When it comes to day trips from Los Angeles, we’re spoiled for choice. There’s a bevy of awesome California destinations within driving distance of this thriving metropolis.
As a Los Angeles local, it’s been my pleasure to explore the regions surrounding my home. From farmland in San Luis Obisbo to high deserts Palm Springs and Joshua Tree, all the way to the beaches of San Diego. There’s truly a day trip from Los Angeles for every taste.
In this article, we’ll look at the 27 best day trip spots. And for those days you aren’t ready to leave the city, check out my guide to the 55 best things to do in Los Angeles.
Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
- 27 Best Los Angeles Day Trips
- Santa Monica Mountains
- Long Beach
- Knott’s Berry Farm
- Huntington Beach
- Newport Beach and Balboa Island
- Six Flags Magic Mountain
- Lake Arrowhead
- Laguna Beach
- Santa Barbara
- San Juan Capistrano
- Solvang and Buellton
- Joshua Tree
- Palm Springs
- Big Bear
- Catalina Island
- San Diego
- Coronado Island
- Kern County
- Pismo Beach
- Morro Bay
- San Simeon
- FAQs About Los Angeles Day Trips
- What is two hours away from Los Angeles?
- What is a good day trip from Los Angeles?
- What cities are an hour away from Los Angeles?
- How far is Malibu from Los Angeles?
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27 Best Los Angeles Day Trips
Mere minutes north of the Santa Monica pier, idyllic Malibu is just outside the Los Angeles city limits. The many fun things to do in Malibu include great hikes and serene beaches that invite you to spend an entire day just chilling.
For nature lovers, there are great trails throughout Malibu Creek State Park, or you can trek oceanside from the Zuma Canyon Trailhead. Zuma Beach and Malibu Lagoon State Beach are among the easiest to access, with plenty of parking and amenities. For more beach info, check out the 23 best Los Angeles beaches.
To indulge in a posh getaway, chic boutiques offer luxury goods in open-air shopping centers along Pacific Coast Highway. Geoffrey’s is a grand restaurant for special occasions, or try Duke’s for a boozy brunch.
📸 Pro tip: The sea caves and rock formations at El Matador Beach are a spectacular photo op.
Santa Monica Mountains
Just over an hour from downtown Los Angeles, this short trip gets you out into nature without leaving Los Angeles County. Bookended by Malibu and ritzy Bel Air, the Santa Monica Mountains are a great spot to visit when you’re longing for a getaway but short on gas money.
Topanga State Park and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Center have great hiking trails, vibrant with the color of wildflowers such as fragrant mustard and fennel.
🌅 Local tip: If you head out to Escondido Falls in the early afternoon, you’ll get sweeping sunset views over the Pacific Ocean on the way back.
South of busy shipyards in the Port of Los Angeles, energetic Long Beach is abuzz with fun family attractions.
Wander among wonders of the deep blue at the Aquarium of the Pacific, where interactive exhibits engage curious minds with up-close encounters. The Shark Lagoon gives brave visitors a rare opportunity to reach into the water and glide their fingertips over the skin of a passing shark.
Above the surface, investigate the haunting elegance of Queen Mary. With nearly a century’s worth of fascinating history, this ocean liner is popular with those looking to peruse the paranormal.
👉 Local expert, at the ready! Get your adventure started on the right foot with these 23 best things to do in Long Beach.
Knott’s Berry Farm
🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 30 to 45 minutes |📍 Google Maps | Knott’s Berry Farm Website | 👉 Skip the Line: Knott’s Berry Farm General Admission Ticket
The original Southern California theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm began as a family-operated restaurant and Ghost Town, built using actual artifacts from the Old West.
Modern-day Knott’s Berry Farm is a full-fledged amusement park with 40 rides and dozens of great shows and attractions. Don’t miss the boysenberry pie and fried chicken dinner – still made with Mrs. Knott’s recipe.
👻 Frighteningly fun! One of the best times to visit is Halloween when the park transforms into Knott’s Scary Farm. Spooks & scares of this legendary haunt come complete with beastly characters lurking in the fog, a fantastic fright-fest for any guest over the age of 13.
Huntington Beach is such a classic beach burg one might think the city planners were working from blueprints painted by Norman Rockwell. Proudly living up to the moniker ‘Surf City, USA,’ this OC resort city features signature Pacific Ocean waves and a lively Main Street.
Summer crowds drawn to Huntington Beach by national surf competitions find an abundance of street fairs and sidewalk sales. Local’s favorite restaurants are low-key surf diners and cantinas with giant margaritas.
The surf mellows at Bolsa Chica State Beach, where the shallow water is warm and inviting. This sandy beach is perfect for lounging under an umbrella or building a sandcastle with the kids.
🍽️ Local Tip: Orange County is home to the largest Vietnamese population outside Vietnam. This Beach Picnic tour with a taste of Vietnamese food and drink offers a delightful opportunity to experience some of the local cultures.
As far as tourist attractions go, Disneyland is straight-up legendary. The original Disney theme park has been one of the most popular destinations in the world for more than 65 years, and the newest park, California Adventure, has been offering a full stock of thrill rides for decades.
I love how Disneyland balances classics like Haunted Mansion and Matterhorn Bobsleds with modern additions. Some of the freshest updates are on Jungle Cruise and in a whole new world at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. No matter how many times you visit, there’s always something new to enjoy.
Speaking of keeping up with trends, nobody does photogenic treats quite like Disney. With goodies like Mickey beignets and lobster nachos, it’s not just good for the ‘gram. Like the Grey Stuff Gateau, it’s delicious!
💰 Local Tip: From January through May, Disneyland offers discounts for those living in zip codes between 90000-93599.
Newport Beach and Balboa Island
Ultra-luxury reigns supreme in Newport Beach, from designer shops in Fashion Island to the yachts anchored in Newport Harbor. You don’t have to spend a fortune to taste the lifestyle! Sipping some bubbly on a sunset cruise sets the mood beautifully.
Balboa Island, in Newport Bay, is a charming neighborhood for a day of carefree wandering. Visitors enjoy browsing cute shops along Marine Avenue and strolling the bayfront boardwalk. Pop over to Dad’s Donut for a Balboa Bar, one of the best ice cream treats just about ever.
🛥 Local Tip: Leave your car on the mainland. The island is walkable, and the Balboa Island Ferry is only $3 round-trip. Plus it’s more fun than searching for parking!
Six Flags Magic Mountain
If the only thing you need in a park is rides, then Magic Mountain has got you covered. Out of 35 rides, a world record 19 are rollercoasters! But thrills here set the record in more than sheer numbers, with several coasters being the fastest, tallest, longest, or first of their kind.
Of all the day trips from Los Angeles, this one offers some of the best deals on return visits. Single-day ticket prices compare to nearby theme parks, but you can get an unlimited admission summer pass to Six Flags for under $100.
🎢 The next big thing: In summer 2022 the park will debut WONDER WOMAN© Flight of Courage, the tallest and longest single-rail rollercoaster anywhere on Earth.
Tucked away in the mountains of the San Bernadino National Forest, rustic resort town Lake Arrowhead lays claim to being ‘the Alps of Southern California.’
Curvy roads wind their way up the mountain. From higher reaches, early morning fog and low clouds appear to fill the countryside below.
The lake itself is private and is accessible only to property owners and members of local beach clubs. Visitors can get a peek at this exclusive feature aboard the steamboat-styled vessel Arrowhead Queen.
🍁 Local Tip: If Los Angeles’ perpetual summer leaves you longing for a change of season, visit Arrowhead in autumn to get your fill of glorious fall foliage.
Landscapes of the Laguna Beach seaside are featured pieces in the Laguna Art Museum and local galleries. On the high street along PCH, a glass of wine served on a bistro patio pairs as perfectly with people watching as the delectable dishes on the menu.
It’s not hard to work out the most popular area here – Main Beach, bordered by Main Beach Park, is right at the center of town. You may have an easier time parking at Crescent Bay Point Park, a blufftop area overlooking the bay.
🚗 How to Get There: The fastest routes to Laguna are on the 5 or 405 freeways, but the scenic route down Pacific Coast Highway is much more pleasant.
Mission-style architecture and farm-fresh dining are highlights of the subtly elegant Santa Barbara ambiance. Visits to this quintessential California town are a lovely introduction to the slower pace of life along the central coast.
Whale-watching is great fun here, with Santa Barbara kayak tours offering an up-close vantage point. Take a ferry across the Santa Barbara Channel to Santa Cruz Island for hiking trails and snorkeling in Channel Islands National Park.
Old Mission Santa Barbara is a can’t-miss attraction for lovers of history and culture. Founded in 1786, this living historical monument is run by Franciscan Friars who welcome guests with “radical hospitality.” Nearby, exhibits in the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History delve deeper into the region’s past.
🎊 Say ‘I Do.’ The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is a gorgeous, and quite popular, setting for wedding ceremonies.
Ojai is a natural haven of light. Energy seems to radiate from within the earth itself, a sort of raw serenity that makes one feel at peace with nature and self in one fell swoop.
Hiking through this rare east-west valley, the soft hues of early sunrise brighten into rays that pierce shadowy oak-wooded canopy. Come sunset, a phenomenon known as ‘The Pink Moment’ splashes the Topa Topa mountains with bright magenta.
Beloved by painters and photographers, this end-of-day spectacle is the subject of many works on display in local art galleries. Browse these and other local goods in shops and restaurants along highway 150, Ojai’s primary thoroughfare.
San Juan Capistrano
Of all the old Spanish missions in California, only San Juan Capistrano is home to an annual miracle. Each spring, thousands of cliff swallows swoop down from the sky to build their nests along the eaves of the mission.
History buffs and families flock to the Return of the Swallows Celebration, held annually on March 19. Native American storytelling and live Mariachi music provide a festive atmosphere for engaging young minds with California’s rich past.
🌆 A tale of two SoCal cities: San Juan Capistrano is midway between LA and another great California city, San Diego. For more great southland adventures, check out these 21 day trips from San Diego.
Oceanside is a classic Southern California beach city with small-town vibes. Sports enthusiasts can kayak out of the harbor, or enjoy an array of biking trails traversing the coastline. Easy hikes and spacious seaside playgrounds offer lots of budget-friendly options for families.
Local boutiques specializing in artisan pottery and locally-made goods are great for adding a pop of color to your decor. The newly opened Tremont Collective is a fun reinvention of warehouse space, with unique shopping & dining.
👉 Pro tip: For lots more great Oceanside activities, check out this 35 things to do in Oceanside post by Travel Lemming’s local expert, Jess.
This inventive theme park is a great day trip destination. Whether you’re looking for a family day or a trip to indulge your inner child, Legoland is a playful adventure for all.
Rides, games, and opportunities to build your own creations are among the many attractions. Lego versions of famous sights are at once adorable and mind-blowingly intricate. Just opened in 2021, Lego Movie World includes three new rides and visits with costumed characters.
For more on Legoland and other fun things to do in Carlsbad, check out the 33 best things to do in Carlsbad.
💰 More parks for your money: Legoland also has a water park and Sea Life Aquarium. A one-day pass to all three is just $20 more than general admission, making it one of the better deals on a multi-park pass.
Solvang and Buellton
Drift away the hours with a trip to wine country in Solvang, a quaint Danish village complete with decorative windmills. Few trips offer more charm than strolling the picturesque lanes of this small town in central California.
Solvang’s quirky sister city, Buellton, holds the attention of trendy hipsters with themed RV parks and endearingly offbeat claims to fame like being the Home of Pea Soup. For wine lovers, try tastings and tours at vineyards in the surrounding area.
🎥 Fun fact: Film buffs will recognize this lovely valley as the setting for Oscar-winner Sideways (2004.)
The rolling hills of Temecula make a delightful backdrop for a romantic day trip from Los Angeles. Travel to vineyards by private sidecar or vintage trolley to make the most of a wine-tasting adventure with your special someone.
Hot air balloon rides are one of the signature attractions in Temecula. These depart early in the morning while the air is cool, so you can set the mood right from the start.
🍽️ Save room for dinner: Cap off your visit with pepper-crusted carpaccio at The Gambling Cowboy, a steakhouse with a third-floor balcony overlooking charming Old Town Temecula.
🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 2 to 3 hours |📍 Google Maps | Joshua Tree Website | 👉 Desert Nature Walk + Soundbath & Meditation in a Boulder Cave
Free your mind in the raw majesty of this high-desert haven. Whether you’re looking to connect to the natural world or the world within, Joshua Tree is an ideal setting for an inspirational journey.
Joshua Tree National Park is a treasured refuge for wildlife, including gray foxes and endangered lizards. Hiking trails weave amongst red rock boulders and cactus gardens. Explore deeper into the landscape on longer loops or treks to old mining sites.
Adventurous visitors can find plenty of challenging hikes and opportunities for rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park, but these shouldn’t be attempted in the summer heat. The sun is intense year-round, so make sure you bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
Check out Ashleigh’s detailed guide to learn what to do in Joshua Tree.
🐍 Local Tip: Rattlesnakes are common, so make sure to wear boots. If you see a snake: stay calm, don’t make any sudden movements, and move slowly away to find a safe path around.
Part glitzy casino-resort town and part desert hideaway, Palm Springs is an oasis with broad appeal and, you guessed it, plenty of swaying palm trees.
An equally-popular local tree is the namesake of nearby Joshua Tree National Park. Resort-goers can relax poolside with a Joshua tree peeking from the resort’s native garden. There are creative depictions of the tree at the Palm Springs Art Museum for art lovers.
For a birds-eye view of Palm Springs from the San Jacinto Mountains, jump aboard a rotating car on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. At the peak, you’ll find Mountain Station, which has two restaurants, a natural history museum, and over 50 miles of hiking trails.
🌈 The new all-inclusive, inclusive for all: With a thriving LGBTQIA+ scene, Palm Springs is one of the most popular day trip spots among the gay community.
🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 2½ to 3 hours |📍 Google Maps | Big Bear Website | 👉 Private Hike in Big Bear with Lake Swimming Experience
Known best by those looking to hit the slopes of the San Bernardino Mountains come winter, the area around Big Bear Lake offers tranquility year-round. Free from the clamor of city life, this lakeside community is a perfect escape to clear your mind.
Fresh, crisp air on trails through the San Bernardino National Forest adds to the restorative benefits of wilderness hikes. Rent a fishing dinghy or kayak from one of the six marinas around Big Bear Lake to get out on the water. For a refreshing swim, try kid-friendly Meadow Park or leap from boulders on Garstin Island.
🛎️ Looking for a weekend retreat? When one day on Big Bear Lake just isn’t enough, savor extended serenity at Sleepy Forest Cottages. Or see our guide to where to stay in San Bernardino for more ideas.
Looking for a romantic California getaway? Santa Catalina Island is one of the most romantic day trips from Los Angeles. Santa Cruz Island may be the largest of Southern California’s Channel Islands, but Catalina Island is by far the most popular.
Wander galleries and gift shops in picturesque Avalon. Sip coffee at sidewalk cafes, or grab a bite with an ocean view. Explore hillsides and beaches around the port town with the help of an expert local guide on this golf cart tour.
For a more laid-back excursion, check out Two Harbors. The Dive & Recreation center can set you up with gear for outdoor activities on land or water. Dive into ultimate chill time with food & drinks served at your palapa or beach lounger at Harbor Sands.
For more ideas, check out Victoria’s guide to what to do on Catalina Island.
🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 2 to 3 hours |📍 Google Maps | San Diego Website | 👉 San Diego Zoo 1-Day Pass Ticket, No Reservations Required
Only 30 minutes north of the Mexico border, San Diego is packed with sandy beaches and exotic animal parks. It’s here my deep love of wildlife took root, at the world-renowned San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park.
In San Diego Bay you’ll find Coronado Island, a romantic, picturesque town featuring one of California’s original beach resorts. Just over a mile long, the walkable island is a lovely spot to stroll without an agenda, browsing shops and noshing at terraced restaurants.
The red-roofed Hotel del Coronado has welcomed guests in Victorian style since 1888. Famously featured in Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe, this legendary location is a must-see for film and history buffs.
🐕 Bring your fur babies along for the fun! With lots of pet-friendly outdoor dining and a dog beach, Coronado is one of the best day trips for dog lovers.
🗺️ Distance from Los Angeles: 3 hours |📍 Google Maps
For an excursion off the beaten path, head to Kern County. One of the lesser-known day trips from Los Angeles, this inland region lies northeast of the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains. Visitors can fish in Lake Isabella or float down the Kern River.
A light hike will take you to public hot springs along the river, the most popular being Miracle Hot Springs. When it’s not too crowded, these pools offer ultimate relaxation. Though the area is not technically clothing-optional, it’s not uncommon to encounter nudity. This is more common in the evening, a time you may also encounter a few rowdy teens.
🌺 Pro tip: While Antelope Valley may be the famous area for seeing the spring poppy super bloom, fields around Buttonwillow bloom just as brightly and tend to be a lot less crowded.
Best known for great surf, this laid-back beach town moves at a SLO-er pace. Located on the south side of San Luis Obispo County, known locally as SLO, the soothing ocean waves of this day trip destination melt your cares away.
Local art galleries display surf and sea-themed work, matched by offerings in local shops. Pleasant parks border crashing surf and cliffside vistas. A bright sign with seven-foot-tall letters is a favorite for photos.
🦋 Pro tip: October through February, thousands of vibrant butterflies flutter in the wooded canopy of Monarch Butterfly Grove.
Half an hour north of Pismo, Morro Bay is a seaside village nestled between wetlands and farmlands. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Morro Bay. Launch a kayak trip from the marina to view sea otters romping near the shore, or whales feeding around the bay.
Inland, apple orchards sell fresh produce and local delicacies. Wine tasting rooms at local vineyards are less stuffy than those in other wine-country areas, inviting you to stay awhile. Check out the best places to stay in San Luis Obispo for those times when one day just isn’t enough.
👉 Read Next: Best Day Trips from Las Vegas
About halfway between LA and San Francisco, secluded San Simeon is abundant with wonders.
Hearst Castle showcases the epitome of early to mid-20th century luxury, preserved in exquisite detail. Tours offer a glimpse of what it was like to be a guest in the estate’s heyday.
Along the coast, stunning vistas offer fabulous wildlife viewing. Spot orca, gray, humpback, and even blue whales in the protected waters along the Whale Trail. At Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery you can watch these endearingly cantankerous creatures lounge on the beach.
🚗 Pro tip: A bit further away, this is one of the day trips from Los Angeles ideal for sharing with a friend or partner that can split the driving time.
FAQs About Los Angeles Day Trips
What is two hours away from Los Angeles?
Destinations in California two hours away from Los Angeles include Solvang, Lake Arrowhead, and Joshua Tree National Park. The San Gabriel Mountains and Angeles National Forest are also within two hours of most LA neighborhoods.
What is a good day trip from Los Angeles?
Santa Barbara County is a good day trip from Los Angeles, great for exploring at a mellow pace. Disneyland Park or Knott’s Berry Farm in Orange County are good family day trips from Los Angeles, and Laguna Beach is ideal for a romantic getaway.
What cities are an hour away from Los Angeles?
Malibu, Anaheim, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Laguna Beach are cities an hour away from Los Angeles, each offering fun and relaxing ways to spend a day or weekend. See our full list of the best California cities.
How far is Malibu from Los Angeles?
Malibu is 45 minutes to an hour from Los Angeles, coming from anywhere east of the 405 freeway. Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, and other westside neighborhoods are 20-30 minutes from Malibu.
That about wraps it up for this one. I hope you have an awesome time exploring these day trips from Los Angeles! Looking for things to do in LA? Check out the 55 best things to Do in Los Angeles.
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