The Labor Day holiday weekend is inextricably linked with late summer fun and adventure, and California offers ample opportunity to enjoy a wide diversity of experiences within just a few hours’ drive. From spectacular beaches and coastal wineries, to lakeside alpine getaways and iconic attractions, there is no shortage of destinations to explore, or revisit, throughout the state. At the same time, heightened fire dangers, unpredictable air quality and even cancelled events could have you rethinking Labor Day plans at your usual getaways, especially if you live in Northern California. Lest you should find yourself getting derailed in your chance to seek out-of-town thrills and build amazing memories this holiday weekend, we’re highlighting a handful of favorite destinations to get you inspired:
Catalina Island: About 22 miles from the Southern California Coast, this beautiful rocky island with pristine blue waters offers an eclectic mix of amazing and unique things to do and see. Before you head out from one of the mainland ports for the scenic boat ride, it can be well worthwhile to prioritize what you want to experience. Popular activities range from glass-bottomed boat cruises and underwater expeditions, to the performing arts and fascinating ecotours with the chance to encounter the island’s legendary bison.
Not to be dismissed are Catalina’s beaches, which are among the finest in Southern California and offer invitingly warm water temperatures. In addition to the standard island activities such as swimming, hiking, snorkeling and kayaking, Catalina has a wealth of culture to explore, including art galleries and the Catalina Island Museum, which features rotating exhibits, guest lectures, and music and dance performances. The city of Avalon is also home to the historic Catalina Casino, a magnificent movie theater, ballroom and former museum reminiscent of the retro glamour of an earlier era. Find information on ferries to Catalina Island, lodging and more here.
Carmel-by-the-Sea: Nestled in a cove along the Central Coast, the spectacular natural beauty and whimsical appeal of this European-style village, often simply referred to as Carmel, has captivated artists worldwide. A white sand beach and turquoise waters are set against a backdrop of rocky coastline, Cypress trees and lush greenery. Cobblestone streets, hidden passages, courtyards and storybook garden cottages evoke a fairytale vibe. A world-renowned destination in its own right, Carmel is also a wonderful base from which to explore the many attractions of the Monterey Peninsula.
Along with an abundance of restaurants, art galleries and boutique shops, you’ll find nearly 20 wine tasting rooms all within walking distance in the town (tip: download the free Wine Walk mobile guide). The city is also known for its hospitality toward dogs, with some two dozen eateries allowing them in their outdoor serving areas, and plenty of pet-friendly places to stay, including the elegant boutique hotel, Cypress Inn. But pet lover or not, you’ll find a range of luxe hotels, cozy B&Bs and historic inns among the many choices in accommodations. A few establishments suggested by Pacific Coast Highway Travel: The Mission Ranch, The Lamp Lighter Inn and The Vagabond’s House Inn. For more options, check out The Hotel Guru.
Plenty of diversions abound within a short driving distance of Carmel. Even if you’ve experienced it before, you probably won’t want to skip the 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove, which largely hugs the Pacific coastline and will take you past sumptuous estates and exquisite golf courses as well as attractions like Spanish Bay, The Lone Cypress, Stillwater Cove and the Del Monte Forest. Visit California also suggests a round of golf at the world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links, a visit to the Carmel Mission Basilica, or kayaking or scuba diving at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Nearby Monterey is a great place for kids, offering whale watching and plenty of attractions including The Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Monterey County Fair (Sept. 3-6). What’s more, the stunning Big Sur coastline begins only a few miles from Carmel.
Santa Monica: This quintessential Southern California beach town is known for its sandy beaches, palm trees and vibrant 100-year-old Pier with great restaurants, street performers, thrilling rides and much more. The Pier’s Pacific Park® offers oceanfront shopping, specialty food outlets, games and 12 rides including the West Coaster and Pacific Wheel, the first solar-powered Ferris wheel. You’ll also find the Heal the Bay Aquarium under the Pier, featuring 100+ local marine animals and wildlife species. In addition, Third Street Promenade, Montana Avenue and Main Street offer plenty of variety in terms of shopping, dining and entertainment.
As the travel and lifestyle magazine VacationIdea points out, Santa Monica is also a great starting point for exploring Los Angeles, Venice Beach and Disneyland. To get a break from the sun, they also recommend a drive up the Santa Monica Hills for hiking, biking and bird watching. One of the best hotels in the city is The Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, a five-star property with garden bungalows that overlook the ocean. If you’re looking for more hotel options in Santa Monica, here is a good place to start.
Big Bear Lake: This charming town and mountain-lake escape in Southern California is an ideal spot for family-friendly Labor Day fun, with an opportunity to experience a variety of outdoor recreation such as boating, fishing, wakeboarding, zip-lining, mountain biking, and much more. Considered the jewel of the San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear is a completely snow-fed lake.
With national forests in Lake Tahoe, Lassen, Shasta-Trinity and the other Northern California locations scheduled to be closed from August 23 through September 6, 2021, Big Bear is an excellent alternative with ample attractions for all ages. You’ll find ideas on accommodations for all styles and budgets here. While in Big Bear, take in in panoramic views from 8,200 feet in the air with a trip up the Scenic Sky Chair at Big Bear Mountain Resort, or check out the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain, or if you’re so inclined, consider taking the family on a scavenger hunt through The Village. Find details on Labor Day festivities at the Big Bear Lake Resort Association.
Wherever you decide to venture out this Labor Day weekend, be sure to check venues and activities for coronavirus restrictions, so you won’t be surprised by any new protocols as well as closures and limited capacity requirements. Fire threats can change in an instant, so be discerning in your Northern California travels, and be sure to check advisories and conditions where you’re heading. If you or someone you’re traveling with is sensitive to poor air quality, tools like AccuWeather and some flexibility can go a long way toward creating a more enjoyable weekend for all involved. As you plan your escape, also keep in mind that The Police Credit Union can help you get the financing you need for boats or recreational vehicles, such as jet skis, RVs, travel trailers, custom vans and more. Find details on our competitive rates and terms, payment options and Payment Protection for sport and recreational vehicles here.