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Los Angeles is the biggest and most popular city to visit in California because this is the home of Hollywood, this is where the stars and celebrities live and this is iconic America at its best.
LA is the centre of life and culture on the west coast, and it’s a great place to be based if you’re looking to explore the state. After you’ve taken a picture in front of the famous Hollywood Sign, marvelled at the glittering skyline and visited a few movie studios, then it’s time to see what else California has to offer.
The city is well connected by train to much of the rest of the state, with routes running from the LA Union Station all along the coast, both north and south, and far out into the deserts and mountains of inland California. You can be in San Diego, close to the Mexican border in a few hours, or you can be relaxing on a Pacific Beach in even less time, without a care in the world!
If you’ve got a date, then there are plenty of romantic day trips to make too from LA, from visiting secluded stretches of California coastline to cruising around offshore islands and through marine parks.
If you’re travelling with the kids, then, of course, Los Angeles is perfect, because the best theme parks in the world, from Universal Studios and Disneyland, through to Legoland and the Pacific Park are found here.
There are some excellent day trips to make from Los Angeles, so to inspire your trip to California, we had our expert travel writers select their favourites for you!
Table of Contents
Day Trips From Los Angeles by Train – San Diego
Romantic Day Trips From Los Angeles for Couples – Palm Springs
Best Day Trips from Los Angeles with Kids – Disneyland
San Diego is one of the most iconic cities in the USA – after Los Angeles of course! – and it makes for an excellent day trip on the train!
Head to Union Station in central LA, from where you can jump on an Amtrak train and be stepping off in San Diego in just over two hours on the fastest trips. The city is right next to the Mexican border, and you’ll keenly feel the cultural influences from their southern neighbour across San Diego, be it in the food or in the language.
San Diego is famous for both its Zoo and for Sea World, and you can visit both to see just why the city has had such a long association with animals. The zoo is located within the sprawling public space that’s known as Balboa Park, a huge park that’s also home to some of the city’s best museums and theatres. It’s an immense public work, with large green spaces connected by pedestrian paths, and plenty of cafes and restaurants to visit too.
Call in at the Science Museum, the Museum of Man, the Natural History Museum and whichever of the other many, many museums that might take your fancy within Balboa Park!
Once you’re museum-ed out, then enjoy San Diego’s excellent culinary scene – Mexican food, of course, is big here! – before catching a train back to Los Angeles in the evening!
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Also two hours away by train from Los Angeles – but this time to the north – is the coastal city of Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara is a small city, especially in comparison to LA, but it’s one of the most historic destinations in California. The city can trace its roots back to the 18th century when Spanish missionaries heading north from Mexico began to colonise what would in later years become California. On the outskirts of the city, you can still find the Santa Barbara Mission, which was founded in 1786, and which today is the most iconic heritage building in the region.
In other parts of the city, you can find other historic, colonial relics too, including the courthouse and the Presidio. There are a great number of museums too, across Santa Barbara, which will give you a fascinating insight into local history.
If history isn’t for you though, then don’t worry, because Santa Barbara is known as the American Riviera for its beautiful weather and beautiful scenery. On one side you have coastal climes and beaches, while on the other, you have spectacular mountains!
You can laze the day away on pristine white sand beaches while you bask in the sunshine, or if you are feeling active, then you can strap on the hiking boots and head into Los Padres National Forest, to tackle mountainous trails and hiking routes.
One hour by train to the south of Los Angeles is the intriguing city of San Juan Capistrano. If you’re interested in Californian history, then like Santa Barbara, this is a must-visit destination. San Juan Capistrano is even older too, with the city dating back to at least 1776 when Spanish missionaries arrived looking to convert the Native Americans that lived in the area.
The centrepiece of San Juan Capistrano is the historic Spanish Mission that stands in various states of repair in the heart of the city. The Mission is in some places crumbling and in other places, in excellent condition. It’s one of the oldest buildings in the state though, so you can expect a little bit of disrepair after all!
Like most places in coastal California though, if you aren’t a history buff and don’t care about seeing the old Spanish colonial legacies in San Juan Capistrano, then the city is also right next to the ocean, and within minutes you can be basking in the sun on a white sand beach as you look out over the Pacific Ocean!
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If you’re looking to escape the city and to experience real coastal Californian life in all its glory, then jump on the train at Union Station and take it two hours up the coast to the city of Ventura.
Like many Californian cities, Ventura can trace its origins back to the late 18th century, and you can still visit the impressive Mission San Buenaventura which was founded in 1782 by Spanish missionaries.
If you’ve been exploring other Spanish colonial cities in California though, you might be missioned out by now, but don’t worry, because there’s much more to see in Ventura!
Head to the coast, where you can find a classic Californian-style wooden pier heading out across the water. This is one of the oldest piers in the state, and you can stroll along the wooden planks, taking in the fresh air and watching people fishing and exercising along the way.
You can visit the local beaches, and if you have enough time, then you can even take a boat across to the nearby Channel Islands National Park, after calling in at the Channel Islands Visitor Centre in Ventura Harbour. The islands are a spectacular and biodiverse location, filled with wildlife both on land and in the water. You can snorkel, swim and hike, and it’s one of the best destinations to visit in California!
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Palm Springs is one of the most romantic destinations you could visit on a day trip from Los Angeles if you are travelling as a couple!
Located inland, Palm Springs is found within the hot, desert-like interior of California, and it’s well known for its resorts and hot springs – as if you need thermal water in the scorching desert!
You can be in Palm Springs in under two hours when travelling from Los Angeles, leaving you plenty of time to enjoy each other’s company and the romantic setting. Start by taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, a rotating cable car that takes visitors high above the city and into the surrounding mountains. You’ll have breathtaking views from the aerial tramway as you ascend from the valley, towards the peaks, and at the top, you’ll be able to enjoy refreshments at the bar and restaurant.
In Palm Springs you can visit the excellent local art museum if you want to escape the heat, or if you are feeling brave and can handle the heat then you can even go hiking in the desert or mountains. Of course, no trip to Palm Springs is complete without relaxing at the local spas, and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to relax as a couple in beautiful surroundings as you unwind in the desert.
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If you’re looking to escape the city and to enjoy a truly romantic destination, then head to the beautiful shores of Santa Catalina Island!
Found in the Pacific, Santa Catalina is one of the many Channel Islands that are just a short boat ride away from the California coastline. You can catch a boat from many of the beaches close to the city, such as Long Beach or Newport Beach, but if you are feeling particularly romantic, or looking to impress, then you can splash the cash and book in a 15-minute helicopter flight from LA to Santa Catalina!
Once you are on the island, there’s a lot to do. Start in the quaintly named city of Avalon, a small, but lovely community where the boats call in. From here you can hike across the island, you can explore the beaches and coastline and you can enjoy the holiday feel of Santa Catalina.
You can join glass bottom boat tours to see the wonderful marine life that congregates in the water around the island, or you can venture out on snorkelling or diving trips too.
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If you’re looking for another day trip from Los Angeles that will blow your partner away through its sheer natural beauty, then look no further than Joshua Tree National Park!
This exceptional national park is found two hours drive from downtown LA, and the park protects a huge area of unique and stunning nature that’s quite unlike anywhere else in the world.
This is desert country, and although things are dry, dusty and seemingly inhospitable, the arid climate has its own charm and will give you a new found appreciation for the relative comfort of the Californian coastline.
You can hike along the many trails that wind through the national park – and if you’re looking for more than just a romantic day trip from Los Angeles, you can even camp out overnight under the dazzling night sky! – and you can explore the otherworldly rock formations and admire the desert scenery from high vantage points.
Explore verdant, green oases that are lost in the desert, and of course, look out for the iconic Joshua Trees that are found across the park, and that gives this area its unusual name.
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Take your date on the day trip of a lifetime, as you set off high above the city and fly over the California coastline in a helicopter!
You’ll set off from the airport, and enjoy spectacular views of the Los Angeles skyline – look out for the Hollywood Sign! – as you fly over Downtown and make your way towards the Pacific Ocean.
As you stare in awe at the city below, you’ll quickly be flying along the beaches and cliffs that line the Pacific, and you’ll have a bird’s eye view of famous coastal cities such as Santa Monica and Venice.
It’s a date like no other, and an experience you wouldn’t want to miss out on when you are in California!
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Disneyland is one of the most popular and iconic theme parks in the world, and one of the original Disney parks to be built. It’s an enduring attraction in California, and if you are in LA, then it’s just a short drive away in Anaheim!
Take the kids out for the day to experience the magic of Disney, with 9 different themed lands waiting to be explored in the park. You can walk down Disney’s famous Main Street, see the Disney characters as they are brought to life by actors and ride classic attractions such as Space Mountain or Pirates of the Carribean.
The most recent attraction to open is the long-awaited Star Wars Land, which is complete with a life-size Millenium Falcon, and many other fantastic recreations of the Star Wars Universe.
If your kids love theme parks, then take them out for the day to Universal Studios too, where they can see the movies coming to life. This is Hollywood after all, and nowhere else in the world can you get so close to the magic of film making as LA!
Universal Studios is a great day out, and you’ll find a huge array of rides and shows to enjoy, all based on famous Hollywood movies. There are roller coasters, walk through attractions and stunt shows loaded with fiery pyrotechnics to watch. Classic movies and television shows are brought into the real world here, and you’ll find rides and shows dedicated to the likes of Jaws, Indiana Jones, the Simpsons and many, many more.
The newest and most popular attraction at Universal Studios though is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where you can immerse yourself in all things magic! See Hogwarts, ride Hagrid’s very own rollercoaster and eat and drink at the Leaky Cauldron, as you enjoy the magic and wizardry of J.K. Rowling’s imaginary world!
For a day of classic, theme park action, then take the family down to Santa Monica, where you can find the iconic rides of Pacific Park.
While Pacific Park isn’t quite as big or as flashy as Universal Studios or Disneyland, it has another sort of charm, as it’s built on the famous Santa Monica Pier.
You’ll be looking out over the Pacific Ocean and along the beaches as you ride the rollercoasters and enjoy the rides and attractions. The best part is, entry to the park is free too, and once you have explored Pacific Park you can then take the kids to see the rest of the sights that Santa Monica has to offer too.
The resort city has a spectacular beach, where you can sit back in the sun and enjoy the Pacific breeze, while along the sea-facing boulevard you can find some excellent cafes and restaurants, where you can enjoy some of the best food in the area. Santa Monica is a real treat for the whole family!
If you’re not all theme parked out by now, then another great place to take the kids on a day trip from Los Angeles is to Legoland California!
What could be better than spending the day playing with lego? Let’s be honest, not much! And at Legoland California, you can do just that – even adults can get away with it here! – and you’ll be able to spend hours losing yourself and your children to the magic of Lego.
Legoland California is split into several different themed worlds, ranging from Pirates to Ninjas, and you’ll find that there is something here for everyone. You can ride the Lego-themed attractions, enjoy Lego shows and of course, play with as much Lego as you desire!
It’s a fantastic day out from Los Angeles, and one of the best theme parks in California to take the kids!
Los Angeles, while being an exceptional destination in its own right to visit, whether you are solo travelling, taking your partner on holiday, or vacationing with the kids, is made even better by the fact that there are so many great day trips you can make from the city!
The excellent rail network connects LA to many of California’s best tourist destinations and most historic cities, from San Diego in the south to Ventura in the north, and you can visit colonial, Spanish towns and centuries-old Missions, as well as beautiful white sand beaches and towering mountains.
If you’re travelling as a couple, then there are many great opportunities for breathtaking, romantic day trips. Enjoy the desert city of Palm Springs, by riding the aerial tramway and relaxing at the spas and hot springs. Hike into the surreal yet beautiful world of Joshua Tree National Park, or cruise across to the diverse Santa Catalina Island, where you can discover the best of California’s wonderful wildlife and nature.
If you’re with the kids, then you’re spoiled for choice, as LA is just a short drive from some of the world’s best theme parks, and you can spend days visiting the likes of Disneyland and Universal Studios!
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Gin lover. Coffee addict. Nicola has traveled the world for 7 years and is a staff writer for Hotel Jules. Born in London, Nicola first got the taste of travel studying abroad in Barcelona. Since then she's been hooked - traveling the world non-stop. Passionate about green travel and vegan lifestyle, Nicola spends more of her free time staring at maps wondering where she will head to next!