5 Under the Radar Coastal Weekend Escapes from Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a famed international tourism destination in itself — but it’s also positioned within a few hours of numerous other oceanside locations that make for an ideal weekend trip along California’s picturesque coast.

Here are five fantastic weekend getaways from Greater LA for when you’re craving some distance from LA LA Land, but still wanting a vacation with an element of seaside relaxation.

[Note: Travel and outdoor activities are currently permitted, but as always, be safe and remain mindful of local safety mandates to protect yourself and others from transmitting COVID-19. Remember to wear a mask, stay six feet from other people at all times, and be respectful.

Some of these photos were taken over the last couple years in pre-COVID times, which is why I’m not masked-up in all of them…]

Santa Barbara

The historic Central Coast city of Santa Barbara offers a little bit of everything for everyone. Those seeking the sand and surf can check out the 110 miles of coastline to surf, SUP, swim or sunbathe. Those in search of libations can find an ample selection of wineries and breweries in the quirky converted downtown warehouse district known as the “Funk Zone” or venture inland to explore the local vineyards.

Families can enjoy an ice cream on the pier at Stearns Wharf or at the quintessential Santa Barbara original McConnells scoop shop. Afterward, get some exercise in with a bike ride along the boardwalk, relax in a hammock at Chase Palm Park which overlooks the ocean, or hike in the surrounding mountains. There’s plentiful shopping on State Street, and no shortage of outdoor activities to enjoy both on and off the beach.

San Luis Obispo

I have an entire website dedicated to San Luis Obispo activities from when I went to college at Cal Poly SLO. Check out the original website here or the Metropolitan Molly syndicate, here.

San Luis Obispo is perfectly situated between the urban hubs of San Francisco and Los Angeles for a relaxing getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. SLO offers seemingly endless activities for visitors of every age and interest. Interested in history? Explore the historic Mission San Luis Obispo De Tolosa! Avid foodie? SLO stands out as a first rate dining destination — with ample farm to table dining options (the Central Coast is often overlooked for its agricultural background) and endless opportunities to experience small batch brews, signature wines, and craft cocktails.

There are also endless opportunities for exploring the outdoors through rock climbing, hiking and biking — SLO is an extremely bike-friendly city. To recharge after a tough workout, visit one of the dozens of craft coffee shops around downtown and beyond. You can visit every weekend for a month and feel as if you still have a new cafe to try.

Just outside the city limits (but since there’s no traffic it takes just minutes to arrive!), visitors can also explore the sands of nearby village retreat Avila Beach or bustling Pismo Beach and its pier, to the south. Alternatively, check out or the embarcadero in Morro Bay and towering Morro Rock to the North.

Avalon, Catalina Island

Catalina Island is located just off the coast of Southern California — it’s an island oasis easily accessible by boat (or if you’re feeling particularly fancy — by helicopter).  To get to the island, catch a boat from Long Beach, San Pedro, Dana Point, and Newport Beach to both Avalon and Two Harbors (Two Harbors is accessible only via the San Pedro ferry).

Avalon offers excursions via both land and sea — from the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden to bison expeditions, to sea life safaris or glass bottomed boat rides. There’s also hiking, zip line tours, and a golf course with spectacular ocean and city views.

To grab a drink and wind down, wander through the boutiquey downtown village, or check out the Descanso Beach Club which is just past the historic Catalina Casino about half a mile from downtown. Here, you can grab a signature cocktail (or two or three) and some light bites while you watch kayakers and SUPpers explore the Catalina coastline.

Newport Beach

Orange County’s Newport Beach is known as the largest recreational harbor on the West Coast — offering ten-plus miles of coastline to fish, swim, surf, boat, or just relax on the sand. It’s home to a variety of neighborhoods which each feature their own unique atmosphere and activities.

Visitors can shop till they wanna drop at Fashion Island which is an open-air mall home to department stores and luxury boutiques. Across town, Lido Marina Village embodies quintessential relaxed and luxurious California vibes, with al fresco shopping, outdoor dining, a cute coffee stop, and plenty of sightseeing.  

On Balboa Island, be sure to grab one (or both) of Balboa Island’s two famous desserts, the Balboa Bar and Frozen Banana. This man-made island can be reached via car, on foot, on a bike – even via the Balboa Island Ferry which is bike and car friendly. Across the bay, Balboa Village is a home base for sportfishing, seafood, and the Balboa Fun Zone. This old school amusement park is right next to the ferry and features old-school park rides and a retro-style arcade.

Local beaches to check out include the Wedge which is known for its big waves and world-famous surfers, and Corona del Mar State Beach, which is a popular destination for swimmers. Explore the adjacent bay waters, by renting a powerboat, electric boat, sailboats, kayaks, stand up paddleboards, jet ski or Newport Beach’s crowning jewel water vehicle: the Duffy Boat. 

Encinitas

Located approximately 25 miles north of San Diego is Encinitas. This classic surfer-vibe city has been named among the 20 best surf towns in the world by National Geographic — it remains a quintessential reminder of the laid-back, hippy culture of Southern California. There’s no shortage of sand and sea to experience — in fact, Encinitas’ beach Swami’s was immortalized forever by the Beach Boys song “Surfin’ USA.”

The downtown Encinitas shopping district is more than 100 years old and offers over 80 retail boutiques, a variety of retro sidewalk cafes, historic buildings, and of course — plenty of surf shops!

Outdoor enthusiasts can explore the San Diego Botanic Gardens which offer 37 acres of land encompassing, 5,000 plant species from all over the world — as well as four miles of trails.

There five destinations are within approximately three hours of Los Angeles, and an ideal relaxing weekend escape from the city craze — while still offering enough activities to keep occupied at any age. Families, couples, friends, and solo travelers can take advantage of a trip these quintessential Californian Coastal cities for an unforgettable weekend getaway.

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