I’m a California gal through-and-through. Sunshine feeds my soul and wine runs through my veins. It’s no wonder so many people visit the Golden State I grew up in. You can go from the balmy beach towns of San Diego to the scorching Mojave Desert in a matter of hours, and from the foggy Redwood groves to the organic vineyards and orchards in minutes. Cities like San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles offer historic landmarks and postcard-perfect sights, while small towns like Ojai and Mendocino have that undeniable California charm.
I’ve always preferred the experience of a boutique hotel to a large chain – a credit to my mother who was an excellent trip planner growing up – which is why you’ll find this guide sprinkled with quaint motels and hotels you may have never heard of. That’s half the fun of traveling, after all – discovering gems you Ould have otherwise overlooked! These unique places are perfect for a quick, relaxing weekend away that you won’t forget. Now, get packing!
Mendocino (Mendocino County)
Of all the towns I’m going to talk about, the coastal village of Mendocino is one I know quite well and can’t believe more people haven’t heard of. During the winter months, Mendocino is what you’d call a “sleepy town”; however, it comes alive in the spring and summer months as tourists from the nearby Bay Area and inland Mendocino County make the 1-3 hour trek to this unique coastal retreat.
I’d personally recommend staying at either Mendocino Grove or Brewery Gulch Inn, which are both about 1 mile from the village. The former gives you the “glamping” experience of sleeping on a redwood deck in a safari-style canvas tent with heated beds; the latter is a 4-star hotel with modern amenities and 10 beautifully-designed rooms, several of which offer stunning ocean views. If you’re headed to Mendocino with kids in tow, I’d recommend Mendocino Grove, while couples might find the Brewery Gulch Inn a more romantic stay.
- Shop in the village of Mendocino (favorites include The Study Club, Folklore, Gallery Bookshop, and Mendocino Jams & Preserves)
- Walk to the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse; the paved path is perfect for all ages
- Unwind at the Sweetwater Eco Spa; you can reserve a private tub and sauna or go communally
- Picnic at Big River Beach at the Mendocino Headlands State Park
- Hike Russian Gulch State Park; the 6+ mile Fern Trail hike to the waterfall is a must
- Grab coffee and pastries at The Waiting Room, lunch at Patterson’s Pub (21+ only), and dinner at Trillium in their romantic garden
Ojai (Ventura County)
If I’m being honest, I didn’t know Ojai existed until I watched the TV drama Brothers and Sisters. Ojai, pronounced like “Oh, hi!”, is one of those places that encourages relaxation and reflection, evident in the town’s easy-going nature and abundance of trails. Ojai is what I’d call an artsy community-meets-farm town that also has a Santa Barbara feel thrown in for good measure. You might see a tractor drive through town or even a celebrity casually shopping in one of the local boutiques.
In Ojai, you can go for a Jeep tour through winding country roads, wine taste at a number of local wineries, take a ride horseback along the Ventura River, shop at an eclectic mix of boutiques and home stores, and golf or enjoy the spa at the 5-star Ojai Valley Inn. Though I have admittedly not stayed overnight in Ojai, there is a hotel I’ve been eyeing for a future visit and have seen many people write positive things about. The Capri Hotel has a mid-century modern aesthetic that’s become especially trendy in the last couple of years. The roadside hotel was renovated in 2020 and looks like the perfect place to retreat to after a day of laid-back activities; amenities include a pool/jacuzzi and complimentary bikes. Here’s what I recommend you do during the course of your weekend stay:
- Visit the Ojai Certified Farmers Market, especially during Pixie tangerine season or summer
- Plan a tasting, whether its at a local winery or the Ojai Olive Oil Company; you could even pop over to Ventura Spirits for a tasting or workshop at their distillery
- Get lost at Bart’s Books, an outdoor bookstore that’s been around since 1964
- Go for drinks and bites at Tipple & Ramble; very Instagram-worthy
- Shop at the many boutiques and speciality stores (I love Summer Camp, Fig, and Kariella)
- Eat out (my favorites include The Nest, Ojai Rotie, Nocciola, and Ojai Tortilla House; I’ve also heard great things about Boccali’s)
Laguna Beach (Orange County)
In Laguna Beach, there are postcard-perfect state parks and beaches to explore, as well as incredible spas to enjoy and plenty of boutiques to peruse. It’s kind of the perfect place for a girls weekend where you do basically nothing but sip sangria poolside and pop over to the quaint downtown for some retail therapy. Also present is an art scene, evident in their ‘Arts District’ of galleries and events like ‘Pageant of the Masters’, which is a unique art festival that happens once a year. My mom and I actually unknowingly planned a trip to Laguna Beach the weekend of this event and Laguna village was very busy, to say the least. The Pageant of The Masters itself is regarded as one of the most unique productions in the world, as people re-create famous works of art onstage at night.
I’ve stayed at the Montage in Laguna Beach, which is a 5-star hotel spanning 30 acres along the gorgeous coastline, as well as Casa Laguna, a 23-room boutique hotel with a Moroccan/Spanish flair for design. Both are completely different experiences, but I’d personally recommend Casa Laguna for the charm, privacy, and less expensive hotel bill; they also offer a nice complimentary continental breakfast, which let’s-be-honest is what we all look forward to no matter what age we are.
- Brunch at Driftwood Kitchen or Urth Cafe (the “it” cafe in Southern California)
- Hang out at Crystal Cove State Park – Moro Beach
- Go shopping in the Downtown Village
- Stroll along Laguna’s historic bungalows (get a free historic map)
- Enjoy a nightcap at Marine Room Tavern, a speakeasy-vibe bar with live music
Point Loma (San Diego County)
To me, San Diego has always felt like one of those places where everyone seems to be on vacation. Perhaps the sunny yet mild weather encourages people to squeeze in a surf sesh before work or the two nearby colleges give the residents here a youthful disposition. Whatever it is, tourists and locals alike LOVE this city. Most tourists tend to want to be close to the world-famous zoo (easily the best I’ve been to), Downtown San Diego, and Old Town, but overlooked might be a stay in Point Loma. This rugged peninsula is not far from the San Diego International Airport and is close to these other points of interest, yet feels somewhat tucked away from the crowds without losing its SoCal charm.
Located in the middle of Point Loma is The Pearl, a small, 23-room boutique hotel with a 1960s motel vibe and thoughtful amenities. The cozy hotel offers on-site dining at their charming Charles & Dinorah restaurant and bar where you can sip Sauvignon Blanc beside their retro oyster-shaped pool. In the warmer months, The Pearl hosts what they call “Dive-In” movie nights, projecting summer classics like Grease and The Sandlot above the pool and bar for guests to enjoy while they eat grilled oysters and duck fat fries. I already want to go back!
- Visit Liberty Station – A MUST (Pigment for fun gifts and Moniker General for a coffee/hangout spot; Stone Brewing or Public Market for a casual meal)
- Check out Sunset Cliffs Natural Park and the Cabrillo National Monument; the hike isn’t long or intense by any means and boasts beautiful views of Coronado and DTSD
- Walk to Better Buzz, a popular coffee place has locations sprinkled throughout San Diego
- Check out the bar scene; Harbor Town Pub and Club Marina are casual neighborhoods bars within walking distance to The Pearl
- Pop over to the open-air Fashion Valley Mall, which not only has tons of shopping, but a highly-rated escape room (Red Door Fashion Valley), AMC movie theater, and even Tommy Bahama’s Marlin Bar; it’s basically a one-stop spot for all ages
Joshua Tree (San Bernardino County)
For as much as you see influencers and celebrities post about J-Tree, this part of the desert doesn’t feel completely overrun with tourists or inundated with big box chains. The night skies are ideal for stargazing because you’re so far from big city lights and depending on the time of year you go (I’d advise Fall/Winter/early Spring), trails can often feel like you have them to yourself. But there’s definitely a community in Joshua Tree, evident in funky natural foods stores and farmers markets, saloons that have been around forever, and roadside shops that have the perfect amount of kitsch.
Joshua Tree is most definitely the place to look for a cool Airbnb rather than a hotel because there are so many unique properties to be found at a decent price! I stayed at the Palo House, which was not only beautifully decorated, but in such a great location if being close to town is important to you. While others might prefer a more secluded Airbnb to spend their J-Tree weekend, I loved this spot’s close proximity to the park and other points of interest.
- Visit Joshua Tree National Park (I mean, how could you not??)
- Grab some grub and a cold beer at The Joshua Tree Saloon
- Pop into the roadside shops (The Station is one of my favorites)
- Hit up the seasonal Farmers Market on Saturdays from 8 AM-1 PM
- Enjoy a coffee at Joshua Tree Coffee Co.
- Take a 20-minute evening drive to Pioneertown and go dancing at Pappy & Harriet’s
- Grab pizza to-go from Pie for the People and watch the sunset at your Airbnb