Los Angeles is impossible not to love. From the Pacific Ocean waves backdrop to the intensity of Downtown Los Angeles, it is a city you will want to return to again and again. There is also so much to do and see, from the iconic Hollywood Sign to Hotel del Coronado and more than one theme park to get your thrill on. Snuggled into the coastline of southern California, Los Angeles is one of the best-located and world-famous destinations in the US. And if you are visiting, it would be a crime to avoid enjoying some of the day trips from Los Angeles.
Top Day Trips From Los Angeles
Los Angeles is surrounded by beaches, mountains, and national park choices. The city has tons of organized day trip tours. Or you can brave the limited but reasonably sufficient public transport or opt for the most liberating option – a rental car. You could head to Laguna Beach, San Bernardino National Forest, or Santa Barbara. One thing is for sure; you have many options when choosing which Los Angeles day trips you want to undertake.
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Below are some of the top day trip tours from L.A. Don’t forget to plan ahead when visiting California!
Top Day Trip Activities and Tours from Los Angeles:
1. Newport Beach
Newport Beach is a haven of sandy beaches with a clustered, flashy harbor. The coastal city sits south of Los Angeles and is ideal to experience the coast outside of hectic LA. Newport Beach is in the middle of Orange County, a region famed for its theme parks and coastal fun fairs. And true to its area, Newport Beach has the Balboa Pier and Fun Zone where you’ll find a traditional and aesthetic amusement park with a Ferris wheel. Newport Beach is the perfect spot for some light-hearted fun.
You can reach Newport Beach by car in under an hour. Or, if you are really stuck with no rental car or license, you can catch a bus connection to Newport Beach in 2.5 hours. As a quick side note, Newport Beach is a serious hotspot for anyone interested in whale watching – so wildlife lovers take heed. It is one of the only year-round whale-watching destinations the US has to offer, with whales migrating past Newport Beach at all times of the year. This is one of the best whale-watching tours in Newport Beach.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 43 minutes by car or 2.5 hours by public transport
2. Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach couldn’t be more different in Orange Country from the fun-loving and fast-paced Newport Beach. Laguna Beach is much more creative with a more laidback vibe that attracts surfers and artists alongside a steady flow of Los Angeles day trippers. In Laguna Beach, you’ll find art galleries, sandy beaches like the surf spot Aliso Beach Park, and pretty boardwalks along Main Beach. Laguna Beach attracts six million visitors a year, and its chilled atmosphere makes it easy to see why. It is the sort of place where you go to recalibrate or enrich yourself artistically. So if that fits the bill, Laguna Beach is your day trip.
You can reach Laguna Beach easily by car from Los Angeles, so we’d suggest hiring a rental car if you don’t have one already.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 50 minutes by car and 2 hours 20 minutes by public transport
3. San Diego
San Diego is sunshine heaven. The coastal city is right above the Mexican border and is loved by many for its fantastic climate. It is no surprise that visiting one of its beaches on a day trip to San Diego is a top recommendation. However, San Diego is also popular amongst lovers of military history, and the city is home to an active naval fleet.
You can view the Naval Base San Diego from a distance and also visit the USS Midway Museum and the Maritime Museum of San Diego for more insights. San Diego is a brilliant day trip if you want to experience another city while visiting Los Angeles. For us, its beach culture and military history stand out the most. Be prepared for a full day out.
If you choose this day trip, we recommend skipping San Diego Zoo. On day trips from Los Angeles, you can see plenty of animals in their natural habitats, so there’s no need to see them in captivity. If you don’t have a car then you can jump on this day trip that leaves from Los Angeles.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour 45 minutes by car or 3 hours by train
4. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is a famously beautiful national park of 800,000 acres. Think cacti and desert flowers – Joshua Tree is one of the most iconic desert scenes in the US. Open all year round (but admittedly almost unbearable mid-summer with its heat), Joshua Tree National Park is full of hiking trails and scenic drives. Plus, the national park’s namesake tree, the Joshua tree.
The Joshua tree is rather bizarre-looking, with massive trunks and spiky green clumps at the end of each thick branch. A Joshua tree looks quite like JK Rowling’s whomping willow. The Joshua tree was named by Mormon settlers crossing the Mojave desert in the mid-19th century, who apparently found them reminiscent of how Joshua reached up his hands to pray.
These are the best hikes in Joshua Tree National Park; we’d suggest allowing a whole day to visit, especially as it is a 2-hour drive one way by car. You can take a guided day tour from Los Angeles if you don’t drive.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 2 hours by car
5. San Gabriel Mountains
You’ll need a car to experience this day trip from Los Angeles. The San Gabriel Mountains make it all worthwhile, though. The peaks are renowned for being rugged and beautiful. They were a favorite spot for the naturalist John Muir, who commented on how inaccessibly rugged they were. The San Gabriel Mountains are really striking visually, with forests of alder, maple, and pine at the low levels, dwindling off towards snowcaps at the mountain summits. The largest of all is Mount Saint Antonio, where you can hike in 7-9 hours in snow-free months to reach the summit and gorgeous views.
The San Gabriel Mountains are impressive for mountain biking and hiking trails. Who needs theme parks when you have so many exhilarating routes to whizz down and challenging trails to tackle? These mountains are a fabulous day trip from Los Angeles for anyone wanting an adrenaline experience in nature.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour by car
6. Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara is no ordinary city day trip. It is easy to think that every small coastal city blurs into one in California, but Santa Barbara proves that wrong instantly. The city thrives in age-old colonial heritage, with a strong Spanish influence that remains evident through architectural styles like white stucco buildings. Downtown Santa Barbara is one of the most impressive (and prettiest) places you can visit from Los Angeles.
And aside from its good looks and characteristic white buildings with red-tiled roofs, it has many attractions. You can visit the Santa Barbara County Courthouse or the Old Mission Santa Barbara to learn more about the religious side of Spanish colonization.
Santa Barbara is full of culture and stories you can’t miss. Thanks to its strong sense of character and cultural value, it is one of the top places you can visit on a Los Angeles day trip.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 1.5 hours by car or 2.5 hours by train
7. Santa Catalina Island
22 miles off the coast of California, Santa Catalina Island is in its own little bubble. The island is a beautiful, safe space for birds and wildlife – on land and off land. In fact, it is even popular for scuba diving because of its well-protected and preserved marine wildlife. While it was used as a filming location for some underwater scenes in the original 1975 Jaws film, you don’t need to worry. Its most popular wildlife species that tourists see are elephant seals, bison, and blue whales.
And when you want to escape the crazed chaos of the city center and its coastline, Santa Catalina Island is where to head. Thanks to the fast ferries from Long Beach and Dana Point, you can easily reach Santa Catalina Island in an hour. Up to 30 ferries run daily, so you won’t find it hard to organize a day trip.
On Santa Catalina Island, spend the day spotting different animals – either hiking, snorkeling, or scuba diving. It is a super fun place to visit, and its isolated location and ferry crossing make it even more exciting.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour by ferry from Long Beach
8. Crescent Bay Beach
Crescent Bay Beach is a scenic little beach set against a rocky cliff backdrop just south of Los Angeles. It is one of the shortest day trips from Los Angeles. Crescent Bay Beach is popular because of its quiet atmosphere, brilliant tide pools, and – if you’re lucky – passing dolphins. Crescent Bay Beach is a place for serenity. It is our top recommendation for a peaceful beach day trip from Los Angeles.
Technically, Crescent Bay Beach is part of the Laguna Beach neighborhood. However, it has such a unique character that we must include it in this guide. It is perfectly combined with a trip to the art galleries and a more creatively flamboyant center of Laguna Beach or even a visit to Crystal Cove State Park.
Crescent Bay Point Park is located on the beach’s northern end and is the perfect spot for a beach-view photoshoot. After enjoying time on the sands, head to Crescent Bay Point Park for beautiful beach views.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour by car or almost 3 hours by public transport
9. Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake is a waterside retreat perfect for a weekend getaway. But if you only have a day, don’t worry – we can make that work too. It is a hot spot for watersports, and you can spend a whole day doing anything from a relaxing paddle-boarding experience to a more adventurous wakeboarding attempt. From spring to autumn, it is a top watersports destination; in winter, it transforms into an incredible ski destination.
Big Bear Lake is surrounded by woodland trails, but if you only go for a day, prioritize Castle Rock Trail. Castle Rock Trail takes you up to a scenic rocky outcrop with stunning views of Big Bear Lake and is dreamy at sunset as the perfect finish to your day trip.
You can reach Big Bear Lake easiest by car in just two hours. And while it is feasible to get to the lake in 4 hours by public transport, we wouldn’t recommend it as you’ll spend nearly a whole day traveling on multiple forms of transportation. There’s no direct train or bus. Stick to driving and maximize your time spent on water sports or skiing in winter.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 2 hours by car and 4 hours by public transport
10. Balboa Island
Balboa Island is a funny addition to this guide, located just offshore of Newport Beach. Many people would clump the two together, but we disagree. The little island is such a strong character that we’d recommend treating it as a separate day trip. You can reach Balboa Island by overwater bridge or ferry, and it has a fun, activity-focused atmosphere with a slightly slower pace than the mainland.
The Balboa Island Museum is a must, and it is free to enter. The island is manmade and has exciting history and community to uncover. It even has two trademark dessert recipes, the Balboa Bar and Frozen Banana, which are over 75 years old. Enjoy the beaches, museums, and passionately individualistic food culture.
Balboa Island is accessible by car or public transport. You can take your pick between transportation options from Los Angeles.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour by car or 2 hours 40 minutes by public transport
11. Palm Springs
Palm Springs is an icon; there’s no doubting that. The city bursts out of the Sonoran Desert with swaying palm trees, steaming hot springs, and a surprisingly vibrant art scene. The metropolis is an easy day trip from Los Angeles. If you drive, you’ll pass between San Bernardino National Forest and Mount San Jacinto State Park – both great detours. This full-day tour is what we would recommend if you don’t have a car.
In Palm Springs itself, you can ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, visit art galleries like the Palm Springs Art Museum, and warm up in the hot springs in the Aqua Caliente Indian Reservation. Palm Beach is a brilliant insight into the Sonoran Desert, and the fact it is so close to Los Angeles with so many things to do makes it an ideal day trip candidate.
As a quick side note, Palm Springs is famously close to Coachella. If you are visiting Palm Beach in mid-to-late April, try to bag tickets. Otherwise, just enjoy the attractions scattered around the city’s outskirts.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour and 40 minutes by car or 2 hours 45 minutes by public transport
12. Long Beach
Long Beach is one of the shortest day trip candidates on this list. The Long Beach neighborhood is on the outskirts of Los Angeles and sits on the coastal shores of the city. We love its accessibility via public transport, and you can reach this day trip destination by taking the San Ysidro FlixBus straight from Los Angeles Union Station. If you are looking for a public transport feasible day trip, Long Beach is your top choice.
So, what makes this coastal neighborhood so fantastic? Well, it is a firm favorite movie set choice in Hollywood, in the top 2% of most expensive areas to live in worldwide. It averages 345 days of sunshine a year. And with this information, you can already understand how glitzy this neighborhood is. You can enjoy Long Beach City Beach, visit museums like the Long Beach Museum of Art and the Museum of Latin American Art, and walk the Japanese-style Rainbow Lagoon Park. But even just appreciating the skyscrapers and water scenery is impressionable enough.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 30 minutes by car or 45 minutes by bus
13. Huntington Beach
Huntington Beach is a must-add-to-your-itinerary for any surfer visiting Los Angeles. The city is incredibly well-respected in the surfing world and is home to the 121-acre Huntington State Beach. You can take to the water at Huntington State Beach yourself or just stroll along the 8.5-mile paved trail while admiring others in the surf.
The surfing attractions don’t stop there either; you also have the International Surfing Museum, the 42-foot World’s Largest Surfboard, and the Surfing Walk of Fame. The museum has everything from longboards to famous surfer memorabilia. Passionate about surf culture and the unofficial sport’s founder Duke Kahanamoku, it is a top-tier attraction when visiting Huntington Beach.
As you can see, Huntington Beach is a fantastic day trip for any surfer. By car, it is an easy 1-hour drive. By public transport, the quickest route is a train on the Metrolink Orange County Line to Buena Park and then the 29 bus to the Huntington-Pacific Coast.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour by car or 2 hours by public transport
14. San Bernardino National Forest
It’s no secret, and we won’t try to deny it – San Bernardino National Forest is one of the most popular wildlife areas for day trips from Los Angeles. Thick alpine forest sprawls over the San Bernardino Mountains. And if you like active holidays, it is a beautiful place to go hiking or horseback riding. The forest is also huge; it covers an area of over 660,000 acres, so you’ll have to get specific about which trails and activities you want to enjoy before you set off.
Outside of the winter season, hiking and horseback riding are the forest’s forte and should be your top choices. The forest is built for extreme adventures too – there are even campgrounds that welcome horses to stay overnight on multi-day rides. If you are visiting in winter, things shake up a little. Instead of horseback riding and hiking, you’ll be living it up with snow-themed activities like snowmobiling, skiing, and snowshoeing.
San Bernardino National Forest is an hour’s drive from Los Angeles. Depending on your route, you could pass through Whittier Narrows Natural Area or the Cucamonga-Guasti Regional Park – both good stop-off points for a freshen-up halfway through the drive.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour by car
15. Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park is a marine park encompassing five beautiful islands off the coast of California. The islands are so protected, and such havens for wildlife that many coin them the Californian ‘Galapagos,’ and you can see a vast variety of animals on sightseeing tours.
The Channel Islands include Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. If you want to get isolated, these dramatic, nature-abundant islands are one of the most striking and ecologically diverse day trips from Los Angeles. You can spot everything from endemic skunks to sea lions and humpback whales. There are also many stunning hiking trails, including Anacapa’s Inspiration Point. And the landscape is nothing other than stunning, with craggy bright green ridges to make Hawaii double-take and beautiful coastlines of sea caves and hidden coves.
You can reach the Channel Islands by a round-trip day-ticket ferry. The ferry trip length depends on which island you choose – Anacapa and Santa Cruz are the closest at just an hour’s ferry ride from the coastline.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 1.5 hours by car or 1 hour 45 minutes by public transport to the visitor center, plus an hour or two for the ferry
16. Malibu Creek State Park
Just 25 miles from Downtown Los Angeles, Malibu Creek State Park is an easy squeeze into a busy itinerary. The park is over 8,000 acres and is perfect for horseback riding, rock climbing, and hiking. Does the landscape look familiar? If it does it is because Malibu Creek State Park was used as a set in a ton of Hollywood movies, including the original Planet of the Apes.
The mix of volcanic rock gorges and pretty pools make the park one of the prettiest and most convenient places to appreciate nature near Los Angeles. Set in the Santa Monica Mountains, this state park is just a short drive from the celeb hot spot of Calabasas. Malibu Creek is an incredible place to go on a day trip, especially with its classic rock pools.
We’d suggest driving to Malibu Creek, which is 50 minutes from LA, by car. Using public transport is much trickier and takes around 2.5 hours on multiple forms of transportation.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 50-minute drive
17. Disney California Adventure Park
Everyone needs to embrace their inner child now and then, and that’s precisely where Disney California Adventure Park comes in. The theme park meets amusement park is a total nostalgia hit. You’ll find everything from hot dog stands to ornate carousels. And with dressed-up Disney characters for ‘meet and greet’ experiences at random throughout the park, this is one of the most magical day trips you can take from Los Angeles. A lot quieter than Disney World, Disney California Adventure Park is a fantastic alternative to its hectic cousin.
The adventure park is set in Paradise Gardens Park – just a 40-minute drive or 1.5 hours on public transport. Get ready to really transport yourself back to your childhood. Or, if you are visiting as a family with young children, recreate some of that beautiful Disney magic for a memorable family day trip. Grab your tickets here.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 40 minutes by car or 1.5 hours by train then bus
18. Malibu Lagoon State Beach
Malibu has that laidback allure – a spot Los Angeles can’t scratch alone. And Malibu Lagoon State Beach is a stunning 110 acres of protected beach and coastal park, well worth visiting just to experience that Malibu relaxation. The surfing community loves the beach area, and you can shred some waves or admire other surfers from the sands. You should bring some binoculars, too, as Malibu Lagoon State Beach has a large estuary that is relied on by migratory birds. The best thing is that you can explore independently or take a guided tour. The choice is yours.
The state beach is next to the Malibu city center and combines well with a trip to nearby Zuma Beach. If you plan to visit both, rent a car to maximize your time.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour by car and 2.5 hours by public transport (buses)
19. Wine Tasting
You cannot visit wine country and not go wine tasting. While in Los Angeles, you are a short distance from the rolling hills and vineyards of California’s most famous wine district. Just head south 90 miles, and you’ll reach the town of Temecula – renowned for its delicious wines. The region is known for its Syrah wines, in particular, and also for the Sangiovese grape. You can take a wine-tasting tour at each winery for as little as $20 per experience.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 1 hour and 20 minutes by car
20. San Pedro
San Pedro is another one of Los Angeles’ outskirt neighborhoods well-suited to day trippers. The area has a young professional vibe, with plenty of rented suburban houses and local coffee shops. It was initially formed as its own city but joined Los Angeles in 1909. It is the perfect chance to experience more suburban culture in a Los Angeles coastal district. San Pedro Fish Market and Restaurant is a must for any seafood lover. At the same time, maritime museums are super popular, with the Battleship USS Iowa Museum and Los Angeles Maritime Museum. San Pedro is an excellent choice for a city day along the Pacific Ocean.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 25 minutes by car or 2 hours 40 minutes by public transport
21. Zuma Beach
Remember Zuma Beach? This beach is in Malibu, and the 1.8-mile stretch of sand and surf is popular amongst surfers and sunbathers alike. Zuma Beach has lifeguards, which is a vital safety plus. So you can embrace the rural setting and spacious sands, reassured that there’s safety surveillance in case you get in trouble. Zuma Beach is one of the top Los Angeles day trips for a beach day. And if you get a chance, visit nearby El Matador State Beach and Malibu Lagoon State Beach.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 50 minutes by car and 2 hours 20 minutes by public transport
22. Limestone Canyon Regional Park
Limestone Canyon Regional Park is one of the most beautiful day trips from Los Angeles – you’ll just need to be a bit more organized. The park is only open on certain access days, or you can take a guided tour with rangers outside of open-access periods. Limestone Canyon is run by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, so contact them for bookings and reservations. The park has some stunning hikes past geographical features like sinks and bright limestone ridges. A much lesser touristy option for a day trip, Limestone Canyon Regional Park is where to go to escape the crowds.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 55 minutes by car
23. Crystal Cove State Park
The 2,400-acre Crystal Cove State Park is a gorgeous part beach, part sand dune area just south of Los Angeles. The beach is 3.2 miles, which is open to public access, and has tons of rock pools and coves to venture into. We’d suggest walking the scenic boardwalk before embracing a full-scale lazy beach day. Sitting on the sand and soaking up the atmosphere is a real treat. And the seaside serenity will be a welcome break after a busy Los Angeles.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 50 minutes by car
24. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is one of the closest – and largest – wilderness areas near Los Angeles. The area has a network of over 500 miles of hiking trails. You can go rock climbing or just enjoy spotting wildlife from the trails. The Backbone Trail is Santa Monica Mountain’s most famous trail and extends 67 miles. If you’ve just got a day, you could pick the most scenic section to hike. While, if you are lucky, you may even spot a big cat, there are estimates of around 10 to 15 mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 40 minutes by car
25. San Juan Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano is a beautiful, historic city. It is mainly formed around the Mission San Juan Capistrano, with an aesthetic Los Rios Historic District to admire 18th-19th century architecture. Mission San Juan Capistrano is a historic landmark that reflects California’s Spanish heritage.
The mission was formed in 1776 and now acts as a museum, welcoming 300,000 visitors each year, many embarking on day trips from Los Angeles. The museum has religious and historic artifacts like paintings and even a precious bell that is rung each day to honor Saint Junipero Serra. Whether religious or not, San Juan Capistrano is a cultural destination for a day trip. This guided tour will give you all the history you need about this beautiful city.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 50 minutes by car or 1 hour 40 minutes by bus
26. Angeles National Forest
Angeles National Forest is 700,000 acres of tracks, trails, and attractions. Thought by many to be LA’s ‘backyard playground,’ it is one of the most accessible natural areas to enjoy on a day trip from the city. You can go horseback riding, off-roading, or hiking. Even driving through Angeles National Forest is exciting, with hairpin roads and stunning views of mountainous forest scenery. Angeles National Forest is also free to enter, making it a super budget-friendly day trip.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 1.5 hours by car
27. Whale Watching
Whale watching is one of the best day trips from Los Angeles. From winter to spring, there are averages of 20,000 gray whales passing through Los Angeles’ waters. While if you get lucky, you can also see finback, humpback, and minke whales. And, of course, year-round sightings of various dolphins. If you are visiting Los Angeles in winter or spring, consider whale-watching on a day trip. November until May is the whale season. Most whale-watching day trips cost $50-100 and last a few hours – like this three-hour tour for $60.
- Distance from Los Angeles: N/A
28. El Matador Beach
Soothing ocean waves against a sandy beach is what you need on some days. El Matador Beach is scenically set below cliffs and consists of three small beaches – cut off from each other during high tide. Located near Malibu, it is the perfect beach day spot and easy to combine with Malibu’s other attractions. The beach has dramatic rock formations along its sands, including stacks and natural arches. If you want a beach with some natural features, it is the ideal solution and a really picturesque choice.
- Distance from Los Angeles: 50 minutes by car
Day Trips From Los Angeles: FAQs
So that’s the best day trips from Los Angeles, but check out these answers to some essential FAQs.
What cities are 2 hours from LA?
Thousand Oaks and Santa Clarita are under 2 hours from LA. San Diego is just over 2.5 hours from LA by car.
What tourist cities are close to Los Angeles?
San Diego is a 2.5-hour drive from LA, while Las Vegas is a 4-hour 40-minute drive away.
Can you do a day trip to San Diego from LA?
Yes, a day trip from LA to San Diego is very feasible. You can take the train in under 3 hours or drive in 2.5 hours.
Day trips from Los Angeles are varied: scuba diving, horseback riding in a national park, or exploring sea caves. You’ve got nearby cities with art galleries and museums in lousy weather, hiking trails, and areas of natural beauty galore for good weather. It is also worth noting that the Los Angeles area is well-known for some great golf courses. So, if you love to golf there are a lot of different course options. We suggest allowing at least a few days in your itinerary to check out some of these amazing Los Angeles day trips. There’s just so much to do, and you should take advantage of it.
Looking for more Los Angeles inspiration? Check out our guide on where to stay in Los Angeles, including area guidance and hotel recommendations.
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