weekend itinerary san diego

Southern California Weekend Travel Guide

laguna beach sunset
laguna beach montage
laguna beach montage

While Nashville may be the place I call home, my roots run back to southern California. I’ve been dozens and dozens of times over the course of my life and have more memories there than probably anywhere else in the world. I’ve recently had several people ask me where they should stay if they're visiting the area for a long weekend since "they know they can't do it all." While I certainly recommend taking your time to explore places like LA, San Diego and Orange County, I also believe you can easily cover a lot of territory in a short time if you want to see them all. So I took a trip last week to accomplish just that. 


I’ve pulled together this “Greatest Hits” if you will, of my absolute favorite places to eat, where to stay, and what to do if you want to see the highlights of Southern California but don’t have an extended amount of time to dedicate to each destination. I must disclaim that I have plenty more recommendations that I wanted to include, but  I'm trying to be realistic about what you could actually accomplish (and save the extended recommendations for future posts that are dedicated to each city). So here are my top picks for San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles:


SAN DIEGO: North County 

Given my soliloquy above about wanting to recommend everything but having to pick my favorites, I highly suggest focusing your time in San Diego on the north county area. Not only will it be the most convenient in terms of driving, but it also happens to be where all my favorites are (of course, I’m biased because this is  where my family is from and where I’ve spent the majority of my time).








Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara  is nestled in Carlsbad, one of the many great beach towns in northern San Diego. I've always stayed with family for as long as I can remember when I've visited, so this was one of my first times staying in a hotel here (and it was also one of my most memorable hotel experiences by far). The property is wrapped by a lush + idyllic setting that will send you into a tranquil oasis from the moment you arrive. We were greeted with a fresh juice tasting (pressed locally on site and also available for purchase at their barista bar) followed by a tour of the grounds. The Palmera Pool at the Meadows Clubhouse is the perfect central point to connect Seasons restaurant, Driftwood Fitness Center and Driftwood Spa. 

four seasons aviara
four seasons residence club aviara


We stopped for manicures at Driftwood Spa to unwind from a long day (where we sipped delicious champagne from the prettiest flutes I've ever seen). The spa was relaxing and uplifting at the same time and our technician was so kind and fun to talk to. We stayed in the Summits Village, which had sweeping views of Carlsbad (and we loved sitting out there to enjoy our room service). 

four seasons residence club aviara

As if they hadn't already sold me enough, we went to Seasons for their interactive chef’s table inside the working kitchen for a signature one-of-a-kind “Taste the Senses” experience with Chef Ball at the Kitchen Counter and a well-appointed private dining room. It was incredible. Gracie is gluten free and dairy-free (except goat cheese + manchego) and they still wow-ed us with one of the most delicious 5 course meals I've ever had (including watermelon gazpacho, guianciale and poached egg with micro-kale, local halibut with coconut polenta and topped it all off with mango passion fruit sorbet with raspberry beignets). And to make all of that even better, each course came with a carefully selected wine pairing. 

seasons restaurant four seasons carlsbad
four seasons aviara residence club

I definitely intend to stay here again when I come back to San Diego. The entire experience was incredible, the staff couldn't have been more kind or hospitable, & I highly recommend them if you're staying in the area. 




las olas mexican cardiff by the sea

Whenever I've played "Last Meal" with my friends (where you all share what you would eat if you knew it was your last meal) I've always included a course at Las Olas. I grew up coming here with my family for dinner for as long as I can remember, and it's one of my favorite restaurants on earth.

Sit on the patio for lunch or to watch the sunset, drink a margaraita (or 12 because they are delicious) and enjoy the most delicious fish tacos you've ever had in your entire life. 





Are you picking up on all my nostalgic vibes yet? If not, here's some more. I spent mornings in the summer going on runs from my aunt's house to Pipe's for breakfast before heading to the beach. This cash-only, hole-in-the-wall is a local gem that's crawling with surfers, dogs and happy beach-town residents that love starting their day with a yummy breakfast (don't we all?) Sit on the porch with your coffee + breakfast burrito and take in the local scene while the marine layer (aka that calming grey dreariness) burns off. 













After your time in North County San Diego, work your way up I-5 to Orange County. There are tons of great towns like Newport Beach or Dana Point, but sticking to the "Greatest Hits" I recommend focusing on Laguna Beach. This beach town is the ideal for art lovers (TONS of great shops and festivals throughout the year like Sawdust), nature enthusiasts, and anyone else who enjoys incredibly epic views (the gorgeous coastline will trick you into believing you've somehow transported to Spain).




When we were initially planning, we almost booked a new property that I was really excited about (The Ranch at Laguna Beach) but we ended up staying with friends both nights that we were in Orange County. If you’re looking to book a hotel, I recommend checking them out (I’m planning to go back someday!) You can also find great spots on Airbnb or splurge with one of the following resorts:







laguna beach las brisas patio
las brisas guacamole
las brisas shrimp cocktail
las brisas ahi tuna poke

When I think of restaurants with a beautiful view, Las Brisas has always been one of the top on my list. But once you try the food you'll have a difficult time deciding which of the two is better. Nestled on a cliff in Heisler Park, the Las Brisas cuisine is inspired by Mexico's west coast and prepared with California freshness and innovation. We started with champagne (obviously), then ordered some fresh guacamole and margaritas (because #SundayFunday). From there, we split the shrimp cocktail (with jumbo Mexican prawns) and the Ahi Poke Tower (with South Pacific ahi sashimi, avocado, jicama and delicious chili-lime chips). I was stuffed before we could even get to an entree (which I've tried those before, and they're epic as well) but we couldn't turn down the Berry Tostada (fresh berries in an almond Florentine shell with vanilla ice cream and fruit liqueur). If you follow me on Snapchat (blonde_atlas) you'll understand why #YouCan'tBeASkinnyTravelBlogger. I'm okay with it. 



Las Brisas is sincerely one of my favorite restaurants of all time and I can't recommend it enough. But I'm not the only one with this opinion so call ahead or book a reservation online.




urth caffee laguna beach

Urth Caffe is one of my favorite California breakfast spots. Back when I worked at an ad agency based in LA, I'd start my mornings at the Santa Monica location (so when our friend Kelsey told us to meet her at the one in Laguna I was totally on board.) No matter which location you visit, you're sure to find healthy, fresh food in a quintessential California setting. 




banzai bowls laguna beach

California KILLS the açai bowl game. We made a pit stop at Banzai Bowls in Laguna for lunch before heading to the lookout on Oak street to soak in these views. Gracie had a Pitaya Bowl and I had the traditional Banzai Bowl (both were awesome). Stop in for a quick, healthy lunch or snack for the perfect break from a day at the beach. 




the cliff laguna beach restaurant

If you're looking for a place to have a drink and soak in the views of Laguna, look no further than The Cliff. This relaxed atmosphere offers stunning panoramic views of the beach and has some delicious cocktails and appetizers to enjoy while you pass the time. Their guacamole hit the spot and made us happy campers. 




After your time in Laguna, hop on the 405 North to Los Angeles. This city is HUGE and has way more to offer than I could even begin to dive into in a single blog post. So again... sticking to the greatest hits here. 



hotel angeleno los angeles brentwood

If you’ve ever been to LA, you know it’s a sprawling metropolis (and can take a while to get from point A to point B with traffic.) I loved staying at Hotel Angeleno in Brentwood (which is conveniently located between Santa Monica and West Hollywood, so if feels central to a lot of the places I recommend). They've been undergoing a huge renovation and the new rooms are incredible (My favorite part? Remote blackout shades all from the simple touch of a button so you can sleep in pitch black any time of day). Head up to the roof for dinner + drinks at West for sweeping views of the city, delicious food, and awesome service (and be sure to order the brussels- they're fantastic!)

west hotel angeleno
west LA pool hotel angeleno

Hotel staff is always a huge factor to consider, and these guys were awesome and extremely accommodating. Aside from being kind and hospitable, they went out of their way to showcase room features and be sure we had everything we need. I have no doubt that they provide a wonderful stay to everyone who visits them. 





lemonade LA

Casual, cafeteria style dining but with delicious, healthy and unique options. Lemonade is one of my staple lunch spots in LA (and they even have a location in LAX, which was super convenient when we landed at 8pm PST and were starving). Be sure to order the cucumber mint lemonade, or another yummy flavor while you're there!



gracias madre LA

Hands down one of the coolest places I've been in LA. Gracias Madre serves Mexican food comprised of locally grown organic ingredients (as well as the most delicious snow cone margaritas you've ever had in your life). Not to mention, the ambiance is killer. 



If you're looking for delicious coffee (or matcha) to start your day, be sure to check out Alfred {Coffee} on Melrose (although they have multiple locations, I'm told this one is the best). The vibes are way cool, the coffee and matcha are delicious (I had both) and they also have lots of great snacks and breakfast treats. 



malibu farm restaurant
malibu farm restaurant

This was hands down the most delicious (and nutritious) meal I've had in LA. Obviously, Malibu is a dream so the views will take your breath away, but so will the food. The cauliflower crust pizza, salmon niçoise salad and the burger all get an A+ in my book (so do the cocktails). 



bungalow LA

One of my long time favorites in Santa Monica is Bungalow (part of the Fairmont Hotel). This breezy, Baja-style cottage has awesome decor and pretty much all the chill vibes you can imagine (think surf boards, ping pong tables, and a beach view). I love coming here for margaritas during happy hour-- I think I could do it just about every single day. 



Southern California is FILLED with wonderful things to do and you'll have no problem planning a trip wherever you go and however long you stay. If you have any further questions about booking details, shoot me a note! theblondeatlas@gmail.com

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