The City of Angels is a truly remarkable place but sometimes it’s fun to get out of dodge for a bit (without spending a fortune on an actual vacation). Thankfully, LA has oodles of quick and convenient day trips that are all within a short driving (or in one case, boating) distance away. With mountains, beaches, gardens, and scenic vistas a-plenty, there is truly something for everyone to explore so keep reading for our favorite fun-filled, easy day trips from Los Angeles.
There is a ton to “sea” in this charming oceanside town just 15 minutes from Santa Barbara. Not only is the state beach a perfect place to set up shop and get your boogie boarding on, but the nearby Tomol Interpretive Play area, seal sanctuary, salt marsh tours and bluffs nature preserve offer a wide range of day trip enjoyment for your adorable adventurers!
Getting There: Carpinteria is a mere 15 minutes from Santa Barbara by car. Coming from LA, you’ll take the 86B exit from the 101, then get off at Linden Ave.
For a quick and easy daytime activity, visit LA’s very own secret garden where the whole family can escape the bustle of city life for a little nature nurturing. Young botanists can frolic among colorful flowers while taking part in a “Children’s Walk” scavenger hunt of sorts and lots of other kid-friendly activities along the way. Don’t forget to squeeze in a ride on the enchanted mini railroad which only seems to add to this magical microcosm!
Getting There: Descanso Gardens is located near the intersection of the 210 and 2 freeways and is a 20-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles.
Malibu Lagoon State Beach
Tide pools are always a popular family destination (especially along the coast of sunny SoCal) and the ones at Malibu Lagoon Beach are no exception! Your little sea urchins will love touching starfish and chasing down crabs (just make sure to bring water shoes for those slippery rocks). Don’t forget to keep your birdwatching eyes peeled, since this beach is known for its impressive variety of feathered friends.
Getting There: Malibu Lagoon State Beach is approximately 25 miles from Los Angeles (give or take a mile). Head north on Pacific Coast Hwy. and look for the parking entrance/nature area at Cross Creek Rd. (directly across from the famed Malibu Country Mart).
Less “day trip” and more unique local locale, these Venice-like canals are only a few short blocks away from Venice Beach but feel like you’ve been transported to Italy, all without the jet lag. It’s a serene (not so well kept) neighborhood secret packed with more picturesque charm than you can shake a latte at and definitely a place worth exploring. With winding paths and adorable arched bridges (set against a backdrop of multimillion-dollar architecture), you’ll all be saying “Ciao” to everyone you meet along the way.
Getting There: Head west on the 405 and exit at Venice Blvd. Head west on Venice, turn left onto Pacific and take it one more block to Washington Blvd. Access the canals (on foot) near the intersection of Washington Blvd. and Pacific Ave., at the corner of Washington and Strongs Dr. There, under a small sign that says "Venice Canals Walkway," turn in and begin exploring.
Leona Valley & Oak Glen
Picking your own fruit is a fab way to spend any day, especially when cherries and apples are the stars of the show! These seasonal outings are both about an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles and are well worth the trek thanks to the sweet payoff (always call ahead first to confirm hours of operation).
Bring your pint-size pickers to Leona Valley from May-mid Jun. for cherry season and have them go hog wild filling up their baskets with juicy Rainiers or bright red Bing varietals. Come Autumn, take a drive out to Oak Glen where apples are the main event and there are tons of pick-your-own orchards to choose from. These places fill up fast on weekends during their peak picking seasons so best to get there early in the morning!
Leona Valley Cherries: Take the 5 freeway north through the San Fernando Valley. Take the 14 freeway north and exit at Palmdale Blvd. Go west on Palmdale approximately 9 miles to the center of the valley and look for orchard signs.
Oak Glen Apples: Take the 10 freeway east until you hit Live Oak Canyon Rd. Look for signs for Oak Glen Rd. and all the orchards are along the way.
Anchors away mateys! Take a day to sail offshore for a visit to Catalina, the most charming little island just 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. The giant ferry boat is only the first step toward a full day of fun and will certainly prime your brood for their island adventure.
Upon arriving, fuel up on some flapjacks at the Pancake Cottage before watching the kiddos paddle around the harbor in mini kayaks. Take a glass bottom boat tour of the surrounding water or rent a golf cart and cruise around the island at your own speed to soak up the European feel for yourselves. Animal lovers, make sure to keep your eyes open for bison, bats, snakes and other reptiles living on the island.
Getting There: Head to Long Beach Harbor and board the Catalina Express for an hour-long ferry ride to Avalon.
Malibu Creek State Park
Want that camping feel without a super long drive and the actual, well, camping? Then take the family to Malibu Creek State Park where there is no shortage of nature-soaked trails that are just perfect for letting your wildlings loose. Hiking during the day is not only a great way to expend loads of cooped up energy, but it will also net you some awesome sights, including glimpses of deer, birds, and frogs in their natural habitat.
Good to Know: Some of the trail areas (and most of the campgrounds) are still closed or inaccessible due to the Woolsey Fire aftermath so make sure to call ahead to confirm before you head out!
Getting There: From the 101 freeway, exit on Las Virgenes Rd. and go south (toward the ocean). Park entrance will be on the right just a tick past the Mulholland Dr. intersection.
If you need some serious family rejuvenation (without spending lots of cash on a full-blown vacation), take the gang to Ojai for a day trip they will certainly remember. Located just over an hour north of Los Angeles, this artsy mountain town is a clean breath of fresh air right next to Lake Casitas, where water activities run aplenty. Rent a boat and tool around the lake or bring your poles for a little lake fishing with your mini minnows. And to really knock the kids' socks off, the lake also has a Water Adventure Park (open only in the summer) which may be smaller than the water parks in LA, but makes for shorter lines and cleaner water.
Getting There: From the north or south, take the 101 freeway to CA Hwy 33 East. The junction is just north of Ventura.
Step into Southern California’s version of Denmark with a day trip to Solvang, dubbed the “Danish capital of America.” Sample Danish delicacies, go for a leisurely bike ride, feed hungry ostriches or peruse the cute shop-lined streets. Your kids are sure to love the whimsical old world feel of this little town, so don’t forget your camera for some prime photo ops.
Getting There: Located approximately 125 miles from Los Angeles, this two and a half hour road trip is a little on the longer side but well worth its weight in gas. Take the 101 North freeway for 125 miles and exit in Buelton onto route CA-246 heading east. At the top of the ramp, turn right onto CA-246 East and continue 3 miles into Solvang.
Big Bear Lake
You’ll all be ‘coming around the mountain’ with an alpine adventure up an actual mountain! Leave city smog and congestion behind, pack up the car with provisions to be gone all day and head to Big Bear Lake where the air is clear, and the trees are plentiful. Be sure to take your monkeys to the Big Bear Alpine Zoo or cruise around the lake on Miss Liberty, a paddlewheel tour boat. This place puts the “active” in “activities” so your mountain goats will sleep well on the way home after a full day at Big Bear!
Getting There: Take the I-10 freeway east to the CA-210 East to the CA-330 North which becomes the CA-18 through Running Springs and Deer Lick. This is a hike at around two and a half hours away from Los Angeles but delivers big on family fun!!!
Once thought of as a getaway only for Hollywood’s most famous or snowbirds and spring-breakers, Palm Springs is actually a great place to visit for the day with the whole family in tow! Between riding the aerial tramway, hopping on the back of a real live camel, or hands-on fun at the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, your little lounge lizards won’t want to leave. Make sure to throw pillows and p.j.s into the car because after a full day exploring all Palm Springs has to offer, the kiddos won’t stand a chance staying awake.
Getting There: Take the 10 freeway east to CA-111 into Palm Springs. This desert jaunt will take 2 hours on average so don’t forget the road trip games for your tiny trip companions.
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—Sabrina Blardone, Andie Huber & Jenifer Scott