Let’s be honest. Los Angeles has everything you need: Beaches, skyscrapers, desert hikes, a foodie scene; the list goes on. However, sometimes you just need a complete change of scenery. Lucky for us, California is filled with adventurous spots that are only a car ride away. Here is a list of the best road trips to take from Los Angeles.
For The City Slicker….
1. San Diego (2 Hours)
If you took a small bite out of Los Angeles and plopped it on the map, you would get San Diego. If you’re looking for restaurants and bars, head to the Gaslamp Quarter to get your groove on. If you’re looking for wildlife, go to La Jolla and watch the sea lions bask in the sun just an arm’s length away. If you want scenery, grab a bottle of wine and a blanket to watch the sun go down on the rocky shore of Sunset Cliffs.
2. San Francisco (6 Hours)
San Francisco, though it may be a rival of many Angelenos, is a great city. You can head down to Fisherman’s Wharf for Clam Chowder at the pier and dessert at Ghirardelli’s Square. If you’re looking for wildlife, you can watch the sea lions go crazy, or take a hike up in Muir Woods where the redwood trees grow. To fulfill your tourist needs, you’ve got the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge, Lombard Street and Alcatraz Island. And don’t forget to stop at Buena Vista to have a taste of the first place that ever served Irish coffee in the United States!
3. Las Vegas (4 Hours)
I would explain this one, but what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
4. Phoenix (5.5 Hours)
Phoenix is another one of those cities that can fulfill your Insta pictures during the day and your Finsta pictures during the night. Take a hike (or a drive, you city slicker) up Camelback Mountain. I highly recommend watching the sunset over the city from up there if you get the chance. At night, there are plenty of casinos to waste your money at, otherwise hop on over to Downtown Tempe to party like ASU.
For The Relaxer…
5. Huntington Beach (1 Hour)
Huntington Beach is an easy day trip as it’s right over in Orange County. Though I can’t guarantee you’ll see any Real Housewives, the Huntington Beach Pier is where it’s at. This is one of the longest public piers on the entire West Coast of California. If you’re a dog lover like myself, I have to recommend the Huntington Dog Beach [whether you have your own dog or not]. You’ll be able to see these four-legged friends having the best days of their lives as they chase sticks into the water and tackle each other into the sand.
6. Catalina Island (45 Minutes To Long Beach + 1 Hour Ferry Ride)
If Catalina Island doesn’t give you mad Step Brothers throwbacks, then don’t worry about the Catalina Wine Mixer. From the beaches and palm trees to the resort town nearby, you’ll be able to satisfy all of your exotic tastes: Parasailing, zip lining and kayaking– must I go on?
7. Santa Barbara (1.5 Hours)
There’s a special spot in my heart for Santa Barbara. Their downtown area is built Mediterranean-style with white stucco buildings lined with red-tile roofs. Stroll down their cobblestone paths to grab a bite to eat and do some shopping. If you’re looking more to get away, there are some stunning coastal walks that lead to the beach, like Arroyo Burro.
8. Laguna Beach (75 Minutes)
Laguna Beach is a small coastal city in Orange County. Obviously, the best thing to do here is to just hit the sparkling waves at the beach. However, if you’d like to add a bit more to your itinerary, there are plenty of easy hikes to do along the water’s edge as well as boutiques and restaurants of every kind.
9. Palm Springs (2 Hours)
Palm Springs is a great place to go to leave your worries. Most people know the area for its elaborate golf courses, stylish hotels and pool hopping. If you’re really hoping to relax, you can spend the day floating in the hot springs, hence its name.
10. Rosarito Beach (3 Hours)
I’m just going to start this one out by saying this IS located in Mexico, so if you’re not a passport holder, don’t say I never warned you. Just 30 minutes past San Diego, Rosarito Beach was once solely for Hollywood film sets. Now, just about everyone–locals and vacationers alike–hop over here for a relaxing day on the beach with some views.
For The Tree Hugger….
11. Joshua Tree (2 Hours, 40 Minutes)
Joshua Tree is one of those hippie areas that will leave you with a complete spiritual reset. The hiking options are endless in the national park and by nightfall, you’ll be able to see the most spectacular display of constellations above you. Don’t forget to check out some of the local art shops on your way out.
12. Sequoia and King Canyon National Parks (4 Hours)
Both of these parks are located on the east side of Fresno, so I recommend checking them both off within the same trip. Being named the world’s largest trees, these sequoias will tower above you and make you realize just how small your problems really are in this world. Though you could spend days in this area, one day should be enough to hit all of the highlights.
13. Big Bear Lake (2 Hours)
Though Big Bear is a small city, it’s probably one of the most well-known day trips from Los Angeles. In the winter, you can hit the slopes with your favorite people and in the summer, you can hike and beach, though there won’t be any lifeguards on duty. Despite both of these features, the best time to visit Big Bear is actually in the spring when the weather is just starting to warm up and the crowds aren’t in full swing yet.
14. Mammoth Lakes (5 Hours)
Mammoth Lakes is similar to Big Bear in that it’s known for the powdered peaks in the winter and the trails in the summer. There are also tons of hot springs nearby here to help you warm up and relax those sore muscles after a day of scaling the scenery.
15. Lake Tahoe (7.5 Hours)
Lake Tahoe is a huge freshwater lake that has panoramic views all around. It’s a one-stop-shop as you’ve got beaches, mountains, shopping, nightlife–you name it. For pristine beaches and a look at one of the deepest parts of the entire lake, head to D.L. Bliss State Park, but keep that information on the DL so you can have it to yourself.
Flagstaff and Sedona are close enough to each other in Arizona that you might as well check them both off of your bucket list. Flagstaff is known as the City of Seven Wonders for being home to Coconino National Forest, Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon, San Francisco Peaks, Sunset Crater, Walnut Canyon and Wupatki National Monument. Sedona, on the other hand, is more of a spiritual wellness retreat. It is home to many vortexes, which are thought to be the center of energy funnels that aid in meditation, healing and even self-exploration. It would be pretty difficult to end this road trip without feeling uplifted.
17. Big Sur (5.5 Hours)
Big Sur is the ultimate destination for a road tripper because the journey up PCH is like driving on a postcard. I’m talking 80-foot waterfalls splashing into the ocean, towering redwood canyons and rocky ocean cliffs breaking the waves. Though anywhere within its vicinity looks like paradise, some of the more popular sights are Pfeiffer Beach and the Bixby Bridge.
18. Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks (8 Hours)
What’s nice about Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks is that you don’t need to be an insane CrossFit fanatic to see what you want to see. A lot of the trails are built for casual hikers and some even have wheelchair access. Though there isn’t a wrong time to visit these national parks, I would definitely try to get here in the warmer months, as the elevation makes it feel a bit cooler no matter what time of the year it is.
19. Yosemite National Park (5 Hours)
Yosemite is arguably one of the most famous national parks and we’re lucky that it’s so close to Los Angeles! Best known for its tremendous waterfalls, you don’t even have to be a nature lover to fall in love with the area. You can hike through the valleys, meadows and cliffs or simply do a scenic drive through the area and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. If possible, I’d plan a visit here in May or September, the seasons when the roads are still accessible, but not too crowded yet.
20. Channel Islands (2.5 Hours to Ventura + Ferry Ride)
The Channel Islands were actually created by tectonic forces, rising the land out of the water 5 million years ago. Since it was never actually a section of the mainland, you’ll be able to see nature and wildlife that can be seen no where else on this Earth. Hiking is a great way to explore the island, but you can also go snorkeling, diving or kayaking if you’re feeling adventurous.
21. Death Valley (3.5 Hours)
Death Valley is the lowest point in all of North America, but also the hottest place on planet Earth. Daytime highs have reached 127 degrees Fahrenheit! However, just because it does have its extremes, does not mean you can’t still visit in the summertime. You should, however, be safe and pack smart, know where you are going while hiking to avoid getting lost and bring plenty of water.
For The Wine Connoisseur…
22. Napa Valley (6.5 Hours)
Everyone knows what Napa Valley is and if you don’t, then you’re not a wine connoisseur, get out of this category. In all honesty though, this is paradise. With over 53 wineries and 12 breweries/distilleries, I cannot guarantee that you will be able to drive back to Los Angeles after this excursion. Lucky for you, there are day tours operating out of San Francisco, with rides included. Feel free to pass this information on to your friend, if you know what I mean.
23. Sonoma County (7 Hours, 45 Minutes)
If you’re deciding between Napa Valley and Sonoma County, let me break this down for you. Napa Valley will be the limo tour with expensive tastings and Michelin stars while Sonoma County will be the jeep ride with inexpensive tastings and and casual dining. Both are great; it just depends what you’re looking for. However, if you’ve got the time…why not both?
24. Temecula Valley (75 Minutes)
Temecula Valley is Southern California’s wine, which is great if you’re headed in the opposite direction of Napa Valley. Though they’ve received some hate from their competitors up north, Wine Enthusiast reviewed over 80 of their wines last year and nearly half of them scored 90 points or higher. Though this is definitely a more rural area than Los Angeles, you can relax on the golf course or in a hot air balloon ride over the vineyards.
25. Ojai (1.5 Hours)
Ojai is a great place to romance or relax, as it’s known as a spiritual area. The name ‘Ojai’ itself actually means “moon nest”, which I’m sure they talk about at their annual Lavender Fest. Though it isn’t overflowing with as many wineries as those I listed prior, it is home to some of the most beautiful vineyards and tasting rooms around Los Angeles.
For The Explorer…
26. Salton Sea (2.5 Hours)
Though Salton Sea is California’s Largest Lake, it’s only a matter of time before the entire place dries up. Back in the 1950’s-60’s Salton City was booming with clubs and boating, but as the sea level began to rise, many celebrities and those alike ran for Palm Springs, deserting the flooding marinas and resorts. Now, this ghost town sits in the desert, evaporating more and more each day. If you’re looking to see a city that once was, and kinda still is, but in a different way, Salton Sea is your hidden gem.
27. Solvang (2 Hours)
Unlike Salton Sea, Solvang is still alive and prosperous. However, it’s a bit different than your average California city. Solvang is known for its Danish heritage, with its architecture and eateries keeping this vision alive. Grab a Danish pastry and stroll through the village to see the five windmills, the giant red clog, the Little Mermaid Fountain and Round Tower. Like I said, it’s not your average city, but it will be an adventure to say the least.
I hope this comprehensive guide to the best road trips from Los Angeles gave you a great starting point for your travels. To check out more of our travel guides, click here.