The Golden State has it all: swoon-worthy landscapes, first-rate wine and restaurants, more museums than you can visit in a lifetime — and, of course, knockout beaches. These nine spots top our list for a long weekend getaway.
If you can't make it to Northern California’s wine country, Santa Barbara County ⎯ which includes Santa Ynez, Los Olivos and the antiques-filled town of Solvang ⎯ is a worthy alternative. One way to get a taste of it all is on the Urban Wine Trail, a walkable trail downtown made up of 30 vineyards that turn out rich Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and more. Get over your wine hangover with the addictive wood-fired focaccia at the just-opened Nuance, in the Funk Zone district, followed by a catnap back at the beachfront Hotel Milo.
Distance from Los Angeles: 98 miles Distance from San Francisco: 330 miles
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elizabeth Taylor — a who’s who of showbiz has long found solace in Palm Springs. Today this desert oasis is the perfect mix of modern and kitschy, attracting a hip L.A. crowd. Spend an afternoon wandering the Uptown Design District, where eye-catching design boutiques (we love the Midcentury housewares at Christopher Anthony) are joined by retro-chic restaurants and bars. Swing by the buzzy Bootlegger Tiki for an unforgettable mai tai. As for where to stay, it doesn't get cooler than Sparrows Lodge, where the summer camp vibe makes everyone feel at home.
Distance from Los Angeles: 122 miles
Distance from San Francisco: 487 miles
This slice of California’s coastline is relatively small, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in drop-dead-gorgeous views and hikes among towering redwood trees. After a few hours of wandering through Andrew Molera State Park or Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, refuel with a wood-fired pizza at Big Sur Bakery. If you're looking to splurge, book a room at the cliffside Ventana Inn and Spa or rough it a little at Treebones Resort, where 16 yurts are outfitted with cozy queen-size beds (though the restrooms are in the main lodge).
Distance from Los Angeles: 347 miles Distance from San Francisco: 145 miles
You won’t find any big chains, parking meters or streetlights in this movie-set-perfect village. What you will find: small, authentic restaurants, art galleries and a stunner of a beach. Make your base La Playa Carmel, which was built as a private mansion in 1905 by a member of the Ghirardelli chocolate family. It's the perfect jumping-off point for exploring area wineries and local restaurants like Lokal, which serves a boundary-pushing seasonal menu organized into "earth," "water" and "farm."
Distance from Los Angeles: 328 miles Distance from San Francisco: 126 miles
A weekend getaway in Sonoma is like a lesson in gluttony ⎯ but that's what vacations are for, right? Eat and drink your way through town, starting at Shed, which has a café, a coffee shop, a fermentation bar and a home and garden shop. Famed chef Charlie Palmer (who owns the Hotel Healdsburg and its standout restaurant, Dry Creek Kitchen) swears by the Sauvignon Blanc at Twomey Cellars and the Pinot Noir at Rochioli Winery. Come evening, pair an Italian dinner at Campo Fina with a few friendly games of bocce on the restaurant's outdoor court.
Distance from Los Angeles: 447 miles Distance from San Francisco: 70 miles
It looks like something from another world, or maybe even a Tim Burton movie: a barren landscape with trippy trees and massive boulders. Go for a hike in Joshua Tree National Park and you'll stumble upon one Instagram-worthy vista after another. With artistic types from L.A. and New York heading to the area, you'll also find cool restaurants and art venues, including the new Taylor Junction Gallery, which showcases edgy works by local artists.
Distance from Los Angeles: 143 miles
Distance from San Francisco: 512 miles
Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California
Mexico’s wine country is a rising star, and for good reason. Vintners are producing standout biodynamic wines, like the year-old Finca La Corrodilla, and the high-design wineries themselves are striking (just swing by Paralelo and you'll see what we mean). Book one of the six rustic rooms at La Villa del Valle (also home to the Vena Cava winery, built out of old boats), and dine at the Troika food truck or Corazón de Tierra, one of the hottest tables in town. For another blowout meal, there's chef Jair Tellez's Laja, with its own orchard and farm.
Distance from Los Angeles: 215 miles Distance from San Francisco: 589 miles
Are the slopes calling? If so, hightail it to Mammoth Mountain. You can take your adventure to the next level with snowcat or snowmobile tours ⎯ not to mention catapulting yourself down a groomed run in an inner tube at Woolly's Tube Park. Expending all that energy will likely leave you craving something sweet; order a batch of the "best friend ever" cookies (peanut butter with pretzels and chocolate chips, topped with sugar and sea salt) at Mimi's Cookie Bar.
Distance from Los Angeles: 314 miles
Distance from San Francisco: 329 miles
You could spend an entire week in San Diego exploring Balboa Park. At 1,200 acres, it's a one-stop destination for culture, natural beauty and outdoor activities (hiking, biking and lawn bowling, to name a few.) It's also home to the San Diego Zoo. Leave time to explore Little Italy, too, which is exploding with new restaurants from superstar chefs like Richard Blais (Juniper & Ivy), Javier Plascencia (Bracero Cocina de Raiz) and ⎯ coming in December ⎯ Brian Malarkey (the Herb Shop).
Distance from Los Angeles: 125 miles Distance from San Francisco: 501 miles