Six Best Day Trips From Los Angeles
1. Santa Barbara
1 hr 50 mins by car
Santa Barbara is a scenic and worthy vacation destination regardless of your starting point, but we’re fortunate enough to have relatively easy access (granted that the L.A. traffic gods are working in our favor).
Stearns Wharf is a go-to spot to see the Pacific, and nearby is State Street, filled with tons of shops and people-watching opportunities. And the Wharf isn’t the only place to see the water: Butterfly Beach, a relatively private spot, is situated next to the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel and faces west for ideal sunset-watching views.
2. San Juan Capistrano
1 hr 30 min by car, 1 hr 25 min by train
A piece of California history and a quaint old town make San Juan Capistrano an off-the-beaten-path day trip with a lot of charm and a little learning. If you take Amtrak there, the train will drop you off right where you want to be—just a couple of blocks from a good cup of coffee at Hidden House Coffee.
From there, you can tour Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776 and arguably one of the mission chain’s prettiest links. The mission used to be known as a migratory destination for swallows in February, but the famous birds have been spotty in recent years. If you have your heart set on getting up close with some animals, check out Zoomars (reservations recommended), a petting zoo for kids of all ages (read: adults love it, too). It’s a historic ranch where you can also pan for gold like the California miners did. You’re also near Los Rios Historic District, which has some historic homes and museums that are perfect for a walking tour.
1 hr 20 mins by car Ojai is a not-so-hidden gem close enough to L.A. for a day trip, but with a unique, relaxed feel that’s worlds away from busy city life. Start early with a decadent, hearty breakfast at Bonnie Lu’s, then stroll the town’s quaint main street; the antique shopping is great here, but relatively newer shops like Summer Camp are also worth a stop.
Tour an olive farm or a citrus grove, then grab an organic lunch at Farmer & the Cook. Alternatively, grab a a bite to go and explore the nearby trails in Los Padres National Forest, just north of town. If the weather is right, swimming holes abound along the Sespe Creek.
1 hr 30 mins by car
When hoofing it to Napa and Sonoma isn’t an option, Temecula is your next best destination for a day of wine tasting. Before sampling the grapes, stop by quaint Old Town Temecula, where you can pay a visit to the Temecula Valley Museum for a historical walking tour. Then it’s down to business; the heart of Temecula’s Wine Country includes more than 30 wineries, which you can bounce between at your own leisure (don’t drink and drive, folks!) or take a guided tour from one of the many wine tour companies in the area. Taste your way through the 70-acre Wilson Creek Winery and the red-focused Monte De Oro Winery before heading to Maurice Car’rie Winery for an educated tasting and a loaf of the vineyard’s famous sourdough bread, oozing with brie.
5. Laguna Beach
1 hr by car Forget what you know from a certain unfortunate MTV reality show: Laguna Beach is an easygoing oceanfront city graced with lush vegetation, tidepools and a picturesque rocky coastline. Main Beach is the spot of choice for downtown sunbathing, but you’ll find pristine, less crowded beaches at tide pool-filled Treasure Island, camper-friendly Crystal Cove or hidden Victoria Beach with its weathered, castle-like turret. Walk the city’s downtown area to find a mix of shops, galleries and restaurants; many eateries cater to the well heeled, so we suggest bringing a picnic lunch to enjoy on a bench at the hilltop Heisler Park. Do, however, follow the smell of fresh waffle cones onto the enchanting Peppertree Lane for a scoop from Gelato Paradiso.
6. Joshua Tree
2 hrs 15 mins by car You’ll find Joshua Tree National Park on our shortlist for perfect day trips, roadtrips, and weekend getaways from L.A. And for good reason: the magical desert spot—with its gnarled, ancient namesake trees, picturesque cacti and giant boulders—should be on every traveler’s bucket list.
Watch rock climbers scale mini-mountains at Hidden Valley campground (first-come, first-served) or try some scrambling yourself at Jumbo Rocks. If you visit in spring, head south to Pinto Basin to see colorful wildflowers in bloom.