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10 Best Day Trips from LA

March 02, 2021

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The sheer number of amazing places to visit near Los Angeles is overwhelming. Let’s take a look at the very best Los Angeles day trips you can take.

Balboa Island and Beyond

Just over an hour's drive south, plus a short ferry ride, takes you to the tiny man-made island in Newport Beach's Beacon Bay. Stroll the boardwalk that circles the island, then head down its main drag of Marine Avenue for restaurants, shops, and art galleries. At the adjacent Balboa Fun Zone, you'll find amusement rides including the landmark Ferris wheel. The spot is a great place to enjoy water activities such as parasailing and kayaking. Plus, you can catch a boat for a trip to Catalina Island—a day trip within a day trip!


Hearst Castle

A four-hour drive may be too much for some to do in a day, but the cruise up the majestic California coast is an attraction in itself. And you'll be happy you made the journey when you set your eyes on the historical site overlooking the Pacific. Built by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, the sprawling Spanish-style retreat has 165 rooms, many displaying artifacts from the ancient world. Covering 147 acres, the grounds of Hearst Castle have multiple gardens, pools, and green spaces galore.


San Juan Capistrano

With either a train ride or a drive of about an hour you can arrive at a charming town at the heart of California's history, notably found at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. The Spanish mission that dates to the 1700s has a museum, gardens, and a historical church that are all worth checking out. Explore the town further to find the Zoomars at River Street Ranch petting zoo, and Doheny State Beach, a great place for shoving off on whale-watching tours.


San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

A drive of about one hour from Downtown LA's congested streets will take you into the wide-open wilderness of the Angeles National Forest. The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument entices you to take hikes that cross both desert and forested terrain, with trails that range from easy to extreme. You'll also find spots for picnics, camping, and swimming in the San Gabriel River during warmer months.


Legoland California Resort

There are lots of theme parks around LA that merit day-tripping: Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, and Six Flags Magic Mountain to name a few. But a Lego-themed park is truly unique. About a 90-minute drive south of LA, Legoland California has a large Lego-style aquarium and a water park with lagoons and slides. You'll also find over 60 different rides and tons of attractions such as Lego-centric shows and the chance to experience a 4D movie.


Temecula Wine Country

It's almost mandatory for Los Angelinos to make pilgrimages north to the wine regions of Napa and Sonoma. But there are some great wineries that are much closer! A drive of 90 minutes takes you to the Temecula Valley, where you'll find over 30 wineries tucked into picturesque hillsides, with tasting tours that let you visit just about all of them (your designated driver can imbibe on the next day trip).


Ventura and Santa Cruz Island

You can reach Ventura in just over an hour from LA, finding a classic California beach town that's well worth exploring. But for a truly venturous day hop the ferry for a 90-minute ride across gorgeous Pacific waters to Santa Cruz Island. Hiking trails are the big draw here, taking you to elevated spots with glorious views across the ocean and to sheltered coves with tide pools and sea caves.


Lake Arrowhead

With a drive of 90 minutes, you can go from LA's streets to the San Bernardino National Forest, dubbed the "Alps of Southern California." While the forest's Lake Arrowhead is private, visitors can still tour the idyllic spot aboard the Arrowhead Queen, a paddleboat that cruises around the lake for about an hour. Plus, there are lots of great hiking trails in the Lake Arrowhead area, notably along the famed Pacific Crest Trail.

Lake Arrowhead Village
Photo Credit: Don Graham / Flickr


Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley

With a drive of about two hours, you can be in the Santa Ynez Valley, the center of Santa Barbara wine country, and home to over a hundred wineries set around six charming towns. But the town that most merits a day trip is Solvang—a Danish-style village with windmills, Scandinavian shops, and a replica of Copenhagen's iconic 17th century Rundetaarn tower.

Solvang, California
Photo Credit: Ken Lund / Flickr


Big Bear Lake

Take a drive about two hours from LA to the San Bernardino Mountains and Big Bear Lake, a haven with pine forests and scenery that will make you the envy of Instagram. In warm weather, the lake offers swimming, canoeing, kayaking, and jet skiing. During winter months, Big Bear is one of Southern California's top spots for snowboarding and skiing.

Person water skiing on Big Bear Lake
Photo Credit: Don Graham / Flickr

So, what are you waiting for? If you’ve got a free day for exploring, the best day trips from Los Angeles are waiting for you.

Written by William McCleary for Knockaround.

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