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Tourists from around the world travel to Los Angeles to see what the California city has to offer. With all there is to see and do in L.A. across all its incredibly diverse neighborhoods, there’s little chance you’ll grow bored during your visit. But after a few days of sightseeing around the city, you might start to wonder what other places there are to visit around the area.
That’s where this list of best day trips from Los Angeles comes into play. Below is a wonderfully diverse selection of destinations you can visit for the day from L.A., including many of the best places to visit in California.
- 1 1. Laguna Beach
- 2 2. Balboa Island
- 3 3. Ojai
- 4 4. Temecula
- 5 5. Solvang
- 6 6. Joshua Tree National Park
- 7 7. Santa Barbara
- 8 8. Palm Springs
- 9 9. San Juan Capistrano
- 10 10. Big Bear Lake
- 11 11. Santa Catalina Island
- 12 12. Disneyland
- 13 13. Malibu
- 14 14. San Diego
- 15 15. Coronado
- 16 16. Hearst Castle
- 17 17. San Gabriel Mountains National Monument
- 18 18. Tijuana, Mexico
- 19 19. Santa Cruz Island
- 20 20. Legoland California Resort
1. Laguna Beach
For a fun and scenic Los Angeles day trip head down the coast to the seaside city of Laguna Beach. Equal parts beach resort and artist colony, Laguna Beach is an enjoyable part of Orange County to spend the day exploring. Start your visit down by the water at Main Beach, take a stroll along its boardwalk or head out onto its pristine sand. Just north from there is beautiful Heisler Park, a great green space with sculptures and staircases leading down to rock pools. Even further up the coast you’ll reach Crescent Bay Point Park which sits atop a bluff and boasts great views along the coast. As for the artistic side of Laguna Beach, it’s best to head for the Sawdust Art Festival to visit the local art stalls or maybe even take an art class.
Getting there: To get from Los Angeles to Laguna Beach is just under an hour drive.
2. Balboa Island
Just a short trip from Los Angeles, down in Newport Beach lies Balboa Island, a relaxed harborside getaway. On a trip to this man-made island there are plenty of ways you can spend your day. Time out on the water is a pretty common option, whether it’s to go on a whale watching cruise or to enjoy water sports like surfing, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding. Over on Balboa Peninsula you’ll find the lively amusement park Balboa Fun Zone, not to mention the iconic sight of Balboa Pier. You’ll also want to dig into the local food scene here, even if it’s only to try the famous Balboa frozen banana. There are of course also loads of great restaurants offering food from any number of cuisines.
Getting there: Balboa Island is about a 50 minute drive from Los Angeles, or slightly longer if you choose to take the ferry from the Balboa Peninsula.
Those looking to go somewhere with a bit of a rustic feel should definitely look into visiting Ojai. This small town in the Topatopa Mountains really feels more like a pastoral village, albeit one with an artsy, alternative vibe. Walking through downtown you’ll pass through arcades of Spanish Colonial Revival Style buildings that feature everything from art galleries to clothing boutiques and restaurants. Besides retail therapy and food, there are also several local vineyards with tasting rooms right in the heart of Ojai. If instead, you’re after something more outdoorsy, consider taking to the biking trails in the Ojai Valley or go for a hike in nearby Los Padres National Forest.
Getting there: Reaching Ojai from Los Angeles requires a 1 ½ hour drive.
Rest and relaxation is definitely on the menu on a day out to Temecula. This city in Riverside County is known for its wine country, golfing, and various festivals, suggesting this is one of the more luxurious and relaxing day trips from L.A. The Temecula Valley Wine Country is home to countless different wineries, making it ideal for a day of wine-tasting. Temecula Old Town, the heart of the city, looks like it belongs in the 1880s, with rustic storefronts and antique shops that lend it plenty of character. The city does have cultural offerings too, from the popular Pennypickle’s Workshop museum for kids, to the Temecula Valley Museum that explores local history. Otherwise, head to the Native American Pechanga Resort & Casino – the largest casino in the state of California, for gambling and golf.
Getting there: Temecula is roughly a 1 ½ hour drive from L.A.
Few places in California are quite as unlikely as the small city of Solvang. That’s because this Californian city looks much more like an authentic Danish village thanks to its Danish roots. Founded in 1911, Solvang features typical Danish architecture, bakeries, and restaurants, making it one of the more curious day tours from Los Angeles. Walk over to Tivoli Square, or past the Petersen Village Inn and you’ll see traditional half-timbered buildings, plus there is even an old-fashioned windmill downtown. And while attractions like the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art fit with the city’s atmosphere, and the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum is a fun addition, the Old Mission Santa Inés reflects a time before the Danish settlers arrived.
Getting there: To reach Solvang from Los Angeles is either a 2 ½ hour drive, or you can visit as part of a guided tour that stops in several places in the area.
6. Joshua Tree National Park
Spending a day out exploring a national park is always a good idea, which is another reason why Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best places to visit from Los Angeles. This sprawling protected area east of L.A. is home to a bewitching desert landscape full of big rock formations and its namesake tree, the otherworldly Joshua tree. There are all sorts of different ways to enjoy this outdoor playground, with Indian Cove Nature Trail and Arch Rock Trail easy and accessible places to start. There are of course longer hikes as well, and Joshua Tree is a paradise for rock-climbing. No matter how you fill the day, don’t miss the sunset views from Keys View, the highest point in the park.
Getting there: To drive from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park takes around 2 ¼ hours.
7. Santa Barbara
One of the more popular things to see in California outside of Los Angeles is the beautiful coastal city of Santa Barbara. Not only does Santa Barbara have plenty of scenic coastline to offer, but it also has superb Spanish-Moorish architecture. Visit the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, which has been styled like a palace, and you’ll see what we mean. Make sure to climb up the courthouse tower for a 360 degree view of the city and the surrounding landscape. Next, head over to the Mission Santa Barbara, a Spanish Franciscan mission from the 18th century with a lot of history to its name. Down at the waterfront, take a walk along Stearns Wharf and look out to the gorgeous nearby beaches and the jumble of boats in Santa Barbara Harbor.
Getting there: Santa Barbara is around a 1 hour 40 minute drive from Los Angeles, or it takes 2 ½ hours if you choose to go by train. Otherwise, it’s also a stop on this guided tour of the California coast.
8. Palm Springs
A popular weekend getaway from Los Angeles for L.A. locals is the desert resort city of Palm Springs, but it also works as a day trip destination. For many people, visiting Palm Springs is all about treating yourself, whether it’s at high-end spas, resorts, golf courses, or shopping boutiques. But there are also attractions to visit and things to do if you’re after a more active time in Palm Springs. You can visit the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens which is home to a desert botanical garden and zoo full of animals native to the deserts of the world. Or you can take a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway which provides superb views as it takes you to the lofty top of San Jacinto Peak. Then there’s the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Palm Springs Air Museum for those interested in culture and history.
Getting there: It takes just under 2 hours to drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs.
9. San Juan Capistrano
To learn a little about the history of California, there’s no better place to visit than San Juan Capistrano in Orange County. With the city named after it, the Mission San Juan Capistrano is the main attraction here. This former Spanish mission dates back to 1776 and is an important monument to the multicultural history of California, which you can learn about in the museum there. Besides visiting the mission’s museum, gardens, and church, the other popular spot to visit in the city center is Zoomars at River Street Ranch which has a petting zoo. A short drive away on the coast you also have Doheny State Beach and whale watching tours that leave out of the harbor there.
Getting there: The drive to San Juan Capistrano from Los Angeles takes an hour, while the train ride takes only a little longer at 1 hour 15 minutes.
10. Big Bear Lake
Whether you’re talking about the resort town or the lake by the same name, Big Bear Lake is a great idea for an outdoorsy day trip. The town and lake are located up in the San Bernardino Mountains and are surrounded by forest, providing a stunning natural backdrop for whatever activities you choose to do. In winter, visitors flock to the two main ski resorts, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. There’s also bobsledding fun to be had on the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain. Come summer, focus switches to hiking and watersports, with the Castle Rock Trail a rewarding hike thanks to its sweeping lake views. Down on Big Bear Lake, common activities out on the water include fishing and swimming, as well as using stand up paddle boards, kayaks, and jet skis.
Getting there: Big Bear Lake is just under two hours drive from L.A.
11. Santa Catalina Island
There are quite a few islands off the California coast, but easily one of the most famous is Santa Catalina Island. Often just known as Catalina Island, you can spend your visit on land, in the water, or a combination of both. You really have your pick of outdoor activities here, with ziplining and parasailing two of the more extreme options. The southern city of Avalon is a great place to start, with beaches like Descanso to relax on and cultural landmarks like the Catalina Island Museum to explore. Catalina Island is home to countless hiking trails that run across its rugged, mountainous landscape, with some easily accessed from Avalon. To spend time on the water, you can rent kayaks or stand up paddleboards, journey into the depths to scuba dive, or go marine wildlife spotting on the various ocean tours on offer.
Getting there: To reach Santa Catalina, first make the 30 minute drive to Long Beach, from there it’s a 1 hour ferry ride.
When visiting Los Angeles, the idea of visiting Disneyland for the day is sure to cross your mind. And we’re not just talking about Disneyland Park, but really the whole of the Disneyland Resort which is also home to Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim. The park features 9 different lands planned around different themes and rides: Main Street, U.S.A., Adventureland, Frontierland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, Fantasyland, Mickey’s Toontown, Tomorrowland, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The list of attractions at the park is too long to list, but some of the most famous are the Thunder Mountain roller coaster, Indiana Jones Adventure, and Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Aside from rides, there are also parades, fireworks, and food to enjoy.
Getting there: Disneyland is roughly a 30 minute drive from downtown L.A.
While there are beaches in Los Angeles, for a real beach getaway consider venturing up the coast to Malibu. This seaside city isn’t far from L.A. and has everything you need for a stunning day of surf and sand. Zuma Beach is the classic place to start as it’s a wide and clean beach manned by lifeguards. Not far from Zuma Beach you’ll find Point Dume, a large rocky bluff with walking trails across it and small beaches below. West of all that is El Matador, a collection of beaches hidden away within coves between rocky outcrops. It’s not all about the seaside with Malibu though, with plenty of nature found inland at Solstice Canyon and Malibu Creek State Park if you’re looking for a hike. Then there’s the unusual combination of wine tasting and hand feeding wildlife at Malibu Wine Safaris which really adds another dimension to a Malibu trip.
Getting there: To reach Malibu from downtown Los Angeles is around a 40 minute drive.
14. San Diego
Despite the distance, San Diego is definitely one of the best side trips from Los Angeles, whether for a day or longer. Begin in San Diego with the city’s Old Town State Historic Park, an open-air museum full of buildings and history from the 1800s. Next, find your way to the neighborhood of Hillcrest, a pedestrian-friendly part of town with endless clothing boutiques and cafes. Afterwards, make your way to Balboa Park, the enormous cultural park which combines gardens and green belts with museums, theaters, and some pretty Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings. Stop down at the waterfront to visit the USS Midway Museum, a naval aircraft carrier that’s now a museum. On your way back towards L.A., make sure to stop at La Jolla Cove, home to a stunning stretch of coastline with impressive cliffs surrounding a picturesque beach.
Getting there: San Diego is a little over a 2 hours drive from Los Angeles, while taking the train is more like a 3 hour journey.
Right across the bay from San Diego lies the resort city of Coronado, another interesting option for a day trip. Connected to the mainland by a narrow, sandy isthmus called the Silver Strand, Coronado is a place known for its fantastic, spacious beach and the exquisite Hotel del Coronado, a grand Victorian hotel from the 1800s. With so much beachfront at your disposal, why not rent a bike and go for a cycle down the coast until you find a stretch of beach that you like. While there are many parks dotted around the island, one well worth visiting is Centennial Park, from there you’ll be treated to a wonderful view of the San Diego skyline.
Getting there: Coronado is a little over a 2 hour drive from Los Angeles which takes you through San Diego.
16. Hearst Castle
You probably wouldn’t expect to see a castle in California, but that’s what you get on a day trip to Hearst Castle. Built in the early 20th century, Hearst Castle is a historical landmark built by publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Today the castle is a museum open to the public, displaying both the grand castle rooms and collections of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities. There are various tours you can take through the castle that show visitors the social rooms, living quarters, and the other mansions situated on the property’s grounds. Having taken a tour, spend some time admiring the castle gardens and the glamorous swimming pools; the Neptune Pool and the Roman Pool.
Getting there: Getting to Hearst Castle takes just under 4 hours by car or you can visit as part of a guided tour of the region.
17. San Gabriel Mountains National Monument
Northeast of Los Angeles lies the San Gabriel Mountains which stretch from the Angeles National Forest to the San Bernardino National Forest. This large stretch of wilderness has long been an escape for local Angelenos, and in 2014 the area was made a national monument. Given its extensive borders, the monument covers various terrains, from desert to forest and even alpine spaces. Hiking is one of the most popular things to do in the area, with people often choosing to hike sections of the Gabrielino National Recreation Trail. Come winter, the higher parts of the San Gabriel Mountains are covered in snow and the monument draws the attention of those looking to go skiing and snowboarding.
Getting there: Depending on where exactly you go in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument it will take about an hours drive from downtown L.A.
18. Tijuana, Mexico
Who says your day trip has to be in the United States? Why not go south of the border and spend some time in Tijuana, Mexico. As a border city, Tijuana attracts plenty of tourists and has developed a gritty reputation thanks to its boisterous nightlife. But visit areas like Zona Centro and Zona Rio and you’ll see a much more cosmopolitan side to this large, modern city. Avenida Revolución is the main street through the city’s center, and while mostly lined with souvenir shops, it has some nice cafes down its side passages. Over by the riverfront you’ll find more upscale stores and restaurants, not to mention the Tijuana Cultural Center which introduces visitors to Mexican culture and local art. Plaza Fiesta nearby is the hub for Tijuana’s growing craft beer scene.
Getting there: Getting to Tijuana from LA takes a 2 ½ hour drive or a 3 hour bus ride with hourly bus departures.
19. Santa Cruz Island
Yet another island off the coast of Los Angeles worth knowing about is Santa Cruz Island. Although the largest island in California, it had just two residents in 2000 and its management is split between the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy. Upon landing on the island, go for a walk up to Cavern Point for some spectacular views of the ocean, you might even spot some whales. Following other trails on the island you can visit spots like Potato Harbor and its sheltered beach cove, or Smugglers Cove which is covered in tide pools and driftwood. Besides hiking, other activities at Santa Cruz Island include kayaking and snorkeling. The other place boats drop visitors is Prisoners Harbor, which can include a side trip to the sea caves on the island’s north coast like the impressive Painted Cave.
Getting there: Ferries to Santa Cruz Island leave from Ventura, about an hour drive from downtown L.A. The ferry ride to the island then takes about 1 ½ hours, with one to two ferries a day.
20. Legoland California Resort
California is home to a surprising number of theme parks, with another you can visit from Los Angeles being Legoland California. Everything in this theme park is based around Lego, with a Lego-themed Sea Life Aquarium and Water Park in addition to the original Legoland California Resort. At the original resort there are more than 60 rides, shows, and attractions to keep you and your children entertained, with sections like Castle Hill, Pirate Shores, and Miniland USA. The park also has 4D movie experiences and the chance to meet costume characters from the Lego movies. Over at Legoland Water Park there are slides and lagoons to play in, while the Sea Life Aquarium provides up close interaction with different kinds of marine life.
Getting there: It takes roughly 1 ½ hours to drive from Los Angeles to Legoland California.
Those are some of the best places you can visit from Los Angeles on a day trip. They’re clear proof that it’s worth allowing a little extra time in your itinerary while you’re there to include a day trip or two.