Sometimes, it saves time to fly internationally rather than within the U.S.
lying times are a consideration when you’re picking a holiday destination. When it’s a quick getaway, you don’t want to spend a full day traveling to get somewhere, and then lose another day on your way back. So West Coasters, don’t squander away precious vacation time and book something that’s closer to your side of the country.
Canada is the world’s second-largest country, and geographically, it’s a blessing that it’s so close to the U.S. With a short flight, you can be hiking in the Rockies, jumping in a glacial lake, cruising on a fjord, watching the Northern Lights, or camping in a national park. Edmonton, Alberta, is your touchpoint if you want to visit the hauntingly beautiful Jasper National Park.
From Seattle, it’s just an hour and 50 minute flight; flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco take three hours.
It’s less than a three-hour flight to the west coast of Canada from California, and if you’re flying from Portland, you’ll get there in as little as an hour. It can even be reached via a quick drive or train ride (3-4 hours) from the Pacific Northwest.
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The beautiful city of Vancouver is trendy, outdoorsy, and cultural. You’ll find great spots to eat here and you can walk almost everywhere, which is already such a big change from L.A. And if you are an active traveler, you are really in for a treat in the city where you can hike, ski, rollerblade, swim, and paddle. People are friendly, the climate is pleasant, and locations are stunning—it’s a blessing to have Vancouver so close.
Another close neighbor is Calgary, which is an hour and a half from Seattle and double that from Los Angeles. It’s a beautiful city with the Rockies in its backdrop and you can time your trip around the Stampede in July to have the cowboy party of your life.
Toronto & Montreal, Canada
If you’re looking for a fast-paced city experience, Toronto can offer you that and more. You’ll need to slate just four and a half hours of air time from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland—all cities have a direct connection. Also close is the French-speaking Montreal, five hours from Seattle and Los Angeles.
Toronto is a melting pot and it’ll introduce you to a variety of cultures. You can’t miss its museums and galleries, and if you time it around a sports event or a festival, you’ll really see the city come to life. Montreal is culturally rich and offers a bounty of experiences, including arts, theatre, and French music. Don’t go without trying the famous poutine and whiling away time in a streetside cafe.
Related: The Best Hotels in Canada
San Diegans are living so close to Mexico that it takes a little over two hours to get to Cabo San Lucas. Pack your sunscreen because you’ll be soaking a lot of sun on Cabo beaches. The destination has all the makings for a luxury vacation—golf courses, high-end resorts, and secluded villas. If you’re a water baby, the many opportunities of fishing, surfing, diving, and whale-watching will be exciting.
Besides San Diego, you can also take a flight from Los Angeles (two and a half hours) and Seattle (four hours).
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Mexico’s famous resort town carries the crown for its nightlife and sandy beaches. Situated on the Pacific Coast, it’s a all-round destination with excellent dining options, exciting adventures (hiking, ziplining, cruising), cool boutiques and shops, and historic attractions. The best part is that you can get there in three hours from San Diego and Los Angeles and start beer o’clock within hours of leaving home. From Seattle, it’s a little under five hours of flying time.
South of Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa on the Pacific coast is another great holiday option from San Diego and Los Angeles (three and a half hours). It’s an ideal spot for those who want to relax at a beachfront resort. Watch sunsets on the beach, go golfing, and explore the nearby town of Zihuantanejo, it’s truly a mesmerizing destination.
Granted, Cancun is closer to the East Coast than to the West, but you’ll still land there in five hours if you leave from Los Angeles and six hours from Seattle. Not a hardship when on the other side, you get Mayan architecture, stunning beaches, buzzing nightlife, and delicious seafood. You might rub elbows with Spring breakers and party-goers, but there’s a lot to do outside of nightclubs.
Mexico City, Mexico
Volaris, Aeromexico, Delta, and American have direct flights from Los Angeles to Mexico City—all under four hours. The neighbor to the south is also a short hop away from San Francisco, which has five non-stop flights daily running between the cities (four hours and 30 minutes).
The city may be sometimes ignored for its coastal towns with fancy resorts, but Mexico City is a revelation with its flavorful street food, vibrant locales, and interesting museums. So much so that it was on Fodor’s Go List 2019 and we still stand by the recommendation.
Even from the West Coast, the Caribbean is a viable option. From Los Angeles, you can be in the Cayman Islands in five and a half hours. Which means, you can leave L.A. in the morning and by evening, you’ll be sipping a margarita on the Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman’s. The other two islands of this archipelago, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, are hotspots for divers. Another tick in the box for Cayman Islands is that it’s on Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions, which is a rare and coveted travel advisory.
Guatemala City, Guatemala
The distance between Los Angeles to Guatemala City can be covered within five hours. Explore this sprawling city and its museums and restaurants before you head to Lake Atitlán in the highlands or the centuries-old Mayan sites.
Note that Guatemala is currently has a Level 3: Reconsider Travel warning from the U.S. Department of State due to crime. The agency warns against swimming in the Pacific, traveling alone after dark, taking public transportation, and hiking alone.
Belize City, Belize
You’re going to need five hours of air time to transition from the backdrop of Hollywood to the blue beaches of the Caribbean or the deep green rainforests. Belize, in Central America, is known for both its jungles and its coral reef, and you should go beyond Belize City, its capital, to capture these sights of natural beauty.
For your hotel, consider Itz’ana Resort & Residences in Placencia (three hours from Belize City). It was picked as one of the best hotels in the world by Fodor’s Editors in 2023, and it’s worth a few days stay, especially if you’re thinking about exploring the Belize Barrier Reef.
Six hours from Seattle and five-and-a-half from Los Angeles, the Bahamas is a popular destination—also for cruises—for those in North America, no matter the coast. Nassau is the jumping off point for your beach vacation, but before you head to other islands in the Caribbean, go on a food or history tour or shop on Bay Street for Bahamian crafts.
Note that the U.S. recently issued a Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution warning for the Bahamas last month due to a recent spike in crime.
San Jose, Costa Rica
Costa Rica kisses the Pacific on one side and the Caribbean on the other, and its location affords it beautiful scenery, rich biodiversity, and diverse landscapes. In its capital city, you are introduced to colonial Spanish architecture, but the city also has a thriving food scene, cute cafes and nightlife venues, important museums and colorful markets. Besides, San José is the doorway to nature, so start your journey here and go on to see volcanoes and forests peppered in the country. The shortest flight from Los Angeles is less than six hours.
Panama City, Panama
Okay, this one is slightly over six hours–but in six hour and 19 minutes, you can get from Los Angeles to Panama. You’ll land in Panama City, where world-class coffee awaits you, along with opportunities to stare in awe at the made-made Panama Canal. The city has a buzzing nightlife, but you can swap the noise with sounds of nature at its national parks and find a beach close to the city to get suntime.