With some of the best art galleries and best museums in the world, Los Angeles is the cultural hub for Southern California. The Los Angeles metro area also has amazing theme parks that draw families from all over the world. There are thousands of reasons to take a trip to Los Angeles. One of the most underrated features of LA has to be the amazing array of nature surrounding the city. There are dozens of amazing national parks, mountain ranges, sky resorts, otherworldly deserts, and even islands that make for incredible destinations. Many of these can be reached in a few hours by car, which make them perfect day trip destinations from Los Angeles. Before you embark on your epic Los Angeles day trip, drop the luggage off at a Bounce luggage locker, so you’re not needlessly lugging your bags around!
How to Get Out of Los Angeles
Los Angeles is a rather sprawled-out city compared to Chicago and New York City, which can make it more difficult to navigate. We also have a guide devoted to tips on how to get around LA if you need it.
Fortunately, there are plenty of amazing destinations for day trips from Los Angeles. Here’s how to get out of the city:
Any Los Angeles local will tell you how important it is to have a car. This is as true for visitors as it is for locals. Unlike other cities of this size, Los Angeles doesn’t have the benefit of a metro system that covers the entire grid. There are buses and ride shares, but the most convenient way to get out of Los Angeles has to be by driving. While it’s convenient, that doesn’t necessarily make it foolproof. LA traffic is the most notorious in the country. It’s best to avoid the prime commuting hours between 7 am to 9 am and 3 pm to 7 pm, and a GPS can really save you if there’s an accident.
One of the reasons a car is the best mode of travel for day trips from Los Angeles is that most of the travel destinations are national or state parks. Whether it’s Joshua Tree National Park to the east or Los Alamos near Santa Barbara, the only true way of getting there is by driving.
Public transit is an affordable way to get around Los Angeles, but rarely are these areas served by the Metro or DASH bus services or by train.
The Metro Bus System is a network of over 209 different lines that cover all of Los Angeles. These rarely reach day trip destinations, but they can help you reach a rental car location, the train, or the airport.
If you’re heading to San Diego, the Pacific Surfliner line runs from Los Angeles’ Union Station to downtown San Diego. The same train line will get you most of the way north to San Francisco. However, trains are not common modes of transit for day trips from Los Angeles.
Here are the best day trips from Los Angeles:
From Los Angeles to Palm Springs
It’s hard not to think of Palm Springs and Palm Desert when you think of Los Angeles. This resort town has been a retreat for wealthy folks from Southern California and beyond for decades but has now turned into a trendy destination for twenty-somethings and has a vibrant LGBTQ community. Vacation rental prices have skyrocketed in recent years, especially in the Instagram era, but enjoying Palm Springs without having to pay for lodging is still possible so long as you plan your day trip well.
Aside from the upscale shopping, nightlife, and culinary scenes, the most popular activities in town are hiking and touring the Palm Springs Art Museum. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is another marvel that leads visitors through the gorgeous San Jacinto Mountains.
How to Get to Palm Springs:
Depending on traffic, it takes about two hours to reach Palm Springs from downtown Los Angeles. Take either I-10 East or CA-60 East to I-10 East. From there, highway 111 will get you to the main stretch of Palm Springs, where the best shopping and nightlife are.
From Los Angeles to Coronado Island - San Diego
This is easily one of the most iconic places in all of California. Coronado Island is a stretch of land that juts out into the Pacific Ocean from downtown San Diego. Part of the Island is taken up by the US Navy base, the rest consists of quiet neighborhoods and a pleasant beachfront. It feels like a secluded resort town, but it’s just over the bridge from downtown San Diego and is easily accessible.
Aside from its Beverley Hills counterpart, the Hotel del Coronado is California’s most famous resort. Its beachfront and iconic red roof and awnings make for a beautiful backdrop to a stroll along the water. While rooms at the hotel can cost upwards of $600 a night, you can still park near the hotel and enjoy the views, the beach, and the ocean.
Before you hit the road, stop by downtown San Diego’s Gas Lamp district for a bite to eat. Another of the best features is the San Diego Zoo, which is certainly worth checking out.
How to Get to Coronado Island:
The most common way to get to Coronado from Los Angeles is by driving via the I-5 South to downtown San Diego. From there, it’s a short drive over the iconic Coronado Bridge to reach the island. If you don’t have a car, the Pacific Surfliner train will get you from LA to downtown San Diego where you can take an Uber or Taxi to Coronado Island.
From Los Angeles to Santa Catalina Island
This island, situated just off the coast of Los Angeles, has been drawing visitors (famous or otherwise) since the 1920s. The idyllic scenery and relaxed atmosphere make it a welcome respite from LA’s hustle and bustle. The island is ringed by pebbles and sand on the beachfront, and the interior is covered in hills and woods for hiking and other outdoor activities.
There are several towns on Santa Catalina Island, some of which have hotels and rentals if you want to turn your day trip into a long weekend. Avalon is one of Catalina’s most popular destinations, with a picturesque main street with shops, cafés, hotels, bars, and restaurants. There is even a botanical garden, but just walking through Avalon’s palm-lined streets and beaches, you’ll feel more connected to nature.
Another quaint Catalina town is Two Harbors. This one is more remote and has a relaxed atmosphere even during its busiest months. This is the best option for outdoor activities. There are plenty of hiking trails just outside the town, and kayak and fishing rentals are readily available. The most popular activities are scuba diving, snorkeling, and paddle boarding through the crystal clear waters near Two Harbors.
How to Get to Santa Catalina Island:
From Los Angeles, it’s about an hour by car to Long Beach, where you board a ferry ride on the Catalina Express.
From Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park
The arid Mojave Desert surrounding Los Angeles to the east is some of the most otherworldly terrain in North America. For one, the squat, spikey Joshua Trees that dot the landscape of their namesake national park are found nowhere else on the planet.
Joshua Tree National Park is lined with hiking trails that cut their way through this otherwise inhospitable place. These trails lead to all sorts of fascinating geological sites and are rarely overcrowded. There are trails for just about every skill level of hiker, the most popular of which is the Fortynine Palms Oasis. This is a reasonable three-mile trek surrounded by palm trees and the occasional pool of water. For beginners and families, the Cottonwood Spring Oasis is a nice and easy destination for an enjoyable stroll through the desert.
If you’re planning a day trip to Joshua Tree, it’s best to plan ahead. Because of the unrelenting sun and heat, it’s best to get an early start and avoid visiting during the summer months.
How to Get to Joshua Tree National Park:
Because you’ll need a way to get around once you reach Joshua Tree National Park, the best way to get there from Los Angeles is by car. It takes two hours (with minor traffic) via the US-101 to the I-10 East from downtown Los Angeles.
From Los Angeles to Los Alamos (near Santa Barbara)
One of the best day trips from Los Angeles for wine lovers that flies under the radar is the town of Los Alamos. Located just past Santa Barbara, this might be the best spot for wine tasting without having to travel all the way to Napa Valley. The town is chock full of charming stores, cafés, bakeries, wineries, and breweries. In other words, all the best of LA, just in a quiet and scenic setting. There are also a number of hiking trails nearby in case you want a bit of the outdoors. This charming town is the ideal romantic day trip destination, and there are a few hotels and inns in case you want to turn it into a full weekend.
How to Get to Los Alamos and Santa Barbara:
It takes about two and a half hours via the 101 North to get to Los Alamos, and it’s certainly a scenic drive. The country north of LA is gorgeous, and you can stop and tour the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and explore the town.
From Los Angeles to the Santa Monica Mountains
One of the closest state parks to Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Mountains are located just over an hour away by car. Topanga State Park is popular with locals for its gorgeous and lush greenery and manageable hiking trails. During the spring, wildflowers will come into bloom, transforming the mountainsides into beds of color. It’s certainly an Instagram-worthy day trip!
How to Get to the Santa Monica Mountains:
It takes around 90 minutes to reach the mountain range by car. Take the CA-1 North. The drive along the coast, especially through Malibu, is magnificent.
From Los Angeles to Balboa Island / Newport Beach / Laguna Beach
Immortalized by the popular Laguna Beach reality TV show, Newport Beach and Balboa Island is a popular day trip destination from Los Angeles. Known for its wealthy local population and picture-perfect beaches, Newport Beach has miles of waterfront to enjoy. The Laguna Art Museum is a solid option in town if you're looking for some culture!
Balboa Island, actually a peninsula, is surrounded by these blue waters and sandy beaches and is reachable by ferry from downtown Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. Once on the island, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, and other aquatic activities are available.
The towns are also full of charming shops and restaurants. The most popular treat (especially with families) is the famous frozen bananas from one of the numerous sweet shops and ice cream parlors along the boardwalk.
How to get to Balboa Island, Newport, and Laguna Beach:
The best way to get to Balboa Island is to take the 405 South to Newport Beach. From there, you can take the ferry to Balboa Island.
From Los Angeles to the San Bernardino Mountains and Big Bear Lake
Another natural marvel surrounding Los Angeles, the San Bernardino Mountains cradle the city’s metro area. The thickly wooded San Bernardino National Forest offers hiking, skiing, and camping opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.
The tranquil beauty of wooded mountains is relaxing for some, but adrenaline junkies call the San Bernardino Mountains their mecca. Mountain biking, zip-lining, and other extreme sports are common activities in these mountains. With so much to do, you’ll need to plan your time accordingly to pack it all into one day trip from Los Angeles.
How to Get to Big Bear Lake:
The only convenient way to get to Big Bear Lake is by car, with the trip only taking around two hours each way via the I-10 East.
There may be countless things to do in Los Angeles, but sometimes it’s great to hit the road for a day trip. Whether you are taking a Southern California road trip to Palm Springs and Orange County or catching the ferry to Santa Catalina Island, you have dozens of amazing options for taking a day trip from Los Angeles. Just remember, there are dozens of convenient Bounce luggage storage locations where you can drop the bags off before heading out on your epic Los Angeles day trip!