The Auto Club Recommends Spring And Summer One-Tank Getaway Ideas

With spring break around the corner, many Southern Californians are eager to get outdoors and enjoy a little socially distanced travel, whether via a short day trip or an overnight stay. And since gas prices are now near $4 a gallon, we turned to the the Auto Club of Southern California for some o ne-tank getaway ideas for less crowded destinations that are just a short drive away.

The Auto Club recommends that travelers exercise the social distance cautions recommended by the CDC, bring along supplies of masks and sanitizers for everyone traveling, and wash hands frequently.

Here are some suggestions for traveling off the beaten path:

Palos Verdes Peninsula

This exclusive Los Angeles County community is home to sweeping ocean views that sometimes include whale sightings, classic 1920s-era Mediterranean architecture in many neighborhoods, and a quiet rural lifestyle that seems like a world away from Los Angeles and the busier beach cities. There are no big public sandy beaches due to rocky terrain. Peacocks roam through many of the public areas.

What to do:

The 87-acre South Coast Botanic Garden is filled with native vegetation that is especially beautiful after a few spring rains. Buy tickets in advance online. Tram service is available around the garden perimeter.

Reserve a guided horseback ride ahead of time at Palos Verdes Stables.

Terranea Resort: Even without an overnight stay, this oceanfront AAA Four Diamond property is worth a stop to enjoy a meal at one of its several restaurants with outdoor seating. Restaurant reservations are strongly recommended. Before or after your meal, explore the resort’s shoreline trails. Limited spa services are now available, as well as a nine-hole golf course (the peninsula is also home to two other public golf courses).

Another scenic coastal walk just north of the resort is the Vicente Bluffs Reserve, and also farther east there is the Rancho Palos Verdes Coastal Trail adjacent to Founders Park. And for those wanting a more ambitious ocean-view hike, park at Ladera Linda Community Center to walk the trails of the Forrestal Nature Reserve.

Once it has reopened when COVID-19 restrictions ease, you can get in some quiet, nature-inspired meditation at Wayfarers Chapel. This landmark glass building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son Lloyd Wright in a style that brings nature into the sanctuary.

To explore the sights by car, drive the “Palos Verdes Loop” of Palos Verdes Drives North, East, South and West. But exercise caution – Palos Verdes Drive South is affected by landslide movement and requires slow passage in areas, and Palos Verdes Drive East has a series of switchbacks.


This Riverside County artist community nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains is the perfect escape from urban and suburban Southern California. It’s close enough to Los Angeles and San Diego for a day trip, and you may want to plan your visit to coincide with one of the area’s many outdoor art or cultural festivals, which are still scheduled to happen this year. A AAA Travel Advisor can help you plan a multi-day getaway which could also include a stay in nearby Palm Springs or elsewhere in the Coachella Valley.

What to do:

If you’d like to stay overnight or treat yourself to a massage at the spa, the AAA Four Diamond Grand Idyllwild Lodge is a luxury boutique inn with forest views from each window.

Explore the quaint downtown full of artist galleries, gift shops and cafes. Chances are that while you’re in town, you’ll spot Mayor Max, the labrador retriever who’s been “running” Idyllwild for several years (since the town is unincorporated, the local Idyllwild Animal Rescue Friends charity runs a “mayoral election” as an annual fundraiser.)

Idyllwild Nature Center is a place you can play in the snow or hike. Another popular trail is the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail (follow the signs for Humber Park off Fern Valley Road), a fairly easy hike that crosses several streams.

Santa Ynez Valley

Santa Barbara and Solvang are some of the most well-known Southern California tourist destinations, but there’s plenty of less crowded options just outside those areas. Towns in the Santa Ynez Valley include Ballard, Buellton, Los Olivos and Santa Ynez.

What to do:

Winery tours are now open and a highly recommended way to do wine tasting to prevent impaired driving. All wineries that are open have outdoor patio seating.  Stagecoach Co. Wine Tours follows COVID-19 protocols and will pick up guests from hotels throughout the Santa Ynez Valley for either a private tour or as part of its Wine Lovers Tour, which is limited to six guests per vehicle.

Santa Ynez Valley Horseback Rides offers one-hour guided rides along the Santa Ynez River.

The Santa Ynez Valley is home to five AAA Four Diamond lodgings: Chumash Casino Resort, Fess Parker Wine Country Inn, Hotel Corque, Santa Ynez Inn and The Ballard Inn. It also has two AAA Four Diamond restaurants: Willows in the Chumash Casino Resort and The Gathering Table in The Ballard Inn. The city of Santa Barbara also has five AAA Four Diamond lodgings and two AAA Four Diamond restaurants.

It’s small, but the Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden inside RiverView Park in Buellton is filled with native plants and flowers, as well as a willow maze for kids and adults.

Lake Cachuma is another popular attraction in the area and is open for visits, but guided boat tours and nature walks were not yet open as of March 24.

East San Diego County

San Diego is one of the top US tourist destinations, so avoiding crowds can be tricky. Travel a little farther northeast to the El Cajon and Alpine areas to get in some outdoor activities in a higher elevation desert setting.

What to do:

Lions, Tigers & Bears – oh my! For a low-key alternative to its world-famous neighbor the San Diego Zoo, visit this Alpine sanctuary for exotic animals that were rescued from abusive or negligent private owners. The paid tours of the 90-acre sanctuary help support upkeep, feeding and care of the animals.

Choose from among three AAA Four Diamond properties in the El Cajon area if you’re planning an overnight stay: Sycuan Casino Resort in El Cajon; Viejas Casino & Resort in Alpine and Willows Hotel & Spa in Alpine (adults-only hotel adjacent to Viejas Casino). Spa services are available at each property.

Summers Past Farms in Flinn Springs near El Cajon combines a botanic garden and farm experience, with a farm store selling locally made soap, outdoor and indoor décor, and plants. Admission is free.

Crestridge Ecological Reserve Trail in El Cajon is a 1.6-mile easy loop hike featuring wildflowers in the spring.

Image Sources

  • Horseback rides: Santa Ynez Valley Horseback Rides