Day Trips and Vacation Side Trips from Los Angeles

01 of 12

Active Outdoors: Hiking, Biking, Water Play

Volleyball Game at Manhattan Beach
©2014 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Ideas for an Active Day Out in Los Angeles

  • Griffith Park: The park is full of great hiking trails.
  • Perry's Cafe Bicycle Tours: They offer interesting bicycle tours in Venice Beach.
  • Segwow Segway Tours: If you haven't ridden a Segway before, it's so much fun you won't even care what you're seeing.

Active Day Trips Out of Town

  • Kayaking in La Jolla: Several companies offer kayak tours and rentals in the cove's quiet waters.
  • Scuba or Dive Catalina Island: Catalina is one of the favorite spots for Southern California divers and snorkelers.
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02 of 12

Arts, Architecture, Science and the Unusual

Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits
©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Ideas for a Unique Day Out in Los Angeles

  • California Museum of Science: We think this is the state's best hands-on science museum, as much fun for adults as it is for the kids.
  • Disney Concert Hall, Downtown: Disney accessible than the average symphony hall, with its doors open every day and audio tours for rent.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright Sites: Wright did some of his most ground-breaking work in LA and several of his creations are open to the public.
  • Favorite Southern California Architecture: From the AIA's list of favorite architecture.
  • Gamble House, Pasadena: An outstanding example of Crafstman style.
  • La Brea Tar Pits: Woolly mammoths, dire wolves and sabre-toothed cats just for starters...
  • LA Conservancy Tours: They offer an assortment of tours that focus on Los Angeles history.
  • Nixon Library, Yorba Linda: No matter what you think of the man, you'll leave this place knowing more about him than you did when you went.
  • Reagan Library, Simi Valley: President Reagan's library features extensive exhibits about his presidency and they have a real, retired Air Force One on display.
  • Pasadena: A top-notch art museum, arts and crafts-style architecture and an art collection/library/garden that has something for everyone (even the kids).
  • Warner Bros. Studio Tour, Burbank: This is a real, working studio. Tours on weekdays only.

Unique Day Trips Out of Town

  • Mount Wilson: Some really groundbreaking astronomy was done here.
  • Mount Palomar: This complex features five working telescopes.
  • Santa Barbara Mission: One of the most beautiful and best-preserved Spanish missions in the state.
  • Santa Barbara Presidio: A rare look at the life of the Spanish soldier on the California frontier.
  • USS Midway: Some of the best docents anywhere make visiting this retired aircraft carrier a real treat.
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03 of 12

Cute Towns

Danish Solvang
©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by permission.

Cute Towns Near Los Angeles

  • Julian: The most gold you'll find in this former mining town nowadays are the golden apples that ripen every fall. The little downtown boasts some nice antique shops and several places serving apple pies.
  • La Jolla: Maybe "cute" isn't quite the right word for La Jolla, but we always enjoy visiting this oceanside jewel.
  • Ojai: So idyllic it once stood in for Shangri-La.
  • Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley: Even though Solvang is definitely targeted toward tourists, it's still a fun little place to visit and the surrounding valley is outstanding.
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04 of 12

Family Adventures

Ferris Wheel at the Balboa Fun Zone
Dean Shareski/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

Ideas for a Family Day Out in Los Angeles

  • Aquarium of the Pacific: With lots of interactive things to do, it's a great place to explore the underwater world.
  • California Science Center: Judging from the number of happy kids crowded around the exhibits, this is one of the best hands-on science museums in the state.
  • Disneyland With No Wait: You read it right. Read about our secret way to stay on the rides and out of the lines.
  • Getty Museum and Getty Villa: Getty's exceptional family-oriented programs and audio tours make these two museums far from boring.
  • Griffith Park: Home to the zoo, planetarium, Traintown and a bunch of other fun places, the park could keep you busy for months.
  • La Brea Tar Pits: You won't find any dinosaurs, but they have woolly mammoth skeletons and my favorite sabre-toothed cats. On busy days, kids can pretend to be amateur Indiana Joneses.
  • Queen Mary: Everybody likes to tour the Queen Mary and many kids especially enjoy their Ghosts and Legends tour.
  • Redondo Beach: With lots of fun places on the pier and a nice, wide sandy beach, it's a perfect place for a day at the beach.
  • Universal Studios: It's a theme park with great rides and a fun movie theme. What more do I need to tell you?

Family Day Trips Out of Town

  • Balboa Peninsula, Newport Beach: A great spot for a laid-back day at the beach, with a fun amusement area and pier.
  • Birch Aquarium, La Jolla: This small aquarium is more manageable than the big one up in Long Beach.
  • Coronado Beach, San Diego: San Diego's most family-friendly beach.
  • La Purisima: Founded in 1787, La Purisima is one of the best-preserved Spanish mission locations in California, with no distracting surroundings, lot of still-standing buildings and a barynard full of animals that kids seem to love. If your fourth-grader is working on a mission project, this one is our top pick.
  • Legoland, San Diego: This place is great for the younger set who want a theme park experience.
  • Magic Mountain: Big, screamin' roller coasters are the big draw here.
  • Sea World, San Diego: Sea World always turns out to be more fun that I expect when I go in, and it's great for the animal-loving family.
  • Tide pooling at La Jolla Cove: This place is really pretty and the tide pools are full of things to check out.
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05 of 12

Indoor Activities

Queen Mary at Sunset
Dean Terry/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Ideas for a Day Indoors in Los Angeles

If it's hot outside or you're caught on a rainy weekend, these places are all-weather.

  • Farmers Market: You can roam around between the covered stalls, have lunch and while away several hours here.
  • Lucky Strike Lanes, Hollywood at Highland: If the idea of bowling gives you visions of Laverne and Shirley, think again. The lanes have gone upscale in Hollywood.
  • Dolby Theatre Tour: Even if you don't think you'll ever win an Academy Award, you can see where they're handed out.
  • Movie at the Cinerama Dome: They've taken movie-going to an entirely new level at this historic theater where the ambiance is almost as much fun as the film.
  • Movie at Grauman's Chinese: The interior at Grauman's is worth the price of a ticket all by itself.
  • Museums: Los Angeles has more museums than almost anyplace in the country. These are some of the best.
  • Queen Mary, Long Beach: The classic oceanliner has been docked in Long Beach for longer than she sailed the seas. If you haven't visited her yet, why not now?
  • Van's Skateboard Park, Anaheim: This place is as big as a large department store, with an assortment of quarter pipes, banks, handrails, boxes, pyramids and much more to keep your 'boarder busy.

Indoor Day Trips Out of Town

  • Chula Vista Olympic Center, San Diego: Olympic athletes train for the Summer Games here and you can see how it's done.
  • Balboa Park Museums, San Diego: You won't believe how many different kinds of museums can fit into one park.
  • Mount Palomar: Indulge your inner techie with a visit to the five astronomical telescopes.
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06 of 12

Lunch, Brunch and Foodie Destinations

Enjoying the View at Paradise Cove in Malibu
©2014 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Ideas for Brunch or Lunch in Los Angeles

  • Paradise Cove, Malibu: It's like a scene right of Beach Blanket Bingo, with a nice, sandy beach and a restaurant right on the beach. The fare is utilitarian, but portions are large and the ambiance stereotypical Southern California.
  • Parker's Lighthouse, Long Beach: With lots of windows, a relaxing outdoor patio and views of the Queen Mary, Parker's has been a local favorite for many years.
  • The Farm, Beverly Hills: The wild mushroom omelets at The Farm are worth the trip, and the cozy surroundings give a small-town feel.

Brunch and Lunch Out of Town

  • Bakersfield: You can sample traditional Basque food in this central valley town, then explore its country music heritage or its Dust Bowl history.
  • Cold Spring Tavern, Santa Barbara: Nestled in a canyon above town, this former stagecoach stop attracts a crowd every weekend. We're not sure which is better, the people-watching or a bowl of their chile verde.
  • Four Seasons Hotel, Santa Barbara: They serve one of the most extensive brunch buffets (it includes a caviar station, prime rib, a warm chocolate fountain, just for starters), so go hungry and take your time.
  • La Super Rica, Santa Barbara: Homemade, authentic Mexican food keeps the lines snaking down the sidewalk every weekend, a sure sign that it's worth the wait.
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07 of 12

Natural Beauty

Driving Through the Tunnel Log at Sequoia
©2005 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Places to Enjoy Natural Beauty Near Los Angeles

  • Catalina Island: With most of the island in a conservancy, it's an unspoiled spot for hiking.
  • Channel Islands: I like to call them California's Galapagos.
  • Huntington Gardens: Beautiful any time of year, but particularly outstanding in spring when the camellia garden blooms.
  • Santa Monica Mountains: A wild respite from the city, but so close you won't believe it.
  • Sequoia National Park: It's a long day trip, but worth it for some of the state's most outstanding scenery.
  • Red Rock Canyon State Park: In the middle of the Mojave Desert, it is one of the most eye-popping landscapes in Southern California.
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08 of 12

Nice Drives

Los Angeles from Mulholland Drive
Gabe Shore/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Nice Drives Around Los Angeles

  • Mad Maps: These are the best guides around if you like to take a backroads "Sunday drive."
  • Mount Wilson: The drive up into the mountains is pretty, the observatory is interesting and on a clear day, you can see all the way to the ocean.
  • Malibu Coast: Explore the coast highway between Santa Monica and Ventura, with lots of fun side trips and suggestions for making a day of it.
  • Mulholland Drive: The 55-mile-long Mulholland Scenic Parkway is one of the most famous thoroughfares in the country, taking you along the backbone of the Santa Monica Mountains for fabulous city views.
  • Palos Verdes Peninsula: Our long-time favorite drive follows the roads around the Palos Verdes peninsula between Redondo Beach and the San Pedro. From PCH in south Redondo, turn right onto Palos Verdes Drive and stick as close to the water as you can, taking W. 25th Street into San Pedro. You'll pass beautiful cliffside estates, the gorgeous Wayfarer's Chapel and the Korean Friendship Bell, to name just a few spots.
  • Route 66: Get your kicks (as the old song says) with a drive along the route of the historic highway. For a quick spin, follow Route 66 through Los Angeles or if you have more time, take a drive out to the Route 66 Museum in Victorville or even go all the way to Barstow.
  • Topanga Canyon: The winding drive between US 101 and Pacific Coast Highway is pretty and you'll pass some interesting spots along the way.
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09 of 12

Rest and Relax

Pools at Glen Ivy Hot Springs
Courtesy of Glen Ivy Hot Springs

Ideas for a Relaxing Day Out in Los Angeles

  • Beverly Hot Springs: The only natural hot springs in Los Angeles were discovered in the 1930s.

Relaxing Day Trips Out of Town

  • Desert Hot Springs Resorts: You won't believe how many hot springs there are out in the desert.
  • Glen Ivy Hot Springs: Sometimes called "Club Mud," this extensive place offers natural hot springs and nourishing clay mud baths, along with a full menu of spa services.
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10 of 12

Seasonal Events, Festivals and Things to Do

Zoo Lights at the Los Angeles Zoo
Courtesy of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association

Ideas for a Seasonal Day Out in Los Angeles

Seasonal Day Trips Out of Town

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11 of 12

Shopping Jaunts

Shopping on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills
©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Ideas for a Day of Shopping in Los Angeles

  • Garment District, Downtown: Shopping is better on weekdays when more of the outlets are open, but there are still a lot of places to check out on weekends.
  • Melrose Avenue: A fun mix of edgy new boutiques and vintage clothing shops.
  • Montana Avenue, Santa Monica: We almost hate to tell you about it for fear it will get even more popular.
  • The Grove and Farmers Market: We like the way the new shopping complex is integrated into the old market.
  • Window-Shopping on Rodeo Drive: Even if your budget doesn't allow for purchases on Rodeo, window-shopping is free and you'll find more mainstream shops quite nearby.

Shopping Trips Out of Town

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12 of 12

Vacation Side Trips

Newport PIer
Mark Weston/Flickr/(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
  • Santa Barbara: It's like the Riviera in California, with a palm-tree-lined waterfront and a lively downtown street scene.
  • San Diego: San Diego is big enough to qualify as a vacation destination by itself, but if you've only got a little while to check it out, we've narrowed down the selection for you.
  • Catalina Island: It's a ferry ride away from the mainland and perhaps best for a two-day jaunt, but a determined visitor could check it out in a day.
  • La Jolla: One of the prettiest little towns along the California coast.
  • Newport Beach: Focus on the old-fashioned fun of the Balboa Peninsula and the man-made islands for a fun day out.
  • Palm Springs: Palm Springs has lots of great 1950s architecture, a ton of golf courses, more than a dozen hot spring spas and a nice resort atmosphere.
  • Solvang: This little Danish town has been "tarted up" for tourists as my English friends might say, but it's still a pleasant place to visit.
  • Ventura: With a beautiful oceanfront and a nice downtown, it's a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.
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