12 Winter Getaways in California That Don’t Involve Skiing
Swap the chalet for desert hikes, hot springs and snowshoe tours among giant sequoias
Fact: Lots of us want to take a winter getaway. Also fact: Lots of us don’t like to ski. So where to go for some intense winter vibes without the need to hurtle down a mountain? There are plenty of options for quaint mountain towns and alpine resorts, so below, we’ve gathered a dozen alternative destinations with outdoor activities to enjoy with friends or solo, plus a couple of 180-degree options.
Swap the snow for swaying palms on Santa Catalina, an island that was popular with the Hollywood elite from the 1930s through ’50s, and is best reached by boat.
Stay: If you can, plump for a room at elegant bed and breakfast Mt Ada. It’s the former getaway of chewing gum entrepreneur William Wrigley Jr. where guest perks include using a private golf cart to explore Los Angeles County’s southernmost city, Avalon.
Southern Californians love this idyllic mini city in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Do: Rent snowshoes and hit the national forest trails, look for bald eagles along the Alpine Pedal Path, “glow tube” at Big Bear Snow Play or schedule a scenic helicopter tour. Also, consider riding out with Baldwin Lake Stables and visiting the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, a rescue sanctuary for indigenous wild animals.
Designated a “Distinctive Destination” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Calistoga has been put on the map thanks to the hot springs, mud baths and wineries in this Napa Valley city.
Stay: Luxuriate in the mineral pools, steam rooms and volcanic ash mud baths while overnighting at the bohemian Indian Springs resort.
Do: There’s a farmers market every Saturday, plus a wide range of restaurants, galleries and museums to explore. Hop on a guided bike tour with the Calistoga Bike Shop or go wine tasting at the 12th-century Tuscan-castle-inspired Castello di Amorosa (talk about wow factor).
Thermal waters draw devotees to this tiny city within Coachella Valley.
Do: Hike one of the trails around town (for a semi-challenging 3.9-mile loop, try Blind Canyon off Santa Cruz Road), visit Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, or drive over the hill to Joshua Tree with stops in Yucca Valley and Pioneertown along the way — if you can bear to leave your private soaking tub at Two Bunch.
With its 1870’s Gold Rush-era roots, this historical landmark in the Cuyamaca Mountains is just over an hour’s drive from San Diego.
Do: Take a self-guided walking tour, pan for gold, check out a tasting room (we recommend Blue Ranch and Calico Cidery) and sample a slice of Julian’s famous apple pie. Stop by Julian Station for excellent Mexican food at Cocina de Luz and live music on the weekends.
This mountain hideaway in Mono County has attracted outdoorsy types since the 1920s and is a nice alternative to Mammoth for ski-town vibes — without the crowds. Although, expert-led naturalist tours for skiers and snowboarders are available at June Mountain.
Stay: The woodsy but well-styled Lake Front Cabins have been a fixture on June Lake for over 100 years.
This cozy resort town (aka “the Alps of Southern California”) has been a favorite among Angelenos and San Diegans for generations.
Do: Santa’s workshop might be closed until next Christmas, but there’s archery, axe throwing, ice skating and sharp shooting at SkyPark at Santa’s Village. Stroll around the shops and restaurants in Lake Arrowhead Village or make reservations to meet some of the animal ambassadors at the Wildhaven Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary.
Called the “Gateway to Yosemite,” Merced is a great base for exploring area attractions, while the Merced River Canyon is one of the most scenic drives to Yosemite — follow Merced Falls Road to Routes 132 and 120.
Stay: Book the Yeti day-trip package at El Capitan Hotel, which includes a Yeti cooler and $50 credit for to-go supplies at its cafe, Native Son. The hotel is also home to the highly-rated restaurant Rainbird. Helmed by chef Quentin Garcia, it showcases the best from Central Valley farms.
Do: Catch some live music at the historic Mainzer Theater.
This Gold Rush-era town in the Sierra Nevada foothills is an hour’s drive east of Sacramento.
Stay: A gathering spot since 1856, the purportedly haunted National Exchange Hotel has 38 elegant rooms, a high-spirited restaurant, Lola, and historic tavern which features special events like drag queen bingo and live music.
Do: Browse the shops along the Victorian-era main street and hike into California Gold Country. Deer Creek Tribute Trail is popular, but there are 14 miles of trails to explore inside the Empire Mine State Historic Park.
With terrain similar to Yosemite (distinctive rock outcroppings, deep valleys, giant trees), these treasured national parks are home to the largest remaining grove of sequoias in the world.
Stay: The stone and cedar Wuksachi Lodge (Sequoia) is the only option during wintertime but has the best access to area attractions.
Do: Located two miles from the famous General Sherman Tree, Wolverton Meadow is the place to sled, cross-country ski and snowshoe through the giant sequoias. Check out the gift shop or sign up for a ranger walk at Grant Grove Village.
Established in 1868 as a railroad town connecting Reno and Sacramento, Truckee’s Old West roots run deep.
Stay: The eco-conscious Gravity Haus Truckee-Tahoe has 42 rooms and a nice farm-to-fork restaurant.
Do: Winter visitors can snowshoe and snow-bike on trails in Donner Memorial State Park; sledding is popular too, and there are over 20 miles of scenic paved pathways to walk. There’s a new free on-demand winter shuttle, while the historic downtown has cool concept shops, galleries, coffee roasters and breweries.
Because seeing Yosemite Valley dusted in snow — especially from the money shot Tunnel View overlook — is a special moment.
Do: Stargaze or hop on a guided snowshoe hike around the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias. Another option is to rent some from the Nordic Center at Badger Pass, where National Park Service rangers lead free snowshoe walks through March.
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