If you’re keen to experience a dash of autumn in the form of a day or weekend trip, we’ve got plenty of options ranging from luxurious wine country destinations to stunning desert locales—all within five hours of Los Angeles.Less
Go country in Santa Ynez Valley: Escape the city and head to the wine region in Santa Barbara County for a relaxing getaway without the crowds you’ll find in northern Napa or Temecula Valley to the south. Solvang will transport you to an authentic Danish village, without the lengthy plane ride. Founded by Danish settlers over a century ago, the charming streets, homes, and businesses were constructed to resemble a small Danish town (yes, there are windmills), with bakeries on every corner.
Fly high in a hot air balloon over Rancho Santa Fe: Sitting on the outskirts of San Diego is the little suburb of Rancho Santa Fe. Check out the famous hot air balloon rides in the region—the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe has even partnered with Sky's the Limit Ballooning Adventures to provide aerial tours of the region. The Pony Room, named after the strong horse riding community in North San Diego County, offers sunset views dotted with hot air balloons that float overhead.
Live the luxe life in Montecito: Home to Oprah Winfrey, Harry and Meghan, and plenty of other A-listers, the once-sleepy town of Montecito that used to be a place you just drove through on your way to Santa Barbara is now its own must-stop destination. Head to the Folded Hills Tasting Room for wine tasting before checking out the iconic Rosewood Miramar Beach that’s been dubbed the American Riviera for its stunning architecture and sweeping landscapes.
Experience farm-to-table dining in Ojai Valley: Ojai Valley is known for many things—hot springs, olive oil, wine, and their fabulous farm-to-table fare. Dip into popular Willett Hot Springs before checking out the town’s culinary offerings including farm-to-table eats at Azu, The Farmer and the Cook (check out their pizza nights), and The Farmhouse at the Ojai Valley Inn.
Soak up the fresh air in Yosemite: There’s a reason Yosemite is one of the most famous national parks in the country. Not many places envelope you in pure, unabashed nature the way Yosemite does. It’s not unlike the Grand Canyon; no matter how many gorgeous photos you see, it’s somehow still not overrated. Yosemite’s underlying beauty is front-and-center during the winter, which makes it a premiere choice for camping.
Get weird in Idyllwild: There are many mountain towns that surround Los Angeles, but none of them are quite like Idyllwild. For starters, it’s an unincorporated community in Riverside, which gives it a distinctly different vibe than the rest of the county. You can always rent a generic cabin in Idyllwild, but you could drive for miles and never find a place more odd or wonderful than Hicksville Pines Bud & Breakfast.
Rough it in Death Valley: Take advantage of the rare 60 to 70 degree weather (but prepare for very cold nights) and explore the dunes in the least physically demanding way you can. You’ll want to devote some time to staring at the sky—at night, the stars over the desert will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen, sprawling out above you like an observatory dome. Grab some beers to go from Panamint Springs Resort (they’ve got over 150 options), and pop ‘em open under the stars.
Unplug from society in Running Springs: Just west of Big Bear, Running Springs isn’t going to top the charts of many vacation roundups. This is exactly what makes it the perfect place to disconnect, and Getaway House is here to help us do just that. Each of their tiny little cabin-houses come stocked with a functional bathroom, kitchenette, and hotel-quality bed situated next to a huge window that -- depending on which cabin they assign you -- sports a hell of a view.
Enjoy the desert in Joshua Tree, CA: Joshua Tree is truly one-of-a-kind. The complete nothingness that emanates from the star-splattered sky at night here is an absolute titan of the California natural wonders hierarchy. It’s scenic as hell during the day (which, during the fall and winter, is a lot more manageable), too, what with all the eponymous Joshua Trees and weirdly picturesque rock formations.
Gaze from the cliffs in Big Sur: Big Sur, like Joshua Tree, is one of those places that could turn even the most vehement East Coaster into a believer in California’s undying wonder. If you’re a cold weather camping addict, this is the place for you (Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is only $35 a night). There’s plenty of hiking around the area too, and when you get to the top, you can treat yourself to some unbeatable views from the cliff sides.