If you’ve lived in LA for awhile, you probably feel like you’ve been there, done that. That’s why we did a little recon and sussed out some epic, under-the-radar vacation gems that have been hiding right under our noses. From camping near free-roaming bison to an in-town hotel that has dive-in movies and feels a million miles away, check out the list below and get ready to plan a family staycation, weekend getaway or spring break vacation you’ve never experienced before—all easily reachable within a few hours of LA.
This article is sponsored by Little Tikes®, which offers a variety of toys that’ll turn your backyard into a springtime playground. From water and outdoor kids’ toys to playhouses, ride-on cars and so much more, children two to six years old will be entertained for hours. To learn more about Little Tikes®’ products, visit littletikes.com.
Hidden Staycation Gem in LA: The Garland
This whimsical, retro hotel, located in North Hollywood feels like it was plucked right out of Palm Springs and dropped on Vineland Ave. but rather than fight traffic on the 10, most Angelenos can get to this secret gem in less than 30 minutes.
Family Perks: Universal Studios and CityWalk is just a free (yes, FREE!) trolley ride away, courtyard games the whole family can play are available from the front desk, and one of our favorite alfresco restaurants, The Front Yard, is on-site. But really, for the kids at least, it's all about the pool and the jacuzzi right? Spend the day watching the kids go from pool to jacuzzi and back again. And an added bonus? The pool is also home to dive-in movies, where kids of all ages can enjoy a classic flick starting at sundown daily in the summer, and on weekends year-round.
4222 Vineland Ave.
Hidden Vacation Gems near LA: Cuyama Buckhorn
Just two hours from DTLA, Cuyama Buckhorn is a roadside resort that is big on style (mid-century meets western cowboy vibes) and locally-sourced goods from the Valley of Hidden Enchantment. A fun weekend trip here requires little more effort than lounging by the pool and dining on-site—it's the kind of all-in-one spot that is part road-trip, part destination yet delivers vacation vibes in spades.
Family Perks: If you must peel yourselves away from the pool, there's a ton to see and do with kids nearby Cuyama. Visit Carrizo Plain National Monument to explore the salt flats and grasslands, see the San Andreas Fault, cave paintings, and during the spring, some of California's best wildflowers. For an animal encounters, visit Cuyama Oaks Ranch, to pet pigs, goats and fowl galore (open Thurs.-Mon.) or Hidden Creek Ranch—where you can book an equine experience that includes learning about horses, grooming and riding them. Don't forget to carve out a little extra time and make a special stop for some pie from The Place—recent options include: Lemon Meringue, Pecan, Raspberry Rhubarb and Dutch Apple. YUM!
4923 Primero St.
Hidden Vacation Gems near LA: The Seabird Resort
With temperatures heating up, heading to the beach is a no-brainer for SoCal families—and while you've probably hit the usual suspects, this off-the-beaten-path resort is what spring break dreams are made of. The Seabird Resort has everything a family is looking for—an expansive pool deck, lots of dining options, a spa for the parents (tag-team parenting FTW), and access to the beach with your very own beach valet.
Family Perks: If the kids have had enough sand and sun, check out the complimentary activities available to resort guests like the Seabird Art Scavenger Hunt and Craft Hour. If you've always wanted to learn how to catch a wave surfer-style, you can book surf lessons for the whole family (ages 4 & up).
Hidden Vacation Gems near LA: Solvang, CA
If you haven't heard about Solvang, this Danish-inspired town located just two hours from DTLA is an easy way to get your European fix without hopping on a plane (and the subsequent jet lag). The family will love shopping this walkable town and eating their merry way through aebleskivers, Napolean's Hats and more.
Family Perks: Don't miss (totally kitschy) Ostrichland where brave little ones can feed these descendants of dinosaurs and Sunny Fields Park—a playground complete with viking ship, windmill and mini gingerbread house.
Click here for all details about how to spend the weekend in Solvang with kids.
Hidden Vacation Gems near LA: Two Harbors
Although Avalon is Catalina Island's most popular destination (here's our guide to spending the weekend in Avalon with kids if you're looking for something less rustic), there's an island adventure on the island's lesser well-known west end via the tiny town of Two Harbors. Hop aboard the Catalina Express and enjoy beautiful Pacific views as you cruise from San Pedro to Two Harbors. The trip takes under two hours and once you're there, outdoor activities are the name of the game.
Family Perks: Families can kayak, hike, fish or spend a memorable day snorkeling the clear blue waters. Two Harbors also offers a unique opportunity for a family camping trip! Bring your tent and gear on the ferry or rent a tent cabin at Two Harbors Campground. And no need to haul over all your supplies—you can pre-order from the Two Harbors General Store. They'll deliver food, drinks and other items straight to your campsite for a fee. Don't forget to bring your binoculars and keep your eyes peeled for American bison free-roaming the island.
Hidden Vacation Gems near LA: Pioneertown
Palm Springs? Check. Joshua Tree? Check, check. What about Pioneertown? Say what? This little town, located 40 minutes north of Palm Springs (and just 10 minutes from Joshua Tree) looks straight out of the Old West—and for good reason—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 & Foot Only," as the signs say.
Family Perks: Eat at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, which is both a restaurant known for its burgers and an iconic music venue—legendary artists including Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and Vampire Weekend have performed here. Want to extend your stay beyond just a day trip? Book a room at The Pioneertown Motel—which has been revamped and is now, Instagram-worthy.
Hidden Vacation Gems near LA: Beach Terrace Inn
This family-owned hotel is the only lodging with a private (and direct access) beach in Carlsbad Village, and is within easy walking distance to over 70 shops and restaurants. Make sure to order the Continental breakfast—reviewers can't stop raving about it.
Family Perks: LEGOLAND and The Flower Fields are less than five miles away while San Diego is just 30 minutes to the south.
Hidden Vacation Gems near LA: Paso Robles
Hotel Cheval, located in the town square in Paso Robles, is sophisticated enough for adults yet seemingly made for kids. The hotel has it's very own in-house S'mores Butler (complimentary evening S’mores made to order down to the ingredient choices and how you like your marshmallows roasted) and a Library and Candy Bar—yep, you guessed it—a cozy spot to read a book, play a board game and nibble on some complimentary sweets. And don't forget your furry family member—this hotel is dog-friendly to boot.
Family Perks: As if the above aren't enough, this spot is just a 10-minute drive from Sensorio: Art Installation in Paso Robles—where 6‑foot-tall towers composed of more than 17,000 wine bottles, illuminated with glowing optic fibers whose colors morph to a moving musical score. There's also a nearby waterpark, horseback riding, and for the parents, wine-tasting galore.
—Kerry Cushman & Andie Huber