Though LA weather is lovely any time of year, it doesn’t exactly scream fall coziness with 80-degree temps and palm trees on every corner. So we’ve rounded up five totally easy weekend getaways to make all your pumpkin-spiced autumn dreams come true.
Big Bear Lake
Drive Time: Big Bear is only 90 miles from LA, but the last 31 miles of the drive are along a 2-lane, winding mountain road, which means your journey will take you about 2.5-3 hours.
Why We Love It: While Big Bear kicks off a massive $5 million renovation to its Bear Mountain base in time for ski season this winter, there are plenty of ways to fill your weekend with fun this fall. From mountain biking and rescue animals to hiking and lake excursions, there are endless activities to do with kids. During your visit, be sure to check out the brand new two-level ropes course, which opened in August at Big Bear Snow Play. It includes an 80-foot zip line and a number of challenges to thrill young and old adventure seekers alike.
Also, take your brood to the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, ride the tram to the top of Snow Summit, cruise the lake on the Big Bear Pirate Ship or pop into Country’s Kitchen’s new locally-owned location for some mouthwatering comfort food.
Where to Stay: Of course there are cabin rentals out the ying-yang which always make for a fun option during your stay, but we also dig The Lodge at Big Bear Lake for its reasonably priced rooms, walkability to the Village and a pool and spa that will keep kids occupado.
Insider Tip: When you exit the 210 to begin your jaunt up the mountain, it's still another hour to your destination so we recommend a welcomed pit stop at the Starbucks on Highland Ave. (right next to the Chevron).
Big Bear Lake
Drive Time: Approximately 40 miles past Santa Barbara, the road trip to Solvang takes around 2.5-3 hours.
Why We Love it: Known as the Danish Capital of America, Solvang oozes charm from every hygge-filled pore. From delightful windmills and to-die-for pastry shops to adorable playgrounds and the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, boredom is not an option. The whole family can pedal around on four-wheel Surrey bikes or hop aboard a horse-drawn trolley for a tour and some history of this special little town. Be sure to stop by Ostrichland USA for quality time with our feathered friends, take a peek at Hanson’s Clock Shop for cuckoo clocks galore, sample one of Solvang's famous aebelskivers (yum!), and check out the family-friendly Dana V. Wines Tasting Room for a little vino – yep, we’ve got your back, parents.
Where: to Stay: For a true Danish experience, we highly recommend checking out The Landsby. The atmosphere is beyond welcoming and the outdoor fire pits are perfectly cozy for gathering around on crisp fall nights. Plus, its central location makes it easy to walk to just about anywhere. The Atterdag Inn is another great option at almost half the cost of The Landsby. Though not quite as charming, it’s perfectly comfy and comes complete with a free continental breakfast at a nearby bakery.
Insider Tip: If your kiddos are prone to motion sickness, DO NOT take the winding San Marcos Pass shortcut (aka State Route 154), even if your GPS is advising you otherwise. You’ll thank us later.
Drive & Ferry Time: First you’ll need to make the drive from LA to the Long Beach Downtown Landing where you’ll board a ferry to Catalina Island. Drive time usually comes in around 30 minutes and the ferry from Long Beach to Avalon takes about an hour. You may also catch the ferry from San Pedro if you prefer, but they only run a couple a day from that location.
Why We Love it: Smaller crowds, a slower pace and lower hotel rates make fall the perfect time to visit Catalina Island. Catalina’s stunning ocean waters are still warm enough this time of year for a swim or snorkeling session and you might even spot divers on the hunt during lobster season that kicks off in October. Other kid-friendly highlights include eco tours to see the famed bison who roam the island, a zipline 500 feet above Descanso Canyon, glass-bottom boat tours that explore the marine life surrounding the island, submarine tours and a stop at the award-winning Catalina Island Miniature Golf Course for some friendly putting competition. The best part is you don’t need a car – pretty much everything is within walking distance or can be reached by taxi, trolley, golf cart or bike rental.
Where to Stay: We’re big fans of the beachside Pavilion Hotel since it’s one of the rare places on the island where you can snag a room with two queen beds. It also has a gorgeous pool, children’s playground and fire pit area, features a complimentary European breakfast, and littles under 12 stay free if they use existing bedding.
Insider Tip: Just beyond the famous Catalina Casino, be sure to check out one of the last private beaches in California that’s open to the public – Descanso Beach. Because it’s private, adults are legally allowed to enjoy a cocktail (or two) on the beach! Cheers!
Drive Time: Julian is located about 116 miles southeast of LA, which translates to a 2.5 hour drive with the kiddos – but that’s what the license plate game is for, right?
Why We Love it: A visit to the quaint mining town of Julian really makes it feel like autumn. Known for its outstanding homemade apple pies, apple picking and picturesque old-fashioned feel, families are instantly transported to a simpler time. Now, you can’t possibly miss out on a slice of the incredible apple pie Julian is so well known for and lucky for you, there are numerous bakeries and restaurants in town to choose from – although the caramel Dutch apple pie at Julian’s Pie Company is a definite fave. When it comes to apple picking, you have your pick (cue rimshot) of farms with swell spots like Volcan Valley Apple Farm and Apples and Art Orchards. Make sure to call ahead to confirm apples are still available for picking before you visit. For kiddos who feel mining might more their jam, stop by the Julian Mining Company for some gold panning, gem sluicing and tomahawk throwing fun.
Where to Stay: Founded in 1897, The Julian Hotel is the oldest operating hotel in Southern California and makes you feel as though you’ve hopped in a time machine back to the olden days. With no TVs (gasp!), antique furniture and complimentary afternoon tea and breakfast, your family will feel unplugged and reconnected in no time.
Insider Tip: On your way to Julian, swing by the Oasis Camel Dairy for a visit with camels, parrots, turkeys and some of the sweetest farm dogs you’ll ever meet. Contact Oasis Camel Dairy in advance to double check available hours or to book a private tour.
Drive Time: Idyllwild is 108 miles from Los Angeles with a little over 2 hours of quality car time with your precious little ones.
Why We Love it: Idyllwild is an adorably artsy town nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains. Filled with pine trees, fresh air, art galleries and stunning wildlife, there’s plenty of fun to be had. From painting pottery at Earth ‘N’ Fire and frolicking at the Idyllwild Community Playground to exploring the kid-friendly hiking trails at Mount San Jacinto State Park, Taquitz Peak and Devil’s Slide Trail, you’ll work up quite an appetite for dinner. And speaking of dinner, Idyllwild is filled with fantastic, cozy restaurants – many of which feature live music nightly. A couple faves include Café Aroma, Gastrognome and Fratello’s.
Where to Stay: The Quiet Creek in is a tranquil respite featuring quaint cabins that can fit the entire family. Located along the river and within walking distance to eateries and great shopping, it’s one of our favorite places to stay when visiting Idyllwild. All cabins feature fireplaces, kitchenettes and there’s an arcade/game room on site to keep rugrats entertained.
Insider Tip: Idyllwild’s mayor is Golden Retriever named Max II. You read that right. Seven years ago, the town held a fundraiser that allowed people to run their pets as candidates for mayor. Charging $1 per vote, all proceeds went to the non-profit organization, Idyllwild Animal Rescue Friends (ARF). Max won and when he later passed away and Max II took over in his place. Max II is in town daily visiting with his constituents, but visitors can also call and arrange a personalized meet-up if they so desire.
– Jennifer O’Brien