Aaaaah, Los Angeles – the City of Angels, La La Land, City of Stars, etc..
There are a lot of great things to do in LA, but some of the best things to do involve getting out of town and exploring!
With beaches, wineries, and national parks, within a 2-3 hour drive, you can skip the hustle and bustle, and enjoy a fun day trip or 2 from Los Angeles.
Whether you’re a DIY traveller,or someone who likes to make the most of a local’s knowledge and jump on a tour, I’m going to take you through the best day trips in LA.
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Getting Around Los Angeles, and Beyond
Visiting Los Angeles is an iconic adventure in the US. Among the glitter and lights are some really beautiful sights to see.
It is a sprawling metropolis with highlights spread out all over the city. LA has a public transport network that is pretty easy and affordable to use, with metro buses, DASH buses, and a metro train.
Make it easy for yourself by getting a reusable TAP card, and downloading the Metro Trip Planner to work out your routes. The cards can be topped up at TAP machines found in most bus and metro stations.
When it comes to ridesharing, your usual suspects of Uber and Lyft are available all over the city. There are taxis too, but they can be hard to hail outside of popular areas and attractions. Using a Taxi app like Curb will make it easier to organize a ride.
Although the Metro system is relatively easy to use, a car is the most convenient way to explore Los Angeles and its surrounding areas. Having your own set of wheels will save you time, but in saying that, bumper-to-bumper traffic is expected.
If you’re keen to visit another city along the West Coast, you can easily jump on the Amtrak train. It is a network that links all the cities along the West Coast of California. It takes a scenic route past valleys, mountains, and the coast. It’s a great way to get out and explore Santa Barbara or San Diego.
Those wanting to rely on public transport should be sure to consider where to stay in LA for easy access to stops and stations.
Half-Day Trips in Los Angeles
Don’t have all day? Fear not! You can take a break from the hustle and bustle of LA city life and enjoy a half-day trip to explore nearby.
When I think of Malibu, I think of celebrity mansions, a beautiful beach, and Miley Cyrus – you know the song. With some spare time on your hands in LA, shimmy on up on the Pacific Coast Highway and take a half-day trip from LA to Malibu.
You can enjoy the sophisticated and laid-back scene of Malibu on your own time, or jump aboard a tour that will let you in on all the top local picks for local eateries, wine tastings, and the best beaches.
There’s a lot to see around this beachy suburb. I recommend hitting the Malibu Pier for a stroll complemented by some great ocean views. You won’t struggle to find a great spot to grab a bit to eat, Malibu is teeming with highend seafood restaurants. Make sure you enjoy a sunset from a rooftop bar while in Malibu – talk about sundowners in paradise!
It should take less than an hour to get to Malibu from LA by car, or around 2 hours (with a few transport swaps) on public transport.
Suggested trip: Vintage VW Private Sightseeing Tour and Wine Tasting
The Hollywood Hills
The buzz of LA can get intense. A quick hike in nature is the perfect way to reset after spending a few days in the hustle and bustle. There is a whole network of hiking and walking trails throughout the Hollywood Hills that lead you up above the sprawling city of Los Angeles. The most commonly known hike is one that will take you to the iconic Hollywood sign.
In the Hollywood Hills, there is also Runyon Canyon and Griffith Parks where you may spot some celebrities walking their dogs! A quieter option is the Hollywood Reservoir, it has a beautiful flat walking area with epic views of the Hollywood Sign behind the water.
Captains Roost and the Brush Canyon are some more half-day hikes that will get you out of the city. They tend be a tad less busy, too.
Suggested trip: Griffith Observatory Hike
Santa Monica and Venice Beach
Ok, Santa Monica and Venice Beach are technically still in the city, but remember about it being a sprawling metropolis? It’s a big place! You need to dedicate time to discover all the different pockets of the city. There’s always a bit of traffic, sometimes a 30-mile drive might even take you 1.5 hours. Seems like a road trip to me!
You’ll need to dedicate at least half a day to explore around, including Santa Monica and Venice Beach.
Check out the iconic Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach Boardwalk, and Venice Skate park. Whatever places you choose, you’ll be able to soak up the laid-back atmosphere and beautiful sights.
You can hire some bikes and cruise the iconic paths along the beach, taking you past the most popular attractions. Remember, the sun sets to the west, these small towns are great to spot a maginificent city sunset.
Suggested trip: Small-Group Electric Bicycle Tour
Full Day Trips in Los Angeles
For Californian wines, lounging by the beach in Santa Barbara, or hiking through Joshua Tree National Park you will want a full day to explore. Just a few hours’ drive from LA, these are the best day trips to hit some iconic LA spots.
A day trip to Santa Barabara from Los Angeles is an absolute no-brainer. The trip only takes 2 hours by car or Amtrak. The Amtrak route shows off the diversity of the area, with views of green valleys, lush forests, and the snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Range.
There’s a lot to do on a day trip to Santa Barbara. Foodies will love the restaurant and wine scene, while beach bums and outdoorsy folk will adore the local beaches and hiking trails. Santa Barbara tends to be much less busy than similar spots in LA.
Lovers of art MUST visit the Funk Zone. It is one of the hippest, up-and-coming areas in Santa Barbara with a thriving creative, wine and brewery scene. It’s a haven for artists near West Beach.
Sure, you can just spend a day here. But, spending a night in this beachfront home sounds like a awesome time.
Santa Ynez Valley
Are you partial to a Californian grape? The Santa Ynez winery region is known across the world for its excellent wines.
Over fifty different grape varietals thrive in the Santa Ynez Valley because of its impressive micro-climates and growing conditions. Visitors rave about the unpretentious vibe of Santa Ynez’s wineries thanks to the local expert winemakers who run the vineyards. You’ll often find the owners showing you around the vineyards themselves!
You will find day trip in LA combine a visit to Santa Ynez Valley with other spots like Santa Barbara, which is down the road from Santa Ynez Valley – talk about killing two birds with one stone!
Suggested trip: Santa Barbara Wine Tasting Day Tour
Catalina Island will take you a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city of stars. It was formerly a favorite destination for big old-Hollywood celebrities to escape the pesky paparazzi. If it’s good enough for them, it’s certainly good enough for us!
Catalina Island is pretty lowkey. There are stunning beaches, beach clubs, and beautiful botanical gardens. Most things are in walking distance of each other, but for those a little further out you can hop on a golf buggy.
Try something iconic and cliche to the Island – just pop down to Luau Larry’s, a famous burger and drinks joint. Its well-known of it very alcoholic Wiki Wacker, that is bound to knock your socks off and smack a smile on your face. You’ll even get a straw hat to wear as proof of tackling the boozy drink!
Catalina Island can be reached by ferry from Long Beach, San Pedro, and Dana Point piers.
Suggested trip: Catalina Island Day Trip
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park, with its gnarled Joshua Trees, cacti, imposing boulders, and sprawling landscapes, is a must-do day trip from Los Angeles.
It’s just a little over 2 hours from LA to the national park. With over 3,000km² to explore, you are in for a real treat – you can wander hiking trails, try out climbing and take in magnificent desert views.
Don’t miss out and extend your day trip into a weekend-long adventure. This secluded modern home is a stunning place to stay with sprawling views from the hot tub and a chic modern style.
Some of the top things to do on a day trip to Joshua Tree are hiking to Arch Rock, Barker Dam, and Keys View. You can also go climbing and rappelling if you’re feeling adventurous! In fact, you really should do those things.
In the depths of the Sonoran Desert, you’ll find the unique, cosmopolitan desert city of Palm Springs.
Combining nature, art, design, and gastronomy, these days you might better know it as the closest city to the uber-cool Coachella festival.
Just like Catalina Island, Palm Springs has been a favorite escape for the rich and famous of Los Angeles for many moons. It’s got some hella nice and bougie resorts, day spas, and other fancy-pants things to do.
Those looking for a more low-key time can visit the Tahquitz Canyon for a reprieve from the heat. The falls are located on the Cahuilla Indian reservation, for a small fee you can see beautiful Mother nature at its best.
Suggested trip: 10-hour Tour to Palm Springs
Last, but certainly not we least, we have a day trip from Los Angeles to San Diego. This beautiful town is a peaceful escape from the city, with stunning beaches to boot.
While it’s only a little over two hours from LA (depending on traffic), there are a ton of stops along the way to break up the drive. The Pacific Coast Highway between Los Angeles and San Diego is one of the most scenic roads in the US.
As a border city between the US and Mexico, you don’t want to miss out on trying Mexican food in San Diego. A trip to crowd fave, Lucha Lubre Gourmet Taco Shop, won’t disappoint for authentic street-style tacos.
While you’re in town, be sure to check out the beautiful Balboa Park, La Jolla Open Air Market, and Mingei International Museum. Of course, the stunning surf beaches are a draw card you cannot miss, too.
Make the most of this beachside town and booking yourself this beautiful ocean front loft!
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Don’t Forget your Los Angeles Travel Insurance
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There we have it, folks, those are my top picks for the best day trips from Los Angeles! While there is no shortage of things to do in LA itself, getting out of the city promises some magnificent experiences.
Joshua Tree National Park should be at the top of your list. I mean, have you seen those crazy landscapes? It’s straight from a Doctor Seuss book, but Cali style!
Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t tick everything off the first time you visit. Take a deep breath and embody the laid-back, chilled-out Californian surfer in you. There’s always next time, dude!
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!