I’ve lived in Southern California for over 18 years so believe me when I say there’s no shortage of fun things to do here. Like my coverage of the best things to do in Orange County, I wanted to share a similar experience here. While there’s plenty to do inside Los Angeles, there are many exciting things to do near and around LA too.
LA is great for many things like food, musuems, art, shows, and sightseeing, but there’s just some certain variety of things you cannot get in Los Angeles. So if you’re staying in town for a few days and are looking for some fun day trips from Los Angeles, fear not, there’s plenty of stuff to do.
From museums, to beaches, theme parks, and national parks, you can experience just about anything your heart desires with a short & up to a 2-3 hour drive, have a great experience and then drive back to Los Angeles for the night. Check out my list below of the best things you can do with a day trip from Los Angeles sorted by closest to farthest distances from downtown Los Angeles.
Distance from downtown L.A.: 11.8 miles
The magnificent Huntington Botanical Gardens covers 130 acres with 16 themed gardens, such as a desert garden, jungle garden, Shakespeare garden, and the extraordinary Japanese garden with a ceremonial teahouse and bonsai courtyard.
The Huntington is also famous for its expansive art museum that houses over 45,000 pieces of art that spans five centuries. The museum has rotating exhibitions, but the main gallery has one of the world’s foremost collections of British and European art, which includes the famous Blue Boy.
Before heading back to L.A., head for the beautiful Rose Garden Tea Room with its elegant high-tea service and enjoy finger sandwiches, scones, and other sweet treats with tea or a glass of bubbly.
Angeles National Forest
Distance from downtown L.A.: 16.5 miles
Less than a half-hour away from downtown Los Angeles is the 700,000-acre Angeles National Forest. But you can also take the scenic drive up the Angeles Crest Scenic Byway (aka California Highway 2), a snaky 66-mile route through beautiful mountains and canyons.
The park is famous for its rugged mountain terrain, streams, and waterfalls. For hiking fanatics, Mt. Baldy (the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains) and the Pacific Crest Trail are very challenging but rewarding with their spectacular vistas. But if you want to skip the hike, you can take a chair lift to the top of Mt. Baldy.
The park has many campgrounds and hiking trails as well as lakes for fishing. In designated areas (always check the website), horseback riding and mountain biking are allowed. Flora and fauna are protected, so you need to be on the watch since you might have an accidental run-in with a bobcat, coyote, or black bear.
Distance from downtown L.A.: 16.5 miles
There really are canals at Venice Beach, an iconic L.A. hotspot and frequent location for 1950s Beach Party movies. The canals were built in 1905 by businessman Abbott Kinney, who wanted to recreate the canals in Venice, Italy. There are no gondola rides, but the Venice Beach canals are a lovely first stop.
Venice Beach is famous for its boardwalk – Ocean Front Walk – that runs parallel with the beach. It’s touristy and tacky but a lot of fun. You can ogle the body-builders at Muscle Beach and the magicians, jugglers, musicians who perform along the boardwalk. Don’t miss the daredevil skaters at the Skate Dance Plaza, which has been featured in many films.
Venice Beach is also known for local art, and galleries are plentiful along Abbott Kinney Blvd. You’ll also find many shops and some of the best restaurants in Los Angeles on Abbott Kinney. At the end of your day, relax and enjoy a cocktail at the Santa-Monica adjacent Casa del Mar and watch the spectacular ocean sunsets.
Distance from downtown L.A. to the San Pedro ferry: 23.5 miles
Distance from downtown L.A. to the Long Beach ferry: 25.4 miles
You’ll need to take a ferry from Long Beach or San Pedro to transport you to historic Catalina Island. It’s only an hour, and you’ll dock at Avalon, the main town on the island. (If you want to splurge a little, you can get there even faster by helicopter.)
Once there you can decide on how you want to spend your day – snorkeling or scuba diving in the clear blue waters, sunbathing on the white-sand beaches, or hiking the rugged terrain outside Avalon where you’ll spot wild bison left behind from a 1920s movie. You can also rent golf carts and bicycles for getting around the island.
Crescent Avenue is the main strip for Mediterranean-style shops where you can buy pottery, artwork, nautical gewgaws, and island-themed gifts.
The main attraction is the Art Deco Catalina Casino, built in 1929 by chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley. It was never a gambling casino but was the site of a circular 20,000 square-foot ballroom, home to dancing marathons in the 1930s and 40s. The Casino also has a huge movie theater with beautiful Art Deco murals and incredible acoustics.
Distance from downtown L.A.: 25 miles
Long Beach is one of the busiest container ports in America, so you may wonder what’s worth seeing there. Long Beach has two must-see attractions for Angelenos seeking a day’s get-away.
The major destination is the The Queen Mary, permanently docked at Long Beach. Launched in 1934 by the Cunard Line, The Queen Mary was the fastest and most luxurious cruise liner of its day. During World War II, the ship was put into service for transferring troops.
The Queen Mary was retired in 1967 and after several renovations, it’s now a hotel, restaurant, and nightspot. Tours are available – including a paranormal adventure – and in October, a new seance attraction will call upon the ghosts of the Queen Mary.
The second must-see attraction is the extraordinary Aquarium of the Pacific. Its focus is on sea creatures of the Pacific Ocean, and its numerous exhibits showcase local sharks, sea lions, sea otters, jellyfish, and penguins.
Distance from downtown L.A.: 26.4 miles
Driving Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu rivals Big Sur (along the California central coast) in beauty. Depending on where in Los Angeles you’re driving from, it can easily take an hour to get there, or in the summer, even longer, so it’s best to make a day of it. Malibu is equally famous for its beaches and the celebrities who live in the Colony or high on the cliffs.
En route, you’ll pass the Getty Villa, which is definitely worth a stop. Its ancient-Rome architecture houses one of the world’s best collections of ancient Greek and Roman art.
Heading north on PCH, and you’ll come to El Matador Beach, a local hangout for swimming and exploring tide pools. Keep going, and you’ll reach Paradise Cove, where “Gilligan’s Island” was filmed, and Zuma Beach, famous for its brilliant sunsets.
Distance from downtown L.A.: 28 miles
Other than Angel Stadium and the Honda Center, the main destinations in Anaheim are Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Anaheim is only 28 miles south of Los Angeles, but depending on traffic conditions, it can take an hour to get there.
But before you go, reservations and ticket purchases are required. A one-park-per-day ticket is $104 midweek and $169-$179 on weekends. (Check for a discount for California residents.) There is an additional fee if you want to visit both parks. Ticket prices increase dramatically during Halloween and Christmas.
Long lines are pretty notorious at all theme parks. For $25 extra, Disney offers a mobile app Genie+ that allows you to schedule entrance to a Lightning Lane – basically a “fast pass”. You can also purchase Lightning Lane passes individually for particular rides.
Pro Tip: Disneyland limits the daily number of Genie+ and Lightning Lane passes, so make your purchase ahead of time.
Distance from downtown L.A.: 46 miles
In Orange County, Newport Beach serves as one of the settings for “The Housewives of Orange County,” and after a 90-minute drive from Los Angeles, you’ll find yourself surrounded by glitz, glamor, and crazy-expensive shops. But if you’re looking for fun activities that won’t cost you a second mortgage, drive over the bridge to Balboa Island.
Balboa certainly has its fair share of mansions, but you can ogle at them for free by strolling around the promenade that circles the harbor. At Christmas, the harbor hosts the annual Christmas boat parade. Boats and homes are festooned with bright lights and decorations, and you can watch the festivities for free anywhere on the peninsula.
In summer, you can escape the ostentatious side of Newport Beach by heading over to the Balboa Fun Zone near the historic Balboa Pier. It’s a family-friendly amusement area with arcades and rides, including the Balboa Ferris Wheel, which gives you stunning views at the top.
Distance from downtown L.A.: 51 miles
Laguna Beach is about two hours south of Los Angeles, and you’ll find a string of the most beautiful beaches in California. The pristine beaches afford extraordinary views of the Pacific – especially at sunset – and as you walk, you’ll come upon rock formations, tide pools, and private nooks.
A special place to seek out is the Pirate Tower on Victoria Beach, a whimsical 60-foot tower built as a staircase to a long-gone mansion.
Laguna Beach has always been home to artists of all calling, and you can stroll the downtown area and visit galleries of modern art by local artists. One special gallery showcases Robert Wyland, famous for his paintings and sculptures of whales and other sea creatures.
Distance from downtown L.A.: 60 miles
Cherry-picking season runs late April to early June, and the best place to go is Leona Valley, about 60 miles north of Los Angeles. Leona Valley had once been populated with cattle ranches, but it’s known today for an abundance of cherry farms.
Many cherry farms in Leona Valley are organic, and you’ll find the sweetest cherries in June. Windy Ridge Ranch grows Bing and Rainier cherries and keeps their trees no higher than 7 feet tall so they’re easy to pick from ground level.
The largest cherry farm is Villa del Sol with over 3,600 trees. Villa del Sol has 100 bee hives to assist pollination and also sell their own raw honey.
There are several other cherry farms in Leona Valley, and you can make a day of it picking cherries from each one. The UPickFarmsUSA website lists all the cherry farms in Leona Valley and other information about cherry picking.
Distance from downtown L.A.: 79.5 miles
Cooler temperatures come a little later to Los Angeles, but when they do, you can have a traditional autumnal adventure by visiting Oak Glen in the San Bernardino Mountains, 75 miles east of L.A. Oak Glen is 4,000-5,000 feet above sea level, which is high enough for residents to experience all four seasons.
From August to December, it’s apple season, and Angelenos flock to Oak Glen’s orchards for apple-picking. At Riley’s Farm the specialties are their apple pies – including a five-pounder – and living history field trips, where you can witness Revolutionary War and Civil War reenactments and get a peek into the past at their Colonial farm.
At Snow-Line Orchard, you can pick apples and raspberries and sample their wines and ciders. Snow-Line is also well-known for their mini apple-cider donuts baked fresh everyday.
Stone Soup Farm & Heritage Orchard employs traditional methods for growing organic heirloom apples from trees that are 130 years old. For $3.75/pound, pick as many apples as you like. Throughout the fall, Stone Soup Farm offers events and family tours of the orchards.
Distance from downtown L.A: 83 miles
Heading northwest from Los Angeles, you’ll find the charming town of Ojai, which Los Angelenos escape to for tranquil retreats in a woodsy setting of oak trees and citrus groves. If you’re the outdoorsy type, there are many campgrounds and numerous hiking trails in adjacent Los Padres National Forest.
But if you just want to unwind, then stroll along the quaint main street that’s lined with shops, artisan crafts and foods, and restaurants. Every June, downtown Ojai hosts the Ojai Music Festival, four days of classical music performed by international musicians.
For the book-a-holic, Ojai has the largest outdoor bookstore in the world, Bart’s Books. Surrounded by an enormous ancient oak tree, Bart’s Books has shelves and cubby holes filled with new and used books in any category imaginable.
If you simply want to relax in a serene and peaceful environment, you’ll love the Spa at the Ojai Valley Inn. You can get a day pass that gives you access to the spa, the spa pool, wellness classes, spa restaurant, and spa public areas.
Distance from downtown L.A.: 87 miles
Wine lovers flock to Temecula, a charming historic city 90 minutes south of Los Angeles. Temecula’s rolling hills, lush valleys, and temperate climate are studded with over 50 wineries that offer daily tastings and small bites. Many wineries also have fantastic restaurants that rival Napa Valley’s more famous ones.
You can spend the day driving from winery to winery, or if you don’t want to worry about driving back to L.A., there are shuttles and buses available from L.A. to the Temecula wineries.
Temecula isn’t just all about the wine. Its natural setting is also great for hiking and horseback riding. But one of the most popular things to do in Temecula is taking a ride in a hot-air balloon. Or if you’ve got an itch to gamble, stop by the Pechanga Resort Casino.
Distance from downtown L.A.: 91 miles
If you’re looking for someplace that’s geared exclusively for kids, LEGOLAND is in Carlsbad, a two-hour-plus drive south of L.A. But there are also a number of public-transportation options to get you there without the hassle of the often-jammed freeways.
LEGOLAND is only open from 10 am – 6 pm, so try to get there early. There are several ticket options for access to the theme park. In addition to the gentle kid-friendly roller coasters, slides, water rides, and mini-car rides, a major attraction is building things with LEGOS, like the Ferrari Build & Race and robot-building at Mindstorms.
You and your kids can also take in the many shows and 4D movies featuring favorite LEGO movie characters. Other popular exhibits are the Dig Those Dinos Sand Box – great fun for the future paleontologist – the LEGO Factory Tour, and touring the Miniland USA, which features major cities all constructed with LEGOs.
Some of these attractions are considered “add-ons” with additional fees, and you’ll need to make reservations online. LEGOLAND offers a special discount to Los Angeles County residents: buy one adult ticket, get one kid’s ticket free.
Distance from downtown L.A.: 95 miles
About 1-½ hours north of Los Angeles is the beautiful town of Santa Barbara. Once you leave the congested traffic of the 101 highway, the drive winds its way up the coast with lovely vistas of the Pacific, until you hit Santa Barbara, which is nestled between mountains and ocean.
For thousands of years, Santa Barbara had been home to the Chumash until 1782 when Spain founded the Old Mission Santa Barbara, which should not be missed on your visit. The Old Mission sits on 15 acres and is the home to Franciscan Friars. There are daily tours of the old church, the mausoleum, and the lush gardens.
Santa Barbara’s unusual topography offers mountain trails for hiking and sandy beaches for swimming, surfing, and sunbathing. A popular spot is Stearns Wharf, built in 1872, which has restaurants, shops, psychic readings, concerts, and a fascinating interactive Sea Center.
The town’s downtown is State Street, well-known for its eclectic shops, restaurants, Museum of Art, and Presidio, one of the earliest constructed buildings during the Spanish colonization. Before heading back to L.A., definitely stop by La Super-Rica Taqueria, the unassuming but super-busy Mexican restaurant that Julia Child made famous.
Distance from downtown Los Angeles: 108 miles
Two hours east of Los Angeles is Palm Springs, the desert playground of Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, and Elvis. It’s infamous for its blistering heat in the summer months, but before and after, the weather cools to a temperate climate, and you understand why so many celebrities have second homes here.
Before you start your day tour, take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and you’ll enjoy incredible views 2-½ miles up. It’s only a 10-minute ride, and there are attractions at the top of the mountain.
Golf is a major recreation, and Palm Springs has many award-winning courses for beginners and pros. You can spend the day walking around downtown Palm Spring, where you’ll find restaurants, luxury resorts, and art galleries. Or take a scenic drive around the foothills, where you’ll see picture-perfect mid-century architecture.
Palm Springs has long been the home to artists, and the Palm Springs Museum hosts a vast collection of modern art by such masters as Picasso, Chagal, and Warhol. It also has an impressive display of Native American pottery and sculpture.
Distance from downtown L.A.: 122 miles
You could certainly make a full day trip to San Diego, but there’s so much to see, you could easily make a weekend of it. You can start by visiting Old Town San Diego, a historic park with well-preserved 18th century buildings and site of the first mission and presidio (fort) in California. The nearby Gaslamp Quarter is another historic district with 94 Victorian-era buildings and is a lively nightspot with restaurants and clubs.
A visit to San Diego wouldn’t be complete without visiting Balboa Park – the cultural heart of San Diego – home to 17 museums and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. On Mission Bay, you can go to Sea World, and directly across the bay is Belmont Park, a lively amusement park with a historic wooden roller coaster.
A 15-minute drive south, you’ll cross the Coronado Bridge, bringing you to the spectacular Hotel del Coronado, built in 1888 and a national historical landmark. You can roam the grounds and feel the VIctorian era. If you’re a Marilyn Monroe fan, most of “Some Like It Hot” was filmed on location at the Coronado.
Distance from downtown L.A.: 128 miles
About 35 miles north of Santa Barbara is Solvang, dubbed the “Danish Capital of America.” Founded in 1911 by Danish-Americans who wanted to celebrate their culture, the town is like a portal to Denmark.
Solvang is famous for its Danish-style architecture, windmills, and bakeries. Attractions include several museums dedicated to Danish artwork and the immensely popular horse-drawn trolley that wends its way down main street, affording you a relaxing way to take in the town.
Solvang is located in the Santa Ynez Valley, which has ideal soil and climate for growing grapes. Dotted throughout Solvang are 120 wineries, where you can sample local Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at the many wine tastings.
An eight-minute drive north of Solvang is Buellton, where you’ll find the famous Pea Soup Andersen’s and can sample its iconic split-pea soup.
Joshua Tree National Park
Distance from downtown L.A.: 133 miles
We used to camp here all the time before the pandemic!
Straddling the Mojave and the Colorado Deserts is the Joshua Tree National Park. About a 2-½ hour drive from downtown Los Angeles, Joshua Tree has one of the most unique and distinctive desert ecosystems in California. The park is known for its barren desert landscape dotted with the iconic Joshua trees and dramatic rock formations.
There are plenty of hiking trails for both beginner and advanced hikers. A popular spot to visit is Hidden Valley. A hiking trail follows the perimeter of huge boulders then loops into the valley where you’re surrounded by rock walls suitable for climbing.
A relatively easy hike of 1.1 miles wends its way through Joshua trees and other desert plans, leading to Barker Dam, which was built in 1900 by cattle ranchers for providing water to their livestock. A highlight of this trail are the 2,000 petroglyphs carved into the rocks by Native Americans.
Night time is also special at Joshua Tree, which has been designated an International Dark Sky Park. Stargazers can catch extraordinarily clear views of stars and planets, especially in a new moon phase when the sky is darkest.