California has a diverse range of cities to explore, from popular destinations to lesser-known gems. Whether you're traveling for work, for fun, with family, or solo, there are plenty of unique getaways in California to create a customized adventure that works for you. From an ice cream-tasting trail to extraordinary waterfalls, these are some of the best California getaways!

Quick Answer Guide: 9 Best Weekend Getaways in California

‌Top California Weekend Getaways‌

‌Unique Weekend Trips in California‌

‌More Places to Go in California for the Weekend‌

The Top California Weekend Getaways

California is one big, beautiful, long state. Whether you're looking for a relaxing beach weekend or a busy weekend riding cable cars and sipping exclusive cocktails, you can find the best weekend getaways in California. We'll begin with the more popular destinations starting in Southern California with San Diego and Palm Springs and then up to San Francisco.

1. San Diego

  • Perfect For:‌ Beach, food, fun
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  • If You Go:‌ Watch a sunset at the beach and then eat some good food.

‌How to Get to San Diego‌

San Diego International Airport makes it easy to fly into the city. Since it’s an international airport, you can fly in from California state, other states, or out of the country. Travelers can drive into San Diego or rent a car to get around. You can even arrive via public transportation like Amtrak. San Diego is 4 hours from Santa Barbara and 2.5 hours from Hollywood.

‌Things to Do in San Diego‌

From Old Town to East Village to Liberty Station to Little Italy, San Diego County has no shortage of activities and neighborhoods to examine. If you like animation, visit the Comic-Con Museum for seasonal exhibits and the history of Comic-Con. Head to The Marine Room for jaw-dropping ocean views while you eat. I'd recommend that you get there earlier so you can see the water and sunset.

During your quick California getaway, grab dinner at the Wild Hare Bar Garden. The carrot cake dessert is a delight. The restaurant is located at the Hilton San Diego Gaslamp Quarter which recently underwent a $22.5 million dollar renovation. It's the perfect place to stay for business or leisure.

Of course, a Southern California San Diego trip isn't complete with at least one journey to the beach. Head to the beach on the Pacific Beach Beach Bug shuttle, which offers a sustainable way for travelers to get to the ocean.

2. Palm Springs

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  • Perfect For:‌ Mid-century architecture and art gallery enthusiasts
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  • If You Go:‌ Keep the temperatures in mind as you consider outdoor activities and things to do.

‌How to Get to Palm Springs‌

Palm Springs is usually pretty high on any list of best weekend getaways in California. To get there you can drive in from Los Angeles or fly in from Palm Springs International Airport.

‌Things to Do in Palm Springs‌

Depending on the time of year, Palms Springs can be quite toasty. Stay inside as you peruse the Palm Springs Art Museum or dine at Reforma for pan-Latin cuisine by Chef Erick Hernandez. Reforma also has vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options if you have some food restrictions. Come for dinner but stay for the party. The restaurant turns into a club around 9 pm with a DJ.

For those who aren't afraid of heights, you really can't miss the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway as you ascend over two miles on a rotating tram car. Palm Springs is only 1 hour driving distance from Joshua Tree National Park. For desert lovers, you could also consider a weekend getaway to Death Valley National Park.

3. San Francisco

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  • Perfect For:‌ Culture and history buffs
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  • If You Go:‌ Carry a light layer with you since it can get chilly and foggy at a moment's notice.

‌How to Get to San Francisco‌

For those flying in, San Francisco International Airport is about 13 miles from San Francisco, so you'll have to navigate with public transportation like BART and MUNI, rideshares, taxis, San Francisco CityPASS, or bike rentals. You can also rent a car or drive in from your starting destination.

‌Things to Do in San Francisco‌

Some of the most iconic things to do in San Francisco include visiting Alcatraz Island, enjoying seafood at Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39, and taking a cable car ride.

For those seeking more affordable getaways in California, you should walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and then head to Chinatown to shop and dine. You have to stop by Lombard Street to see the twisty, turny, winding street. Then after that, take a look at the Painted Ladies, the pastel-colored Victorian and Edwardian houses, which you might have seen on the Full House opening credits.

Stop by the art-deco-inspired Redwood Room for cocktails. Try one of their exclusive selections like the The Mr. Clift, served "up," which is a classic Manhattan made with Peerless Single Barrel Redwood Room Select Rye Whiskey, sweet vermouth, Angostura Bitters, and cherry.

Unique Weekend Trips in California

Alright, so you've opted out of going to the more touristy, buzzing spots and instead want to book a trip that offers something uncommon. These unique getaways in California offer anything from incredible waterfalls to gold mining. Spend less time in traffic and more time finding hidden gems in Northern California.

4. El Dorado County

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  • Perfect For:‌ Outdoor recreation and family activities
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  • If You Go:‌ Prepare to be wowed by the landscape and don't forget to do a wine tasting while you're in the area.

‌How to Get to El Dorado‌

Where is El Dorado County? Great question. It's about 2.5 hours from San Francisco and Reno and a little less than an hour away from Sacramento, making it a good choice if you're seeking quick California getaways that are day trips from the area. Driving is the best way to get there thanks to the sprawling landscape.

‌Things to Do in El Dorado County‌

El Dorado County is the ideal location for anyone who wants to witness some stunning scenery. The county includes Placerville, El Dorado Hills, Fair Play, Somerset, South Lake Tahoe, and other areas.

Spend your quick California getaway shopping for antiques, browsing fine art, or dining at Placerville’s historic Main Street. Reserve a tour at Gold Bug Park and Mine where guests can learn about gold mining and pan for riches. Kids will love the experience.

From Saluti Cellars to Fleur De Lys Winery, wind down at one of Fair Play and Somerset's family-owned boutique wineries. It doesn't hurt that you can sip wine and savor the landscape of the Sierra Foothills as you do so. It's not as well-known as Napa Valley, Sonoma, or Temecula for its wine country, making it a wonderful option for wine lovers who want a unique experience.

5. Siskiyou County

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  • Perfect For:‌ The great outdoors
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  • If You Go:‌ Prepare to have some epic nature experiences no matter which seasons you visit

‌How to Get to Siskiyou‌

There are a couple of ways to get to the area. You can fly into the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport, which I found quite easy to navigate for an airport. For those driving, it's about 5 hours from Sacramento or San Francisco with relatively minimal traffic.

‌Things to Do in Siskiyou‌

No matter the season, Siskiyou County is ideal for outdoor adventures of all kinds. There's hiking trails, biking, golf, hunting, fishing, birding, agritourism, stargazing, and more. Spend a day at a golf course or go for a hike at Burstarse Falls, located in the Castle Crags Wilderness. There are two waterfalls to appreciate. In the county, there are more easily accessible waterfalls to check out if walking long distances isn't an option, such as Faery Falls or Shackleford Falls.

California isn't just beaches, surfers, and warm weather. If you prefer a winter getaway, Siskiyou has plenty of things for you to do. Stop by Deer Mountain Snowpark for snow activities like riding snowmobiles, skiing, and snowshoeing or try Bunny Flat for sledding.

Nature addicts should also add Yosemite National Park, Redwood National Park, Sequoia National Park, or any state park to their must-visit list.

6. Morro Bay

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  • Perfect For:‌ Nature admirers seeking a tranquil coastal getaway
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  • If You Go:‌ Make sure to visit Morro Rock, an ancient volcanic mound at the end of Morro Rock Beach

‌How to Get to Morro Bay‌

Wondering where Morro Bay is? It's about 13 miles away from San Luis Obispo. Weekend travelers can fly in from the San Luis Obispo Airport, which is about 30 minutes away. You could also drive two and a half hours from San Francisco, two hours from Santa Barbara, or around five hours from Los Angeles.

‌Things to Do in Morro Bay‌

Morro Bay is a walkable town that has shopping, museums, nature preserves, entertainment, and restaurants to keep you entertained for a quick California getaway. While you're there, get a glimpse Morro Rock, a volcanic plug on the Pacific Coast. Just remember that climbing is prohibited to protect its natural state as well as the nesting birds. Book a field trip to the Morro Bay National Estuary Preserve to witness some of the local wildlife, or get some sunshine by kayaking and hiking.

Relax after a day outside with an afternoon of shopping along the Embarcadero. Then grab a house-made brewski at Three Stacks and A Rock Brewing Company or wine at Absolution Cellars. Morro Bay makes a lovely romantic getaway but if you want other romantic California getaways, you might want to consider Carmel-by-the-Sea, Mendocino, Monterey, or a small town like Solvang, known as the Danish capital of America.

More Places to Go in California for the Weekend

California's vast landscape offers plenty of places to spend your next weekend getaway. Northern California and Southern California show off different aspects of the state like climate, nature, food, and wine tastings. This section covers other spots on the list of best California getaways that you might not have considered.

7. Tri-Valley

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  • Perfect For:‌ Families looking for unique ways to spend time together in Northern California
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  • If You Go:‌ Don't leave without attempting at least one of their foodie/drink trail options (beer, wine, caffeine, or ice cream)

‌How to Get to Tri-Valley‌

It's easiest to get to Tri-Valley via car since it's located just about 30 miles east of San Francisco. If you're feeling up to it you could do a day in San Francisco and then a day in the Tri-Valley region.

‌Things to Do in Tri-Valley‌

Calling all beer aficionados! You won't want to miss the Tri-Valley Beer Trail where you can slurp your way through some of the area's breweries, tasting rooms, alehouses, and taprooms. They also have a wine trail, a caffeine trail, and for the kiddos, an ice cream trail.

Take the family to the Blackhawk Museum in Danville to look at some of their latest exhibits like the Art of Africa, World of Nature, Spirit of the Old West, and The Don Williams Automobile Gallery. Spend the day swimming or windsurfing with the kids at Del Valle Regional Park.

8. North County San Diego

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‌How to Get to North County‌

North County is about 40 miles away from downtown San Diego, depending on where you're headed, and provides a different experience entirely. North County SD includes cities like San Marcos, Vista, Oceanside, Encinitas, and other areas as well. You can fly into San Diego International Airport and then drive up or you can drive down from Los Angeles.

‌Things to Do in North County‌

Much like Tri-Valley and El Dorado County, North County San Diego includes a few cities to allow you the flexibility to come and go to places that truly call to you. Since places are more spread out, you'll certainly want to bring or rent a car.

The San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas is absolutely beautiful and worth perusing if you enjoy nature and plants. I love walking around to see the flora and any seasonal exhibits at this botanical garden. Get a Michelin meal at Valle in the beach town of Oceanside from the mind of Executive Chef Roberto Alcocer. They just received a 2023 Michelin star! After your Baja-inspired cuisine, walk the Oceanside Pier.

Stay at Lakehouse Resort and Hotel, and then take a stroll around Lake San Marcos Marina, where you can fish, kayak, paddle board, and spend time content in the great outdoors.

9. Dana Point

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  • Perfect For:‌ Harbor views
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  • If You Go:‌ Visit the Dana Point Harbor for shopping, seasonal events, and harbor views

‌How to Get to Dana Point‌

Dana Point should take a little under two hours from both Los Angeles and San Diego. It's easiest to drive in from LAX or San Diego Airport unless your flight can land at John Wayne Airport.

‌Things to Do in Dana Point‌

Find Dana Point along South Orange County’s coastal stretch. It's the perfect weekend escape thanks to its year-round breathtaking scenery and the Pacific Ocean. The ocean is your oyster in Dana Point. Go whale watching or paddle boarding or just revel in the sunshine.

Eat at local cafes then and then appreciate the laid-back things to do at Dana Point Harbor. You can shop, attend seasonal events, hang out as a family, BBQ, all with fantastic vistas of the harbor and cliffside. Spend a day at the golf course. Monarch Beach Golf Links offers incredible bluff views overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

If this type of vibe is to your liking, some of the best weekend getaways in California are similar. Consider other getaways to Laguna Beach, Santa Monica, Big Sur, Pismo Beach, or Lake Tahoe. California, the Golden State, is one of the most culturally and ecologically diverse areas in North America, and where you can do just about any activity that you like, from a road trip to a neighboring state like Nevada, or the Redwood Forests in the north of the state, or the agricultural areas along the central coast. And from campgrounds to a private boutique hotel, you can stay in a place with any sort of vibe you’re looking for.