Southern California is such a fabulous place, but if you tire from the crowds and surf, head to one of these spots to switch it up a bit! Try out one of our favorite Southern California weekend getaways.
California has so many national parks, but Joshua Tree is one of the best. Named after its famed trees with crooked branches that resemble arms, it is a sight to see. From hiking and camping to rock climbing and stargazing, Joshua tree has something for everyone! We did several hikes but Ryan Mountain was the best. I am not a big hiker so this was a challenge for me but finally reaching the summit was so rewarding. It has crazy beautiful panoramic views from 1000 ft up. We also hiked though cactus and wildflower gardens and a trail leading to Skull Rock. Skull Rock is a huge boulder which resembles a face, so naturally you have to get a “nose-picking” photo! Joshua Tree has so much to do and you can easily spend an entire weekend awing at its natural beauty. I am looking forward to a trip back!
After a day of hiking swing by Pappy and Harriet’s. This restaurant and saloon has live music and a fun atmosphere. Located in Pioneertown you will feel like you are on the set of an old western movie! Grab a bite to eat and check out a local musician at this desert institution.
If you’re looking to add a little flair to your Joshua Tree experience check out the Integratron. It is about 30 minutes away and they host daily sound baths. We’ve done some other sound baths at yoga studios but I have to say this one truly is unique. It is located in the middle of nowhere. You’ll start to feel like you are seeing an oasis when the big white domed building appears through the hazy desert heat.
Inside the building is a huge wooden room with Mexican blankets. What makes it cool is its location. The Integratron is on top of a magnetic energy field causing weird things to happen to the acoustics, such as it is easier to hear the people talking who are across the room from you than the ones who are right beside you! You lay in a circle as you listen to crystal bowls. We both fell asleep during the sound bath and it seems like everyone else there did too. To get a feel of what this place is like, let’ s just say the man who built the Integratron claimed aliens spoke to him about the design! It is definitely a weird experience, but check it out if you’re visiting Joshua Tree.
Palm Springs is the ultimate California luxury getaway. A haven for retirees and weekenders, the retro-fitted hotels and mid-century appeal make for a cool destination. Palm Springs is a desert oasis of palm tress, golf, shopping, and pool hopping. There’s plenty to do in the day and a small but fun nightlife scene. Be sure to head downtown to sing karaoke with some crooners at Peabody’s!
Another great reason to head to Palm Springs for the weekend is for Splash House. It is a festival put on twice a year where a few hotels set up stages and up and coming DJs spin tropical house music at pool parties for millennials. Aimed toward the young, trendy Coachella crowd this is a super fun weekend to visit! Stay at the Saguro or the Riviera and brunch at the Reservoir for a scene-y locale complete with bottomless mimosas and adult size swan floats. You can also stay in Palm Desert where the shopping on El Paseo rivals Rodeo and the eggs bennie at Wilma and Frieda’s Cafe is divine. Palm Springs definitely has SoCal vibes on point.
Salvation Mountain & Slab City
You may recognize these two infamous landmarks from the book and movie Into the Wild. The pictures of Salvation Mountain are very cool, but it is even more incredible in person. Drive through miles of desert and nothingness, until you see a rainbow of colors ahead. Located in Niland, California this landmark is the amazing work of one man, Leonard Knight.
We made the drive to see it after he passed away because we weren’t sure how long it would be maintained. It was his passion project and he spent his days painting and repainting this mountain to share his message, “God is love.” You can walk on top of it, there is even a yellow brick road! Inside are tree branches and multi-color tunnels that look like they are out of a Dr. Seuss book. People are still maintaining this unique place and hopefully they continue to so others can enjoy Leonard’s life work.
The nearby Slab City is more of an eyesore than a sight to see. It is basically a trash filled trailer park on old government land that squatters and other fringe society members call home. There are even “art” displays of beer bottles, old tires, and toilets! Reaching 100 degrees easy in summer, this combination of dry desert heat and trash is still appealing to some. East Jesus is a nearby eclectic community of artisans with a similar counter-culture vibe. The Slab City residents are convinced they are sticking it to the man, but their living conditions beg to differ.
Escape to Julian for the weekend to visit a quaint California mountain town. Nestled in the California foothills, the historic town of Julian is so picturesque you will fell like you are in a 1940’s country painting. There isn’t a ton to do but it is perfect for a day trip. Try a wine tasting at Blue Door Winery or a root beer float at Miner’s Diner. Whatever you do, don’t forget the pie! Julian is famous for its apple pie, and it is amazing. Locals swear by one place or another but I think they are all equally delicious! Visit in September and go apple picking to make your own pie, or in October to visit the pumpkin patch. When you want to revisit a simpler time, Julian is a feel-good destination and perfect for a fall weekend getaway.
Hop on the Catalina Express from Long Beach, Dana Point, or San Pedro and head over to California’s beloved island, Catalina. Avalon is the main port and is a charming little town with sailboats, golf carts, and shore lined restaurants. There are a few hotels but we recommend camping. We pitched our tent at Hermit Gulch in Avalon. It is the least remote of the campgrounds but the closest to town. On the other side of the island near Two Harbors is more of a wilderness campground.
Spend your days on Catalina snorkeling at Pebbly Beach or sipping cocktails while lounging at Descanso Beach Club. Stop in a pub and try the local drink, buffalo’s milk, which gets its namesake from the 150 or so bison which live on the island! Weird, I know. Catalina Island is gorgeous and a great way to spend the weekend soaking up the California sun.
Don’t let your California vacation stop in LA or San Diego. Hit the road, your weekend adventure awaits.
Inspired Recipe: Apple Pie Cupcakes from Alpineberry
A twist on the traditional Julian apple pie, these apple pie cupcakes are a yummy fall treat. Sweet, rich flavor and a little crunch will have a Julian weekend trip on your mind.
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