Whether you are visiting Southern California for vacation or on a road trip, don’t miss these 12 must-visit hidden gems in Southern California.
Southern California is a wonderland for weekend getaways. If you’re like we were on our epic road trip adventure, you’re probably excited to explore everything the region has to offer. With world-famous beautiful beaches and mountains, vibrant cities, and charming small towns, there’s something for everyone in this corner of the world.
While destinations like Los Angeles and San Diego often get all the attention, there are plenty of unique places and hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
Let’s put on our explorer hats and get ready to discover some new hidden gems in Southern California!
Must Visit Hidden Gems in Southern California
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is one of the most underrated gems in Southern California. It’s often overlooked because it’s located in the middle of nowhere, but that’s what makes it so special. This off-the-beaten-path park is full of natural beauty and offers plenty of things to do for visitors. It is a Southern California Road Trip hidden gem with colorful hills and amazing formations that remind of Bryce Canyon or similar.
If you’re looking for things to do, there’s plenty to choose from – from hiking and biking to exploring the many creeks and canyons. You can also check out some of the area’s amazing wildlife, or take a scenic drive along the park’s many dirt roads.
If natural beauty is what you’re after, you’ll want to check out Lake Arrowhead. It’s a stunning mountain resort community located about two hours east of Los Angeles. With towering pines and rocky cliffs, it’s easy to see why Lake Arrowhead is a popular getaway destination for Los Angeles locals.
This lovely mountain lake is a beautiful place tucked away in the San Bernardino National Forest and offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Hiking and biking trails crisscross the area, while fishing and boating are popular on the lake itself. The lake is an excellent spot for swimming and water sports like fishing and kayaking. The water is cold and chilly, but the views are worth it!
For a great hiking experience, check out the Arrowhead Pinnacles Trail. It’s a beautiful trail that winds through pines and meadows and leads you to some gorgeous overlooks of the lake itself. You can even take your furry friend along on this hike – leashed dogs are welcome!
Solvang, located in the Santa Ynez Valley of California, is a quaint town known for its Danish heritage and architecture. While it’s a popular tourist destination, there are still plenty of hidden gems to explore in and around Solvang.
Solvang is known for its charming boutiques, cafes, and bakeries. The town’s main street offers plenty of shops to explore. For a sweet treat, you can’t go wrong with the local bakeries where they serve delicious Danish pastries and other sweets!
For some fresh air and exercise, we recommend checking out one of the many hiking trails in the area. The Santa Ynez Valley is home to some beautiful canyons and hills, so there’s something for everyone. One of our favorite hikes near Solvang is Inspiration Point and Spyglass Ridge Road. It is a moderately strenuous hike out-and-back on a 3.6-mile dirt trail in Los Padres National Forest with an incredible view at the top.
For families, a ride on the Solvang trolley is a must. This ancient, wooden horse-drawn streetcar is only one example of Solvang’s diverse cultural offerings.
Big Bear Lake
The mountain town of Big Bear offers summer activities throughout the year and can be easily reached by most freeways from Los Angeles in about 2 hours. It offers wonderful getaway opportunities year-round.
Big Bear Lake is a great place for winter sports, with cross-country skiing being especially popular. Big Bear Mountain Resorts offers trails for both beginners and advanced skiers alike in the Big Bear Valley, located just below the lake. It’s one of the largest ski resorts in southern California with options for skiing, snowboarding, tubing, and more.
Hiking and biking are always popular summertime options, as is swimming in the lake. If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, try zip lining or rock climbing.
For some family-friendly fun, visit The Village at Big Bear Lake. This pedestrian-only shopping district offers something for everyone, with more than 60 shops and restaurants to choose from.
Animal lovers will enjoy the southern part of the lake – home to an abundance of wildlife including bears, foxes, and deer.
Catalina Island is located just off the coast of southern California and is a popular place for day trips and weekend getaways. The island is home to the city of Avalon, as well as plenty of natural beauty and outdoor activities.
Catalina Island is a great place for fishing, boating, kayaking, and other water sports. There are also hiking trails that wind through the hills and canyons and offer great views of the coast. The island is also known for its casinos – if you’re feeling lucky!
It’s an easy day trip between Long Beach or Los Angeles and Catalina Island – taking about an hour by boat or 15 minutes by helicopter.
Californians love spending time outdoors and one of the best places to do this is in Julian, California. This small town in the mountains just east of San Diego is a great place for a weekend getaway or an afternoon drive.
This historic mining town is known for its apple orchards, Gold Rush history, and charming main street.
The orchards and farms in Julian are a great place to spend an afternoon with your family for a unique experience. You can pick apples, strawberries, blackberries, peaches, or nectarines right out of the fields. There’s even a chance you’ll spot some animals like cows and other farm animals as they wander around freely on these properties.
Don’t leave without having a slice of their famous Apple Pie.
If you’re looking for a picturesque mountain town to spend your time in, Idyllwild is worth visiting. Idyllwild is surrounded by blue sky, fresh breezes as well as gigantic pines that give an authentic mountain retreat. This quaint community is nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains and is known for its hiking trails, arts scene, and small-town charm.
The town has a thriving arts community, with galleries and studios around every corner. It also has a great music scene, with regular concerts held in the local parks.
Idyllwild is also a wonderful place for hiking and there are trails for all levels of hikers. The Devil’s Slide Trail is a moderate, three-mile hike that offers great views of the San Jacinto Mountains.
This charming southern California beach located in southern Orange County town offers something for everyone – adults can have fun at the beach while the kids play in the waves, and there are numerous restaurants and shops to explore when you’re ready for a break from the sun. Dana Point is also a great spot for whale watching. The best time is between December and April, and you can often see gray whales migrating south along the coast.
Dana Point is located along the Pacific Ocean, so it’s no surprise that its beaches are a major draw. The city has three main beaches – Doheny State Beach, Salt Creek Beach, and Monarch Beach. All of these beaches offer plenty of sand and waves for swimming, surfing, and bodyboarding.
If you’re looking to get some great fishing in, launching off the harbor is quick and easy. Bass, catfish, perch, and halibut are among the most common catches.
The Lantern District is a pedestrian-only shopping area in the heart of Dana Point that offers more than 60 shops and restaurants. You’ll find everything from high-end boutiques to casual eateries in this area.
Laguna Beach is located in southern Orange County and is a popular weekend getaway spot for people living in Los Angeles. The town has a rich art history, with more than 100 galleries and studios. It’s also home to the Sawdust Art Festival, which celebrates the arts with live music, food booths, and artist demonstrations.
Laguna Beach is also well-known for its beaches. The town has six public beaches, which offer everything from swimming and surfing to tide-pooling and kayaking. Main Beach, on the southern tip of Laguna Beach, is a great spot for family fun with its safe swimming areas, volleyball nets, skate park, piers, and shops.
If you’re looking for something a little quieter but no less beautiful, take a walk or bike ride on the many miles of scenic trails that run through Laguna Beach.
Southern California is known for its beaches, and Redondo Beach is one of southern Californian’s best. With its long stretch of sandy beach and numerous parks in the area, there are plenty of ways to enjoy yourself at this SoCal destination. While you’re in town, make sure to take a short walk in the Riviera Village for everything from high-end boutiques to casual eateries.
The beach in Redonda Beach attracts visitors year-round as the southernmost point of Los Angeles County’s South Bay Area – its wide, sandy beaches make it great for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. Pods of dolphins are often seen playing in the surf on a clear day. The Redondo Beach Pier is a popular spot for dining, fishing, and whale watching (between December and April), and the King Harbor Marina is home to hundreds of boats.
Redondo Beach is a great place for surfing and boogie boarding. The southern shoreline near Torrance and Palos Verdes features good waves that are perfect for beginners of all ages. If you’d like to try stand-up paddleboarding, you’ll find King Harbor to be an excellent spot with plenty of local marine wildlife to look at, including some talkative California Sea Lions.
Temecula is known as sunny southern California’s wine country and is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. With its rolling hills, picturesque vineyards, and charming small-town feel, Temecula offers visitors a taste of old-world southern California charm. Spend your days touring local wineries and sampling some of the region’s best wines, then enjoy a relaxing dinner in one of the town’s many restaurants. There’s also plenty of opportunity for hiking and biking in the area if you’re looking for an outdoor adventure.
If you’re looking for a laid-back California beach town with plenty of activities to keep you busy, Ventura is definitely worth a visit. Ventura is an eclectic community with an artsy vibe and delicious seafood restaurants. This vibrant coastal city is known for its stunning mountain views, miles of uncrowded sandy beaches, and charming downtown district. Plus, there’s always something going on in Ventura – from surf competitions and music festivals and farmers’ markets.
There are endless possibilities for weekend getaways in Southern California – these are just a few of my favorites. So what are you waiting for? Start packing and get ready for some fun in the sun!
Where are your favorite hidden gems in Southern California?