Southern California is known for its iconic locales, natural beauty, and carefree spirit. With great weather in any season, it’s the perfect place to take a road trip: windows down, music blaring, quintessential pit-stops.
Here’s how to spend a week getting to know three stunning SoCal cities: San Diego, Palm Springs, and Venice Beach.
Hopped off the plane at: SAN. With direct flights on Delta, United, and Jetblue from most major cities, it couldn’t be easier to touch down in this sunny Southern California hotspot. Whether you’re craving unspoiled beaches, world-class Mexican food, or lush parks, San Diego is a city you can’t miss. Grab a rental car and gear up for a week in the sun, allotting a full one to two days to get the most of this spot.
First Stop: Get Settled in the Barrio Logan Arts District
I love an “I’m in with the locals” vibe so I opted for an edgy Airbnb in the up-and-coming Barrio Logan Arts District, a neighborhood that's on the rise due to its close proximity to the Gaslamp district and Chicano Park—home to some of San Diego’s coolest murals and richest history. My place was just as cool, complete with an awesome backyard space, yoga mats, two bikes, local mezcal, and some globally-inspired decor.
Next Up: Take in the Scenery + Drinks in La Jolla
Swimmers and snorkelers, head to gorgeous La Jolla (pronounced la-hoy-a) and check out the picturesque Cove, teaming with seals and sea lions that hang at the shoreline of the Children’s Pool.
Set aside time for a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which features more than 4,700 pieces including highlights from Latin America and the San Diego/Tijuana area. Don’t miss sunset with a cocktail in hand at George’s at the Cove.
If you’d prefer a local beer, hit up Thorn Brewery, with one location in Barrio Logan and another in North Park. It’s an excellent destination for craft options, killer IPAs, and a real sense of community.
In the Morning: Coffee, then Nature
Start your day off with some serious coffee culture. Cafe Moto in Barrio Logan is a great neighborhood find with strong coffee, outdoor seating, and a funky gift shop. Or head to Communal Coffee in North Park. The shop is dreamy inside and out thanks in part to their collaboration with local flower shop Native Poppy, and its adjacency to North Park Nursery (a.k.a. succulent heaven!). If you need a little more sustenance, try Breakfast Republic (also in the North Park neighborhood) which has lines out the door for a reason.
After you’ve had some good noms, catch the best views from Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Recognized as one of the wildest landscapes along the Southern California coast, here you can hike along the cliffs and get the best oceanfront Instagrams. Pro tip: Visit the Torrey Pines Gliderport to try your hand at flying (or just grab a drink and watch).
Bonus Stays + Eats in SD:
The famed Hotel Del Coronado offers beachfront access and is a world unto itself (there are six restaurants and bars on property). Located right across the bridge on Coronado island, this luxe Victorian resort a staple of San Diego history.
You can also head 20 minutes north of downtown to La Jolla and stay at the gorgeous La Valencia Hotel and Spa.
Salud tacos. They are amazing. This street-food inspired spot is always packed and has a diverse selection of the good stuff—don’t skimp out on the nachos. You’ll love the tattoo inspired murals and house made corn tortillas.
Beer lovers should also head to Ballast Point’s Little Italy location to soak in the coastal breeze and have a pint on their patio.
Distance: 140 miles
Drive Time With Stops: 4–5 hours
Route: Take I-15 North to I-215 N, then CA-60 E/Moreno Valley Fwy to I-10 E until you hit CA-111.
Stop 1: Wine
The drive from San Diego to Palm Springs is two to three hours, depending on traffic. About an hour in you’ll hit Temecula, known for the surrounding Temecula Valley Wine Country which boasts gorgeous hillside vineyards. Make sure you have a designated driver, or pop in for the scenery and grab some bottles to go. Don’t miss Baily Vineyard and Winery, one of the regions staples. In the mood for something unique? Check out Briar Rose Winery, where the buildings are modeled after Snow White.
Stop 2: History
Once you’ve had your share of grapes, get your history on at the March Field Air Museum in Riverside. The museum includes an impressive line-up of historic aircraft, poster collections, and exhibits to fuel your inner Amelia Earhart.
Stop 3: Retail Therapy
As you approach Palm Springs, fashion lovers will want to pull over at the Desert Hills Premium Outlets on I-10 East. You’ll find all the best from AllSaints, Gucci, and Tom Ford—need I say more?
Get Settled in Palm Springs
Palm Springs is known for its simply elegant architecture: desert minimalism meets mid-century modernism. This perfect marriage of style is infused throughout most of Palm Springs’ hotels, which makes for some truly breathtaking accommodations.
I stayed at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, a low-key oasis and locals’ favorite, complete with two pools, communal fireplaces, and good vibes. This retro spot is home to King’s Highway, an elevated diner with a top-notch cocktail menu. Do dinner here, then hit the pool for a late night dip. If you’re lucky you might be there for a drum session to welcome in the new moon.
Take an Excursion to Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree National Park is about an hour away and it’s a must-see. Go early and chill with a nitro cold brew in Joshua Tree Coffee Company’s courtyard. Before you even enter the park, you can spot cool hieroglyphs drawn onto rock formations at local-favorite Coyote Hole Canyon. Then make your way to Black Rock Canyon Campground—a great place to hike or hang with the wildlife.
On your way back to Palm Springs, take a detour to Pioneertown—an Old Western–themed motion picture set turned desert community where you can check out the saloons, stables, and jails. The place to hang here is Pappy and Harriet’s, which boasts delicious food, great drinks, and live music. If you can’t (or don’t want to) make it back to P.S., you can stay at the historic Pioneertown Motel, originally created as lodging for Western movie stars.
That night, have dinner at Palm Springs’ Workshop Kitchen + Bar, celebrated for its minimally hip design. Their farm to table eats are just too good.
Bonus Stays + Eats in Palm Springs:
For the boutique lover, look no further than La Serena Villas. The backdrop for this historic hotel is the gorgeous San Jacinto Mountains which you can see directly from the pool. On property is Azucar, an excellent restaurant with Insta-worthy decor, and a fun rooftop.
Pregame at Palm Springs’ highest-elevated venue, 4 Saints. Nothing beats those panoramic views.
Distance: 125 miles
Drive Time (With Stops): 3 hours
Route: Follow CA-111 N to I-10 W, then I-10 W to CA-60 W and back to I-10 W again to 4th St in Santa Monica. Take exit 1A.
What better beginning to a morning than plant shopping? Before you get on the road, drive first to the Moorten Botanical Garden. This family-run plant haven has more than 100 varieties of cacti, plus cute turtles, and a very Instagram-friendly greenhouse.
Then, kiss the desert goodbye and say hello to L.A. traffic! In case you haven’t had enough tacos yet, Crazy Coyote Tacos is a great option for breakfast or lunch on the way out of town.
It’s That Time Again: Check In
On the Western edge of Los Angeles County, just south of Santa Monica, Venice Beach is an icon of American subculture. In recent years, Venice has embraced its free-spirited nature and elevated itself into a mecca for art, technology, and some seriously great grub.
Right between the lively boardwalk and Rose Avenue you’ll find the Rose Hotel. With a low-key design and great location, you can’t go wrong staying here. Plus, the hotel offers local history: It was built by Abbot Kinney, the original developer of Venice.
First Up: Shopping and Sightseeing
Download a motorized scooter app—I recommend Lime or Bird—a fun and environmentally-friendly mode of transportation throughout your time in Venice. Then, make your way to Abbot Kinney Boulevard. This quintessential California shopping street is full of the best boutiques and restaurants. You could spend an entire day (or many days) walking up and down it, but if you’re tight on time, at least hit up TOMS flagship store, which doubles as an adorable coffee shop with a patio, backyard, and even a wall of pups up for adoption!
Cruise from here up to Windward Ave (where you’ll find the famous Venice sign), Muscle Beach, and the not-too-far Santa Monica Pier, then hit the Third Street Promenade for more shopping.
When you’re back in Venice beach, I highly recommend dinner (or any meal) at Plant Food + Wine.
If you’ve got time before your flight out of LAX, drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to Surfrider Beach in Malibu. Here, you can watch surfers catch some waves, swim, or grab a kayak. Nearby Malibu Farm has the best views, cocktails, and great eats, all from the comfort of the Malibu pier.
On the other hand, you could make your way into the city. Hit Runyon Canyon Park in the morning before it gets too hot; there’s a paved path that’ll take you up the mountains, or a rugged trail that’s more difficult—bring water and wear sunscreen. Afterwards, head on over to Beverly Hills to cool off and relax with some world-class shopping.
Bonus Stays + Eats in Venice Beach:
If you’d rather go the Airbnb route, there are some great options. I stayed in an adorable boho bungalow complete with a gorgeous garden, fire pit (the hosts even left supplies to make s’mores), and bikes.
Breakfast is hardcore at Eggslut, where eggs and brioche buns run supreme.
If you’re more of the Goop persuasion, find yourself at Kreation Organic Juicery, where you’ll start your meal off with a Chlorophyll shot in your water.
For your ice cream needs, you can’t miss Salt & Straw, which almost always has a line around the block thanks to their unique flavor pairings—Oaxacan Chocolate and Avocado anyone?
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