Los Angeles is one of the top destinations in the U.S. for sightseeing and adventure. In addition to its Hollywood attractions and year-round sunny weather, Los Angeles is also close to many of Southern California’s most exciting cities, such as San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara. Within a few hours of the city limits, you can find yourself relaxing on pristine beaches, exploring majestic peaks, or rejuvenating in mineral springs. You may even find yourself planning a weekend getaway to these destinations to enjoy all they have to offer.
1. Pop culture excursion in Hollywood
Hollywood is a must-see destination for anyone interested in entertainment and culture, and best of all, it’s a perfect short day trip from Los Angeles. In under a half hour, you can explore world-famous attractions surrounding Hollywood Boulevard, such as Grauman’s Chinese Theater and Madame Tussauds wax museum.
You could also visit Sunset Boulevard—the iconic Sunset Strip, with restaurants, clubs, and Hollywood nightspots—and Melrose Avenue, a premier shopping destination with high-end boutiques. Other musts for your excursion to Hollywood include tours at Universal Studios, concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, and taking in the views of the city and famed Hollywood Sign at the Griffith Park Observatory.
2. Romantic retreat in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara is quintessential Southern California, offering picturesque beaches, communities with Mission architecture, and high-end shopping and dining. Sunbathing and swimming at the beach and shopping at State Street are the most popular options for day trips to Santa Barbara.
While Santa Barbara is close enough for a day trip from Los Angeles, you may find that you want to spend a weekend or a 3- or 4-day trip to take it all in. The beach towns of Ventura, Oxnard, and Carpinteria are near Santa Barbara, all of which share the same coastal charm and laid-back atmosphere. Adventurous types will also enjoy some time at the Channel Islands National Park, an island chain off the coast with kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking in a natural landscape virtually untouched by humans.
3. Skiing at Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake is one of California’s premier destinations for adventure trips for outdoor enthusiasts. Though its mountains, forests, lakes, and waterways are suitable for many outdoor activities, Big Bear is known for its world-class ski resorts and alpine amenities for all skill levels. In addition to winter sports, Big Bear also has chic boutiques, rustic restaurants, and a range of accommodation options.
In warm weather, Big Bear is a natural playground for water sports, hiking, off-roading, zip lining, and an array of other outdoor adventures for the whole family. Most of the trails are open to horseback riding and many are dog-friendly, so Big Bear is a great destination for pet lovers. You can take a day trip from Los Angeles to Big Bear to enjoy the hiking, skiing, or water sports, or take a weekend getaway to get the full alpine experience.
4. Golden Age glamour in Palm Springs
Once the hidden retreat for Hollywood starlets, Palm Springs remains one of the most popular getaway destinations from Los Angeles. This vibrant desert environment has a range of activities for all interests, such as hiking or off-roading in the wilds, shopping in high-end boutiques, golfing on immaculate courses, and taking in artwork at prominent art galleries.
Many visitors enjoy relaxing in the hot sun by the pool before heading out to the restaurants, casinos, or bars for the night. If you prefer sightseeing, you can take a guided tour to see the nostalgic Hollywood landmarks and estates that were once home to cinema’s greatest stars.
5. Fun beyond the pier in Santa Monica
Everyone knows that Santa Monica offers an incredible beach for a weekend getaway, and you and your family can have a lot of fun at the pier on the amusement park rides and the historic carousel. The Santa Monica Pier Aquarium has over 100 species of local animals on display, as well as lots of activities for little ones. You can see the original Muscle Beach, where people still work out on retro exercise equipment and enjoy the sun.
What’s beyond the pier? If you enjoy cycling, you could try the South Bay Bicycle Trail, a 22-mile paved path that runs from Will Rogers State Park to Torrance County Beach. You might tour the Museum of Flying or try your hand at aerial arts at the Trapeze School of New York. You’ll enjoy window shopping at boutiques during the day and relaxing at rooftop bars and dance clubs at night.
6. Desert trip to Joshua Tree
One of the best day trips from Los Angeles is a desert retreat to the world-famous Joshua Tree National Park. Dotted with iconic desert trees and dramatic rock formations, Joshua Tree is perfect for hiking and climbing enthusiasts. In spring, the colorful wildflower blooms and vibrant sunsets draw visitors from all over. Though camping under the stars in the desert is a popular way to explore Joshua Tree, you can find other types of accommodation to enjoy a day, weekend, or week-long stay.
7. Elegant getaway in Orange County
Orange County is home to glamorous beaches, vibrant nightlife, and upscale amenities for a decadent getaway. While traveling along the coastal roads, you’ll pass through the beach areas of Long Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, San Clemente, and more on your drive.
Huntington Beach is one the closest beaches to Los Angeles, which mixes laid-back surf culture with the high-end dining and shopping of Orange County. Then you’ll come to Newport Beach, an affluent area with designer shopping and local boutiques with unique finds, as well as the beach locale of Balboa Island.
Laguna Beach, a creative and upscale area with scenic beaches and a thriving arts and culture scene, is next on the route. Throughout summer, Laguna Beach hosts many arts festivals and cinema festivals, and many of its streets are filled with artist studios and galleries.
Further south is Dana Point, a small harbor town with ship remnants and beach resorts. Dana Point is well known for its excellent whale-watching opportunities and the Festival of Whales, a kid-friendly event that celebrates the whales that migrate through the area.
8. Sightseeing in San Diego
Located only a few hours south of Los Angeles, San Diego is a great destination for sightseeing trips. San Diego has more than enough must-see attractions to fill your schedule for week, but you can take in the most popular sights in a short day trip.
Trolley tours and boat tours make it easy to explore the sights of San Diego. Starting in Old Town, you can enjoy a tour that takes you to the vibrant green spaces of Balboa Park or Coronado Island’s immaculate beaches. You could also spend the day exploring the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, SeaWorld, or the Native American Indian Casinos. You may want to visit the Gas Lamp District for fine dining and shopping before heading back to Los Angeles.
9. Isle retreat on Catalina Island
Catalina Island is a popular spot for a laid-back escape from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. Though it begins as a road trip, you’ll hop on a ferry to get to the island. Once there, you can visit the city of Avalon to find everything from spa treatments by the sea to zip lining through the mountains. If you want to venture further into the wild, Twin Harbors is a more rugged destination on the opposite end of the island, with challenging hiking trails and campsites. Depending on how you choose to spend your time on Catalina Island, you can opt to make it a relaxing day or a week-long excursion.
10. Relaxing spa getaway in Ojai
Nestled among majestic oak trees and orange groves in Ventura County, Ojai is an ideal spot for a day of rest and rejuvenation. Many day spas in Ojai offer a range of treatments to relax and unwind in this tranquil environment far from the buzz of the city. You can also enjoy hiking through the unspoiled landscape, bird watching at the lake, or taking a stroll through the Spanish-style downtown area to wrap up your spa day.
11. Wine tour in Temecula
Temecula is far off the beaten path, but it boasts tranquil landscapes and an array of wineries with wine tours and tasting rooms where you can while away your day. You can also sample olive oils and flavored vinegar at Temecula Olive Oil Company or kick back with an exciting game of poker or roulette at the Pechanga Resort and Casino. If you plan to spend a weekend in Temecula, be sure to stroll through Old Town and marvel at the blend of Old West architecture and modern structures that hold specialty shops, restaurants, and theaters.
12. Danish charm in Solvang wine country
Solvang is a slice of Denmark found in the middle of the Santa Ynez Valley near Santa Barbara. This older town showcases Scandinavian half-timbered architecture with a distinctly European feel and deep-rooted Danish influences. The vineyards of the Santa Ynez Valley surround the town, offering wine tastings and tours of the craft.
Before leaving, be sure to visit the Elverhøj Museum to learn more about Danish culture in Solvang and stop by the Hans Christian Anderson Museum for unique exhibits about the cherished author.
13. Thrilling getaway weekend in Las Vegas
Las Vegas is an exciting city known for its nightlife and evening entertainment, but there’s plenty to do during the day to make it worth the road trip. Lively casinos, world-class museums, and premier art galleries give you endless sightseeing opportunities during the day. Once the night falls, you can sample some of Las Vegas’ famous nightlife and world-famous shows with high-profile entertainers before traveling back to your Los Angeles hotel.
14. Day trips to Tijuana
Located just over two hours from Los Angeles, Tijuana is a famous border city in Mexico that has a range of attractions and experiences for memorable day trips or weekend excursions. During the day, you can take in cultural landmarks like the opulent neoclassical Jai Alai Frontón palace or the Tijuana Cultural Center, an art museum and Mexican cultural complex. You can also visit stadiums that host lucha libre wrestling matches or spend your day in the sun at one of the sandy beaches. At night, the main street, Avenida Revolución, is filled with unique souvenir shops and lively bars and clubs to enjoy buzzing Mexican nightlife.
Whether you want to shop on Rodeo Drive, soak up the sun in Palm Springs, or get out into nature in Catalina Island, there’s no shortage of fun-filled day trips near Los Angeles. All you need is a rental car for a weekend getaway or day trip to one of the exciting destinations near the Los Angeles area.