California is a large and diverse state. From beaches to mountains, deserts to forests, and big cities to small towns, the Golden State has it all.
When planning a trip to California, it can be difficult to decide how to divide your time. However, with Los Angeles as your home base, you can easily take many day trips and get a taste of some what the state has to offer.
Here’s your guide with some of the best day trips from Los Angeles, all within two hours driving from the city.
Solvang / Santa Ynez Valley
Solvang is a quaint Danish town surrounded by the wineries of the Santa Ynez Valley. At just more than 100 miles away up the scenic Route 101, it’s a beautiful drive and a great destination for a day trip. (Although, and this will be a common theme for many destinations, depending on where in the city you’re leaving from and the time of day you depart, it could be pushing the two hours away limit.)
Solvang is a small town that’s easily explored on foot. Spend your time wandering its charming streets, perusing the shops, and stopping in to some wine tasting rooms. And if you’ve had your fill of town, head out to the wineries that dot the Santa Ynez Valley.
Click here for our guide to Solvang (bonus: it’s dog-friendly!).
Santa Barbara is a picturesque seaside town along the 101. About 80 miles from the Los Angeles, the city is known for its university, zoo, and beaches.
Between its historical sites, outdoor activities, and proximity to wine country, there’s plenty to do in Santa Barbara. Make sure to spend some time in its downtown area, where you’ll find lots of cute shops and great restaurants. Plus, with all its mediterranean style buildings, it’s easy to feel far away while you’re there.
Ojai is a relaxed small town in the Topatopa Mountains just more than an hour from Los Angeles.
Ojai is home to art galleries, hippie-centric stores, and wine tasting rooms. You’ll also find the well known Ojai Valley Inn and Spa in town. Spend some time wine tasting, enjoying the scenery, and treating yourself. No matter how you choose to unwind, you’ll find a way to do it in Ojai.
Ventura is another seaside town along the 101. At less than an hour from Los Angeles, it’s the closest day trip spot on the list.
The main things to do in Ventura are explore its downtown and hit the beach. The downtown area is full of great shops, restaurants, and bars (plus, for craft beer fans, Topa Topa Brewing Co is nearby). The beaches are lined with paved walking and biking paths and some areas are dog-friendly. Pay a visit to the pier for a nice walk over the water and some solid fish tacos from Beach House Tacos.
Lake Arrowhead is nestled high up in the San Bernardino Mountains. The lake is private, so you can’t just show up, rent a boat, and head out onto the lake on your own. However, there is plenty to do as a day trip visitor.
Pay a visit to Lake Arrowhead Village for dining, shopping, and walking lakeside. To get out onto the lake, take a ride on the Arrowhead Queen, which departs from the village tours of the lake year-round. There are also several restaurants in nearby Blue Jay and an amusement park in Skyforest called SkyPark at Santa’s Village.
About another 45 minutes up the mountain is Big Bear. Big Bear is more accessible to the public, so you can rent a boat there in the summer. It’s also at a higher elevation, so you can go skiing there in the winter. Since it is farther away, it might be a bit much for the day, but it’s possible!
You can find our full guide to Lake Arrowhead here.
First of all, Palm Springs is pushing it for a day trip. On a great day it would be about two hours to get there, but depending on where in the city you’re coming from and what time you leave, it could take whole lot longer.
That being said, Palm Springs is an iconic town that’s always worth a visit. Its mid-century modern buildings and tall palm trees set against the desert mountains are classic.
Hit the downtown area for great restaurants (make sure you’re there for brunch!), fun bars, antique shops, and nods to old hollywood history. If you want to hop in the pool, several hotels offer day passes you can purchase.
To get some more scenic views of the area, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway transports passengers up to Mt. San Jacinto State Park.
Balboa Island is a small island in Newport Beach. It’s reachable by the Marine Avenue bridge or by ferry from the Balboa Peninsula. Given the size and density of the island, it’s best to leave the car elsewhere if you can during your visit.
Balboa Island is lined with charming nautical homes, shops, and restaurants. Arrested Development fans may also remember it as the home of the infamous banana stand (and yes, there are two frozen banana shops on the island). A sidewalk runs the perimeter of the island, so it’s easy to spend a relaxing day exploring on foot.
Santa Catalina Island, or simply Catalina Island, is located about 20 miles off the coast of southern California. To get to Catalina, you’ll first drive to the port at San Pedro or Long Beach and then take an hour-long boat ride on the Catalina Express over to the island. Even though it doesn’t take long to get there, once you’re on the island you’ll feel like you’re a world away.
There are two main areas of Catalina Island: the city of Avalon and the small community of Two Harbors. It’s more common to visit Avalon, particularly when just going for the day. Catalina Island has long served as a getaway for Southern Californians. From its beaches and its unique sights (like wild bison!) to its great restaurants and friendly locals, the island is the perfect escape.
Check out our full Catalina Island travel guide here.
Depending on the traffic, Temecula can also be a bit tough for a day trip. However, if you can get there, it’s a fun town for spending the day.
One of the most popular things to do in Temecula is wine tasting. You can drive yourself around or hop on a tour to take you from vineyard to vineyard. Temecula also has a great old town. The old town is full of restaurants, shops, art, and cultural events housed in a rustic setting that’ll have you feeling like you’ve stepped into the old west.
San Clemente is a seaside town between Los Angeles and San Diego. It’s known for its beautiful state beaches, San Onofre and San Clemente, and Spanish-style architecture. Its downtown is full of shops, boutique hotels, and places to eat and drink (like Pizza Port brewery). It’s a great place to get a taste of Southern California beach life.
Whether you’re looking for an escape to the beach or the mountains, the desert or wine country, you’ll find it no more than two hours from Los Angeles. Cheers!
Find more California travel guides here.