I was lucky enough to grow up on the West Coast, where you take a lot for granted, including the fact that you’re close by a million different things to do. We have everything. Mountains, valleys, oceans, lakes, deserts, beaches, forests…everything. I have so much love for the Midwest now that I’ve spent my college years there, but California is something special.
Over holiday breaks, I always come home to California. San Diego is my home base, but the best part isn’t the beach: It’s the fact that you can surf and ski in literally the same day. Not that you would actually want to, but you know you can!
I’ve compiled my favorite California day-cations in a quick guide, from national parks to ski resorts. If you get the chance to do any of these, do it. And let me know if you love it!
Desert exploring in Joshua Tree National Park
This place is famous for its rock climbing and desert views, but I still think it’s super underrated. Many people don’t realize that Joshua Tree has a history, with abandoned mines and houses. It’s like an Old Western ghost town. Even Disneyland couldn’t make this stuff up. While you climb around on giant boulders and explore infinite trails, you can also check out the cool backstories of the OG settlers.
Skiing at Big Bear Lake
Even though Mammoth is my all-time favorite place to ski, Big Bear is just a short distance from my hometown in San Diego. I grew up learning how to ski and snowboard at Big Bear, and it’s a great place for both beginners and experts. While there aren’t as many runs as there are at a place like Mammoth, they’re a lot of fun, and great for a day of shredding.
Poolside at Palm Springs
If you’re looking for the opposite of snow? Try a hot tub in an oasis. Palm Springs is one of my favorite places in the world, and I don’t even golf. It’s the ultimate paradise, with forever warm temperatures, cool pools, hot tubs, and (you guessed it) palm trees for days. You don’t even need to book a hotel room– just pop in to the pool. Not that I’m suggesting trespassing…but if you decide to use a fake room number to get past the security guards, I would never know.
Whenever I’m in Palm Springs, I feel like I’m on an island, with no cares at all except when to get my next margarita. Which is rare for an overthinking workaholic like me. You know it’s a getaway when it gets me away from my work.
Sightseeing at Big Sur
Depending on where in California you are, you might be day trip distance from Big Sur, in which case you are very lucky because this place is magical. The rugged coast has some incredible seaside hikes, including one where you can collect jade on the beach, and another where you can see the famous McWay Falls, an 80-foot waterfall on the beach.
Biking from Santa Monica to Venice
If you don’t want to bother with the touristy Hollywood area, here’s a different touristy area to try: the Santa Monica pier, and Venice Beach. Not Venice, Italy…although you might find a canal or two at Venice Beach! Located about 2.6 miles apart, it’s a fantastic bike ride from Santa Monica to Venice. Start on the pier, where the boardwalk features classic carnival games and rides. Then grab a bike and make your way down to the more hipster-y Venice Beach, where you can watch skaters and surfers do their thing. There is people-watching galore and I can’t get enough.
So those were my fave day trips, but for honorable mentions, I wanted to list some more of the best California destinations that are better experienced in more than a day. These are probably a little more well known, but they deserve to be acknowledged here:
- San Francisco
- Yosemite National Park
- Sequoia National Park
- Napa Valley
- Monterey Bay