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BEST DAY TRIPS FROM LOS ANGELES - Love & Loathing Los Angeles
News Source/Courtesy: loveandloathingla.com

LA might be 500 sq miles of vast landscapes and endless amounts of activities, but even resident Angelenos need days to get the heck outta town and switch up the scenery. Fortunately, there is no shortage of super fun and easy day trips to take outside of Los Angeles. Whether you’re looking for something relaxing, something adventurous, something for the kids, or something romantic, you’re in luck because California kinda has it all. Buckle up babes, we’re goin’ on a road trip – here are a few of my personal favorite day trips to take and the best ways to experience each dreamy destination:

NOTE: as you can imagine, things change almost every day while we continue to work our way through these uncertain times. I am not here to encourage you to travel if you don’t feel comfortable or safe, while many destinations are “open” the ultimate decision on protecting your safety relies solely on you. Much of the content in this post is meant to inspire future travels, but if you plan on experiencing any type of travel please be aware that some activities/places might not be open during this time. Make sure to check-in directly when it comes to any experience you’d like to take part in, and please do what you need to do to keep yourself and others safe!

BEST DAY TRIPS FROM LOS ANGELES

1-2 HOUR DRIVES

best day trips from los angeles

LAGUNA BEACH

Laguna is exactly what you’d hope “the OC” would look and feel like. When I was going to college in Orange, Laguna was my go-to destination if I was in need of some salt air and a little escape from reality. Whether you’re 20 minutes, an hour, or from far far away, Laguna always feels like the perfect quintessentially Southern Califonia treat.

Good For: choosing your own adventure / kids & families / romance / relaxation / art
  • Helllooooo heart of OC! Arguably my personal favorite beach in Orange County to boot. So obviously – go to the beach
  • Laguna is an artsy town – stop into some art galleries or be on the lookout for one of their many art shows and festivals
  • rent an electric bike and cruise along the beach and through town
  • Go for a whale-watching cruise
  • visit the Pacific Marine Mammal Center to learn more about the wildlife they rehabilitate
  • Do some serious shopping and meandering in the downtown area – Thalia Surf, Vertigo Home, Pearl St General, Sourced, and so many more
  • Visit Crystal Cove for hiking, biking, fishing, surfing and more
  • Have some of the best tacos in SoCal at Taco Loco
  • Dine al fresco on the waterfront at Driftwood Kitchen, The Deck, or at the historic Las Brisas restaurant (a favorite of mine), open since 1938
  • If you’d like to stay the night, consider The Ranch at Laguna Beach ($$$), La Casa Del Camino ($$), or the Montage Laguna Beach ($$$)

best day trips from los angeles

OJAI

Ojai is no doubt a little odd, a little granola, and a little funky but there is simply no denying the mystical and magnetic effect this town has on visitors. You enter Ojai and it’s like taking a long deep exhale, the energy here in just something you have to experience to understand. Much of this town is centered around wellness, but there’s plenty to keep every personality occupied – even the hippie haters.

Good for: wellness / adventure / romance / relaxation / girls trip
  • drop in at Beacon Coffee for a caffeine kick
  • do some light walking and shopping in the downtown Ojai area at Fig Curated Living, Cattywampus Crafts, Modern Folk, The Lennon Chest, or In the Field
  • snag lunch al fresco at The Nest – don’t skip the brownie
  • have a whole spa day at the Ojai Valley Inn
  • take in a deep and relaxing inhale at the Ojai Lavender Farms
  • or if you need some adventure, visit Los Padres National Forest or take your bike for a ride on the Ojai Bike Trail (it goes to the ocean! but heads up, the ride back is uphill)
  • visit the coolest bookstore in existence: Barts Books (all outside!)
  • wine and snacks in the cutest outdoor space at Tipple & Ramble, and/or a lovely dinner at Ojai Harvest Moon
  • If you’re planning on staying, be sure to consider: Ojai Valley Inn (pretty big resort, one of my favorites on earth, $$$), The Lavender Inn (B&B, $$), Caravan Outpost (airstream trailers, $$), Ojai Rancho Inn (hip little lodge, $$)

READ MORE: GETAWAY GUIDE TO OJAI

best day trips from los angeles

SANTA BARBARA

I always say that if I could live anywhere in California, besides Los Angeles, it would be Santa Barbara. It has this vivacious yet slow beach town juxtaposition that I have always been drawn to. It’s funky but chic, eclectic yet sophisticated, and always a good time.

Good For: foodies / wine / relaxation / kids & families / beach vibes
  • Santa Barbara is crazy easy to get to by train if you’d prefer another method of transportation (especially if you’re planning on having wine!)
  • take the Santa Barbara Scenic Drive
  • grab coffee at Dune or Handlebar
  • take a leisurely walk and peruse the shops along State Street
  • visit the Santa Barabara Zoo – it’s small but mighty and one of my favs
  • visit Sterns Warf, maybe even rent a bike nearby and go for a ride!
  • try to make a reservation to visit Lotusland – a private and stunning botanical garden
  • visit the Santa Barbara Mission for a little history lesson
  • wine tasting in the Funk Zone – Kunin, Melville, The Valley Project, Margerum, and Potek are a few of my favorites (check out the Urban Wine Trail)
  • For a fancy lunch or dinner, visit Tydes at the Four Seasons Biltmore – beachfront, absurdly beautiful, fishtank bar (true story)
  • For the best seafood in town visit Brophy Brothers on the Marina (my favorite restaurant in California, period)
  • Other good spots for foodies: The Lark, Lucky Penny, Barbareño, Jane, and La Super Rica Taqueria
  • In Santa Barbara, you can kinda do it all: water sports, sailing, fishing, whale watching, biking, hiking, kayaking, horseback riding – you name it
  • If you’re planning on staying, consider: Four Seasons Biltmore ($$$), Belmond El Encanto ($$$), The Canary ($$), Hotel Californian ($$)

READ MORE: GETAWAY GUIDE TO SANTA BARBARA

best day trips from los angeles

CATALINA

I visited Catalina for the first time last year and then proceeded to visit 4 more times within 6 months thereafter. If that’s not a testament to what a joy visiting Catalina is, then I don’t know what is. Even though Catalina is about an hour boat ride from the port of Long Beach, once you step off that boat it’s like you’ve entered another world, even though funny enough – Catalina is actually technically in Los Angeles County! But fear not, it feels nothing like Los Angeles, quite the opposite in fact as you’re almost forced to “disconnect” and embrace island life – fortunately, it’s easy to do here.

Good for:  adventure / big groups / relaxation / kids & families

READ MORE: GETAWAY GUIDE TO CATALINA ISLAND

best day trips from los angeles

NEWPORT BEACH / BALBOA ISLAND

Newport is one of the wealthiest cities in Orange County and it shows, but that doesn’t mean its lacking charm – can’t really beat the shopping, the restaurants, the beaches, or the pretend house hunting. There’s a lot going on in this big little beach town and plenty to keep you entertained for a whole day – or a few!

Balboa is a manmade Island in Newport that is the epitome of a good old fashioned American summer. On Balboa time slows down, the sun shines, and all you have to worry about is deciding where to get your frozen banana for the day.

Good for: beach vibes / kids & families / shopping / relaxation

best day trips from los angeles

PALM SPRINGS

If you live in LA, you’ve been to Palm Springs. There’s just no way around it. It’s LA’s happy place, where we go to relax, treat ourselves. And revive our spirits while mostly baking in the sun. You can day trip to Palm Springs easily but it’s highly recommended that you at least stay for a night so you can enjoy one of the best things about visiting Palm Springs – swimming in your hotel pool.

Good for: relaxing / romantic getaway / girls trip / foodies / wellness

READ MORE: GETAWAY GUIDE TO PALM SPRINGS

best day trips from los angeles

JOSHUA TREE

Joshua Tree is the magical and hip new place to escape from city life and experience a little desert peace under the stars. Much of Joshua Tree is made up of private homes to rent. But it’s definitely a destination for a day of outdoor adventures and exploring as well. Pack some hard booch, a camera, some hiking boots, and let’s hit the road.

Good for: adventure / outdoor activities / desert life / wellness / relaxation / girls or friends trip

2-3 HOUR DRIVES

best day trips from los angeles

BIG BEAR

Big Bear is California mountain territory known for its ski hills and splendid “pow”. So clearly Big Bear is much more of a Winter destination than a summer destination. But where there’s a lake, there are water sports and people hangin’ dockside. Regardless of the time of year Big Bear is a great place to escape for some beautiful mountainous scenery and a little fresh air.

Good For: adventure / snow sports / water sports / hiking / camping / kids & families

best day trips from los angeles

LAKE ARROWHEAD

Much like Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead has been a favorite mountainous getaway for Southern Californians for years. It’s a bit smaller than Big Bear (and used to actually be called Little Bear Lake). But has the same type of vibe: snowy in the winter, sunny in the summer. Perfect for enjoying the lake. It’s great for families and spending some time in that beautiful alpine atmosphere. Note that Lake Arrowhead is a private lake. So if you have a boat (etc), you won’t be able to bring it on the lake. You’ll have to rent or make friends.

Good for: lake/water activities / adventure / relaxing / kids & family

best day trips from los angeles

CARLSBAD / OCEANSIDE

In my opinion, beach life doesn’t get any better than in Carlsbad/Oceanside. It’s “chill”, nice but not stuffy, absolutely beautiful. Not overcrowded, and the people who live here are awesome. If I had to pick a beach town in California to move to one of these would definitely be it!

Good For: beach vibes / craft brews / relaxation / kids & families

best day trips from los angeles

SOLVANG

Solvang is a “little slice of Denmark in Southern California” and while the latter is arguable (it’s more Central Coast IMO) the former is dead on. And it’s one of those places you have to see to believe. This place is quite literally like entering another country, and while it seems a bit goofy from first glance, Solvang might actually be the quaintest and cutest town in California. It’s also buzzing with new development as it has become quite popular amongst day-trippers in the last few years. So there is going to be a lot of new things to experience if you haven’t been in a while (like myself!)

Good for: foodies / wine lovers / leisure / kids and families / Scandinavian culture fanatics

[FOR MORE: “THE GETAWAY GUIDE TO: SOLVANG“]

LOS ALAMOS

LOS ALAMOS

It’s funky, it’s charming, it’s seriously up and coming… it’s Los Alamos! Slowly but surely this cute little old Western looking town is becoming a total foodie haven and a favorite destination amongst Angelenos – it’s not fondly referred to as “little LA” for nothing. Every time I swing through Los Alamos – usually on my way to SLO – there is something fun and new to discover, eat, drink, and experience. If you’re looking for the truly “off the beaten road” day trip (and you love food and beer/wine) Los Alamos is a must. (It’s about 20 minutes from Solvang too, you could easily hit both!)

Good for: foodies / wine lovers / leisure / Sideways lovers / girls trip

[FOR MORE: “THE GETAWAY GUIDE TO: LOS ALAMOS“]

3-5 HOURS

SAN LUIS OBISPO

SAN LUIS OBISPO

San Luis Obispo – or “SLO” as it’s more commonly referred to as – has always been one of my absolute favorite local getaways. SLO is one of those city’s that has a way of making a relatively big town feel so small, sweet, and quaint. Lett’s just say SLO runs at a slower pace – no pun intended. If you could use a little escape from reality with no major fancy fluffs and frills – fantastic wine, amazing food, outdoor activities, and friendly folks included – take that trip up the Historic Highway 1 and make a stop in San Luis Obispo.

Good for: wine lovers / history / adventure / leisure / kids & families

READ MORE: GETAWAY GUIDE TO SAN LUIS OBISPO

PASO ROBLES

PASO ROBLES

Located about 30 minutes north of San Luis Obispo you’ll find the premiere central coast wine locale: Paso Robles. You’re pretty much coming here to do one thing and that is to taste wine, so if you’re not big into the wine scene, I’d just do something fun and easy like San Luis Obispo. But for my fellow wine drinkers… here’s the 411.

Good for: wine / relaxation / romance

MORRO BAY / CAYUCOS / CAMBRIA

MORRO BAY / CAYUCOS / CAMBRIA

These three gorgeous beach towns are listed together because you could easily visit them all in one day. Cambria is the more quaint, cozy, “wealthier” beach town. Morro Bay is a bit more laid back, rustic, and Cayucos is just a fun and funky little beach town. So, why visit one when you can visit all three? Take your road trip to the next level and check out these beloved Central Coast beach towns!

Good for: (chill and chilly) rustic beach vibes / couples / adventure / kids and families
  • start south in Morro Bay right off Hwy 1, and first and foremost, check out that giant rock! (don’t forget a jacket it’s usually foggy)
  • grab breakfast at Shine Cafe
  • check out the local wildlife – there’s a good chance you’ll see some sea lions, otters, harbor seals, and fun birds
  • take a walk along the Embarcadero – be sure to drop in the Shell Shop, the Morro Bay Maritime Museum, and Carousel for saltwater taffy
  • eat some seafood at Dutchman’s Seafood or Tognazzini’s Dockside
  • head north to the quirky ultra chill beach town, Cayucos
  • in Cayucos, you surf. Or watch other folks surf – you can rent gear and other beach stuff from Good Clean Fun
  • take yourself on a self-guided tour of the local murals
  • head to the pier, snap a pic for the ‘gram
  • do some antique shopping – there’s a lot of beachy type gems to be found here – be sure to drop into Remember When
  • Get the real “authentic Cayucos experience” at Schooners or Old Cayucos Tavern & Card Room
  • have a nice meal at The Grill at Cass House
  • head 20 miles north to Cambria
  • go for a ride on a Clydesdale horse at Covell Ranch (how is this a thing! I am DYING to do this!)
  • visit the adorable and cozy downtown area of Cambria
  • go for a walk along Moonstone beach
  • go see the Elephant Seal Rookery at Piedras Blancas (just up the road from Cambria)
  • if you’re visiting Cambria, you can’t miss taking a tour of the famed Hearst Castle (currently closed, check back for updates)
  • treat yourself to a slice of Olallieberry Pie from Linn’s of Cambria
  • have a nice meal at Robin’s, Sea Chest Restaurant & Oyster Bar, or Madeline’s
  • if you’re planning on staying the night in the area, consider: Cambria Beach Lodge ($$), Fogcatcher Inn ($$), or rent an awesome spot on VRBO

BIG SUR

BIG SUR

Arguably one of California’s most beautiful and scenic places, Big Sur has got to be on every Californian’s bucket list. Big Sur is a bit of a hike from LA but that doesn’t mean it’s not doable. Bring your jackets, your camera, your maps. And a full tank of gas because we’re goin’ off the grid!

Good for: adventure / photography / exploring / romantic getaway

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK

I am not much of an outdoorsy girl but visiting the Sequoia National Park had me questioning everything I thought I knew about myself. This has to be one of the most incredible places on earth to see and experience. And it’s only 3-4 hours away from Los Angeles in the southern Sierra Nevada east of the San Joaquin Valley.

Good for: adventure / camping / hiking / photography
  • stretch your legs and go for a hike! The Sequoia National Park has a hike for all levels, and fortunately, all of them involve getting to see the natural monsters that are the Sequoia trees
  • another option and area for exploring would be Kings Canyon National Park
  •  make sure to pay a visit to the largest tree in the WORLD, General Sherman
  • head over to the mountain next door to find Mineral King Valley for some more hiking options (a bit less busy, more rustic)
  • setup a tent and do some camping at Atwell Mill (right before Silver City) or at Cold Springs (higher up, a little more remote) – neither are open at the moment, check back for updates
  • if you’re backpacking overnight in Sequoia National Forest, Kings Canyon, or Mineral King you need a permit
  • if you’d rather have some proper lodging (ME), definitely check out staying at Silver City Mountain Resort. (cute, rustic little cabins $$)
  • if you’re in Mineral King Valley be sure to at least drop by Silver City Mountain Resort for a meal and a slice of pie. Everything they make is to die for.

READ MORE: QUICK-TRIP GUIDE TO THE SEQUOIA NATIONAL FOREST

SAN DIEGO

SAN DIEGO

When it comes to San Diego there is a lot of ground to cover. We’ve already discussed exploring North San Diego County. Now we’ll drive a little farther south and explore San Diego proper. San Diego has something for everyone. Beaches, beers, shopping, dining, adventure, wild animals – you name it.

Good for: everything and everyone.

READ MORE: HOW TO PLAN THE PERFECT SOCAL ROAD TRIP

HEADING MORE NORTH?

Check out my GETAWAY GUIDE TO: NAPA VALLEY

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