Sure, COVID ruined all of our travel plans (seems like we all had biiiig travel plans for 2020… this was going to be our year). But, that doesn’t mean we have to stop enjoying life altogether, because as of now, local travel is becoming more safe and more common. Not sure where to go? Here are our top 6 travel destinations that you can drive to in Northern California and Southern California.
Sure you’ve heard of Napa Valley, but have you been to the little art town just south of Monterey named Carmel-by-the-Sea? It’s the quaintest beach town, with nonstop greenery, wineries, inns, restaurants, and local art galleries. If you’re not sure what to do, just head to downtown and walk around, or check out this local guide. We promise you’ll get your fill of fresh air, sand, and delicious food. Looking to splurge? Stay at one of Carmel Valley Ranch’s luxurious suites with a jacuzzi and bed-swing on your private patio (one of our LA residents got married here!).
If camping is more your style, a bit south of Carmel you’ll find Big Sur, which easily has one of California’s most beautiful coastal views. Take Highway 1 to get here, and make sure to visit the famous Bixby Bridge (pictured below), the stunning Pfeiffer Beach, and the lighthouse. You can camp at Julia Pfeiffer State Park or one of the many other coastal campgrounds (listen for wild turkeys at night). If you’re feeling fancy, stay at the coastal haven of Esalen, a retreat center where you can soak in clothing-optional natural hot spring tubs day and night, overlooking waves crashing hundreds of feet below you.
So you want a getaway, but you don’t want to drive for hours, or even rent a car? We gotchu. Just cross the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco (any Uber will do this), or hop on a ferry, and tah-dah, you’re in Sausalito! This cute little beach town just north of SF boasts art and wine and mom-and-pop shops, and is a whole different world from the big city vibes a few miles south. If you want to splurge, stay at the stunning Cavallo Point Lodge, a resort and spa nestled in an ocean-side cove, looking out onto the Golden Gate Bridge.
Joshua Tree National Park
This is an obvious one for SoCal, but it’s with good reason. Joshua Tree National Park is such a magical, distinct place – there’s nowhere else like it. Huge rocks litter the horizon, Joshua trees (they’re actual trees!) sprout up incessantly, and all kinds of desert life surrounds you (watch out for tiny bunnies). You can go rugged and camp, or choose luxury and rent the cutest AirBnbs (most of them even have hot tubs to soak under the night sky). By day you can hike through the desert landscape, and by night you can find your zodiac constellation in the Milky Way. Pro tip: spend a few hours in Pioneertown, where Hollywood shot most of its Westerns, and grab lunch at Pappy & Harriet’s.
Do you love the glamour of old Hollywood? Then prepare to swoon at literally every corner of Palm Springs. This town has a colorful history – it was the farthest that Hollywood studios allowed their movie stars in the 40s to live so they’d still be available to film in LA as needed, so many celebrities escaped the drudge of the city to live in this blissful dessert party town. It’s now known for being a gay mecca. There’s endless art, restaurants, cute AirBnbs and hotels (the Saguaro is probably the most famous, and most colorful, hotel), and you can even do a self-guided tour of homes of famous actors. Pro tip: you can take a gondola up the mountainside to play in snow!
Salvation Mountain / East Jesus
If you’re missing Burning Man this year, head down to Salvation Mountain and East Jesus for a psychedelic experience without ever touching acid. Built by a man named Leonard Knight after a vision of God told him to, Salvation Mountain is a huge art piece on the side of a mountain in the desert off of Niland. Once you’ve had your fill of color, drive 5 minutes to East Jesus for some intense dystopian, anti-culture art. East Jesus is an open-air art gallery in the middle of the desert, created by the residents of Slab City – a town filled with people who live off the grid and outside of the norms of our society.
We hope we’ve inspired you to hop in your car and just start driving. There are endless places for adventure in this beautiful state of ours. Tell us in the comments where you’re going next!