From sprawling panoramic mountain views to breathtaking blue oceans, there's a reason why Los Angeles holds a special place in the hearts of locals and visitors alike. But things get even better when venturing out of the urban landscape and into the surrounding area, a treasure trove filled with endless opportunities.

Food and wine enthusiasts will come alive in Santa Barbara, while lovers of small-town Europe will feel at home in Solvang. Just a short drive out of La-La Land will transport you to another world. 

Whether you're a local seeking a break from the bustling city or a visitor hoping to soak in the surroundings of Los Angeles, these unique Southern California day trips guarantee memorable and one-of-a-kind experiences that promise to rejuvenate your spirit.

Women friends on holiday are sightseeing in Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara is a short drive north of Los Angeles but a world away © PR Image Factory / Shutterstock

1. Discover the Spanish colonial beauty of Santa Barbara 

Travel time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Santa Barbara is full of natural beauty and cultural richness wrapped in a relaxed coastal lifestyle. The town reflects its Spanish colonial heritage with Mediterranean-style buildings and red-tile roofs – the perfect complement to the Santa Ynez Mountains in the background. 

Foodies and wine enthusiasts will love a trip to Santa Barbara for its near-limitless offerings. Start your day visiting Cajé Coffee Roasters and order one of the signature (and very Instagrammable) drinks, such as the Sugar Wood or Belarosa. The tacos at La Super-Rica are another must-taste – there's a reason why Julia Child called this her favorite taco joint – and Bibi Ji is a local go-to for its friendly atmosphere and delicious twist on modern Indian cuisine.

You also can't miss a wine tasting while in Santa Barbara. If you're not venturing past downtown, visit Grassini Family Vineyards' tasting room for a $25 estate flight, and Salt Cave next door, home to the largest Himalayan salt cave in North America. A 45-minute meditation session is held at the latter each hour, guaranteed to leave you feeling relaxed and renewed.

A stroll down State St will see you end at Funk Zone to explore more tasting rooms, cafes, galleries and shops. For culture and architecture lovers, spend some time at the Old Mission, where you can picnic in the beautiful rose garden. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is also close by. 

If you're spending the night or leaving later in the evening, try to catch a show at the Santa Barbara Bowl. The spectacular outdoor amphitheater was built in 1936 and has panoramic ocean sunset views.

How to get to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles: With no traffic, it takes 90 minutes on US 101-N to travel the 95 miles from Santa Barbara from Los Angeles. Alternatively, opt for the Amtrak train. The gorgeous coastal ride starts from Union Station in Los Angeles and takes just over two-and-a-half hours to arrive in downtown Santa Barbara. 

Old Windmill and building at Solvang in the Santa Ynez Valley. Solvang is a Danish Village with typical architecture.
Lovers of small-town Europe will feel at home in Solvang, just a short drive out of LA © Benny Marty / Shutterstock

2. Indulge in Solvang's rich Danish wine country 

Travel time: 2 hours and 10 minutes

Looking for a local European-style getaway? Visit Solvang, the Danish capital of America. Start by strolling or biking along Copenhagen Dr and indulge in Danish delicacies, like aebleskiver (pancake balls), while sampling wine. On the corner of Copenhagen Dr and Alisal Rd is Solvang Bakery. While the name may not be familiar, their work is. This is the bakery responsible annually for the Kardashian family's lavish gingerbread houses. In keeping with the holiday theme, if the idea of year-round Christmas is exciting, stop by Jule Hus and stock up on some handcrafted Scandinavian ornaments. 

While a day trip is doable, you may want to spend more time in Solvang to get a feel for its 120 vineyards and 20 downtown tasting rooms. Royal Oaks is a favorite, or for something a little more upbeat, head to Cali Love for karaoke and DJ sets during your tasting. Visit the Hans Christian Anderson Museum, dedicated to The Little Mermaid author, if you're a fan, and definitely take advantage of the town's trolley tour. 

How to get to Solvang from Los Angeles: Leave early to avoid traffic and make the most of your day. Follow US 101-N toward Santa Barbara for 90 minutes before veering off to CA-154 W/San Marcos Pas Rd for the rest of the way. Driving the 130-mile journey is necessary as public transport will take more than five hours. 

Looking straight on to the auto ferry, near Balboa Island
To get to Balboa Island on foot or by car, catch the ferry for a short three-minute ride © Logan Bush / Shutterstock

3. Explore the beauty of Newport Beach's coastal delights

Travel time: 1 hour

Newport Beach boasts extensive water and land activities as well as entertainment for singles, couples and families. With 10 miles of coastline, Newport Beach is known for being one of the United States' largest small-craft harbors, boasting approximately 9000 privately owned yachts and sailboats. 

When visiting Newport Beach, allocate some time to visit Balboa Island, a manmade island built between 1905 and 1913. To get there, catch the ferry on foot or stay in your car for the short three-minute ride. Ticket prices range between $0.50 and $2.50 each way, and the ferry runs until midnight. While there, a Balboa bar or frozen banana from the iconic Sugar 'n Spice is a must. 

Back in Newport Beach, relax by the ocean at Crystal Cove State Park. The entrance is down a flight of stairs past Shake Shack, an iconic 1940s-style diner (not to be confused with the fast-food chain). Order your shake, burger and fries to go and eat down on the beach or, for a more hearty feed, enjoy upscale Mexican at Javier's or Italian classics at Mama D's – there will be a line, but it's worth the wait.

To get a better view of the ocean, consider hiking the Back Bay Loop Trail. The one-hour, 2.8-mile hike starts at University Dr and is open to all furry friends as long as they're leashed.

How to get to Newport Beach from Los Angeles: With no traffic, Newport Beach is a quick 50-minute (45-mile) drive from Los Angeles. Heading down 101-S, merge onto I-5 S and continue straight. Taking public transport is not advisable as it requires multiple modes of transportation and will take more than three hours.

The pool area at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in autumn, with empty sun loungers and a mountain range in the distance
Ojai, California, is the perfect place for a spa-day getaway ©Stefan Von Imhof/Getty Images

4. Restore your spirit and get grounded in Ojai

Travel time: 1 hour and 30 minutes 

Ojai ("OH-hi") is found in a small valley north of Ventura and east of Santa Barbara. The Ojai Valley lies in a geometric vortex zone, described by Native Americans as an energy field rising from the earth's core due to the pull from the Topa Topa Mountains. The name is derived from the Chumash word for "moon nest" and has bountiful amounts of culture, history, farm-to-table restaurants, bakeries, breweries and wineries. 

Ojai's calming energy makes it a great place for those looking to reconnect with themselves and others in a relaxing environment. To treat yourself, visit the Garden Spa at the Lavender Inn and opt for a massage, foot bath and customized herbal exfoliation. They even do prayers and use sacred oils. 

After the spa, head downtown for lunch at Harvest Moon or Ojai Rotie (order the chicken). Continue your grounding day at Bart's Books, which claims to be the largest outdoor bookstore in the world, and soak in the culture at Dan Schultz Fine Art Gallery. The Ojai Olive Oil Company's $10 tasting is also a must-do. Sunday is a great day to visit Ojai to enjoy the weekly farmer's market.

How to get to Ojai from Los Angeles: The 80-mile journey should take 90 minutes along US 101 N and CA-33 N without traffic. Public transport is possible via Amtrak from Union Station and a changeover to a bus in Ventura, a journey that takes approximately three hours.


5. Eat your way through Torrance, the ramen capital of Southern California 

Travel time: 35 minutes

Torrance is part of the South Bay region of Los Angeles County and prides itself on being a city of hidden gems. The area is a haven for food lovers, particularly those partial to huge flavors and international cuisines.

Outside of Honolulu, Torrance is the home to the largest concentration of Japanese residents in the US, and it's been dubbed the ramen capital of Southern California. Local ramen favorites include Matsui, Hakata Ikkousha Ramen, Ko-Ryu Ramen (take the spicy challenge if you dare) and the Shin-Sen-Gumi drive-thru. When you're all ramen-ed out, Torrance has more than 400 other eateries, including the popular Rascals Teriyaki Grill, King's Hawaiian Bakery and Restaurant and Piccini Italian Takeout

Beyond food, community is at the forefront for Torrance locals. The city hosts an annual Summer Nights festival with musicals, movies, and live music playing at the Wilson Park Amphitheater between June and September. A visit to the Torrance Art Museum is also a must for contemporary art lovers. Admission is free, and the galleries and displays are frequently updated. 

Being only 20 minutes from both LAX and SoFi Stadium, Torrance is the perfect central location for those looking to spend a few hours before a flight or stadium event. Torrance Beach is also nearby with a 1.5-mile stretch of uncrowded coastline, nestled between Redondo Beach and Malaga Cove.

How to get to Torrance from Los Angeles: Getting to Torrance is a quick 30 minutes from Los Angeles (20 miles) via I-110 S. Alternatively, hop on the J-Line Metro from downtown and change for a bus at the Harbor Gateway Transit Center. The trip should take a little less than 90 minutes. 

This article was first published May 2018 and updated February 2024

Explore related stories

Three friends jumping with happiness next to their car with palm trees in the background

Beaches

The 10 best graduation trips to take in 2024

Feb 19, 2024 • 7 min read