Los Angeles

Where to Go Camping This Summer Within 2.5 Hours of Los Angeles

Beaches, mountains, and deserts ideal for spending a few nights under the stars.

Tommy Lisbin / Unsplash
Tommy Lisbin / Unsplash
Tommy Lisbin / Unsplash

Summer 2020 has basically been canceled. Those bustling pool parties, urban weekend getaways, and busy beach bars of years past have become a recipe for the spread of COVID-19-which, unfortunately, is currently sky-rocketing in LA. 

So, how do you ensure this summer season doesn’t totally suck? Take advantage of the lighter traffic and pack up the SUV for a socially-distanced camping trip.

Within two-and-a-half hours, you can reach a diverse array of sites. From mind-boggling desert scapes to cool beaches and forested lakes, here are ten great places open to campers around Los Angeles right now.

Elijah Hiett / Unsplash
Elijah Hiett / Unsplash
Elijah Hiett / Unsplash

Mountains

Malibu Creek State Park
Agoura Hills
Set amongst the multimillion dollar homes and ranches of Malibu, this 4,000-acre state park boasts 15 miles of trails with a creek, rock pool, lake, chaparrals, and lots of shady oak and sycamore groves. It’s so idyllic and untouched, it’s been the setting for many films including Planet of the Apes and M*A*S*H. It’s a popular place to hike uphill for beautiful vistas or cool off in its famous volcanic swimming hole. The campground offers quintessential Santa Monica Mountains scenery. During the fire season, wood fires are not permitted-only charcoal-so keep that in mind if toasting marshmallows is part of your camping goal. Rates start at $45 for a standard site. 

Hoegees Trail Camp
Sierra Madre
Many of the more popular campgrounds in Angeles National Forest are still closed. So, if you want to spend the night in the sprawling wilderness, you’re going to have to hike your way there. Hoegees Trail Camp is a relatively easy 2.2-mile trek from the Chantry Flat Picnic area down the Winter Creek Trail that winds past a creek, under a canopy of pines and oak trees. Each of the 15 campsites come with a table, fire ring and wood-burning stove, but note there is no toilet or garbage disposal so you’ll have to haul out your trash.

Marion Mountain Campground
Idyllwild
Set in an alpine forest, 6,400 feet from sea level, this campsite in San Bernardino National Forest feels like it’s in a whole other state. Just over two dozen campsites are scattered underneath fragrant pine, cedar and oak trees, many of which boast jaw-dropping views of the sunsets and surrounding peaks. The site is a great place to kick back and read a book, but it also offers lots of things to do like hiking the popular Marion Mountain Trail, mountain biking, and rock climbing. Oh, it’s located just seven miles north of artsy Idyllwild, in case you need to stock up on food, wood, or crystals. Rates start at $10 per night.

Mountain Oak Campground
Valyermo
Combining water, trees and wide mountain views, Mountain Oak Campground offers a little of everything in the Angeles National Forest’s Big Pines Recreation Area. It’s right near Jackson Lake, a peaceful body of water surrounded by grass and sand beach, where visitors swim, canoe, and fish for trout, bass, and bluegill when the weather’s warm. It boasts flushable toilets and a store that sells firewood. The seasonal site is covered with tall oaks and pine trees 6,400-feet above sea level. Sites start at $23 with some accepting reservations. Others are first come, first serve.

Los Prietos Campground
Santa Barbara
Don’t be surprised if deer or wild turkeys scurry past your roomy site at Los Prietos Campground in the Los Padres National Forest. The oak-covered grounds sit right at the edge of the Santa Ynez Valley and are known for being home to lots of wildlife. Though, this year, you’re probably not going to take advantage of the nearby restaurants, there are plenty close to the campsite alongside wineries where you can stock up for the weekend. This popular campground offers easy access to the Santa Ynez River and most of the sites are available on the reservation system. Rates start at $30 per night.

David M. Schrader / Shutterstock
David M. Schrader / Shutterstock
David M. Schrader / Shutterstock

Beaches 

Carpinteria State Beach
Carpinteria
Ventura County’s Carpinteria State Beach is one of the few-maybe only-campgrounds that’s accessible by public transportation. Hop on the Amtrak Coast Starlight’s train, five of which leave from Union Station everyday, two hours later you’ll arrive at the platform of Carpinteria train station right in the quaint little town, just about a block from the campground. Reopened on June 22, this campground boasts all the amenities cityfolk like including flushable toilets, fire rings, a nearby brewery, and a dump station for RVs or Airstreams. Standard campsites start at $45; “Hike and bike” sites cost just $10 a night on a first come, first serve basis with a two-day limit.

San Onofre State Beach
San Clemente
Every SoCal surfer has heard of Trestles, the famous surf spot in San Onofre State Beach. So if you’re looking to catch some waves-or attempt to-on your weekend camping trip, this is your spot. In normal times, San Mateo Campground would be filling up with summer campers right about now, but it’s still closed due to its popularity. For those who don’t mind staying a bit farther down the coast, the primitive sites at Bluff Campground are taking online reservations starting at $40. 

Gaviota State Park
Goleta
Just 30 miles west of Santa Barbara, right off Highway 101, this state park is a popular spot for swimming and surf fishing. There’s a pier on the west end of the sandy beach that’s used by divers and snorkelers and a trailhead that starts off by the parking area heads upland toward Gaviota Peak and offers killer views of the coast and Channel Islands. Gaviota Creek trickles through the marsh right behind the campground, so anticipate ducks, herons, and other animals. The park’s 39 campsites can be reserved, starting at $45 per night. Hike-in primitive sites are first come, first serve. 

Christoph Schulz
Christoph Schulz
Christoph Schulz

Deserts

Joshua Tree National Park
Twentynine Palms
It’s not just its namesake Joshua trees that make this landscape beautiful enough to land national park status: it’s the architectural boulders, colorful wildflowers, star-filled skies, impressive wildlife, and a whole lot more. Most of the sites are first come, first serve including Hidden Valley, a rock climbers’ paradise dotted with gnarly trees and giant rocks that offer protection from wind. Make sure to fill up with plenty of water before you go-there’s limited water inside the park. 

Saddleback Butte State Park
Lancaster
Set 3,651 feet above the Antelope Valley, on the western edge of the Mojave desert, this state park boasts some features that are similar to Joshua Tree NP-without the hordes. It has Joshua Tree woodlands, mountain-lined panoramas and great high desert wildlife including the super deadly Mojave Green rattlesnake (watch where you walk!). Its 37 campsites come with a table, grill, and fire ring, and many provide a roof-covered area to protect from the relentless sun as well as easy access to potable water faucets and bathrooms with flushable toilets. The sites are first come, first serve and cost $20.Sign up here for our daily LA email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun Los Angeles has to offer.

Sara Ventiera is a contributor for Thrillist. 

Los Angeles

How to Spend a Weekend in Topanga Canyon

Nature and the arts collide in this beloved canyon community.

Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Situated in the Santa Monica Mountains and known for its vibrant creative community, Topanga is one of Los Angeles’s most prized destinations for art and outdoor enthusiasts alike. And while LA boasts its own sprawling landscape of fun to tap into, you’d be remiss to miss a chance to explore this tucked-away collection of state parks, and cafes, and restaurants-especially when it all rests just 20 minutes away from the city. From a quaint caf√© with dazzling canyon views to a world-renowned, open-air theatre, here are the best ways to pass some time in Topanga now.

Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray

Friday

Book dinner at Inn of the Seventh Ray
Owner Lucille Yaney opened this iconic restaurant in 1975 after spotting the property on a drive through the canyon with her late husband Ralph, and it’s safe to say she had a good eye. The land perfectly fits into Yaney’s vision of a romantic, alfresco dining space with tables tucked into cozy nooks and gazebos, all beneath canapes and fairy lights. Today, Yaney co-owns the venue with executive chef consultant Brad Miller. Together, they continue to fulfil the restaurant’s original mission to serve pure, natural foods reflective of the season’s best. That approach appears in dishes like 8-Hour Black Vinegar Braised Short Rib with creamy rosemary polenta, duck bacon Brussels sprouts, and caramelized onion and fig jam; Roasted Mushroom Toast with oyster mushrooms and sherry tarragon cream; and Beets & Whipped Black Pepper Creme Fraiche. Consider the carbs here. Pastas and sauces are made in-house and from scratch, as is the bread (available regular or gluten-free), an order of which you won’t want to miss. Check out the wine list, too, which offers a robust organic and biodynamic selection that has helped the restaurant garner some impressive accolades in recent years.

Check into Topanga Canyon Inn
In addition to plenty of excellent Airbnbs available to rent in the Canyon, there’s Topanga Canyon Inn, a charming bed and breakfast comprised of two Mediterranean-style buildings-Casa Blanca and Casa Rosa-both built by the owners. Guests can enjoy bespoke design details in each room, along with gorgeous mountain views from their own private balcony. Come morning, join other travellers for breakfast, served daily at Casa Rosa.

Saturday

Get coffee at Café on 27
Ready your camera for a coffee date at this AM eatery and caf√©, where ample (and busy) outdoor seating offers some of the Canyon’s best views. A full breakfast and lunch menu is available (complete with hearty orders like eggs Benedicts, soups, and club sandwiches), but for lighter morning fare, spring for a pastry and any of their specialty drinks, such as the turmeric latte or Moroccan mocha.

Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock

Hike Topanga State Park
Spanning 11,000 acres and 36 miles of trails, Topanga State Park is the largest state park within the Santa Monica Mountains and one of the world’s largest parks within city limits. Visitors can access the grounds via more than 60 entrances. Once on the trails, enjoy sweeping vistas while exploring the region’s range of plants, habitats, and wildlife, including several resident bird species.

Grab lunch at Topanga Living Café
Guided by their Topanga upbringing and need for a community gathering spot with great eats, sibling team Agustina Ferguson and Bayu Suryawan opened this daytime eatery in 2016. Ever since, locals and visitors have found refuge in the caf√©’s warm, airy space and nourishing, hyper-fresh fare-all California-inspired with global influences. Check it out in plates like the Island Style, a breakfast salad with Balinese corn fritters, a poached egg, and house-made chilli jam, or the tacos (Baja Fish or Baja Shrimp, Carne Asada, or Kabocha Squash), made-to-order and served on handmade tortillas. If you’re seeking something shareable, try the Farmers Market Crudite, a seemingly humble order whose bright beet hummus reminds us that eating your vegetables is, indeed, very cool. And take a drink to-go. The team here takes great pride in their coffee (organic espresso, courtesy of their iconic pink La Marzocco machine) and a lineup of made-to-order smoothies, juices, and teas. Shop your way through town
Visitors can stroll through the town centre’s most popular shops for various fun finds, including Moona Star, Pebbles, and Topanga Homegrown. Be sure to stock up on specialty, local snacks at Canyon Gourmet and satiate your sweet tooth while you’re at it. The organic soft-serve there is a must. Pro tip: Top it with any of their artisanal syrups for a winning combo, namely, the vanilla with cardamom.

Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum

Catch a show at The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
This beloved open-air theatre has hosted productions for decades and is recognized worldwide for its Shakespeare interpretations. In addition to its annual summer season, which includes works like Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the venue hosts concerts, rehearsals, and classes throughout the year for budding actors and playwrights of all ages.

Snag a slice at Endless Colour
This family-run pizza joint specializes in from-scratch pies with clever topping combinations (think purple potatoes, fontina, and truffle oil in the Purple Molly Potato or spinach, leeks, and goat cheese in the Super Greens). Bring some friends, order a pie or two, and check out the drinks list, which includes offbeat options like orange wines and hard kombucha.

Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery

Sunday

Check out The Canyon Bakery’s “Sunday Funday”
Situated on the grounds of the aforementioned Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, this bakery specializes in naturally leavened breads, pastries, cakes, and cookies using locally sourced, whole grain flours. There’s a takeout window on Sundays, from 9:30 am until the bakery sells out. A strong following lines up for favourites, such as whole grain croissants and gluten-free pizza, so be sure to arrive early to get your fill.

Try tacos to-go at La Chingona
On your way out of town, grab some tacos at La Chingona, where a team puts forth fresh, organic, gluten- and dairy-free tacos. Orders range to include options like grass-fed beef (carne asada), shrimp (wild-caught), and soy chorizo and can be fashioned into plates beyond tacos, too (think tostadas, salads, and bowls). Open only on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays; this taco stand sees good demand. Plan accordingly, pending your travels, especially to savour an order or two of the churros.

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Nicole Schnitzler is a contributor for Thrillist.

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