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8 Dreamy Day Trips Less Than 2 Hours From LA

Joanna Rentz

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 13 years and have enjoyed every minute of it. But one of my favorite things about living here is, well, leaving. Sure, LA has everything one could possibly want. Fresh, organic food and beautiful beaches make up the westside, while downtown is adorned with world-renowned restaurants and a budding art scene. Yet the secret, real appeal of Los Angeles is everything that surrounds it. With just a couple hours in the car, you can find yourself hiking in the desert, snowboarding in the mountains, sunbathing on the beach, or being whisked away to an island. Next time you are in LA, consider leaving it and checking out one of these eight destinations for the day.

Palm Springs

Image Courtesy of Unsplash // Aran Mtnez

If you are looking to leave the hustle and grind of the city for calmer waters, head two hours east for Palm Springs. In the 20th century, this Sonoran Desert oasis became the getaway hot spot for the Hollywood elite like Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe. Now, Angeleno scenesters and tourists alike flock to Palm Springs for ultimate relaxation, pause, and poolside hangs. (So don’t forget to pack your swimsuits!) This sprawling city at the base of the purple San Jacinto Mountains offers uniquely chic hotels, trendy restaurants, and fabulous vintage shopping. When you are ready to leave the city center, take in the breathtaking surrounding scenery by visiting Joshua Tree National Park, hiking Thousand Palms Oasis, or riding up 6,000 feet on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

Santa Barbara

Image courtesy of Unsplash // Yifan Ma

Just 90 minutes north of Los Angeles, nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, sits an oceanside paradise with Mediterranean charm. With beautiful weather nearly year-round, Santa Barbara is a popular resort destination for nature lovers, history buffs, and those who just need a little R&R. Tour the city by trolley or simply stroll State Street and Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara’s open air mall, for fantastic shopping, art galleries, and restaurants. End the day by basking in the orange glow over the Pacific while you enjoy fresh seafood and locally-sourced wine.

Newport Beach

Image Courtesy of Unsplash // Herson Rodriguez

One part luxury, one part old school surf appeal, this Orange County beach town has something for everyone. Newport Beach is known for its yacht-filled harbor, which is divided into two bodies of water. Get your birdwatching on, bike, or jog the 10-mile trail of Upper Newport Bay, an ecological reserve. You can also shop the day away on the Lower Newport Bay. Check out the many upscale boutiques and restaurants in Cannery Village and Balboa Park. For more exercise (and thrills) throw on the Sidestroke swimsuit and body surf the legendary waves at the Wedge. After you’ve had your fill of salt water, head to the Beachcomber Cafe, a converted beachside cottage, for some post-surf tasty grub.

Catalina Island

Image Courtesy of Unsplash // Emma Svalstad

Just 20 miles southwest of the golden beaches of Los Angeles, sits the beautiful and rugged Catalina Island. This piece of rustic land, which is part of the California Channel Islands, has two main city hubs: the resort town of Two Harbors on the north side, and Avalon, residing in the south. This island has everything you’d expect for a perfect getaway: family-friendly activities, white sand beaches, water sports, mouth watering restaurants, boutique shopping, jeep tours, ziplining, hiking, and more. Board the Catalina Express in Long Beach, Dana Point, or Long Beach for a breezy one hour boat ride that will bring you straight into the bustling harbors. Hot tip: Keep an eye out for roaming bison! Word has it that these beautiful creatures were brought over to Catalina in the 1920s for a silent movie.

Big Bear

Image Courtesy of Unsplash // Clarisse Meyer

Ski bunnies and snowboarders rejoice! Only two hours away from Los Angeles is Southern California’s premier local mountain getaway. No matter the season, Big Bear offers year-round outdoor fun. In the winter, head to Big Bear Mountain Resort where you can indulge in snow activities on either Bear Mountain or the family-friendly Snow Summit. When the snow melts, Big Bear gives way to summer fun like hiking and cycling on the many available trails. But most people travel up the mountain to spend time on the seven mile Big Bear Lake. Vacationers spend hours on the water kayaking, skiing, stand up paddle boarding, jet skiing, fishing, and swimming. When your adrenaline rush subsides, head to The Village at Big Bear Lake for boutique shopping, charming coffee shops, souvenirs, and restaurants with a lake view. But to really get off of your feet, head to the Village Spa for deep tissue massages, Swedish massages, and infrared cedar saunas.

Joshua Tree

Image Courtesy of Unsplash // Ash Edmonds

Famous for its towering rock formations, vast desert terrain, and otherworldly cacti, Joshua Tree National Park remains one of the most visited Southern-California getaways. Named after the twisted, prickly, cartoon-like Joshua tree, the park expands across the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. Be sure to visit the jaw dropping view from Keys View, which looks out into the Coachella Valley and past the Salton Sea. On your way out of the park, make a pit stop at the famous Joshua Tree Saloon for a burger and beer or grab an organic bite or juice at the Natural Sisters Cafe. For those looking for a “fusion of art, science, and magic,” make an appointment for a sound bath at the Integratron, an all-wood dome historical structure stationed on a geomagnetic vortex.

Solvang

Image Courtesy of Flickr // Prayitno

Only two hours north of Los Angeles hides a little Danish secret: Solvang. The city, which means “sunny field,” was founded in 1911 by a group of Danish settlers looking for warmer weather. Now, over a decade later, LA residents make their way north to experience Europe without the 12 hour flight. Start your morning with aebleskiver, an authentic Danish pastry that resembles an airy pancake ball, before heading out to the Hans Christian Andersen Museum. Take your photo in front of one of the four wooden windmills as you make your way to one of the many wine tasting rooms. Solvang is located in the wine making region of Santa Ynez Valley, after all.

Ojai

Image Courtesy of Pixabay // StockSnap

If the stress of Los Angeles is making you feel a little anxious, it’s time to take a trip to Ojai. This small town has been a calming force for tensed Angelenos (and Hollywood stars) since the 1930s. Just 80 miles north of the city and only 15 minutes east of the ocean, Ojai’s charm is in its leisurely, quiet pace and lush landscape. Stay at Ojai Vista Farm to unplug and indulge in the beautiful surroundings (think fragrant citrus orchards, vineyards, and a friendly goat named Fable). When you are ready to head into town, stroll Ojai Avenue where you will find a variety of wine tasting rooms, cute shops, art galleries, and delicious restaurants (which use mostly locally sourced food).  Some favorite restaurants include The Nest, Farmer and the Cook, and Azu. Finish your day by sipping some local brews made by Ojai Valley Brewery, which infuses naturally occuring local ingredients specific to Ojai valley like hibiscus, wild sage, and pear.

With travel season heating up and so many wonderful day trips to take, where will you go first?