Wellness Travel Destinations in Southern California: A Road Trip Guide
Growing up in Southern California, time spent in the car was considered normal. The state is pretty darn big! On top of that, you have the traffic, which can skyrocket your time in the car, making every car ride feel like a mini road trip. But don’t let that traffic scare you; traveling in SoCal is worth it! Since California is the third largest state in the U.S, just below Alaska and Texas, there are numerous hidden gems for an unforgettable wellness road trip. Wellness Travel in Southern California in particular comes easy as it has excellent freeways that allow you access to the deep south on the California-Mexico border. With a leisurely drive north, you can travel into the green agricultural heart of the state, while to the east you’ll find scorching deserts to explore in awe.
From beautiful orange grove trees to an abundance of coastal fronts, to verdant green parks and hiking trails, Southern California is a filled with excellent wellness travel experiences to both rejuvenate your well-being and boost your health and wellness.
This guest post is from Ciara Turner-Ewert, who is a freelance writer and a health and wellness travel blogger. She’s a SoCal native who loves to travel the globe with her husband and find new ways to feel healthy. With a degree in psychology, Ciara helps others find meaningful connections with the world. Through a blend of fitness, nutrition, and personal development tips, her travel blog, Wellness Travel Diaries helps your body, spirit and mind take a vacation too. You can find her on instagram @wellnesstraveldiaries.
If you are looking for some more fun road trip ideas in California, consider San Francisco to Yosemite!
Best time to visit Southern California – Wellness Travel
Since Southern California is the land of the sun, it is a great year-round destination. When timing your visit to Southern California, it’s important to know what type of climate you want. Summer is the hottest and driest time of the year, as well as peak tourist season. Springtime brings cooler weather, less crowds, and hued flowers in full bloom. Early fall is still quite warm, but as you head into October, the temperature tends to cool down a bit. Realistically, anytime you road trip to California can be ideal. However, if you want a less-crowded wellness adventure, spring time and fall will be your best bet.
Here’s a list of unique wellness destinations to visit in Southern California –
- Joshua Tree
- Psalm Springs
- Big Bear Lake
- Santa Barbara
- Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Preserve
Joshua Tree National Park – Wellness Travel in Southern California
Situated deep in Southern California you’ll find the hidden destination of Joshua Tree. Joshua Tree is a national park that’s located where the Colorado and Mojave deserts meet. Because it’s comprised of these two different deserts, it has a unique ecosystem formed by desert plants, enormous natural rock formations, and many wild animals. Joshua Tree National Park is one of my favorite places to road trip to because it’s unlike any other wellness destination. You can rock climb the colossal boulders in the morning, hike the awe-inspiring trails in the afternoon, then end the night by camping in the desert amongst the glittery bright stars tucked above the giant boulder’s shadows.
While Joshua Tree is a unique destination to visit year-round, summer can be extremely hot when hiking through the desert terrain. Make sure to pack extra water, snacks, and sun protective gear. These items can be found in Joshua Tree, along with a hand full of hearty restaurants. I suggest stopping by a Target and Trader Joe’s to load up on healthy snacks, camping supplies, and whatever else you may need as there’s limited options near the site.
Options for eateries in Joshua Tree –
- Natural Sisters
- Pappy and Harriet’s
- Cali Greens Cafe
- La Copine
The National Park Service has a great list of hikes to do during each season. Passes are required for vehicle entry, and cost $30 per vehicle. If you plan to visit Joshua Tree several times throughout the year, consider buying an annual park pass at $55. If you’re an avid hiker, and National Park fanatic, there’s the “America the Beautiful National Parks Annual Pass” which gets you access into all the National Parks at $80. You can also write two names on the pass, which is great for sharing! My husband and I did this previously, allowing us to use the pass without the other person being present. He took a friends on a trip to Yellowstone National Park while I relaxed on the coastal shores in Santa Barbara eating fresh tacos with my friends.
Here’s a couple hikes to get you started in the park –
- Discovery Trail
- Skull Rock
- Split Rock Loop
- West Side Loop
Palm Springs – Southern California Road Trip
After visiting Joshua Tree National Park, your road trip wouldn’t be complete without heading over to Palm Springs, another hidden destination located within the Colorado Desert. This colorful desert city’s vibe oozes relaxation from the minute your car’s tires enter the city. As a kid, this was my family’s favorite wellness-inspired getaway. We would explore the nearby hiking trails if the day permitted a break from the heat, then swim for hours in the pool until our toes and fingers slightly pruned.
This destination in Southern California offers a delectable food scene, hiking in the arid terrain, relaxing at the many wellness resorts or spas, and shopping at the quaint boutiques and golfing. Palm Springs was once home to the Agua Caliente Cahuilla Indians and you can explore the cultural history starting at the Agua Agua Caliente Cahuilla Cultural Museum.
What to do in Palm Springs California:
- Hike Coachella Valley Preserve
- Visit Agua Caliente Cultural Museum
- Visit Psalm Springs Air Museum
Where to eat in Palm Springs California:
- Native Foods Cafe
- Chef Tanya’s Kitchen
- Moonson Indian Food
- Pepper Thai Cuisine
Big Bear Lake, California – Wellness Travel in Southern California
After experiencing the sensational desert of Southern California, another wellness destination to visit on your road trip is Big Bear Lake. Big Bear Lake is a tranquil spot hidden among the breathtaking San Bernardino National Forest. With activities ranging from mountain biking, hiking, to snowboarding and skiing during the winter, there are activities here to both work up a sweat and refresh your mind. Here, you can explore two types of travel— wellness and adventure.
While I absolutely love hiking and exploring the outdoors, this type of getaway is always high on any road trip adventures. The sensations of being free amongst nature, unplugging, and working up a lukewarm sweat is a wellness travel feeling I always welcome. This prime spot offers a chance to engage in an in-depth relaxation experience, and provides access to countless hiking trails. You can bring your own food to enjoy a picnic outdoors, or stop by a restaurant listed below to refuel your bellies.
What to do at Big Bear Lake – Wellness Travel in Southern California
- Hike Castle Rock Trail
- Hike Alpine Pedal Path Trail
- Hike Castle Rock Peak
- Mountain biking
Where to Eat near Big Bear Lake California
- Fusion Juice and Coffee Bar
- Grizzly Manor Cafe
- Himalayan Restaurant
- Café Crepe
Santa Barbara – Wellness Travel in Southern California
Santa Barbara is one of my favorite cities in Southern California. It’s beautifully tucked away between the hilly Santa Ynez Mountains and the vast Pacific Coast. This artsy, charming town is infused with little spurts of Spanish culture. This influence is shown in a variety of ways, such as the majestic white mission, still beautifully intact and surrounded by hundreds of multicolored, brightly blooming roses. The city is chock full of white pueblo style buildings with red roofs draw the eye to the enchanting blue sky, bringing peace of mind. The cherry on top is the several beaches found throughout the city that contribute to the placating and pleasant ambiance.
After visiting Santa Barbara consider heading south to LA and checking that off your bucket list!
Some beaches, you’ll find surfing, kayaking, and sailing taking over the sea, whereas other beaches are infamous for playing beach volleyball. No matter where you are in Santa Barbara, you can feel the wellness paradise through the chill vibes, a plethora of vegan and gluten-free dining options, and the beautiful nature the city is intertwined in.
Where to Eat in Santa Barbara –
If you’re a foodie, looking for a wellness food adventure, Santa Barbara is filled with a plethora of vegan, gluten-free, organic, and all around outstanding food options to make you feel good. Some of my favorite healthy restaurants, which include:
- Backyard Bowls
- Mony’s Tacos
- Vegan Green Go
- Savoy Cafe and Deli
- Mesa Verde Restaurant
What to Do in Santa Barbara –
- Go wine tasting in the funk zone
- Hike Inspiration Point
- Hike San Ysidro Trail
- Visit the Santa Barbara mission, then have a picnic on the lawn
- Head over to East Beach to catch some rays and play volleyball
- Get a Himalayan salt massage, or visit the Salt Caves
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Preserve
After visiting Santa Barbara, head a little further north to San Simeon for a quick day trip to visit Elephant Seal Vista Point. It’s a secluded beach and home to thousands of elephant seals who spend their day sun bathing and snoozing in their natural habitat. Witnessing this remarkable natural sight of elephants seals, sprawling over 5 miles on the beach, is an enthralling sight. It reminds me to embody your own wellness journey like the elephant seals by remembering balance is a part of life. Just like the elephant seals, sometimes you just need to unwind and chill on a sunny California beach.
What to do: Wellness Destinations in Southern California
- Watch the majestic seals lounge on the beach
- Walk around the bluffs of Piedras Blancas
- Visit the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse (It’s only accessible via a 2-hour walking guided hour guided tour, so plan ahead!)
- Hike at San Simeon State Park
Where to eat:
- BYOP (Bring your own picnic) and eat at San Simeon State Park
- San Sebastian
- The Cafe
- Linn’s Restaurant
These hidden wellness travel destinations in Southern California are a great place to start you on your Southern California road trip. While there’s not an exact order on how you should visit these beautiful places, this itinerary gives a you a great list of places to start. If you love the West Coast and want to venture on an even larger road trip check out our article on the best places in the West Coast.