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9 Last-Minute Mini Getaways In California To Go On Now

9 Last-Minute Mini Getaways In California To Go On Now

Whether you want to retreat into the wilderness or hop between small towns, there’s plenty that the Golden State offers you to choose from.


5 min read

January 23, 2024

For a state as big and diverse as California, trying to narrow down where exactly to go on your next trip can feel like picking an item off a 1000-dish menu. Many of the state’s vacation spots like Napa, Los Angeles, and San Francisco may need a little (or a lot) of planning ahead. But what if you just want to get away for a few days?

Whether you’re looking to retreat into the wilderness, stretch out on the sand for a few hours, or hop between small towns, there’s plenty that the Golden State offers you to choose from. To make your guesswork a little easier, we’ve rounded up the best mini getaways in California; bon voyage!

Last-Minute Getaways in Northern California 

1. Sacramento

Looking for something new and exciting? How about taking a trip to a town that’s undergoing an energetic renaissance? And sure, Sacramento is known as the State Capital, but recently, it has become much, much more than that. Young professionals come here for the urban vibe, opening up quaint eateries, gastropubs, and trendy boutiques (which are found at almost every corner by the way).

Michelin-starred chefs are making miracles with local ingredients and award-winning recipes—the city is the national leader in farm-to-fork cuisine. And besides being a foodie haven, Sacramento boasts the most idyllic evenings; perfect for strolls along elegant Victorian-era homes and nature’s bounty.

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2. Ferndale

Speaking of Victorian, this next getaway destination makes time stand still. A fairytale come-true, the Humboldt County gem of Ferndale boasts pristinely-preserved Victorian-era homes, a visual feast for both nature lovers and architecture buffs, as well as the big redwood duo—Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Redwood National and State Park. Staying here will prove one of your best staycations in California thanks to the sheer charm the day-to-day in Ferndale brings. 

On peaceful foggy mornings, you can stroll their Main Street to see the town’s famed buildings. On sunny afternoons, you can peruse their impressive selection of artisan chocolatiers, galleries, and craft shops. And on holidays—which are especially magical—you can join the locals and adorn the city streets in twinkly lights or take a horse-drawn carriage ride into the sunset.

With cliffs plunging down to rocky coves with foamy surf, it’s no wonder that many people consider Big Sur the most dramatic stretch of coastline.

3. Big Sur 

There’s no better last-minute getaway in Northern California than the incomparable Big Sur. It’s one of the world’s most unforgettable stretches of coastline, dotted with redwoods and a fog-trimmed waterfront. Big Sur is located between Carmel-by-the-Sea and Hearst Castle—amazing destinations in their own right—and draws you and many other creatives like Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac in for an unforgettable ride. The magical allure of the area is palpable in the bluffs, sky, sea, and sand. It’s, quite simply, the place to be.

Getting to Big Sur is an event all by itself. Follow along the twisting Highway 1, take advantage of all the pullovers, catch glimpses of endangered California birds, and keep an eye out for migrating whales.

Sausalito was once the site of a Coast Miwok settlement known as Liwanelowa. The branch of the Coast Miwok living here were known as the Huimen.

4. Sausalito

Just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, a steep Highway 101 hillside adorned in chaparral and eucalyptus drops to a sunny shoreline—Sausalito. Most people walk or bike over the bridge to reach this gem, sit and have coffee at a cafe on the main street Bridgeway, and gaze back across at the bay towards the sunset-soaked skyline. This, by all means, is a lovely way to spend your day. But it barely scratches the town’s surface.

Sausalito is a place where art intersects with industry, a place where people make things with their hands and pour their hearts into the food they make. The ceramic pottery and tiles that local Edith Heath turned into a city staple can now be found not only in Sausalito but on the tables of two-thirds of the restaurants in the Bay Area. As far as mini-getaways go in California, this is definitely one you won’t be able to forget.

Mini Weekend Trips in Southern California 

The charming village of Solvang is worth visiting for its striking Danish architecture, interesting museums, and bakeries offering delicious treats.

5. Solvang

So you didn’t exactly have time to plan that European vacation, don’t worry—SoCal has the next best thing. Picture a village where the air is scented with colorful, freshly-cut flowers and straight-from-the-oven pastries; that’s Solvang. There’s also gingerbread architecture (perfect if you like to get into the holiday spirit early), twirling windmills, and smiling faces wherever you look. The latter also serve you farm-to-fork food and delights from local chocolatiers. 

Founded by Danish Americans who hailed from the Midwest, Solvang—translating from Danish into ‘sunny fields’—is also known for its theater program, with thrilling performances taking place in a 700-seat outdoor theater.

Straddling San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, Joshua Tree National Park includes parts of two deserts.

6. Joshua Tree National Park

Traveler couples looking for an outdoor escape should really consider visiting Joshua Tree National Park. Its stunningly stark and bewitching beauty will put you right under its spell; you’ll really forget that the outside world even exists. Whether you’re looking for peace of mind, a strenuous adventure, a stargazing sesh, or an Old-West-inspired type of outing, Joshua Tree has countless outdoor delights to keep you occupied on your weekend getaway in California.

Ventura is surrounded by two free-flowing rivers and is nestled against unspoiled hills. The area has been inhabited for thousands of years.

7. Ventura

Searching for those famed L.A. vibes minus the traffic? Ventura is the answer to your prayers. With excellent waves, great cuisine, and access to an incredible national park, this coastal city is a triple threat—it’s also great when you don’t exactly have a fleshed-out plan for your last-minute getaway.

Ventura neighbors the urban buzz of Los Angeles County, but it also marks the beginning of the Central Coast; lush farms, the sparkling wine country, and all that jazz. Its heart, however, lounges along its biggest edge, the roaring Pacific. The land of surf, sun, and sand is the weekend trip in Southern California you need to go on 

Big Bear Lake is Southern California's largest recreation lake; it's about seven miles long and about one mile at its widest.

8. Big Bear Lake 

If you ever need a mini version of SoCal’s charm packed in one getaway; go to Big Bear Lake. Just two hours from Los Angeles, the towering San Bernardino Mountains offer a cool pine-scented escape that’s perfect for families searching for a fun weekend trip in Southern California. At an altitude of about 7,000 feet, Big Bear Lake is like a hub of alpine recreation. Ski resorts in winter, a seven-mile lake in spring, and golfing in summer, you can pretty much visit here whenever you want.

9. Ojai

Perfect for when you just want to chill out and slow down for a few days, Ojai is considered one of the best solo getaways in California. Known as a real-life Shangri-la of sorts, Ojai is a haven for rejuvenation. This town is tucked in the valley of the Topatopa Mountains at the southern edge of the Los Padres National Forest; you’ll feel like you’ve found a gem of a refuge on your relaxing getaway in California. You can choose to stay at sprawling resorts or kick it cabin-chic style in one of the many no-frills spots offered in a town with pink sunsets.

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