining lifestyle, the shorter tour's lines are at slightly lower altitudes, with a couple of harnessed free-fall leaps thrown in for good measure. All the tours are lead by highly trained guides and include several short hikes that allow for taking in the breathtaking views before your next zip.
Not a bad view from the campsites of Jalama Beach (via Facebook)
JALAMA BEACH: FOR LAST-MINUTE CAMPING
On weekends as busy as Memorial Day, most camping spots in Southern California require reservations far in advance. Thankfully, for those of us who didn't know a year ago that we'd want to go camping this Saturday, there's Jalama Beach, approximately 60 miles northwest of Santa Barbara. This beautiful oceanside campground offers over 100 camping sites - including 16 that are available for walk-ins. If no spots are free, fear not - you can put your name on the waiting list at 8:00 a.m., hang out at the beach and report back by 3:00 p.m. to see if your name is called for an available spot.. Sure, there's a bit of a gamble in all of this, but what good would an outdoor getaway be without leaving some of the adventure up to chance? Once you've secured your campsite with a beach view, you'll also have the added bonuses of decent showers and restrooms, a well-stocked supply store and a surprisingly delicious burger at the Jalama Beach Store and Grill.
Kayaking through the sea caves of the Channel Islands (via Facebook)
CHANNEL ISLANDS: FOR CAVES AND KAYAKING
Catalina Island, part of the Channel Islands, is a favorite offshore getaway for Angelenos. But its neighbors to the northwest - the other islands of the Channel Islands - offer a stunning, far less crowded alternative excursion. Head up to Ventura Harbor where you can board a catamaran and set sail to idyllic Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the eight. Depending on the guided tour you choose, you'll have the opportunity to explore the islands' otherworldly sea caves by kayak, embark on a snorkel expedition to see the aquatic wildlife or visit a kelp forest. Or, you could head further up the coast to Santa Barbara Harbor where you can set sail to kayak through the stunning painted cave of Santa Cruz island, one of the world's largest sea caves. Another option is kayaking around Anacapa, a small and beautiful volcanic island. Those looking to take their outdoor getaway a few steps further can camp overnight on Santa Cruz Island's Scorpion Ranch. But warning: foxes and ravens on the island are capable of opening zippers, so take the necessary precautions.
Beach picnic at the Jolly Oyster (via Facebook)
SAN BUENAVENTURA STATE BEACH: FOR BEACH CRUISING AND SHELLFISH
Just a short drive up the 101 freeway into Ventura County, you'll find a beachside retreat that offers plenty of activities for a chill day trip. Head to San Buenaventura State Beach on the early side to stake out a picnic table next to The Jolly Oyster food trucks (they open at 11:00 a.m.). Perfect for the seafoodie or anyone who enjoys a beachside picnic, these trucks offer prepared dishes like fish tacos, ceviche and baked oysters - and you can BYOB. If you're the adventurous DIY-type, you can buy sustainably grown oysters and clams, and shuck or cook them on the grills yourself. Once you've feasted on the shellfish and whatever else you've brought in your picnic basket, you can rent a cruiser bike or 4-seater quad bike and take a spin down the beach paths or over the dunes. You can also head further down the beach to check out the historic Ventura pier or just hang on the beach to catch a gorgeous sunset.
Exploring the San Andreas Fault by jeep (via Facebook)
PALM DESERT: FOR SUNSETS AND POOLS
Between Palm Springs and Coachella Valley on the 10 freeway is another great destination that's worth a visit. Like its neighbors, Palm Desert can certainly heat up during the summer months, but there are still plenty of outdoor activities that can be enjoyed during the cooler seasons. Get an up-close look at animals and plants native to the desert—as well as protected species from around the world—at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. Or venture out to see the San Andreas Fault firsthand and learn the history of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians by taking a jeep tour with Desert Adventures. While there are a range of hotel accommodations and a few campgrounds in the area, if you're looking to splurge a bit, the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa offers plenty of great options to cool off from the heat — they've got multiple pools, extensive spa amenities, a miniature golf course, and even grass, clay and hard tennis courts (definitely worth considering for an indulgent getaway).
Temecula is full of hot air (via Facebook)
TEMECULA: FOR WINE AND 19TH-CENTURY MODES OF TRAVEL
While the vineyards of Napa or the Central Coast tend to get most of the attention tourist-wise, Temecula offers some quality vintages with a shorter drive. Located less than two hours southeast of L.A., this underdog wine country also offers the added bonus of epic hot air balloon rides. Soar over the seemingly endless rows of grapevines and rolling hillsides from a unique and tranquil perspective - and a favorite mode of transport from the 19th century. After you've seen the vineyards from a bird's-eye-view, you'll want to inspect them more closely and sample some of the region's award-winning vintages. To get an even closer look, consider staying at the Ponte Family Estate where the rooms overlook their vineyards(an average weekend nightly rate ranges from $300 to $500, though, so it's not exactly budget). And if you're really into traveling in 19th-century style, why not check out the Temecula Carriage Co. and visit the other vineyards aboard a horse drawn carriage? Because that's how wine tasting was meant to be done.