An ideal outdoor weekend in Southern California

So we all love California. It’s just a thing people do. What’s not to love about it anyway? There are beaches, beautiful people, irrational amounts of good food, theme parks, national parks and deserts. I could go on but you get the point. California is great. It’s a state you can return to over and over without getting bored. So how do you spend a weekend in SoCal outside of Los Angeles County? Easy.

(Note: This trip requires a vehicle)

(Note 2: Ideally, fly into SNA and out of SAN. The one way price each way do not cost much more than a RT. Alternatively, skip the Irvine portion and just fly in and out of SAN)


My secret to travelling to and from California lies in avoiding Los Angeles like the plague. Don’t get me wrong, I love L.A.. But it gets so gratingly banal after a while and it’s great to actually get out and experience what the rest of the state has to offer. I usually fly into John Wayne Airport (SNA). Not only is it usually cheaper than LAX, it is also easier to get in and out of (20 minute check-in, anyone?) and closer to my favourite spots away from the crowd. So once you have landed and rented a good four wheel drive vehicle, head to Irvine Spectrum Centre (a mere 7 minute drive away) to eat my favourite Mexican food at Javier’s. Their taco’s and nacho’s hit the spot, especially after a flight and before a drive. Irvine Spectrum Centre is a gorgeous outdoor mall that boasts a classic carousal and ferris wheel. If shopping is not your thing, grab some cutesy and insta-worthy cupcakes from the Hello Kitty Cafe and head out.

The first spot on the perfect weekend hit list is Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Aim to arrive around 10pm, so if you leave Irvine at 7:30pm, you will have plenty of time to stop for snacks on the way too. Make sure to fill up on water and munchies as once you get into the park, it is an hour away from anything. I do generally stop at the In ’n Out just before the park entrance because I like my guilty pleasures.

Why Anza-Borrego? A little background information is necessary. Anza-Borrego is one of the parks in California within a dark community – like Joshua Tree. This means that the surrounding communities have to switch off public lighting in order for park-goers to be able to fully experience the starry sky at night. Not only does this mean amazing star-gazing, but the park is also a museum and home to some 30 iron statues ranging from 20 foot mice to 130 foot sea dragons. While it is enjoyable to seek them out during the day, nothing is quite so Jurassic Park-esque as roaming around off road in the dark and chancing upon an iron dinosaur or giant scorpion. It also makes for some epic pictures with the stars providing the perfect backdrop for the looming figures. For me, this is usually an all-night adventure, and I only end up leaving with the moon. But for those who wish to leave a little earlier, the park is home to a few themed, resort-style motels that you can check into for some rest.

Once you’ve slept off your overnight adventure, head to San Diego. It is about an hour’s drive from Anza-Borrego so leave when you feel comfortable. The Pearl Hotel is by far my ffavoritehotel in San Diego, even if it is a little pricey. Not only is it centrally located to some of the best food trucks in the city, it is a gorgeous hotel offering activities like movies in the pool and themed happy hours. Catch classic films like Grease and Flashdance while sipping on some movie-inspired drinks from the pool bar before hitting the city on a Saturday night.

My fafavoriteocker dive bar in San Diego is the Live Wire(2103 El Cajon Blvd). Somewhat of a cult rock ’n roll bar, Live Wire is all about the jukebox and craft beer. If this is not your scene, head to El Camino( 2400 India St.) for Mexican fine dining and a DJ. Another notable venue for live music is (duh) Casbah 2501 Kettner Blvd). Check their site for what’s going on and make sure to stop by what is arguably the finest music venue in the state. Maybe even country.

Take a lazy Sunday morning walk round the Gaslamp district and appreciate the remains of the Victorian style red light district which is now home to an eclectic mix of boutique bars, restaurants and local retail in the still standing buildings.  Drop in for breakfast at Cafe 222 (222 Island Ave.) and try their Peanut Butter and Banana French Toast, or select from their list of American-style comfort breakfast foods. If you are like me and never get sick of tacos, head to Puerta (789 West Harbour Dr.) and indulge in almost flawless, authentic Mexican.

If you have time to visit the beach before you head back, drive to La Jolla and try and snag a fire pit for some sunset seaside ambience to end off your weekend.

Azra Gani

Azra Gani

Azra is a bonafide frequent flyer who's often approached for hot tips and local guides to the cities she's visited. To Az, the beauty of travel is that every city and experience is unique and ever changing. She loves to provide recommendations and rough itineraries to the cities she's been to, but as a rule, she encourages everyone to use them as a jumping point, and create their own adventure! Keep up with Az the travel addict on instagram ( and get inspired to visit somewhere new today!