When you’re ready for a weekend getaway, a quick drive up the coast from San Diego or inland to the desert – or even a short boat ride across the ocean – leads to the most romantic vacation destinations in Southern California. Starting from a San Diego vacation rental, you can easily travel to exciting cities in the surrounding area. Head to Santa Barbara for an unparalleled ocean view, or venture to Ojai for outdoor recreation such as hiking and golfing. Take a look at seven of the most romantic weekend getaways near San Diego.

1. Santa Barbara

santa barbara beach
Source: Flickr/Damian Gadal

Whether you prefer a romantic walk along Butterfly Beach at sunset or a stroll through a high-end outdoor shopping mall, Santa Barbara is an ideal choice for a romantic weekend getaway. Just a four-hour drive up the coast from San Diego, Santa Barbara has a relaxed vibe that starts your weekend the second you step out of the car. During the winter, visit the Coronado Butterfly Preserve to find yourself surrounded by migrating monarch butterflies, or come back in the summer to enjoy a concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl, a strikingly beautiful outdoor venue with ocean views. Change things up by heading into the Santa Ynez Valley for a wine tasting tour on horseback with Vino Vaqueros.

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2. Ojai

ojai california
Source: Flickr/Ken Lund

Head about 200 miles up the coast from San Diego and then turn into the hills surrounding Ventura to find yourself in the magical Ojai Valley. If you’re lucky enough to make the journey in the fall, you can enjoy the fascinating offerings of the Ojai Film Festival and the fun of Ojai Days, but at any time of year, the mild weather and friendly Western vibe of this small town welcomes you to a weekend of romance and relaxation. Pop in at the Ojai Valley Inn for a couples’ massage, and stroll the small downtown area to seek out one-of-a-kind artworks, jewelry, and clothing. Make sure you’re outside at sunset to watch for the famous “pink moment,” as the mountains surrounding the valley glow with a rosy light.

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3. Santa Monica

santa monica pier
Source: Flickr/Matt Kieffer

A two-hour drive north of San Diego, Santa Monica packs a lot of fun into a weekend. Relax on the wide swath of sand that is Santa Monica Beach, or head a little north to enjoy the waves of Malibu or south to enjoy the quirkiness of Venice. Show off for one another at the exercise equipment at Muscle Beach, and then wander out onto the Santa Monica Pier to enjoy live music at Rusty’s Surf Ranch and the carnival midway and rides at Pacific Pier. Saturday mornings bring one of the best farmers markets in California to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. Pick up amazing fresh food to cook back at your vacation rental as you watch the sun slip into the ocean.

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4. Pasadena

Japanese Garden at The Huntington Gardens
Source: Flickr/Thad Zajdowicz

A drive of fewer than three hours puts you in a vacation rental in Pasadena that dates back to the 1920s or ’30s, letting you feel as if you’ve stepped back into a golden era. The grounds of the Huntington Gardens are a romantic place to stroll and picnic, and the Huntington Library allows you to experience magnificent artworks and special exhibits. Head to a romantic restaurant like The Cellar or the White Horse Lounge to enjoy time with your loved one, or hit the streets of Old Town Pasadena for nightlife, shopping, and fun.

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5. Palm Springs

palm springs
Source: Flickr/Joe Wolf

As temperatures cool down, head 140 miles north to the desert for warmth and romance. Golfers can choose from dozens of golf courses in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage, or opt for indoor relaxation at the many spas around town. Your vacation rental in the desert is likely to have a pool for relaxing with a cool drink, or you can get active by hiking Tahquitz Canyon or taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tram up 5,000 feet in elevation to check out the mountain village of Idyllwild. After your active day, enjoy a romantic dinner at BluEmber or Workshop Kitchen.

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6. Laguna Beach

natural arches laguna ca
Source: Flickr/Don Graham

Seven miles of beaches stretch along this oceanfront community, which is just 80 miles north of San Diego, so your vacation rental is never far from the water when you choose Laguna as your weekend getaway vacation destination. Even the drive is romantic if you leave the freeway behind and take Pacific Ocean Highway up the coast. Stroll along the beach to watch the waves splash against the Natural Arches, or just toss down your towel at the city beach that’s right in the heart of downtown. Summertime brings special events like the Sawdust Festival, where you can choose a special memento from the booths of local artisans, or book tickets for the renowned Pageant of the Masters for a one-of-a-kind artistic experience. Watch the sun set from the patio at Las Brisas, as you enjoy drinks and unforgettable seafood on your romantic weekend.

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7. Avalon

Catalina Island
Source: Flickr/Everett Carrico

Your journey to Avalon becomes romantic as soon as you leave your car at the port in Long Beach, just two hours north of San Diego, and hop on board the Catalina Express to sail the famous 26 miles across the sea to Catalina Island, the island of romance. Head to the classic Avalon Casino Theater to watch a movie surrounded by Art Deco brilliance, or rent a golf cart to head to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Gardens to enjoy the island’s natural beauty. Everything in the tiny town of Avalon is within walking distance, and you’re likely to have an ocean view from your vacation rental, making romance and relaxation a given. If you’re feeling active, rent a kayak from Descanso Beach Ocean Sports to enjoy an afternoon of snorkeling and fun.

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