While Los Angeles certainly has no shortage of ways to keep visitors busy, there is so much more to explore in Southern California. For those with time to spare – and a grand sense of adventure – an expedition outside the city limits is essential.
But don’t bite off more than you can chew, advises LA Travel Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jennifer McLaughlin. “Fit in as much as you can, but focus on one area at a time," she says. "Traffic can be a nightmare during rush hour times.” A good rule of thumb: Don’t travel more than an hour and a half one way, to ensure you still have plenty of time to enjoy your destination.
U.S. News consulted McLaughlin and other local Los Angeles experts on their day trips of choice. Here's what they recommend.
Out-of-towners might consider Malibu part of Los Angeles, but the 21-mile stretch of coastal beaches and inland mountains north of Santa Monica is a 30- to 60-minute drive from anywhere in the city via a beautiful stretch of Pacific Coast Highway. To skip traffic, leave after 9:30 a.m.
Visit Malibu’s vineyards and wineries on your own or with the Malibu Wine Safari, which takes visitors to Saddlerock Ranch, home to many of Hollywood’s finest retired four-legged celebrities. Visitors on a safari will ride through the ranch in an off-road vehicle, stopping two or three times to visit the vineyards and the animals. Tickets start at $55.
Have lunch at Malibu Pier, wander through the Adamson House and Malibu Lagoon Museum (admission is $7 for adults), and enjoy a 360-degree view of the ocean and some of Malibu’s most beautiful architecture from the shores of Carbon Beach. Malibu Country Mart is a unique shopping stopover. “Since there’s not many places to buy things in Malibu, this is where the locals hang out – which also makes it a good place for celebrity spotting,” says Jessica Berger, native Angeleno and concierge at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.
Hit the 101 freeway, pass Ventura and head into the Topatopa Mountains to encounter the folksy village of Ojai, where charm and chakras combine for a mystical experience. In an hour and a half, you’ve reached a world away. “Wander around downtown and utilize one of the amazing spas in the charming village built on wells. It’s God’s country,” says Casey Duggan, former head concierge at the Viceroy Santa Monica and current head concierge at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead in Atlanta.
Duggan recommends the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, which offers spa day passes to visitors who aren’t staying at the hotel, opening up a world of therapeutic treatments, mind and body fitness, and relaxation in a “freedom zone,” where cell phones, pets and smoking are all banished. The spa opens daily at 8 a.m., but hours vary by season. Depart from Los Angeles between 9 and 10 a.m. for the most expedient trip.
Disneyland is a destination packed with excitement for the whole family – it's one day trip you simply can't miss. The Disneyland Resort includes the nostalgic original Disneyland theme park, straight from the 1950s, and its sister park, Disney California Adventure Park. Experience the charm of Main Street, U.S.A., the glamour of Hollywood Land and all the rides and roller coasters in between.
[Read: 8 Parks to Visit in Los Angeles.]
The "Most Magical Place on Earth" is only one magical hour from Los Angeles, but that doesn’t mean you should take your time getting in the car. The 5 freeway to Disneyland is one of the most notoriously jammed stretches of highway in California.
Opening hours vary by day and season, but typically, the park opens at 8 a.m. during peak seasons. To arrive by 8 a.m., hop in the car at 6 a.m. and take your time parking and queuing early.
For a more relaxing day out of Los Angeles, take the hour or so drive to south Orange County. “There are beautiful beaches and artistic neighborhoods in Laguna Beach,” McLaughlin says. Beat the morning commute on the 405 freeway by leaving especially early (6 a.m.) or late (10 a.m.).
Laguna is the home of popular Crystal Cove State Park, a maze of tide pools, surfing spots and even diving areas. Spend an active morning having fun in the sun before strolling the galleries and cultural arts activities on shore. The Festival of Arts is a summer event featuring live music, a gallery show of local Orange County artists, special workshops and theatrical performances of classic works. The Festival of Arts sponsors year-round events in Laguna Beach, too.
So many outings in Southern California require more than a day, but which one do you choose? Joshua Tree National Park is a spectacular high desert setting filled with unusual cactuses, epic rock climbing and starry-eyed hippies. The lakeside paradise and skiing retreat at Big Bear Lake has an adventure for every season. Catalina Island is a snorkeler’s paradise. And while any one of these jaunts, around 100 miles or more from Los Angeles, requires a full day (and perhaps an overnight bag) to experience, Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows concierge Ryan Fisher knows a better way.
[Read: The Best Things to Do in Los Angeles.]
The hotel has teamed up with luxury tour operator Gentry Jackson, which uses a private jet to transport visitors from Santa Monica to all three must-see destinations in a single day. “It’s a day trip of catamaran sailing, backpacking, rock climbing and even skiing. ... By the end, you’ve done something you never thought you could do,” Fisher says. It might also be the best way to figure out which destination gets your vote for an overnight trip during your next Southern California excursion. The Gentry Jackson packages start at $8,000 per person.
To experience more of what Los Angeles has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
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