9 Day Trips From Los Angeles

Sequoia National Park is home to some of the largest trees in the world
Sequoia National Park is home to some of the largest trees in the world | © Thomas Wagner / Getty Images
While there are a million things to do in Los Angeles, some of the best attractions can be found on day trips outside the city. Here are Culture Trip’s favorites.

Los Angeles has more than enough sights, sounds and smells to handle on any vacation. However, if you really want to understand everything Southern California has to offer, you should think about getting away from the city, as the mountains, beaches, forests and deserts beckon with one-of-a-kind experiences. Here are the best day trips to take from Los Angeles – whether you want to hike, swim or get an adrenaline rush.

San Diego

Natural Feature, Zoo, Historical Landmark
Butterfly Jungle at the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park.
© Howard Lipin / Alamy Stock Photo
About 90 miles (145 kilometers) south of Los Angeles, San Diego is the sleepy sister to the fast-paced City of Angels, but that doesn’t make it any less appealing. A day trip to San Diego can feature amusement park rides, safari excursions (San Diego Safari Park), history (San Diego’s Old Town) and stunning seaside scenery (La Jolla, Oceanside, Solana Beach, etc). And while you’re moseying along, make it a point of sampling the city’s cuisine. Officine Buona Forchetta for Neapolitan pizza, Lolita’s Mexican Food for the classic California burrito, or Tacos El Gordo for tacos are good places to start.
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Catalina Island

Historical Landmark
Avalon Catalina Island California
© Niebrugge Images / Alamy Stock Photo
There’s an hour-long ferry that takes you to Catalina Island from Long Beach (which can take an hour to get to from LA – plan accordingly), and once there, you’ll find a kitschy and historic slice of California life. Tour Avalon, which is the only incorporated city on the island, and stop at the Catalina Casino and scenic overlooks. There are also classic zip lines, glass-bottom kayaking excursions, bison expeditions and great snorkeling opportunities. If you make it to the Hotel Atwater (built in 1920), you can create your own picnic basket from its bistro and post up at the beach.
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Palm Springs

Natural Feature, Shop, Historical Landmark
Palm trees and modern house in Palm Springs, California
© Jon Bilous / Alamy Stock Photo
If you’re going to do Palm Springs in a day, know that it’ll be a long one, as it can take between two and three hours to drive there. However, this 12-hour trip is worth all the effort, as you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of everything Palm Springs has to offer. This adventure includes a ride on the aerial tram over the desert and city, a look at celebrity homes, a narrated tour through town and a shopping excursion to the city’s famed outlets.
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Santa Barbara/Solvang/Hearst Castle

Historical Landmark
The Roman Pools at Hearst Castle.
© Rob Hammer / Alamy Stock Photo

Traveling to Santa Barbara, Solvang and the Hearst Castle can all be day trips in themselves, but this 12-hour tour packs them all in perfectly. First, you’ll dash up to Santa Barbara for a tour of a historic Spanish mission and views of the Pacific. Next, you’ll reach the quaint, authentic Danish town of Solvang, which is known for its windmills as well as its wine (there are dozens of local tasting rooms). Finally, you’ll stop at Hearst Castle for a tour of the opulent estate – it includes several properties – that boasts 58 bedrooms, 41 fireplaces, 60 bathrooms and a pool laced in gold.

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Whale-Watching Day Cruise in Santa Monica

Natural Feature
Whale watching California
© Ronnie Chua / Alamy Stock Photo

There is so much marine life off the California coast that it can be hard to know where to look. If you want to find whales, sharks, dolphins and sea lions, you should think about an excursion off the Palos Verdes Peninsula. For approximately 2.5 hours, you’ll ride on a 45-person boat (a variety of drinks and bites included) that cruises through the marine wild with humpbacks, sperm whales and loads of other giants of the sea.

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Joshua Tree National Park

If you want to get more adventurous in a Palm Springs excursion, you might want to consider this day-trip to Joshua Tree National Park. It may only be a two-hour drive outside LA, but the sights of this park will make you feel like you’ve driven to a different planet. Famed for its one-of-a-kind cacti, abundant wildlife and epic hikes with endless vistas, Joshua Tree should be at the top of any nature lover’s bucket list – especially since it’s so close to Los Angeles.
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Sequoia National Park

Forest, Park
Sequoia National Park
© Tomasz Zajda / Getty Images
As it’s 200 miles (322 kilometers) away from Los Angeles, driving to Sequoia National Park takes a little planning ahead, but it’s worth it. The sequoia trees are the largest on Earth, with the biggest, General Sherman, towering 275 feet (84 meters)! A full-day tour of the park will give you five hours to hug massive trees, hike around the hills and get perfect pics for your Instagram feed. Your lungs will thank you as breathe in some of the freshest air on the planet.
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Big Bear

Forest, Hiking Trail, Ski Resort
Skiing at Big Bear Lake, Nevada,
© Charlie Neuman / Alamy Stock Photo
With hiking, jet-skiing and sunbathing in the summer and snowshoeing and skiing in the winter, Big Bear is an outdoor person’s paradise that’s only 100 miles (161 kilometers) outside LA. Tours around Big Bear also include guided hikes, adrenaline-pumping zip lines, an off-road Jeep experience and so much more. For a couple of local food favorites, hit up Grizzly Manor Cafe for greasy diner food or Big Bear Mountain Brewery for brews and burgers.
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Six Flags Magic Mountain

Amusement Park, Park
If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush on your LA vacation, the search begins and ends at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Though it’s not technically in LA, the hour-long drive to Santa Clarita is worth the wait as you’ll be welcomed by 262 acres (106 hectares) of nearly two dozen rip-roaring rollercoasters. For the more squeamish thrillseekers, there are less heart-pumping, family-friendly rides, but the point of coming here is to feel your stomach drop on insane coasters appropriately named Apocalypse, CraZanity, Dive Devil and Scream.
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These recommendations were updated on February 4, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.