Home to stunning landscapes, beautiful national parks, and one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world, there’s a reason they call the West Coast of the United States the best coast. As a California girl, I wholeheartedly agree.
I’ve always considered myself to be incredibly lucky to call Los Angeles home. We have great weather (I didn’t buy my first winter coat until 2017) and can access both the beach and the mountains in just a couple of hours.
One of the coolest things about living in California is that when I’m itching to explore another country, I have plenty of options at my fingertips that are just a short plane ride away. Whether you’re looking to experience a season that’s non-existent in California (I’m looking at you, fall leaves) or head to a tropical jungle, here are 10 destinations you can fly to in under 8 hours:
Native Californians are somewhat familiar with Mexican culture, but there’s certainly more to the country than the food we’ve come to love. Each region is wildly different, making Mexico a place where adventures of all kind never end.
The colorful architecture of San Miguel de Allende, the leather markets of León, the street food of Mexico City and the beautiful beaches of Playa del Carmen are just a few of Mexico’s many highlights. Although many Californians escape to Mexico for its pristine beaches, there are plenty of unique experiences to be had all over the country. Case in point: the lake of seven colors in Bacalar and the cenotes of Tulum.
So, forget what you think you know about Mexican food, culture or language. Mexico is vibrant and surprising, and will leave you wondering, like me, why it took you so long to visit.
Flights: Flights from both Los Angeles and San Francisco to Mexico City are around 4 hours.
Recommended trip: Playa Del Carmen to Mexico City (9 days)
Protected rainforest, jungle zip lining and plenty of dormant volcanoes, all against an eco-touristic backdrop; welcome to Costa Rica, where pura vida is more than just a tagline – it’s a lifestyle.
Costa Rica is easily one of the most popular tourist destinations in Central America, and with good reason. This is where life runs only at one pace: relaxed. Splash your way through hot springs in La Fortuna, zip line through Monteverde’s Cloud Forest, and drink freshly brewed coffee at one of the many coffee plantations. Costa Rica is tranquil, delightful, and just a little bit wild, and the perfect destination for anyone who takes relaxation seriously.
Flights: Flights from Los Angeles to San Jose are less than 6 hours and 7.5 hours from San Francisco.
Recommended trip: Best of Costa Rica (9 days)
It took me more than two decades of living in Los Angeles to travel to Canada, and my only disappointment is that I didn’t visit sooner. Canada is every outdoor lover’s dream destination, thanks to breathtaking national parks, spectacular fjords, and (probably) more hiking trails than people.
The great outdoors alone is enough reason to visit, but you may be surprised to learn that it’s an excellent city break destination as well. Head to French-speaking Québec for a taste of Europe in North America, Toronto for cosmopolitan vibes and foodie greatness, or Vancouver for all the nature you could ever want and more. No matter where you go in Canada, you’ll be surprised and delighted by what it has to offer. This includes the politeness of the people!
Flights: Flights from Los Angeles to Vancouver are 3 hours and just 2.5 hours from San Francisco.
Recommended trip: Canadian Rockies & Northern Lights (11 days)
For world-class diving, impressive Mayan ruins, and fusion food that will delight your taste buds, look no further than Belize, a little-known country in Central America that packs a big punch. Nestled between Mexico and Guatemala with a Caribbean coast, Belize is the perfect tropical destination.
The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world. That, combined with the famous Blue Hole and plenty of water activities, makes it a no-brainer for your adventurous bucket list. How best to visit these sites and make the most of the coast? Spend some time on the paradisaical island of Caye Caulker. (And treat yourself to lobster and ceviche aplenty!)
Belize doesn’t just have an impressive coast. It also boasts tropical jungles, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and more.
Flights: Flights from Los Angeles to Belize City are just 5 hours and 7 hours from San Francisco.
Recommended trip: Land of Belize (8 days)
Often overlooked by travelers, El Salvador is arguably Central America’s most underrated destination, thanks to decades of bad press. But don’t let the headlines fool you: El Salvador’s gorgeous beaches, colorful towns, and fascinating preserved ruins impress even the most experienced travelers.
Don’t miss the opportunity to witness El Salvador’s most famous drive, Ruta de las Flores – a 22-mile winding road through colorful villages and coffee plantations. And DO visit the charming cultural capital of Suchitoto. El Tunco is another popular place to visit, where you can relax by the sea or even take a surf lesson or two. Hammocks, surfboards, and sandy beaches? Yes, please.
Flights: Flights from Los Angeles to San Salvador are 5 hours and 5.5 hours from San Francisco.
Recommended trip: Best of El Salvador (8 days)
Nicaragua has it all: colorful colonial buildings, volcanic landscapes, remote islands and pristine beaches. Often overlooked in favor of its popular neighbor Costa Rica, the ”land of lakes and volcanoes” overflows with adventure.
Don’t miss the gorgeous colors and colonial architecture of Granada. Or, if you’re a bit of a thrill-seeker, try your hand at volcano boarding outside of León. And if that doesn’t give you your volcano fix, head to the island of Ometepe, which is set between two majestic volcanoes. Hike them, or take it slow at one of the islands’s swimming holes, waterfalls or many beaches.
Nicaragua is where nature, history, and architecture tell fascinating tales. A revolutionary past, two of the oldest colonial towns in Central America, and plenty of unique and rich landscapes and wildlife make Nicaragua a destination not to be missed.
Flights: Flights from Los Angeles to Managua are less than 7 hours and 7 hours from San Francisco.
Recommended trip: Best of Nicaragua (9 days)
Where else can you experience magnificent ruins, colorful colonial cities, indigenous markets and an extraordinary lake surrounded by volcanoes in just one week? Welcome to Guatemala, where tradition and history come alive.
Antigua, Guatemala’s capital, was once the most important city in Central America, and the old colonial buildings have been restored to their former glory. While here, you’ll find no shortage of history, culture, craft and coffee. You won’t want to miss visiting the glorious Lake Atitlan, formed in a massive volcanic crater, either. And let’s not forget about Tikal, one of the region’s most magnificent Maya ruins, which is worth at least a day of your time.
Flights: Flights from Los Angeles to Guatemala City are around 5 hours and less than 7 hours from San Francisco.
Recommended trip: Guatemala Experience (9 days)
Not only is Panama the connector between Central and South America, it’s also famed for the Panama Canal, the extraordinary body of water connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The marvels don’t end there. Panama City is Central America’s most glamorous capital, a fusion of history and modernity. Visitors may be surprised to learn that the historic Casco Viejo (Old Town) is just 10 minutes from the glitzy, modern city. The landscape changes rapidly upon arrival to Boquete, located just a few hours from the capital. This town in the highlands is famous for its coffee plantations and surrounding waterfalls and hot springs. And then there’s the many islands with white-sand beaches… Panama truly has something for everyone.
Flights: Flights from Los Angeles to Panama City are around 6.5 hours and 7.5 hours from San Francisco.
Recommended trip: Costa Rica to Panama (8 days)
Located just 50 miles off the coast of Florida, The Bahamas and its Caribbean neighbors suffer from their reputations as cruise stopover destinations. But The Bahamas is so much more than that, thanks to stunning beaches, cool cultural activities, and spectacular dive sites.
Foodies will delight in the Fish Fry, Nassau’s version of a family barbecue. Local restaurants cook up delicacies such as conch, snapper, chicken wings and more against a backdrop of reggae DJs and Bahamian bands.
Divers can’t miss the half-mile long Bimini Road, a strangely symmetrical underwater dive site. And, if you’d really like to see everything The Bahamas has to offer, join a sailing excursion and explore the different islands for yourself – there are over 700!
Flights: Flights from Los Angeles to Nassau are just under 7 hours and 7.5 hours from San Francisco.
Recommended trip: Bahamas Sailing Adventure (7 days)
Lush jungles, colorful cities, tantalizing food, and sizzling salsa – welcome to Colombia, South America’s alluring gem. A country on the up, a country you can’t help but fall for.
As large as it is diverse, it’s hard to visit Colombia without taking literally months to explore all it has to offer. Prepare to be captivated by the ever-changing city of Medellin, intrigued by the mysterious Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), and awe-inspired by Caño Cristales, an eco-park with some seriously breathtaking nature. And don’t leave without visiting the Cocora Valley, the country’s coffee region, and Tayrona National Park, home to some of Colombia’s most picturesque beaches.
Colombia may be the furthest of the options, but the distance doesn’t make it any less appealing.
Flights: Flights from Los Angeles to Bogotá are 7.5 hours (and 9 hours from San Francisco).
Recommended trip: Explore Colombia (10 days)
Ready to stop dreaming and start planning? Check out Intrepid’s top trips in over 100 countries.
(Costa Rica image courtesy of Sally, the author. All images courtesy of Intrepid Travel.)