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Weekend Vacation Ideas in California

Sun-drenched beaches. Swaying palms. Deserts awash in a kaleidoscope of colors. California has no shortage of interesting destinations. Given that its terrain is so varied, one getaway can be quite different from the next.

Death Valley

Located on the border of California and Nevada, this arid desert is home to geologic formations. Part of its mystique lies in the fact that it’s the hottest, driest—not to mention lowest—point in North America. Visitors can view salt pans, sand dunes, lakes and narrow canyons within its confines. There are all kinds of great sites to uncover, too, including Scotty’s Castle, where living history tours reveal interesting tidbits about Walter Scott. The creosote-studded landscape also is home to numerous ghost towns, including Ryolite, where visitors can view an old jail and bank building. The historic Furnace Creek Inn, constructed by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, offers a luxurious oasis with a backdrop of steep, rugged mountain peaks.

San Bernardino

Positioned in the San Bernardino Valley, this historic, former gold rush region in southern California is a year-round getaway thanks to temperate weather, an active sports culture and a hopping theater district. It’s also home to San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, which is a viable alternative to Las Vegas-style gambling. From its wineries to its quaint, small towns and apple orchards, there’s an activity appropriate for all persuasions. It’s also the site of Arrowhead, a natural landmark at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains. Accommodations consist largely of bed and breakfasts and mountain resorts, such as Lake Arrowhead Resort, an alpine-inspired property with open-air balconies.

San Francisco

The city of San Francisco is one of the state’s most populated, and it’s also among the most interesting. Whether you opt to visit Alcatraz, see the bounty of marine animals at Aquarium of the Bay or tour the Boudin bakery to learn how sourdough is made, the weekend will surely fly by. A no-brainer destination for foodies, the Bay area is full of both luxury dining establishments (The French Laundry) and neighborhood gems (Il Porcellino). Hotels also range from the top-tier Four Seasons to the historically significant Westin St. Francis.

Catalina Island

Just off the coast of southern California, this island can be accessed by ferry, small plane, helicopter and chartered or private boat. While getting here takes a bit of an effort, the pay-off is big. Snapshot-worthy vistas, sparkling waters teeming with whales and an impressive array of flora and fauna mean there’s plenty to explore. Boating, scuba diving, snorkeling and fishing are favorite pastimes. History buffs can peruse the collection at the Catalina Island Museum, while hikers can pad down the Trans-Catalina trail. Accommodations run the gamut and include cottages (La Paloma/Las Flores), resorts (Seaport Village Inn) and luxury suites (Hotel Atwater).

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