The Best Day Trips From Los Angeles

Spend a day celebrity spotting on the golden sand beaches of Malibu
Spend a day celebrity spotting on the golden sand beaches of Malibu | © incamerastock / Alamy Stock Photo
Few cities in America offer as many opportunities for a day away as Los Angeles. Its proximity to beautiful stretches of California coastline and the abundance of nearby picturesque towns make it easy to spend a day enjoying soothing scenery and a slower pace of life. We round up our pick of the best day trips from Los Angeles.

Catalina Island

This island getaway has all the airs and graces of the Mediterranean, while being just a short ferry ride from LA. The main town of Avalon, dotted with Spanish colonial-style buildings in candy colors, is worth exploring. However, 88 percent of the island is a dedicated nature preserve that, while requiring an easily obtainable permit to enter, shouldn’t be missed. Keep an eye out for the island’s bison population – they were brought here in 1924 for a movie and never left.

ToursCatalina Food and Walking Tour
From €93 per person
3 hours
4.7 (10)

Catalina is known for its great restaurants and delicious seafood, so this tour is a great way to see the island and get a feel for its history while tucking into some sublimely delicious nibbles. Led by a local guide, you’ll travel along the waterfront, learning about the distinctive Spanish colonial-style architecture as you go, including the famous Catalina Casino building. Stopping at six local hotspots, you’ll delve into the island’s thriving culinary scene as you sample fresh seafood, sweets and other traditional Catalina foods.

Santa Barbara

An affluent area of California that’s often referred to as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is a sleepy seaside town with a shiny finish. Bordered by the Santa Ynez Mountains on one side, and the Pacific Ocean on the other, with quiet leafy streets in between, Santa Barbara is the perfect antidote to busy city life.

ToursSanta Barbara Harbor Kayak Tour
From €51 per person
1 hour 15 minutes
5 (1)

Designed with active travelers in mind, this kayak tour allows you to escape the crowds on land and get the best views of Santa Barbara Harbor from the water. This eco-friendly vessel, without the noise disturbance of a motor, increases your chances of spotting the dolphins and sea lions that frequent the waters. Your guide will stay close to ensure you’re happy and comfortable, filling you in on the history and cultural influence of the town as you paddle through the sparkling ocean.

Orange County

There are many reasons why this region was chosen as the home of the early 2000s cult-classic TV series The O.C.. With 42 miles (68 kilometers) of idyllic coastline, renowned surf breaks and million-dollar mansions lining the cliffs, this is a paradisiacal corner of California. Best of all, it’s just over a one-hour drive from LA, putting it within perfect day-tripping distance of the city.

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ToursNewport Beach Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruise
From €29 per person
2 hours
4.3 (10)

Keep an eye out for Whales and Dolphins as you cruise the Newport Beach coastline on this double-decker catamaran. A diverse array of marine wildlife thrives in the protected area just outside Newport Bay, and you’ll have the chance to see humpbacks, gray whales, finback whales, blue whales, seals and several species of dolphins. The tour has a 96 percent success rate of spotting whales or dolphins, so your chances of seeing some yourself are pretty high, making this a great way to experience California’s wildlife in a gorgeous natural environment.

Malibu

Loved for its celebrity spotting and miles of golden sand beaches, Malibu is a firm day trip favorite with LA locals. From lunch at the infamous seafront Japanese spot Nobu, to hiking through the hills and canyons that rise high above the ocean, there is something for every visitor. Whether you want to spend your day wining and dining or stretching your legs, Malibu will deliver.

ToursMalibu Wine Hike
From €42 per person
2 to 3 hours
5 (1)

Combine wine tasting with exotic wildlife on this unique hiking tour of a ranch and vineyard in the Malibu hills. Oenophiles and animal lovers alike will treasure this safari-like experience which offers exercise and wine tasting all in one go, on a ranch that is home to giraffes, zebras and more. Your guide will talk you through the history of the property and the winemaking, alongside the significance of the animals on the ranch and provide you with an overview of winemaking in the area in general. A picnic along the way will keep you fueled and ready to sample the local delights in front of brilliant views.

Carlsbad

Home to LEGOLAND California and miles of beautiful coastline, this quaint coastal town packs a punch. Reminiscent of the fictional town of Seahaven Island in the 1998 film The Truman Show, the streets are lined with clapboard houses in pastel shades. Known as the “Village by the Sea” this is a peaceful seaside getaway if you’re after a taste of the laid-back beach life.

ToursHistorical Walking Tours of Carlsbad Village
From €25 per person
1 hour 30 minutes
5 (1)

Find out what sets this community apart from other beach towns on this walking tour, during which your guide will regale you with historical tales. Take in Carlsbad and Encinitas sights such as Magee Park, the Daley Double Saloon, and the Albert Cohn estate, all while learning about the city’s rich history and the modern shops, restaurants and bars that are must-visits while you’re in town. It’s a great way to get the lay of the land, and with the tour running for just an hour and a half, you’ll have ample time leftover to try out your guide’s local suggestions.