When planning a vacation in the City of Angels, you take the time to research flights and hotels in Los Angeles, popular tourist sites, and the best routes to high-rated restaurants, but what if you want to escape the urban paradise for an afternoon? Several day trip destinations await outside the city limits and offer quietude for reflection and rejuvenation.
1. Catalina Island
Located less than two hours from Los Angeles, Catalina Island offers stunning vistas, picturesque shorelines, secluded coves, and crystalline waters as far as the eye can see. You might want to spend more than a few hours on the island; to ensure you get your fill, consider booking one night in an cheap Long Beach hotel before returning to Los Angeles the following day.
In addition to the beautiful outdoor scenery, Catalina Island offers shopping, dining, and water sports for visitors. Go snorkeling for a couple hours to experience the ocean below the surface of the water or take a kayak into the surf for exercise and exploration. The nightlife on Catalina Island is more laid back than it is in Los Angeles, but there is still plenty to do and see if you stay after dark.
You don’t have to travel to Saudi Arabia to visit Mecca; this Southern California town offers some of the most beautiful rock formations in the state, including The Painted Canyon, a steep-walled gorge clad in mineralized rock. The soft but vibrant colors expressed in the stone promote hours of contemplation as you hike toward the top of the canyon.
Box Canyon, Ladder Canyon, and several other natural wonders await in this corner of the Mecca Hills. Pack plenty of water and a few snacks to keep your party nourished during the adventure, and don’t forget a camera if you want to capture memories for future enjoyment. You might even bring a picnic lunch to enjoy midway through your hike.
3. The Salton Sea
Although this California landmark was created by man, it is celebrated by visitors for its natural attractions. It offers one of the largest avian populations in the state, largely because of the water’s salinity. Fish cannot easily survive in the water, so the birds have plenty of meal options on the shoreline.
Visit the Salton Sea to bird watch, take photographs of the water, or simply to walk the banks. It offers plenty of photo ops for aspiring photographers, but it can also produce an offensive odor during the hottest months of the summer, so plan to visit during one of the other seasons.
The surrounding hiking trails offer exposure to local flora and fauna as well as an opportunity to work some exercise into your vacation. Nearby campgrounds provide singles and families a chance to stay overnight, but the Salton Sea works just as well as a day trip.
If you’re looking for a dose of small-town charm, Julian, California offers the perfect respite from Los Angeles, especially if you visit during the week. Originally a Gold Rush town, Julian now offers antique shops, apple orchards, and quaint country diners. Grab a slice of apple pie, then wander through town, stopping to peer through some of the locally-owned storefront windows.
With mountains rising all around the town and apples falling from trees everywhere you look, Julian cannot provide a time machine to a simpler age, but it’s the next best thing. Local artisans have established galleries and workshops throughout the community and the Eagle Mining Company offers daily tours of its historical artifacts and ancient machinery.
If you’re traveling to Los Angeles during the winter months, don’t skip a side trip to Ojai, California. At sunset, the “pink moment” casts a magical blush across the sky—the result of the fading sunlight reflecting off the Toja Bluffs in the distance. This is the perfect place to slow the pace of your vacation and take in the natural beauty of California.
The town of Ojai offers plenty to see and do, from boutique shops and restaurants to art galleries and hiking trails. Spend time at the outdoor bookstore or sip some authentic Ojai wine at the Casa Barranca Winery, which grows organic grapes. The town also hosts several day spas if you need a massage, a relaxing mud bath treatment, or a course of aromatherapy.
Bicyclists should plan to take a ride down the Valley Trail, while amateur equestrians might prefer a guided trail ride with one of the area’s local stables. Golf courses, museums, and other attractions await around every corner, so consider going with the flow rather than planning a strict itinerary.
6. Huntington Gardens
For a shorter jaunt, consider heading half an hour northeast of Los Angeles to San Marina, California, and the Huntington Gardens. It is something of a visual and intellectual trifecta, offering fine art, literature, and botanical gardens in one venue. Spend a few hours in the library or pore over the art collections displayed throughout the gallery.
The gardens themselves feature not only flowering and non-flowering plants, but koi ponds, bridges, and Asian-inspired structures. They sprawl across over 100 acres and are divided into 12 individual gardens dedicated to specific species and types of plants.
The Desert Garden is particularly striking, containing succulents, cacti, and other desert plants in pleasing arrangements. Some of these plants are nearly 100 years old. If you visit the conservatory, you can enjoy hands-on activities and talks given by conservation experts. The children’s garden offers the little ones opportunities to learn about and interact with the different plants.
Enjoy the plethora of Los Angeles attractions, but sometimes the urban bustle breaks the spell of an otherwise enjoyable vacation and leaves you feeling overwhelmed. By branching away from the city for a day or two, you reclaim the spirit of rest and relaxation as well as expose yourself to other jewels of Southern California.
Please share this post with others who might want to take a few day trips from Los Angeles. If you know of any other out-of-the-way destinations, share them below.
About Guest Blogger
Laura College is a freelance writer and editor from Houston, Texas. She creates content for sites like Hipmunk.