If a change of scenery is on your agenda, we’ve got some great options for you. Winter in California is unlike any other season as you can find both snowy mountains and sunny beaches just a short drive away. Scroll through our favorite California winter road trip destinations that will take you up the rocky coast of Mendocino, into the mountains of Yosemite, through the desert in Joshua Tree and along the sunny beaches of Santa Barbara. You’ll also find the best places to go skiing in California if snow is what you are looking for. Get ready to hit the road!
Big Bear/Snow Summit
Big Bear Mountain is a winter wonderland full of activities and sports for your whole family. Beginner shredders can take snowboard lessons (from age four years-old and up!) and avid skiers and snowboarders can take a half or full day lesson at either Bear Mountain or Snow Summit.
Note for this season: This winter, all guests must have a valid ticket, pass, or purchase confirmation to receive gated entry access to the Bear Mountain or Snow Summit base areas. Daily lift ticket sales are limited due to reduced operating capacities. Read important purchasing details before purchasing. Click here for important Covid updates.
If your snow angels want to skip the lift lines and go tubing, slide over to the Grizzly Ridge Tube Park for easy downhill fun.
Another flurry of activities can be found at the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain. Race with your little one in the bobsled together down the 1/4 mile long mountain track.
Airbnb Nearby: This glorious mid-century A-frame cabin will be the ideal, warm retreat after a long day in the snow in Big Bear. We love that it's nestled in a quiet, family-friendly neighborhood.
Snow Valley Mountain Resort
This smaller mountain is great for snow angels at the beginner or intermediate level. It's also less crowded than big brother mountain (Big Bear). For the little ones, there's the Children's Learning Center where snow bunnies can learn to ski or snowboard (ages 7-12). Additionally, Snow Valley says they have the SoCal "region’s best beginner terrain."
Moreover, there's a snow play area where you can enjoy Southern California’s only chairlift serviced sledding area. After the scenic chairlift ride, you get to whiz down the longest downhill sled ride in the region.
Airbnb Nearby: Book a stay at this cabin which boasts panoramic mountain views and is located minutes from Snow Valley Ski Resort. You'll fall for its combo of modern charm and rustic appeal.
Mt. Baldy is by far the closest mountain resort in Southern California. Located just 20 miles outside of LA, it’s the perfect way to work in some snow play without much road time. The mountain features four chair lifts that provide access to skiing and snowboarding on a wide variety of terrain. There is also a tubing park at the top of the Sugar Pine Chairlift where families can purchase tickets for 90-minute tubing sessions.
Covid update: Reservations are mandatory and a limited number of passes will be available to allow for distancing. Masks are required in all areas where physical distancing isn't possible (including lift lines, indoors and any gathering areas).
Airbnb Nearby: Given how close Mount Baldy is to Los Angeles (and how much it appeals to day-trippers), there aren't a slew of overnight options. But the few places available to rent offer plenty of cabin charm. For an off-the-grid experience (as in, no TV, no WiFi), you can unplug at this cozy cabin for four. If you're looking for more creature comforts without sacrificing rustic character, check out this 100-year-old, remodeled stone cottage, with room for six guests.
Mountain High - Wrightwood
Located about 90 minutes from Los Angeles, Mountain High is the perfect place to get away for some of skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing. With an incredible snow system that covers 80 percent of the mountain, the resort strives to make the very best conditions consistently possible for its visitors. First time skiers and snowboarders (or ones just looking to brush up on their skills) can take advantage of lessons from a wide variety of highly experienced instructors. For snow tubing, check out the North Pole Tubing Park with 10 lanes and two moving carpets to minimize the wait time.
Covid update: In addition to mandatory face coverings in line, on lifts, and in any crowded areas, Mountain High has reduced daily attendance and requires advanced reservations, both to help with "snowcial" distancing
Online: For all things Mountain High (from daily photos to tickets and road conditions), check out mthigh.com.
Mount Pinos/Frazier Park
Whether you're looking for a day trip to the snow, or a weekend getaway to the mountains, Mount Pinos and the surrounding towns deliver. The snow-topped summit is located in the Los Padres National Forest on the border between Ventura and Kern counties. The drive, from both LA and Ventura, takes 1-2 hours, depending on traffic and your exact starting point.
While there isn't organized sledding and snow tubing in the area, you can bring your own gear and find a secluded spot for winter fun with the family. If you're just going for the day, be sure to leave early enough in the morning to beat the rush of visitors from nearby. And don't forget the carrots—Frosty needs a nose!
Online: For information on where to go sledding or snow tubing in the area, visit the site of USDA Forest Service. To find out more about the communities in and around Frazier Park, visit My Mountain Chamber.
Airbnb Nearby: Going with your "quaranteam"? This three-story A-frame with mountain views is big enough to accommodate 11 guests, and is located in the private community of Pine Mountain Club. For smaller groups, check out this modern mountain retreat in nearby Lake of the Woods.
If you'd rather skip the snow and freezing temps for some beachfront luxury this winter, look no further than Santa Barbara for a relaxing family getaway. Treat yourselves to a stay at Four Seasons The Biltmore Santa Barbara. Read our guide to staying at this luxurious retreat with kids.
For more options on where to stay, where to dine, and what to see and do while vacationing in Santa Barbara, check out our guide to the "American Riviera" here.
Airbnb Nearby: This charming casa at East Beach in Santa Barbara is great for families on an extended stay, given its gourmet kitchen and close proximity to all of Santa Barbara's best attractions.
If you're looking for a serene winter getaway that's off the beaten path and immersed in nature, Ojai is the destination for you. Located about an hour and a half from Los Angeles, this charming town has a chill vibe and it's perfect for families. Go hiking, biking, or horseback riding, bask in the warmer winter weather while soaking up all the outdoor recreation Ojai has to offer. Read our guide featuring the best places to stay, eat and play in Ojai, and then plan your jaunt to this small locale poised in a valley in the Topatopa Mountains.
Airbnb Nearby: Dive into nature and Ojai's lush surroundings with a stay at Caravan Outpost. Here you'll be perfectly perched in a botanical garden filled with 10 Airstreams. It's also right next to a bike path that leads to downtown.
Hollywood Beach - Oxnard
Looking for a small beach town vibe? About an hour north of Los Angeles, you'll find Oxnard's Hollywood Beach with its sprawling sandy shores and laidback, locals-only feel. Daily highs during the winter months hover around the mid-60s, which may be too cold for swimming, but it's perfect for flying kites, splashing in the waves and building castles in the sand.
Online: Visit the City of Oxnard online for more information about where to stay and what to do in the area, including a self-guided walking tour of the town's historic section.
Airbnb Nearby: This Instagram-worthy beach lodge is located just 50 steps from the sand, and comes with beach cruisers for your family bike ride. Another favorite in Hollywood Beach? This charming mid-century cottage, which offers three bedrooms and easy access to the beach.
Nicknamed the ‘Crown City,’ Coronado earns its regal title due to its majestic beaches (complete with golden, glittering sand) and grand resorts. Located just ten minutes from downtown San Diego, this amazing destination is reachable via a short ferry ride or drive over the Coronado Bridge––but you’ll feel like you’ve gone on a relaxing vacation a world away. We’ve put together a guide to family fun in the charming resort city––from beach-going to bike riding and the best places to stay if you need longer than a day to explore all this iconic beach town has to offer.
Airbnb Nearby: This Coronado home is close to the beach and perfect for families. It's steps from San Diego Bay, across the street from Centennial Park, and a one block walk to the Ferry Landing and bayside shops. Jump on the ferry for a scenic 10-minute ride across the bay to take in downtown San Diego, the USS Midway Museum, Little Italy and Gaslamp District.
Check a visit to the stunning Joshua Tree National Park off your bucket list this season. Winter is a great time to hike this desert terrain featuring towering boulders, and picturesque cacti and trees. The twisty tree shapes, cactus forests, and blobby boulders in Joshua Tree make wonderful Dr. Seuss-style memories for your kiddos on this desert adventure. For a hike, the one-mile loop trail through Hidden Valley is a good introduction for little ones. Start your adventure at the West entrance, then work your way along the road exiting the park at the South. The most scenic sections will be located close to the road at the beginning of the trip.
Good to know: You can now experience Joshua Tree virtually here.
Airbnb Nearby: Exploring Joshua Tree? Then call The Joshua Tree House home during your visit. This stylish 1949 hacienda is conveniently located 10 minutes from the west entrance of Joshua Tree National Park.
Pioneertown - Yucca Valley
As much as we love a family trip to Palm Springs, it's always fun to discover somewhere new and unexpected. Enter Pioneertown, population 420. While the Mane St. (yep, that's really what it's called) may look straight out of the Old West, the area was actually built as a set for for movie studios in the 1940s, complete with a saloon, bank and stables. Today, you can still stroll through pedestrian-friendly downtown Pioneertown, where no cars are allowed. (It's "Hoof and Foot Only," as the signs say.)
And once it's safe to dine out again, be sure to check out Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, currently only open for takeout and delivery. Both a restaurant and an iconic music venue, Pappy and Harriet's has hosted artists including Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, Vampire Weekend and more.
Online: For all things Pioneertown, head to Visit Pioneertown.
Airbnbs Nearby: There's no shortage of stylish and inviting rentals in this neck of the woods, er, desert. With an outdoor movie screen, yard games and BBQ, this Spanish ranch revival is one of our top picks. Another fave? This desert "chalet", which boasts a 14-foot swing-set overlooking the desert, hammock just for stargazing, cowboy tub and more.
Solvang, aka “Danish Capital of America," has a lot more going for it than windmills and waitresses in dirndls. While the town still has plenty of kitschy charm worth checking out (and the pastries!), there's also a nearby miniature horse farm, an ostrich farm and Viking-inspired playground, all worth the visit. Get all the details on what to do in and around Solvang with our guide to visiting the town with kids.
Airbnb Nearby: To get a little more space for your brood, consider staying just outside of Solvang at this stunning five-acre property, in nearby Santa Ynez. Another option? This historic Victorian farmhouse with room for six guests.
It’s always the perfect time of year to head to Central California where the sun is out, the waves are calling your name and there’s an adventure around every corner. California’s central coast is only a three hour drive from both the Bay Area and Los Angeles. You can enjoy beach days in coastal towns like Pismo Beach and Avila Beach, ziplining at Margarita Adventures in Santa Margarita and driving on the sand in Oceano Dunes.
You can find all of our Central Coast recommendations here.
This mesmerizing stretch of the California coast is the perfect addition to your California road trip. Camping spots along here have epic views and you can wake to the sounds of the crashing waves without having to turn on your sound machine. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a great destination for a picnic and some hiking to waterfalls. As long as you don't have any car sickness-prone kids, Highway 1 is a gorgeous drive and an excellent choice for CA road trips.
Tahoe is the ultimate winter vacation destination as there are loads of skiing options, snowy sledding hills and cozy hot tubs to relax in after the day's activities. Ski resorts are offering lift tickets at 25% capacity so you'll need to plan in advance if you'd like to ski.
For those who prefer the north side of the lake, the Village at Northstar boasts a ton of comfy lodging options for you and the fam and most rooms come with a mini kitchen so you can cook up your own hot cocoa. For an elevated experience, check into the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe mid-mountain at Northstar. Expect five-star Ritz-Carlton service, with ski-in-ski-out convenience, plus a spa worth bribing your significant other to take the kids for a couple of hours.
For more information on what to do and where to stay when you visit the North Shore, visit the North Lake Tahoe website.
For more information on what to do and where to stay on the South Shore, visit the Tahoe South website.
Airbnbs Nearby: You will love the hygge vibe at this cozy cabin in the Tahoe Donner community. You'll find tons of spots for everyone to sleep and a fire pit for nights under the stars. Want to stay away from the action but within driving distance of the North Lake Tahoe ski resorts? Check out this cabin in the woods that has all the peace and tranquility you'll need after a day on the slopes.
There's something so gorgeous about the Mendocino coast in the winter with crashing waves and very few tourists in town. You can visit cute little towns like Point Arena and Fort Bragg if you really want to get away from the action. Find all the lighthouses along the coast, visit the Botanical Garden and take a ride on the Skunk Train.
We've got all our Mendocino recommendations here.
Airbnbs Nearby: We love this Albion house that comes with a hot tub, gorgeous coastline views and plenty of room for 8 to sleep. This cute Fort Bragg cabin has ocean views for days and all the winter isolation you need.
The winter is a great time of year to head to Yosemite as the crowds have gone and the area is blanketed with snow (if you are lucky). Tioga Pass is closed for the season so plan your visit accordingly. The park is open for day-use visitors only and Badger Pass ski area is closed for the 2020/2021 season. Bring your own gear and enjoy cross country skiing and snowshoeing, both of which are a great way to see the park.
Find all our favorite places to stay, hike and explore in Yosemite in this story.
Airbnbs Nearby: We love this cute cabin that's just 30 minutes from the south entrance of Yosemite. This adorable A-frame is another great option for families who want to stay near Yosemite and Bass Lake.
Head north past Redding and you'll make your way to the tranquil county of Siskiyou that extends to the California-Oregon border. Here you'll find gorgeous hikes like the Hedge Creek Falls Trail in Dunsmuir and the McCloud Falls Trail. Spend some time fishing for trout and exploring all of the outdoor adventure that the area has to offer. When you want to stay the night, we love the vintage cabooses turned into sleeping compartments at Railroad Park in Dunsmuir.
Read all our Siskiyou area recs here.
––Shannan Rouss, Beth Shea & Kate Loweth