Palm Springs & the Coachella Valley
The Rat Pack is back, baby, or at least its hangout is. In the 1950s and '60s, Palm Springs, some 100 miles east of LA, was the swinging getaway of Sinatra, Elvis and dozens of other stars, partying the night away in fancy modernist homes. Once the Rat Pack packed it in, though, the 300-sq-mile Coachella Valley surrendered to retirees in golf clothing.
Around Santa Barbara
Can’t quit your day job to follow your bliss? Don’t despair, a long weekend in the mountains, valleys and beaches between Santa Barbara and LA will keep you inspired until you can. In this land of daydreams, perfect waves beckon off Ventura’s coast, shady trails wind skyward in the Los Padres National Forest and spiritual Zen awaits you in Ojai Valley.
Though culturally diverse and historic, San Jose has always been in San Francisco’s shadow, awash in Silicon Valley’s suburbia. Founded in 1777 as El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe, San Jose is California’s oldest Spanish civilian settlement. Its downtown is small and scarcely used for a city of its size, though it does bustle with 20-something clubgoers on the weekends.
Joshua Tree National Park
Taking a page from a Dr Seuss book, the whimsical Joshua trees (actually tree-sized yuccas) welcome visitors to this 794,000-acre park at the convergence of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts. It was Mormon settlers who named the trees because the branches stretching up toward heaven reminded them of the Biblical prophet Joshua pointing the way to the promised land.
Around Los Angeles
Make like Jack Kerouac, ditch the congestion, crowds and smog, and use LA as a hub to all the natural glory of California. Get an early start to beat the commuter traffic (or catch a ferry, Greyhound bus or ride the Amtrak rails), and point the compass across the ocean, up into the mountains or into the vast and imposing desert.
Mediterranean-flavored Catalina Island is a popular getaway for harried Angelenos, but sinks under the weight of day-trippers in summer. Stay overnight, though, and feel the ambience go from frantic to romantic. Catalina has a unique ecosystem and has gone through stints as a hangout for sea-otter poachers, smugglers and Union soldiers.