California Dreamin’: Five Staycations Just Outside LA

Ready to escape Los Angeles? We’ve hit the road to track down five LA weekend breaks that are perfect for a Cali staycation, from a western-revival town to a surf-ready coastal enclave

So, you've spent Saturday in Silver Lake, trekked Baldy for views of the Mojave on Sunday, and bedded down between the two at a swoon-worthy new Downtown crash pad. What next? We bet you're probably in need of an out-of-LA weekend getaway by now. We've escaped the urban sprawl in search of the Golden State's nostalgic, small-town character to bring you five LA staycation ideas all no more than three hours' drive from the City of Angels.

Whether you want a distilled sense of old-time American with Steinbeck-evoking landscapes, a deep-in-the-woods cabin adventure, or a rustic weekend down on the farm, these five short breaks will have you wishing you never had to venture along the I-10 again. So, roll down the windows, switch the city interstate for Highway 101 and hijack the aux cord to blast out "California Dreamin'": it's time for a weekend away, LA-style.

Get away from LA: five California rural escapes

A restaurant front in Los Alamos
Photo credit: Bonjwing Lee

Los Alamos

Santa Barbara, California, United States

Located in Santa Ynez Valley, Los Alamos is a rustic Cali town full of old western character - and a surprising number of acclaimed eateries. This is real rural America: fewer than 2,000 inhabitants call Los Alamos home and, as in most small towns, restaurants and bars are normally closed Monday to Thursday, so weekends are best for visits. Our advice? Make this a restaurant crawl. Start your day with a pastry from Bob's Well Bread (order the pain de mie toasts, served with house-made almond butter), then take a wander in the direction of Bell's Restaurant, whose plates of farm-to-table French cuisine are loved locally. Work your way through wild burgundy snails and grand steak tartare, then take your pick of the many wine bars on the main strip. Bodega, a well-curated natural wine shop showcasing rare and unique bottles, is our favourite. Stop by for a glass beside the fire pit in the back garden. Set beneath stretching California oaks and surrounded by aromatic rosemary plants, it's a Med-inspired experience night and day.

Where to stay: Skyview Los Alamos
How to get there: Two-and-a-half-hour drive north from LA
A wide-angle view of Ojai, California


California, United States

In Ojai, time slows down. Backdropped by the mighty Topatopa Mountains, this is a place where nature takes centre stage, and local life runs by the seasons, rather than seconds. Commercial chains are outlawed, so farm-to-table menus and independent producers are the go-to for residents. Ergo, quirky businesses like Bart's Books are common. Head to the self-proclaimed world's largest outdoor bookstore to browse over 130,000 new and second-hand titles covering everything from best gardening practices to classical literature. Once you've selected some reading material, you'll want to dive in. Head to The Dutchess, book in hand, for a croque monsieur brunch cocooned in the elegant, antique-filled café. All ingredients are sourced from within an 80km radius (small fry in the USA), and ecologically responsible practices reign supreme: think in-house-fermented tea leaves and freshly baked bread. Book a room at the Capri Hotel for the night. Offering exquisite modern interiors, the hotel's soft, rusty colour palette was inspired by the Topatopa range's famous "pink moment" - the time of day when the sunset radiates red off the northern edges of the mountains. On Sunday morning, stop by the local farmers' market before heading back to LA - you'll want to pick up some freshly picked Pixie tangerines to take a little bit of Ojai back with you.

Where to stay: Capri Hotel

How to get there: One-and-a-half-hour drive via Highway 101 from LA

An old car parked outside a motel

Cuyama Valley

California, United States

Make sure to have physical directions at the ready when heading into the Cuyama Valley; you're unlikely to get enough phone signal for Google Maps this far into the desert. When you do eventually find your way through the arid landscapes (thanks, AA Route Planner), you'll find New Cuyama. Located - literally - in the middle of nowhere, this resilient rural community started life as a 1950s oil town. Today, it's switched nodding donkeys for a distinctly nostalgic hospitality offering. Find your home for the night by spotting the 1969 Mercury Monterey parked outside the Cuyama Buckhorn, a refurbished motel offering Cali-cool interiors under pastel-toned sunsets. The stay's cowboy-esque aesthetic will make you want to tour Cuyama Oaks Ranch, a 33-hectare property with majestic, 360-degree mountain views. Afterwards, stop by the low-key roadside diner Burger Barn for a classic American cheeseburger and crinkle-cut fries. Ready for a nightcap? The motel lobby stocks Cuyama Beverage Co's high desert mead, a sweet tipple made with native wildflower honey. Proceeds from each bottle go back into the regenerative economic development of the rural community. Take it outside for some nighttime viewing - the skies here are unsullied by light pollution, and offer a jaw-dropping celestial display.

Where to stay: Cuyama Buckhorn
How to get there: Two hours' drive down Highway 166 from LA
Sunset over Big Bear Lake, an LA staycation destination

Big Bear Lake

California, United States

Did you know that LA asphalt can reach temperatures of up to 65C in summer? Escape the city heat by hitting the highway early and driving until you find yourself surrounded by the cool, dark shade of Big Bear Lake's mighty pine forests. California might have made its name with bright lights, dusty deserts and palm-fringed shores, but it's the state's lesser-visited climes that make for a crowd-free weekend away. Start your Saturday with a moderate 4km hike along the Castle Rock Trail for panoramic views across the San Bernardino Mountains. You'll need to stop by the Big Bear Visitor Centre to grab a hiking day pass - the £4 ticket also allows you to park your car at any of the nearby trailheads for 24 hours.

We're staying at Noon Lodge when we're in this neck of the woods. The cute cabin accommodation is all about outdoor living, offering easy access to mountain trails, plus communal fire pits and BBQs around the cabins for evenings under the stars. You're only 1.5km from the bustling Big Bear Lake Village, so if you're reluctant to grill your own dinner, head over to Saucy Mama's for a slice of Tracy's choice pizza (topped with Canadian bacon and pineapple). Big Bear Lake turns into a white wonderland from mid-November onwards, so if you're seeking a weekend of skiing, switch the LA streets for snowy slopes at Big Bear Mountain resort.

Where to stay: Noon Lodge
How to get there: Two-hour drive from LA (note that you may need snow chains in winter)
Two surfers on the beach at Encinitas, an LA staycation idea
Photo credit: Sherry V Smith /


California, United States

Ready to adopt that classic Cali-cool lifestyle? Head to Encinitas for the weekend. Find your feet (or… fins?) in the surfing mecca by booking a room at the Surfhouse hotel. Founded by two Encinitas natives, this bright and airy motel does its best to get you sandy-toed, salt-sprayed and feeling suitably Zen with daily yoga classes, surfing equipment rental and a prime location right next to the waves. Everyone in the team has extensive knowledge of San Diego surf breaks, so we'd recommend tapping into their experience to find the best spots to suit your skill level. After you've hit the waves, make a beeline for the town's restaurants and bars in search of some craft beer and seafood specialities. The tuna-based beacon roll from Kai Ola, one block from Beacon's Beach, lives in our head rent-free. Pick up some surf-town looks at Salt Culture, a globally inspired lifestyle boutique created by Sophie Machado and her husband, world-renowned professional surfer Rob Machado, then head over to La Paloma Theatre, San Diego's oldest cinema, to catch a movie. Having been in operation since 1928, the venue pairs Hollywood throwbacks with new releases.

Where to stay: Surfhouse
How to get there: Two hours' drive south down Highway 101

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