Craving a major change of scenery but don’t have the time or money to spend on an actual far-flung vacation? Thankfully, you don’t have to travel far to leave the hustle and bustle of LA behind. Keep reading for our favorite fun-filled day trips that are 90 minutes or less from Los Angeles—but feel like a world away.
Drive Time: Barring any major gridlock, it'll take you less than an hour to make it to to this charming, family-friendly destination in Newport Beach.
Why We Love It: With its historic ferris wheel, classic arcade games (skeeball, anyone?) and more, the island's Balboa Fun Zone is like a pint-sized Santa Monica Pier with far fewer tourists. There's also bike and boat rentals, a nautical museum and an old-school candy store specializing in nostalgic sweets. If you have time, hop aboard the ferry to Balboa Island—you might even spot a migrating whale on the way over.
Insider Tip: The area is home to the original frozen banana, so don't leave without enjoying the chocolate-covered treat. (Both Dad's Donut & Bakery Shop and Sugar 'n Spice claim to be the first purveyors of the dessert on a stick, but the jury's still out on which spot is the top banana.)
Drive Time: Without traffic (hey, it's possible!), you can make it to this Ventura County destination (just outside of Ojai) in a little over an hour.
Why We Love It: Sure, we've got plenty of beaches nearby but LA kids can have a genuine on-the-lake experience at Lake Casitas. Choose between kayaking or canoe'ing, or reserve a motorized boat for a day of fishing on the lake—get all the rental details here. If the allure of getting back to nature isn't enough to wow kiddos, add the Water Adventure park (open through Sept. 14) to your itinerary. There's a splash pad for little ones, along with a Lazy Rive inner tube ride and multi-level jungle gym with waterfalls, bridges and slides into a shallow lagoon.
Insider Tip: Adventure Park tickets sell out fast, so be sure to reserve them in advance.
11311 Santa Ana Rd.
Underwood Family Farms
Drive Time: Take the 118 W for about 50 miles to arrive at this Moorpark farm in less than an hour.
Why We Love It: When else will kids have the chance to drive their own mini John Deere, climb a hay pyramid, bottle-feed a baby goat and see an actual bull? The farm also offers a year-round pick-your-own schedule, with cucumbers, sugar-snap peas, bell peppers, tomatoes and more currently in season.
Insider Tip: Don't wait until the Fall Harvest Festival or Easter celebrations to visit—there's still plenty to do on the farm the rest of the year and it's much less crowded during non-event weekends.
3370 Sunset Valley Rd.
Santa Barbara Zoo
Drive Time: Just off the 101 (and right by the beach), the Santa Barbara Zoo is around 90 miles from LA—so a good 3 hours in traffic. But leave by 8:30a.m. on a weekend and you should easily arrive at the zoo by 10a.m. when it opens.
Why We Love it: Because this time of year, 90+ degree weather at our beloved Los Angeles Zoo makes it too darn hot to enjoy. Sure, the oceanside Santa Barbara Zoo is smaller than its sprawling LA counterpart, but that's part of the appeal: At 30 acres (compared to LA Zoo's 133 acres), it's more manageable and typically less crowded. And don't let the zoo's smaller size fool you—it's still home to 146 different species of animals (including kid favorites like elephants, giraffes, monkeys, penguins, lions and more). There's also the Zoo Train that takes you underneath swinging gibbons, through a tunnel and around the entire perimeter of the park.
Insider Tip: Got an LA Zoo membership? Bring your ID card to score 50 percent off tickets.
500 Ninos Dr.
Rileys at Los Rios Rancho
Drive Time: Expect to spend about 1.5 hours in the car as you make your way east to Los Rios, located at the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains.
Why We Love It: Established in 1906, it’s the biggest orchard in Oak Glen, so there is plenty of apple-picking and cider-making even for the large crowds that descend on the weekends. You can wander in a corn maze, take a tractor and horse-drawn carriage rides and almost always catch some music. This is a great place to stop for lunch at their famous BBQ and bakery.
Insider Tip: Like all of Oak Glen's pick-your-own orchards, Los Rios fills up fast on weekends during peak picking seasons, so get there early (gates open at 8:30a.m.) to beat the rush.
39611 Oak Glen Rd.
Oak Glen, Calif.
Longer Drives, But Worth the Trip
Drive Time: About 40 miles past Santa Barbara, the road trip to Solvang should take 2.5-3 hours.
Why We Love It: With its windmills, pastry shops, and Hans Christian Andersen Museum, no wonder it's known as the Danish capital of America. The whole family can pedal around the area on a four-wheel Surrey bike or hop aboard a horse-drawn trolley for a tour and history of the town. Be sure to also peak into the cuckoo clock shop, sample one of Solvang's famous aebelskivers and check out the Dana V. Wines Tasting Room.
Insider Tip: If your kids are prone to motion sickness, do not (we repeat: DO NOT) take the winding San Marcos Pass shortcut (aka State Route 154), even is your GPS is advising you otherwise.
Drive Time: Expect to spend about 2 hours and change on the road as you head east to the popular celebrity playground of the 1960s.
Why We Love It: With its combo of mid-century kitsch and modern amenities, this one-time spring break destination is actually a great place to escape to with the fam. Kids can soar to new heights in the aerial tramway, take a ride on a real live camel, visit the Children's Discovery Museum of the Desert and more. Just make sure to throw pillows and PJs into the car—because after a full day exploring all Palm Springs has to offer, the kiddos will be out before you even pass the iconic desert wind farm.
Insider Tip: If you do decide to go there during the summer and make it an overnighter, definitely request an upgrade wherever you're staying. With it being the low-season, your chances of scoring a great deal on a suite are looking good.
Big Bear Lake
Drive Time: While the destination is around 90 miles from LA, the last 31 miles of the drive are along a 2-lane, winding mountain road, which means the whole trip will take you 2.5-3 hours.
Why We Love It: 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!
Insider Tip: When you exit the 210 to begin the trek up the mountain, it's still another hour to your destination so we recommend a pit stop at the Starbucks on Highland Ave. (right next to the Chevron).