From Santa Barbara to Big Bear to the strange little towns in the high desert, LA has no shortage of places to escape to on the weekends. But more often than not, we don’t get our sh*t together in time to pull off an entire weekend away. And now, it’s Saturday morning and the only activity on your agenda for the next 48 hours is doing your laundry. Instead, get in your car and drive to one of these 12 restaurants. This list includes a French bistro in Santa Barbara wine country, an 80-year-old saloon in Joshua Tree, and a restaurant that lets you make your own s’mores in Carlsbad - all within a few hours of LA. You can fold underwear when you get back.
Los Alamos is a tiny town in Santa Barbara wine country. It’s not as famous as its neighbors Buellton and Los Olivos, which is exactly why we love it so much. It’s quiet, relaxing, and full of exciting restaurants that aren’t overrun by screaming wine tourists. If you only have time for one meal here, go straight to Bell’s. Inside an old post office, this casual French bistro is the kind of place you eat at once and walk out wondering if you should give up your city life and move here. The menu changes frequently, but know that whether it’s steak tartare, tinned sardines, or a moules frites Bell’s food is tremendous across-the-board.
Located in downtown Santa Barbara, Bibi Ji is on a stretch of State St. that’s better known for Billabong discount stores than destination restaurants. But once the food inside this casual Indian restaurant starts hitting the table, it becomes abundantly clear why you spent two hours on the 101 to get here - this is some of the most exciting Indian food you’ll find in Southern California. You can order any dish you want a la carte, but we recommend going all-in on the chef’s tasting menu. It’s basically a highlight reel of the best things on Bibi Ji’s menu (like the General Tso’s cauliflower and a gigantic curry sampler), and at $50, it’s a tremendous value considering how much food you get. Don’t skip the cocktails either.
You and your significant other have hit every slightly romantic restaurant within five miles of your house and need a fresh place for date night. Go to Ellie’s in Long Beach. This Southern Italian restaurant has a big front patio, a small dining room, and some very excellent pasta. That said, the best thing here is the grilled bread and pork butter. Pork butter is as good as it sounds, and is even better when it’s spread on grilled bread and topped with one of the pickled carrots that come on the side. Be warned though, parking in this area is tough at night.
It takes approximately three seconds inside 4 Saints rooftop space to realize there’s absolutely no reason why Palm Springs isn’t full of restaurants on top of buildings. Located on the eighth floor of the Rowan Kimpton Hotel (a certifiable skyscraper in Palm Springs), 4 Saints has panoramic views of downtown, the San Jacinto Mountains, and people with good bodies laying out at the hotel pool. But 4 Saints is more than just views - it has seriously good food too. You’re going to want the crudo, the artichoke, and the filet.
Nick’s is the crown jewel of Laguna Beach. But not because of Michelin stars, a chef from Top Chef, or a seven-course tasting menu featuring ginger root shots and a slap across the face. Nick’s is simply the ultimate crowd-pleaser where you take visiting family who want to get out of LA for the day. You will encounter ridiculous wait times and zero reservation availability (unless you book many weeks in advance), but you will also find the greatest prime rib sandwich of all time. Go for a post-beach lunch or drinks and snacks at the bar.
To call Pappy & Harriet’s a restaurant would be selling the place short. It’s an iconic saloon/outdoor music venue with history dating back to the 1940s when the original building (and the surrounding Pioneertown) was designed to be a 1800s frontier set for Hollywood movies. Needless to say, we wish these walls could talk. This place is more of nightlife destination than a restaurant, but that said, they’re open all day on the weekends and crowds show up early to eat BBQ, dance uncontrollably to live music, and take in all the insane glory emitting from this California institution.
Do you really need to drive an hour just to eat a donut? If that donut is coming from Donut Man, the answer is yes. Located on Route 66 in the western suburb of Glendora, The Donut Man has been around since the ’70s and is a flat-out classic. While they have a full menu of all sorts of very good donuts, you’re here for the famous strawberry stuffed ones. They’re basically donut pita sandwiches filled with fresh, sugar-glazed strawberries and they ruin every other donut in existence. Depending on the season, they might be filled with peaches instead. Don’t worry, they’re just as good.
Hidden in a corner of the Parker Palm Springs hotel, Counter Reformation is a tiny wine bar that also happens to have some of our favorite food in Palm Springs. The space itself is just a long bar with wicker chairs, and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were closer to the Champs-Élysées than Palm Canyon Dr. You’re going to want the cheese plate, the beef charcuterie, and a few orders of the hen of the woods. Also, lots and lots of wine.
You’ll find no shortage of tourist-clogged restaurants in Santa Barbara and La Super-Rica is one of them. Thanks to Julia Child proclaiming this order-at-the-counter Mexican spot as her favorite restaurant in America, you can come here almost every day of the week and find lines around the block. The good news is that the hype is real - the food here is worth the wait. It’s hard to go wrong with any of their tacos or chicken suizas, but if you don’t order the Super-Rica Especial (basically a giant plate of chilies, cheese, and marinated pork), don’t bother coming.
One of the best-kept secrets of Long beach is its serious array of excellent Cambodian restaurants. You could spend an entire weekend trying all of them, but if you can only go to one, make it Phnom Penh Noodle Shack. Open daily from 8am - 3pm, this tiny place specializes mostly in breakfast - dishes like phnom penh (noodle soup made with pork bone broth), rice porridge, meat pies, and other delicious noodles. Wait times can get long on the weekends, so plan to hang around for a bit outside before your name is called.
The Bake N Broil is a Long Beach institution. They’ve been open in Bixby Knolls since 1965, serving diner food and incredible pies and cakes. Although there will probably be a wait when you arrive, just hang around for a bit and a counter seat usually opens up quickly. The menu is huge, but you should really go straight for the chicken pot pie, the French onion soup (which comes with your meal anyway), and any pie that catches your eye. Jongewaard’s is the kind of place you drive down to on a lazy Saturday for lunch, hit your daily caloric intake in one sitting, and promptly drive home to watch movies on your couch until you fall asleep.
Located in Carlsbad about halfway between San Diego and the OC, Carlsbad is an indoor/outdoor restaurant that looks like the set of Wet Hot American Summer. The outdoor bonfires and teepees are a bit much, but the food is good and they let you make your own s’mores, so nobody cares. Live fire cooking is the drill here, so expect everything from whole fish and steak to whatever seasonal vegetable is in town that day to hit the table smokey and charred. This place is good for everything from a left-of-center date night to a group meal after a day at the beach.