Weird and Wild Day Trips from LA

Stay at the Madonna Inn for a psychedelic motel experience
Stay at the Madonna Inn for a psychedelic motel experience | Courtesy of Madonna Inn / Expedia
Photo of Benjamin Kempton
Travel Writer23 April 2021

There’s more to LA than Disneyland and Universal Studios. In fact, things can get pretty weird. Kangaroo burger, anyone? Or how about a trip to the Museum of Death? Whatever your poison, these wild day trips in California‘s biggest metropolis are sure to break the mold.

The Museum of Death

Cemetery, Museum
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LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 24, 2017: Museum of Death. Established in 1995 by J. D. Healy and Catherine Shultz, the museum displays a wide variety of art a. Image shot 11/2017. Exact date unknown.
© Steve Cukrov / Alamy
LA is renowned for showbiz vibrancy; the Museum of Death is the exact opposite. Inside this former art gallery on Hollywood Boulevard is a homage to all things morbid. It promises Manson Family memorabilia and morticians’ instruments, but what you’ll find upon arrival is, somehow, even more ghastly: the head of serial killer Henri Désiré Landru in a glass case. There’s also a shrine to the Heaven’s Gate cult, plus photos of Benito Mussolini post-execution. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart.

Old Los Angeles Zoo

Hiking Trail, Park, Zoo
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Los Angeles, California/USA - April 8, 2018 Griffith Park hiking trail. The area is famous for its Hollywood sign, Griffith Observatory, and spectacul
© Hanna Tor / Alamy
Jump into a bear pit (without the grizzly) at the abandoned zoo. The remnants of the Old LA Zoo are now an intriguing spot to park up for a picnic, or get inside the cage of a tiger. To get there, enjoy a hike through Griffith Park, with views of the Santa Monica mountains. The actual Los Angeles Zoo, the Autry Museum of the American West, the Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood Sign are also in the park, so you can make a full day of it.

Annie’s Canyon Trail

Hiking Trail, Natural Feature
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Hiking Annie's Canyon Trail with Hidden San Diego founder Jessica Johnson an her dog Sage in Solana Beach. (Photo by Eduardo Contreras/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS/Sipa USA)
© Sipa US / Alamy
For one of the wildest hikes in the state, tackle Annie’s Canyon Trail. This 2mi (3.5km) trek near Solana Beach will provide panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and the San Elijo Lagoon. Try not to think of 127 Hours (2010) as you squeeze through a tight sandstone canyon. The narrowness may be claustrophobic, but the smooth, natural eroded rock makes for incredible photography. And it’ll be well worth holding your breath to slip through the corridors when you see the views at the end.

Crazee Burger

Restaurant, American, $$$
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Would you like fries with your ostrich burger? Yes, you read that right. At Crazee Burger in San Diego (a two-hour jaunt from the City of Angels), you can have the most exotic burger you’ve ever tried. There’s gator, elk, boar, duck, buffalo and even camel on the menu . Sure, you can play it safe with your standard beef, chicken or veggie options, but why not live a little?

Whaley House

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Whaley House Museum, Old Town, San Diego, California, USA
© Richard Cummins / Alamy
The most haunted house in San Diego, Whaley House is so synonymous with ghosts and ghouls that they made a horror film about it in 2012. The land was where thief Yankee Jim Robinson was hanged – a fact that clearly didn’t daunt Thomas Whaley when he built on it in 1855. Thomas, wife Anna and four of their children later died there as well. Since opening to the public, visitors have claimed to hear tiny footsteps and see 19th-century specters on the landing. Ghost hunters, this is your place.

Madonna Inn

4.5/5 (1435 Reviews)
Madonna Inn_76fc32e5
Madonna Inn | Courtesy of Madonna Inn / Expedia
One thing’s for certain: you’ve never stayed anywhere like the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. This motel feels like stepping into a psychedelic trip, with bright luminous walls and carpets, quirky furniture and even a room in a cave. There’s also s a restaurant, bakery and spa – which you might need to visit for respite from the color overload. The food is just as wild as the surroundings: think pink three-tier cakes and turkey sliders. It’s so kitsch and out-there that even Hunter S. Thompson would be impressed.
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East Jesus

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Los Angeles, California, USA. 29th Apr, 2016. East Jesus in Slab City, California in April 2016. © Ringo Chiu/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News
© ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy
No, it’s not a religious place of worship, but a hippie haven – an eco-themed art exhibition in the east California desert, with sculptures made from waste. Right on, man. It’s a space for creatives to come year-round, stay for one night to one month, and make the wackiest of art. The result is a kaleidoscope of different scraps of metal and disused television sets turned into social commentary. If this is your thing, Salvation Mountain – a colorful hillside mural – is just down the road too.

Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain

Amusement Park, Park, Natural Feature
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You want to get wild? How about zooming down Magic Mountain on a bobsled? This adrenaline-filled activity in Big Bear Lake provides wagons of fun all-year round. Begin with a scenic chairlift ride to the top, then hop on a sled (well, more of a plastic tray on wheels) and navigate down two quarter-mile-long cement tracks filled with high-banked turns and long straights. The only thing stopping you from catapulting off the edge is the brake lever in between your legs. Use it wisely.

Medieval Times

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BUENA PARK, California (Sept. 1, 2016) Sailors and Marines enjoy a meal while watching  a show at Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament, during L.A. Fleet Week 2016. Fleet week offers the public an opportunity to tour ships, meet Sailors, Marines, and memb
© AB Forces News Collection / Alamy
Hear ye, hear ye! All the princes and princesses are welcomed to dine at this medieval-themed banquet with Middle Age entertainment on display. There will be jousting, horse shows and acrobatic moves, all while tucking into a four-course dinner the old-fashioned way – with your hands. Prepare for spirited competitions, loads of singing and all the fun of the theater.

Matt Mills contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on April 23, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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