Looking to get away from Los Angeles this fall? We’ve got some trip ideas for you.
Los Angeles is great, but even the most diehard Angelenos need to break free from the city from time to time. Fortunately for anyone with a bit of wanderlust, there are dozens of incredible destinations just a few hours’ drive from the City Of Angels, from beautiful beach towns to incredible mountain expanses. There are deserts and nature preserves, amusement parks, and mock Alpine villages. There truly is something for everyone, provided you’re willing to put in a little time in the car. Here’s our guide to 12 great fall day trips for anyone looking to take a little time away from L.A.
Top Picks for You
A swanky enclave about two hours north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara boasts beautiful scenery, great shopping, and a surprisingly robust bar scene. There’s a solid shopping scene around State Street, and if you’re into antiques or midcentury items, you’ll find a lot to love at places like The Blue Door, Old Town Antiques, and The Vintage Fox. You won’t find a lot of surprisingly good deals here—Santa Barbara’s not cheap, after all—but you will find a lot of special pieces.
If you’re feeling hungry, make a stop at La Super-Rica Taqueria, a very cute Mexican restaurant that holds the distinction of being one of Julia Childs’ favorite eateries. If you’re thirsty, there’s always the Urban Wine Trail, which is made up of over 30 wineries and tasting rooms around the area. Pick one to check out or maybe a few—just remember to designate a driver for the trip home.
A decidedly more laid-back hang than Santa Barbara, Los Alamos is a rustic frontier town that’s gotten a bit of a hip twist in recent years. Located about an hour north of its swankier counterpart, Los Alamos is most notable for its delicious and increasingly popular eateries. You’ll want to make a plan before you head up and call ahead because some of this town’s hottest spots are only open weekends or require reservations.
We recommend heading up super early to grab breakfast at Bob’s Well Bread Bakery, a hip bakery that makes amazing artisan bread, croissants, sandwiches, and coffee. Wile away a little time at the antique mall across the street before heading to lunch at Full Of Life Flatbread. Spend a lazy afternoon at Bedford Winery or Casa Dumetz,then hit up Bell’s or Pico for dinner. You can’t go wrong with either, really. Too full to make the trip home? Consider crashing at the Skyview, a recently restored roadside motel with swaggy boutique-style amenities.
Everyone knows Anaheim as the home of Disneyland, and that’s fair: Mickey and his pals certainly do dominate a lot of real estate in the Orange County city. Disney’s not the only game in town, though, especially for families looking for fun. Knott’s Berry Farm sits in nearby Buena Park, and there’s natural adventure to be found at the 58-acre Oak Canyon Nature Center. Rent
a paddleboat and cruise around Yorba Regional Park’s lake, or just spend some time on its playground. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to The Packing District, a former Sunkist facility that’s been turned into a massive food hall and dining complex. You’ll find everything there from Indian food to Fruity Pebble crepes, meaning there’ll be something for the whole family. There’s even room for family fun in Anaheim’s surprisingly robust craft brew scene, with taprooms like Brewery X, Radiant, and Modern Times catering to the whole gang. (Modern Times even has a pool, though you’ll have to be 21 to use it.)
Angeles National Forest
Anyone who’s just as into the journey as the destination will enjoy a trip to the Angeles National Forest, which is easily accessible via the entrance to the Angeles Crest Highway in La Canada Flintridge. At over 650,000 acres, the Angeles National Forest is vast, and there’s something for everyone, from scenic picnic areas to mountain biking trails, horseback riding to hang-gliding. There’s even an observatory—Mount Wilson—which, on a clear day, offers just as great a view of Los Angeles as it does of the heavens.
Fall is actually a perfect time to drive toward Mount San Antonio, or Mount Baldy, which earned that moniker because of its barren landscape. As winter approaches, things can get a little icy the farther up the mountain you go, leaving roads blocked or only passable if your car is equipped with snow chains. Driving up in the fall gives you all the vistas and vantage points with none of the iffy motoring.
Located just 90 minutes from L.A., Temecula is a great stop for anyone who loves a good glass of wine but doesn’t have the time to get up to Sonoma or Napa counties. Take a spin through Old Town Temecula on your way to one of the area’s 30 different wineries, including Monte De Oro, Vindemia, Callaway, and Baily. If you can’t choose just one or want to take some of the driving out of the equation, there are guided tours offered by a number of companies and via a number of modes of transport, from limo buses to trolley car. For those who are feeling just a bit more adventurous, there’s always a hot air balloon ride, which typically takes about an hour and can give interested parties a beautiful bird’s eye view of the region’s landscape. If you leave feeling lucky, take a spin through the Pechanga Resort and Casino, which holds the honor of being the largest gambling establishment in the whole state of California.
California might be known for its agriculture, but Southern California isn’t exactly an apple orchard hotspot. Typically, apple trees tend to thrive in more moderate climates, which explains why they’re so prevalent in states like Michigan, New York, and Washington. All that being said, there are some apple orchards in Southern California, in particular, around the city of Oak Glen. There, fall lovers can find a five-mile run of orchards, apple-heavy shops, and even apple-tinged restaurants, like Apple Annie’s, a cafe that offers up a very delicious slice of local apple pie. If you’re looking for a pick-your-own experience, you’ll want to go early in the season because some orchards’ trees get cleaned out quickly, but most good orchards, like Willowbrook Apple Farm, Stone Pantry Orchard and Stone Soup Farm also offer cider presses, wine tasting, and even petting zoos.
It’s always wise to reconsider a visit to Joshua Tree during the summer, when temperatures can be positively oppressive. During the fall, though, things cool down a little, meaning it’s a great option for a quick nature-centric day trip. Located just under three hours from Los Angeles, the Joshua Tree National Park offers hiking, bouldering, horseback riding, and bird-watching. Moderately skilled hikers can opt for short treks like the Fortynine Palms Oasis trail or the Hidden Valley Trail, while total newbies might like the Cottonwood Spring Oasis, where you’ll find a nice pool of water, plenty of wildlife, and even some invitingly shady trees.
Anyone looking to explore the more out-there spiritual side of Joshua Tree should definitely plan to stop at the Integratron, where you’ll find a sound bath experience set inside a massive geodesic dome. There are 60-minute sound baths held about four times a day on weekends, and while you’ll have to share the space with 20-odd other inquiring minds, plus a meditation leader, it can be a pretty interesting trip.
INSIDER TIPIntegratron’s sound baths book up fast. Be sure to make a reservation.
While Lake Arrowhead is best known for its winter activities, like skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling, there’s plenty to do all year round. Take the Rim Of The World Scenic Byway up from San Bernardino. It’s 110 miles long, so it shoots straight through Lake Arrowhead if you want to keep going, but any portion of the winding road that you end up traversing is going to give you amazing views, twisting turns, and amazing greenery. Stop byLouEddie’s Pizza for a delicious and laid-back lunch, then continue to Lake Arrowhead proper for fairly decent shopping right along the lake at Lake Arrowhead Village. If you’re feeling thirsty, make a stop at Lake Arrowhead Brewing Company, which offers delicious beers, chill, family-friendly vibes, and a nice view of the (sadly private) lake itself. If you want to get out on the lake itself, you’ll either have to know a local or opt for a private tour on a vessel like the Arrowhead Queen.
Located just an hour east of Los Angeles, Riverside is a quaint gem that many Angelenos really don’t know that much about. The city gave birth to the state’s whole citrus industry, and visitors interested in that history can take a ranger-led tour at the California Citrus State Historic Park, complete with orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit tastings.
All that citrus-centric growth led to an outcropping of a number of now charmingly historic buildings around town. There are about two dozen nationally registered historic sites in town, including the absolutely massive Mission Inn Hotel and Spa, which is actually the largest Mission Revival-style building in the entire United States. The block-long hotel is a sight to behold, with flying buttresses, archways, courtyards, stained glass windows, a bell tower, and a massive circular wrought-iron staircase. While staying a night in the hotel can certainly be fun, there’s also a guided75-minute tour offered about four to five times daily should you just want to dip your toe into the space.
Other scenic stops in Riverside include the UCR Botanic Gardens, the Culver Center of the Arts, and the Riverside Art Museum, which was designed by the same architect (Julia Morgan) that designed the Hearst Castle. Definitely check out the calendar at the Fox Performing Arts Center if you decide to hit town, too: The 1929 Spanish Colonial Revival space often has great performers come through, from big-name comedians to kid-friendly acts to burlesque performers like Dita Von Teese.
Everyone knows about Disneyland, but for parents of younger kids, Legoland is really where it’s at. The Carlsbad, California, amusement park celebrates all things Lego, meaning attendees will find Lego-crafted art, Lego-inspired rides, and even Lego building areas. (And yes, there’s a massive gift shop where you can buy all sorts of Lego products, because what would a theme park be without one?) In the fall, Legoland celebrates Brick-Or-Treat, offering attendees tons of candy, all-new shows, spooky-ish costumed Minifig characters, and even a costume contest. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also worth noting that fall and winter are great times to make a trip to Legoland because the weather’s fairly mild, and the park isn’t really all that packed, given that most kids are back in school, especially during the week. Don’t forget to stop for Granny’s Apple Fries, which are so good you’ll be dreaming of them until your next Legoland vacation.
Few Southern California towns are as singular as Solvang. Founded in 1911 and modeled after a quaint Danish village, Solvang is full of Danish country architecture, bakeries, restaurants, and hard-to-pronounce business names. (See: the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art.) It’s a great place to visit with kids or friends, though, if only for a nice afternoon of walking around, leisurely lunches, and boutique shopping. Make sure to check out the old-fashioned windmill downtown, and try and grab a spot in Tivoli Square to do some people-watching. The Solvang trolley is a fun experience for anyone, too: The wooden, horse-drawn streetcar has been running for about 40 years and offers riders a narrated tour of the town as well as a little time off their feet.
Anyone looking for a classic California beach day should look no further than Huntington Beach. Located just 35 miles south of Los Angeles, Surf City USA features beautiful palm tree-lined beaches, amazing surfing, and one of the longest piers on the West Coast. You could easily spend the day just hanging out on Bolsa Chica State Beach enjoying the shallow, warm water and easy living, but if you’re looking for a bit more local culture, there’s always the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum, home of the world’s largest surfboard. If you’re thirsty, grab a cocktail at the Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel, where you can gaze at the beach while you imbibe. You can grab dinner there, too, or dip out to grab some local fare at hotspots like Mama’s On 39, Habana, Vox Kitchen, or the legendary Duke’s Huntington Beach.