School’s out and work is rolling out Summer Fridays, so it’s the ideal time to get out of town for the weekend. We’ve compiled the best places to stay and play for fun escapes that won’t drain your gas tank or put a hole in your wallet.


Where to stay:

The Good Nite Inn offers rates as low as $45 a night, and it’s near to all the big, can’t-miss tourist attractions like Sea World, Old Town, the San Diego Zoo, Linbergh Field and area beaches. Grab a cup of coffee compliments of the staff before you adventure out!

Where to explore:

San Diego Zoo: Cute pandas, majestic lions, playful chimps and over 4,000 of their friends await. What are you waiting for?

SeaWorld: See the Shamu Show, go on the Journey to Atlantis ride and take a picture with the guy in a Shamu costume!

La Jolla, “The Jewel of San Diego”: You can’t head to San Diego without stopping by this town, home to some of SoCal’s most beautiful beaches. There are lots of beach activities to do, including snorkeling, scuba driving and kayaking.

Little Italy: Around since the 1920s, this area offers shopping, authentic Italian restaurants and a farmers market every Saturday from 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay: Sheryl Crow, Seal, Colbie Caillat & Gavin Degraw, and Esperanza Spalding are all performing here by summer’s end. Tickets can go as low as $35, but buy a dinner package and you’re guaranteed a seat in the first eight rows. With great sound, an intimate atmosphere (only 1,400 seats!) and a view as beautiful as the waters it’s surrounded by, it’s no wonder Ringo Starr calls it one of his favorite places to perform.

Where to eat:

George’s Ocean Terrace: Many locals will list this as one of the best restaurants in San Diego, due to its fair pricing (lunch entrees are around $12), quality food and a beautiful view of La Jolla, best seen on its open-air rooftop.

The Fish Market: After spending so much time at the beach, some seafood should be in order. This casual seafood eatery won’t break the bank, and it’s a family-friendly set-up complete with paper placemats and crayons for the kids (and kids at heart). If you’re feeling a little more high-end and romantic, there’s Top of the Market right upstairs with the same fresh fish, but tables are lined with tablecloths instead.


Where to stay:
Newly renovated, the AAE Santa Barbara offers free breakfast and free Wi-Fi, with rooms going as low as $25.

Where to explore:

Stearns Wharf: Picture-ready all the time, this is one of the most beautiful wharfs along the California coast, filled with souvenir shops and seafood eateries.

Santa Barbara Museum of Art: Ranked among the top 10 regional art museums in the United States, this museum has exhibitions displaying ancient art, Asian art, 19th and early 20th century American art, international modernism and more, with admission prices all less than $10.

Urban Wine Trail: No need to travel to the countryside when you’re already at Santa Barbara! Mix in some wine tasting along with a trip to the beach and quaint boutiques. The trail includes stops at the Oreana Winery, Jaffurs Wine Cellars and Santa Barbara Winery, amongst others.

The Rack at Music Academy of the West: A well-kept secret, The Rack offers up hardly-used designer clothes at affordable prices.

Where to eat:

The Palace Grill: Want to be treated like the president? This was a favorite of the Reagans, and it would make the news every time the White House crew stopped by to enjoy its authentic Louisiana cuisine, fresh seafood and prime steaks.

La Super-Rica: This extremely popular Mexican eatery was a favorite of the late chef Julia Childs.?
Cold Spring Tavern: Rich with history, this great source for drinks and steaks is considered one of Santa Barbara’s precious jewels. Circa 1885, dusty and weary stagecoaches would stop here to change teams of horses and enjoy one of the best meals the Old West had to offer. Circa 2012, sandy and weary adventurers would stop by to replenish too.


Where to stay:

The High Desert Motel offers rates starting at $49, as well as an outdoor pool, Wi-Fi, laundry facilities and a picnic area. Or the adventurous can try camping! Most campsites are free or as little as $10, and come on a first-come, first-serve basis. Just remember to bring firewood!

Where to go:

Joshua Tree Ranch: This 40-acre private ranch offers guided horseback riding on beautiful trails.

Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School: This is a great place to try rock climbing for the first time. The guides are experienced, patient and according to many reviews, are knowledgeable of each person’s comfort level.

Carey’s Castle: A Joshua Tree mystery, this “castle” (really a prehistoric Indian rock shelter) is sought by many and found by few. Even if you can’t find the castle, enjoy the hike that comes along with it! If you come across it, either by skill or just pure luck, make sure to not disturb the artifacts within it. Maybe you’ll understand why many have remarked that this simply isn’t the kind of place you want all of Southern California to go to. Word of advice: Don’t trust all the markers left on the path; some tourists purposely leave false alarms to lead people the wrong way! 

Where to eat:

Riochet: The staff here is the type to remember your name and show that they are glad that you came. Its kitschy decorations make you feel like you are at a family home, and locals treat this coffee house that offers vegetarian food like one. Many will serve themselves coffee and leave their money at the register, and some may even pour tourists coffee if the servers are too busy. The mostly gluten-free and organic menu and overall atmosphere will make you think you’re at the East Village in NYC.

Crossroads Café and Tavern: The burger and fries are lauded, but only just as much as the vegetarian options; there’s something for everyone on the budget-friendly menu.


Where to stay:

Cheap hotels on Catalina Island are difficult to come by, and at $65 a night, Hermosa Hotel is one of them. However, if that will put too much of a strain on your wallet, an option is staying in the cheaper hotels in Newport Beach, Dana Point, Long Beach, San Pedro or Marina del Rey and taking the ferry to Catalina. It will cost $65 round trip!

Where to go:

Catalina Island is simply a good place to be during summer because of its events like the Flying Fish Festival, the Summer Concert Series (all nine concerts are free!) and the Stand Up Paddleboard Festival. In addition, Catalina Island is about enjoying the island as a whole, more so than one-stop attractions. You can rent every watercraft imaginable, like diving and snorkeling gear (Casino Point and Lover’s Cove are good places to go with this equipment), paddleboats, jet skis and small motor boats. The island also offers semi-submersible sub tours, which will give a diver’s view, and most tours will even let you feed the fish from inside the vessel! Or, for the water logged, try a hike: from a simple walk around town, to the Trans-Catalina Trail, a 37-mile trek only for the serious hiker.

Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden: Many rent a golf cart to drive to the Gardens (you’ll actually fit right in with the locals because it’s very difficult to get an automobile on the island) and then hike up to the Memorial, taking in all the beautiful sights the entire way.

The Village of Two Harbors: The village has a rural feeling foreign to L.A., which is only 26 miles away, as well as its fellow Catalina Island city, Avalon (sometimes referred to as the “tourist trap”). It also boasts two restaurants, two bars, a general store, and scuba-diving, snorkeling, kayak and mountain bike rentals. There is also a large campground and a lodge. There is plenty of entertainment here alone for a whole weekend.

Where to eat:

CC Gallagher: Convenient to the ferry, this is a specialty/gift/dessert shop and coffee house that happens to offer sandwiches and sushi too.

Mr. Ning’s Chinese Garden: With generous portions and rich flavors, this restaurant could probably get away with overpricing its items, like other places on the island, but its menu items go for only $5-10!