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There’s NO WAY You’ve Done All 20 Of These Day Trips From LA 👀

Maybe you’ve seen the obvious places in LA like Santa Monica Pier, Griffith Park and Hollywood.

But now you just want something a bit different.

Well if you want a day trip that you’ve NOT DONE then this post will DEFINITELY deliver.

This post lists 20 day trip ideas that leave from Los Angeles with approximate driving times from downtown LA.

Here’s how we’ve broken down the list of 20 day trips from LA:

  • 9 best day trips
  • 7 honorable mention day trips
  • 4 ‘If you’re crazy’ day trips

Everything from desert landscapes, sun-kissed beaches and charming little hidden gem towns.

There’s something for EVERYONE on this list.

Fuel up your car.

Let’s go! 🚗

Best Day Trips From LA

1. Catalina Island

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: 30-45 minutes to Long Beach, plus 1-hour ferry ride.

avalon catalina island

Catalina Island is a picturesque escape off the coast of Southern California. 

Once you arrive by ferry, you can dive into a range of activities, from snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters to exploring the charming town of Avalon. 

Hiking, zip-lining, and relaxing on the beach are also popular. 

The island offers a unique blend of adventure and tranquility, making it a perfect day trip destination.

2. Ojai Valley

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: 1.5 to 2 hours.

ojai valley

Nestled in a scenic valley, Ojai is known for its bohemian spirit, lush landscapes, and a relaxing atmosphere that invites visitors to slow down. 

You can browse local art galleries, indulge in organic spa treatments, or wander through citrus groves. 

Ojai’s boutique shops and farm-to-table restaurants add to its allure, offering a peaceful retreat from the city’s hustle and bustle.

3. Balboa Island

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: About 1 hour.

balboa island

Balboa Island presents a quaint and charming experience with its small-town vibe right in the heart of Orange County. 

Stroll along Marine Avenue for unique shopping and dining, or take a leisurely walk around the island to enjoy beautiful views and grand beach houses. 

Don’t miss the famous Balboa Island Ferry and the fun frozen banana treats. 

It’s a delightful way to spend a day, offering a slice of coastal life that feels worlds away from the city.

4. Malibu

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: Roughly 1 hour.

malibu sunset

Malibu is a coastal city that epitomizes the Southern California lifestyle, with its stunning beaches, legendary surf spots, and upscale dining. 

Visitors can explore the rugged beauty of the Santa Monica Mountains, visit the iconic Malibu Pier, or tour the historic Adamson House. 

Whether you’re looking to catch some waves at Zuma Beach or enjoy a quiet moment at the secluded El Matador Beach, Malibu offers an array of outdoor activities and breathtaking scenery.

5. Santa Barbara and Montecito

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: Around 1.5 to 2 hours.

santa barbara mission california

Santa Barbara and Montecito are nestled along the picturesque central California coast, offering a blend of Mediterranean charm and laid-back luxury. 

Visitors can wander through Santa Barbara’s historic missions, explore upscale boutiques, or relax on pristine beaches. 

Montecito, with its secluded feel and beautiful gardens, complements the experience, making the area a perfect spot for those seeking both culture and tranquility by the sea.

6. Temecula

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: About 1.5 to 2 hours.

temecula vineyard california

Temecula stands out as Southern California’s premier wine country destination, boasting rolling hills dotted with vineyards and rustic charm. 

Wine enthusiasts can indulge in tastings and tours at numerous wineries, each offering unique experiences from barrel tasting to picturesque picnics. 

Related Reading: Temecula Guide

Beyond the vines, Temecula’s Old Town provides a glimpse into the past with its historic buildings, antique shops, and specialty boutiques, making it a well-rounded day trip for all tastes.

7. San Juan Capistrano

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: About 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Mission San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano is renowned for its historic mission, Mission San Juan Capistrano, which offers a deep dive into California’s early history with beautiful gardens and ruins to explore. 

The town itself is filled with charming shops and restaurants, making it a perfect blend of culture and relaxation

Bird enthusiasts will especially enjoy the annual return of the swallows, a natural event that has put San Juan Capistrano on the map.

8. San Clemente

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: Roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes.

san clemente pier sunset

San Clemente, known as the “Spanish Village by the Sea,” offers a picturesque setting with its oceanfront views and Spanish colonial-style architecture. 

Visitors can stroll along the San Clemente Pier, surf at Trestles, or walk the beach trail for stunning coastal vistas. 

The city’s laid-back atmosphere, combined with boutique shops, casual cafes, and seafood restaurants, makes it an ideal spot for those looking to unwind and soak in the Southern California sun.

9. Dana Point

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: About 1 hour and 15 minutes.

dana point harbor

Dana Point is a coastal gem with a stunning harbor that serves as a gateway to aquatic adventures and leisurely seaside strolls. 

The area is renowned for its excellent whale watching opportunities, particularly for spotting majestic gray and blue whales depending on the season. 

Related Reading: California Whale Watching

Beach enthusiasts will enjoy the beautiful sands of Doheny State Beach and Salt Creek Beach. 

With its mix of outdoor activities, Dana Point is a hotspot for nature lovers and those seeking a peaceful day by the sea.

Honorable Mentions

These are awesome places to visit, but the driving time is slightly longer for most of these which is why they’re on the honorable mention list instead.

10. Solvang

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: About 2.5 hours.

solvang california

Solvang offers a unique Danish experience with its windmills, bakeries, and wineries, perfect for cultural enthusiasts and foodies.

11. Joshua Tree

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: About 2.5 hours.

joshua tree national park

Joshua Tree National Park is an otherworldly desert landscape ideal for hikers, climbers, and nature lovers.

12. Palm Springs

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: About 2 hours.

palm springs

Palm Springs is known for its mid-century modern architecture, luxurious resorts, and hot springs, appealing to relaxation seekers and design aficionados.

13. San Diego

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: Approximately 2 hours.

san diego balboa park

San Diego boasts beautiful beaches, the famous San Diego Zoo, and a vibrant cultural scene, suitable for families and beach-goers.

14. Solana Beach

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: About 1.5-2 hours.

solana beach california

Solana Beach features a charming coastal town vibe with boutique shopping, artsy galleries, and stunning beaches, perfect for those who appreciate a quieter seaside experience.

15. Idyllwild

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: About 2 to 2.5 hours.

The Red Kettle restaurant in Idyllwild, CA

Idyllwild offers a peaceful mountain escape with arts, crafts, and hiking, ideal for creatives and outdoor enthusiasts.

16. Big Bear Lake

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: Around 2 hours.

big bear lake california

Big Bear Lake is a year-round destination for skiing, hiking, and water sports, appealing to adventure seekers and nature lovers.

If You’re Crazy

These are for the people who like to be on the road, don’t mind getting up before the sun and thrive on the feeling of having an exhausting day.

You can TECHNICALLY do these as day trips if you really want, but it’s probably better if you stay overnight.

17. Cambria

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: About 4 hours.

cambria california

Cambria is a quaint coastal town known for its dramatic seaside cliffs and pine forests, ideal for those seeking a tranquil retreat far from city life.

18. Las Vegas

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: About 4 to 4.5 hours.

las vegas sign

Las Vegas offers an unparalleled entertainment experience with its casinos, shows, and nightlife, perfect for those looking for excitement and non-stop fun.

19. Death Valley National Park

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: About 4 hours.

View of Famous Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Death Valley National Park is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park, offering stunning desert vistas and extreme adventures for the most daring explorers.

20. Sequoia National Park

Approximate driving time from downtown LA: About 3.5 to 4 hours.


Sequoia National Park is home to some of the largest trees on earth, offering breathtaking natural beauty and hiking opportunities for nature enthusiasts and those looking to marvel at the giants of the forest.

Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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