There are many perks of living in Los Angeles, we all know this to be true. LA is scenically one of the most beautifully weird cities on Earth with everything that you could possibly desire within a short distance, and usually over an hour spent in traffic. But city life can be a drag, and no one is writing home to Mama about the fresh air and wide open spaces of Los Angeles. We humans get the itch every so often to roam and explore, or to just get drunk in bars in a different city than the one we’re in now. If you’ve been looking for an excuse to get the hell out of dodge, here are a handful of roadtrippable and affordable adventures that you are privileged to as city-slick Angelenos.
Joshua Tree, California
Source: Leaving Las Vegas
Distance from LA: 127mi / 2hr 20min
Average Airbnb cost: $238 USD (but most rentals are very inexpensive)
I just have to get this one out of the way. Pretty much EVERYONE in Los Angeles has ventured out into the desert, a healthy handful will tell you of their spiritual awakenings ushered in by the immaculate pink sunsets. Joshua Tree is so dang close to Los Angeles that if you’re not taking advantage of this other-worldly paradise every few months, then why do you even live here? Yucca Valley is teeming with dope Airbnbs, cutesy mom and pop joints, and enough desert weirdness to disconnect even the most high strung LA resident from reality. Joshua Tree is a perfect day trip so if all you can spare is a solid 12 hours between jobs, you’re still out of excuses not to go.
Sift through the amazing vintage haul at The End, outfit yourself in full desert regalia and pick up a serape from Hoof & The Horn, and bring back a Gram Parsons vinyl from HooDoo! If there aren’t enough oddities to satisfy you freaks in JT, you’re a stone’s throw from Slab City and one of the best living and breathing galleries in Southern California – East Jesus. East Jesus describes itself as a “refuge for artists, musicians, survivalists, writers, scientists, laymen and other wandering geniuses.” If that doesn’t incite a little curiosity then I don’t know what will.
North Fork, California
Source: Back Country Cow
Distance from LA: 265mi / 4hr 15min
Average Airbnb cost: $181 USD
Nestled right at the border of the Yosemite National Park in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a small population of trouble makers are defining their own modern day Wild Wild West. North Fork definitely looks like a sleeper town from the outside, if you blinked while driving through then you just might miss it entirely. Located in the exact geographic dead center of California, North Fork is a camper’s paradise with only a couple restaurants and very few signs of life. Stunningly beautiful views of the mountains, lakes, and valleys alone are enough to renew a city worn soul…but I’m just not that into solitude and peaceful serenity.
Source: 18/88 Media
No, motorcycle rallies and whiskey drenched good old fashioned boot-scootin’ are much more my speed. North Fork is home to a renovated pseudo ghost town aptly named Bandit Town by entrepreneur and all around badass Jen McMillan. McMillan purchased Old Town in 2013 and quickly re-branded the place to suit the needs of California’s wannabe outlaws and vagrants alike. Plan your trip to North Fork around one of Bandit Town’s music festivals and campouts and you will certainly feel VERY far away from Los Angeles. Nurse your hangovers with a spicy Bloody at The Buckorn Saloon and don’t you dare leave without picking up a Bandit Brand t-shirt from the Bandit Town General Store. Leather vests and Stetsons are not required, but you’ll probably feel out of place without them.
Source: A Gringo in Mexico
Distance from LA: 208mi / 4hr 30min
Average Airbnb cost: $144 USD
Cue up everyone’s favorite scene from Tarantino’s Death Proof and ready yourself for a little trip South of the Border. Sometimes the only way to distance yourself from the hustle and bustle of city life is just to flee the country entirely. Ensenada is far from an immersion experience, most places accept US currency and English is widely spoken, but it is a few steps off the beaten path and way less tacky than Tijuana…plus you won’t need to spend weeks on Duolingo just to figure out how to order your shrimp tostadas. The best part about Ensenada is the duality of the experiences available there. For all you lushes, Ensenada offers a more bougie experience at a fraction of the cost. C Spa at the Hotelera Coral hosts an impressive menu of services at prices that make Los Angeles spas look simply greedy.
Ensenada also boasts several different wine tours and excursions in the Valle de Guadalupe that will have you feeling like a sommelier in training (and how many of you have actually had Mexican wine…?). If instead you’re ready to hop aboard the Hot Mess Express and relive Spring Break of 2006, Ensenada has you covered there as well. Home to one of the oldest bars in the world, Cantina Hussong’s (1882), Ensenada’s Downtown area offers plenty of tequila soaked establishments to aid in your quest toward blackout. Ensenada is kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure storybook but the plot twists range from doing body shots off of strangers to enjoying a cheese platter overlooking the ridges and valleys of the Baja Pennisula landscape with a glass of Zinfandel Grenache. I say you do it all.
Eat here: La Guerrerense (Because we do anything and everything Anthony Bourdain tells us to do)
Sleep here: Casa Julia
Get weird here: First Street
Instagram this: the tide pools of Bahia de Los Angeles
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Source: 72 places
Distance from LA: 548mi / 8hr 11min
Average Airbnb cost: $181 USD
The complete roadtrip. Not only is the drive to Antelope Canyon a long straight shot through the ethereal California and Nevada deserts, but you also get to go through Vegas and end up perfectly situated between a plethora of beautiful and remote natural wonders. Antelope Canyon by itself is a treat, the almost alien landscape of striped and swirling cave mazes and sand falls look like something only Dr. Seuss could have imagined. The bonus is that Antelope Canyon is right above the Grand Canyon and just below the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, you’re duty bound as a freedom loving American to witness the majesty of both in person at least once in your life.
The best roadtrips, in my opinion, are the ones where the weird is actively sought out at every twist and turn of the adventure. Pairing one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World with Sin City (definitely not natural, but still a wonder) sets you up for success in this endeavor. Que up the Podcasts you’re a few episodes behind on and set up a few Spotify playlists to keep you alert and entertained for the long haul drive, you know several hours on the open road is just what you need right now.
You will never regret the money you threw at an adventure. You certainly will never remember how much money that was when you’re recounting your wild stories and the hilarity that ensued while you were on the open road. LA won’t miss you, someone will likely be very thankful for the open parking space you have vacated over a long weekend. There is no better fuel for your creative flame than to abandon all responsibility and bust out into the unknown every so often. Even if it isn’t to any of the aforementioned destinations, I sincerely encourage you to practice a little self-love and treat yourself to that head space that can only be achieved on long stretches of lonely highway. Get out there, y’all.