Tourists from around the world travel to Los Angeles to see what this California city has to offer. With all there is to see and do in LA across 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 wonder what other places there are to visit around the area.
That’s where this list of the best day trips from Los Angeles comes into play. Below is a wonderfully diverse selection of destinations you can visit for the day from LA, including many of the best places to visit in California.
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; 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 coastal views.
If you want to see the artistic side of Laguna Beach and you’re visiting in summer or winter, head for the Sawdust Art Festival to visit the local art stalls and maybe even take an art class.
Getting there: Laguna Beach is just under an hour’s drive from Los Angeles.
Down in Newport Beach, just a short trip from Los Angeles, lies Balboa Island, a relaxed harborside getaway. There are plenty of ways you can spend your day on a trip to this man-made island. Time out on the water is a popular option, whether it’s to go on a whale-watching cruise or to enjoy water sports like surfing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding.
Over on the Balboa Peninsula, you’ll find the lively Balboa Fun Zone amusement park, not to mention the iconic sight of Balboa Pier. You’ll also want to dig into the local food scene, if only to try the famous Balboa frozen banana. Of course, there are 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. The trip takes slightly longer if you take the ferry from the Balboa Peninsula.
If you want somewhere with a bit of a rustic feel, you should definitely look into Ojai. This small town in the Topatopa Mountains feels more like a pastoral village, albeit one with an artsy, alternative vibe. Walking around downtown, you’ll pass through arcades of Spanish colonial-style buildings, including art galleries, clothing boutiques, and restaurants.
Besides retail therapy and food, there are wine-tasting opportunities at The Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room and other local vineyards. If you’re after something more outdoorsy, you can enjoy biking routes such as the Ojai Valley Trail or go for a hike in nearby Los Padres National Forest.
Getting there: Ojai is a 1.5-hour drive from Los Angeles.
Rest and relaxation is definitely on the menu with a day out to Temecula. This city in Riverside County is known for its wine country, golfing, and various festivals, making it one of the more luxurious and relaxing day trips from LA.
Old Town Temecula, the heart of the city, looks like it belongs in the 1880s, with rustic storefronts and antique shops that give it plenty of character. Meanwhile, Temecula Valley Wine Country is home to countless wineries, making it ideal for a day of wine tasting.
The city has cultural offerings too, such as Pennypickle’s Workshop, a popular museum for kids, and the Temecula Valley Museum, which explores local history. Also visit the Native American Pechanga Resort Casino, the largest casino in California, for gambling and golf.
Getting there: Temecula is roughly a 1.5-hour drive from LA.
Few places in California are quite as unlikely as Solvang. That’s because this small 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 – there’s even an old-fashioned windmill downtown. Attractions like the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art fit in with the city’s atmosphere, and the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum is a fun addition, while the Old Mission Santa Inés reflects a time before the Danish settlers arrived.
Getting there: Solvang is a 2.5-hour drive from Los Angeles, or you can visit as part of a guided tour that stops in several places.
Joshua Tree National Park
Exploring a national park is always a good way to spend a day, which is just one reason why Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best places to visit from Los Angeles. This sprawling protected area east of LA is home to a bewitching desert landscape full of big rock formations and its namesake, the otherworldly Joshua tree.
There are all sorts of ways to enjoy this outdoor playground, with Indian Cove Nature Trail and Arch Rock Trail being easy places to start. Of course, there are longer hikes as well, and Joshua Tree is a paradise for rock climbing. No matter how you fill the day, don’t miss watching the sunset from Keys View, the highest point in the park.
Getting there: The drive from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park takes around two hours and 15 minutes.
One of the more popular things to see in California outside of Los Angeles is the beautiful coastal city of Santa Barbara, which boasts plenty of scenic coastline and superb Spanish-Moorish architecture. Visit the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, which is styled like a palace, to see what we mean. Make sure to climb the courthouse tower for a 360-degree view of the city and the surrounding landscape.
Next, head over to 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, looking out to the gorgeous nearby beaches and the jumble of boats in Santa Barbara Harbor.
Getting there: The drive from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara is around an hour and 40 minutes, or you can take the 2.5-hour train journey. It’s also a stop on this guided tour of the California coast.
The desert resort city of Palm Springs is a popular weekend getaway from Los Angeles for locals, but it also works as a day trip for tourists. For many people, visiting Palm Springs is all about treating yourself 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.
You can visit The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, which is home to a desert botanical garden and many animals native to the deserts of the world. You can also take a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which provides superb views as it takes you up to the lofty 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 two hours to drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs.
San Juan Capistrano
If you want 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, 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 the mission’s museum, gardens, and church, the most 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 the 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 an hour and 15 minutes.
Big Bear Lake
Whether you’re talking about the resort town or the lake of the same name, Big Bear Lake is a great idea for an outdoorsy day trip. The town and lake up in the San Bernardino Mountains are surrounded by forest, providing a stunning natural backdrop for whatever activities you choose.
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, the focus switches to hiking and water sports. The Castle Rock Trail is a rewarding hike, thanks to its sweeping lake views. Common activities out on the water include fishing, swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and jet skiing.
Getting there: The drive from LA to Big Bear Lake is just under two hours.
Santa Catalina Island
There are quite a few islands off the California coast, but one of the most famous is Santa Catalina Island (often known just as Catalina Island). You really have your pick of outdoor activities here, zip-lining and parasailing being 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 Museum for Art & History to explore.
Catalina Island is also home to countless hiking trails across its rugged, mountainous landscape, with some easily accessible from Avalon. To spend time on the water, you can rent kayaks or stand-up paddleboards, journey into the depths to go scuba diving, or watch for marine wildlife on one of the various ocean tours.
Getting there: To reach Santa Catalina from LA, first make the 30-minute drive to Long Beach, then take the one-hour ferry ride.
When you’re in Los Angeles, the idea of visiting Disneyland for the day is sure to cross your mind. We’re not just talking about Disneyland Park, but really the whole Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, which also includes Disney California Adventure Park.
Disneyland Park alone features nine lands planned around different themes and rides: Main Street, Adventureland, Frontierland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, Fantasyland, Mickey’s Toontown, Tomorrowland, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The park has too many rides to list, but some of the most famous are Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Indiana Jones Adventure, and Pirates of the Caribbean. There are also parades, fireworks, and plenty of food to enjoy.
Getting there: Disneyland is roughly a 30-minute drive from downtown LA.
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 LA 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 staffed with lifeguards. Not far from Zuma, 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 within coves between rocky outcrops. It’s not all about the seaside in Malibu, though, with plenty of nature found inland at Solstice Canyon and Malibu Creek State Park in case you’re looking for a hike.
Getting there: Malibu is around a 40-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles.
Despite the distance, San Diego is definitely one of the best side trips from Los Angeles, whether for a day or longer.
Begin with the Old Town San Diego 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. Afterward, head to Balboa Park, an enormous cultural park that combines gardens and green belts with museums, theaters, and some pretty Spanish colonial-style buildings.
Stop down at the waterfront to visit the USS Midway Museum, housed within a naval aircraft carrier. On your way back to LA, stop at La Jolla Cove, home to a stunning stretch of coastline with impressive cliffs surrounding a picturesque beach.
Getting there: It takes a little over two hours to drive from Los Angeles to San Diego, while taking the train is closer to a three-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 Silver Strand, Coronado is known for the spacious Coronado 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 you like? While many parks dot the island, one well worth visiting is Centennial Park, where you’ll be treated to a wonderful view of the San Diego skyline.
Getting there: Coronado is a little over a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, which also takes you through San Diego.
You probably wouldn’t expect to see a castle in California, but that’s what you get on a day trip to Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Built in the early 20th century by publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst, this historical landmark is now a museum open to the public, displaying both the grand castle rooms and collections of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities.
You can take various tours to see the social rooms, living quarters, and other mansions on the property. After a tour, spend some time admiring the castle’s Enchanted Hill gardens and the glamorous swimming pools, the Neptune Pool and the Roman Pool.
Getting there: You can reach Hearst Castle from LA by car, which takes just under four hours, or visit as part of a guided tour of the region.
San Gabriel Mountains National Monument
Northeast of Los Angeles lie 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 Angelenos, and the area was made a national monument in 2014. Given its extensive borders, the monument covers various terrains, including desert, forest, and alpine spaces.
Hiking is one of the most popular things to do in the area, with many choosing to hike sections of the Gabrielino National Recreation Trail. Come winter, the higher parts of the San Gabriel Mountains are covered in snow, drawing skiers and snowboarders.
Getting there: Depending on where exactly you go in the San Gabriel Mountains, it will be about an hour’s drive from downtown LA.
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 with its boisterous nightlife. But if you visit areas like the Zona Centro and Zona Río, you’ll see a more cosmopolitan side of this large, modern city. Avenida Revolución is the main street through the city’s center; 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, along with the Tijuana Cultural Center, which serves as an introduction to local art and Mexican culture. Meanwhile, the nearby Plaza Fiesta is the hub of Tijuana’s growing craft beer scene.
Getting there: Getting to Tijuana from LA takes a 2.5-hour drive or a three-hour bus ride (with hourly departures).
Santa Cruz Island
Yet another island off the coast of Los Angeles worth visiting is Santa Cruz Island. Although it’s the largest island in California, it had just two residents as of 2000, and its management is split between the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy.
When you land on the island, walk up to Cavern Point for spectacular views of the ocean – you might even spot some whales. Following other trails on the island, you can visit Potato Harbor, with its sheltered beach cove, or Smugglers Cove, which is covered in tide pools and driftwood. Besides hiking, activities at Santa Cruz Island include kayaking and snorkeling.
The other place Santa Cruz Island boats drop visitors is Prisoners Harbor. This can include a side trip to the sea caves on the island’s north coast, such as the impressive Painted Cave.
Getting there: Ferries to Santa Cruz Island leave once or twice a day from Ventura, which is about an hour’s drive from downtown LA. The ferry ride takes about 1.5 hours.
Legoland California Resort
California is home to a surprising number of theme parks, and another one you can visit from Los Angeles is Legoland in Carlsbad. Everything in this amusement park revolves around the Lego theme, including an aquarium and a water park.
The original resort features more than 60 rides, shows, and attractions to entertain you and your children, spanning sections like Castle Hill, Pirate Reef, and Miniland USA. The park also offers 4D movie experiences and the chance to meet costumed characters from the Lego movies. There are slides and lagoons to play in over at Legoland Water Park, while Sea Life Aquarium provides up-close interaction with various marine species.
Getting there: It takes roughly 1.5 hours to drive from Los Angeles to Legoland.
Now you know the best places you can visit on a day trip from Los Angeles. These places are clear proof that it’s worth allowing a little extra time in your LA itinerary for a side trip or two.