10 Easy Day Trips When You Just Need To Get Out Of LA
Because we all need a change of scenery at some point.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Because we all need a change of scenery at some point.
You’ve cooked everything you can cook, watched everything you can possibly watch, and just last night, you got caught playing dress-up with your houseplants. Needless to say, it’s time to get out of the city for the day. Luckily, LA is surrounded by every kind of destination you could want. Whether you’re in the mood for a spiritual desert quest, extreme mountain hiking, or simply staring at the ocean and sobbing, SoCal has it all, but sometimes it’s difficult to know how to plan - particularly in a time of social distancing. So we’ve highlighted ten general destinations, each with their own specific itineraries, for you to (safely) fill out your day and return to LA feeling mentally rejuvenated.
Everybody is looking for new ways to pick up great produce right now, so combine that with your much-needed desire to get out of the city and head up PCH to Oxnard. This agricultural town right on the coast in Ventura County is nicknamed “The Strawberry Capital Of The World,” and it doesn’t take long to understand why. Strawberry fields stretching as far as the eye can see, produce stands lining the roads, and a sweet, fruity smell permanently wafting through the air - it’s a strawberry paradise, and make no mistake about it, these are among the best you’ll ever eat. While you have your pick of stands to choose from, we always head to Gonzalez Produce, a tiny shack on Wood Rd. that obviously sells strawberries, but also local citrus, produce like bell peppers and tomatoes, and flowers. Tip: Bring some cash.
When you think about mountain retreats close to LA, your mind no doubt goes immediately to Big Bear. But if you’re looking for a true wilderness getaway, head to Idyllwild instead. The tiny town located in the San Jacinto Mountains has better hiking, better scenery, and a fraction of the crowds. Upon arrival, head right to The Town Baker in downtown for some curbside coffee, pastries, and one of the best cinnamon rolls you’ll ever eat. Hiking is a part of Idyllwild’s DNA, so finding world-class trails is not difficult. That said, a hike to Suicide Rock is a must. Despite the grim name, this six-mile trail is relatively easy with tremendous, Yosemite-esque scenery. Back in town, head over to the Idyllwild Brewpub for curbside growlers, specialty cocktails to-go, and plenty of comforting bar food.
Only about a 90-minute drive up the 101, Santa Barbara has long been one of LA’s go-to day-trip spots. And though the wine-soaked Funk Zone is quickly springing back to life, we recommend heading straight to Metropulos Fine Foods upon arrival. The family-run Greek market and deli has delicious takeaway sandwiches (the gyro is a must) and a good-sized patio if you don’t feel like eating in your car. From there, get your hiking shoes ready, because you’re heading up into the mountains. Inspiration Point is one of the most well-known hikes in SB, and though its views are tough to beat, we love the three-mile trek to Seven Falls - particularly during Spring when the waterfall is still going strong. For dinner, don’t leave town without stopping at Bibi Ji, a tremendous Indian restaurant in downtown that’s currently doing $25 takeaway tandoor kits, plus wine and music on their back patio. End your day cuddled on the hood of your car while catching the sunset at Loon Point Beach.
Located about an hour east of San Diego, Julian is an old mountain town that’s remained off-the-radar for most day-tripping Angelenos - and that’s why we like it so much. The tiny downtown feels like you’re on the backlot of an Old Western, and the surrounding countryside offers great hiking at Volcan Mountain Preserve and William Heise Park. In town, ordering from the takeout window at Julian Pie Company needs to be your first order of business. Grab a slice of boysenberry apple a la mode for yourself right now, and then one of their famous Dutch apple pies for later at home. Both Julian Beer Co. and Nickel Beer Co. are currently doing to-go growlers of all their beer, including Nickel’s Apple Pie Ale, which is made from local apples. On your way out, stop for some burgers, shakes, and 1950s nostalgia at the iconic Miners Diner.
For over a century, Los Alamos was a dusty cowtown that trains passed through to get from Santa Barbara to the Central Coast. Today, it still has that aesthetic, except now there’s a collection of restaurants, wine bars, and shops that make it one of the most exciting small towns in California. Your first stop needs to be at Bob’s Well Bread, a tiny bakery/cafe with a big side patio and some of our favorite breakfast pastries on the coast. There are tons of great trails around here, but this area is best seen on a bike, so we recommend heading over to Pedego Electric Bikes in nearby Los Olivos (or just bring your own) and spend the day cruising around wine country. After you work up a strong appetite, head back to Los Alamos for dinner at Bell’s. This tiny French bistro has food that goes toe-to-toe with the best restaurants in LA, and frankly, is worth a trip up alone. They’ve recently reopened for dine-in with a brand new prix fixe menu and strict social distancing guidelines to keep everybody safe.
To be fair, Palm Springs is best experienced over a long weekend at the pool with a stiff cocktail in your hand, but if that’s not in the cards at the moment, a day trip will certainly suffice. We always start our day with an early lunch at Real Italian Deli, a family-run sandwich shop that’s currently offering curbside pick-up. The meat-stacked “combo” is our go-to, but if you’re looking for something lighter, the caprese will certainly hit the spot. From there, hike the five-mile Murray Canyon Trail just south of downtown, exploring different palm oases and the Seven Sisters waterfall. If the idea of hiking in the desert is torture to you, take the afternoon and cruise around town staring at all the mid-century modern homes and pretending you live in them instead. The neighborhoods of Twin Palms and Vista Las Palmas are loaded with incredible estates. Whatever you end up doing, be sure to stop at the Rooster And The Pig for dinner on your way out of town. The modern Vietnamese spot has fantastic food (the shaking beef and pork noodle bowl are musts) and easy curbside pick-up from 4-8pm.
Obviously you could spend weeks roaming around the Central Coast, but if you only have the day, we recommend gunning it up the I-5 to Paso Robles, and slowly working your way down the coast on the 101. Start your day off with a takeout cured salmon sandwich and Buddha Bowl from Thomas Hill Organics in Paso, and then grab some curbside beer from Firestone Walker before heading south to San Luis Obispo. After getting lost driving around this college town’s tree-lined downtown, partake in a photo-op outside the iconic Madonna Inn or this trip arguably never happened. From there, cut over to Morro Bay for a glimpse of the most famous rock on the California coast and some much-needed mental healing on the beach. About a half hour south of there, make a pit stop for dinner at Ember in Arroyo Grande, one of our favorite restaurant on the Central Coast. They are open for dine-in with a big side patio, but if you’re more comfortable doing takeout, they have a special menu for that as well. Pismo Beach is just down the road for socially distant sunset viewing.
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Maybe it’s the endless expanse of desert, proven energy vortexes, or trees that (literally) come from a Dr. Seuss book, but few places clear the mind like Joshua Tree. And at less than three hours away from LA, it’s a totally doable day trip. The National Park has reopened (though they’re not doing in-park programs), offering great loop trails like Hidden Valley and Barker Dam and plenty of driving routes if you don’t feel like getting out of your car. Afterwards, hit up La Copine for one of the best late lunches not just in the desert, but all of Southern California. The tiny cafe in Flamingo Heights serves everything from shrimp rolls to Sichuan noodles to oyster mushrooms banh mis, and they’ll all be among the best versions you’ll ever eat. Call (760) 289-8537 for takeout.
San Diego is a sprawling metropolis of 1.5 million people, but to Angelenos, it still has the aura of a quaint beach town. That - combined with still-remarkably light traffic right now - makes it a day trip worth taking. We recommend getting off the I-5 at Del Mar on your way down and cutting over to the coast. The drive is beautiful here and you’ll wind through Torrey Pines, the UCSD campus, and eventually pop out in downtown La Jolla for some curbside fish tacos at the classic El Pescador Fish Market. After inhaling San Diego’s most iconic food, continue south until you get to Pacific Beach. This tiny enclave feels like its own little college town, and is a great place to meander around in your car and realize there is no such thing as too many surf shops. By the time dinner hits, you’ll be in Ocean Beach, the home of Nico’s, and another classic SD invention - the California burrito. You might think putting fries inside a giant burrito would be overkill, but it’s not - it’s glorious, and this tiny Mexican cafe serves one of our favorite versions in town. With that in hand, nearby Sunset Cliffs is the perfect spot to end your day.
Andrew Van Pernis / Flickr
There are a bunch of reasons to spend the day up in Ojai, and most of them have nothing to do with yoga mats. This bucolic mountain town has a certain laid-back, here-try-my-homemade-kombucha energy that makes it feel a world away from LA - not 90 minutes. First things first, pickup up a seasonally flavored mocha or cold brew on the rocks at Beacon, our favorite coffee shop in town. Their croissants and pastries are also excellent, but you’re holding out for Kate’s Bread instead. This Ojai institution is essentially just a lady baking bread inside her parents’ house, so definitely make sure you pre-order in advance as she always sells out. From there, head out of town about a half an hour to Howard Creek Trail, a five-mile hike with incredible scenery and almost zero crowds. For dinner, order a curbside meal from Ojai Rotie, a fantastic Lebanese restaurant that serves Mediterranean salads, sandwiches, and full rotisserie chickens.