Getting out of town for a quick respite from daily life doesn’t have to mean straying too far from Los Angeles proper. In fact, these drive-away mini-vacations can start immediately with eye-catching scenery about an hour or so from the city of angels. When you fall in love with these locales, stop at these places to rest your head or snap your shutter.
On A Mission
The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa
3649 Mission Inn Ave.
Riverside, CA 92501
Distance: 59 miles from downtown Los Angeles to Riverside
Hours: check-in 3 p.m./check-out noon
Along retired Route 66, the modern-day drive from Los Angeles going southwest, pass indigenous vistas that include close encounters with citrus groves and farm country. Then, some 60 miles away, Riverside awaits, a resplendent drive in its ode to years’ past. Stop by the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, a 1903 retreat designated as a National Historic Landmark with a storied guest roster that includes Hollywood’s elite, including Judy Garland, as well as nine past U.S. presidents. Cruise by unique architecture, a mix of Gothic and Spanish Colonial style, inspired by the original owners’ many trips abroad. On-property, stop by Duane’s Prime Steaks — Inland SoCal’s only AAA Four-Diamond restaurant, Kelly’s Spa (for dreamy treatments) and, if you’re willing and ready, The Riverside Inn Chapel where Bette Davis and Richard M. Nixon were married. The colorful trip back home promises more scenic beauty than your already-full cameras can handle.
Venturing to Ventura
San Buenaventura Mission
213 East Main St.
Ventura, CA 93001
Distance: 60 miles from Los Angeles to Ventura
Hours: daily – sunrise to sunset. Catholic mass on Sundays.
Going north along the 101 gets you to the town of Ventura from Los Angeles in about an hour, but the more circuitous and more scenic route is along the coast on the curvaceous route 1. Still, the straight town-to-town adventure affords an opportunity to turn off at Oxnard to smell, buy or pick the strawberries. Snap a few photos, then cruise Ventura’s historical Main Street where funky thrift shops are wedged in between hipster bars, brasseries and coffee houses. Also not to be missed in the vicinity are the San Buenaventura Mission — the ninth and last California mission — and the recently renovated Museum of Ventura County. Take a leisurely stroll to dine at local favorites Brophy Bros. or The Greek. Another quest, especially keen if you’re tired of driving, is to grab a ferry for a visit to to the Channel Islands National Park straight out of Ventura Harbor.
Going to the OC
Aquarium of the Pacific
100 Aquarium Way
Long Beach, CA 90802
Distance: 47 miles to Newport Beach from downtown Los Angeles
Hours: Sun to Sat – 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Price: $36.95 adults/$19.95 children 3 to 11 years old/$31.95 seniors 62 and older
Wind your way south for a chance to follow the waves down Orange County way. You’ll pass the town of Downey and Long Beach, then roll through to Newport Beach, a quaint ocean-side town wedged between Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach. Along the route, you’ll discover the notable Aquarium of the Pacific, a great pit stop for getting up-close-and-personal with some of the sea life you’ll witness once you reach your final destination. At the end of the line, arrive in the OC mecca, Newport Beach, and its quaint next door neighbor, the unique seaside retreat of Balboa Island, reached by taking the 3.3-mile trip across the bridge from Newport.
Mount Wilson Observatory
Mount Wilson Road and Video Road
Pasadena, CA 91107
Distance: 32 miles from downtown Los Angeles to Mount Wilson Observatory
Hours: Sun to Sat – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from April 1 through Nov. 30
Price: $8 adults/$6 children less than 16 years old/$6 seniors 62 and up
A trip overlooking Los Angeles at Mount Wilson is anything but mundane as taking the route along the edge of the forest means hugging the Angeles Crest Highway curves. This allows for an off-road kind of experience while still staying on the straight and narrow — and while enjoying all scintillating vistas along the way. The drive upward is a motorist’s dream, but this hiking and mountain biking paradise in the San Gabriel Mountains makes for a great walk or a hardy ride through nature before getting back in the car to head back home. One highlight up at the top is the Mount Wilson Observatory, founded in 1904. This southland attraction boasts a rare 60-inch telescope, allowing for unprecedented views of the sky in the dark of the night.
Westlake Village Inn
31943 Agoura Rd.
Westlake Village, CA 91361
Distance: 38 miles from downtown Los Angeles to Westlake Village
Hours: check-in 3 p.m./check-out 11 a.m.
From Los Angeles proper, go straight down the 101 North for a quick escape or, for more scenery, take route 1 past Santa Monica and along the jagged coastline unsurpassed in Southern California. About 30 miles out, you’ll encounter Malibu’s crashing surf, daredevil surfing spots, and magnificent homes before heading east through rugged Zuma Canyon past Malibu Creek State Park. Drive another 30 miles until you hit the Los Angeles/Ventura county line. There, the rarified community called Westlake Village sits in the Conejo Valley, a historical outpost discovered by Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo in 1542. Conejo — rabbit in Spanish — is aptly named because the little hoppers proliferate there, including both the desert cottontail and the brush species. If wildlife is not your fancy, choose to shop charming boutiques and then settle in at the intimate Westlake Village Inn, a 140-room, under-the-radar retreat offering a romantic Italian restaurant and a fun-loving martini bar looking out onto the town’s namesake lake. The rambling estate, sitting next to the Westlake Village Golf Course, is ripe with its own vineyard and more than 50 rose varieties, both areas sitting abreast cobblestone paths on 17 acres.
Related: Hidden Gems in Los Angeles
Los Angeles freelance travel writer Jane Lasky, contributes to publications such as Travel + Leisure, Vogue and Esquire. Her weekly sojourning column ran in 40 newspapers for 20 years. Jane is anything but an accidental tourist. Check out her articles on Examiner.com.