With Labor Day fast approaching and extreme heat in the forecast for the Coachella Valley, The Desert Sun’s Daniela Franco reminds us that that living in the desert means you don’t have to travel far to find new and interesting places to explore. With help from “DESERT Magazine” contributor Rick Marino (also host of “State x State” airing on the PlanesTrains+Automobiles (PTA) network as part of Delta’s in-flight entertainment), a desert resident who has been discovering the many places that are just a car ride away, Daniela has rounded up the top 12 places to go and enjoy not just this labor day weekend but any weekend as well:


Where: Approximately 250 miles away. Take I-10 W to I-5 S to San Diego; cross the border and follow the signs to Ensenada Scenic Highway. Note: Make sure you have your passport and Mexican auto insurance

What: Ensenada is a cruise ship destination, supposedly the birthplace of the margarita and home of the Baja 1000 off-road race.

Things to See and Do:

  •        Hotel Posada El Rey Sol: a colonial-style, family-run boutique hotel perfect for exploring the city by foot.
  •        Maya Cacao: an artisan chocolate shop that makes everything in-house and gives glasses.
  •        La Bufadora: a marine geyser that is the result of air trapped in a sea cave.
  •        Mercado Negro: the main fish market offering all varieties of fish.


Where: Roughly 50 miles away. Take either I-10 W or CA-74 W onto CA-243.

What: The small Alpine village is a mile high and just over an hour from Palm Springs.

Things to See and Do:

  •         Mayor Max: a golden retriever who happens to be the official mayor of Idyllwild.
  •         Mountain Mikes Custom Leather: a rustic shack surrounded by antiques filled with handmade leather works.
  •         Idyllwild Bakeshop and Brew: stop by for a locally cold-pressed juice and a homemade sweet pie pastry.
  •        Tahquitz Peak, or Lily Rock: a solid granite dome that is the most prominent natural feature.
  •        The South Ridge Trail: features a keyhole and a fire lookout, which boasts 360 degrees of oak, Chinqapin, Chaparral, pine and boulders below.


Where: About 100 miles away. Take CA-74 W to CA-79 S.

What: Julian is a historic gold mining town and is world-famous for its sweet apple pastries and orchards. Every place in town advertises itself as “Julian’s Best Pie!”.

Things to See and Do:

  •        The village of Santa Ysabel: houses one of Julian Pie Company’s larger shops.
  •        Menghini Winery: Julian’s oldest winery.
  •        Julian Café & Bakery: for pie warm from the oven with a heavier crust, thick apple filling and heaps of whipped cream.
  •        The Eagle Mining Co.: Julian’s original gold mine, owned and operated by the founder’s grandsons.


Where: Approximately 200 miles away. Take CA-177 N and follow CA-62 E to AZ-95 N.

What: Lake Havasu is a large reservoir behind Parker Dam on the Colorado River, on the California-Arizona border.

Things to See and Do:

  •        The Strip: it is lined with floating bars and restaurants. The Roadrunner, Fox’s and Sundance are all classics.
  •        Colorado River Indian Tribes Museum: filled with lots of artifacts, informative displays and local crafts for purchase.
  •        Cottontail State Park: features a nice beach and place to camp. The Arizona side has 87 shoreline campsites accessible only by boat.
  •        The original London Bridge


Where: Less than 50 miles away. Take I-10 W to Oak Valley Pkwy.

What: Oak Glen is in the middle of Apple Country, where the temperatures are significantly cooler.

Things to See and Do:

  •        Riley’s Farm: purchase a basket and a bag for “u-pick” apples. The farm also puts on several history-themed adventures.
  •        Los Rios Rancho: another “u-pick” spot.
  •        The Wildlands Conservancy Oak Glen Preserve: with several hiking trails through oak and pine forests, as well as a botanical garden.
  •        Snow-Line: one of the oldest orchards around, look for a small sign and winding driveway for cider donuts. They make vino on-site, as well as hard cider.


Where: About 60 miles away via I-10 E and CA-86 S.

What: The Salton Sea is an inland saline lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault.

Things to See and Do:

  •        The mud volcanoes: located in a large geothermal field, you can hear the gurgling as hot mud spits into the air. The bubbling is caused by carbon dioxide rising through vent points below the water table along the San Andreas Fault.
  •        Salvation Mountain: just outside the small town of Niland, built mostly out of adobe clay, straw and thousands of gallons of paint, and is marked by a giant cross that has “God is Love” painted across.
  •        Bradshaw Trail: runs from the sea all the way to Palo Verde on the Colorado River. You’ll need a four-by-four to maneuver the 70-mile graded dirt road known as the National Back Road Byway.
  •        Salton Sea Museum: you can rent kayaks as well as picnic and camp by tent or RV.


Where: Roughly 130 miles away. Heading to CA-60, then I-5 S to Highway 78 at Lake Elsinore.

What: San Clemente is located at the southern tip of Orange County and known by locals as the “Spanish Village by the Sea”, as well as the home of former President Richard Nixon’s Western Whitehouse

Things to See and Do:

  •        Casa Romantica: the original home of the city’s founder, Ole Hanson, where you can get a history lesson on the town’s origins.
  •        The Fisherman’s Restaurant & Bar: built as part of the pier over the crashing waves, it’s the perfect place to get the feel of this beach town, watch some surfers and sip drinks at sunset.
  •        Avenida Del Mar: the town’s main street for shopping and eating. 
  •        Dana Point Marina: one of the best places in California to go whale watching.


Where: Roughly 140 miles away. Take I-15 S.

What: San Diego has got the best year-round weather and is full of many cool areas ready for Southern Californians to explore.

Things to See and Do:

  •        Balboa Park: adjacent to downtown and the hip neighborhoods of Hillcrest and North Park, it is the largest urban park in North America and home to the famous zoo as well as museums, a theater and beautiful gardens.
  •        Old Town San Diego: It’s got dozens of fun restaurants where establishments make homemade tortillas.
  •        Cabrillo National Monument on the tip of Point Loma: a $10 entrance fee (it’s free for those who hold a National Parks pass) gets you the best view of the city. Located at the entrance to San Diego Bay, the point offers a 360-degree view of San Diego.
  •        Shelter Island: this slight strip of land shelters one of the main marinas in town.
  •        Ocean Beach: beach town marked by an iconic pier, a great dog beach and locally owned cafes, bars and shops.


Where: Around 95 miles away. Take I-10 W.

What: The San Gabriel Mountains are mainly known for two famous peaks: Mount Baldy and Mount Wilson.

Things to See and Do:

  •        Angeles Crest Creamery. It is 70 acres of a real, working goat ranch with its own lake.
  •        Saint Andrew’s Abbey: a Benedictine monastery, the public is welcome to participate at midday mass. 
  •        Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area: a beautiful valley surrounded by sedimentary rocks with snowcapped mountains as a backdrop.


Where: Around 80 miles away. Take CA-74 W and CA-371 W.

What: Temecula is known as Southern California’s wine country but has more to offer beyond their wine.

Things to See and Do:

  •        Outdoor gallery of sculptor Ricardo Breceda: known for his metal work of larger-than-life animals that cover the landscape of Borrego Springs.
  •        The Stagecoach Inn: a giant soft serve ice cream cone marks the spot of this classic two-lane highway diner, named for the Butterfield Overland Mail stage line that used to run along the base of the mountains here in the 1800s.
  •        Rancho Fruit Market: the owner makes caramel apples and chocolate-dipped fruits herself – most the store items are sourced from local farms.
  •        Temecula Valley Museum: full of displays, exhibits and artifacts that show the complete history of Temecula. There is also section devoted to Temecula’s most famous resident, Erle Stanley Gardner, best known as the author of the Perry Mason mystery novels.


Where: Around 100 miles away. Take I-10 E.

What: There are several places within Wiley’s Well District to find geodes (spherical rocks that contain hollow cavities lined with crystals) for rockhounding.

Things to See and Do:

  •        Hauser Geode Beds: located about 15 miles off the Wiley’s Well Road exit. With gloves and a bucket and a hammer and shovel, you kind of just go for it.


Where: Around 200 miles away. Via I-10 E to CA-86 S and I-8 E.

What: Located in the southwest corner of Arizona, Yuma is known as the “Winter Vegetable Capital of the World.”

Things to See and Do:

  •        Castle Dome City and Museum: you’ll find a fine example of an 1878 mining town that was once larger than Yuma.
  •        Lutes Casino: you can’t gamble here anymore, but the bar and restaurant are pretty funky. Every wall is covered in memorabilia, from vintage posters to neon signs and mannequins.
  •        Yuma Territorial Prison: probably the most famous place to visit in town. The prison, built by inmates, opened in 1876 and closed in 1909. Now a state park and museum, it held some of the roughest and toughest Wild West outlaws, both men and women. There is an exhibit in the main hall with mugshots of all the inmates.
  •        Los Algodones on the Mexican side of the border, home of lower cost dentists, eye glasses and prescriptions.

To read Daniela Franco’s original article and view the accompanying pictures, courtesy of The Desert Sun, please visit: http://www.desertsun.com/story/travel/destinations/2017/08/30/12-easy-getaways-coachella-valley-labor-day-weekend/614566001/