Road Trip from Los Angeles: 10 Awesome Destinations To Visit!

Whether you live in sunny Los Angeles or are just passing through and are searching on your phone for places to go on a road trip near me, there are so many amazing road trips from Los Angeles just a few hours out of the city.

Deserts, forests, nature reserves, and tropical escapes – the outer reaches of California have it all.

road in the desert
On the road in Joshua Tree National Park

The best part about taking a road trip from Los Angeles? Everything is within driving distance! That’s why so many people choose to live the vanlife for a few days by renting out a camper van for the weekend.

But not everyone has to be one with the pavement – there are lots of hotels, California vacation rentals, and traveler’s motels all over the state.

These are my top ten road trips from LA for your next long weekend getaway from Los Angeles!

Palm Springs

Palm Springs, California
Palm Springs

The drive from Los Angeles may be a relatively short 110-miles, but the sunny path between these two Southern California cities is packed with fun places to visit.

It doesn’t matter if you enjoy the cushy air-conditioned experience or prefer being surrounded by the natural beauty of California!

From the historically-oriented Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum to UC Riverside Botanic Gardens, there’s something for every kind of adventurer on the way to Palm Springs.

The best part of going from LA to Palm Springs is that you can draw out the journey in an RV or take a day trip.

Either way, you’ll be passing by the incredibly scenic San Gorgonio Pass. The drive can take as little as 2 hours but can go up to a couple of days, especially if you stop by the sun-kissed Oak Glen Preserve for a walk on the wild side or visit the local dino park!

My recommended stops: 

  • Richard Nixon Library And Museum
  • BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Chino Hills
  • Cabazon Dinosaurs
  • California Citrus State

If you want to see what other experiences you can have in Palm Springs click here.

Los Angeles To Santa Barbara

A view of a city with a mountain in the background
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a special place. It offers modern city life while being a stone’s throw from some of the most beautiful sceneries in the world: the great California coastline, the Channel Islands National Park, and the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens.

This road trip from Los Angeles to the sunny American Riviera stretches a modest 95-miles, which can be completed in under two hours when the roads are clear.

Like the other adventures on my shortlist of road trips from Los Angeles, a savvy explorer can choose from all sorts of activities while they cover the distance by car or RV. City-slickers can stop at Malibu’s downtown area, which is jam-packed with boutique shopping options.

Luckily, there are lots to do for the more outdoorsy folks, too. The Malibu Wine Safaris delivers a fun and boozy adventure where you can sip wines and hang out with some giraffes and zebras. And Malibu Creek State Park is fantastic.

Malibu Creek State Park
Malibu Creek State Park

I recommend these stops, although you can also head straight to your destination:

  • Oxnard
  • Malibu
  • Channel Islands

Read More – Day trip to visit Channel Islands National Park

Los Angeles To San Diego

Where to Stay in San Diego
Ocean Beach, San Diego

Looking for family road trips from Los Angeles? The Pacific Coast Highways scenic 145-mile drive out of town to sandy San Diego is a classic Southern California road trip.

This takes you through small-town coastal California, which stretches across several beautiful beaches, ports, and pools of paradise brimming with the potential of a good time.

Travelers can put on some tunes and sit back until they hit Long Beach, home to some of the most renowned museums and beaches. You can even take a ferry over to Santa Catalina Island, with hiking trails and snorkeling sites abound. 

Head back to the soft sand beaches to continue your journey toward San Diego, and you’ll encounter Laguna Beach in Orange County, Dana Point, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and La Jolla Cove – each with their own unique sights and activities.

Laguna Beach in Orange County - one of the best places to visit in Southern California
Laguna Beach

My recommended stops on the way to San Diego:

  • Literally any of the beautiful beaches along the coastline
  • La Jolla Cove for photo ops
  • Torrey Pines – one of the most beautiful golf courses!

Read More

Los Angeles To Big Bear

Big Bear, California
Big Bear

Listen up, holiday chasers – here’s one of the best weekend getaways from LA on this list.

Take a break from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles and go for a hammock nap by the beautiful Big Bear Lake, the perfect place for a camping trip with friends, family, or a loved one.

Plus, the journey to this piney getaway is just as beautiful as the destination itself.

Big Bear adventures usually start by hitting the I-210 east over to the famed California Rim of The World, which is known for being one the most scenic routes to traverse.

There are loads of woody cafes and stopovers on the way, with plenty of flora and fauna to give your trip the perfect pop of nature.

The journey culminates upon entering the town of Big Bear, where you’ll be welcomed by a vast selection of cozy inns and places to pitch your tent.

My recommended stops:

  • Lake Arrowhead
  • Snow Play Area
  • Silverwood Lake Overlook

Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur

The Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, California
The Bixby Bridge

Taking the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the best road trips from Los Angeles and the best choice when taking a road trip to mountainous Big Sur.

Unlike the other destinations from LA on this list, a road trip from Los Angeles to Big Sur isn’t a day trip – if you want to enjoy yourself, that is.

Because the drive over can be around 300 miles long, I recommend taking a camper van or RV and keeping an eye out for one of the hundreds of shaded parking spots along the way.

Road trips to Big Sur run through hundreds of scenic spots of note, with an excellent balance of natural and human-made wonders lining each mile of your trip.

Lotusland in Montecito is a must-see with its thousands of plant species and picture-perfect rest stops. At the same time, the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes really embody the feeling of taking a desert trail.

But that doesn’t mean you have to go out of your way to witness the sights of California – you’re actually going to drive right over one – The Bixby Bridge is a wildly popular tourist attraction that stretches out over a vast canyon floor.

My recommended stops:

  • Lotusland in Montecito
  • Monterey Bay
  • Bixby Bridge
  • Morro Rock
  • McWay Falls

Read more – 3 day Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary

If you want to see what other experiences you can have along the Pacific Highway to Big Sur click here

Joshua Tree National Park

Best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park
Hidden Valey Trail, Joshua Tree

Tucked deep in the Sonoran desert is the Joshua Tree National Park, prized for its namesake, the otherworldly Joshua Trees.

While these unique plants make a California day trip feel more like taking a drive on the surface of hot, sandy Mars, that’s not all there is to see – the sun baked destination of Joshua Tree National Park is also home to a bunch of exciting spots.

Once you’ve had your fill of outdoor trails in Joshua Tree, you can drive 12 miles in to find the Cholla Cactus Garden. This little patch of land holds hundreds of unique cholla cacti, which are deceptively innocent-looking.

Cholla Cactus Garden
Cholla Cactus Garden

There are many other places of note, like the Arch Rock near the camping grounds or the Hidden Valley. If you want a breather from the Joshua Tree National Park’s dusty atmosphere, I recommend stopping by Barker Dam, Ryan Mountain, Coachella Valley, or Lost Horse Mine. 

My recommended stops:

  • Everything mentioned…but at night. Stargazing is great at Joshua Tree.
  • The many camping spots for a good rest in between sights.

Read more:

Red Rock Canyon State Park

Red Rock Canyon State Park, California
Image credit:

Red Rock Canyon is the best way to go if you’re looking for an arid adventure near the Mojave National Preserve.

At roughly 91 miles away from Los Angeles, travel time is relatively fast and the payoff is more than worth it. The canyons are dusted in a Martian red, which echoes old western movies and Star Wars’ Tatooine simultaneously.

While there isn’t much to do here for folks who prefer paved adventures, Red Rock Canyon is perfect for those who like to hike or take an RV-style road trip.

The canyon is home to Ricardo Campground, which has over 50 “primitive” campsites with pretty much everything you need, sans RV hookups.

Daytime activities include:

  • A 2-mile hike by Pine Creek Canyon 
  • Another hike around Calico Basin
  • Biking around trails

That said, Red Rock transforms come sundown. This dry camping spot has one of the darkest nights in the United States, meaning that it’s perfect for stargazing. 

Insider’s Tip: you won’t get the same view huddled up in the luxurious Red Rock Resort, so I recommend bringing your camping gear with you.

My recommended stops (beyond the canyon itself):

  • Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park 
  • Vasquez Rocks Natural Area
  • Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Los Angeles To Death Valley National Park

death valley national park california
Zabriskie Point, Death Valley NP

Past Red Canyon is Death Valley National Park, one of the largest national parks in the United States.

But would-be travelers should be aware of taking road trips to this dusty destination in the summer months – it can be sweltering at certain times.

That said, Death Valley is just as camp-able as other national parks, despite its intimidating name.

The moment you enter Death Valley from HWY 190, you’re greeted with some pretty extreme sights. After starting your 4000-ft descent, Father Crowley Vista Point comes creeping in, and you’ll be deep in dune territory.

Once you’ve traversed the vast, sandy area by car or on foot, you can stop over at Timbisha Village Frybread Tacos – an oasis of fried foods and sugary treats in a dune sea.

Badwater Basin salt flats Death Valley
Badwater Basin

After a quick break, sand sailors can head on over to Badwater Basin, which is 28 feet below sea level and the lowest point in North America! The basin gets its name from the high salt content in the area.

My recommended stops:

  • Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
  • Zabriskie Point
  • Artist’s Drive and Palette

Read more – 9 incredible things to do in Death Valley National Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Parks

Anza-Borrego Desert State Parks, California
Anza-Borrego Desert

One of the best parts of visiting national parks is that there’s usually a wealth of things to do on a day trip there – Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is no exception.

Despite being roughly three and a half hours of travel time from your starting town of Los Angeles, this desert drive feels uniquely Californian.

With the rich diversity of local flora and fauna, the drive here can be a quick and easy way to reconnect with nature.

Visitors can take a casual stroll down Borrego Palm Canyon Trail, known to be beginner-friendly and an excellent place to take ‘gram-worthy photos.

Walk further down the trail, and you may just run into a scarlet red dragon breaking through the thick sandy ground, which is a fantastic experience even after you realize it’s part of the Galleta Meadows Metal Sculptures.

My recommended stops:

  • Palomar Observatory
  • Anza-Borrego Desert Visitor Center
  • Coyote Canyon

Salton Sea

Salton Sea, California
Image credit:

The Salton Sea is a 165-mile drive from Los Angeles, and it’s worth every minute spent on the road trying to get to it.

Some people who travel to this ghost town report the area feeling eerie and a little haunted, which makes sense when you consider its storied history.

From salt mining to water levels rising and falling over time, Salton Lake is definitely not your typical road trip adventure.

Many urban myths about aliens, “watchers”, and other paranormal activity have brought millions of tourists to this desolate area, making it the perfect spot for a road trip with your mystery-loving friends a la Scooby-Doo.

My recommended stops:

  • The International Banana Museum 
  • Salton Sea Visitors And Information Center In The Area
  • Red Earth Casino

Here is another mystical lake in California: Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

Other Notable Road Trips

The thing about living in the city of Los Angeles is that there are way too many places to go for an out-of-town trip – finding the right destinations can save you a lot of time and effort.

Despite my inquisitive nature and discerning taste, there were still some travel options that were too good to leave out of this list!

Here are some of the other places you might want to travel to when you’re looking to get out of LA:

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re doing it old-school style going from hotel to hotel or living fancy in an RV, you’ll need an itinerary and a destination.

Planning is essential to enjoying a road trip, and this list has some of the best ideas around.

But my suggestions are just suggestions. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for something fit for an urbanite or looking to sleep under the great blue sky, your travel plan should be tailored to what you want!

Check out these California posts

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