Last Updated on January 17, 2023
While Los Angeles itself has plenty to offer, the city can be quite overwhelming, especially for people who aren’t used to cities of this magnitude. During the month I spent in the West Coast metropole last year, I became increasingly frustrated about the long drives and traffic several times – can it really take 90 minutes to cover an eight mile distance? I found myself wishing for small town conveniences on various occasions (usually while stuck in a traffic jam on the 405), and that’s when I realized it may be a good idea to check out some nearby cities of a more manageable size to see what they have to offer. Luckily I had enough time for several day trips from Los Angeles, which allowed me to check out several cities right in Los Angeles county. Some cities along the coast, some just outside the L.A. city limits. Each one was special and unique in their own way, and worth a visit for things that the others didn’t have. If you visit L.A. and want to escape the ‘Big Smog’ for a day, here are five cities near Los Angeles that are worth visiting:
Five Cities that make for great day trips from Los Angeles
1. Long Beach, California
Long Beach is LA’s big neighbor to the south, California’s 7th largest city and second busiest container port in the U.S. The massive port has led people to believe that Long Beach is nothing more than a big industrial city, but I found out that the city itself is actually a fine escape from L.A., offering a downtown area that is walkable and, as its name suggests, a pretty long beach.The coastline is actually divided into different smaller beaches, but what they all have in common is that they are wide, sandy, and have a bike & running path that follows the shore for miles.
I was surprised to find more independent coffee shops that I could possibly try in a day (Rose Parks and the Library Coffee House were among my favorites), colorful street art (especially in the East Village Arts District), and the quaint Belmont Shore neighborhood with its Spanish-style homes from the 1920s and 1930s and palm-fringed streets.
The one thing that really had the ship lover in me the most excited weren’t the freight ships that majestically glide in and out of the port, but the original Queen Mary ocean liner that is retired in Long Beach and can be visited, which is best done by having drinks at the Observation Bar.If you arrive hungry in Long Beach, for breakfast head to the Coffee Cup, Sweet Dixie or Fuego At The Maya. If you get hungry later in the day, head to Los Comprados for Mexican or to Nick’s for classic American comfort food. For beer lovers, Belmont Brewing right by the beach is a must and its happy hour makes it a perfect sunset hangout. Long Beach is one of the best cities near Los Angeles worth visiting, but it also has enough to offer to make it a destination in itself.
Tip: To get the most out of your visit to Long Beach, download this self-guided audio tour. It takes you to all of Long Beach’s major sights and provides insightful commentary along the way. The entire walk takes around 3 hours.
There are quite a few hotels in Long Beach, most of them conveniently located in the Downtown area, in walking distance to the beach.
2. Malibu – a MUST-DO day trip from Los Angeles
Malibu is located west of L.A. and is known for its stunning cliff views over the ocean, as well as lovely Zuma Beach and Malibu Lagoon State Beach, which is especially popular with surfers. The city stretches along the ocean for nearly 30 miles and a ride along the Pacific Coast Highway is the perfect way to get a first glimpse of what is some of California’s finest coastline.
The other big draw of Malibu is that it is right near some hiking trails in the Santa Monica Mountains, where you can hike through canyons and to waterfalls. A great hike that is not too difficult and only takes two hours is the Solstice Canyon hike, but if you want a bit more of a workout, head up the Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak, which inclines 1,600 feet and offers amazing views over the Malibu coast, and on a good day, all the way to the Channel Islands. Check out this article for more Malibu hikes – the 7.5 mile Puerco Canyon hike is already on my to-do-list for my next California stint.
The Malibu Pier is also not to be missed, and while you’re there, have dinner at Malibu Farm, an organic cafe right at the end of the pier. The best time to visit is at sunset, but their breakfast dishes are also absolutely delicious.
Tour the Malibu area in a hippie VW van
If you’re looking for an unusual tour of Malibu, I recommend this VW van tour, which includes a wine tasting, charcuterie board, ocean views, and all the Must-See Malibu coastal gems. The tour is around 4 hours long.
3. Pasadena – a food lover’s paradise
Pasadena is located northeast of L.A., and is a food lover’s paradise: There are over 500 restaurants here, including the only Michelin-rated hotel restaurant in Southern California, The Langham Huntington, and don’t miss the 46-year-old Pasadena landmark Pie ‘n Burger. If you are a foodie, this one should top your list of the cities near Los Angeles worth visiting.
Pasadena Food Tour
If you enjoy food tours, you should check out this Old Pasadena Food Walking Tour. You get to stop at 10 different eateries and sample some of the best food in the area – including chocolate, olive oil, and foods from a variety of countries.
Pasadena Historic Architecture
Architecture buffs will love Pasadena for its historic homes: Bungalow Heaven is a Landmark District made up of 800 small craftsman bungalows built between 1900 and 1930, the Gamble House being the most famous one, known as the masterpiece of the Arts & Crafts period.
Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Norton Simon Museum, an extensive art museum with a wonderful sculpture garden and a remarkable contemporary art section.
Anaheim is home to the ‘Happiest Place On Earth’ – Disneyland! And because of this, it’s one of the most popular day trips from Los Angeles. If you’re a theme park fan, Anaheim will surely be included in your L.A. itinerary already, but even if you are not a Disney fan or an amusement park aficionado, you’ll appreciate Anaheim for the historic Packing District, including the gorgeous Farmer’s Park with an olive grove, gardens and a weekly farmer’s market on Sundays.
The Packing District is made up of three 1920s commercial spaces which have been refurbished and now house some of the city’s greatest eateries. Make sure to stop at the Old Packing House, a historic 1919 citrus packing house turned into an upscale food court with local vendors and bars. Beer lovers flock to Anaheim for its numerous microbreweries which resulted in Anaheim being named the ‘Beer Capital Of Orange County’. Check out this list of breweries to plan a self-guided brewery hopping tour around Anaheim.
5. Santa Ana – for its historic Downtown
Santa Ana sits southeast of Los Angeles and its primary draw is the Historic Downtown district which is famous for its art deco houses. If you enjoy interesting architecture, Santa Ana is definitely one of the most interesting of all day trips from Los Angeles for you. In addition to the historic architecture, you’ll find the Artists Village downtown, which is an area filled with art galleries and studios as well as some fantastic restaurants.
The Artists Village was part of an initiative to bring abandoned downtown areas back to life, and it has certainly worked here. The Orange County Center for Contemporary Art and the Cal State Fullerton Grand Central Art Center are both worth a visit.
Historic ‘Calle Cuatro’, or 4th Street, is also part of the historic downtown and lined with restaurants, independent shops and boutiques, craft beer breweries and the 4th Street Market, which is an indoor food market.
Any other day trips from Los Angeles you would add to my list? Share them in the comments below!