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The 5 Best California Weekend Getaways

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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.

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!

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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.

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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...

Hwy 1 Guides

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!

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