What to see around Los Angeles? Excursions for all tastes!

Who I am
Joel Fulleda
@joelfulleda
SOURCES CONSULTED:

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Los Angeles, you know, it is not a very easy city to visit. Its enormous size, the travel distances, the great urban variety and the large amount of attractions create more of a headache for those who want to organize a tour itinerary as complete as possible, and can even be discouraging. With our guides dedicated to what to see in Los Angeles, to its neighborhoods and districts and how many days to dedicate to the city, we have tried to give advice and suggestions to draw up a detailed travel program according to the days available.



What I would like to do today, however, is to put you even more in difficulty: that is to offer a complete overview of things to see around Los Angeles. These ideas can be useful for those who have decided to stay a few days in Los Angeles, using it as a base for day trips in the surrounding area without necessarily embarking on a traveling tour on the road.

Index

  • Surroundings of Los Angeles: what to see?
  • Cities near Los Angeles to visit
    • San Diego
    • Santa Barbara
    • Palm Springs e Pioneertown
    • Barstow e Calico
    • Typical towns in the north-west of Los Angeles
    • Orange and surroundings
  • Desert parks and attractions near Los Angeles
    • Joshua Tree National Park
    • Indian Canyons
    • Red Rock Canyon State Park
    • Vasquez Rocks
    • Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
    • Two Pines Chapel
    • Mojave national preserve
    • Salton Sea and Slab City e Anza Borrego Desert
  • Mountainous areas around Los Angeles
    • Santa Monica Mountains
    • The lakes of the San Bernardino Mountains
    • Idyllwild's excursions
  • Beaches and islands near Los Angeles
    • Point Mugu State Park
    • Laguna Beach
    • channel Islands
  • Where to sleep?

Surroundings of Los Angeles: what to see?

The breakdown of destinations is for type of attraction, so you can choose your excursions according to your tastes. Since Los Angeles is very large, it is not easy to indicate the travel times starting from each single district, so I have decided to indicate the distances and time needed for the excursion (one way) starting from Downtown Los Angeles.



Where to sleep? Under each stage are also indicated advice on staying overnight in area and accommodation available: after all, if you are struck by the recommended destination and want to deepen it, why not stop and sleep and dedicate more time to it?

Cities near Los Angeles to visit

Notwithstanding that there are many towns and neighborhoods to explore in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, it may be worth taking note of the more or less large urban centers that are located in the surroundings. In some cases, you can get by with a day trip, in others it may be necessary to make an intermediate overnight stay before returning to the base. Bear in mind that some of these are located within the subway area, but still far enough away from downtown Los Angeles that some planning is required.

San Diego

Distance: 194 km (about 2 hours)

While San Francisco is further away and complicated to visit in no time, San Diego is a candidate as the perfect excursion for those who, in addition to Los Angeles, also want to see another important coastal city in California without too much effort in terms of travel. The drive from Los Angeles to San Diego is not very long (traffic permitting), and someone a little unconscious may even think they want to take a superficial hit and run visit returning to Los Angeles in the late evening, perhaps focusing on a couple of neighborhoods or the famous Balboa Park.


However, as you read in this article, a lively and interesting city like San Diego deserves like minimum 2 days, so the ideal thing would be to spend at least one night in the city before heading back.

Our tips on where to sleep in San Diego


Santa Barbara

The beach of Santa Barbara

Distance: 155 km (about 1.40 hours)

The coast of Los Angeles is located along the route of Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway which is a bit 'the dream of all lovers of'on the road panoramico. Just over an hour north of Malibu - the prestigious seaside resort loved by Los Angeles VIPs - is located Santa Barbara, a pleasant city overlooking the Pacific Ocean that not only offers a relaxing waterfront and beach life, but also gives the opportunity to see traces of Californian history: here is the oldest wooden pier in the entire state, but also an ancient mission forming part of the Camino Real and some interesting buildings in Spanish colonial style.

Our tips on where to sleep in Santa Barbara

Palm Springs e Pioneertown

Distance: 172 - 200 km (1.40 - 2.15 hours approximately)

Of a completely different type is the city of Palm Springs. We're talking about a desert oasis because yes, if you didn't know, the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest to the east and the Angeles National Forest to the north separate Los Angeles from the rugged Californian desert. In short, if during your Los Angeles vacation you want to radically change the landscape, in about 1.40 hours you can reach this unusual town which, in the years of Rat Pack, was chosen as a residence by many celebrities: in the shade of Californian palm trees some VIPs built theirs very rich villas, which still contribute to the worldly charm of this otherwise desolate location. Near this town there are a couple of naturalistic attractions not to be missed: I will talk about them shortly.


If this is your first time visiting the SouthWest and you have not planned a long drive from Los Angeles, the risk is to miss one of the main interests of this side of the USA: the ghost towns, spooky and shabby cities of the Far West abandoned. Don't worry though! If you have decided to visit Palm Springs, you will find one there in just over half an hour by car: Pioneertown. In reality it is not an original town, but just a movie set built to shoot western movies. However, the atmosphere is truly authentic, as houses and rooms for the professionals were also built on site.


Our tips on where to sleep in Palm Springs

Barstow e Calico

Distance: 190 - 200 km (1.45 - 2 hours)

While Palm Springs and Pioneertown are east of Los Angeles towards Phoenix, Barstow e la ghost town Calico they are located north towards Las Vegas. Barstow and Palm Springs are roughly equidistant, but there's no denying the latter has more charm than the former.

However, Barstow has a remarkable ace in the hole: it's one of the major towns on Route 66 in California! If you read our article, you will see that in Barstow there are various museums themed Mother Road and a number of attractions that fully reflect the spirit, including Calico, ghost town (alas also this false one) able to awaken the passion of lovers of the Far West.

The ideal would be to reach Barstow faithfully following the stretch of Route 66 that separates it from Los Angeles: all the stages are indicated both in the aforementioned article and in our ebook, so what should be considered a simple one-day trip can turn into an adventure on the road!

Recommended accommodation in Barstow

Typical towns in the north-west of Los Angeles

Northwest of Los Angeles, towards San Francisco and not far from the coast, there are a few rustic villages that deserve the attention of those who want to get away from the chaos of Los Angeles. The main reason for this excursion may actually be the radical change of atmosphere which can be experienced by leaving the Los Angeles metropolitan area behind on a journey of just over two hours (one way). You can choose to visit just one or two of the villages that I will mention, but their relative proximity makes one possible complete daily itinerary in the name of tradition.

Ojai

Distance: 134 km (about 1.25 hours)

I begin by reporting the closest to Los Angeles: Ojai. This small, rustic old town is located inland from Ventura, a coastal city halfway between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Ojai means "valley of the Moon" in the Chumash language, which is a nice way to describe the city's fortunate location, nestled in the Topa Topa Mountains in a sun-kissed valley full of orchards, vineyards and cultivated fields.

It is worth taking a stroll in the city center between the buildings in Spanish Colonial Revival, visiting the fruit and vegetable markets, typical restaurants, artistic manufacturing workshops, independent bookstores, vintage shops ...

Accommodation available in Ojai

Solvang

Distance: 205 km (about 2 hours)

105km west of Ojai, inland from Santa Barbara, is a one-of-a-kind town: Solvang. What is so special about this village, inserted like so many others in the rural context of the wine region of Santa Ynez Valley? Well, Solvang is one Danish town in California complete with windmills and attractions dedicated to the great fairy tale writer Andersen!

Don't believe it? Here is our article dedicated to this unusual town founded by the Danish pioneers.

Our recommendations for accommodation in Solvang

Los Alamos

Distance: 215 km (about 2.20 hours)

About twenty minutes from Solvang, at the north entrance of the Santa Ynez Valley, there is another village to visit: Los Alamos. The Hispanic name betrays the Mexican birthplace of the original urban nucleus, a "rancho" that was bought by the San Francisco investor Thomas Bell in 1876. It is said that in the surrounding hills, the bandit Salomon Pico, known to us as Fox.

Although the town is smaller, the atmosphere may be somewhat reminiscent of Ojai, but I assure you that a long walk Bell Street, the main director of Los Alamos, will repay the effort to get here: in addition to the various places where you can taste wine and food at km 0, do not miss the splendid Union Hotel in rustic style (dated 1880), an ancient stop for caravans, and the much more refined Victorian Mansion Bed & Breakfast, converted from an old Victorian house from 1864, where it is also possible to stay.

Other accommodation in Los Alamos

Orange and surroundings

Distance: variable (35 minutes - 1 hour)

Those unfamiliar with the geographic boundaries of the Greater Los Angeles Area will find it hard to believe the towns of Orange e Anaheim (the latter famous for hosting Disneyland) can be considered to all intents and purposes part of Los Angeles. In fact, going from West Hollywood to Orange for example can take too much more than an hour by car in case of traffic, which is not so little if you think about a day trip.

For this reason, among the excursions around Los Angeles, we also mention the Orange County (which actually extends beyond the Los Angeles metropolitan area). Among the things to see, in addition to the already mentioned Disneyland:

  • Old Towne Orange, the old-style heart of the city of Orange, with its shops and vintage shops;
  • San Juan Capistrano, small town on the way to San Diego known for preserving the remains of one of California's oldest missions (1776);
  • beaches in Huntington Beach, where to see surfers in action!
  • the quiet artificial island Balboa Island is located right in between Newport Beach and the Balboa Peninsula. A pleasant walk along Marine Avenue or along the seafront is recommended, to see the prettiest houses on this residential island ...
  • … and so on! Read our article dedicated to Orange County.

Our tips on where to sleep to explore the area

Desert parks and attractions near Los Angeles

As we anticipated, Los Angeles is very close to the Mojave desert and Colorado / Sonoran Desert, and there is no shortage of parks and attractions to visit in these huge regions.

Joshua Tree National Park

Distance: 237 km (2.30 hours)

The most frequent of the nature excursions departing from Los Angeles is undoubtedly the one that leads to Joshua Tree National Park, the famous Californian national park not far from Palm Springs. The surreal rocky desert dotted with yucca trees can also be visited by car, with short walks to reach the main places of interest.

In short, after a 3-hour ride you could also return to the base, but usually it may be worth taking it more calmly and combining the visit of the park with that of Palm Springs, Pioneertown and environs, staying overnight near the park or right in Palm Springs.

Our tips on where to sleep near Joshua Tree

Indian Canyons

Distance: 180 km (1.50 hours)

On the outskirts of Palm Springs there is another beautiful park where you can go on fascinating hikes: Indian Canyons. The characteristic of this desert area is the presence of luxuriant Californian palm plantations inside the canyons typical of the area. The small park is located in the Indian reservation Cahuilla and is ideal for those who do not have much time available for the excursion from Los Angeles: arrived in Palm Springs, in just over an hour you can do a couple of short trails without grinding too many miles in the car to get from from one point to another in the park, as in the case of Joshua Tree.

Tips for staying overnight in Palm Springs

Red Rock Canyon State Park

Distance: 190 km (1.50 hours)

Not very frequently, tourists on vacation in Los Angeles decide to go as far as Cantil to see the Red Rock Canyon State Park: Being a bit out of the way and quite unknown, this small state park is of more interest to those traveling from Sequoia to Death Valley. In reality, the distance is no greater than that of the other parks mentioned so far; moreover, the opportunity is unique, especially for those who will not go to the Utah parks area: the Red Rock Canyon State Park is in fact California's only red rock park.

If you are curious to do some short trails in these parts, expect just over half a day to do the excursion.

Accommodation around the park

Vasquez Rocks

Distance: 70 km (about 45 minutes)

La Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park it is definitely closer than the places mentioned so far, and represents an excellent and surprising alternative to longer and more strenuous excursions. Relatively little known, the Vasquez Rocks area is located near the town of Agua Dulce, in the Sierra Pelona mountains. The strange, pointed, oblique rock formations of this desert are famous for serving as a movie set for Star Trek.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Distance: 108 km (1.25 hours)

When the Desert turns red! Just under an hour and a half away from Downtown Los Angeles, in Lancaster, there is an incredible landscape: imagine an immense barren expanse strewn with poppies! THE' Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve protects this floral species that only resists in these parts thanks to a particular microclimate. Near the main car park there are various viewpoints to reach, and on the whole territory of the reserve there are easy paths that lead through the red-stained plateaus.

Accommodation available in Lancaster

Two Pines Chapel

Distance: 150 km (1.35 hours)

On a remote side street on the eastern outskirts of Lancaster, across the street from Antelope Valley, is a place that lovers of Kill Bill they will not want to get lost: the small white church where the massacre takes place during the marriage of pregnant Beatrix, an event that will cry out for revenge for the duration of the story.

The church is called Two Pines Chapel and it is so out of the way compared to all the other destinations that, to see it, you really have to want to go! The address is 19857 E Ave G, Lancaster (see map).

Accommodation available in Lancaster

Mojave national preserve

Distance: variable (about 340 km). 3 - 4 hours

Due to the inclement weather and its slightly off-center location from West Coast tours, the Mojave national preserve remains one of the less traveled areas of the Mojave Desert. The distance from Los Angeles is not irrelevant, so it is not advisable to visit the Kelso Dunes and other areas of the park during the day. However, if you like desert views and fascinating “singing dunes,” you can plan a two-day excursion with a stop in Barstow.

Recommended accommodation in Barstow

Salton Sea and Slab City e Anza Borrego Desert

Distance: variable (240 - 300 km). 2.40 - 3 hours

Apart from Palm Springs and the Joshua Tree (more or less on the border of the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert), so far we have only mentioned the beauties of the Mojave Desert. Well, even in the desert of colorado in the south of Los Angeles there are things to see, even if not quite so close. The first that come to mind are:

  • Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: California's largest state park has a beautiful trail in the mountains of the inhospitable desert near Borrego Springs;
  • Biscuit Meadows Estates: strange dinosaurs and metal dragons popping out of nowhere in the desert;
  • Salvation Mountain e Slab City: the artificial mountain that reads "God is Love", created by Leonard Knight and became a legend thanks to the film "Into the Wild”.

To find out more, read this in-depth study.

All accommodations in the area

Mountainous areas around Los Angeles

The great geographical variety of Los Angeles is one of its strengths: in addition to the deserts, in the surroundings of the city it is possible to make beautiful hikes in the mountains: our favorites are in the north-west (the Santa Monica Mountains), a northeast (the San Bernardino Mountains) and southeast, towards Palm Springs (Mount San Jacinto State Park). 

Santa Monica Mountains

Distance: 85 km (1.10 hours)

At a reasonable distance from Los Angeles, not far from Malibu, is the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which is suitable for those who want to do some hiking trails without straying too far from the base. The park is quite large, but we recommend focusing on the area around it Circle X Ranch, a former scout base hidden in the canyons at Boney Mountain (Point Mugu State Park, see the chapter dedicated to beaches).

Numerous paths start from here, among which I recommend the one that leads to Sandstone Peak (949 mt), the highest peak of the Santa Monica Mountains, which offers a remarkable view of the Pacific Ocean and the valleys surrounding the mountain. Here the parking for the trail. If you have time you can also follow the connection with the Mishe Mokwa Trail to see, among other things, a curious Balanced rock ready to fall down into the canyon. At this address you will find the list of trails.

Our tips on where to sleep in Malibu

The lakes of the San Bernardino Mountains

The city of San Bernardino, east of Downtown, is the starting point for various interesting excursions in what are called the Alps of Southern California. The best way to spend a day without suffering the Los Angeles summer heat in our opinion is to reach one of the greats mountain lakes nestled in the San Bernardino National Forest.

Lake arrowhead

Distance: 130 km (about 1.30 hours)

The closest to downtown Los Angeles is the Lake arrowhead, located near the homonymous, quiet village with a tourist vocation. The lake is located at an altitude of 1577 meters above sea level, and can be comfortably observed from Village Point, a commercial area that also offers various leisure opportunities, including an amusement park (Lollipop Park), shops and restaurants.

From a small pier on the eastern side of the village the boats of theArrowhead Queen Tour Boat, which can be an opportunity to sail the calm waters of the lake, in which the pine, cedar and dogwood woods are reflected.

Alloggi a Lake Arrowhead

Big bear lake

Distance: 157 km (about 2 hours)

Even just for its size and for the amount of activities that can be done in its surroundings, the Big bear lake attracts many more tourists and locals: among other things, the ski facilities on the nearby Bear Mountain and Snow Mountain make it very popular with those who love winter sports. If you want to reach this lake, expect more than half a day, because the journey from Los Angeles is quite long and there are many things to see.

Located at an altitude of 2058 meters above sea level, the Big Beak Lake it is suitable for those who want to go hiking: one of the most popular is the Castle Rock Trail, a short but steep path that leads to an exceptional observation point across the lake. A little difficult to find parking, as the trailhead is along the road.

Easier and more affordable is theAlpine Pedal Path, a paved path that follows the lakefront to the Solar Observatory. On the way there is also the Big Bear Discovery Center, ideal place to get advice on the right excursion around the lake.

Alloggi a Big Bear Lake

Idyllwild's excursions

Distance: 175 km (about 2 hours)

Idyllwild e Pine Cove are small mountain resorts in the valley on the slopes of San Jacinto Peak, the highest peak in the San Jacinto Mountains, also visible from Palm Springs (located on the eastern slopes). From the top of the mountain (3,302 meters) you can see an exceptional panorama, so much so that the famous naturalist John Muir said: "The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth". How to get there? Thanks to a very long path (about 22 km to do in an entire and tiring day's walk) departing from Marion Mountain Campground, about twenty minutes from the town.

Given the distance from Los Angeles and the difficulty level of the hike, the latter trail is recommended only for those who are really equipped and would like to spend a couple of days in the mountains staying overnight in the area, but without straying too far from the City of Angels.

Alternatively, if you want to enjoy this mountain range south-east of Los Angeles on a more affordable but impressive hike, head to the Deer Spring Trail via the Deer Spring Trail. Suicide Peak, a beautiful granite monolith which dominates the landscape of the valley. The trailhead is this, the length is 12 km to be done in about 4 hours. If you plan well, you can even go back to sleep in Los Angeles.

Accommodation available in Idyllwild

Beaches and islands near Los Angeles

Los Angeles beaches and metropolitan area seaside resorts are a must on Los Angeles tours - no one should leave the city without at least looking out over the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica or Venice or Malibu.

Yet, in addition to the already mentioned Santa Barbara e Newport Beach (not to mention the beaches of San Diego, a world apart!), in the surroundings there are other seaside places that would deserve a visit, especially Point Mugu State ParkLaguna Beach and Channel Islands: in particular the Los Angeles islands represent an interesting idea to see something radically different from the classic seaside spots of the city.

Point Mugu State Park

Distance: 90 km (1.10 hours)

We could talk about Point Mugu State Park in close correlation with the Santa Monica Mountains, because in fact they are two adjacent areas and, in their innermost area, they offer very similar views of the ocean. This state park boasts a few trails in the canyon (Sycamore Canyon and La Jolla Canyon. Don't imagine the slot canyons of Utah and Arizona, though!) montagne of the area (Boney Mountain and Mugu Peak).

But the reason we mention it in this section is the panorama on the coast: reach the Point Mugu State Beach to see the scenic beaches around the impressive Mugu Rock, which is the real symbol of this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway north of Los Angeles.

Our tips on where to sleep in Malibu

Laguna Beach

Distance: 80 km (about 1 hour)

Laguna Beach is a seaside town located in the southern part of Orange County. Unlike the long stretches of sand on the Los Angeles coastline, the most beautiful beaches in Laguna Beach are coves and sheltered baysand from high and scenic cliffs on which houses have been built with dream views. In the article linked above you will find the beaches that are worth reaching.

Our tips on where to sleep in Laguna Beach

channel Islands

Variable distance: from 2 to 7 hours (including navigation)

Opposite Long Beach is located Catalina Island, one of the Southern Channel Islands. The island is not part of the national park of the same name, it is the only one significantly inhabited and can be reached by boats departing from San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point.

There are only two towns on the island, each with its own inimitable charm: Avalon, the largest and most popular with tourists e Two Harbors, more collected and quiet. There are some beaches in Avalon that can be reached with relative ease for those with little time to spend exploring the island, but both this town and Two Harbors are also a good starting point for hiking trails and guided hikes to the beaches. truly unspoiled on the western side of the island.

Our tips on where to sleep in Long Beach

As an alternative to Catalina Island, if you are looking for a truly lonely and wild place by the sea, all you have to do is… leave Los Angeles behind. The Northern Channel Islands they are located off the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara: on the 5 islands that are part of the national park there are pristine beaches to be discovered. The islands can only be reached via dealer boats departing from Ventura and Oxnard.

Where to sleep?

Los Angeles Downtown

As anticipated at the beginning of the article, I put under each destination advice and suggestions for accommodation in the area, in case you want to take the visit more calmly or organize a wider itinerary. In some cases it is highly recommended if not mandatory: I am thinking of San Diego, the Mount St. Jacinto and Big Bear Lake area, or the Mojave National Preserve.

If, on the other hand, you want to think of these visits as day trips, you will need to some tips to guide you in choosing accommodation in Los Angeles, which is never easy. In that case, you can find them at the link below.

Our tips on where to sleep in Los Angeles

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