Weekend Trips in California – Best Places to Visit in 48 Hours

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When it comes to the best area of the United States to experience a myriad of epic 48 hour getaways, there are not many better spots than to enjoy a collection of weekend trips in California. Recognized as the “Golden State”, California is the third largest state in the US after Alaska and Texas and is full of amazing weekend getaway destinations. Whether you choose to hop on a short flight or you are fortunate to be able to drive to one of these amazing locations, California is home to both rural and urban spots that will capture your imagination.

san francisco

We have been fortunate to visit California on multiple occasions, ranging from trips to Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, while also spending time in Yosemite National Park and Redwood State Park. The beauty of California is that there are endless opportunities to explore, so if you are like us and want to find amazing weekend trip locations, this is definitely the place to be.

As California is home to so many distinctive locations, we are sharing not only some of our favorite spots for a weekend break but also we have asked some of the most knowledgeable travel bloggers to share their highlight destinations across the Golden State. While this is only a small selection of destinations, we are convinced that you will be inspired to check these out while also exploring some other gems that we haven’t covered.

venice beach california

Let’s take a look at some of the best weekend trip destinations in California.

Death Valley National Park

One of the best national parks to visit in California is Death Valley National Park. Death Valley is one of the hottest places on Earth. It holds the world record for the hottest temperature in the world; 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Even though it is blistering hot, it is a great place to explore especially if you stay at The Inn At Death Valley.

This national park is filled with phenomenal views and hikes. One of the most popular areas is Zabriskie Point. This a great place to experience the sunrise. The sun’s rays slowly creep up, and you can spot the colors and formations of Zabriskie Point. It is a magical time. Just note that you won’t be the only one there!

death valley national park

A hike near Zabriskie Point is Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch, and Badlands Loop Hike. It is one of the most popular hikes in the park, and for a good reason. The trail is filled with many spiderweb-like formations and colorful mountains with specs of blue, yellow, and pink. The views are astonishing. Just remember to bring some water with you.

Another great spot is the Badwater Basin. It is the lowest point in North America and stands at 282 feet below sea level. The basin is filled with salt, so all you see surrounding you is a vast white land with stunning mountains in the distance. It is an excellent spot for photography.

Death Valley is filled with so many unusual formations. It is one of the most impressive and unique national parks in California.

By Michelle Stelly from The Wandering Queen. Check out our post highlighting an epic day trip from Las Vegas to Death Valley National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park

While California is home to a variety of amazing cities that deservedly attract visitors from all across the globe, our love of USA national parks makes it easy for us to recommend one of California’s nine areas that have such a designation. While Yosemite is perhaps the most famous, we would argue that Joshua Tree National Park is equally spectacular and deserves to be on everyone’s radar.

joshua tree national park

Located in the heart of Southern California, Joshua Tree is a short two-hour drive from downtown Los Angeles and the perfect national park to experience for a weekend getaway. A scenic drive throughout Joshua Tree will allow you to capture a glimpse of the inherent beauty of this park, but perhaps the best way to truly appreciate the amazing landscapes is to experience a collection of the best hikes in Joshua Tree.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park may not get as much attention as the state’s other national parks, but its history of eruptions and hydrothermal activity that reminds visitors of the best of Yellowstone make it an exciting pick on any California trip.

Kick off your first day with a hike to the best viewpoint in the park: Lassen Peak. You’ll climb 2,000 feet of elevation over 5 miles roundtrip on this one, but the vistas are worth it. Pack a picnic lunch and good hiking shoes with some traction. If you’re not spent, head to Bumpass Hell, the scene of the park’s hydrothermal activity. Three miles of much easier hiking will get you to the boardwalks and that tell-tale sulphur smell.

lassen volcanic national park

Spend the morning of your second day hiking to Terrace, Shadow and Cliff Lakes on a 3.5-mile trek that you’ll have mostly to yourself. If you’re short on time, the second lake of the three, Shadow Lake, is the largest and most impressive. Follow that up with a drive to the park’s best scenic stops: Kings Creek Meadow, the Devastated Area, Lake Helen, Hat Creek and Manzanita Lake.

For your overnight stay, the only options in the park are the Drakesbad Guest Ranch and the park’s campgrounds. There are more options in the nearby towns of Shingletown (the closest), Chester or Burney. Local grocery shops will offer the best chance for meals, as the scenery is definitely the highlight here!

By Agnes Groonwald from Travel on the Reg

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is one of the best places to take a weekend trip in California. There are a ton of free and cheap things to do in Los Angeles. Visitors should opt to stay in the Downtown area as it is in the center of all the activities.

There are so many things visitors can do during a weekend in Los Angeles. On the first day, opt to explore Downtown Los Angeles. Visit the Broad, a free modern art museum. Then, check out the creative stacks in the Last Bookstore. Grab some lunch at one of the many Mexican restaurants on Olvera Street and a snack in Little Tokyo.

staples center los angeles

Spend the afternoon in Hollywood. Walk along the Walk of Fame and check out the Dolby Theater where the Academy Awards are held. Then, head to Griffith Park to catch some view of the Hollywood sign and watch the sunset at the Griffith Observatory. For dinner, head to Mama Shelter which offers a gorgeous view of the Hollywood sign.

hollywood california

During day 2 of a weekend getaway in Los Angeles, start the morning by attending a TV show taping. 1iota and TV Tickets are two sites to get free tickets and see what shows are available. Then, spend the afternoon exploring the Getty Museum, one of the most popular museums in Los Angeles. Finally spend your evening at the Santa Monica Pier to catch another gorgeous sunset.

By Francesca from Homeroom Travel. Check out our post on the best things to do in Hollywood if you need more inspiration on visiting Los Angeles.

Mammoth Lakes

If you love playing outside, you can make the most of a weekend getaway in Mammoth Lakes. Winter in Mammoth provides epic skiing and snowboarding, while summer is the ideal time to explore a range of outdoor activities in Mammoth, from hiking to mountain biking to climbing. In fact, this mountain town located in the Eastern Sierras has so much to offer, you might want to extend your stay!

mammoth lakes

But if you only have 48 hours in Mammoth Lakes, the hike to the unique rock formation of Devils Postpile has to be on the top of your to-do list, and it can be combined with the trail to Rainbow Falls. If you prefer a pedal-powered excursion, check out the bike park at Mammoth Mountain. For a vertical adventure, climb Crystal Crag, a fun multi-pitch alpine climbing route.

After all your adventures, soak your sore muscles in one of the many hot springs in Mammoth Lakes, including Pulkey’s Pool and Wild Willie’s. Finally, treat your tastebuds with a visit to the iconic Schat’s Bakery for hearty sandwiches and delicious baked goods.

By Allison from She Dreams of Alpine

Monterey Peninsula

The Monterey Peninsula is one of the most popular weekend getaways in California, and with good reason. It features spectacular scenery, picturesque coastal towns, and lots to see and do, for kids and adults alike.

One of the best things to do in Monterey is to go on a whale watching tour. Monterey Bay is one of the richest marine habitats on the planet, and it provides food for whales, which can be seen here year round. The Monterey Bay aquarium is a great place to get acquainted with the various ecosystems and creatures that live here.

monterey peninsula

Experience the scenic 17-Mile Drive that starts in Pacific Grove and winds past a series of beautiful viewpoints (and oceanfront mansions!) in Pebble Beach. Wind down with a stroll along Cannery Row in downtown Monterey, the setting for Steinbeck’s novel on the sardine canning industry.

On day two, start by visiting the historic (and beautiful!) Spanish mission in Carmel. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and the museum holds many artifacts. Next, head to the charming village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, where you can stroll the streets to browse the many shops and galleries. In the afternoon, take a drive into bucolic Carmel Valley to tour vineyards and sip some local wines. Finish up your day with a stroll along the pristine beach in Carmel.

Pacific Grove has many historic inns that make a great base from which to explore the peninsula. And you will find quality eateries in all the towns here, many featuring farm-to-table cuisine or fresh-caught seafood.

By Dhara from Roadtripping California

San Diego

San Diego makes the perfect weekend trip and in 48 hours you can do and see a lot of the city and cool things around town. San Diego is only a two hour drive from LA and short and easy flight from San Francisco and Sacramento, the largest cities in the state. Start off your weekend getaway with visiting the historic parts of the city to include Old Town San Diego and then a visit to the Balboa park neighborhood.

balboa park san diego

The Old town is actually a designated state park with actual buildings fronting a grand square and redone like a living museum which is fun to explore. Next Balboa park is fun to explore for the famous zoo, many outstanding museums, botanical gardens and gorgeous outdoor places to explore right in the middle of town. You can spend the rest of your day exploring some of the cool neighborhoods maybe for a nice dinner like Little Italy and the Gaslamp district.

Day two is fun beach day exploration with the historic Coronado hotel, town and beach area, followed up with Belmont park amusements and boardwalk for a colorful visit to this area. If you’re into more historic parks and monuments, check out the Cabrillo Monument, lighthouse and beautiful outdoor hiking trails and overlook sights to drive through or hike depending on your interest.

san diego california

End of day would be to see sunset in La Jolla, enjoy the promenade and coves lined with California wildflowers and wild marine life hanging on the rocks. Cap off the day with a delicious meal at an outdoor dining venue, brew pub or even a fine dining restaurant that is typical in this high end district.

Check out this post on the top things to do in San Diego here for more inspiration, unique places to visit and other fun adventure activities around this exciting city to explore.

By Noel Morata from Travel Photo Discovery. Check out our post on experiencing an epic 48 hours in San Diego if you need any more convincing that this is the perfect weekend getaway destination in California.

San Francisco

The clanging of the cable cars’ bells, the barking sea lions down at Fisherman’s Wharf, and the quick blast of the ferry horn as its pulls in to take you to Alcatraz Island are just a couple of the sounds that you will experience on your fantastic weekend in San Francisco. It’s is one of the most iconic cities in the U.S, and has tons of history, great architecture, world class museums, Chinatown, the Golden Gate bridge, and so many things to fill your perfect weekend in the city.

golden gate bridge san francisco

While you are there, don’t miss some fantastic tastes such as those at Dungeness crab, San Francisco sourdough bread, Chinese dim sum, and some spicy Mexican food. If you have a sweet tooth, top it all off with a whirl through Ghirardelli Chocolate. They’re hot chocolate chip cookies are delectable. No matter where you eat, or what you do, you will enjoy a perfect weekend in San Francisco.

By Corinne Vail from Roving Vails

San Jose

Although the home of Silicon Valley, San Jose offers a fantastic weekend getaway. Ideal for those who enjoy shopping, dining, and sightseeing with a touch of class.

Check into the stunning Hotel Valencia along the tres chic Santana Row. Make dinner reservations at the exquisite Left Bank Brasserie (just steps away from the hotel) and don’t leave town without perusing the San Pedro Square Market. A great spot to get in some local color and mouth-watering eats.

hotel valencia san jose

San Jose has you covered if museums are on the itinerary. Start your day at the Tech Museum of Innovation. Three stories to explore everything science and technology await you. While over at the beautiful San Jose Museum of Art, nearly 2,500 modern and contemporary works of art are on display. If you love quilts, check out the unique Museum of Quilts and Textiles.

Don’t miss the Winchester Mystery House. One of the world’s most unusual homes, you have to see it to believe it. Don’t forget to ask about the Door to Nowhere! After an afternoon of museum and shop hopping, visit some San Jose wineries, or if a few cold beers sound enticing, plan some brewery stops.

Where will San Jose take you?

By Mary Farah from Along Comes Mary

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is the perfect town for a quick California trip. It is conveniently located about 2 hours from Los Angeles. You can even grab the train from LA for one of the US’ prettiest train rides. This historic mission town lies nestled between mountains and coastline.

It has a happening downtown with excellent shopping and restaurants.. You can go wine tasting in the Funk Zone or by going right outside of town to wineries. Don’t miss the food at Zaytoon or ice cream at Mission Street Ice Cream.

santa barbara california

If you like to be active there are a plethora of hikes including one through Monarch-filled Eucalyptus groves in Goleta or a hot springs in the wild in Gaviota. You can also rent a kayak and paddle around Stearns Wharf.

Santa Barbara also has many beaches to relax on or surf from. Be sure to visit the mission and the botanical garden Although there are many places to stay, the most convenient places are right on the water downtown, such as The Beachside Inn or The West Beach Inn. So head to this jewel by the ocean and spend 2 days in Santa Barbara.

By Jamie from The Daily Adventures of Me

Santa Monica

You’ve probably seen the iconic pictures of the Ferris Wheel on Santa Monica Pier and read about the relaxed atmosphere of one of the most trendy beach spots in California and are wondering how you can get involved.

santa monica california

There are so many exciting things to do in Santa Monica that your 48 hours will fly by. These include relaxing or admiring the sunset on Santa Monica Beach and watching the athletes at Muscle Beach. Also, ensure you walk down the lively Santa Monica Pier, especially at night when the lights shine and then experience the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, which occurs on Sundays. You can also hire bikes and cycle to the nearby Venice Beach to check out the Venice Beach Boardwalk, the Skate Park and the Venice Canals.

santa monica pier california

To fit in with the trendy locals, you should eat at Urth Caffe, or if you fancy a burger, you can try Big Dean’s Ocean Front Café or Pono Burger. Alternatively, there is a range of restaurants in Downtown Santa Monica and Third Street Promenade. For accommodation, if you’re on a budget, stay at HI Santa Monica, or you can treat yourself at Oceana Beach Club or Viceroy Santa Monica.

By Rachel from Average Lives

Temecula

Temecula is the perfect California weekend getaway, especially for wine lovers. This Southern California wine region feels like a trip to Tuscany. You will find rolling vineyards, tall cedar trees lined on the ridges, and a fabulous selection of wineries in Temecula.

Wine tasting is definitely a must, when you visit Temecula. You can either explore on your own, or join an organized tour to take you from winery to winery. The latter is great, because you don’t have to worry about driving and you get to check out some great places. They even have a wine tour where you are driven around in a vintage motorcycle sidecar.

temecula california

Another great experience is a sunrise hot air ballon ride with champagne. It is magical to see the sunrise over the vineyards, enjoying the view over the never-ending rows of grapevines while toasting with a glass of local sparkling wine.

Old Town Temecula is also a fun place to visit. You will find cute shops and great restaurants, parks and art galleries. It is the perfect spot to explore, relax and enjoy yourselves. Definitely add Temecula to your shortlist for a fun California getaway!

By Maria Haase from San Diego Explorer

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is one of the most iconic National Parks in the USA, and it is packed with endless adventures. Whether you’re a hardcore adrenaline junkie looking for an epic time in the backcountry or you’re simply looking for a beautiful place to relax and unwind for a weekend getaway, you’re sure to find plenty of things to fill your time.

yosemite national park california

For iconic views, head to Tunnel View near the westside entrance where you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view over the Yosemite Valley. Glacier Point is another spectacular viewpoint that begs you to take lots of photos, as it is almost too beautiful to be real. Getting onto the trails and doing a hike or two is a great way to explore the park even further.

yosemite california

Taft Point and Bridalveil Falls are quick and easy trails that fit easily into a short visit. However, if you are looking to get off the beaten path and avoid the big crowds, you may consider a longer hike, like West Valley Loop Trail, or a strenuous but incredibly rewarding trek to Cloud’s Rest.

yosemite national park

The best way to truly experience Yosemite is to camp inside the park, however, be sure to make your reservation well in advance as the campgrounds fill up quickly. If you’re not into camping, there are lodges as well. Be sure to pack lots of snacks and some food that you can easily cook while camping, as the restaurants and stores inside the park tend to be overpriced and of low quality.

By Katie Diederichs from Go Wander Wild

Summary

While this collaboration barely touches the surface of awesome weekend getaway destinations in California, we hope that this gives a glimpse of the amazing beauty that can be experienced in as short as 48 hours throughout the Golden State. We would like to reiterate our appreciation to those that contributed to this post and encourage you all to share your favorite California getaway spots that perhaps we didn’t cover in this post.

Whether you are intrigued by the prospect of visiting one of the major cities and indulging in eclectic cuisine, or perhaps you prefer the great outdoors and want a little adventure by exploring one (or more) of the breathtaking national parks, California is home to a plethora of amazing attractions.

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Chris Boothman is the co-founder of A Brit and A Southerner. Born near Manchester, England, Chris moved to USA in 2006 where he soon after met his wife and travel partner in crime, Heather. They have since embarked on an amazing journey of travel as they challenge others to follow in their paths of working full-time but also being able to travel frequently! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact Chris at [email protected]

4 COMMENTS

  1. San Francisco was a great weekend great away. After reading your blog, Santa Barbara sounds amazing. Zaytoon and the wineries sound like a must.

  2. What truly amazes us about California is that you can go from surfing to skiing…in the same day! There is just so much variety, and so many fantastic state and national parks, it’s truly a weekend adventurer’s paradise!

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