Whether you live in Los Angeles or just visit the City of Angels, it’s the perfect place to travel and discover all that California has to offer.
With beautiful state and national parks, routes that range from arid deserts to lush forests and city trips, this list of routes through California and beyond has it all.
This list of car trips is booked from the nearest city Los Angeles, depending on the length of the trip.
– 25 different ways to travel from Los Angeles taking you through California and beyond.
at 1 hour from Los Angeles (34 miles)
Just over 30 miles from Los Angeles, Malibu is the nearest city on our list, but the drive through downtown can take much longer than you think – in rush hour it can easily take an hour and a half, although on a quiet Sunday morning you can do it in 40 minutes.
Away from the busy streets of Los Angeles, Malibu stretches 30 miles along the Pacific Coast Highway through Santa Monica and the Pacific Palisades.
Many will associate Malibu with rich, famous and expensive ocean view villas, but Malibu is much more than that.
Along the entire length of Malibu there are several large parks, canyons and beaches to explore. If you like your wine, there are several great wineries to explore, such as the Malibu Solstice Winery – the wine is beautiful, but the views can be even better!
The Malibu Wharf is a popular spot on the Malibu coast and has miles of beaches, but don’t forget to drive a little further to El Matador State Beach. You need good shoes to walk down a steep path and this rocky beach has no facilities or lifeguards, but the scenery is breathtaking and you can relax for hours.
at 1 hour from Los Angeles (50 miles)
Orange County is known for its incredible beaches, from the iconic Huntington Beach Pier to the Spanish village of San Clemente. Laguna Beach has some of the best beaches in the province, such as Woods Cove Beach and Victoria Beach with its iconic La Tour.
Just an hour from the hustle and bustle of the city, Laguna Beach is the perfect place for a day trip from Los Angeles.
From picturesque white sandy beaches to romantic coves, you’ll find your beach type along the 7 miles of the Pacific coast.
Laguna Beach, known as a centre for artists and water recreation, has a large number of hotels and resorts if you want to spend the weekend there. There are many hiking and mountain biking trails with breathtaking views if you want to stay on the beach.
1 hour 30 minutes from Los Angeles (25 miles + ferry)
L.A. Nature of Graphics/Shutterstock.com
Santa Catalina de Los Angeles is relatively easy to reach, as Long Beach or San Pedro are just 30 minutes away. From there you have to take the fast ferry, which takes about an hour to cross 22 miles of water.
The island of Santa Catalina has two destinations that can be reached: two ports and Avalon. From San Pedro there are only ferries to two ports, but Avalon is the ideal place to explore the island.
You can make a jeep tour or rent a golf buggy to explore the area, although there are many hiking trails.
Besides enjoying the view and good food in one of the many decent restaurants, the menu offers everything from zippers to relaxing on the beach or visiting the wine cellar.
If you want to stay with us, there are several hotels in Avalon where you can stay and enjoy the island in the evening and in the morning when the crowd has already left or hasn’t arrived yet.
1 hour 30 minutes from Los Angeles (90 miles)
California Legoland, based in Karlovy Vary, was the third largest Legoland in the world and the first outside Europe when it opened in March 1999.
Today, the large theme park has more than 60 attractions, divided into different zones that have something to offer for every age group. Even for the youngest Lego fans there are many attractions and things to do. This makes Legoland one of the best Los Angeles destinations for families with children of all ages.
Legoland is generally open from 10.00 to 17.00 and is open longer on weekends and in summer. However, please inquire before your departure – it may be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays or on special event days. Although Legoland is open all year round, the water attractions are much more fun in warmer weather!
Attractions include a roller coaster ride, a tour of the Lego factory and a show of the famous American Lego cities, including New York, New Orleans and San Francisco. You can also visit the Sealife Aquarium, which has a tunnel and Lego decoration in the tanks.
1 hour 40 minutes from Los Angeles (95 miles)
The charming city of Santa Barbara is less than 2 hours north of Los Angeles and is rightly considered one of the best places to live in California, if not the entire United States.
In recent years, a number of Hollywood and TV celebrities have made Santa Barbara their home or vacation spot, including Oprah and Brad Pitt.
The only attraction you really need to see is the old mission of Santa Barbara, a Franciscan mission with beautiful gardens.
Santa Barbara is also a quiet place to live. There is a wide choice of restaurants and bars and a beautiful historic promenade with mooring at Stearns Wharf and a palm-lined beach.
Santa Barbara is a popular destination all year round, but during the summer months it can be very crowded, not only because of the Angelinos who have fled the city, but also because of the large influx of tourists.
1 hour 45 minutes from Los Angeles (107 miles)
Andrew F. Kazmirsky/Shutterstock.com
Palm Springs has long been a popular year-round holiday destination for the Angelinos. Palm Springs is located in the Californian desert only a few kilometers away and was founded in the middle of the 20th century. It was popular at the end of the 19th century as a playground for the rich and famous.
Most of Palm Springs’ buildings and infrastructure date back to this golden age – hotels and houses have this simple modernist style. They love this style so much that Palm Springs organizes the Week of Modernism every year in October.
The maximum average during the summer months is 100 (more than 40 degrees), so if you are on your way to the hottest time of the year, you will enjoy the swimming pools. Most hotels have luxurious swimming pools and spas, but if you don’t have them in your room, you can usually use them in larger hotels for a fee.
Don’t miss the Air Tram, which takes you by gondola to the top of a mountain. It is the largest rotary gondola in the world and takes you from Coachella to the top of San Jacinto Peak.
2 hours from Los Angeles (120 miles)
San Diego is the perfect weekend getaway from Los Angeles, just 2 hours from the coast along the San Diego highway.
San Diego has a lot to do – you can easily extend your trip to a long weekend to make the most of it. Beaches are the best place to relax, whether you want to sunbathe or catch a wave.
Don’t forget to try the local fish tacos and ride on the bright red carts. If there’s one attraction you should visit, it’s the famous San Diego Zoo. Pandas are stars, and leaving sooner or later is the best way to see them, because they will sleep most of the day.
Most events take place at Gaslamp – there are restaurants and bars of all kinds, and you can sit outside to catch the evening breeze and watch the evening show.
La Hall is a wealthy neighborhood north of downtown San Diego. Ideal for a walk or an expensive lunch in a gourmet restaurant. Don’t miss the seals and sea lions that have settled in La Hall Cove!
2 hours from Los Angeles (100 miles)
Arrowhead Lake and Big Bear Lake are ideal for year-round outdoor recreation. Just 2 hours from Los Angeles, they are ideal for a day trip or weekend away from Los Angeles.
Arrowhead Lake and Big Bear Lake are only 15 miles apart, but due to the mountainous terrain it’s almost an hour’s drive from one to the other.
Although they are close together, they are very different, but they are both incredible places to visit all year round. Great Bear Lake is a large lake that offers a lot of fun for outdoor activities. In the Snow Mountain and Bear Mountain resorts, you can rent or take a boat, practice all kinds of water sports or go skiing in winter.
Arrowhead Lake is quieter and more exclusive – most of the lake shore is private and there is less emphasis on outdoor activities and more on fantastic retreats and restaurants. In the village of Arrowhead Lake you can always walk around the lake and take a boat trip if you like.
Arrowhead Lake is much lower, so there is less snow in the winter, although it is easier to get there. If you’re going away for the weekend, take a look at the two lakes to compare and contrast!
at 2 hours 20 minutes from Los Angeles (130 miles)
Solvang is just over two hours from Los Angeles, on the coast. Solvang is a beautiful village built in Danish style by a group of Danish settlers who settled there in 1911.
Solvang was registered as a town in 1985 and has only about 5000 inhabitants, so it has retained the feeling of a hospitable village.
Wherever you look in Solvang, you can see the Danish roots. The strange architecture seems very European, with a Danish windmill and small shops with one or two floors.
There are not one, but two Danish theme museums – one dedicated to the history of Solvang and his inhabitants, the other to the work of Hans Christian Andersen, the famous Danish writer.
Solvang is in fact so Danish that it has been visited twice by the Danish royal family and the Danish ambassador took part in the celebration of the city’s 100th anniversary.
You can also visit the Santa Ines mission, which dates back to 1804, and have the opportunity to explore the many vineyards near Solvang in the Santa Ynez Valley.
at 2 hours 20 minutes from Los Angeles (130 miles)
Joshua Tree National Park is the closest national park to Los Angeles, making it an ideal place for weekend excursions.
Despite its name, it is important to remember that the Yeshua tree is actually a vast, rather inhospitable desert. Cacti and other shrubs will grow here and there, but the landscape will consist mainly of rocks and sand. Make sure you bring everything you need, including plenty of water.
The national park has a very limited number of accommodations, but more than 300 campsites. As soon as you receive your passport (with the annual pass you can enter all other national parks within 12 months), you can organize yourself and enjoy everything the park has to offer.
Spring is the best time to visit, as temperatures are reasonable and some desert plants are even in bloom (yes – that’s the thing). Summer can be incredibly hot here, making camping or hiking almost impossible – you’ve been warned!
There are endless footpaths, paths to explore and hiking trails – the park is huge, so you can come here dozens of times and still only see a small part of it.
One of the most popular destinations are the mountain formations on either side of the park – Rock Crossing and Rock Arca. You can also try climbing or walking to Case View (the highest point of the park). From the top you have a fantastic view of the Coachella Valley and on a clear day you can see all the way to Signal Mountain in Mexico!
at 2 hours 20 minutes from Los Angeles (160 miles)
The Salton Sea is the largest lake in California, lies 72 m below sea level and contains more salt water than the Pacific Ocean. It was accidentally created in 1905 by engineers trying to divert the Colorado River, which flooded the plain for two years when construction went wrong.
In the middle of the 20th century. At the end of the 19th century this region became a popular holiday destination – seaside resorts were built and some towns welcomed visitors.
Today the sea, 45 miles by 20 miles, is largely empty and deserted. The tourist industry, located in the middle of the desert and far from the major cities, has been in decline for several decades, which surprisingly means that it is the ideal place to visit.
With footpaths throughout the province and a national park and two national parks nearby, there is plenty of nature to discover. You can go birding or camp under the stars on one of the hundreds of campsites.
If you are bored, there are attractions such as the International Banana Museum (not really) or art installations in and around the springs of the Borrego or Salvation Mountain.
Remember that despite its name, the Salton Sea is in the middle of a hot desert and summer temperatures average 100s (over 40°C), so bring plenty of water – it will be very hot.
2 hours 30 minutes from Los Angeles (68 miles + ferry)
Ventura or San Buenaventura, as it is officially called, is a coastal town located between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and only an hour from Los Angeles.
In Ventura everything revolves around the ocean – the most important thing is that you revolve around the harbour. You can rent a pedalo or almost anything that floats here and see the seals resting on the piers or on any boat.
One of the great advantages of a boat trip to the Channel Islands is that the archipelago starts about 20 miles from Ventura and stretches even further so that the trip lasts as long as possible during the day.
Admittedly, the boat and the trekking around the islands may be a dubious entry on the list of car trips to Los Angeles, but it’s such an interesting option that I had to include it. That and the fact that you still have to drive part of the way!
The whole chain of 5 islands has been designated as the National Park of the Normandy Islands and the boat takes 1 to 3 hours for the one-way trip, depending on the distance you wish to travel. It is the least visited national park in the whole country, so you have to visit it – it is not on the radar of most tourists, making it a perfect day trip.
On the way to the islands you can see dolphins, whales on the surface or flying fish. On the islands themselves we see condors, bald eagles, seals and foxes, which are native to the islands. If you want to see more, you can take a walk on one of the hiking trails along the islands.
You can even rent a kayak to explore the sea caves around the islands, but watch the waves first!
3 hours from Los Angeles (150 miles)
Because it is so close to the Mexican border, it would be a shame not to provide at least one road option to cross the border.
Rosarito Beach, south of Tijuana, is a classic holiday destination well worth mixing glamour and Mexican street food.
Tijuana is known as a place for people looking for an evening of fun. But just to the south is Rosarito Beach, which for decades was one of Hollywood’s A-list favourites, before becoming increasingly popular in recent years.
Of course this is in Mexico, so you can always find noisy parties and outdoor nightclubs in the area, which are very popular. Otherwise there are many excellent resorts to sunbathe and eat some locally caught lobsters.
Make sure you bring your passports and get the right car insurance for your trip – do it online before you go! The Tijuana border crossing is the busiest land border crossing in the world.
The queues at the border can last an hour or even two, but if you are travelling outside working hours – on weekends or in the early evening – you can simply fly on.
at 3 hours 30 minutes from Los Angeles (315 miles)
Death Valley in California has a very controversial title (see what I did there?) where the warmest temperature in the world was measured – both the air temperature and the temperature of the earth – the highest value was 56.7°C (134.1°F).
The Death Valley gets incredibly hot during the summer months – the average daytime temperature from June to August will be 120s (over 45°C), making mid-summer driving uncomfortable.
This desert is immense – Death Valley National Park is the largest in the United States outside of Alaska. The large sand dunes and not the rocky deserts in other parts of California, Nevada and Arizona are also unusual for this part of the world.
Despite these conditions, Death Valley National Park is popular with tourists. In spring you will find wildflowers in bloom that have made this desert their home.
If you come camping in late autumn or early spring, you can enjoy the status of an International Dark Sky Park – there will be no night lights because the eye can see what a great star shower can do – especially if you visit the park during the new moon.
4 hours from Los Angeles (270 miles)
Las Vegas is perhaps the most popular city in Los Angeles for the weekend. Only 4 hours drive or 1 hour flight for those who choose to fly, Sin City’s endless weekend entertainment is easily accessible by car.
The trip through the Mojave Desert is great, and there are plenty of places to eat on the way if you have to eat on Friday after work.
Whether you come to Vegas to gamble a little, enjoy good food, bars and clubs, or just wander around town and do a little shopping, a stay on the Strip is just what you need.
If you want a more relaxed atmosphere and a little less noise from the slot machines in the lobby, the south side of the Strip is ideal – there is no casino in Cosmopolitan and the Aria Hotel is a great place to stay.
There are also key locations near the Bellagio Hotel and its fountains, as well as the theme hotels Luxor, Excalibur and New York in the South District.
You can leave your car at the hotel – taxis are cheap, most places are within walking distance and the monorail makes it easy to move around. You can also have a few drinks on the way to town!
READ MORE – Car journey from Los Angeles to Las Vegas
5 hours from Los Angeles (270 miles)
Galina Andrushko / Shutterstock.com
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are a 4 hour drive from Los Angeles and are the southernmost point of a long series of parks along the Sierra Nevada Mountains, including Yosemite and Tahoe National Forest.
Kings Canyon National Park is an hour drive away, which takes 5 hours instead of 4 hours from Los Angeles, but if you only have time to visit it, Sequoia National Park is an incredible place to visit.
The main attraction when visiting the parks are the giant sequoias that grow here. The tallest trees in the world are obligatory and most of them grow in the forest between the marble and the central fork of the Kaveya River.
General Sherman’s tree is located in Sequoia National Park and is known as the largest tree in the world in terms of volume. With a height of 275 feet and a diameter of 36 feet, it’s amazing to see – beware that you don’t have to queue up to be photographed!
If you have time, you should climb at least 400 steps to the top of Moreau Rock and take the 180 (Kings Canyon Scenic Byway), a 50 mile gorge road between two parks and one of the most beautiful roads in the United States.
at 5 hours 30 minutes from Los Angeles (295 miles)
Another option for weekend trips is Big Sur. If you don’t make it to San Francisco, you’ll continue to travel as long as on the slower road along the coast.
Big Sur is a long coastal strip between Los Angeles and San Francisco, between the Piedras Blancas lighthouse and Carmel Bay de la Marine.
You can drive along the coast on Highway 1, which can only be one of the most beautiful roads in the United States. Foggy beaches and rocky coves, rough with waves, interrupted by red forests and steep cliffs. If you’re lucky, you might see California Condors flying over – they’re the biggest birds in North America, and it’s really amazing to see them for real.
Bixby Bridge, one of Big Sur’s most famous attractions, crosses Bixby Creek at an altitude of 85 metres and offers some of the best views of the coast.
This bridge can be seen in many commercials, movies and games, and you can stop on both sides to catch a glimpse of it.
at 5 hours 30 minutes from Los Angeles (380 miles)
Phoenix and Scottsdale may seem like a long journey, but the road through the desert takes only 380 miles on direct routes, so the journey from Los Angeles can be surprisingly fast.
In recent years, the Phoenix has attracted technological start-ups and a trendy culture, which means there are many interesting things to see and do. Many of the city’s best attractions are related to art or food.
From the Museum van het Hart to street art exhibitions on the first Friday of each month, the art scene is booming. If you want to get to know the local nature, visit the Desert Botanical Garden. The name says it all: inside you can walk between huge saguaros cacti and all kinds of desert bushes!
Summers in Phoenix can be unbearably hot – some residents, including pensioners, travel to San Diego or other places where the climate is milder during the hot season.
But the heat in Phoenix is very dry, so nowhere else do you feel it as well as in other southern states further east. If you come from June to August, you should bring sunscreen and water everywhere.
6 hours from Los Angeles (330 miles)
Yosemite National Park is one of the most famous parks in the United States and attracts a large number of visitors from California and neighboring states.
Despite an area of about 748,000 hectares, most visitors come to the 7 square miles of the Yosemite Valley. This picturesque valley is covered with pine forests and is home to famous places such as the peaks of El Captain and Half Dome.
If you choose to visit other parts of Yosemite, you will benefit from a much smaller number of people enjoying a more relaxing holiday. Be aware that most of the park is marked as a wilderness area – there are many wild animals in the area, including bears, so be careful and follow the instructions.
If you are going hiking, ask in advance, as some routes are only open in season.
The Mammoth Lakes are located in the eastern part of Yosemite and offer an even more breathtaking environment with rugged mountain peaks next to forests and quiet lakes.
To get from Yosemite to the Mammoth Lakes, you have to cross the highest mountain pass in California – the Tioga Pass. At an altitude of 3,031 m (9,943 ft ASL) you may feel lighter. It’s best if you’ve already been to one of these places and adapted to the altitude.
6 hours from Los Angeles (380 miles)
San Francisco needs a little introduction and should be on your list of possible destinations for travel from Los Angeles. For a weekend with a long drive, it’s a bit long, so if you can extend it by adding a Monday or making a longer trip, great.
There is a lot to do and explore in San Francisco. The cool streets and hilly surroundings are amazing in themselves, but there are also beaches, parks, museums and great attractions to keep you entertained.
Don’t forget to mark your absolute muscles – go to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Presidio area on the south side, stop at Fishermen’s Wharf and make sure you take the iconic cable cars.
Check out our list of San Francisco’s Top 50 to plan your trip!
The hike takes about 6 hours if you take the most direct route on the I-5. The route along the coast is much more picturesque, but extends the journey by two and a half hours.
READ MORE – Car journey from Los Angeles to San Francisco
at 6 hours 30 minutes from Los Angeles (420 miles)
A trip to California wouldn’t be complete without a wine tour. That’s why a trip to the Napa Valley is the best road trip from Los Angeles.
Located north of San Francisco, across the San Pablo Bay, Napa Valley has gained international recognition for its wines and has firmly established itself as one of the best wine regions in the United States.
In the area around Napa and Sonoma there are about 600 wineries, with a total of about 1200 rooms to visit or taste. So, if you want to taste great wines, you can travel to different places for weeks and only visit a small part of the vineyards!
If you are tired of wine, there are several microbreweries and distilleries nearby if you want something lighter or heavier!
Considering the length of the trip, we strongly recommend making it a long trip if you have the time. Add a few days in San Francisco, a trip to Sacramento or a little trip to the Point Reyes National Coast for a bit of variety.
7 hours from Los Angeles (490 miles)
Galina Andrushko / Shutterstock.com
The Grand Canyon is a breathtaking natural phenomenon – vertical cliffs that fall from a kilometre deep into the red rock surrounding the gorge. A vast canyon 277 miles long and several kilometers wide creates a surrealistic landscape.
More than 5 million visitors come to the Grand Canyon every year, and despite the long journey it is worthwhile to be inspired by the amazing nature.
Around the canyon and along its entire length there are large national parks and protected areas where you can camp, hike and generally relax in the great outdoors. The closest villages to the Grand Canyon (the best place to arrive from Los Angeles) are Kaibab National Forest, Cocosino National Forest and Mojave National Park.
Depending on the time of day, you can combine your trip to the Grand Canyon with your trip to Vegas (see above) or with your trip to Flagstaff and Sedona (see below).
If you have two weeks off, you can take a nature trip from Los Angeles – start with a trip to Sequoia National Park, then explore Death Valley, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, before heading south to Flagstaff, Sedona and Phoenix. Add Joshua Tree National Park to the Salton Sea and make a stop in Palm Springs on your way home, and you’ll have half of this list covered at once!
7 hours from Los Angeles (490 miles)
The cities of Flagstaff and Sedona, south of the Grand Canyon, are at the epicenter of Arizona’s red rock desert.
Surrounded by rock formations and beautiful parks, Sedona is the best place to stay away. It is a more charming town, with better scenery and closer to some of the local attractions.
Around Sedona you will find the famous rock formations that have become the landmarks of the southwest – the cathedral and the bell rock. You have to see them to really appreciate the size and color of the stones.
Other attractions are the Devil’s Bridge Trail (see picture above), and you can walk Red Rock State Park or Slide Rock State Park on either side of Sedona.
If you want to make a trip to the Grand Canyon, you can easily do so by car from Flastaff or Sedona, so go and see if you have time!
7 hours 30 minutes from Los Angeles (445 miles)
Lake Tahoe is an open-air paradise that is as popular in summer as it is in winter.
Located on the border between California and Nevada, the picturesque lake is surrounded by high mountains that create a breathtaking landscape of both the coast and the mountain peaks.
The Lake Tahoe Route of Los Angeles takes you on US 395 and takes you through beautiful national parks such as Sequoia National Park, the Royal Canyon and Yosemite. If you take a week for the trip, you might want to spend 2 or 3 days in Lake Tahoe itself and drive back to one of these lakes or to one of the Mammoth Lakes to interrupt your trip.
Lake Tahoe is a place for water sports in summer and skiing in winter. Whether you want to go rowing, kayaking or jet skiing, you can try it all during the long, hot summer. If you like gambling, there are several casinos in the towns around the lake, which are very popular with visitors.
In winter, the surrounding mountains have several beautiful skiing areas, and the sky can only be the best, with breathtaking views of the basin and lake below the slopes.
READ MORE – Car trip from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe
8 hours from Los Angeles (515 miles)
If you continue the theme of nature-inspired road trips from Los Angeles National Parks, Zion and Bryce Canyon in Utah are really something special, and if you have the time, they should definitely be at the top of your list of destinations.
Bryce Canyon National Park is small, just 56 square miles, and the most important thing you can see is Bryce Canyon? …which isn’t really a canyon, but a series of large rocky amphitheatres filled with unique high rocky structures called hoodoo.
Altitudes range from 8,000 to 9,000 feet (2,400 to 2,700 meters), which means cooler temperatures and milder climates than other parks and national parks in California and Arizona.
Zion National Park is a little closer to Los Angeles and is named after the Zion Canyon that runs through it. It’s a real canyon, and although it’s not as big as the Grand Canyon, it’s incredibly beautiful, so keep your eyes open when you travel to Utah.