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The 5 Best California Weekend Getaways

Updated on June 1, 2016
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Raye was born in New England, grew up in the Mid-Atlantic, spent college out West, and presently publishes Hubs from the Pacific Northwest.

My Top 5 California Recommendations

With it's huge coastline, green mountains and beautiful deserts, California offers some of the best weekend getaways, and you don't even have to leave the state. Nearly all of these spots can be reached within a day's drive from just about anywhere in-state or a flight of two hours or less. This makes them perfect for when you want a quick break, or an extended long-weekend adventure.

I lived in California for 20 years, first in Santa Cruz and then in San Francisco. There is so much to see and do in California, I didn't even begin to come close in all those years of living there. (Fortunately I still go back from time to time and explore more!) The variety you can get from the deserts in the south to the dense forests in the north are amazing. And when you compare the coastal areas to the inland valleys, it often doesn't seem like you are even in the same state.

These are my five best suggestions for great weekend getaways in California. My recommendations include going to northern California hot springs, visiting Lake Tahoe, driving the Pacific Coast Highway, exploring Yosemite National Park and seeing San Diego. Each offers great scenery, good food and relaxing space, plus they all have lots to options for an entire family, or a couple just taking a break from their busy lives.

Recommended California Getaways

show route and directions
A markerLake Tahoe -
Lake Tahoe, United States
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B markerYosemite, CA -
Yosemite National Park, CA 95389, USA
get directions

C markerSan Diego, CA -
San Diego, CA, USA
get directions

D markerCalifornia hot springs -
California Hot Springs, CA, USA
get directions

E markerPacific Coast Highway -
Pacific Coast Hwy, CA, USA
get directions

Lake Tahoe is known for its beautiful waters
Lake Tahoe is known for its beautiful waters

Lake Tahoe

Sitting right on the California/Nevada border is Lake Tahoe. No matter what time of year, this is a great destination for a vacation. Summer offers hiking, mountain biking, and all manner of water activities on the famously clear lake waters. Winter brings lots of snow and Tahoe becomes a top destination for skiers and snow-boarding enthusiasts alike. Nearby Truckee also offers skiing in winter, and summer visitors can enjoy rafting on the river.

The lake is divided by the California/Nevada border. This lets the south shore of Lake Tahoe host a wide variety of casino hotels, along with the usual lakeside cabins and ski chalets. A short and picturesque car drive over the mountains brings you to Reno, Nevada if you need a bigger dose of Lady Luck along with a more urban range of family amusements. This is a great day trip away during a longer stay at Tahoe.

You can easily drive to Lake Tahoe from the Bay Area or Northern California. For those who wish to fly in, you can choose the Lake Tahoe Airport or get one of the great travel deals to Reno, rent a car there and drive over to Tahoe. There are many hotels to stay at in the area or you might want to rent a vacation home or apartment for a more relaxed atmosphere and the option of being able to cook for yourselves!

Lovely natural hot springs
Lovely natural hot springs

California Hot Springs

California is only second to Nevada for having natural hot springs. From built wooden hot tubs to natural earth pools to Japanese-style sunken baths, the state of California offers a wide array of hot springs and hot tub experiences. Taking the waters for health and relaxation is a tradition that can be found in cultures throughout the world.

You'll find hot springs located in a variety of areas in California but especially in the northern portion of the state. The soaking experience can run the gamut from exclusive spa to laid-back retreat to remote wooded pools, depending on your preference and budget. Summer weekends are often the most crowded at these luscious wet spots, so be sure to investigate weekday getaway deals or make your weekend plans in advance.

At many hot springs, you can also enjoy outdoor recreations, group activities, healing treatments or bodywork, and healthy cuisine. By turning off the cell phone and putting away the laptop for a few days (try leaving it at home even!), it's possible to really get a lot of rest and relaxation in just two days. Bring along good shoes for hiking or pack the mountain bike if you'd really like to earn those evenings soaking in the tub.

The Pacific Coast Highway, aka Highway 1
The Pacific Coast Highway, aka Highway 1

Pacific Coast Highway

Running like a ribbon along the Pacific edge of California, Highway 1 is a spectacular journey all its own! With mountains on one side and ocean on the other, it is both a peaceful and dramatic way to see the California coastline. Both day trips or extended weekends will allow for a lot of Pacific Coast Highway exploration.

Cropping up here and there along the route are lots of tiny towns, coastal retreats and seaside rest stops. Car camping is a fantastic way to explore the coast, especially in the summer months. For those who prefer more amenities, there are dozens of motels and B&Bs along the way.

Visiting the entire state from top to bottom is best done in three or four days, so consider slicing the coast into chunks and exploring areas a bit more than just passing through. Many quaint towns and wineries dot the coast and lovers of arts and antiques will find plenty of reasons to stop the car and look around for a while. Just for your information, if you are out and about during the week, you can often find hotel and motel rooms at a better rate than over the weekends with a touch less traffic...

Yosemite is known for its many waterfalls
Yosemite is known for its many waterfalls

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park has really become on icon for the image of the Western US. Increasing demand by visitors and increasing protections makes this a spot where you need to check ahead and make reservations to visit, but it's well worth your efforts. The beauty of this area isn't like anything else.

The park totals over 1100 acres in size, but the majority of the three million plus visitors each year actually only visit the approximately seven square miles that is the Yosemite Valley itself. Almost ninety percent of the park is designated as wilderness. In 1984, the site received World Heritage Site status.

Hikers and climbers will encounter some of the best rock in the West. Landscape photographers will find plenty of sights to capture in the rugged environment. The park is also a good location for birdwatching, stargazing, fishing and rafting. You can travel through by car, or by horseback. Going at the beginning of the park season in spring, or later in the fall may be less crowded then visiting during the height of the summer season. Travel in the park is restricted volume-wise due to environmental concerns so be sure to plan ahead and stay abreast of any park developments or changes. And be sure to note that staying at the local lodge for the winter holidays will take reservations several YEARS in advance.

City view from the harbor
City view from the harbor

San Diego

Sitting just north of the Mexican border in the southwestern corner of California lies the town of San Diego. Together with Tijuana, the area is considered to be the 21st largest metropolitan area in North America. The city has a rich Mexican influence along with the California beach culture.

If the beaches and harbor don't keep you busy, perhaps the golf courses are more your speed. There are some world-class theme parks and a zoo that will knock your socks off. And let's not forget to mention a great selection of museums, casinos and theater events.

It's coastal location and Mediterranean temperatures makes it a great destination year-round. Day trips into Mexico are easily-managed for those who wish to get some international flavor into their sojourns and the exchange rate makes shopping more lavish. And remember, anyone who is traveling to Mexico, even just a day-trip, requires a passport now!

CA Travel Feedback and Recommendations

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    • chateaudumer profile image

      David B Katague 23 months ago from Northern California and the Philippines

      Hi Rae, an excellent hub for places to see and visit in California. I am glad you include Sacramento in this hub. Again, just like to thank you on your recent comment on one of my hubs. Have a great day!

    • Hady Chahine profile image

      Hady Chahine 3 years ago from Manhattan Beach

      You highlight some great places to visit in California. Recently I visited the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort in Avila (north of San Luis Obispo) and it was very relaxing - well worth the money. I recommend dinner at the Olde Port Inn located on the pier in Avila, and then retire to the resort for well earned pampering.

    • ashwinimaurya profile image

      Ashwini Maurya 3 years ago from India

      Yosemite National Park seems to be really adventurous. I am waiting to plan a trip there...

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

      Beautiful place to visit. Great and informative hub. Thanks for sharing.

    • SamitaJassi profile image

      Samita Sharma 3 years ago from Chandigarh

      Fantastic hub! i never visit California but after read this hub i must visit here...

    • Tygher41 profile image

      Megan Carroll 3 years ago from Boynton Beach, FL

      Fantastic hub! I LOVE Yosemite and cannot wait to visit again.

    • Tashaonthetown profile image

      Natasha Pelati 3 years ago from South Africa

      It seems like there is a lot to go and see in California! Beautiful places and very interesting to know where to go and what to see! Great hub!

    • profile image

      Chuck 4 years ago

      "Luscious wet spots", yea kinda wrong...

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 4 years ago from The High Seas

      Good stuff. Going on an emergency road trip tomorrow so this hub was a good help.

    • Doodlehead profile image

      Doodlehead 4 years ago from Northern California

      I left and will never leave California again. This is it.

    • Vega Vallari profile image

      Nicole Paschal 4 years ago from Saint Petersburg, Florida

      Great article. I'm missing California now. I definitely want to return and the PCH!

    • securityproducts3 profile image

      securityproducts3 4 years ago

      I've been to California multiple times, and your information is so spot on! I think you've sparked something inside me to start planning another trip to California real soon! Wonderful Hub

    • mismazda profile image

      mismazda 4 years ago from a southern georgia peach

      Thanks for writing this Hub..I have always dreamed of visiting Cali...have not been there yet..but will one day. These are some great places to visit from readig your hub.One day I will be out there. voted up and interesting...

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 4 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      What a great hub! California is an awesome vacations destination! Our plans for Mount Shasta are coming up soon. Love your information.

    • profile image

      whowas 5 years ago

      Very nice hub. I have a friend who went out to California (I'm in the UK) and married a guy who owns a yacht! I exchange emails and we 'skype' sometimes but I've still not managed to get over there. However, your hub is making me think I really ought to make more effort.

      I would especially love to explore the Yosemite National Park and visit the California Hot Springs. I think I might fall in love with it if i did, judging by the way that you describe it.

      Great hub, really inspired me.

    • profile image

      truthteller 5 years ago

      I love Cali...but as a 40 year resident you gotta be smart when you travel. Since nobody is discussing the "dark side", here are some tips: Southern California is awesome but has plenty plenty of traffic. San Diego is lovely, but can be a little racist (white folks will probably not notice this). Mexico has a border drug war going on, so be careful. Northern Cal is awesome nearly everywhere, but gets cold in winter. All tha said, It's still the most awesome place ever!

    • NC4Life078 profile image

      NC4Life078 5 years ago from United States of America

      Bldg an Architect 2 months ago Level 2 Commenter

      I loved living in California for this very reason. You're always within driving distance of an awesome weekend vacation. :)

      It is so true, I was stationed there for four years. Although I was in the desert, snowboarding was no more than an hour away. You have to love Cali for this reason, if there is a place you don't like drive 30 minutes away. I agree completely with Pacific Coast Hwy, it is absoloutly gorgeous... and very few cops so you can get places quickly.

    • cityalice profile image

      cityalice 5 years ago

      Never been to Yosemite National Park, but it sounds worth checking out.

    • JRinFL profile image

      JRinFL 5 years ago from Naples, Florida

      As a former Bay Area resident, I appreciate how you constructed a newcomer's road trip down the Cali coast. It was very upbeat and didn't digress to frustrations that visitors are sure to see. Like south coast traffic! Thanks for a technically inspiring Hub, as well.

    • tipstoretireearly profile image

      tipstoretireearly 5 years ago from New York

      I was lucky enough to live in Coronado (just outside San Diego) for a brief time. Unbelievably nice weather. Gorgeous bay views to the East and Pacific Ocean views to the West. Coronado Beach has wonderful views.

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