If your neighborhood bubble isn’t cutting it anymore and you’re itching for a getaway that won’t take an overnight, there are no shortage of day trips from Los Angeles! From beachside boardwalks to aerial trams, LA’s got plenty of great destinations that you can visit—and still get back home by bedtime. Read on for the best day trips from Los Angeles.
Drive Time: Under an hour from DTLA.
Why We Love It: With its historic Ferris wheel (which is open as long as you wear a mask!), bustling eateries, and waterfront charm, Balboa Village is a perfect place to spend a family day.There are 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.
Note: The Balboa Fun Zone, which is like a pint-sized Santa Monica Pier with far fewer tourists, isn't open as of this publication, but check the website for details on when it will reopen to the public.
Insider Tip: The area is home to the original frozen banana, so don't leave without enjoying the delicious 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.)
600 E. Bay Ave.
Newport Beach, CA
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Drive Time: Less than 2 hours from DTLA.
Why We Love It: This tram ride feels like a Disneyland ride, only you're actually going somewhere (besides around-and-around). Boasting a two-and-a-half mile ascent on a rotating tram car, it's thrilling enough for kids (and adults) of all ages. And then, of course, there is the destination: Once atop the peak, there are hiking trails to explore, a small history museum, and a restaurant where you can admire the view and grab a bite to eat at Forest View Restaurant—8500 feet above sea level.
Pro Tip: Dress warmly. Temps at the top are often 30-40 degrees cooler than the valley floor. It's cold enough that even in spring, there may be a little bit of snow on top, even when the weather is warm below so check the forecast before heading up.
What's New: Due to COVID precautions, the tram is operating at reduced capacity, which means fewer people can ride per tram. Face masks are required, temperatures will be taken, and the tram will use touchless ticketing system. Also, you must make your reservation ahead of time (you won't even be allowed into the parking lot without a tram ticket). Each tram car will be sanitized between riders.
Hours: First tram leaves at 8 a.m.; Last one comes down at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $16.95 for kids 3-10; $26.95 for adults; $24.95 for seniors; kids under 3 are free.
1 Tram Way
Palm Springs, CA
San Diego Safari Park
Drive Time: About 2 hours from DTLA
Why We Love It: It's a tad closer than the San Diego Zoo (a difference of about 30 miles) and is still one of the largest zoos in the county for seeing a whole menagerie of wildlife. Sprawling more than 1,800 acres, the park is home to more than 3,500 animals—plus loads of interesting ways to see them, including by open air safari truck, from a zip line (for kids over 8), from a tethered hot air balloon, and from the inside of a private cabana. Of course, you can also just let the littles run and see the place by foot (stroller rentals are available if your kids get tired of walking).
Note: Get your ticket ahead of time! Reservations are mandatory, and capacity will be limited to meet state regulations.
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Cost: Adults, $62; Kids 3-11, $52; kids under 3 are free.
15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd.
Drive Time: Under 2 hours from DTLA.
Why We Love It: Sure, we've got plenty of beaches nearby but LA kids can have a genuine on-the-lake boating experience at Lake Casitas. Choose between kayaking or canoe'ing, or reserve a motorized boat for a day of fishing on the lake. Note: Because this is a reservoir, there is no swimming in the lake.
Note: The Casitas Water Adventure park—which has a splash pad for little ones, a Lazy Rive inner tube ride and multi-level jungle gym with waterfalls, bridges and slides—announced it would close through the summer of 2021 due to the pandemic, but we're hoping it opens next year! Check the website for updates. During non-pandemic times, tickets sell out fast, so be sure to reserve them in advance.
11311 Santa Ana Rd.
Underwood Family Farms
Drive Time: Under an hour from DTLA.
Why We Love It: When else will kids have the chance to drive their own mini John Deere, climb a hay pyramid, see adorable baby goats and ride a tractor-drawn wagon around the farm? Besides the popular strawberry and blueberry-picking season in spring and summer, the farm offers a year-round pick-your-own schedule, with cucumbers, sugar-snap peas, bell peppers, tomatoes and more ripe for the picking.
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.
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Cost: $6-$12 depending on the weekend and holidays schedule.
3370 Sunset Valley Rd.
Drive Time: Under an hour from DTLA.
Why We Love It: It's like a natural playground! Your little bandits will love scurrying across the many prehistoric rocks that jut up from the ground across this 932-acre park near the town of Agua Dulce. The park—which was named after the infamous bandit Tiburcio Vasquez, who used these rocks to elude capture in the 1800s—features gobs of small and colossus rocks, all of which are fairly easy to climb (though we recommend climbing with them for added safety).
Insider Tip: While you're in the area, stop by the Agua Dulce Winery to taste the locally-made wine (they have tastings-to-go, too!).
Hours: Spring/Summer: Sat.-Sun. 8 a.m.-5 p.m; Wed-Fr. 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Closed Mon. & Tues.
10700 W. Escondido Canyon Rd.
Santa Clarita, CA
The Flower Fields in Carlsbad
Drive Time: Around 1.5 hours from DTLA.
Why We Love It: Can you say Instagram gold? Kids can run around and immerse themselves amid 50-acres of colorful ranunculus flowers—plus roses, orchids, poinsettias, petunias, sweet peas, and more—while you snap the priceless pics that'll be on your wall forever. Besides that (because we know your kids don't really care about your social media feed), there are sweet pea mazes to navigate, an antique tractor tour around the farm, U-pick blueberry fields (open only when the crop isn't all picked out), a full calendar of entertainment featuring live music, Zumba and yoga classes, and more.
Pro Tip: Reservations are required due to Covid/social distancing requirements. Masks are required at all times.
When: Mar. 1 through May 9; 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily
Cost: $20 adults; $10 children; $18 seniors
5704 Paseo Del Norte
Whale Watching Cruises
Drive Time: Less than an hour from DTLA.
Why We Love It: Living on a coast is good for more than just perennial beach days. Our ocean is teeming with life waiting to be discovered—and taking the kids out for a few hours on the waves means they might get that amazing thrill of spotting migrating whales—plus the resident sea lions, seals and dolphins that make SoCal waters their year-round home.
When to go: Grey whale season runs from Dec. through Apr.; Blue whale season runs May through Nov.
There are several whale-watching outfits leaving out of LA-area harbors, including larger tour operators like Harbor Breeze Cruises and LA Waterfront, which offer two-story boats (of socially-distanced whale-watchers) for as low as $30 a person. Or, if you want a more intimate experience, companies such as East Meets West Excursions and Newport Coastal Adventures out of Newport Beach offers private trips if you're willing to pay for the privacy; these tours start about $300 for a small boat experience (up to 6 people).
Oasis Camel Dairy
Drive Time: About 2 hours from DTLA.
Why We Love It: Because camels! Not only is it a thrill to see these massive humped creatures trotting like puppies at the sound of a ringing bell (it's snacktime!), your kids will also love being able to go for a ride around the farm on the massive backs of the gentle giants.
The dairy is also home to turkeys, pigs, koi fish, sheep and parrots—all of whom you'll meet on your tour. And, if you're looking for a gift for the person who has everything, check out the camel milk skin products (and chocolates!) in the gift shop.
Hours: The dairy is open only for private tours, which means you (and your pod/family/friend group) will have the place to yourself.
Cost: $150 for up to 10 guests. Camel rides are an additional $150 (and include rides for all 10 guests).
26757 Old Julian Hwy (entrance on Hwy 78)
Ostrichland & Solvang
Drive time: Around 2 hours from DTLA.
Why We Love It: It's a bit of a trek, but what's not to love about serving a bowl full of pellets to these strange dinosaur-like birds? Ostrichland is the perfect stop if you're headed to the Danish-themed town of Solvang—and it's the sort of offbeat Americana attraction that everyone is sure to love. The farm, which is located about 10 minutes outside of Solvang, is home to more than 100 ostriches and emus—all of whom will be happy to come right up to you and help themselves to some big bird food (it's sold at the gift shop for $1 a bowl).
After getting your ostrich fix, head to Solvang. 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.
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Cost: $5; $2 for children 12 and under; $1 for ostrich food
610 E Hwy 246
Santa Barbara Zoo
Drive Time: About 1.5 hours from DTLA.
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.
Hours: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost: Tickets are timed; advance tickets required; $14.95 kids 2-11; $19.95 adults; parking $11
500 Ninos Dr.
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 2-2.5 hours from DTLA.
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 making a pit stop at the Starbucks on Highland Ave. (right next to the Chevron).
Sea World San Diego
Drive Time: Under two hours from DTLA
Why We Love It: Not only can you check out a menagerie of amazing water animals including Beluga whales, dolphins, and orcas, but as of Apr. 12, many of Sea World’s rides will finally be open as well! Until now, the park has only been operating as a zoo and aquarium due to California's COVID-19 reopening guidelines for theme parks.
Open rides will include the Electric Eel and Manta roller coasters, Tentacle Twirl wave swing, and several kiddie rides in the Sesame Street Bay of Play. The Bay of Play will also debut a new Sesame Street animal education presentation and a “Furry Friends Dance Party” for kids, as well as socially distanced meet-and-greets with Sesame’s most beloved characters. The Journey to Atlantis water coaster, Tidal Twister dueling coaster, Shipwreck Rapids river rapids water ride, and other attractions will return later.
Good to Know: All visitors to Sea World must be California residents and will need to make online advance reservations and purchase date-specific tickets. SeaWorld annual pass holders and Fun Cardmembers will also need to make reservations.
Hours: Fri.-Sun. 10 a.m.- 8 p.m.; Mon. & Thurs. 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Closed Tues. & Wed.
Cost: $65 & up
500 Sea World Dr.
San Diego, CA
—By Shannan Rouss & Melissa Heckscher