7 California Coastal Towns To Visit This Winter

Coastal California destinations perfect for a mini getaway this winter

After nearly two years of being cooped up inside – hello pandemic – are you looking for a new destination to explore this winter? Some accessible by car, others by plane or ferry, these 7 locations along the California coast are perfect for a quick mini getaway this winter. 

Carmel by the Sea & Monterey

Settled on the Central Coast of California, you can find the charming neighboring towns of Carmel by the Sea and Monterey. Just roughly 12 minutes apart by car, we’ve looped these locations as a two-for-one as they both offer unique attractions worth the back-and-forth. For those looking to explore a quaint town nestled in the forest, Carmel is your very own fairytale come to life. Its downtown area is lined with charming boutique shops, wineries, and restaurants, all just steps away from a dog-friendly beach. Monterey offers more of a traditional coastal vibe and sports a famous aquarium, a chance to see seals, and is outfitted with plenty of walking and biking trails. Both accessible by car, the nearest airport for those flying in is Monterey (MRY) Airport. Other nearby airports include San Francisco (SFO) (75.7 miles), San Jose (SJC) (53.5 miles), and Oakland (OAK) (79.3 miles).

Gloomy day in Carmel By The Sea, CA

Santa Barbara

About 4 hours down the coast from Carmel and Monterey, the city of Santa Barbara offers travelers a luxurious getaway also in close proximity to neighboring (inland) city Ojai –highly worth a day trip if you have time. From its spanish-influenced architecture, to its beachside zoo, bustling mainstreet, and local-and-tourist popular Funk Zone (a one-mile radius with 20+ tasting rooms), Santa Barbara attracts tourists globally. And hey, about 5 minutes south is its sister city Montecito, home to many stars (hello Oprah!) Santa Baraba is accessible by car and has its own small airport located in neighboring city Goleta. If your city doesn’t connect directly, look into connection flights out of LAX

Santa Barbara County Courthouse, CA

Channel Islands

While a bit tougher to access, Santa Catalina Island is well worth the drive or flight and ferry ride over. One of the 8 California Channel Islands, tourists are most easily able to access the island from mainland Ventura or Oxnard harbor. From charming hotels to a variety of excursions – both on land and sea – and plenty of nature to explore, Santa Catalina Island is a world-class destination adorning many travelers’ bucket list. When searching for lodging, you will be specifically looking to stay in the island’s port town, Avalon, although there are quite a few Airbnbs and campgrounds available on the island as well. If you require a flight into the area, your best bets are Santa Barbara Airport, Burbank or LAX – all of which will require an uber or rental car ride to the Oxnard or Ventura harbor. 

Long Beach – The Queen Mary

If you are looking for a perfect 1 or 2 night getaway, book yourself a stay on the Queen Mary located in Long Beach, California. A true trip across time, the RMS Queen Mary – a British Ocean Liner since converted into an upscale hotel – is especially exciting for historians and ghost lovers alike as the ship is rumored to be haunted. With a theater, restaurants, museum, and seasonal activities all available on board, enjoy the luxuries and history of a 92-year old cruise ship, without having to fare the rocky seas. Just a quick uber ride away from the ship you can also explore downtown Long Beach for further shopping, entertainment, and dining options. Accessible by car, you can fly directly into the Long Beach Airport for most direct access; LAX and John Wayne Airport are suitable alternatives if you plan to rent a car as well. 

San Clemente

There are many beautiful locations along the coast of Orange County, California, but San Clemente offers travelers a little more of a laid back feel when compared to its more well-known neighbors (hello Laguna, Newport, and Huntington Beach). With beautiful beaches, a charming downtown area, a bike path connecting you to northern town Dana Point, if you’re looking for a place a little less populated than other coastal cities in Orange County, San Clemente is an absolute “lesser-known” gem. It’s the last main stop before Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and further cities closer to the San Diego area. It’s accessible by car; Santa Ana John Wayne Orange County is the nearest airport. 

The view from the San Clemente ocean side walking trail. Photo by Viavado, via iStock


Nestled on the peninsula of the San Diego bay sits the resort city of Coronado. Accessible via bridge or by ferry, this southern california destination is pretty much as close to Mexico as you can get this side of the border. Definitely more quaint and quiet than bordering Downtown San Diego, it’s the perfect relaxing destination to enjoy white sand beaches, morning strolls, and perhaps a sunset cruise. Temperatures generally stay mild year round. The nearest airport is San Diego International Airport