8 Best Day Trips From Los Angeles (2024 Guide)

Use our guide to plan the best day trips from Los Angeles, including charming seaside towns, dramatic national parks, and so much more!

As the largest city in California, Los Angeles is famous for being the world’s entertainment capital.

It is the home of celebrity-rich Hollywood and top-class attractions like Universal Studios Hollywood, the Santa Monica Pier, the Hollywood Sign, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the Getty Center. 

The palm-tree-lined streets of Los Angeles exude an enriching, inspirational ambiance that has continued to lure in artists, musicians, and actors from all four corners of the Earth. Many individuals choose to get their breakthrough roles and big start in this major city.

Others travel to Los Angeles County to experience its endless array of outdoor activities. Framed by the San Gabriel Mountains and the Santa Monica Mountains, there are so many places to get in touch with nature around the city as well.

If you are looking to escape the city for a day, there are many quick and rewarding day trips that we recommend taking to further explore the local area.

Los Angeles is a city packed with excitement. But there is so much to see and do outside the city center. From stunning beaches framed with swaying palm trees, to islands surrounded by Pacific Ocean waves, to national parks filled with wildlife, here are some of the top day trips from Los Angeles!

Check out our 3 days in Los Angeles itinerary for more ideas of what to do in the city.

The 8 Best Day Trips From Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a major city full of entertainment and world-famous attractions, but only a day trip away are some of the nation’s most unique attractions waiting to be experienced.

These day trips from Los Angeles include national parks, hiking trails, islands, and more. Go wine tasting, whale watching, mountain biking, hiking, surfing, sightseeing, and just absorb the beauty of Southern California!

We’ll also recommend the best ways to get to each location. A rental car is usually the easiest option, but public transport is often available as well!

The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars, which has the largest range of vehicles for the best value on the market.

Joshua Tree National Park 

  • Distance from Los Angeles: 131 miles/211 km
  • How Long it Takes: 2½ hours

Mingling two separate desert ecosystems, the Mojave and Colorado Desert, Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best day trips from Los Angeles.

The park was named after the Joshua Trees that grow there. The bristled trees that prosper within the park were given a name by Mormon immigrants in the mid-19th century.

The immigrants named the trees after the Biblical figure, Joshua, and the pioneers used the outstretched limbs to direct them west. 

Though Joshua Tree National Park is most commonly known for the trees of its namesake that root and prosper within its territory, there’s so much more to admire about this prosperous park.

Plant and animal species within its grounds thrive in the two desert ecosystems. One such plant is the teddy bear cholla cacti.

Also called the “Jumping Cholla”, this cactus is infamous for a segment of it jumping off and latching onto unlucky passersby. Therefore, it’s best to admire these impressive plants from a distance! 

What Is There To See and Do?

Joshua Tree National Park is rich with activities, from hiking and camping to sightseeing and rock climbing!

An International Dark Sky Park, Joshua Tree National Park’s sky is untainted by pollution of artificial light from the city. This aspect makes the park a prime spot for clear views of the stars and sky. 

This self-driving audio tour also provides educational tips and uncovers secrets of Joshua Tree National Park’s history and ecosystem.

While on this tour, tour-goers can discover hidden tales of the McHaney Gang and learn about those who once traveled across the desert lands on their pioneering quests. 

Examples of popular things to see include:

  • Cottonwood Spring
  • Ryan Mountain
  • Keys View
  • Lost Horse Mine

The best hiking trails include:

  • Hidden Valley Nature Trailhead
  • Skull Rock Trail
  • Arch Rock Nature Trail
  • Cholla Cactus Garden Trail

Getting There and Away

There are two bus options for getting to Joshua Tree National Park from LA. The first option is to take the Los Angeles Union Station to the Indio Bus Station.

From there, rides are by demand. The other bus route recommendation is from Los Angeles Downtown to Indio and hitching a ride by demand from the station. 

If you are not in a hurry, hop on the L.A. Union Station train to San Bernardino Downtown. Take a 16-minute walk from the San Bernardino bus station to the Indio bus station. Rides from there are by demand to Joshua Tree National Park.

Best Time Of Year To Visit

Joshua Tree National Park is open year-round, but the best time to visit is spring and fall. These times of the year, the weather is more comfortable for trekking the great outdoors.

However, the Southern California heat can be intense in the summer, and walking around under its smothering intensity can be uncomfortable. 

Joshua Tree National Park
There is some wild scenery in this famous national park!

Newport Beach

  • Distance from Los Angeles: 47 miles/76 km
  • How Long it Takes: 1 Hour

Notorious for having one of the world’s best bodysurfing sites, the “Wedge,” Newport Beach is a lovely getaway from Los Angeles. If you’re looking to dip your toes in the sand, listen to soothing ocean waves, and soak in the sun’s rays, then this is the place to do it.

Newport Beach is one of the largest small-craft harbors in the United States. Its Ocean Front Walk competes as one of the most famous boardwalks in the region.

The Newport Beach Pier and the Ocean Front Walk symbolize the local history, an iconic landmark, and a place for people to come together to admire the breathtaking beachside views of Catalina Island and the Pacific Ocean.

Read next: The 25 Best Things To Do In Southern California

What Is There To See and Do?

In this coastal city, there’s plenty to do and see! 

Newport Beach is rich with outdoor escapades into the sea’s salty waters, from lazing in the sun on the beach, going whale-watching on a boat tour, and hiking the coast.

Then, relish some much-needed retail therapy at Fashion Island outdoor shopping mall. Here, visitors can savor world-class shopping in this premier shopping center or have a romantic dinner at one of the upscale restaurants. 

This ultimate two-hour whale-watching tour gets passengers up close and personal with humpback and finback whales as these giant impressive mammals swim and play through along the Newport-Laguna coastline. 

Examples of popular things to see include:

  • Newport Beach Pier
  • Fashion Island
  • Sherman Library & Gardens
  • Upper Newport Bay Nature Reserve

Getting There and Away

The cheapest way to reach Newport Beach from Los Angeles is by taking the train from the Los Angeles Union Station to Balboa-35th.

The fastest route would be grabbing a taxi or driving a car. Another option is taking the train from Los Angeles to Santa Ana and from Santa Ana, hailing a taxi to the beach. 

Best Time Of Year To Visit

Newport Beach is a popular spot to head to in the summer. Unfortunately, it’s also the warmest during these months. We recommend visiting in the spring or fall if you want to avoid the crowd and the heat.

On the other hand, if you’re seeking the heat for a summer getaway, then this is the perfect time for you to visit!

Newport Beach
Soak in the sand, sun, and sea at Newport Beach.

Laguna Beach

  • Distance from Los Angeles: 56 miles/90 km
  • How Long it Takes: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

The seven miles of golden-sanded beaches, shocking blue waters, and secret coves hidden along the coastline have transformed Laguna Beach into one of the area’s top weekend getaways. And it’s a quick and rewarding day trip from Los Angeles!

Laguna Beach welcomes artists from all over. The city is notorious for its artist community, summer arts festivals, art galleries, and bohemian ambiance.

However, the creativity and the inspiration drawn from its luring atmosphere have effectively made it a place for people to unwind and relax from life’s stressors. 

What Is There To See and Do?

There are so many fun things to do on this day trip from Los Angeles! Explore the hidden coves, tide pools, and sea caves on its beachside.

Then, sink your toes in the sand and wind back to bask in the warmth of the sun’s rays. Pick from a wide selection of trails set along the scenic coastline to walking or jogging.

The famous Pacific Coast Highway passes right through Laguna Beach as well. So your drive in and out of the town will be especially scenic – this is the most beautiful driving route on the USA’s west coast.

Read next: 21 Best Things To Do In Los Angeles

Things to see and do:

  • Heisler Park
  • Crystal Cove State Park
  • Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
  • Victoria Beach
  • Crescent Bay Point Park

Examples of popular trails to hike:

  • Willow Canyon to Bommer Ridge
  • Rock-It Loop Trail
  • Carolyn Wood View Knoll from Temple Hill
  • Top of the World via Canyon Acres Trail

Getting There and Away

The cheapest way to reach Laguna Beach from Los Angeles is by driving. However, if you don’t have a car or plan on renting one, there is a second option to consider. From downtown LA, take the train to Irvine. Then, hail a taxi for a 15-minute drive to Laguna Beach.

Best Time Of Year To Visit

Summer is the most popular time to visit Laguna Beach. If you don’t mind the crowds, the heat, and the higher lodging costs, the summer is the best time for you.

Spring and fall are less crowded, and the weather is more comfortable for adventuring around outdoors. Prices will also be lower in these seasons. 

Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach has some of the best coastal walks near LA!

San Diego

  • Distance from Los Angeles: 120 miles/200 km
  • How Long it Takes: 2 Hours 45 Minutes

In San Diego, the place referenced as America’s Finest City, people relish in the exhilarating theme parks, tan on the beaches, eat fresh seafood, and hike some of the most scenic trails off the coast. It’s one of the best cities in Southern California!

President Ronald Reagan was the first to drive over the Coronado Bridge when it first opened in 1969. The Coronado Bridge was specially designed to allow the tallest ships to pass beneath it. It was awarded the “Most Beautiful Bridge” award in 1970 for its shocking design.

A ride along the Coronado Bridge is one of the top activities for first-time visitors to San Diego to experience the beautiful scenic vistas of the ocean and the city.

Need more inspiration? Check out our list of the top 21 things to do in San Diego!

What Is There To See and Do?

San Diego features some of the most visited attractions in the United States, including Balboa Park and the USS Midway Museum. The museum preserves and exhibits the USS Midway, one of the longest-serving aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy, while sharing the impactful history of the ship.

Surfers flock to the city to catch a wave at famous surfing spots like Swami’s Beach and La Jolla Cove.

History buffs love to tour the Gaslamp Quarter, the historic downtown district with over 100 outstandingly well-preserved Victorian-era homes. There’s so much to do here so it’s no wonder it is one of the best weekend trips from Los Angeles!

The San Diego CityPASS will save you money on lots of the city’s top attractions!

Top things to do include:

  • Balboa Park
  • San Diego Zoo
  • Cabrillo National Monument
  • Old Town San Diego State Historic Park
  • Hotel Del Coronado

Getting There and Away

The cheapest way to get to San Diego from Los Angeles is by taking the bus. The top bus line choices are Greyhound, Amtrak, and Flixbus. The best option is to take the train from Los Angeles to San Diego. Another affordable option is driving if you have a car. 

Related: This beautiful drive from Los Angeles to San Diego is worth it if you have the time!

Best Time Of Year To Visit

We recommend visiting in the spring and fall for lower prices and favorable weather. However, the summer in San Diego is the peak season for tourism, meaning costs will be high for lodging and travel. 

San Diego
City lovers will have a blast in San Diego!

Santa Barbara

  • Distance from Los Angeles: 98 miles/158 km
  • How Long it Takes: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Called “The American Riviera,” Santa Barbara intertwines a wealthy heritage from the time the first Europeans settled in the area. Spanish Colonial Revival architecture decorates the city, pairing wondrously with its beachside placement. 

Framed by the Los Padres National Forest, this coastal town is not only full of things to do, it’s scenery is simply stunning.

The Mediterranean climate in Santa Barbara makes it an ideal vacation getaway to retreat from the hustle and bustle of life. Combined with its world-class wine offerings and outdoor recreational activities, Santa Barbara is one of the top day trips from Los Angeles.

What Is There To See and Do?

Notorious for its populous farmer’s markets, Santa Barbara is where fresh produce and baked goods, intriguing finds, and locally-made items such as artisan cheeses, wines, and blooming flowers are found.

The market’s motto is “What is Grown in California” to guarantee fresh foods and the support of local farmers and business owners. 

Downtown Santa Barbara is rich in history and outdoor activities. From strolling through gardens and art galleries, to wine tasting and exploring, you’ll have a blast in this gorgeous town. Join a wine, chocolate, and history walking tour to make the most of your time here!

Examples of popular things to see include:

  • Santa Barbara County Courthouse
  • Old Mission Santa Barbara 1786
  • Stearns Wharf
  • Santa Barbara Museum of Art
  • Channel Islands National Park

Looking for more ideas? Check out our ultimate guide to the best activities in Santa Barbara!

Getting There and Away

A car is the easiest and best way to travel, or you can ride the bus from downtown Los Angeles to the Santa Barbara Train Station. 

Best Time Of Year To Visit

The weather in Santa Barbara is mild throughout the year, making it a frequently visited vacation spot.

Even so, summer is the most common time to experience the clog of tourist crowds. The spring and fall offer temperatures that range from the 60s-70s with lower rates for lodging and travel. 

Santa Barbara
Enjoy strolling around the picturesque downtown Santa Barbara.

Santa Catalina Island

  • Distance from Los Angeles: 46.9 miles/76 km
  • How Long it Takes: 3 Hours

Frequently referred to as “Catalina Island,” Santa Catalina Island thrives with natural beauty from land to sea. It is one of the most popular Los Angeles day trips for its many outdoor recreational opportunities and breathtaking scenery. 

The island has two main towns. One is Avalon, a historic town on the island’s southeast end buzzing with tourism. On the island’s west end is the other, Two Harbors, the more rustic of the two that functions as a campground and harbor.

Both islands have unique activities to relish, from snorkeling and kayaking in Two Harbors to shopping and dining in Avalon. 

What Is There To See and Do?

Santa Catalina Island is rich with natural beauty and activities to participate in. From journeying its many scenic trails to scuba diving through its clear blue waters, this location is beautiful and full of fun activities.

Examples of popular things to see include:

  • Catalina Museum for Art & History
  • Wrigley Memorial
  • Catalina Casino
  • Catalina Island Conservancy

The best trails include:

  • Trans-Catalina Trail
  • Garden to Sky Trail
  • Hermit Gulch Trail to Lone Tree Point
  • Little Harbor & Shark Harbor Trail

Getting There and Away

There are only a few options available for transportation as the island is not reachable by land and must be crossed by water.

The first option is to take the bus from the Los Angeles Union Station to Long Beach Downtown Transit Gallery. From there, walk 17 minutes to the ferry station in Long Beach to ride the ferry to Santa Catalina Island. 

Riding the tram from 7th Street and Metro Center Station in Los Angeles to Downtown Long Beach Station is the cheapest option. Then, walk 14 minutes to the ferry station in Long Beach to ride the ferry to the island. 

If you have a car, you can drive to the ferry station in Long Beach for easy access to Santa Catalina Island. 

Read next: 21 Best Things To Do In Santa Monica

Best Time Of Year To Visit

Santa Catalina Island is incredibly busy with tourists in the summer. Unfortunately, prices are also more costly during this peak tourism season. The best way to avoid the crowds and the hefty costs is to visit in the spring and fall. 

Santa Catalina Island
Sailing to this stunning island is one of the best day trips from LA!

Huntington Beach

  • Distance from Los Angeles: 36 miles/59 km
  • How Long it Takes: 1 Hour

Stretching almost nine miles along the Pacific Coast, Huntington Beach is world-famous for its beaches that surfers flock to from all over the globe to catch a wave.

A short day trip from LA, the city is called “Surf City” because of its powerful qualities that continue to attract surfers to explore its waters and ride the waves.

However, though Huntington Beach is undoubtedly a hub for surfers, there are more attractive qualities to this California city that are worth exploring if you’re not a surfer! 

The sandy beaches here are beautiful, perfect for lazing back and soaking in the sun’s rays and the sounds of the waves as they crash against the shore. While exploring the city’s beaches, you can watch surfers paddle into the ocean before hopping on their board to ride a wave. 

There are numerous upscale resort hotel selections for the perfect day trip or weekend getaway to sink into the beachside luxury of the city.

Falling asleep to the sound of the waves lulling and crashing against the shore, waking up to the long stretch of ocean colored by the sunset, or ending the day to the vibrant sunrise, are breathtaking and rejuvenating aspects to take advantage of while in Huntington Beach! 

What Is There To See and Do?

Huntington Beach is full of fun outdoor activities to take part in, from strolling along the beach, swimming in the ocean, and visiting the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. 

The reserve is a protected coastal estuary home to over 200 avian species, making Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve popular for birdwatching and sightseeing through its freshwater marsh, coastal dunes, and seabird nesting islands.

Within the reserve is a four-mile public hiking trail network with scenic overlooks for opportunities to catch sight of the birds, plants, and other animals that call the reserve home. 

The Shipley Nature Center is another outdoor attraction to consider. It is a fenced nature preserve opened in 1974 to protect a native habitat of hundreds of avian species and eight habitats, including Torrey Pine, Coastal Sage Scrub, Redwood Grove, and Southern Oak Woodland.

The center welcomes walk-in visitors Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays to stroll its self-guided trails, learn more about the sanctuary’s inhabitants at the Interpretive Center, or buy native California plants for planting season!

Exploring more of the Golden State? Check out our guide to the best things to do in California!

The top things to do include:

  • Shipley Nature Center
  • Bella Terra
  • Huntington State Beach
  • Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Getting There and Away

The two cheapest ways to reach Huntington Beach from LA are driving a car or taking the bus from 5th Street and Hill to Orange-Main. Another bus route option is taking the bus from Los Angeles to Westminster and then transferring from Magnolia-Bolsa to Magnolia-Bedel. 

Taking a taxi is another option though it will be the most expensive of the transportation options. 

Best Time Of Year To Visit

The best time of year to visit Huntington Beach is in the fall. During this season, the crowds are less clogged, and the prices for lodging and travel are more affordable.

Therefore, visiting Huntington Beach in the fall months is recommended to avoid crowds and higher travel costs.

In the fall, Huntington Beach is splendid, with cooler summer temperatures still warming the air, so travelers can continue to relish the beachy vibes of this famous surf city.

Huntington Beach
Huntington Beach is a surfer’s paradise!

Palm Springs

  • Distance from Los Angeles: 107 miles/172 km
  • How Long it Takes: 1 Hour and 50 minutes

Filled with art, culture, and year-round sunny weather, Palm Springs is another popular day trip from LA.

With a bustling downtown and a backdrop of the San Bernardino Mountains, San Bernardino National Forest, and the San Jacinto Mountains, there is something here for everyone!

Palm Springs is a resort destination that attracts Hollywood stars and travelers from all over the world. Unique architecture, trendy shops, and top-notch cuisine are abundant downtown, and the surrounding nature adds a bit of serenity to the entertainment-filled city. There are also some world-class golf courses nearby!

Read next: 21 Best Things To Do In Palm Springs

What Is There To See and Do?

For those who want to explore nature and landscapes, there are some incredible hikes in the San Jacinto Mountains, including the breathtaking trek to the peak of Mount San Jacinto Peak via the Deep Springs Trail.

For adventures within the city, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is easily the top attraction. It’s the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world, and on the ride up you can admire the deep canyons and valleys below.

There are also lots of incredible museums, gardens, and eateries within Palm Springs. Start your trip in the visitor center if you need some guidance on where to begin!

Top things to do include:

  • Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
  • Palm Springs Art Museum
  • Coachella Valley Preserve
  • Moorten Botanical Gardens
  • Palm Springs Architecture and Design Center

Top trails to hike in the surrounding mountains:

  • Tahquitz Canyon Trail
  • Deer Springs Trail
  • Cactus to Clouds Trail
  • Andreas Canyon Trail

Getting There and Away

It’s a very straightforward journey from LA to Palm Springs. The bus travels between the two cities daily, with Flixbus being the most popular bus company. You can also drive if you have a car or want to rent one!

Best Time Of Year To Visit

As with most destinations in Southern California, the best time to visit Palm Springs is in the shoulder seasons of autumn or spring. You’ll find far fewer crowds and more pleasant temperatures at this time of year. Summer can get very hot and crowded!

Palm Springs
Palm Springs has mountains, desert, culture, entertainment, and more!

DISCLAIMER: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means if you book accommodation, tours or buy a product, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help us keep creating more free travel content to help people plan their holidays and adventures. We only recommend the best accommodations, tours and products that ourselves or our fantastic editorial team have personally experienced, and regularly review these. Thanks for your support, kind friend!

About the Author - Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award-winning writers and professional photographers behind this blog. We have been travelling the world together since 2008, with a passion for adventure travel and sustainable tourism. Through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. As one of the world's leading travel journalists, our content and adventures have been featured by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Yahoo!, BuzzFeed, Channel 7, Channel 10, ABC, The Guardian, and plenty other publications. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

Leave a comment