Los Angeles is one of the most famous cities in the world. It’s also one of the most crowded. Despite the city’s vibrant energy and bustling lifestyle, residents can sometimes crave an escape from the urban chaos. 

Fortunately, city dwellers have plenty of opportunities around the area; there are plenty of tranquil destinations just a short drive away that offers a respite from the concrete jungle. 

Primarily, these are nature-based destinations, perfectly capturing the beauty of the great state of California: 

Joshua Tree

It’s the name of U2’s best album. A fabled desert that is a favorite destination for stargazers everywhere. A California national park that captures the beauty of the West Coast desert. 

Located just a few hours away from Los Angeles, Joshua Tree is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. 

Venture into the park’s vast wilderness and discover its iconic Joshua trees, towering rock formations, and vast desert vistas. Engage in hiking, rock climbing, or stargazing, immersing yourself in the serenity of nature. 

With over three million visitors last year, as the National Park Service reported, Joshua Tree National Park remains a popular choice for Angelenos seeking a respite from city life. You can’t go wrong with a visit to this desert. 

Fun fact: Joshua Tree actually contains a confluence of three different ecosystems. The Mojave and Colorado Desert are the primary ecosystems in the park; a third, high-elevation ecosystem hosts pinyon pine and juniper trees. 

Santa Barbara

Known for its Mediterranean charm and beautiful beaches, the picturesque coastal city of Santa Barbara offers a blend of relaxation and cultural exploration. Indulge in sun-soaked days at Butterfly Beach or East Beach, where you can bask in the warm California sun or take a refreshing dip in the Pacific Ocean. 

Explore the historic Santa Barbara Mission, stroll along State Street with its boutique shops and gourmet restaurants, or stop by the Santa Barbara County Courthouse for panoramic views of the city. Santa Barbara’s idyllic atmosphere and rich cultural heritage make it a perfect weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. 

Fun fact: Santa Barbara is home to the most beach camping across the coast. There are endless beach camping opportunities, including Refugio State Beach, where visits will find 85 campsites right near the water. 

Ojai Valley

The Ojai Valley’s unique blend of natural beauty and spiritual energy has earned it a reputation as a wellness destination. Unsurprisingly, the location’s natural beauty and spiritual ambiance attract visitors seeking rejuvenation.

The name “Ojai” is derived from the Ventureño Chumash word “‘awha’y,” meaning “moon.” The town’s nickname is “Shangri-La,” referencing the natural environment of health and spirituality-focused the area is renowned for. 

Take a leisurely stroll through the charming downtown area, filled with art galleries, boutiques, and cozy cafes. Unwind with a spa treatment or yoga session at one of the renowned wellness retreats. Explore the stunning Los Padres National Forest, where hiking trails lead to hidden waterfalls and panoramic vistas. 

Fun fact: Chain stores are prohibited by city ordinance, to encourage small business development and preservation of the town. 

Temecula Valley 

Embark on a wine tasting journey through the Temecula Valley’s award-winning vineyards, sampling a variety of bottles while taking in the picturesque scenery. Enjoy a leisurely picnic among the vineyards or indulge in a gourmet meal at one of the valley’s acclaimed restaurants. 

Spanning more than 33,000 acres — the largest viticultural area in the state — the Temecula Valley has been a wine staple since 1968, when grapes were initially planted in the region. 

For a touch of adventure, take a hot air balloon ride and marvel at the sprawling vineyards from above. With over 50 wineries and nearly 1.7 million visitors annually, according to the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, Temecula Valley has become a sought-after destination for wine lovers and those seeking a serene getaway.

Fun fact: The name “Temecula” comes from the Luiseño word “Temecunga” — “temet” meaning “sun” and “-nga” which means “place of.” It remains the only city in California to retain its original Native American name. 

Big Bear

big bear vacation

Big Bear Lake

A four-season mountain lake located in the heart of So Cal, Big Bear Lake is the crown jewel of the San Bernardino National Forest. Visitors can participate in fishing, snowboarding, and skiing — all year round. Folks coming through the greater Big Bear Valley area can regularly see crowds of over 100,000 during many weekends of the year. 

Originally built as a dam in 1885, the manmade lake was expanded upon in 1910, tripling the amount of water in the area. In 1925, skiing was introduced in the area; to date, Big Bear boasts some of the best skiing opportunities in the country, including vast slopes across mountains overlooking the beautiful lake. 

Unlike most of southern California, Big Bear Lake receives significant winter snow because of its high elevation; it is both the highest and coldest incorporated city in the state. 

Fun fact: Since 1915, the area has been a popular place for shooting on location. Films shot at Big Bear Lake include Daniel Boone, Gone with the Wind, Old Yeller, and Paint Your Wagon, amongst many others.