Looking for the best road trips near Los Angeles? You’ll be spoilt for choice because several epic overland adventures await just a short drive away from the City of Angels. You won’t have to venture too far to escape the hubbub of the city, either.
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Escape to cool places in Southern California this weekend with these road trips – they’re all under 2 hours’ drive from the largest city in The Golden State and each is ideal for a weekend escape. From blissful beach towns to magnificent mountain retreats and soothing wellness spas, here are my top picks for places to explore by road, all within easy reach of Los Angeles:
Stunning coastal views and consistently good surf. Huntington Beach is the ideal mini road trip when time is of the essence – this laidback Orange County town is less than an hour away from downtown Los Angeles. If you’re not in a rush, take the scenic route down the Pacific Highway to enjoy sweeping views of Seal Beach and Sunset Beach. Also known as Surf City USA, Huntington Beach has the most consistent breaks in Southern California. When the swell is flat elsewhere on the coast, this 16-km stretch heaves with surfers riding its ever-reliable waves. Back on land, hip restaurants line the sun-soaked sand, and there are intriguing museums and lush wetlands to explore.
Spectacular scenery and a cool community! Laguna Beach is a bodacious bohemian destination complete with chic cafes and glamorous galleries. Aside from the thriving arts and dining scene, the town is well-known for its ensemble of beautiful beaches and coves. Main Beach is the epicentre of it all, a bustling boardwalk-lined stretch with gorgeous rock pools on either end. For something more remote, pop into Woods Cove Beach or Victoria Beach (don’t miss Pirate Tower) instead. The Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is ideal for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, while Aliso Beach usually has the best surf. Head home via the Pacific Highway – preferably at sunset – for more epic ocean views. Laguna Beach is an hour and a half from Los Angeles.
A hip, urbanised island by Newport Beach, Balboa Island is a beautiful harbour-side community about an hour south of central Los Angeles. The upmarket district comprises 3 artificial islands you can access via the Marine Avenue Bridge. Alternatively, get there from the scenic Balboa Peninsula by sailing over the bay on the vintage Balboa Island Car Ferry. Marine Avenue is the island’s commercial heart, complete with countless chic coastal boutiques. Restaurants and bistros also line the buzzing strip, serving a smorgasbord of mouth-watering cuisine – the fresh seafood is a must. For a cheeky dessert, try the world-famous Balboa Frozen Banana.
Glen Ivy Hot Springs
A wellness spa built on a natural mineral spring, soothing Glen Ivy Hot Springs is the ultimate escape for stressed-out city dwellers in need of serious rest and relaxation. Tucked away beneath the majestic Santa Ana Range, these natural mineral springs have been attracting day-trippers for over 150 years. The day spa resides an hour’s drive from Los Angeles and is particularly popular among glamorous socialites who want to take a road trip out of the city. Nowadays, a luxurious spa of the same name offers a wide range of water-based therapies. Take a dip in the red-clay mud baths, known as Club Mud, before cleansing the skin in a whiffy sulphuric mineral tub or sweating through a steamy sauna. Facials, massages, meditation, and yoga complete the bliss-inducing experience. Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm Phone: +1 888-453-6489
Sophisticated dining and fine Southern California wines, Temecula is a great semi-rural place to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Los Angeles, which is an easy hour-and-a-half drive away. Boasting a warm Mediterranean climate and near-perpetual sunshine, it’s a Southern Californian wine-growing powerhouse with over 50 vineyards to explore.
Once you’ve quaffed a few glasses of vino, hit the historic Old Town for world-class dining and sophisticated nightlife. Promenade Temecula houses a lively farmer’s market hawking local produce, while handcrafted goods line the town’s bountiful boutiques. Breathtaking valley views set the scene, and there isn’t a single traffic jam in sight.
Organic locally sourced cuisine and stunning mountain hikes, Ojai is a tiny Ventura County town brilliant for boutique buffs, clean eaters, and outdoor adventurers. Its verdant valleys are known for producing some of Southern California’s finest organic produce. High-end health-conscious restaurants turn quality, locally sourced produce into delicious dishes that satisfy even the fussiest diners from Los Angeles. Around town, an assortment of independent art galleries, wellness spas, and bric-a-brac businesses cater to a trendy clientele – franchisees are prohibited from trading within city limits. For the hiking crowd, there’s no shortage of meandering trails to explore in the Los Padres National Forest. You can reach Ojai in less than a 90-minute drive from Los Angeles.
An upmarket oceanfront city popular with celebrities, Santa Barbara is affectionately known as the American Riviera for its elegant European-inspired architecture, soft sandy beaches, and lush rolling hills. It’s known as a home to the stars, with celebrities from Brad Pitt to Oprah Winfrey calling it home. To get there, head west on the Pacific Coast Highway, popping into Santa Monica and Malibu along the way. The best restaurants and bars line the palm-fringed East Beach and the historic Stearns Wharf Pier. Downtown is well worth a look, too. Paseo Nuevo houses ritzy retailers in a stylish open-air space, while the Public Market serves piping hot street food from around the globe.
A relaxed fruit-growing town with fantastic fall foliage, Oak Glen, situated in the Topatopa Mountains, has a rural vibe that’s in stark contrast to the bustle of busy Los Angeles. The mile-high town sits well above the smog line for you to enjoy the crisp mountain air. Surrounding it are swarms of thick oak groves plus apple orchids and berry ranches that stretch out across the horizon, making this town a popular couples’ road trip from Los Angeles. In autumn, the hills burst with gold and ochre hues to attract eager visitors. Harvest season (around Thanksgiving weekend) is another wonderful time to visit, with fruit picking and pressing activities to entertain young and old. If you’re more interested in scenery than citrus, walk along the leafy trails of the Oak Glen Preserve.
A beautiful lakeside resort in the Alps of Southern California, Lake Arrowhead lies deep in the San Bernardino Mountains, a thickly forested area referred to as the “Alps of Southern California.” Nature lovers and adventure travellers adore the pristine surroundings, where activities like hiking, skiing, and water sports abound. It’s also equally popular among couples for its romantic alpine vibe and plush restaurants and resorts. The glistening lake lies an hour and a half from downtown Los Angeles via a windy mountain road. If you’re chasing powder and have more time on your hands, Big Bear Lake has superb downhill skiing and reliable seasonal snowfall. Although it’s only 15 miles further east, you’ll need to allow at least an extra hour to navigate the rugged terrain.
An upmarket resort town in the scorching Sonoran Desert, Palm Springs is a posh resort town with an affinity for modernist architecture. The town is a scenic 2-hour drive east of Los Angeles. The area has been gaining momentum among the upper class since the mid- 19th-century. Nowadays, a wide array of fancy restaurants and resorts cater to a well-heeled crowd. Its biggest claim to fame is the Coachella festival, which attracts both celebrities and big-name bands. Palm Springs is popular year-round, despite the blazing Sonoran Desert heat (expect temperatures of over 100°F in the summertime). At least every hotel and golf resort comes with a refreshing swimming pool to cool off in. Don’t miss the Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating gondola, while you’re here.
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