Best Day Trips LA
Credit: Luke Bender

9 Day Trips From LA to Escape the City Smog

Here’s Where to Go When You Need a Break From LA

Living in Los Angeles means being a stone’s throw from the beach, desert, wine country, apple orchards and more—all at the same time. Whether you’re looking to spend a luxe afternoon in Santa Barbara or enjoy a meditative morning in Joshua Tree, escaping the hustle and bustle of the city is easier than ever. Most places on this list can be reached by car within two hours or less, allowing you to forgo spending money on a hotel and simply visit for a day at your leisure. Get ready to plan your perfect mini vacay! We’ve rounded up the nine best LA day trips that’ll help you escape the smog.


Santa Barbara 

Distance from LA: 87 Miles

There’s no better day trip than a seaside escape to the American Riviera. Located about 90 miles north of LA, Santa Barbara is a picturesque beach town that seamlessly blends luxury with laid-back living. Though the drive is less than two hours, you can also kick back and relax on Amtrak, which gets you there around the same time. Tickets can be found for as low as $31 one-way, and it’s the perfect alternative to driving when you plan on sipping lots of wine. Once you arrive, enjoy a tasting at The Society: State & Mason, a modern and sleek winery located at Hotel Californian. Since the Amtrak station is right near the heart of the Funk Zone, this is the perfect first stop. You can also spend time walking along the beachside bike path or stroll along Stearns Wharf before sitting down for dinner at Blackbird. Be sure to start off with some fresh oysters before choosing a seasonal entree. 


San Luis Obispo

Distance from LA: 190 Miles

Credit: SLO CAL®

Though it’s best known as a college town, there is far more to San Luis Obispo than meets the eye. Even if you’re only visiting for one day, Madonna Inn is a SLO staple that boasts bright colors, funky designs, an awesome bar and incredible cake. Pop by for a mimosa and a slice of their famous Pink Champagne Cake, and check out the hotel before heading into town for shopping and dining. If the weather is nice, sit under one of the massive trees on the patio at Novo and order a bottle of local wine. After lunch, drive a few miles north to the tiny town of Rancho Santa Margarita for a tasting at Ancient Peaks Winery. This renowned estate is known for producing top-notch cabernet sauvignon, and if you want a taste of country living, this is the place to be. You can even embark on a more adventurous activity with Margarita Adventures and spend a few hours zip-lining on six different courses above the stunning vineyards. 



Oak Glen

Distance from LA: 85 Miles

Credit: Priscilla Du Preez

In need of a nostalgic and wholesome escape from city life? Head to Oak Glen. This tiny town is located in San Bernardino, a popular destination for families looking to do some apple picking. Since apples are harvested in the fall, the months of September, October and November are by far the busiest months of the year here. There is even an Apple Butter Festival that takes place during Thanksgiving weekend, making Oak Glen the perfect holiday destination for locals wanting to add a new tradition to their family festivities. Though picking apples is the most popular activity in this small town, there are also great restaurants and fun shops to explore. Oak Tree Mountain is a one-of-a-kind village that specializes in artisan goods and family-friendly fun. Head here in the morning to snag some souvenirs and try a slice of Apple Annie’s famous pie. After you’ve walked around the 14-acre property, dine at Wilshire’s Apple Shed, where you can indulge in wood-fired pizzas after visiting the hard cider tasting room. 



Distance from LA: 116 Miles

Best Day Trips LA
Credit: Aubrey Odom on Unsplash

Swap Los Angeles smog for some crisp mountain air when you take a day trip to Julian. Located in the beautiful Cuyamacas, this mountain town is charming and unique—its roots date back to the California Gold Rush. Simply walking down the main street of this old-school town will make you feel as though you’ve traveled back in time. Kick off your visit with a gold-mining tour with Eagle Mining Co. Reservations are not required and the tour only takes one hour, ensuring that you’ll have plenty of time for other activities. During the fall, Julian is also a premier place for apple picking; the Apple Alley Bakery is home to a fantastic apple pie that smells (and tastes) like heaven. Consider hitting up a local market for some fruit, bread and cheese for a picnic under the pines, or head to Julian Beer Co. for BBQ and brews. 



San Juan Capistrano

Distance from LA: 55 Miles

Best Day Trips LA
Credit: James Lee on Unsplash

Located in Orange County, San Juan Capistrano is a dream for historians and lovers of Spanish architecture. Mission San Juan Capistrano is known as the “Jewel of California Missions,” and it is without a doubt the most beautiful chapel in the state. From the breathtaking paintings and artifacts to the colorful gardens, a visit to the Mission should be your top priority on a day trip to San Juan. If you’re visiting with kids, Zoomars at River Street Ranch is another must. Children and adults alike will love the petting zoo and pony rides, and you can even pan for gold or spend some time running around the playground. When it comes to food, Trevor’s at the Tracks is an American restaurant that sits adjacent to the train tracks, which date back to 1894. The modern menu features everything from tacos to salads and sandwiches, but the basil gimlet is a refreshing cocktail you won’t want to miss.



Joshua Tree

Distance from LA: 130 Miles

Credit: Austin Human

Soak up the vortex vibes and magical energy when embarking on a day trip to Joshua Tree. Depending on traffic, this desert oasis can usually be reached in less than three hours. Once you reach the main strip, grab a coffee from Joshua Tree Coffee before heading into the famous Joshua Tree National Park. Purchase a $30 entry pass to in and out of the park at your leisure. Spend the day climbing massive boulders, hiking along the winding trails and admiring the native Joshua trees. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, indulge in a juicy burger, fried pickles and a crisp beer from Pappy and Harriet’s. If you visit on a weekend, you might even catch some live tunes from a local band. As soon as the sun starts to set, drive back into the park and pick out a scenic spot. This is the prime time to capture some breathtaking photos for your Instagram feed, and you’ll want to stick around for a couple of hours after sunset to stargaze. Be sure to keep count of how many shooting stars you see!


Lake Arrowhead 

Distance from LA: 85 Miles

Make the most of lakeside life and crisp mountain air in Lake Arrowhead. Known as the Alps of SoCal, this tight-knit and charming community is perfect for outdoorsy adventurers. Though you can easily come up for the day, camping is popular here; you can always post up at the Northshore or Dogwood Family Campgrounds if you decide to make your day trip an overnighter. If you’re looking for a mellow but beautiful hike, the Will Abell Memorial Trail at Arrowhead Ridge is a great option for all ages. Other popular trails include Arrowhead Ridge and Rock Camp Hike. Once you’ve gotten your dose of nature, make your way toward Lake Arrowhead Village for good eats and window shopping. This historic hub has been around since the 1920s and is one of the more popular spots in town. Belgian Waffle Works is great for those seeking something sweet, while the Lakefront Taproom serves great brats and beer.


Catalina Island

Distance from LA: 22 Miles

Credit: Catalina Island Company

Skip the $1,000 plane ticket and enjoy Mediterranean-like views when you take the Catalina Express over to Catalina Island. This spacious ferry zips passengers straight into the charming town of Avalon, and you might even see some dolphins during the hour-long boat ride. Upon arrival, rent a golf cart so you can drive around and see the island. Since the golf carts tend to book up quickly, it’s best to put this as your first activity of the day. While touring the island, you’ll be rewarded by picturesque bluffs that make for beautiful photos. For lunch, head to Descanso Beach Club and enjoy sticking your toes in the sand while you sip on a signature Buffalo Milk cocktail. The menu features burgers, wraps, salads and more, but the seared Ahi tuna salad is a local favorite. Once you’re full, rent a cabana or lounger and get a tan while you watch the gentle waves roll along the rocky shoreline. In addition to swimming and floating, you can also kayak or snorkel. 




Distance from LA: 85 Miles

Though Napa and Sonoma get the most attention when it comes to wine country, Temecula is a great alternative for LA locals looking for great wines closer to home. In fact, this tasting town can be reached within just two hours! Since you’ll be doing lots of sipping, however, it’s important to plan ahead and select a designated driver. Though Temecula is not very walkable, being able to drive from vineyard to vineyard allows you to see the true beauty of this underrated part of SoCal wine country. One of the most beautiful wineries is without a doubt Callaway Vineyard & Winery, which is a mountainside estate that has been around since 1974. In addition to wine, this vineyard also has a wonderful restaurant on the terrace, making it a great first stop so you can fill up on food before a day of sipping. Vindemia Winery is another local favorite that is family-owned and operated. Everything is hand-grown and picked, and the sustainable and eco-friendly farming practices are consistent across production.

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Allie Lebos graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2017 with a BA in Communication. While in school she was a staff writer at The Daily Nexus for nearly two years. Since graduating she has written for The Palisades Magazine, as well as Hidden Hills Magazine. Currently living in Santa Monica, Allie loves to indulge in good food, hot yoga, and daily walks along the beach; writing articles on travel, special events, as well as features on local businesses and individuals.




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