California offers a diverse array of getaway destinations within easy driving distance. Whether traveling the coast, inland or up to the mountains, a few hours’ easy drive can lead to exciting new locales perfect for exploring and relaxing with family and friends.
Summer is a great time to leave the crowded cities behind and beat the heat in the cozy mountain town of Big Bear in the San Bernardino Mountains. With daytime temperatures in the comfortable 80s, Big Bear is a cool place for all ages to enjoy a plethora of outdoor summer activities. Swim in the lake, try paddle boarding, jet skiing or fishing, go mountain biking or hike the abundant trails. Shoppers and diners will also find lots to explore at The Village, a local shopping and entertainment hub with over a hundred local boutiques, restaurants and shops.
Whether renting a lakeside cabin (complete with private hot tub) with the family or enjoying a weekend getaway, Big Bear is a quick and easy two-and-a-half-hour jaunt (approximately 130 miles) to an idyllic mountain destination where you can relax by the lake or participate in many activities and festivities. During the summer, family activities abound, including the annual 4th of July celebration featuring barbecues, arts and crafts fairs and fireworks, and Old Miners Days in July, showcasing the region’s rich history of logging, mining and ranching with events like the Chili Cookoff.
Adventure seekers can opt for adrenaline-inducing activities, such as helicopter rides, zip-lining and off-road jeep tours. Also check out The Cave to catch local and national bands or attend a C.A.T.S. (The Community Arts Theater Society) musical—”The Wizard of Oz” through July—at the Big Bear Performing Arts Center.
“Everybody’s gone surfing…surfing USA,” sang the Beach Boys, immortalizing Encinitas’ Swami’s Beach for generations to come. Encinitas’ breathtaking beaches and world-class waves only begin to scratch the surface of this iconic surf town’s treasures. Located in North County San Diego, about 130 miles from home, Encinitas comprises six miles of coastline, natural wetlands, unique nurseries and gardens, a lively downtown shopping and dining scene and a friendly, easygoing vibe.
Stroll the historic downtown area and explore the eclectic, beachy shops, like Bliss 101, where customers can sip champagne while discovering the store’s unique offerings, like sea glass and wave-inspired rings and one-of-a-kind gemstone necklaces fashioned by local artists. Visit the Shelter and stretch out on comfy couches in an open-air lounge while sipping specialty cocktails, enjoy the patio firepit or catch the game on their big screens. The area also boasts fine and casual dining of all types—many served with a view (try Las Olas across from the beach or the two-story Pacific Coast Grill).
Known as the “Flower Capital of the World,” Encinitas will thrill nature lovers of all ages with its extensive collection of nurseries and gardens, including the San Diego Botanic Garden. With nearly 4,000 varieties of plants from around the world, the garden features more than 37 acres of exhibits, including the largest bamboo groves in the U.S., a tropical rainforest, an undersea succulent garden and the Hamilton Children’s Garden, the West Coast’s largest interactive children’s garden.
Visitors can also take a free guided nature tour at the San Elijo Lagoon, where 40% of the birds in North America pass by during their annual migrations, or take a timeout at the serene Self-Realization Fellowship enjoying the meditation gardens, koi ponds and views of famous Swami’s Beach.
Encinitas’ close proximity to San Diego’s popular attractions—Sea World, Legoland, the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park—make it an ideal destination for exploring the area’s many offerings.
Nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains among majestic pines and aromatic cedars lies the quaint mountain hamlet of Idyllwild, known for its vibrant community of artists and peaceful, quiet environment. An hour from Palm Springs, Idyllwild offers cooler temperatures for a welcoming respite from the summer heat and bustling city crowds. Breathe in the fresh air and kick back in the great outdoors of Idyllwild, where hiking, biking, mountain climbing and fishing activities abound.
About 145 miles from home, Idyllwild features breathtaking views from mountain peaks, with sweeping vistas of the Coachella Valley and even the Salton Sea, located hundreds of miles away. Take a short break at picturesque Lake Fulmor situated along the twisting, turning road to Idyllwild, visit the Idyllwild Nature Center for trails of all levels or explore the 13,000-acre Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness area, where you can ride the cable car to the top of the mountain and hike 50+ miles of trails set amongst meandering streams and towering forests soaring above the Sonora desert.
Wherever you roam in the small town of Idyllwild, nature’s beauty is nearby, creating a rustic, laid-back atmosphere that invites visitors to wind down and soak up the soothing sights and sounds of Mother Nature. Wine lovers will enjoy award-wining wines at Idyllwild’s Middle Ridge Winery in the heart of town. All ages are welcome at the popular Mile High Café, known for their delicious lemon blueberry pancakes, or stop at Idyology for great food and live music in a log cabin homey setting with a deck overlooking a beautiful creek and a roaring fireplace.
Unique local shops include Swanktuary, carrying local artisans’ arts and crafts; the Sage and the Butterfly, offering well-crafted, organically made jewelry; and Merkaba Tea, with its extensive selection of organic teas.
During the summer, check out the annual Rotary Club Fourth of July parade and the Idyllwild Arts Jazz In The Pines outdoor music festival.
On the warmer north side of the Monterey Bay where the redwoods meet the ocean sits the coastal town of Santa Cruz. Off the beaten path, Santa Cruz is about a six-hour drive (about 330 miles) from home. It boasts picturesque beaches, sea piers, wharfs and boat harbors, as well as mountain redwood forests and multitudes of streams and lakes. Its redwood forests house vast arrays of trails and tiny mountain towns, like Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek, Bonny Dune and Lompico that look as if they’ve been preserved in time for a hundred years. Boarding the old train for a 6-mile ride from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement park to Felton through a winding forest and trestle bridge railroad is like going back in time. The old-style passenger train stops in the towering Old Growth Redwood forest called the Henry Cowell State Park and Roaring Camp Railroad.
Bring your flip flops, hiking shoes, mountain bikes or surfboards to suit your nature, as this outdoorsy natural town offers many activities for the young at heart. Enjoy plenty of people watching, street performers, restaurants and shopping in the downtown center at Pacific Avenue, the heart of Santa Cruz, where local UC Santa Cruz students known for their unusual Banana Slugs mascot frequent coffee shops. After spending a little time in this town, visitors will understand what is meant by the ubiquitous bumper stickers proclaiming to “Keep Santa Cruz Weird.” This fun-loving surf town located 90 minutes south of San Francisco and 30 minutes west of Silicon Valley has been a favorite getaway for these northern crowds for decades.