Traveling to Southern California and have an extra day or two? Embark upon an unforgettable adventure to explore the best day trips from Los Angeles, CA! Within a short drive from the bustling city, travelers can enjoy pristine beaches, historic towns, and rugged mountain ranges, perfect for exploring and connecting with nature to balance out the wonderfully chaotic energy of Los Angeles.
On a day trip from LA, tourists can experience famous beach communities, iconic landmarks, amusement parks, nature preserves, and even luxurious islands! Delicious food, fascinating history, and outdoor adventures await within a few hours’ drive of California’s biggest city.
Got some time to spare in LA? Explore beyond the city with this comprehensive guide to the top-rated Los Angeles side trips.
Top-rated Los Angeles day trips
If you’re in search of a vacation that makes you feel like a Hollywood star, head to Santa Barbara. On top of being one of the most beautiful beach towns in California, the seaside city remains a playground for the rich and famous.
Aside from rubbing elbows with celebrities, Santa Barbara offers plenty of fun activities for every type of traveler. Gorgeous Spanish-style architecture is surrounded by palm trees swaying in the ocean breeze, and the beaches are immaculate.
On a trip to Santa Barbara, visitors can enjoy swimming and splashing in the Pacific before visiting the famed Stearns Wharf, a wooden wharf with shops and waterfront dining.
After the beach, enjoy wandering the streets, taking in sites like adobe churches and lovely parks. The 30-acre Santa Barbara Zoo is well worth a visit for animal lovers or families traveling with children, along with the botanical gardens and art museums.
Don’t leave Santa Barbara without sampling the diverse culinary scene, with options ranging from authentic taquerias to ridiculously luxurious Japanese cuisine. Historic architecture, sunshine, saltwater, delicious food, and plenty of shopping make Santa Barbara a perfect choice for a day trip from Los Angeles.
Driving distance from LA to Santa Barbara is only about an hour and a half, depending on traffic. For travelers without a car, there’s the option to take a train, which takes just under 3 hours.
Palm Springs is a paradise in the desert and has been a hot destination since the glamorous days of Old Hollywood. It first gained popularity in the 1930s as a winter resort town for people escaping the chaos of Los Angeles. The weather in Palm Springs is beautiful year-round, with especially perfect temperatures during the winter months. It’s an ideal escape to enjoy the outdoors with swimming, hiking, golfing, and even rock climbing.
A plethora of gorgeous hiking trails surrounds Palm Springs. Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon are a few popular spots for hiking and taking in the epic views of the unique landscape.
Mount San Jacinto is a famous landmark for day trippers to enjoy visiting Palm Springs. You can skip the strenuous hiking and still experience the gorgeous view by riding the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Zip 10,000 feet into the air, ending at the mountain top that’s often covered in snow year-round. Spectacular vistas await; be sure to pack your camera!
If you’re more into the culture than outdoor recreation, fear not. Palm Springs has many exciting museums and art galleries featuring rotating exhibits. Architecture lovers will enjoy a visit to Palm Springs Art Museum, which celebrates modern architecture and art.
There’s also incredible shopping for every budget – from luxury boutiques to locally owned arts and crafts and trendy vintage and consignment shops.
San Diego is truly the land of sunshine, with perfect temperatures and blue skies almost every day of the year. Whatever season you visit, “America’s Finest City” makes a great day trip from Los Angeles with tons to explore for every traveler’s tastes.
There are multiple cool neighborhoods to explore during your visit to San Diego, like the slightly grungy hippie haven of Ocean Beach or the upscale paradise of La Jolla, where you can enjoy a delicious meal or watch the sea lions and seals lounge on the rocky shore.
Balboa Park is a must-see destination in the heart of San Diego and attracts tourists from all over the country. Balboa Park is huge and home to multiple botanical gardens with exotic and native plants and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. You can visit the gardens, museums, and zoo all in one epic day trip if you want to make the most of your time.
San Diego is also home to the original SeaWorld, which will delight lovers of aquatic creatures. San Diego natives love an active lifestyle, so roller-skating and biking are popular activities that can be enjoyed on the bike paths that run parallel to the beach.
If you’re a fan of surfing, there’s no better place to enjoy catching waves: San Diego has numerous famous surf beaches for all levels and deep-rooted surf culture.
Head to Old Town to experience beautiful buildings that date back to 1769, when the city was founded. Or meander through the streets and take in the adobe architecture alongside Victorian-style mansions in the Gaslamp Quarter.
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San Diego has so many awesome activities it might be hard to decide how to spend your time. When all else fails, head to Coronado Island and enjoy a few hours of relaxation on one of the gorgeous beaches in California.
Joshua Tree National Park
Outdoor recreation enthusiasts and Instagram influencers from all over the country find common ground at Joshua Tree National Park. In the dusty Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree is an incredible preserve for the vibrant plant and animal life that thrives in the dry arid landscape.
Aside from taking tons of selfies among the cacti and Joshua Trees, visitors can enjoy hiking trails throughout the park. Book a horseback riding tour to explore all of the beauty without a strenuous hike, or join the climbers and attempt to’ boulder’ on some of the craggy rocks.
Along with the desert plants and rugged terrain, you might choose to venture to a gorgeous oasis. Several are scattered throughout the park, with spring-fed pools shaded by tall palms. Many species of animals and birds frequent these magical spots, making them the perfect place to relax and enjoy a picnic while taking in the scenery.
Joshua Tree can be reached by driving about two hours and 45 minutes east of Los Angeles.
Teens growing up in the 2000s will remember watching the iconic Laguna Beach reality TV show, but there’s more to the super pretty beach town than privileged high school kids. About an hour from Los Angeles, Laguna Beach captures the spirit of SoCal with a gorgeous coastline, plenty of pretty waves, hiking, and a thriving arts scene.
Relax on the beach and soak up some sun while watching surfers catch waves, or perhaps rent a board and try it out. Afterward, enjoy hiking on some of the coastal trails and taking in the views of the cliffs and coast.
Laguna Beach has some great galleries to explore for arts and culture lovers, with rotating exhibits and rare pieces on display from private collections. Spend some time wandering the picturesque streets and shopping before enjoying a meal at world-class restaurants serving fresh California classics and international cuisine.
With a much quieter vibe than neighboring LA, Laguna Beach makes a perfect easy day trip to escape the hectic energy of the bigger city.
Paradise awaits just off the Los Angeles coast on Catalina Island. It’s the perfect destination for a day trip to get out of the city and connect with nature. Whether you’re looking for the perfect beach day or some adventurous recreation opportunities, Catalina Island is the perfect spot.
Catalina Island has two towns: glitzy Avalon with its historic mansions and the rugged beauty of Two Harbors. The beaches of Santa Catalina Island are an incredible place to hang out and spend an afternoon relaxing on a beach chair at one of the lively beach clubs. Order cocktails and tacos sent right to your chair. If you’re feeling more adventurous, pack a swimsuit and rent jet skis to explore the sea.
During the warmer months, Catalina Island is a popular spot for diving and snorkeling. You can book a tour through several dive companies on the island.
Feeling the need to get physical? There are plenty of trails all over the island that can be enjoyed on foot or by bicycle. While you’re out enjoying the scenery, you might have the opportunity to spot some of the native wildlife.
Catalina Island can be reached by helicopter from Long Beach or by taking a ride on the Catalina Express ferry from San Pedro, Long Beach, or Dana Point. The ferry is the easiest option; the trip takes about an hour and a half. It’s a great place to visit year-round, with the best climate during the spring and fall months.
Travelers searching for a quick and easy day trip from Los Angeles will love a visit to Newport Beach. The laid-back Orange Country beach community is only about 45 minutes from LA by car, depending on traffic. Once you arrive, you’ll be immersed in an upscale neighborhood with pristine beaches and plenty of celebrity mansions.
Mega yachts line the 21-square mile harbor, and there are more than eight miles of gorgeous sandy coastline to explore or simply relax on a beach blanket and soak in the sun. Corona Del Mar State Beach is a superb free option, with rugged cliffs and calm waters perfect for swimming. Corona Del Mar State Beach has been the location of many movie and TV sets over the years, so you might even find it familiar!
The town of Newport Beach itself is seeped in luxury, with the perfect blend of modern convenience and old-world charm. Shopping and dining options are endless—with plenty to compliment the tastes of every traveler.
Balboa Island is one of the most popular tourist attractions to check out on a visit to Newport Beach. Once a muddy mess off the coast, Balboa Island was a significant infrastructure project in the 1900s where sand and silt were moved to create a manufactured island. There are many residential areas on Balboa Island, but tourists love to visit for the beach, kayaking, biking, and shopping.
Malibu is the quintessential SoCal beach community. Located along the famous Pacific Coast Highway, the coastline is lined with gorgeous upscale homes taking advantage of the excellent views and easy commute to Los Angeles. It’s only about 30 minutes to LA by car, depending on traffic, so many of the wealthiest Los Angeles locals set up their home base in Malibu.
There are plenty of incredible hiking trails throughout Malibu Creek State Park for nature lovers. Zuma Canyon offers stunning ocean views and well-maintained trails for enjoying a coastal walk.
Many Malibu beaches are private and difficult to access, but tourists can enjoy two popular public beaches: Zuma Beach and Malibu Lagoon State Beach. Both are easily accessible with ample parking lots; pack your beach gear and enjoy a day of swimming, sun, and sand.
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Malibu has plenty of amenities to keep travelers busy, including upscale outdoor shopping areas with shops that big-brand luxury items and hip boutiques. Various restaurants serve tasty cuisine from around the world, so it’s a perfect place to come for a special dinner during your trip to Los Angeles.
Santa Monica is a popular tourist destination on its own, but it also makes a fantastic day trip if you’re based in Los Angeles. You can reach Santa Monica by car in just about 45 minutes, depending on traffic. Beautiful beaches, great dining and shopping, and the iconic pier and just a few things that make Santa Monica an ideal choice for an easy day trip from LA.
Santa Monica State Beach is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the SoCal sunshine with gorgeous views and plenty of soft sand to spread out a beach blanket and relax. Miles of shoreline with sugary soft sand perfect for kids to play and build sandcastles make it one of the most popular beaches in the Los Angeles area. There is even a large playground at the beach for families to enjoy.
No visit to Santa Monica would be complete without a visit to the world-famous Santa Monica Pier. The huge pier jutting out into the Pacific features an amazing amusement park. There are rides, delicious treats, ad even the world’s first solar-powered Ferris wheel!
After a day full of activities, head into town to enjoy world-class shopping and dining. Arts and culture lovers will appreciate the incredible galleries and informal open-air art markets selling locally made arts and crafts that make the perfect souvenir or gift for a loved one back home.
Santa Ynez Valley
Santa Ynez Valley is located in Santa Barbara County and is one of Southern California’s most famous wine regions. If a day trip filled with underrated elegance and plenty of wine tastings is your style – this is the day trip for you. It’s one of the longer day trips from LA with a driving distance of about two and half hours, but if you have the time, it’s absolutely worth a day trip or a quick overnight.
Choose from over 150 wineries, each with its own unique flavors and blends. Enjoy wine tastings in the beautiful setting of California vineyards surrounded by stunning scenery. Sip the tasty flavors, explore the various properties and learn about how wine is made.
Wine isn’t the only thing that makes Santa Ynez Valley an excellent outing—gorgeous historic buildings and examples of old-world-style architecture sit alongside trendy modern designs. Excellent restaurants serve up local ingredients, California flavor, and plenty of boutique shopping.
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Book a horseback riding tour, or check out one of the unique museums like Mendenhall’s Museum of Gasoline Pumps and Petroliana.
Surf City USA, as Huntington Beach is affectionately dubbed, is a hot spot for surf culture and beachgoers looking for a great day trip from Los Angeles. With great vibes, and friendly, laid-back locals, it’s a remarkable escape from the hustle and bustle of LA —and it’s only an hour’s drive from the big city!
Once the Beach Boys’ stomping ground, Huntington Beach remains one of the best places to surf in California. Plan on plenty of beach time, watching the surfers catch waves or renting a board and trying out the aquatic sport for yourself.
With 10 miles of pristine beaches with soft sand and plenty of space to spread out and claim a little slice of heaven for yourself, Huntington Beach is the perfect place to relax in the California sunshine. There are five public beaches to visit, with plenty of opportunities to get active. Join a game of beach volleyball, rent bikes, or go for a nice walk or jog on the nature trails.
Huntington Harbor is a great spot to try out paddle boarding or kayaking on the calmer waters, and Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is a haven for nature enthusiasts. There are more than 200 species of birds protected in the reserve.
After soaking up the sun and saltwater, head into town to explore the tourist favorites like Mean Street and Central Park. The Pacific City neighborhood is the ideal spot to grab a meal or enjoy some shopping.
San Luis Obispo
Historic architecture, beautiful wineries, and plenty of outdoor recreation are just a few things that make San Luis Obispo so unique. With all its charms, it was even once voted the happiest place to live in the entire United States!
In the Central Coast region of California, San Luis Obispo can be reached in a little under three and half hours by car from Los Angeles, making it a perfect day trip or a weekend destination during your LA vacation.
With two universities, it’s the ideal blend of college town and wine region. The downtown has a vibrant nightlife and tasty eateries alongside gorgeous buildings in styles ranging from Spanish Colonial to Victorian.
Visitors interested in history will love the historic walking tours, museums, and a Spanish-style church that dates back to the late 1700s. If you visit on a Thursday, make sure to check out the Downton SLO Farmers’ Market, where you can purchase local delicacies and local arts and crafts.
Tourists who hope to get some exercise should consider hiking along the volcanic mountains known as the Nine Sisters and enjoying the view from the 1,559-foot summit with some of the most incredible views in the Central Coast region.
The Irish Hills Natural Reserve is a beautiful spot to explore, with a refreshing wash of vibrant green vegetation stretching out in all directions.
Big Bear Lake
Leave the city behind for a day trip to the mountain retreat of Big Bear Lake. In under two hours of driving, you’ll be immersed in the beauty of the San Bernardino Mountains. In stark contrast to the desert surrounding Los Angeles, Big Bear Lake is nestled in forests of mighty pine trees and crystal clear lakes.
On a visit to Big Bear Lake, day-trippers can enjoy a wide range of outdoor recreation opportunities. Fishing, kayaking, and jet skiing on the lake are all popular pastimes.
In the warmer months, swimming is perfect. In the wintertime, visitors love to go sledding and snow tubing on the snow-covered mountains. Snow Summit and Big Bear Mountain offer excellent skiing and snowboarding options with a thousand acres of mountain to enjoy.
Regardless of the season, when you choose to travel to Big Bear Lake, you can enjoy mountain hikes, horseback riding, and plenty of time simply relaxing in nature before heading back to Los Angeles.