21 Fun Day Trips from Los Angeles, California

Published:

by Rina Bernardo

Coastline in Laguna Beach
Photo by Julien Duduoglu on Unsplash

Los Angeles is a city that needs no introduction. With its glamorous celebrity industry, world-famous studios, and diverse culture, visiting this city is among the best things to do in Southern California! But despite the glitz and glam of this city, there are plenty of day trips from Los Angeles that are perfect for quick getaways or those who would like to extend their stay in LA. These places range from beachside destinations, beautiful islands, national parks, and wineries, so you get plenty of options for your weekend getaway.

 

If you’re on the hunt for the most exciting trips outside LA, we’ve got you covered!

 

(Take note that travel times listed depend on the mode of transportation and are subject to change depending on traffic and weather conditions.)

Day Trips From Los Angeles (Less Than Two Hours)

1. Santa Catalina Island

Aerial view of Santa Catalina Island

Photo by Alec Douglas on Unsplash

Santa Catalina Island offers crystalline waters, white-sand shores, and fun outdoor activities. The island has been a favorite destination among locals, celebrities, and members of the elite since the 1920s. It also served as a location for many films and TV series throughout the years. You can get to Santa Catalina Island on a ferry from San Pedro, Newport Beach, Long Island, or Dana Point.

 

Head to Santa Catalina Island and enjoy this Caribbean-like paradise. There are two main destinations on the island, each offering a different vibe. Avalon is teeming with posh hotels, shops, and yachts parks on its azure waters. On the other hand, Two Harbors has a more laid-back and rustic feel to it. Nonetheless, visitors can enjoy land and water-based activities.

 

Travel Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

TouristSecrets Tip: Join organized group tours for seamless day trips from Los Angeles to Santa Catalina Island. Tour prices generally include roundtrip transportation, guided tours around the island, and meals.

2. Santa Barbara

View of Santa Barbara overlooking the Santa Barbara County Townhouse

Photo by Yifan Ma on Unsplash

Spanish architecture meets coastal beauty in Santa Barbara, a gorgeous city in Central California. Also known as the American Riviera, its Mediterranean weather and beautiful landscape have been a favorite among Hollywood celebrities and locals. From Los Angeles, going to Santa Barbara takes less than an hour by car and about two and a half hours by train.

 

Visit this beachside getaway on a day trip from Los Angeles and tick off your list of things to do in Santa Barbara. See the palace-like interiors of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, a Spanish Colonial Revival-style building, and catch 360-degree views of the city from the tower. In downtown Santa Barbara, walk around its charming cobblestone streets. Find your inner peace as you stroll through the wonderfully-preserved Mission Santa Barbara. If you have more time, hop on a ferry and visit the rugged yet wonderful Channel Islands. Before heading back to LA, have a meal at one of the restaurants along Stearns Wharf and enjoy the ocean views.

 

Travel Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
TouristSecrets Tip: Because of its Spanish heritage, don’t miss the Old Spanish Days Fiesta held annually in August. The festive celebration also includes lively parades, flamenco performances, and good food.

3. Disneyland Resort

Disneyland California Adventure at night

Photo by Fabio Sassoon Unsplash

Disneyland Resort is without a doubt one of the most exciting places to visit in California. It attracts travelers of all ages and is arguably the best day trip for families, offering a hundred acres of family fun, nostalgia, and excitement. Divided into themed areas, live out your childhood dreams and enjoy a day trip to Disneyland Resort.

 

At Disneyland Park, enjoy timeless and classic Disneyland rides like the Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, and Space Mountain. On the other hand, Disneyland California Adventure is themed on all things Golden State like Hollywood and the national parks in California such as Yosemite and Redwood National Parks. With a myriad of rides, attractions, and parks to visit, you’re guaranteed to have a fun-filled day at Disneyland Resort.

 

Travel Time: 30 minutes

TouristSecrets Tip: Since Disneyland Resort is one of California’s most popular tourist destinations, plan your visit wisely. Make sure to avoid visiting during the summer season, public holidays, and weekends when thick crowds are expected.

4. Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach's shores make it one of the best day trips from Los Angeles

Photo by Starboard Creek on Unsplash

Head down to Orange County and enjoy the warm weather at Laguna Beach. The seaside city is both a beach lover and art geek’s dream destination, boasting miles and miles of swoon-worthy beaches and several art galleries. Unlike cities in the metro, Laguna Beach has a laid-back vibe perfect for day trips from Los Angeles.

 

Spend the day out in Laguna Beach and soak up the relaxed atmosphere. Explore Crystal Cove State Park for unspoiled natural shoreline and hiking trails and see the tidal pools at Heisler Park. For an artistic excursion, go museum hopping and discover California art at the Laguna Art Museum, surrealist works at Kush Fine Art Gallery, and colorful art installations at Elena Fine Art Gallery. Art lovers will also enjoy some of the most anticipated festivals and events in Laguna Beach which include the Sawdust Art Festival and the Pageant of the Masters.

 

Travel Time: 1 hour
TouristSecrets Tip: From summer to early autumn, the Laguna Beach Trolley offers free transportation along specific routes. There are routes along the beachside and downtown, perfect for sightseeing trips.

5. Malibu

Malibu's shoreline during sunset

Photo by Carlos Bastias on Unsplash

Malibu is arguably one of the most beautiful and popular cities in California, famed for its beaches. And while Los Angeles has a couple of golden sand beaches, Malibu is the best destination if you’re looking for a memorable beach getaway. From the gentle waves of Zuma Beach, the surfing paradise of Topanga State Beach, to the sea caves of El Matador State Beach, Malibu is a must-visit place from LA.

 

However, Malibu is more than just its beautiful beaches! Discover various Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities at the beautiful Getty Villa, designed like one of the country homes in Italy. Adventure seekers will also love Malibu hikes as it offers panoramic views of California, the Santa Monica Mountains, and the Pacific Ocean from a different perspective. For wine enthusiasts, don’t miss the chance to join a Malibu wine safari and explore the city’s best wineries.

 

Travel Time: 1 hour
TouristSecrets Tip: Like beaches in LA, smoking, drinking alcohol, nude sunbathing, and bringing pets are not allowed at any beach in Malibu unless specified.

6. Ojai

Indulge in one of the most relaxing day trips from Los Angeles at the farms of Ojai

Photo by Brandon DesJarlais on Unsplash

Ojai is one of the perfect day trips from Los Angeles if you’re looking for a change of scenery. Its quaint city center is lined with vintage shops, Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings, and charming bungalows that overlook the Topatopa Mountains. Additionally, the city boasts world-class golfing sites, spas, and retreat centers to rejuvenate the mind and spirit.

 

Tour the city of Ojai and feel as if you’re a world away from the bustle of Los Angeles with its laid-back atmosphere and village-like setting. Stroll the town’s main street and browse the different antique shops. Find artsy bookstores, vintage furniture, fair trade goods, and other quirky shops as you explore downtown Ojai. You can also visit an olive or citrus farm and bring home a piece of Ojai when you buy olive oil products or freshly-picked tangerines from the farms.

 

Travel Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
TouristSecrets Tip: Drop by the Ojai Farmers Market every Sunday for fresh fruits, produce, and local specialties like olive oil.

7. Balboa Island

Sunset in Balboa Island California

Photo by Guwashi999 on Unsplash

Balboa Island is a lively summer getaway just off the coast of Newport Beach making it one of the nearest day trips from Los Angeles. From Los Angeles, you can drive to the man-made island via Marine Avenue or take the Balboa Island Ferry for a five-minute scenic trip across the water.

 

Upon landing in Balboa Island, go for a relaxing stroll across the paved boardwalk lined with restaurants and shops. In addition, the Balboa Fun Zone is a family-friendly destination with a Ferris wheel, carousel, and arcade games. For a more active way of spending time on the island, try stand-up paddleboarding, parasailing, and other fun watersports. If you need a quick pick-me-up after walking around, stop by Sugar n’ Spice and have a taste of their famous frozen bananas topped and drizzled with your favorite sweets.

 

Travel Time: 50 minutes
TouristSecrets Tip: Whale-watching is another popular activity on Balboa Island. Depending on the season, you may also get a chance to spot gray whales, blue whales, and other marine mammals.

8. San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

Black bear as seen from a trail in San Gabriel National Monument

Photo by Rennett Stowe on Flickr

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument stretches from Angeles National Forest and the San Bernardino National Forest. Because of its wide area, the monument’s terrain ranges from desert lands to alpine canyons, making it an ideal playground for adventure lovers. From horseback riding, hiking, and fishing, visitors can enjoy a variety of activities here.

 

In winter and early spring, the mountain provides good terrain for mountaineering, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. By summertime, San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is teeming with wildflowers, plants, and visitors can marvel at the expansive views from different areas and campgrounds. For those who prefer a more relaxing way of killing time, the area has swimming and picnic areas and even easy hiking trails.

 

Travel Time: 1 hour

TouristSecrets Tip: Those who want to fish at San Gabriel Mountains National Monument need to procure a fishing license and wear it at all times in the area. Contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to purchase a license.

9. San Juan Capistrano

One of the best day trips from Los Angeles for religious travelers is San Juan Capistrano

Photo by Ioana Cristiana on Unsplash

San Juan Capistrano is one of the underrated day trips from Los Angeles. Visiting this small yet serene town is perfect if you want to learn more about Orange County’s history. It is most notable for Mission San Juan Capistrano, an important monument that contributed to the state’s cultural diversity. From LA, the city is more or less an hour away by car while trains take a longer time.

 

Gain a deeper appreciation of this California town and visit the eponymous former Spanish mission with its iconic bell wall. If you’re traveling with children, make sure to drop by Zoomars and get a chance to pet alpacas, guinea pigs, and other cute creatures. Also don’t miss the Los Rios Historic District, which houses buildings and structures dating back to the 1700s. San Juan Capistrano also has several dive bars, wine bars, and pubs where you can enjoy a friendly chat with the locals.

 

Travel Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
TouristSecrets Tip: Every mid-March to October, spot large flocks of swallows migrating from Argentina to nest in San Juan Capistrano.

10. Temecula

Temecula is one of the best day trips from Los Angeles for wine tasting

Photo by bianca-stock-photos on Pixabay

From the skyscrapers and beaches of Los Angeles, plan a day trip to Temecula, a relaxing yet fancy city famous for its wineries. Additionally, Temecula Old Town features picturesque storefronts that look straight out of an 1880s film. For those interested in exploring the Golden State through its wine, Temecula should definitely be added to your list!

 

Join group tours or visit one winery after the other at your leisure, sampling the best California wines surrounded by lush vineyards. Along with different wine samples, complement your wine tasting session with cheese, crackers, and sourdough bread. As you continue your day trip to Temecula wine county, walk around the Old Town. Admire its well-preserved storefronts and buildings and take photos of the quaint scenery.

 

Travel Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
TouristSecrets Tip: For the ultimate Temecula day trip, hop on a hot air balloon and get a birds-eye view of the rolling hills.

11. Pasadena

Front view of Pasadena City Hall

Photo by RJA1988 on Pixabay

Located less than 11 miles from Los Angeles, Pasadena is one of the nearest weekend getaways from the city. This city at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains blends old and new: Victorian and Italian buildings are seen with modern ones. And while Pasadena is famous for the Rose Bowl Flea Market and the New Year’s Day Parade, there are many more things to enjoy in Pasadena.

 

Admire the blooming flowers and well-manicured gardens at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and the Descanso Gardens. For architecture buffs, take a walking tour around Old Pasadena and check out the 19th and 20th-century buildings around the street. Learn about the city’s history at the Pasadena Museum of History and see world-class European and Asian artworks at the Norton Simon Museum.

 

Travel Time: 20 minutes
TouristSecrets Tip: If you plan on shopping at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, make sure to arrive early to browse through the shops without the huge crowds.

12. Huntington Beach

View of Huntington Beach town properties overlooking the beach

Photo by Mike Fox on Unsplash

Also known as “Surf City USA”, Huntington Beach is the “it” destination for surfing enthusiasts and beach bums. After all, the city boasts almost 10 miles of sandy shores and great waves for surfing. Combine all those with a Mediterranean climate filled with comfortable summers and mild winters, Huntington Beach is one of the best year-round destinations in California.

 

Ride the waves and go surfing in Huntington Beach. If you prefer a more relaxing activity, play a round of beach volleyball or put up a beach umbrella and relax. From the beach, Huntington Harbor is also a great place for kayaking and water activities surrounded by picturesque seaside houses.

 

Travel Time: 1 hour
TouristSecrets Tip: Huntington Beach Surf City Nights is a fun event held every Tuesday that features live music, food trucks, locally made crafts, and organic produce.

Day Trips From Los Angeles (Two Hours and More)

13. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best day trips from Los Angeles for nature lovers

Photo by Alessandro Rossi on Unsplash

From the fast-paced street of Los Angeles, drive east to Joshua Tree National Park, one of the best camping spots in California. It offers more than 790,000 acres of rock formations, hiking trails, campgrounds, and the infamous Joshua trees. Hailed as an International Dark Sky Park, this is also a must-visit park for stargazing and admiring the night sky.

 

Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect destination if you’re looking for day trips from Los Angeles for nature lovers. Find different plant and bird species on a nature walk, hike its trails, and challenge yourself by rock climbing. The park also offers a variety of campsites so you can pitch your tents, park your RVs or trailers, or try dispersed camping for a unique experience.

 

Travel Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
TouristSecrets Tip: Enjoy free entry for all persons in a single-vehicle when you use your U.S. National Park Pass or Senior Parks National Pass.

14. Palm Springs

House in Palm Springs with a view of the mountains

Photo by Cody Board on Unsplash

Palm Springs is a gorgeous resort city in the Sonoran Desert, only a two-hour drive from LA. The city offers luxurious spas, fun resorts, and vast golf clubs. In addition, its retro and mid-century architecture takes you back to the 1950s to 1960s. Because of its mild and desert-like weather, Palm Spring is one of the best day trips from Los Angeles as a winter getaway.

 

No matter your purpose of travel, there are plenty of things to do in Palm Springs. Soak up the sun and enjoy views of the Indian Canyons and towering palm trees on your day out in Palm Springs. Catch panoramic views of the Californian Desert and ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating tramcar. If you prefer something more relaxing, visit the Palm Springs Art Museum and view contemporary art. Otherwise, pamper yourself with a full-body massage at one of the luxury spas.

 

Travel Time: 2 hours
TouristSecrets Tip: For music and art enthusiasts, don’t miss the much-anticipated Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April. However, expect plenty of tourists in Palm Springs since this is one of the most popular festivals in the United States.

15. Big Bear Lake

View of Big Bear Lake from one of the trails

Photo by Joshua Chun on Unsplash

You don’t have to head north to find things to do in Lake Tahoe for you can do the same fun outdoor activities at Big Bear Lake! The city and lake are located in the San Bernardino Mountains, roughly a two-hour drive from LA. In addition, the tall pine trees and overall alpine environment provide a welcome change from the metropolitan surroundings of Los Angeles.

 

From spring to winter, Big Bear Lake offers plenty of activities. See the charming wildflowers and catch different kinds of fish in spring and go enjoy different water sports in summer. In autumn, embark on a fall color hike and admire the golden hues of the foliage from different trails in Big Bear Mountain. By winter, hit the slopes and head to the ski resorts near the lake.

 

Travel Time: 2 hours
TouristSecrets Tip: Because of its elevation (approximately 2,058 meters), visitors are always advised to wear and bring plenty of sunscreen to avoid skin damage due to the sun.

16. Solvang

One of the best day trips from Los Angeles is the Danish town of Solvang

Photo by Anthony Fomin on Unsplash

Feel as if you’ve traveled all the way to Denmark, a charming village located near the Santa Ynez Valley. It was founded by Danish immigrants who settled in the city, introducing Danish culture and architecture. Although there aren’t many Danes in the village, its half-timbered houses, windmills, and cobblestone streets are enough to make you feel as if you’re in a different place altogether.

 

Immerse yourself in Danish culture as you explore the picturesque streets in Solvang. Bite on yummy Danish pastries at the bakeries and enjoy a delicious serving of Danish food at one of the local pubs. Walk around in traditional clothing, blending in with the dreamy environment. Since Santa Ynez Valley is also a known wine-producing region, join wine tasting tours of the region.

 

Travel Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
TouristSecrets Tip: In winter, Solvang turns into a winter wonderland with its festive Christmas markets. Shop for locally made gifts, souvenirs, cute trinkets, and ornaments for your Christmas trees and sample a mug of warm mulled wine.

17. San Diego

Aerial view of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean

Photo by Clayton Cardinalli on Unsplash

The coastal city of San Diego is one of the must-visit day trips from Los Angeles. It offers miles of white-sand beaches, sprawling parks, and historical sites. San Diego is also a family-friendly beach town, home to the famous San Diego Zoo, Coronado Beach, Mission Beach, and plenty of museums showcasing the city’s history.

 

Given its oceanside location, balmy weather, and rich history, there are plenty of things to do in San Diego. Balboa Park alone offers 1,200 acres of museums, parks, and charming Spanish Colonial Revival buildings. Bask under the warm sun at La Jolla Cove, a small yet wonderful beach getaway known for its sea caves. For history enthusiasts, explore San Diego Old Town and find historical buildings, shops, and the infamous Whaley House, one of the most haunted places in the country.

 

Travel Time: 2 hours
TouristSecrets Tip: La Jolla Cove is also home to seals and sea lions. While they are pretty to look at, it’s best to take photos of them from a safe distance. Visitors should refrain from taking selfies with the animals.

18. Knott’s Berry Farm

Entrance gate to Knott's Berry Farm

Photo by Phydend on Wikimedia Commons

What started out as a humble berry stand in the 1920s is now one of the best theme parks in California. Knott’s Berry Farm is a 160-acre family fun attraction that offers exciting rides for everyone! Find kid-friendly Ferris wheels and thrilling roller coasters for those seeking an adrenaline rush. The adjacent water park, Knott’s Soak City, has a separate admission but is also worth visiting especially for fans of waterparks.

 

Visit Knott’s Berry Farm and enjoy the many rides. Start at attractions like bumper cars and pirate ships before challenging yourself with rip-roaring ones. Ride the Silver Bullet, an inverted roller coaster with six inversions, or the Montezooma’s Revenge, an award-winning shuttle roller coaster. Every Halloween, the theme park also transforms into Knott’s Scary Farm. The park featuring scare zones, mazes, and all rides are modified to fit the spooky event.

 

Travel Time: 2 hours
TouristSecrets Tip: If you want to visit both Knott’s Berry Farm and Knott’s Soak City, get combo tickets. Marriott Bonvoy offers Ride & Slide tickets for 80 USD to enjoy admission to both parks.

19. Hearst Castle

View of  Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle

Photo by Catalina Johnson on Unsplash

Despite its four-hour travel time, Hearst Castle is one of the must-visit sights on the southern end of Big Sur. While it is now operating as an art museum, its appearance is reminiscent of castles in Europe thanks to its Spanish Colonial Revival and Mediterranean Revival architecture. In addition, its history and hilltop views of the Pacific Ocean make it one of the best day trips from Los Angeles.

 

Join a self-guided or live-guided tour of Hearst Castle and be in awe of its gilded halls, private rooms, and charming cottages. Additionally, learn about the interesting history of the castle and its owner, William Randolph Hearst, a well-known publishing tycoon. Don’t forget to stop by the luxurious outdoor Greek-inspired Neptune Pool and the indoor Roman Pool, boasting floor-to-ceiling Venetian glass tiles.

 

Travel Time: 4 hours
TouristSecrets Tip: Tickets to Hearst Castle start at 25 USD depending on which tour you’d like to take. Make sure to purchase your tickets in advance so you can get your preferred tour at your chosen time.

20. Santa Ynez Valley

The vineyards in Santa Ynez Valley is one of the best day trips from Los Angeles

Photo by Harold Litwiler on Flickr

Want to visit the Napa Valley wine region without the long travel time? The wineries of Santa Ynez Valley are a good alternative. The wine-producing region is known for its chardonnay, syrah, merlot, and other grape varieties. Sample their wines on a wine tasting tour and enjoy the view of the rolling hills and vineyards as you sip on your wine.

 

However, Santa Ynez Valley is also a good place to visit even if you’re not a wine enthusiast! Visit the fragrant lavender fields, ride on horseback past canyons and greasy fields, and see cute ostriches at OstrichLand.

 

Travel Time: 2 hours

TouristSecrets Tip: As Solvang is located in the Santa Ynez Valley, you can easily combine a day trip to Solvang and the surrounding towns at the Santa Ynez Valley.

21. Coronado Island

Hotel del Coronado as seen from the beach in Coronado Island

Photo by nightowl on Pixabay

Coronado Island is a fun resort city located just a few minutes from downtown San Diego. It is famous for its wide shores and the Hotel del Coronado, a gorgeous Victorian hotel dating back to the 1800s. The island is also one of the popular day trips from Los Angeles for families, offering plenty of family-friendly attractions and things to do.

 

Walk around its golden sand beaches and bask under the sunny California weather. Rich in history and intrigue, tour the 130-year old Hotel del Coronado. On your tour, learn more about its famous guests and even a few ghost stories. At the shore, look out for tide pools during the low tide and see the ruins of a sunken ship. Further into your visit, hang out at Centennial Park for panoramic views of San Diego. Before you leave, satisfy your dessert craving and dig into a cup of ice cream, sorbet, or yogurt at Moo Time Creamery!

 

Travel Time: 2 hours

TouristSecrets Tip: Since Coronado Island is a relatively small area, you can rent a bike and explore instead of taking a rental car.

Take Fun and Exciting Day Trips From Los Angeles

From national parks, beachside cities, theme parks, and wineries, there are plenty of day trips from Los Angeles waiting for you. Best of all, you can visit these destinations on your own or as part of pre-arranged tours for convenience. So once you’ve ticked all the things to do and places to see in Los Angeles, why not take a day trip outside the city and find out what adventure awaits you!