Three World-Class Southern California Road Trips for When You’re Ready to Leave LA

From a mountain lodge in Yosemite to a resort in a glowing expanse of Arizona desert

April 16, 2021 12:38 pm
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Unsplash/Josh Carter

Los Angeles, land of the car, has always been a perfect haven for road trippers. 

It’s one of those cities that seems destined to be part of an itinerary, whether it’s a stop along the way or home base. Only a few hours down the highway from coastal havens, mountains, and deserts, LA is just close enough to the wilderness to make things interesting. And never has a road trip been more appealing than during the last few months, when flying seems fraught — even now — and traveling slow and small is enough of a change from the confines of home quarantine to do the trick.

For L.A. travelers who have been patiently waiting it out through the more difficult months of the pandemic, a weekend trip is more than advisable this spring, as vaccination numbers spike and restaurants, hotels and resorts begin to slowly and safely reopen. So if you’re itching for a change of scenery and pace, here are a few suggestions for road trips that are slightly off the beaten path. 

The wide open expanses of a national park are a boon for those seeking precautions while still craving a trip down the open road, and a sleepy little beach town dotted with wineries or an Arizona resort tucked away from it all are perfect destinations for much-needed rest and relaxation.

Tenaya Lodge

Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite

While some might consider Yosemite more of a San Francisco getaway, the national park is just over a four-hour drive from LA if you take I-5 up and over the Grapevine to the 99. As much as taking the 101 up the coast to hit Big Sur first might sound promising, taking the scenic route is what turns the trip into a ten- to 12-hour affair — who has time for that? 

Break up the drive with a stop at Bakersfield’s classic roadside diner, Milt’s Coffee Shop, and stretch your legs again a little farther up the road at Bravo Farms in Traver. Aside from the old school “hitching post” feel and wide variety of charming local knick-knacks, the cheesemongers will be hard at work in the vintage cheese shop, so make sure to pick up some fresh cheese curds for snacking while finishing up the journey to Yosemite.

Ditching the ocean views and taking the straight-shot inland route also means more time to spend in the mountains and relaxing at the woodsy Tenaya Lodge, located in Fish Camp, about 15 minutes outside the park’s gates. With traditional rooms at the old-school Main Lodge (outfitted with retro log cabin aesthetic galore) or more private accommodations like cabins and cottages — Tenaya has options for everybody. Camping might do in a pinch, but if you prefer to rough it in style, this centrally located lodge is the place to be.

Grab a quick coffee in town at the locally owned Cool Bean Cafe, and head into the park to check out stunning sights like El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls. (Though do not go without checking the new reservation system first.) There’s plenty of potential for hiking, but if you want to hang out at the lodge and grab a martini, or soak in the outdoor hot tub, that’s an option, too. By the way, when the evening chill hits and Tenaya staff turns the fire pits on, request a s’mores kit from the gift shop to really soak in the campfire vibes.

Granada Hotel & Bistro

Granada Hotel & Bistro

San Luis Obsipo is the spot to beat for a chill weekend on the central California coast. Just past Pismo Beach, this sleepy little town is ideal for visitors looking to get involved with Paso Robles’ burgeoning wine country. Take the 101 North up through Santa Barbara, and make a quick pit stop in Los Alamos to try the town’s new critical darling, Bell’s, a culinary bright spot in the middle of nowhere founded by Daisy and Greg Ryan, formerly of Per Se, among other high-end spots. Dinner reservations are all but impossible to grab, but lunch is walk-in only, and works as the perfect mid-point between LA and SLO.

If you’re still in need of a snack or killing time before check-in, make another pit stop in Pismo Beach at the Oyster Loft for a dozen salty Fanny Bay’s and a glass of prosecco. Once you make it to SLO, the Granada Hotel & Bistro is the best game in town, a chic, historic hotel nestled in the heart of downtown. With just 17 unique rooms decked out with vintage stylings, the property’s tucked-away speakeasy, Nightcap, and main level restaurant, Granada Bistro, mean leaving the hotel isn’t even necessary. 

An upper-level lounge with indoor/outdoor spaces and breakfast delivered right to your bedroom are other nice finishing touches for this boutique hotel, but once you do venture outside its hospitable walls make sure to check out the burgeoning tasting room for Field Recordings, one of the best winemakers on the central coast, and the neighboring Union Sacré for some of the region’s best wines. Both tasting rooms are conveniently located at the Tin City compound, so try some kombucha or beer while you’re there to further expand your palate … or your buzz. 

If you’re still craving more wine on the way home, stop off in Los Alamos again but this time check out the trendy backyard tasting room at Bodega, where natural wine rules all. Another glass always helps take the heat off returning home from a weekend getaway.

Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows
Andaz Scottsdale

Andaz Scottsdale

Andaz might have properties the world over, but their Arizona outpost just happens to be perfectly designed for the current era. The bulk of Andaz Scottsdale exists outdoors, in open air, with a series of bungalow clusters scattered across the artist-inspired, mid-century-vibe resort. Scottsdale is a low-key alternative to the sometimes suffocating crowds in Palm Springs, or the occasionally overwrought western trappings of Joshua Tree — it’s a few more hours down the 10-East, but more than worth the time. And for those still on high alert about being indoors with strangers, or the shared spaces hotels often entail, Andaz’s thoughtfully designed layout is the answer. With three pools total across the property, the on-site restaurant Weft & Warp — best-suited for an outdoor happy hour dubbed Sunset Hour with views of Camelback mountain — and a 24-hour gym, Andaz doesn’t skimp on the luxuries.

For dinner, manage the 10-minute walk over to Fat Ox, a local haven for regional Italian staples and strong, excellent cocktails — or head to the front desk and ask for the hotel’s private car to shuttle your party over. Back on property, take advantage of the pool’s flexible hours with a night swim or a dip in the hot tub, or grab a bottle of wine and sit and sip at your room’s personal outdoor patio table. 

On the potentially hungover drive home, take a break in Palm Springs to pick up some strong coffee and Flannery Exchange’s new coffee shop, Cafe La Jefa. If by chance you need to get some work done before going any further, the new, mixed-use coworking space offers hot desks for travelers, and happens to be right next to downtown Palm Springs’ most popular cafe, Cheeky’s. If you’re really beat, stay over in Palm Springs at the equally outdoor-centric Hotel Arrive, and tackle the final two hours home the next day.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.