5 Relaxing Weekend City Breaks from Los Angeles
Updated: Oct 8, 2020
You may have read my last post on weekend trips from Los Angeles, where I mentioned some of my favorite outdoor spots for a quick weekend getaway from the city (check it out here. For some though, the outdoors just isn't their thing, and you may prefer a fun and relaxing city break. There are so many cool towns and cities near LA that you have plenty to choose from. You may notice that I haven't included San Francisco or Las Vegas on this list. While these cities are both incredible weekend trips from LA and I would highly recommend them both, they are both a bit far, and a bit obvious. The cities I've mentioned here are a bit closer, and a better idea for a quick, stress-free weekend trip. SF and Vegas are perfect for long weekends though! I will be doing guides to both of them in the future.
Another perk: you don't need a car for any of these! Obviously they are all a quick and easy drive, but I'll share with you ways to get to each of these destinations car-free. Having a car would be easy and convenient, but it's absolutely not necessary, and each of these cities are super walkable. So which cities are they?
Disclaimer: I unfortunately have lost a lot of my older pictures of these beautiful places. These are all I could find, but enjoy!
1. San Diego. Probably the most obvious, right? But for good reason. San Diego is one of my favorite cities ever, and it's so much fun to explore. It's even more of a laid-back, beachy vibe than LA. But being much smaller than LA, it's downtown area is super walkable, and it's well connected on public transit. Being directly on the Mexican border, San Diego has a ton of Mexican influence, which can be seen in the food, the architecture, and the lifestyle. There is also plenty to do here! Hangout in Old Town, go out in the Gaslamp District, and eat some incredible Mexican food. Check out the beaches, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are my favorites. Also make sure to check out Point Loma and the Cabrillo Lighthouse for some incredible views. Have a meal in Little Italy, and admire the beauty and museums of Balboa Park. To get here, you can take the Amtrak from Union Station in downtown LA, which also stops throughout Orange County. The Amtrak will drop you off right in the middle of downtown, which is convenient since the downtown area is super walkable. If you're trying to go to other parts of the city, take the trolley! It's super cheap and efficient, goes to most of the places you'd want to go, and of course reduces your carbon footprint. Any other points in the city that can't be reached via trolley can be accessed through a quick Uber/Lyft ride! If you're looking for nightlife/a central location, I'd recommend staying somewhere in the Gaslamp District, though it can be a bit loud.
2. Santa Barbara. Another quite obvious one, but also for good reason. While San Diego has a more cosmopolitan feel, Santa Barbara is like it's quieter, sleepier cousin. The crowds here are definitely older and richer, but it does make for a relaxing beachside getaway. Santa Barbara is located in a beautiful coastal location on the Central Coast, and there is so much stunning natural beauty. It also has the best downtown, which is definitely one of the city's highlights. Go out to the great bars and restaurants along State Street, and go shopping there during the day. Check out Stearn's Wharf, and make sure to try some of the local wine from the nearby Santa Ynez Valley. There are tons of great tasting rooms in the city! Honestly just hangout by the beach and enjoy the awesome weather. To get here, you can easily take the Amtrak from Union Station, or anywhere in Orange County. I also believe it stops in some cities just north of LA. The train will drop you off downtown, which is perfect since it is even more walkable than San Diego's! You can honestly walk most places within the downtown and waterfront area, but again, anything else you'd like to visit can easily be reached by a quick cab ride. I recommend staying somewhere in that downtown area, but since the city can get a little bit expensive, it might be best to stay in a further out residential neighborhood, especially if you're able to bring a car. I stayed in an Airbnb that was a bit far once and took the bus into the downtown, which can be a cost-effective option.
3. Ensenada, Mexico. LA is really not that far from the border, and there's so much more to Mexico than just the resort towns that everyone visits. I honestly don't understand why this isn't a more popular weekend destination from LA, you're literally in another country and get the full experience of traveling abroad while only being 4 hours from home? So cool. This city is pretty incredible, and I'd recommend it to anyone. The beach here is awesome, and there's a pretty lively nightlife scene. Check out all the great restaurants and bars in the Zona Centro, and explore the city's unique microbreweries (there are quite a few!). There's also a pretty substantial expat community here, but without being overwhelming, they're all pretty chill. Everyone was extremely kind and welcoming, and English is widely spoken. It's also a university city, so there are a lot of young people (aka good nightlife). The surrounding area is a beautiful wine region, which was a hidden gem I didn't even know about until I got there. Schedule a wine tour from the city, or do what I did and go at it alone taking Ubers between the different wineries (each Uber was less than $2). I got some great winery recommendations from a waiter at a really great breakfast spot I went to (that I unfortunately can't remember the name of). All of the wines were great, and it made for a really fun day of wine tasting in beautiful vineyards. Another perk is the cost of living, just look at the exchange rate of pesos to dollars. You won't feel like you've gone broke, you'll actually be surprised at how little you spent despite eating out everywhere and staying in a nice hotel or Airbnb. If you know me, you know I like to save money when I travel, so I got here via taking the train to San Diego, taking the trolley to the border, walking across the border, and taking a bus from Tijuana to Ensenada. That probably sounds chaotic to you, so to get here I would recommend taking the bus to Tijuana and then switching at the same bus station to a bus to Ensenada. Buses in Mexico are really nice, way nicer than in the States, and are super comfortable for long trips. It's also under a 4 hour drive and a quick flight away. I recommend staying somewhere near the beach or in the Zona Centro.
4. Palm Springs. This desert oasis is the perfect spot for a relaxing desert vacation, for those of you who aren't as into camping in Joshua Tree or Anza Borrego. It's a great little city break while still being close to nature, but with a lively arts scene and downtown. Palm Springs is also usually much warmer than LA, at least 10 degrees so, making it the perfect spot for a warm winter getaway. It does get pretty unbearably hot in the summer, but it's much cheaper this time of year. Explore the downtown for some really great restaurants, shops, and art galleries. I also definitely recommend staying somewhere with a pool, you'll probably want to hangout by the pool and get some sun for awhile. It's also home to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, where you can take the tramway up to the top of Mt. San Jacinto for some great hikes and incredible views. There are plenty of spas here, so make sure to book a massage and spa day for your weekend getaway. To get here without a car, Flixbus runs a pretty regular route between LA and Tucson, which stops in Palm Springs along the way. The downtown is super walkable and Ubers are cheap, so this is honestly a great idea if you're coming car-free. If you don't have a car I'd absolutely recommend staying downtown, but otherwise, anywhere with a pool is great!
5. Monterey. I am absolutely in love with Monterey. I visited this city for a few days to go to an open house at MIIS and absolutely fell in love. This beautiful beach city boasts both incredible natural beauty and a cute downtown area full of great shops and restaurants. With it's north-facing location on the Central Coast, it is a bit cooler and cloudier than Southern California, and even more so than south-facing Santa Cruz across the bay. This makes it the perfect destination for the warm summer months, but it's pretty nice year-round. Explore the downtown area, spend some time by the water, and check out Fisherman's Wharf and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There's also some great surfing here, if that's your thing. This city also has a super laid-back vibe, but it definitely has a different vibe from Southern California. This is the one city that's a bit less accessible without a car, but there are typically flights from LA area airports at a decent price. The city is also extremely walkable, so no worries on that front. You can also rent a car for the trip and drop it off once you get here! To stay, I recommend staying close to the downtown if you don't have a car, which you can see is the case for most of these cities. Just be warned, the Monterey Bay area is one of the most expensive in the state, so accommodation will be more expensive. Don't let this deter you from visiting this incredible city, I stayed at a budget motel and it was all good.
I hope this gives you some inspiration to get out there and travel (safely of course), or at least start planning your list of post-COVID trips. These are some of my favorite places to visit, and they all have a lot to offer in terms of culture and beauty. They all have awesome downtown areas, great dining, great shopping, and great nightlife (some more than others). For example, San Diego and Ensenada have pretty crazy nightlife while Palm Springs and Monterey are much quieter. It all depends on what you're looking for, but I truly believe that each of these cities have something for everyone.
I'll be posting more getaways from LA, as well as some cool weekend trips from other cities, so stay tuned!