Los Angeles, La La Land, the City of Angels. Whatever you call it, the city that conjures up images of old Hollywood glamour, fame and fortune, and sunlit daydreams is one that still inspires those looking for a slice of the high life to pack their bags and head west. But beyond waiting in lines at Disneyland, pretending that you’re a star at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and yelling “Big mistake! Huge!” at snooty designer stores on Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles is actually a surprising spot for those looking for a slice of small town simplicity after some of the glitz and glamour. Just a quick drive outside of the sprawling city lies an abundance of options for folks who’d like to explore the storied laid-back side of the West Coast.
Read on for some ideas on how to experience Southern California’s lazy, sun-drenched regions.
Pacific Coast Highway
The ultimate road trip path, this highway twists and turns with the rugged curves of the entire West Coast. The views are spectacular and, with a good soundtrack, it’s enough to make you feel as though you’re in a retro film or Coca-Cola commercial. For the best Los Angeles feel, take the long way, if you can, via this historic road — though it can add an hour or two to your travel time, the sweeping ocean views and Insta-worthy snaps will be more than worth it.
Just 16 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, is the secluded town of Altadena. Boasting a population of only 42,000, the city offers a secluded retreat to their burnt-out neighbors in La La Land. Altadena feels like you’ve taken a step back in time: mom-and-pop shops line the main street in town and the wait-staff seems to know everyone’s name and orders by heart — the vibe is laid-back and unmistakably friendly. The hulking San Gabriel Mountains loom over the city, causing you to forget for a moment that you’re a mere 15-minute drive from the glare of stage lights and rolling cameras. Take a hike on one of the many moderate trails, catch a summer concert at the city’s amphitheatre, and be sure to pop into the old-school diners!
Take the Pacific Coast Highway 30 miles west of downtown Los Angeles and end up in the sparkling, chilled out beach town of Malibu. With over 21 miles of coastline and 30 beaches, it’s not hard to see why so many folks from Los Angeles flock to this city for a weekend of relaxation. Rent a kayak, camp out on the beach, take a horseback ride through Malibu’s ranching country, or sip an old-school ‘shake with ocean vistas … whatever you choose to do here, do it in the same easy-going style as the town’s surfer residents and you’re sure to be cured of your big-city blues.
Don’t have a car? No problem. The Amtrak runs from Los Angeles, along the rugged coastline, and right into San Clemente — a quick one a half hours later. The city’s main drag, Avienda Del Mar, is so chilled out, you’ll forget the busy I-5 that runs through the town. Admire the Spanish charm that San Clemente exudes, what with its white stucco adobes, its botanical gardens, and its spindly pier that juts out into the Pacific. Choose from the city’s three picturesque beaches: one perfect for surfing, one with magnificent white cliffs as its backdrop, one well-suited for a casual picnic in a park. If you ever get tired of all the relaxing views and beautiful architecture, pop into one of the city’s many funky shops, grab a diner burger, or take a wine break at the cozy Cellar wine bar.
Though the Pacific Coast Highway is the much more scenic option, for time’s sake, you’ll want to take the 101 to Oxnard. Lap up the seven miles of pristine beaches as you wander along the city’s newly established Ventura County Wine Trail — a collection of 11 wineries along a shuttle-led route in the seaside town. Between raising a glass and getting your tan on at the county’s lazy beaches, pay a visit to one (or all!) of the city’s 20 Mexican restaurants in an eight-block radius, admire the old Victorian-style central square, and enjoy the small-town vibes of the sun-drenched city.
Tell us where you like to take a break from your big city life!