And here’s a history question for you: Why did the movie industry settle in Los Angeles? If you’ve spent any time in and around the City of Angels, you probably know the answer.
Weather is the first reason. (Obviously.) But more important was the fact that every conceivable locale could be driven to in two hours or less. Whether a required snow, a jungle, a farm, the beach, or something that resembled small-town America — it was all nearby.
Which is why a trip to Los Angeles provides so many opportunities for day trips and weekend getaways.
Here are some of our favorites. Not all are two hours or less, but you’re probably not making a movie, so just go and enjoy.
Who needs Napa Valley when there’s a wine-lover’s paradise on California’s Central Coast that’s only four hours from L.A.? This quaint and friendly place with a small-town vibe (population 30,000) has over 200 wineries that are nestled amid rolling hills, hot springs, and ranches with real-life cowboys. Tour a vineyard or an olive orchard, then sample a few of the more than 150 local cheeses. Or for a more upscale adventure, book a private wine tour with a certified Sommelier. It’ll set you back some coin, but making your friends back home envious is priceless. As an added bonus, Paso is close to Hearst Castle and the San Miguel Mission, both of which are worth the journey.
Big Bear Lake
While most people don’t visit Southern California looking for snow, those of us who enjoy year-round sunshine occasionally appreciate a little climate change once in a while. Known primarily as a wintery getaway — which, shockingly, is only 90 miles east of sunny Los Angeles — Big Bear is one of the places Angelenos go when they’re in the mood for a little cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or snowboarding. (Mammoth is the other.) Because who doesn’t have an Out of Aspen fantasy that involves getting your snow on and then cuddling up by a warm fire with something hot? Speaking of hot, it’s also a summertime destination, providing an idyllic spot for swimming, boating, fishing, and hiking in the nearby San Bernardino National Forest. Feeling adventurous? Enjoy the scenery from above while soaring through the sky on a zipline.
Sin City may not be your taste, but you should definitely visit at least once in your lifetime. There’s always a new hotel to stay at, a fabulous new restaurant to dine in, a spa to get naked in, or a show to see. (We hear Britney does her best lip syncing in Vegas!) Even if you’re on a budget, cheap accommodations are always available (and don’t forget about the endless all-you-can-eat buffets). While Vegas will feel like 180 degrees from L.A., it’s actually only 4-and-a-half hours away by car. (Or less, if you drive really, really fast — though we don’t recommend that.)
Catalina Island, just 22 miles off the coast of L.A., is a geographic anomaly. It’s essentially a mountain — only three quarters of it are under water. Once owned by William Wrigley, Jr. (of Wrigley gum and Wrigley Field fame), the island is an easy ferry ride from either Long Beach or San Pedro and provides a variety of landscapes and views. There’s much to do here, especially if you enjoy water sports like scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking. You could also rent a bike or a golf cart and explore the island, stopping to gawk at the many interesting animals, a number of which were shipped in to provide atmosphere for 1920s movies. Not an outdoorsy type? No worries. There are plenty of candlelit restaurants for quiet dining, and many of the accommodations provide in-room hot tubs. You’re not likely to hook up with a stranger here, but if you and your special someone want a quiet getaway from the mainland, this is an excellent choice.
For an even more laid-back vibe, Palm Springs awaits. Sit by the pool and stare at the mountains, which are immense and stunning. Or go out for every gay guy’s favorite desert activity: Happy Hour, which starts as early as 3:00 p.m. on weekdays. (And seeing as how more than half of the population of Palm Springs proper is gay, you’ll be in good company.) If sightseeing is your thing, ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon or drive around looking at some of the mid-century modern architecture that this desert oasis is known for, including Elvis Presley’s former honeymoon hideaway. There’s also plenty of hiking, tennis, or golf. Just be careful when driving from Los Angeles: While the journey is only about 110 miles, if you leave during peak time — say, Friday afternoon — it could take considerably longer.
Another gay mecca is Laguna Beach. What started as an artists’ colony has blossomed into an upscale seaside village that’s only an hour’s drive from Hollywood. There are plenty of galleries and shops, and lots and lots of outdoor activities to choose from. Walk the coastline or visit the 2,400 acres of undeveloped woodland at Crystal Cove State Park, where you can hike, ride horses, or explore tide pools and sandy coves. It’s an ideal spot for a romantic weekend — or a weekend with someone you’re likely to meet.