Unsurprisingly, Los Angeles is the most visited city in the state of California with the star-studded sidewalks of LA beckoning an average of 48.3 million annual tourists. And if that enormous number includes you, the ritzy retail scene, unmatched austere sunshine, and gourmet vegan food trucks should be all too familiar. While downtown is loaded with pop culture modernity, to really encounter the beauty of So-Cal, you need to escape the city. Which is why I put together this list of the best day trips from Los Angeles to prove that fathomless gorges, sugar sand beaches, and pastel colored Barbie dream homes that line the Pacific Ocean are just outside the city limits.
A 20 minute drive to see the magnificent California shoreline isn’t a bad deal. Santa Monica is the quintessential west coast beach town, complete with staggering palm trees and eroding coastline year-round. Famously known for the Santa Monica pier, the candy- colored carnival rides can be seen for miles down Ocean Avenue. Believe it or not, once upon a time, the pier was simply a place to cast a fishing line and grab a cup of coffee. Now visitors have a choice of 10 different restaurants, not including Starbucks and food carts serving wisps of cotton candy and lime adorned paper cups of Mexican-style street corn.
Just across the street is Palisades Park, a 26.4-acre lot that sits atop the bare, corroding cliffside, where views of the Pacific Ocean and rugged mountain range collide. Pro tip: avoid the crowds by catching the sunset here instead of on the pier.
Set between Palisades Park and Santa Monica beach are the viral “Sherbet Homes”. Rows of cute, quirky pastel colored beach houses, each uniquely designed with its own eccentric theme. Modern and vintage, gothic and Barbie, rustic and industrial; each home catches your eye and begs to be rented on your next Santa Monica vacation.
Need a city-break without leaving the city? Check out these Relaxing Green Spaces Around Los Angeles!
Renowned for its fiery sunsets and prime surfing conditions, Laguna Beach should be top priority on your day trip itinerary. This seaside paradise is the ideal setting to allow the natural beauty of SoCal consume you. Years of saltwater crashing against aging rocks has created lively ecosystems of tide pools that house all kinds of critters on the coast of Laguna Beach. Thousands of stairs guide you up and over the sandy cliffsides, through wildflower beds that coat the hills as thick as hair. Orange County Parks and Recreation call this little strip of heaven Crescent Bay Point Park. A quiet, elusive green space for friends and family to enjoy a Sunday afternoon picnic with a classy charcuterie board and bubbling champagne.
A quick Google search will give you a rundown of the most visited seaside restaurants in Laguna Beach, but you can skip reading through the redundant reviews and just go to The Cliff. Elegant outdoor seating don white and blue stone design that give off a summer in Mykonos ambiance. Freshly caught fish are gently plated, spritzed with a citrus palate, and smeared with aesthetically pleasing sauces. Sipping a fruity cocktail center stage of the setting sun on the Pacific horizon is like having dinner and a show.
KERN RIVER CANYON
112 miles north of LA is the lower Sequoia National Forest, home of Kern River Canyon. This intense ravine was carved by the Kern River, which rushes from Lake Isabella to Bakersfield, following highway 178 through the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. What makes this 2-and-a-half-hour drive worth it though is not just the scenery. Conquering Kern River Canyon means being awarded the bragging rights to say you have braved one of the most dangerous rivers in the United States. As of May 2020, the total body count of Kern River was 307, and growing. Over the years the rising number of accidents and fatalities have caused people to wonder- what is it about this ravine that makes it so hazardous? From what local authorities can gather, the smooth granite rocks that lie in and about the river make a slick steppingstone, and those who aren’t cautious can easily slip into the rushing water. Authorities also encourage anyone traveling to the area to use durable flotation devices while swimming, and only camp in designated areas. With the right precautions, everyone can safely enjoy the natural phenomenon of Kern River Canyon.
Long Beach is the beach day trip for Angelinos. Known mostly for its floating all-in-one restaurant/ museum/hotel ship, The Queen Mary, this 1,019 ft. long boat was the Titanic of 1936. In its heyday, the ship made 1,001 expeditions from England to New York. Today, it still has all the glitz and glam, without any of the movement. Travelers and locals come from all over to spend a luxurious day dining out, getting spa treatments, name brand shopping, and indulging in the historical significance of the ship.
Consider Catalina Island a day trip from your day trip. A tiny island off the southwest coast of Long Beach is easily accessible by just an hour boat ride on the Catalina Express. Once docked, there is an almost infinite number of possible itineraries. Bask in the island’s natural beauty by baking on the beach or catch a ride on a glass bottom boat if you’d rather get a tan on the water. Not to mention the classic water sport activities: Kayaking, snorkeling, fishing, diving, etc. For those looking to stay dry, there is the Zip Line Eco Tour, rock climbing wall, and close animal encounters featuring wild falcons and bison.
Santa Barbara, also known as the American Riviera is one of the most iconic towns in California. Even more exciting, Santa Barbara is home to Solvang, arguably the most charming Danish village this side of the States. In the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley is a veiled escape from central California as we know it, and a startling entry to an impressive representation of Danish charm. As if stepping into a common wardrobe and emerging in a snow- blanketed Narnia, Solvang is pure cookie cutter Danish architecture awash with pastel Crayola colors. Quaint bakeries selling different forms of baked sugar, microbreweries that feature quirky flavors of the month, and four towering windmill replicas of Copenhagen’s Rundetårn sprinkle the streets of this cutesy village.
As if you hadn’t indulged enough wine by now, Santa Barbara’s utmost appealing feature is the Urban Wine Trail. 33 California- based wineries line the streets and demand to be sampled in an infinite afternoon of tastings and flights. The Trail is made up of 5 walkable neighborhoods that each have their own unique atmosphere and taste. Most of the wineries are in the Funk Zone, but don’t limit yourself here. Venture beyond the tourist trap and into the core of authentic Santa Barbara where the connoisseurs and aficionados sip their wine.