Illustration of a woman on a boat looking through binoculars
(Luke McConkey / For The Times)

You should take a solo trip in January. Here are 7 rejuvenating spots around California

After a long holiday season of entertaining loved ones and bouncing from one event to the next, January is the perfect month to spend some time alone.

As someone who’s terrible at carving out “me time,” I know that peace and quiet can be challenging to come by: There’s always a deadline to meet, or DIY project to finish, or someone who needs something from you. That’s why it helps to get out of town.

If you’ve never taken a solo trip, let me reassure you: There’s nothing better than heading to a city where you have no obligations and doing exactly what you want to do, whenever you feel like it. No negotiating itineraries, no compromising on what to eat for dinner, no stress.

Perhaps you already have a few places in mind that you’ve been hoping to visit, but if you don’t, here are seven escapes around California, along with mini itineraries to help you explore. That is, if you want to. It’s your vacation, after all.


Pro tips from Times travel journalist Christopher Reynolds on visiting national parks, saving on LAX parking, checking a hotel’s fine print and more.

Dec. 29, 2022

Showing  Places
old-style western building
(Julia Carmel / Los Angeles Times)


Weekend trip
You may recognize Pioneertown from movies like “Annie Oakley” or “Ingrid Goes West,” or maybe even the Kidz Bop version of “Old Town Road.” This is because Pioneertown was built in the 1940s as a film set, making it a little slice of the Wild, Wild West. There’s not much to Pioneertown that doesn’t meet the eye: Mane Street (get it?) is home to a handful of businesses including famed roadhouse Pappy and Harriet’s, a few general stores, an amazing-smelling botanical shop that sells lotions and candles, a closed bowling alley and a saloon.

Stay at: The Pioneertown Motel (from $235) where you’ll find quiet rooms with no TVs and hammocks outside for stargazing. In the common area, you can find tea and hot chocolate throughout the night and sign a guest book filled with drawings and notes from past visitors (including a self-portrait by actor Charlie Day). If you ask, staff members can even light a fire for you after 7 p.m.

A great solo activity: Though there are lovely shops and views around the desert, there’s nothing better than exploring nearby Joshua Tree National Park during the day and catching a few shooting stars when you return at night. It takes three to four hours to drive from one side of the park to the other, but if that feels daunting, you can take a quick joyride past some rock formations that make it feel like you’ve crash-landed on another planet (it helps to turn on some desert tunes — my partner recommended I listen to the new Big Thief record). No matter how far into the park you go, you’re guaranteed to see beautiful sights, and if you feel so inclined, you can also do some climbing or hiking to find even more remarkable views.
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View of city with palm trees
(Julia Carmel / Los Angeles Times)


Berkeley Weekend trip
Half the fun of traveling to the Bay Area from Los Angeles is the journey there and back. Perhaps you’ll choose to take the 5 Freeway and stop at Harris Ranch, the iconic steakhouse that functions as a sort-of-halfway point between both areas. If you have lots of time to kill, you could opt for the roughly 10-hour drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, which passes through stunning bluffs, quaint towns and breathtaking views.

Once you make it to Berkeley, you’ll have access to all that the surrounding cities have to offer. I spent a morning wandering around Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue, where you can stop by Sleepy Cat Books (to meet Lyla), check out the original Amoeba Music store (to pick up some records) and shop at plenty of thrift stores (to pick up some new old clothing). In San Francisco, I was also happy to check out the de Young Museum, particularly the understated James Turrell skyspace that’s tucked in the back of the museum’s sculpture garden, where you can catch a sky-altering light show around every sunset.

I decided to take Highway 1 back down to L.A., which gave me plenty of cute places to stop and a great excuse to explore Big Sur. I even got to grab lunch in the dreamy beach town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, where Clint Eastwood was once mayor (and where I picked up plenty of silly merch with my last name on it).

Stay at: Claremont Club & Spa (rates from $312), where there are three outdoor heated pools and Le Labo products in your hotel bathroom.

A great solo activity: There’s one thing that I want to do when I’m in the Bay Area, and that’s eat good bread. In the morning I’d recommend visiting Fournee Bakery (located across the street from Claremont Club & Spa), where they make divine flavored croissants and other sweet treats. There likely will be a line wrapped around the corner when you go, but there’s a Peet’s Coffee up the block where you can grab a beverage for your wait. Around the corner from the bakery, you’ll find a quaint alleyway with tables where you can sit and enjoy your spoils.

Later in the day, I’d suggest going on the hunt for a loaf of sourdough bread, which is, of course, a San Francisco specialty. I prefer the crusty yet oh-so-buttery loaves at Tartine (which you can also find in L.A.), but Boudin is a San Francisco classic for a reason.
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a restaurant on a large dock
(Julia Carmel / The Los Angeles Times)

Santa Barbara

Weekend trip
Santa Barbara is the perfect sleepy beach town to wander around aimlessly. The car-free State Street Promenade is filled with places to eat, shop and loiter, including Urban Flea Market, a store with more than 25 local dealers’ vintage clothes, cassette tapes, Playboy cartoons and tchotchkes galore. The city’s Amtrak station is also right in the middle of downtown, making it a perfect car-less trip if you want to take the Coast Starlight there and back.

Stay at: The Mar Monte Hotel (from $235), which has rooms with ocean views and beautiful bathtubs.

A great solo activity: When I booked my room in Santa Barbara, I was hoping to visit the natural hot springs that are less than an hour away, but the cold, rainy weather called for a change of plans. I ended up driving straight to Stearns Wharf, where I visited the very hands-on Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. After buying my ticket for $13, I was happy to find several chatty volunteers hanging around different tanks. One helped me pet a few (very small) swell sharks and a horn shark, explaining how they each got their names and what their babies look like. At the next set of tanks I got to pet various starfish, sea cucumbers and sea anemones as another very patient volunteer answered my many silly questions. After I had my fill of petting small sea creatures, I walked over to the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company to get a plate of shrimp and scallop pasta. With stools facing the restaurant’s windows, I was in perfect company: Nearly every other person there that evening was also dining solo.
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Town on a mountainside seen from the water
A view of Avalon from the ferry.
(Julia Carmel / The Los Angeles Times)


Avalon Weekend trip
It’s a quick trip from L.A. to Catalina Island, but by the time you arrive on the island (which is about 30 miles from Long Beach), it’ll feel like you’ve traveled much farther. Avalon is the epitome of a charming beach town, where you’ll find lots of stores, hotels, candy shops and somewhat overpriced places to eat brunch and dinner. There are plenty of more dramatic things you could do during a trip to Catalina, like a zip line eco tour or a bison expedition, but I mostly wanted to relax. Though the water was too cold to swim, I stopped by Descanso Beach Club for lunch one day and got some incredibly soft gummy turtles at Lloyd’s of Avalon on my walk back so I could eat them as I watched an episode of “White Lotus” later that night.

Stay at: Hotel Atwater (from $167), where you get two small bottles of complimentary sparkling wine on your first day.

A great solo activity: About an eight-minute golf cart ride (or a brisk 35-minute uphill walk) from downtown Avalon, you’ll find the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden. It’s home to desert plants from all over the world, along with some extremely rare plants that are native to California’s islands. Looming over those plants, you’ll find stairs that lead up to a memorial, which was built in 1935 for William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum mogul who bought Catalina in 1919. Built from a mix of Catalina materials (including native stones, blue flagstone rock and the many colorful handmade glazed tiles from the Catalina Pottery plant) and imported cement and marble, the large arched window atop the 130-foot-tall memorial has a breathtaking view of the island’s rolling hills all the way out to Avalon Bay. Admission to the garden is $10.
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A path crossing a stream surrounded by greenery
(Julia Carmel / Los Angeles Times)

San Diego

San Diego Weekend trip
Though San Diego is the second-largest city in California, it still has the charm and feel of a small beach town. There are plenty of beautiful coastal spots to check out, but there are also beautiful gardens and museums, trendy bars and lots of remarkably fresh seafood. You could likely kill a few days in each neighborhood (and my co-worker Christopher Reynolds has many suggestions for what you can do in La Jolla), but I mostly spent my time exploring the neighborhoods around the magnificent 1,200 acres of Balboa Park. If you’re looking for happy hour drinks and food, I’d recommend stopping at Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar between 3 and 5 p.m., when you can get dollar oysters and lovely cocktails. If you’re more interested in getting a nice drink with some lovely ambiance, it’s worth visiting Part Time Lover, the Japanese-style listening bar named for the Stevie Wonder song. There’s a small record store within the bar, delicious cocktails and highballs, and toilets with heated seats and bidets in the bathroom.

Stay at: Bay Club Hotel & Marina (from $114), where Reynolds recommends asking for a room on the marina side of the hotel, so you don’t have a view of the parking lot.

A great solo activity: My favorite part of exploring San Diego was my visit to the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park. Though the park is also home to one of the best zoos anywhere and the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world (there’s a free concert every Sunday), the 12-acre garden is a perfect place to relax and explore. There are gorgeous koi ponds, bonsai trees and enough winding paths with nooks and benches that you can find your own corner to read, journal or think in peace. Admission to the garden is $14, and if you get hungry, there are snacks in the gift shop and a tea pavilion with a small but lovely food menu.
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Julia Carmel hugging a cow
(Julia Carmel / The Los Angeles Times)

Santa Clarita

Castaic Canyons Out of Town Day Trip
You might know Santa Clarita as a place you drive through on the way to Six Flags Magic Mountain, but sitting just an hour outside Los Angeles, the city can be a fun getaway for those who can’t carve out the time for an overnight stay. I went up on a Sunday, since it’s the only day of the week that both the Gibbon Conservation Center and the Gentle Barn are open and I wanted to spend my day with the animals. On my way up, I stopped for breakfast at Crazy Otto’s Diner, where I got a huge and juicy prime rib sandwich.

A great solo activity: The Gibbon Conservation Center, which was established in 1976, is home to some members of the most endangered primate species of the world. Admission is $18 for the public tours each weekend, and the tour guides are remarkably knowledgeable and happy to share fun facts and local gossip about which gibbons hate each other. (If you use Apple Maps to get there, I’d recommend ignoring the directions once you get off of Bouquet Canyon Road — the posted signs are far more helpful for finding the center.) Less than a 10-minute drive away, you’ll find the Gentle Barn, a farm sanctuary that’s home to cows, pigs, chickens and other animals (including an emu named Earl). You’ll learn about each animal from an assigned volunteer who knows its backstory and can ensure a safe interaction. You can feed horses carrots, comb the sheep and hug the cows — my favorite is a blind cow named Faith who loves being sung to.
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A view of an airstream like trailer in Ventura.
(Michelle Woo / Los Angeles Times)


Weekend trip
While easy to zip past on a drive to Santa Barbara, the quaint, decidedly unstuffy beach town of Ventura is a worthy destination in itself. If you’re up for an outdoor adventure, there are plenty of options — you might ride the incredibly scenic bike trail to Ojai, take a surf lesson in the famed waters (the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” references not one but two Ventura surf breaks) or hop on a ferry to Channel Islands National Park. But if you’re looking for a lower-commitment activity, I’d suggest simply exploring the neighborhoods by foot. Somehow, the charming seaside vibe makes you feel worlds away from the city.

Stay at: Waypoint Ventura (from $175), a pier-adjacent cluster of restored vintage trailers. I stayed in a 1948 shiny teal capsule called the Palace, which featured birch interior walls and a nighttime view of twinkle-light-lined trees outside my bedroom window. While my neighbors invited me to play games with them by the communal bonfire pit (where complimentary s’mores are served), I politely declined, opting to read a few pages of my book before dozing off on one of the coziest beds I’ve ever slept on (turns out it was an organic mattress by locally owned Spencer’s).

A great solo activity: Shopping at Ventura’s many indie stores. If you love thrift shops, here are 17 of them. I was delighted to browse the shelves (and buy a few goodies) at Calico Cat Bookshop, Copperfield’s Gifts & Rarities and the all-volunteer-run coffeehouse/eco-shop Caffrodite Community Collective.

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