Winter Day Trips from Los Angeles: 20 Great Getaways for Winter Fun
One of the best things about living in Southern California is the endless supply of year-round adventures that are just a short drive from home. While summer is the perfect time for a day trip to one of our favorite beach towns and fall offers the chance for a road trip to see foliage, winter day trips from Los Angeles offer up some unique opportunities. It's actually the best time to explore the area— coastal locales are sleepier in the cooler months, desert towns are more bearable when it’s not in the triple digits, and there are even snowy winter wonderlands. Southern California has it all, and here we’ve collected the 20 best winter day trips from Los Angeles.
See giraffes by the beach. Photo courtesy of the Santa Barbara Zoo
Coastal Day Trips from Los Angeles
1. Santa Barbara
No matter what time of the year it is, Santa Barbara always makes for a great day trip destination from LA. Winter is a particularly great time to visit the city (if you don’t mind a little chilliness in the morning and evening) because it’s less busy and crowded than during the peak summer months. Hit the Santa Barbara Zoo, Fisherman’s Wharf, Natural History Museum, and if you plan your trip right, it might even be warm enough for a few hours at the beach!
2. Coastal San Luis Obispo County
There are so many great destinations in this region of the Central Coast, we had to put them all together! When you're on your coastal road trip, take your pick between the famous Pismo Beach and its recently-revamped pier, the quieter and very family-friendly Avila Beach, the breathtaking natural beauty of Morro Bay, or the quaint historic beach town of Cayucos. Or you can always spend a few hours at each of these awesome coastal enclaves!
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Winter is perfect for tide pool explorations. Photo of Laguna Beach courtesy of Ronaldo Farelli
3. Dana Point, Laguna Beach, and San Juan Capistrano
Another coastal destination that’s just much more pleasant in the winter – in terms of crowds – is coastal southern Orange County. That includes towns like Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, and Laguna Beach. Explore the tide pools of Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point, ride the Strand Beach Funicular Cable Car, take in the art galleries of downtown Laguna, or tour the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Just like coastal SLO County, these towns are in close proximity to each other, so you can visit all three in one trip!
4. North County Beaches
San Diego County has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to beaches. From Oceanside to Imperial Beach, there are so many great places to enjoy the surf. North County in particular is home to several kid-friendly beaches. Moonlight Beach is a rarity on the mostly sandy coast, tucked into a secluded cove next to the charming main drag of Encinitas. Within city limits is Torrey Pines State Beach, with loads of hiking trails that showcase the rare Torrey Pines. These trees are found only at this park and on Santa Cruz Island, and the views around the cliffs are magnificent and make excellent photo opportunities.
Visit the dramatic Nojoqui Falls. Photo courtesy of Alberto Yeverino, alltrails.com
5. Nojoqui Falls – Santa Barbara County
Just off the 101 as you head inland into Santa Barbara County is Nojoqui Falls. This is also a fairly easy hike that kids of all ages can accomplish, and the pay-off is well worth it. In the summer the creek runs fairly dry, with the falls reduced to just a trickle. But during the winter, especially after rainfall, the waterfall can be quite robust and even leave a nice little wading pool at the bottom.
6. Solstice Canyon – Malibu
Solstice Canyon isn’t exactly a hidden gem – and that’s exactly why it’s such a great winter day hike. In the summer the parking lot can become a traffic jam and the closest parking spots are a good 15 to 20-minute walk from the entrance. But in the winter things slow down a bit and make it easier to find parking and avoid crowds. The hike to the waterfall is extremely leisurely, more of a walk than a hike, and pretty much stroller-accessible. It culminates at the ruins of the Roberts Ranch House; kids love exploring what remains of the home’s foundation, and it’s the perfect place for a picnic. If you have bigger kids who are up for a longer and more difficult hike (or smaller kids who fit in an Ergo) continue on the path for some breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
7. Millard Falls – Altadena
Even though Altadena is just a few miles away from Pasadena, it feels like it’s a small town in the forest. A few miles further north into the mountains is Millard Falls, one of the best waterfall hikes in the area. Again, this is a hike that’s pretty flat and easily accomplished by smaller children. The stream feeding this waterfall is intermittent, so you’ll want to visit in the winter after some rainfall to get the full effect of the falls.
8. Red Rock Pools – Santa Barbara
After heading north out of Santa Barbara along the 154 through the San Marcos Pass is a swimming hole popular with locals called Red Rock Pools. The hike is relatively easy, and the scenic drive from the Santa Ynez Valley alone is worth the trip. The main pool can be very busy during warm days when the water is full, but venture a bit further upstream and you'll find increasingly secluded swimming holes.
Sleepy Temecula has become a wine destination. Photo courtesy of visitcalifornia.com
Wine Country Day Trips from Los Angeles
Temecula is a hidden gem in Southern California, an emerging wine country just a couple of hours away from Central LA. If you’re a fan of wine but don’t want to drive all the way to Santa Ynez, Santa Maria, or Paso Robles, Temecula is a great choice. There are a plethora of family-friendly wineries in the area, like Peltzer Winery, Longshadow Ranch Winery, and Wiens Family Cellars.
10. Santa Ynez
If you are up for a longer drive, Southern California’s preeminent wine country is Santa Ynez. If you need proof, just watch Sideways. It's a challenge to find better Santa Maria-style BBQ than the fare served up by the world-famous Hitching Post (2) in Buellton, a spin-off of the Casmalia original. There are plenty of family-friendly activities in the area, including the aforementioned Red Rock Pool swimming hole, the Danish town of Solvang, and OstrichLand!
11. Paso Robles
A few hours further up the road from Santa Ynez is Paso Robles. This small town has reinvented itself as a hub of culture and wine over the last few decades. Kid-friendly attractions in the area include the Harris Stage Lines, which provides a glimpse into the Wild West with a stagecoach ride! And just down the road in Atascadero is the Charles Paddock Zoo. Wine for parents and plenty of fun for kids make Paso Robles a great weekend getaway.
Horses on Holiday in Ojai. Photo courtesy of the Ojai Valley School
Ojai has long been one of our favorite day trip destinations, and that’s especially true in the winter. While it’s not exactly packed during the summer, it’s nice to experience this inland artist enclave in the cooler months when the crowds are a bit smaller. You’ll be able to take in kid-friendly wine tastings, go for a horse ride, visit an olive ranch, or take a hike on one of the many nearby trails where oranges grow along the side of the trail in the winter.
There's nothing more iconic (or stunning)than a winter trip to Joshua Tree. Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service
Winter Day Trips to the Desert
13. Joshua Tree
When it comes to trips to the desert, there's nothing more iconic than a trip to Joshua Tree. This national park is filled with breathtaking geography and seemingly endless plains of the namesake yuccas that densely populate the valley. If your kids are up for a longer hike, check out the Fortynine Palms Oasis trail for a look at what a real-deal oasis looks like. Barker Dam is an easy, basically-flat hike around rock formations, with the pay-off being one of man's few attempts at taming the desert landscape. Grab lunch at the 29 Palms Inn, a historic desert figurative "oasis" just a few miles from the Fortynine Palms trail.
14. Palm Springs
While many of the water parks aren't open during the winter months, there's still plenty to explore in Palm Springs. On the way there, check out the Cabazon Dinosaurs, a must-see for kids and Americana-enthusiasts, and definitely stop at Hadley's Fruit Orchards for one of the famous date shakes (they're unique and delicious). Once you've arrived, the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert is a great place to start exploring.
15. Death Valley
This one requires a bit more of a drive than the others, but winter is one of the best times of the year to visit Death Valley. Points of interest include the pristine Mesquite Dunes, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at Badwater, and if you're really up for an adventure, the mysterious boulders of Racetrack.
It seems like Anza-Borrego is an often-overlooked desert retreat in Southern California, overshadowed by the Coachella Valley and Joshua Tree. It's a natural marvel in its own right, and temperatures are a lot more tolerable during the winter. Flower-lovers will be drawn to the colorful Palm Canyon nature trail, and it provides quite the contrast with the rest of the park's rugged landscape. Bring bikes if you can, because there are hundreds of miles of paved and dirt paths that criss-cross the largest state park.
A scenic view of downtown Wrightwood in the winter. Photo courtesy of Red Apple Cabins, AirBNB
Taking a trip up to Wrightwood is a rite of passage (bad pun intended) for LA-based kids. One of the best things about going out to Wrightwood is you don't really have to go up to get there, which means that you usually don't need to worry about chains (though you are still advised to carry chains when heading to the mountains during winter months). Once there, you can just pull over for a little free snow play—or for those willing to brave the crowds, Mountain High has sledding and snow play.
18. Mt. Baldy
Mt. Baldy (AKA Mt. San Antonio) is the snow-capped peak that dominates those iconic photos of downtown Los Angeles framed by the mountains. Head out to Mt. Baldy Resort for a day of skiing lessons or snow tubing. Top of the Notch is (probably) the highest-elevation restaurant in Southern California and it's a great spot for a warm meal before you play in the snow. If you're coming from the west and want to take a quick hike, the Bridge to Nowhere is a unique and fun excursion.
Who doesn't love hurtling down a hill on a giant tube? Photo courtesy of Big Bear Snow Play
19. Big Bear
Big Bear is a great place to take a winter day trip even if skiing isn't your thing. There's of course plenty of places to play in the snow—you can just pull over on the side of the road and throw a few snowballs. But our favorite attraction is the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain, where you can reenact Cool Runnings without worrying about flipping your bobsled.
20. Lake Arrowhead
One year-round day trip destination is Lake Arrowhead (though it's a bit frustrating in the summer because the lake itself is private), but it's particularly magnificent in the winter. Skiing and snow play are the obvious things to do here, but there are other activities, too! There's the famous Skypark at Santa's Village, but if you're trying to avoid crowds, check out less-busy attractions like Jurassic Fossils or just go for a hike. Big Bear isn't far from Lake Arrowhead, making the two a great pairing for a longer day trip.