Escape from LA: Los Angeles Family Day Trips

Mountains, forest, beach, desert. . . Southern California has it all! Leaving Los Angeles for a day trip that’s a world away is easy! Just pack up those munchkins with some fruit snacks and podcasts, and hit the road. Adventures are everywhere when you get just a few miles outside of your regularly-scheduled commute route.

One Perfect Day in Joshua Tree

Boulders, hiking trails and seemingly gravity-defying piles of rocks await you in Joshua Tree National Park, the namesake home of the odd-looking, furry cactus trees. There are plenty of easy hikes for kids all over the park, with a special concentration of places near the north entrance.

Eat a healthy lunch at Natural Sisters Cafe, have a family pizza day at Pie for the People! or head to Pappy and Harriet’s for a real saloon-style meal on the grill.

While you’re at Pappy and Harriet’s, explore the rustic “Mane Street” of Pioneertown, a set built by 1950’s Hollywood for Gene Autry, Clint Eastwood, and the Cisco Kid to do their bidding in days long past. Now, music videos shoot in the same spot, and a kitschy cowboy culture has sprung up around the street, with weekend comedy gunslingers and horse-and-pony shows – a family favorite.

Check out some more ideas on fun things to do in Joshua Tree.  

Deco Ships and Seafood Bits in Long Beach

In the mood for a beach day with more to explore? Long Beach awaits, just 30 minutes south of Los Angeles. Ride the waves, or a bike, along the paved path on Belmont Shore Beach. Visit Aquarium of the Pacific to see jellyfish, sea otters, starfish, and even crabs!

Eat your heart out in Cambodia Town’s Sophy’s to satisfy your Khmer noodle-lover; step inside a homey Craftsman when you visit The Attic, which serves classic comfort food with a twist. Kids will love the mac-and-cheese topped with flaming hot Cheetos, for starters!

Cruise onto the Queen Mary after lunch for a tour of the 1940’s Art Deco ship, or a tea-time snack that takes you back in time. A recreation of the ship, 26 feet long and made entirely of Legos, is a fun attraction for the kiddos – as well as the World War II-era submarine next door.

The Long Beach cruise terminal, where the Queen Mary resides, is also the jumping-off point for Catalina Island trips.

Offshore Excursions on Catalina Island

Sail the Catalina Express to the small island nature preserve, where snorkeling, parasailing, hiking, and swimming await. Drive to the summit on the island’s interior for a more rustic adventure, or look through the bottom of a glass boat and go under the sea without getting wet.

Check out The Lobster Trap for a great seafood dinner, or visit Metropole Market for a variety of dining options in the coastal town of Avalon.

Chewing gum mogul William Wrigley Jr. was once the island’s protector and conservationist, and you can still see his legacy at the Wrigley Monument and Botanical Gardens.

Check out some more ideas on fun things to do on Catalina Island

South of the Border

No, we’re not talking Tijuana. Past the southern reaches of Los Angeles County, you’ll find a whole other world in the county of Orange, where Irvine’s Great Park achieves a sort of Central Park-worthy reverence you wouldn’t expect in the suburbs. Drive less than an hour to immerse your family in clean, wholesome fun. (That’s actually FUN!)

Hot air balloon rides launch daily, and are free for kids riding with a paid adult. Spin circles at the carousel, and check out free sports equipment for bocce ball or soccer on the lawn. Don’t miss the climbing rocks and tunnel structure playground, where kids can learn about the water cycle and enjoy a cool playground at the same time.

Make a day of play at Playland Cafe, where kids can bounce around, explore and learn while parents catch up and chat over coffee. Order a fruit cup to re-energize the kids between adventures. Go for a chill but yummy French-ish lunch at Champagne Cafe with older kids who like to look fancy.

Worth a Nod

By far the most popular family day trips are of the theme park variety, with Disneyland, Universal Studios, Knotts Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain all within a stone’s throw of the city.

Each has its rewards. Disneyland and Universal Studios are top-tier, big-bucks event attractions where your kids will want to spend at least a day – if not a whole week. 

Knotts Berry Farm is a local California park with a Wild West theme and great food and jams to boot. They’ve also got great deals, making for a great impromptu day out that won’t break the bank. Six Flags Magic Mountain is roller coaster heaven. Scare the bejeezus out of your teens and – more importantly – make them want to hang out with you by taking them here.

You can pass an epic day at each of these parks, without a doubt, but you’ve shown you’re a little more creative than that.

What are you looking for in a day trip that takes you out of Los Angeles?

Universal Studios by Gimas/shutterstock.

Tags : travel   los angeles   joshua tree   catalina island   california   

Kirsten Kawasaki
I've always wanted to go to Joshua Tree!!